For those of you following along with my Fallen Empire series, you probably already know I’ve done a few extra short stories with the characters.
“Starfall Station” is available in the free Star Rebels anthology (available on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble).
“Saranth Three” is available to newsletter subscribers.
And now a new story, “Remnants” is available in the You Are Here science fiction and fantasy anthology. (Amazon link, Kobo link, Smashwords link). This jumps back in time a couple years before Star Nomad and shows the adventure where Alisa and Mica first met. They got along great, right from the start! (That may be a lie.)
Here’s a preview of the short story:
The cockpit smelled of urine.
Lieutenant Mica Coppervein wrinkled her nose and turned a suspicious squint on the ground-crew sergeant standing on the hangar deck beside the ladder. The middle-aged veteran gazed up at her, a challenging expression on his face. Was this a joke? Some attempt to foist an unpleasant task off on a green officer who didn’t know better?
“There’s a short circuit somewhere,” the sergeant said.
“Because the pilot wet himself?”
“It was the gunner. Tense battle, I heard. And a crazy pilot. As if there’s any other kind.”
Three suns, was that vomit down on the floor under the gunner’s seat? This task was getting more unpleasant by the minute.
“Look, Sergeant,” Mica said. “I’m an engineer, not an electrician. I—”
“Electrician said he didn’t know what the problem was and to get an engineer.”
More likely, the electrician took a sniff and decided it would be fun to foist this unpleasant repair duty off on an officer. The new officer who had only been here a week and kept wondering what insanity had prompted her to join the Alliance army. Just because she wanted to see the empire sucked into a black hole didn’t mean that anything she did could make that happen.
The sergeant waved at the scorched hull of the fleet runner, a converted imperial fighter that had been old long before the war started. “My crew can handle the rest of the repairs, but we don’t know what’s going on inside the cockpit.”
“Besides unauthorized excretions?” Mica eyed what might have been a puddle on the gunner’s seat. It was hard to tell in the poor lighting of the hangar. With the entire base hidden in an asteroid and operating on minimal power, the lighting was poor everywhere. Maybe it was for the best. This wasn’t the first suspicious stain she had come across since being transferred from her hastily completed officer’s training course. It was, however, the first one that was so… fresh.
Sparks and a surprised shout came from a craft near the big doors at the other end of the hangar. Mica sighed wistfully. The rest of her team was examining a mystery ship that had been salvaged earlier in the day. Made from a strange crystal-like material, the two-seater craft had been found floating near the asteroid and pulled into the hangar. She’d heard speculation that it was a centuries-old Starseer ship, but there had been an imperial pilot in it, a freshly dead imperial pilot. Mica would much rather be investigating it with the other engineers.
“You too good to get your hands dirty, Lieutenant?” the sergeant asked, still frowning at her.
Mica lifted her chin. “I grew up on XR-318, one of the ugliest and grimiest mining asteroids in the system. We started digging out tunnels when we were six, as soon as we were old enough to toddle out of the crèche and be of some use. I’ve had dirt wedged so far up under my fingernails for so long that it bought throw rugs and set up furniture.” She had, however, avoided sticking her hands in pee puddles.
“Then this shouldn’t be a problem.” The sergeant waved at the cockpit and turned his back on her.
He grabbed his toolbox and yelled for two privates to come help him with the hull repairs. The younger men nudged each other, glanced at Mica, and snickered as they headed toward the tail of the craft. Once again, she suspected she had been set up.
Grumbling, Mica went off to search for a cleaning robot, though, given the Alliance’s limited resources, she would be lucky to find a mop and bucket. It occurred to her to order a private to wipe down—and thoroughly disinfect—the cockpit for her, but everyone in the hangar was busy working on the other battered ships. “Tense battle” was an understatement. From what those who’d fought to defend the asteroid had said, their armada had been decimated before driving off the imperial attack. Further, the empire now knew where the Alliance base was. An evacuation order would likely come within a day or two.
“How’re the repairs going, L.T.?” one of the privates asked a few minutes later as Mica crouched in the two-seater, finishing cleaning. He could barely hold in his snickers.
“There are bodily fluids everywhere except the pilot’s seat,” Mica said. “How do you think they’re going?”
Stinkily? It was amazing these kids could read. Maybe they couldn’t. She didn’t recall that the Alliance recruiting fliers had listed a lot of requirements.
“Here, Private. Find a laundry basket for this.” Mica tossed a damp towel at him, resulting in a disgusted grunt as the kid reflexively caught it.
He dropped the towel and fled. With luck, he wouldn’t bother her again.
Finally ready to start work—that supposed short circuit had better be real—Mica leaned out of the cockpit to grab her toolbox off the top of the ladder. She paused. A woman was jogging in her direction. She wore a flight suit and a blue-and-gray jacket with a patch that identified her as a combat pilot. Mica curled her lip, wondering if this was the “crazy” person responsible for the damaged craft—and the mess.
Also wearing lieutenant’s tabs, the woman was not deterred by the lip curl. She kept coming and even grinned and waved to Mica.
“Amazing how often I get such looks from the ground crew,” she said, climbing the ladder.
“I’m an engineer.”
“Oh, I get even dirtier looks from them.” The grin grew broader.
Her name tag read MARCHENKO. An attractive woman of about thirty, she wore her reddish-brown hair pulled back in a braided bun and had a curvy figure that plenty of men would like to get their hands on. Some women, too, surely. Not that Mica wanted anything to do with a pilot who couldn’t be bothered to clean out her own cockpit. Besides, she preferred her women—and her men—on the fine-boned and elegant side.
“Don’t mind me,” Marchenko said, leaning into the cockpit. “I lost something.”
“Your bladder control?” Mica didn’t bother to scoot out of the way. The sooner she finished with this, the sooner she could join her team in examining the strange derelict.
“No, that was Sergeant Heathrow.” Marchenko frowned at the control panel, then lowered her head to look under the seat.
“He the one who puked too?”
“Yes,” Marchenko said, her voice muffled. “He promised me he had an iron stomach. Such a lie. He’s the third gunner I’ve gone through in two weeks. It’s amazing how many big, burly men get airsick at the least provocation.”
“I would have cleaned up, or had him do it, but we got called for a debriefing right away and—oomph, is that it?”
Before Mica could ask what Marchenko was looking for, someone called, “Officer on deck,” from the back of the hangar. The cavernous space fell impressively silent.
Everyone was supposed to stop what they were doing and come to a perfect attention stance, but Marchenko kept rooting around under the seat.
Admiral Banerjee, the base commander, strode into view with his aide. He headed to the front of the hangar, toward the team inspecting the mystery ship. Mica thought about returning to work, but Banerjee only exchanged a few words with the engineering team leader, Captain Brandt, before moving on. Reminiscent of a tank, the stocky, barrel-chested admiral rolled past the shuttles and larger troop transports toward Mica’s corner of the hangar. Wonderful.
While Marchenko muttered to herself, her head still stuffed under the pilot’s seat, Mica climbed out the other side of the cockpit, ignoring the lack of a ladder. She landed and hustled around to the front of the battered craft where the sergeant and privates already stood at attention.
Mica thought about warning Marchenko, but hadn’t decided if she wanted to interact further with the person responsible for her odious duty. Also, Banerjee would likely hear any whispered asides. Nobody else was talking, and all work had stopped.
The admiral’s gaze raked across the ground crew, lingered on Mica, then lingered even longer as it drifted upward to where Marchenko was draped over the side of the cockpit with her butt in the air.
“That looks like a volunteer,” Banerjee said, his deep voice resonating in the quiet hangar.
“Got it,” Alisa said, her own voice barely audible. She pulled out of the cockpit and jumped from the ladder, clenching a ring dangling from a chain necklace. She blinked in surprise when she found herself staring the admiral in the eye. “Oh. Hullo, sir.” She whipped her hand up for a salute, nearly taking the man’s eye out with the chain.
Mica rolled her eyes, starting to feel surprised that the fleet runner had made it back at all.
“Definitely a volunteer,” the admiral growled, his eyes narrowing.
“For what, sir?” Marchenko asked brightly, seemingly oblivious to the man’s irritation.
“You see that mystery ship that got brought in last night?”
“Just heard about it, sir.” Marchenko peered toward the front of the hangar. The engineers peered back.
Mica tried to catch her captain’s eye, wondering what was going on, but like most people in the hangar, he was looking at Marchenko and Admiral Banerjee. Waiting to see if she got a dressing down?
“The engineers are making sure it’s fully functional. We need someone to take it out for a test flight.”
“It’s a Starseer ship, isn’t it, sir?” Marchenko asked. “An old one.”
“I wouldn’t care if pink monkeys brought it from Earth a thousand years ago. If it can fly, I’ll paint it with Alliance colors and add it to one of our squadrons. The Blessed Suns Trinity knows we’re short on spacecraft. We need every extra piece of equipment we can find.”
“Er,” Mica said, not realizing she had spoken until the admiral looked over at her.
“You have a problem—” his gaze dipped to her name tag, “—Coppervein?”
Mica had been introduced to the admiral when she and a handful of other graduates from the abbreviated officer “academy” had arrived, but she apparently hadn’t made enough of an impression for him to have remembered her name. Maybe that anonymity was a good thing, something she should strive to maintain.
She could imagine all sorts of problems resulting from adding a centuries-old ship to their squadrons, but all she said was, “No, sir.” One wasn’t supposed to er at admirals, after all. Nobody else had.
“Good,” Banerjee said. “Marchenko?”
“I can fly anything, sir. Does it have weapons? If you give me a new gunner, we can clean up any leftover imperials loitering around outside our asteroid base.”
Mica had no idea how long Marchenko had been here, but she seemed undaunted by the admiral’s rank—or the fact that he hadn’t stopped glowering at her.
“You’ll take an engineer,” Banerjee said. “Captain Brandt said his team found some quirks.”
Quirks? Mica didn’t like the sound of that.
Marchenko looked toward the cockpit of the fleet runner, then lifted her eyebrows in Mica’s direction. “I believe she’s an engineer, sir.”
Mica’s mouth dropped open. She had wanted to examine the ship, not fly somewhere in it. Especially not if it had quirks. What did that mean? That it would blow up as soon as it hit the vacuum of space?
“Take her then,” Banerjee said before Mica could come up with a convincing excuse as to why she couldn’t go. As if going out in a quirky ship wasn’t bad enough, Mica did not want to fly with someone who took it as a challenge to make her colleagues puke. “And be quick about it,” the admiral added. “We’re mustering out of here at 0800 hours in the morning.”
Banerjee walked away before Mica could come up with a tactful way to protest an admiral’s orders. She should have opted for an untactful way and consequences be damned.
Marchenko slapped her arm. “You’re welcome.”
“What?” Mica stared at her.
“I saw you ogling that ship. And cleaning this mess couldn’t be any fun.” Marchenko waved at the fleet runner, but turned the gesture into a head scratch. “I wonder why he picked me. Does he expect trouble out there? Did he deliberately choose one of his more talented pilots, just in case?”
“I think you were deliberately chosen because your ass volunteered you, Lieutenant Talent,” Mica grumbled.
“It is a fine one, isn’t it?” Marchenko patted her backside. “You can call me Alisa, by the way. I don’t insist on Marchenko. Or Lieutenant Talent.”
“This is going to be a long trip, isn’t it?” Mica asked, not offering her own first name.
“It better not be longer than—” Marchenko tapped the blue-beaded earstar draped over her helix, “—eighteen hours. Or we’ll find out if an old Starseer two-seater can fly to the nearest planet.”
Mica eyed the dilapidated mystery ship. “We’ll be lucky if it can clear the hangar.”
“Good thing I’m taking an engineer along, isn’t it?”
Mica grumbled again, not bothering to utter anything articulate this time.
“Don’t worry. It’ll be fun. An adventure.”
“You’ll probably get us killed.”
“Are you always this pessimistic?” Alisa asked. “Most people don’t say such things until after they’ve flown with me.”
Mica eyed the dirty towel slumped on the deck near the ladder, the one she had thrown at the private. “I find that hard to believe.”
Get the rest in the anthology (and check out lots of other authors’ stories too!), We Are Here.