Every Christmas Eve we gather at my aunt’s house to exchange gag gifts. Unfortunately, I had to work on Christmas Day so could not stay the night. I had gotten to my aunt’s house late, so I was making the long three-hour drive home just before midnight.
My aunt lived in the country where neighbors were not visible to the eye. Mostly because she was surrounded by trees with a field or two poked in between.
The radio was still playing Christmas music, so I plugged in my iPod to listen to my cruising track. My headlights bounced off the whites lines, marking the edges of the ink black highway.
The night was so black and clear the stars peeked out like a million tiny pinholes across a deep never ending black velvety night sky.
Nights like these made me sure there so much more out there in the universe. I felt small under that dome yet connected to something bigger and more wondrous than I could ever imagine.
I flipped my car heater on low to knock the chill. The whoosh of warm arm felt nice on my arm and legs. I enjoyed the freedom of driving even at night. The time alone in the car allowed my mind to settle, think- and yes -imagine all kinds of wonderful stories I could write.
Winters in Texas were unpredictable. I left home this morning without my jacket with temperatures in the upper seventies. Tonight, there was a distinct chill in the air at fifty- two degrees.
My tires hummed, eating up the asphalt road snaking for miles through rolling black dirt farmland, fields of barley and oat, longhorn cows, and yes, some sheep. The houses set so far back off the road you could not see them unless they had lights on.
Some were just single trailers in vast fields of crop. Many had fence lined or tree lined driveways that went straight back for a mile or more.
My favorite was about half-way to my aunt’s house. It was an old house that had been around since the 1800’s and set off the road about half a mile. They decorated for Christmas, and you could see it a mile before you arrive across the open fields. I was on the last leg of my drive home.
There were no other cars. This late at night and on a holiday, the cars on these long highways were few and far between.
I heard a rackety-clack sound, followed by a loud knock. My little white Kia jerked as if something fell out from under the car.
The engine sputtered.
I coasted to the roadside. Turning the key trying to restart. I heard a couple of clicks than nothing.
I was grateful I always kept a flashlight in the car. I popped the hood. The engine looked intact. I shone the light on the dark road behind me. I saw nothing that looked like it had fallen out, but I guess it could have rolled of the road out of sight.
The night loomed darker and a little ominous despite the starry sky on the country roadside. There were no houses in sight from where I had rolled to a stop.
I fiddled with the battery and checked the water. I inspected my tires, which looked fine, despite the loud noise I had heard.
I went back to my car and tried to call for help using my cell phone. It didn’t work. No service. I walked a little ways from the car trying to get some bars, but did not want to go too far away.
It was then I realized I had forgotten to charge it before I left my aunt’s. I got back in the car to charge it. My car charger was missing. I always kept it in the car. Did someone take it? I searched the car, even checked the trunk.
Nothing. I guess I was walking if a car didn’t come by soon. I got out and looked up and down an empty highway and started to get back in the car to wait.
Held my breath.
The night lit like day, as I was pinned pointed by a oval light brighter than daylight. My mind screamed don’t look as I forced my eyes skyward despite the brightness. I expected it to blind.
The light fluctuated. I could just make out a saucer-shaped craft hovering above me. It’s radius at least a block wide. Multi-colored strobe lights danced in a circle around its circumference.
It was the beam from its center that created the illusion of daylight. A sharp piercing sound made me cover my ears. My stomach rolled, the room begin to spin, and then nothing.
I couldn’t move.
Was I dead?
How much time had passed? I had to blink a few times. I was staring up at bug-eyed- like lights, making think of a honeycomb. I felt cold to the bone.
My arms, legs, body were all free, yet I couldn’t move. I could see nothing holding me down. I lay on some metal bed-table.
Had they given me some kind of drug? My heart hammered. I caught movement to my right through my peripheral vision.
I must be dreaming. Tallish, steeple-like, white big-eyed bipeds were milling around the room carrying royal rainbow colored geometric-shaped boxes. I counted three, taking several deep breaths.
Yeah, I was afraid, but THINK!
I was a 911 Dispatcher, a first responder, for goodness sake. I’ve listened to horrible things and kept my cool. I could do this.
Another deep breath. Exhale.
I tried my voice and sounded like a raspy frog.
“Hey, I need some help. Can someone help me?
“Hey, I need to pee.”
That didn’t phase them either.
They probably couldn’t understand English. I was able to turn my head a little now.
I wasn’t the only human in the room. I could see other beds with small people in green and red costumes, also not moving. Children? The faces looked too old.
On my left lay a large deer with huge 5-point horns.
A jolly voice said, “I am afraid Juneta that Christmas has been abducted this year.”
“You know my name?” The sound of the other voice relaxed me a bit.
“I know everyone’s name. Including the aliens.” He chuckled. “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Alien Christmas!”
“Santa Claus? You’re not real.” Yet there he lay, prone like me in red suite, white hair and beard, and yes beer belly.
His blue eyes dance and his belly jiggled despite his prone state, as he tried to get his breath, and control his deep laughter.
George Warren had never been what anyone would term ‘successful’. He was fifty-six years old, looked ten years older – and felt twenty. He’d already been divorced for years, didn’t own a home, and hadn’t had a real promotion since his early thirties.
He sat, crammed into a tiny office that used to be a broom closet, and did the most miserable job in the entire universe.
He poked the button on the ancient brown speaker system on his desk and sighed as it whined and crackled.
His fingers went to the polyester noose…er…tie around his neck and tugged it down.
He wiped his face with his handkerchief, reached into his desk, pulled out a blue bottle of antacid, and chugged the stuff like it was tequila.
Jesus, he wished he could have tequila. The ulcers in his stomach had resulted in two things: his diet consisted of mostly clear broth, oatmeal, and Maalox; and he spent a good chunk of his tiny paycheck every month buying antacid by the case.
He stood up, not bothering with the second-hand jacket that habitually lived on the hat stand in his office. Policy dictated that he should wear it, but he’d been ignoring that since the thermostat had been set to eighty-five degrees after a decade long inch upward to “save valuable company resources”.
It was probably part of the reason why he hadn’t had a promotion in decades.
He called out the door, “Edna, the speaker is acting up again. Can you call maintenance and see if they can work me in before the turn of the century?”
Edna Fields, septuagenarian, office manager, and if he were brutally honest with himself, his only friend, nodded as she entered the doorway and hoisted an improbably large cup of coffee to her lips. He was frankly amazed that her skinny arms could even lift that much weight at her age. While he lived on mostly antacids, Edna seemed to subsist entirely on black coffee and cigarettes.
“Don’t forget you have that meeting with the director at three o’clock. His battleax of a receptionist croaked out the orders before disappearing like the giant bat she is.” He nodded. Like he could forget something like that. He’d only gotten a handful of memos from the director over all the years he’d been with the company.
“I’m not worried.” Edna gave a significant look to his tie and the bottle of antiacid. He took another long swig and pulled at his tie again. “It’s not like there is much they can legally do to make my life worse. If they somehow find a smaller office, it’ll count as a coffin.”
Edna’s eyes narrowed, “You laugh but Jim went in six years ago and no one has seen him since.”
“I heard he took the early retirement package and left.”
Edna snorted. “I’ve been friends with his ex-wife for forty years. Nobody’s heard from him since.”
George shrugged. “He was a misanthropic bastard. Maybe he took his payout and went down to Mexico to dodge alimony payments.”
Edna took a long drag off her cigarette. “Bullshit.” She smashed the remains in the ashtray.
He gave her a half grin and a mock salute as he straightened his tie.
At three o’clock he found himself outside the office with his sweltering coat on and his tie reasonably straight. The receptionist was at her desk, cigarette burning in her ashtray as she hunted and pecked on her typewriter. Her glazed expression mirrored how he felt nearly every day at three o’clock.
“Go in.” The words seemed forced from her lips.
He stood as straight as he could, took a deep breath, and knocked three times. He heard something inside. George peeked back at the receptionist, but her stare indicated nothing except extreme apathy. He stood for a long moment, debating, but took a deep breath and inched the door open. He could feel the sweat running in rivulets down his neck and he cursed the thermostat.
“Hello? Sir, it’s George Warren. You were expecting me at three o’clock?”
The first thing he noticed as he entered the office was the size: he’d always known there was a disparity between himself and middle management, but this was ridiculous. You couldn’t even see the end of the room! Paintings and sculpture were placed in haphazard piles, along with piles of what looked like gold bars…some kind of artistic statement he was too plebian to understand, no doubt.
The second thing he noticed was the smell.
The director was hardly ever encountered by anyone except his crotchety receptionist…and George wondered for a long moment if the man hadn’t been dead for several years in this room while the receptionist guarded the door for some outlandish reason.
But no. He knew the sickly-sweet smell of death. Who hadn’t found a ripe corpse of some dead animal or another in summer? This was different. Harsher.
His throat constricted and he managed a tremulous, “Sir?”
A rattling noise from his left caused him to pause for a split second, and some instinct had him dodging before the thinking part of his brain knew what was going on.
He had the impression of something sharp and not at all friendly on his right so he rolled behind a pile of Renaissance paintings and tucked as fast as his protesting knees would allow him.
He huddled near the paintings while he tried to calm his racing heart. Something was in here, and it seemed less and less likely that the director was still alive.
A voice rolled from one dark corner. “Not what you expected from your performance review?” There was a slithering, scraping sound, along with the quiet noise of artwork being repositioned. “I have to say, it’s been a while since anyone noticed me. I must be slipping. Old age, you know. Comes for us all. Humans much sooner than my kind, but no one is immune.”
George started inching away from the art, sticking to the darkest shadows. Whatever was talking to him was blocking the door, so the only option was to go further into the gigantic ‘office’. He felt when the carpet was replaced with bare stone under his shoes, and altered his step to tread lightly.
The creature behind him followed at a steady, unhurried pace.
“It’s been decades since I’ve had a proper conversation. Is Kennedy still president? Surely not. They don’t last long, these new-fangled presidents.”
George couldn’t help but make a slight noise at that, and he heard the scrape of talons on rock quicken slightly. He hunched over, trying to make himself small as he dodged piles of goods. He started zig-zagging a bit around them, as quietly as he could manage.
“Despite it all, not much has changed. My princess keeps me apprised of the things I need to know, acts as my human eyes and ears. Unfortunately, it destroyed her mind years ago, so unless I am actively directing her, she’s little more than a meat puppet now.” The voice let loose a small sigh. “I hate to lose her, but I shall have to replace her soon. Pity. She’s not even fit to eat, all skin and bones.”
George heard a sudden sound to his left, overbalanced (thanks to his darned back, which was not used to being hunched over – thank you very much!) and landed on his admittedly well-padded posterior in something that felt like a pile of coins – which was less comfortable than one might imagine.
Out of the corner of his eye he finally saw what was chasing him.
“You are a bit thinner than the last one.”
It – he- stood on four legs, with rows of wicked-looking teeth, and huge, predatory eyes.
“You are a dragon.”
“Yes.” His tail lashed back and forth, almost playfully.
George jerked off the polyester tie and tossed it as far as it would flutter – which was about two feet. “I’m not dying with that thing on.”
The dragon radiated amusement. “That’s sensible. I’ve never cared for the taste of human clothing. Fell free to disrobe entirely if you wish.”
George reached out for a weapon an found nothing. Only a handful of ancient coins. He picked them up anyway. “I’ll pass, thanks. So you’ve been in here all these years, eating a few of my co-workers every year or so?”
The dragon shrugged. “Just one every five years. The rest actually left. It was my princess’ idea. It created a smoke screen to befuddle any irritating human authorities.”
George looked back toward the door. “Princess? You mean your secretary?”
“She’s royalty and had no quarrel with extending her meager human lifespan for the cost of a few peasants.”
“As one of the peasants, let me cordially invite you both to kiss my –“
“Now, now, don’t be rude. Someone as chewy as you are bound to be is rather obligated to at least be entertaining.”
“Am I really?”
“I suppose you could be rude, but that might make this conversation – which is currently extending your plebian life – end rather abruptly.”
George flipped a coin thoughtfully. “I suppose talking is not the worst idea.” He stood up, trying to surreptitiously stretch his back. “Let me get a little more comfortable. My back’s going to start throbbing and I’ll be begging you to eat me when it does.”
The dragon extended a clawed hand. “I have a very nice dining set over there that would be infinitely more comfortable than that pile of doubloons.”
George squinted into the darkness. The light suddenly came up and he could see the actual size of the dragon. “Jeez. How do you live on just one human in five years?”
“My digestion doesn’t really allow me to eat most meat anymore. My princess supplies me with a meat substitute known as Spam.”
George shook his head. “That’s rough buddy. I’m right there with you. I can’t eat much of anything except clear broth myself.” The dragon sighed and nodded toward the chair. George ambled over slowly – he was going to pay dearly for running around like an idiot in short order. It was almost enough to make him hope the dragon would just eat him and put him out of his misery – almost. “So why eat people at all if it’s bad for your digestion and you don’t like the taste?”
The dragon grumbled, “I liked the taste fine two hundred years ago before they invented ketchup. These days all of you cover everything in it and it makes you taste weird.”
“Chalk one up to good old American Hamburgers then.”
“I’m pretty sure the weight you have around your gut could be chalked up to those as well.”
“Hey. Don’t knock it until you try it.”
“I won’t be trying anything until I replace my princess. She’s lived well beyond the limits of even what our blood pact should be able to do.”
I guess that’s how you control her like a meat puppet.”
The dragon snorted. “Just since she passed four hundred. She was quite feisty before that. She managed to set up this business that’s been adding to my gold horde and managed it quite nicely.”
“You should give her a retirement package.”
“It’s when you give people who have done a good job a nice bit of cash and let them toddle off to spend their last years on a golf course somewhere. Companies that treat their workers as more than cattle tend to make a lot more money.”
“Really?” The dragon muttered to himself, “It IS rather inconvenient to eat the older ones – they keep getting stringier and they have that nasty gamey aftertaste…and don’t even get me started on the non-natural fibers…”
George hadn’t ever been what you’d call a successful man, but he wasn’t stupid either.
“You know – I think we might be able to solve each other’s problems.”
The dragon curled around a pile of doubloons. “How so?”
“I can’t believe that you managed to get him to get rid of that barmy bat of a secretary.”
“The General manager was retiring, so he took her with him.”
Edna smashed another cigarette and went to light another. He reached for her hand. “You really need to cut down you know. The retirement package the company is giving you is for the rest of your life – might as well hang on as long as you can.”
“I can’t believe I’m finally going to get to move to Florida and retire!”
“You’ve earned it.”
George watched his best (only) friend walk out the door of their shared office for the last time with a lot of pride and only the tiniest bit of regret. He’d visit, of course, but the years would pass quickly for her and not at all for him.
He took his briefcase and walked into the dragon’s ‘office’.
“And what gastronomic delights do we have today?”
“Hamburgers, no ketchup, pizza, and a bunch of donuts.” The dragon popped a glazed donut into his maw. “Oh! I like these.”
George smiled. “I thought you might. If you’ll look on page nine of my new company plan, you’ll see that weekly donuts and business casual clothing are going to be part of the new corporate culture.”
“And you think this is going to earn me more gold AND give me an accounting excuse to order fast food?”
“Exactly. And we can write it off our taxes too.”
The dragon stopped and blinked, like he was trying not to cry. “You might be the best princess I’ve ever had, George.”
Welcome to Storytime Quarter Blog Hop July 27th, 2022
January, April, July, and October
Storytime Quarterly Blog Hop was founded by seven authors who meet on the Holly Lisle writing forums in 2015. Celebrate year seven with us, and read all the stories in this month’s hop. The participate list at bottom of my post for your convenience, just click on a link. I am running an experiment on Medium as I outline a prequel novel. Read about that below too. Welcome, enjoy, and leave us comments. We love hearing from you.
About Midlife Ghostwalker Katje Storm
150 Word Serialization on Medium. Midlife Crisis Trope Genre: Paranormal Women’s Fiction
BLURB: I just turned forty, plus I just filed for divorce from my cheating soon-to-be ex-husband, but if that is not bad enough, he murdered me. I didn’t stay dead. Turns out I’m magical, a ghostwalker with a destiny I had no clue about.
Available Now:Episodes 1 through 82: Outline done! Recommend you start with episode one and read in order for full effect of story and what is happening in the bigger picture in this short form outline. Book 1 expansion and revision in progress.
Publishing Timeline: Look for the first three books in the series in 2023.
***This is an experiment in short form. I am using short form storytelling to outline beats for prequel novel in a series. Once I finish the short forms I will expand into a novel for my planned series.
How long had I strolled this dead garden, touching headstones?
Shamus thought he won. Poisoning me. Forcing the choice to activate my ghostwalker magic— I could choose to stay dead. It wasn’t like I had anyone to teach me how to activate the magic.
How long could I stay in this ghost state before returning to my body? Where were all the other dead people?
All my life I could see ghosts. I thought everyone saw them. If I located the artifact Shamus wanted, I couldn’t take it back with me. The ass! He knew what I was all along. I still didn’t know.
Can ghosts feel goosebumps, because I sure did. I turned.
“Mmmm, a tasty female shade. Wanna play?”
Horror and ridiculousness robbed me of speech. Run or laugh?
Three deformed skeletal bodies stood before me, two with hair, one without, slinging Mardi Gras beads, wearing colorful-raggedy pirates garb, a pirate hat, a cowboy hat, and the third… a leprechaun hat?
Squaring my shoulders, the absurd won out.
“Who are you? Larry, Curly, and Mo?”
The short, bald, roundish nightmare lunged, mouth gaping into a black void that was not empty, widening past human limitations.
I’m not stupid. I ran and tripped. Tall funky-hair and bouffant closed in.
It occurred to me, I’m a ghost.
Fade, fade, fade.
A bony hand clamped onto me.
I kicked. *Snap* Ouch!
I looked up into three yawning, toothless black masses, descending on me.
Ghosts don’t sweat, they vibrate. Between fear and horror, I felt the power.
I screamed. I heard nothing within the black void that had consumed me.
The vibrating eased into my senses, a deep thrum-rhythm, a steady whooshing sound lulling my senses filled every molecule that death had not taken.
I literally felt my hair and toenails start to grow.
I was cold. Then I burned, consumed by the fire, yet the intense heat was part of my soul. I knew that, even if I did not fully understand it.
Cool air brushed a chill across my body. What’s that sound? I could not quite it out. I felt the transition before I realized I was back in my own body.
“Welcome back to the land of the living.”
I groaned. I knew that voice. Shamus Doyle, my soon to be ex-husband.
“You murdered me.”
Shamus’s blonde surfer looks, and dancing brown eyes belied the manipulator and cheater that made up his black heart.
“I did not. I knew you wouldn’t stay dead.”
I sat up. Shamus offered me his hand. I ignored it, standing. “Like that makes a difference. Did you sign the divorce papers?”
“No. I don’t want a divorce.”
“Sign the papers. You MURDERED ME.” Shamus was a lot of things but I had never imagined this betrayal. “You remember what you said right before I died?
He frowned, cocking his head. “I said several things,” I watched him study my face trying to devine the answer, “I’m sorry…”
It was the sharp chill in the air accompanied by a big gush of wind that made us turn.
Something had returned with me.
The ground morphed, twisted, stretched.
The mortal plane shimmered — a backdrop behind us — fog oozed from the ground. A giant skull cave manifested before us with a lone figure inside its gaping mouth.
The figure pointed a bony finger. “We’ve tasted you Ghostwalker. Part of you remains among the dead.”
“What do you want from me?” I was aware of Shamus standing slightly behind me but within my peripheral vision.
He pulled the medallion he wore from under his shirt. While I lay dying he explained he was a necromancer. The medallion was a tool he used to focus his powers.
It wasn’t like I trusted the cheat, he had broken that long ago, but the depth of his deceptions shattered me. I loved him once.
We both needed to survive — then I would kill him.
“You are the Sentinel, Ghostwalker.”
“I’m what?” The ground under my feet vibrated. Shamus didn’t react. Did he feel it? The fog swirled and shifted. A skeletal bird flew from the cave, followed by a cat.
Shamus reached for his medallion.
“Don’t move.” I felt his eyes boring holes in the side of my face. He wasn’t happy, but he stilled.
The cat neared rubbing against my leg solidifying into a pure white form. The raven landed on my shoulder changing to a shimmering iridescent black.
Shamus moved again. The cat hissed at him. He stopped.
“Who are you?”
“We are the Ingress and Egress of Lich. The pedagogue and the pundit will guide you.”
“It means teacher and learned one,” Shamus said.
The fog and cave disappeared, and the mid-morning sun winked on the horizon.
I started walking. Where was the road? The raven flew around me and then headed away — repeating the action.
“Got it. I’m following.” Better to follow the raven than to stand in the middle of a graveyard with my Judas soon-to-be ex-husband.
A calmness settled over me.
Shamus grabbed my arm. The cat hissed, clawing his leg. The raven dive-bombed him. He cursed, letting go. The cat growled.
Shamus was a lot of things, but he wasn’t stupid. He backed off. He didn’t know what we were dealing with either.
“I think I may like having pets.” We continued toward the road, I hoped.
We are not pets, but we do like cuddles and treats.
“Got it.” I checked my back pocket. My debit card was there. “Taxi, store, and home.”
I woke the next morning to a skull-crow man standing over me. Talk about waking nightmares.
I scrambled across the bed like a crab on crack. “Holy Crap and Hells Minions!
The solid two minutes of jolly laughter following my aerobatics defused the scarey a bit, long enough for me to take in my surroundings.
“That’s not funny.”
“Oh, but it was.” This from the white cat.
The crow-man’s face morphed into a semblance of Robert Downey’s Iron Man and Russell Crowe’s Virtuosity VR serial killer. I am not sure that was any better.
“Damn, I need coffee. What time is it?”
“6 a.m. Coffee on the table.”
I lived in a one-room apartment with half-bath sleeping area. The cat jumped on the table as I sat down. “Training Time.”
Unbelievable — Yep, this was my crazy life.
6:20 am I opened the door to Shamus Doyle’s handsome treacherous face. He caught the door before I could shut it.
“Come on, give me a chance to explain.”
“Nothing to explain about murder.”
“I always knew what you were. That you weren’t really dead.” He leaned a shoulder against the inside of the door frame.
“Felt dead to me. How could you?” Edgar, the raven, and Fluffy the cat, flanked me. I had taken to calling them that in my head on our trip home yesterday.
“My family has always known.”
“Who are you really? Is that why you married me?” I had so many questions.
“Its not the only reason.” He puppy dog-eyed me. “I love you, babe.”
I just reacted. I balled my fist and knocked him on his ass, slamming the door.
I watched the police haul Shamus off through my peep-hole after the neighbor called them.
The police knocked. I didn’t answer. He refused to leave.
Just desserts buddy.
He’d be back.
I sat down with a fresh cup of coffee, chocolate pop-tart, blueberry Greek yogurt, ready to laze through my morning.
Edgar and Fluffy, ganged-up on me. “Training.”
“For what? This is nuts.”
“Destiny Sentinel.” Fluffy the white cat locked gazes with me. The room collapsed. My reality disappeared along with my coffee and breakfast.
“Seriously? A warning would be nice, asking even better.”
“You cannot avoid this Ghostwalker.”
“I can try.” Avoidance was my number one skill. It’s why I was forty and my life in tatters. Ten years of marriage that was over six months after the I do’s.
“…Years later, on late night shifts on boring runs, the crews of ships would whisper tales of Jamie Stewart – and sometimes, when all hope was gone, the ghostly figure of the Siren’s Embrace would appear.” – The Ballad of Jamie Stewart circa GD 5914
James ‘Jamie’ Stewart, Captain of the Siren’s Embrace, looked down, teeth grinding. Seven ships, armed to the teeth were minutes away from his ERV 454 scout ship. He knew as soon as they started closing in that this was it – there was no escaping this one with clever tricks.
Their current mission was to escort a beautiful, mysterious guest of the Council to her home planet – and to return with three ships full of rations one could only get dirtside. Her name was something incomprehensible, and he’d never even heard of the planet – not in twenty years on every type of ship known to man or mechanical.
She’d boarded his tiny recon vessel on the arm of high command and had kept her own company during the flight.
The rest of the crew was as tried and true as any in the fleet; men and women he’d nearly died with dozens of times, and the finest in the galaxy to his way of mind. If someone had betrayed them, she was his first bet.
He turned to her as she entered the cabin as the proximity alarms blared. “They were waiting for us.”
“If they were, it was none of my doing, and there is nothing you can do about it, Captain.”
His hand circled her arm. “I could kill you.”
“I very much doubt that.” Her eyes took on a strange glow.
The captain released her, hand going to the weapon at his hip. “What are you? Some kind of new assassin?”
She snorted delicately as the hailing light blinked on the console. “New? Hardly. I am old. And I was never an assassin, though I was considered something of a patron of them for a time. Goes with the territory, I think.”
“What are you? And why go to all this trouble to capture one vessel.”
“You are mistaken Captain. This is no plan of mine. In fact, I would assume that someone in your high command sold you out.”
She stilled. “Perhaps because I chose you. You reminded me of someone I knew long ago. Jealousy is a powerful motivation.”
“Look, I need whatever information you have, and I don’t have time for riddles. We have approximately three minutes before they blow us to smithereens, or worse, board us. I don’t have to tell you what they do to prisoners.”
“No, you do not. I cannot die, but neither can I, in this form, whisk you and your people away. I am a mere memory of what I was once, but by my nature I am unending, and so, here I sit – endless.”
He took a breath. “You are an alien.”
She shrugged, unconcerned; her voice was like broken glass in the sun – beautiful, sharp. “I am alien to you, human, though I lived on your homeworld before your kind crawled out of the mud.”
He shivered. “Well, unless you have some kind of mojo that can help, prepare to end here. I don’t care what kind of alien physiology you have, it’s not going to survive a blaster hole through the hull and depressurization. If we surrender, we’ll be tortured and then slaughtered to a man, and I don’t plan to go out that way. As soon as my crew gets into position, we’ll – “
She looked pleased for some reason he couldn’t fathom. “Go out in a blaze of glory?”
He swallowed, anger and pain flooding him, then looked up defiantly. “Yes. We might be no match for them, but I’ll be damned if I go down without a fight.”
She smiled, and it was terrifying. “Then, perhaps, you and I can come to an agreement.”
It was madness.
Utter madness, and he called himself a fool a dozen times as he opened the hailing frequency, cursing himself for clinging to something like hope on the word of some mad alien.
The worst that could happen is that he and his crew would die without getting a shot off. In the end, they’d be dead in a few minutes in any scenario he could logically expect – well, unless they surrendered, and then they’d be tortured for information before they were tossed into space like yesterday’s rations.
He pasted a smirk on his face as the faces of the commanders of the seven cruisers appeared on screen. “Sorry it took so long – I was, well, occupied.” He nodded toward the woman who claimed to be an ancient goddess as she lounged in his chair, like a gorgeous cat.
The commander of the largest dreadnought glared from behind a truly impressive mustache that made him look like an Old Earth walrus. “How dare you…”
Stewart grinned. “Oh, I dare quite a bit, as often as I can get away with it. But enough of that. I assume you had some reason for intercepting a diplomatic mission?”
A tall, skinny commander that looked like the weight of his medals and gold braid might overbalance him at any moment adjusted his glasses and intoned, “The subjects of High Queen Ramase do not recognize the sovereignty of your pathetic little planet; therefore you cannot have diplomatic arrangements with other systems. Furthermore, your class and marking have been identified as belonging to a ship that was sited in several insurrection – “
Jamie felt his eyes blazing. “It’s not insurrection if you are invading our planet and claiming it for your own – that’s called defense, or didn’t they teach the definitions of Basic language to you at that subpar brainwashing system you call an academy?”
The skinny commander’s eyes opened in surprise – and then obvious rage. “You insolent porcine byproduct!”
He walked over to the console and flipped his shields off, and then forced his body into a casual leaning pose he didn’t feel in the slightest. “Please. If you lot were any dumber, they’d have to hire Wenverian Crustaceans to help you cheat on your exams.”
Even if this didn’t work, it was almost worth dying to see the Ramsae commanders turning purple with rage. The skinny commander gave him a deadly smirk. “Fire all weapons.”
Stewart gave him a shark-like grin. “Go to hell.”
Minutes, or maybe hours later – he took in a deep breath, as if waking from a deep sleep. The woman (goddess?) sat on the floor with his head in her lap in the cockpit of the Siren while the wreckage of seven ruined ships floated serenely in the darkness of space.
Her voice was thick. “You are awake.”
He blinked. “And even more surprising, I am alive.”
She dimpled. “Hmm. This was nothing. You should have seen the things I could do when I was worshiped properly. Your desperation and faith allowed me more power than I’ve had in eons.”
He shuddered. He had made a devil’s deal to win an unwinnable situation. “My crew?”
“Teleported to their homeworlds, with a vague memory of you sending each of them off before this fight. Each of them has enough credit to make a good life for themselves, just as you requested.”
He nodded and tried to sit up. She held him down, smiling with teeth slightly too pointed and eyes that were never human. “Will you keep your word Captain?”
“I will. If you help me free my homeworld, protect my people, then I will Captain this vessel and live as a ghost – bearing your symbol in battle and dedicating my kills to you. No man will know that I live, until the war is over, and then my life will be forfeit.”
She patted his cheek and slid gracefully into the Captain’s chair. “Don’t look so glum. A forfeit isn’t an end Captain. You are about to win unwinnable war – and when you time is done, you will find that eternity spent with a goddess is not a fate worse than death.”
He stood at the console, turning his ship to the homeworld of the empire had oppressed his people.
He’d trade his own life for the people he loved a hundred times with no regrets. If that meant dying he was fine with it.
If it meant living, he could do that too.
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This is a flash fiction set in my Starlight Galaxy space opera series.
Jory’s Gamble By Juneta Key
I swear I saw one, as the turbo blasts volleyed from the Atticus M-Class Battlescout. Three shots bounced off our shields.
“Shield capacity decreased by 25%,” Geary, my modified MEC-BOT, said next to me in the co-pilot seat.
This might possibly be the last ghost-run I made for the cause.
The Sabre, a modified piece together luxury transport and starfighter, was built for speed and stealth over fire power. What it lacked was reinforced shielding and battle armament. The focus had been hidden cargo boots for transporting goods or people.
Galactic Patrol should not have been out this far. They lack the resources to patrol The Fringe.
Okay, we needed a plan. “Geary, ditch cargo bay twelve. We need to lose some weight.” The Sabre couldn’t take many hits like that.
“The Watcher’s won’t be happy, Jory. They’ll stick you for the…”
“I know. Just do it. I’ll worry about that if it happens.” I had built Geary as a kid, from parts I scavenged falling from the battle debris ring around our homeworld, Saratova, The Mechanical Planet.
Another blast caught our tail, in that moment I swear, there was a space angel peering into the viewport, right at me. Her eyes held a universe of stars. I blinked.
“Shields at 9%.” Geary’s bot-hands worked at three times the speed of mine. He dumped the cargo. “Shields back up to 18%. Two more hits and we are fried wires and roasted space parts.”
Suddenly we were dead in space as the M-Class lassoed us with a tractor-beam. The Sabre strained and shuddered. We were caught.
“Jory?” Geary’s voice actually went up a couple of octaves.
“I know.” I flipped switches, punched buttons, and rotated a few capitor caps. I moved to the back control panel, and rewired the power relays. “I have the hyper-port back online. Put all our power into that.”
“But Jory, without shields the force could pull us apart.”
“I know. Do it.”
I strapped back in,and activated the hyper-port as I fired our last cannon-torc directly into the tractor-beam of the Battlescout. We jerked. Stalled. Jumped. The stars coalesce into pinpoints.
“You did it.” Geary shouted..
I relaxed back into my chair for a split-second, and then unstrapped. “I’m going to check damage in the cargo area. I swear I heard the ship seams splitting in that last strain.”
Checking the last compartment port, I crossed the flight deck where the land-rover and speeder-bikes were housed.
I halted. Not sure I was seeing what I was seeing.
My space angel stood before me, so bright she blinded me, and then the glow dissipated. “Find me.”
The voice was faint. She dimmed.
“Where are you? Who are you?”
Just one word and she was gone, but I knew I was going to find her. A deep certainty resonated within me. Space angels, nor the world Ayestorm Wyndom were fables.
STORYTIME QUARTERLY BLOG HOP JAN, APRIL, JULY AND OCT PARTICIPATE LIST
Read speculative fiction from authors around the globe. Flash Fiction from 500 to 1000 word quick reads. Leave us comments we love hearing from you.
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