Short Stories

HOME SOIL, By Miriam Ruff – A Writing Challenge

Recently, I issued a challenge on TheProse.com in celebration of the upcoming release of my book From Ice to Ashes. I asked writers to tell a story about offworld rebellion against Earth unless than 2,000 words. There were a ton of great entries, but one stood atop the others. It was a story called Home Soil by Miriam Ruff, and she’s given me permission to share it here with all of you. I hope you enjoy :). And here’s a link to the challenge where you can read all of the other amazing entries! theprose.com/challenge/4948.

 

HOME SOIL, By Miriam Ruff

Kreya thrust her knee into the back of the Earther’s suit, right below the portable air unit, and twisted his left arm up higher, so it almost reached his head. Big suit. Clumsy suit. The kind people wore when they didn’t live in space. He slammed up against the outside wall of the airlock and grunted inside his helmet.

“Tell me when you planning hit us, mahn,” she spat into the comm of her own suit. “We not looking more Earthers comin for what ours now.”

“The hell I will,” the man hissed. “You ungrateful space rats, you don’t know what a good life we’ve given you.”

“Ah, so good we starve when you no feel like sendin food, that be? Then you tax what you do send so we can’t eat, and charge high for air so kids can’t breathe right. Well, we grow our own food now, heavy mahn. You not know? We got food and air. We no need you any more. We got good life with no Earthers messin our stuff. It been 200 years and you still think you control what never yours. We light and livin out here Mars.”

The man twisted in Kreya’s grasp, but she had him pinned too tightly to do much more than squirm.

“Go to Hell.”

“No, it be you who goin, mahn, if you no tell me. One last chance – when you hit us?”

“You’re as good as dead, dust-eater.”

“No me, Earther. It you be flyin back to Earth in no suit. I find out some other way what you plan.”

Kreya reached with her free hand across her body, pulling a five-inch utility knife from a side pocket of her skin-tight reflective suit. And, mainintaining pressure on the man’s back, she dug the blade deeply into his protective casing, leaving a wide gash. The hiss of escaping air whistled over the comm link, and the man gave a strangled scream. When she released her knee, he dropped, gasping, to the ruddy soil. His arms flailed and thrashed as he tried to suck in air that wasn’t there. She stepped back and watched, her dark eyes glinting like steel from behind the wide faceplate of her sleek helmet. Her chocolate-colored face hardened, too – this was not her first kill, but it was clearly a necessary one. The entire expanded colony – her people – depended on it. She waited until the thrashing stopped and the man lay looking at her with empty eyes.

Kreya peered out at the rocky plain surrounding the spaceport. It was still the dawn shift in Mars’ perpetual twilight, and there weren’t many ships coming in and out at this time. She was sheltered by the bulk of the airlock protruding from the port’s loading dock, but she knew she couldn’t leave the Earther here. No one could track his death to her, specifically, but trouble between Earth and Mars had been brewing for decades, and she knew, regardless, that the SMM would be blamed. And the Sovereign Mars Movement couldn’t afford to become entangled in that right now, especially when they were so close to gaining their independence, despite what the diplomats said.

There was an access shaft behind the airlock that was only used when the generator had to be taken offline; that would do for now. Kreya dragged the body to the shaft and turned the large wheel that would open the metal seal. It was stiff from disuse. Even in Mars’ light gravity, dragging the man and hoisting him into the shaft was difficult – she was fifth-generation Martian, and well-adapted to her planet. Mass was still mass, no matter where you were from, and Earthers carried more muscle from pulling against their gravity.

“Mahn, why you be so big load?” she murmured into the silence. “Damn Earther make more problem even when is dead.”

She poured him in headfirst, pushing on his legs to get the rest of the body over the seal’s lip. The hatch shook slightly as her burden hit bottom, and convinced he would not be discovered anytime soon, she swung the wheel in the opposite direction and took to brushing the drag marks from the reddish dust to avoid any unwanted attention. Real, red dust. The Earther was right about one thing – she was a dust-eater through-and-through, and damn proud of it. Then putting her palm to the airlock’s plate, she waited for the door to cycle and went back inside.

#

The SMM war room had been built in an abandoned maintenance cavern 29 levels below the planet’s surface. It had taken 10 years of covert effort to turn it from a dust-filled hollow to a state-of-the-art surveillance and attack center, as the Martians took as much technology from the Earthers as they could get away with and re-engineered it to improve its function. Banks of vido monitors lined the walls, each monitor trained on a different level and section of the colony. At the far end of the room from the entrance stood a long, squat console, whose switches and knobs operated a wide range of ordnance aimed at targets both inside and outside the main dome, defending the inhabitants from The Enemy. There was only one – the planet next door – and everyone here knew it. Kreya had grown up in this room, learning the ins-and-outs of every console, every weapon from Mars’ top minds, and she had grown to become one of the SMM’s leading stealth agents.

It was now time for the day-evening shift switch, and in the chaotic movement of people on all the levels, about 100 individuals had been able to break away and make it to the room undetected. They sat in the chairs, against the walls, or between machinery, wherever they could find a space. Hevor, a tall, dark-skinned man of about 40 sols moved to the front of the room, and a hush descended, though the air still crackled with anticipation.

“We be glad you come,” Hevor started. His voice was deceptively soft for his size. “Know it difficult but we near the time. Deimos put it within a week. Kreya, anything on the Earther?”

She dropped her chin slightly. “No, and he gone.”

“Okay, Salis?”

He turned his gaze toward an Asian man near the back of the room. “Been over manifests they post. If they carrying, they not showing it there.”

A gray-haired woman raised her voice. “Hevor, got intel. All you need hear.”

Her voice was gravelly – she had spent her whole life breathing in the planet’s dust, and it commanded a certain respect – like everyone in the room, she was a Duster through-and-through. Everyone turned as one to look at her.

She continued. “Two ship inbound, docking in three sols. “Hurley” carry Earther people-killer machine – wipe Dusters out with no damage to dome. Needs get inside to use it, though, so we got room. “Casey” got maybe 2,000 troop. They plannin for big fight. No prisoner me thinkin.”

“How solid the evidence?”

“Confirm off Netlink, and got send-through from our Duster in military office. We right in it.”

Hevor considered this for a moment. “Evacuation?”

Kreya spoke up. “All not old enough to fight goin to down-below. Bulkheads down and everyone else know be shield. We be ready.”

Hevor peered out at the group before him. “We got one chance get this right. We gotta know everyone in and knows what doin.”

“We all good,” Kreya told him decisively. “Been long time waitin. Not gonna screw up.”

Hevor nodded. “Good. We get maybe five minute when they dock for them to realize the airlock no cycle for them and get their suits on. We gotta be in by then. Not gonna lie – won’t be easy. We gonna lose some, but we have surprise. To them Mars just old space rock; to us home, and we fight for home. Show them Dusters don’t take no beatin from the heavy mahn.”

The group cheered their assent.

“Nayan give final posts tomorrow noon,” Hevor told them. “Be there, be ready, and this time Mars finally be free. Now go. Don’t want no Earthers wondering where their space rats go to.”

One by one they filed out, moving into the crowds as inconspicuously as they could.

#

It was all in the planning, Kreya told herself as she wriggled tighter into her hiding space between two large cargo containers in the docking area. It was hard to move with her suit on, but she needed the protection in the airless bay. The Earthers would land in about 20 minutes, their ships descending from the surface platform into the bay, which was supposed to seal and pressurize so they could disembark. They didn’t know that Tarent had sabotaged the cycler, but it wouldn’t take them long to figure out how to override it. That was the time upon which all their plans depended – getting to the ships and the crew before they were fully pressurized and before they knew what hit them.

She was in charge of the laser cutter. She had always shot on target, and now she would have her biggest target yet – an Earther ship, which she was to slice open like a ration tin. The trick was making the gash quickly enough and deep enough so that many of the Earthers wouldn’t have even suited up yet. If they weren’t caught in the fire, they should suffocate in the vacuum of the bay. The rest, who were suited, would put up the biggest fight, and that’s where the casualties would start to mount up. “Be quick cut,” she whispered to her weapon, and she tensed her grip on it.

“Comm check,” came Hevor’s voice in her ear.

“Bay cargo ready,” she replied, and she heard each of the other hidden fighters reporting in. She kept her comm open for any additional orders.

Kreya felt the vibration as the entire bay shook before Hevor’s voice came again: “Ships locked on pads. Headin your way, cargo. Fight well. We back you up.”

The bay shook as the ships descended, and she felt herself holding her breath. “No, breathe, Duster,” she told herself. “Life in the breathin.”

Minutes went by, she and she could see the bottom of the platforms entering the bay. The large bay doors were starting to close. It was now or never.

Kreya let out a whoop of excitement. “You go nowhere, Earther scum! Hit now!”

She and at least ten other shooters targeted the ships and began drilling. The Earthers had named this planet after their god of war. Well, it had come to war. And in that war she knew she would either live or die, but it would be worth all the effort, no matter what. Mars, her world and its colony of people, would live forever.

END

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Giveaways

Sci-Bridge Launch Giveaway!!!

I’m excited to let everyone know about a brand new Sci-Fi platform. A few weeks ago, me and some buddies came up with an idea to bring together Sci-Fi authors from every background — traditionally published and independent writers, as well as bestselling and emerging authors. Sci-Fi Bridge is dedicated to bringing readers exclusive access to some of the best science fiction authors around the world. We believe it will be an awesome opportunity for readers to become acquainted with their favorite Sci-Fi authors, and ones they may not have ever heard of before who are putting out amazing stories.

In order to celebrate the launch, I’m excited to bring you the 1st of 4 massive book giveaways! Everyone who enters between February 20-27 will receive four bestselling Sci-Fi novels FREE upon signing up. 5 winners will receive 20+ ebooks from the host of amazing authors pictured below and 1 Lucky Grand Prize Winner will also receive a package of 17 signed books. That’s right, 17, including signed books from Tom Abrahams, Daniel Arenson and Samuel Peralta, as well signed full series by bestsellers like Jay Allan, Jamie Mcfarlane, Steve Konkoly, Myke Cole and more!

All you need to do is enter through the link below. And stay tuned. Next month our March 20-27 Giveaway will feature prizes from authors such as Jen Foehner Wells, Felix R. Savage, Rysa Walker and many more!

Enter here: www.scifibridge.com

 

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Reviews

Review of “A Darker Shade of Magic,” by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic  by V.E. Schwab

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Novel (401 pages)
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

It’s been a while since I read a proper Fantasy novel, so I was very excited going into this one. It’s been recommended to me a bunch. I can’t say I was disappointed. This is a real solid start to a series. I didn’t find it spectacular and wouldn’t call it one of my favorite fantasy novels ever, but there is really intriguing setting in here.

Kell (amazing name by the way!) is an excellent protagonist. He’s flawed in many ways, but sympathetic in how he cares for the family who took him in. To me he was a character who is just beginning to get a grip on his powers but is holding back from who he could be. That’s the most exciting prospect about the sequels to me. Seeing him blossom fully and move on from magician seeking curiosities, to a full-fledged hero.

It’s how his magic works that is the star. This isn’t a wonderfully complex system of using magic like you’d find in “The Kingkiller Chronicles,” but it’s enough to keep the story humming along at full speed. He is born a special race who can access blood magic, true magic, and use it to traverse the multiverse. This idea of placing parallel worlds in a fantasy setting isn’t completely original, but it’s in their description that the true magic lies. Each London we’re presented with has a character of it’s own, and I wished I spent even more time learning about their differences.

The other main character, Lila, was hit and miss for me. She was so scrappy and rebellious that at times she almost seemed like a cartoon, and spoke like it too. Placed beside Kell who was such a three-dimensional character, I just couldn’t get behind her plight. Rise up from the riches is tried and true, but to me she just didn’t make the cut. Maybe it’s just that Kell was so captivating throughout…

My other issue, the villains. Holland is Kell’s rival and stole every scene he was in, but his bosses, the villainous Danes in charge of White London, were cardboard villains. I would have loved more focus on Holland instead because everything with the Danes merely led to a final confrontation that simply didn’t feel earned. They had so little face-time throughout and where I got to hear plenty about how evil they are through Kell’s thoughts, I didn’t see it like with Holland.

This is still an awesome kick-off to a series. Each of the three Londons (There are four but we don’t get to see Black London yet) are a treat to behold, and the reserved hero Kell is worth investing time in. I can’t wait to see where the sequels take him, and hope they’re able to do as much justice to his human companion Lila.

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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Publishing News

PROSE: A New Home to Write and Share Your Work!

I hadn’t heart about TheProse until recently, but the man behind the magic there messaged me and asked if I might be interested in posting something. After looking through what they’re all about, I was intrigued. A place for writers to freely share their work, critique and interact? Sign me up! It’s a great idea and I’m a big fan of what I’ve seen. It reminds me of critters.org, only with a bit more organic of an interface and more of a focus on short fiction. Flash Fiction isn’t my usual jam, but for those who enjoy it this is an awesome site.

The piece I’ve decided to post is a bit of flash fiction experimentation titled “A God Among Us.” It’s about a lonely god who has lost his humanity. I was never really sure what to do with it, but I hope you all enjoy!!

Check out TheProse and my story here!

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Reviews

Review of “Wool”, by Hugh Howey

The Wool Omnibus  by Hugh Howey

Publisher: Broad Reach Publishing
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (530 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5) (Silo series) by [Howey, Hugh]I know, I know, I’m late to the party, but I was selected to write a short story for an anthology related to Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’ Series, so it was time to sit down and give this a read. I was really pleasantly surprised! Usually a series with as much hype as this doesn’t live up to it, but I definitely felt it did.

Mr. Howey has developed a fascinating world. The descriptions, the imagery, all top notch. While maybe not the most original or believable story throughout, it was more than good enough. My biggest issue was that the ending felt a bit rushed. There is so much detail in every page, yet all of a sudden the story wraps up. It felt a bit contrived, and Juliette’s character seemed to change a little merely to fit the needs of the story.

That wasn’t enough to ruin it for me though. Dystopian fiction just isn’t usually my thing, but after reading this I can’t believe books like Divergent and Hunger Games made it onto the silver screen before this. It was made for the movies.

If you don’t want to read this entire thing and have to pick just one book in the omnibus, part one is the way to go. It totally sold me on the premise of the underground world Mr. Howey has so lovingly crafted, and was a beautifully haunting story. Honestly, I think my biggest problem with the end portion of the omnibus might be that this first part was so strong. Nothing else in the book affected me like those first few brilliant chapters.

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

 

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Reviews

Review of “The Life Engineered,” a novel by J-F Dubeau

The Life Engineered  by J-F Dubeau

Publisher: Sword & Laser
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (175 pages)
Rating: 4/5 stars

Image result for the life engineeredWhat a surprise this book was. I saw some reviews on it, thought it sounded interesting, and am glad I decided to read it. This isn’t a perfect book, but Mr. Dubeau has skills and is a name I’ll be looking out for on the science fiction scene.

More than anything, I found this novel to be unique. The main characters are all robots (known as Capeks) who have been left in charge of the galaxy by humanity after their creators went into hiding for unknown reasons. But they aren’t your typical, emotionless robots. These Capeks have personalities as varied and interesting as any humans. The main character, Dagir, takes us on an journey to discover the cause between the first acts of violence in Capek culture. There are epic battles between metal behemoths galore, but at the root of everything is a very intriguing philosophical disagreement.

That’s the real strength of this novel. Mr. Dubeau’s world-building is top notch, with nothing as interesting as the Nursery where artificial minds are nurtured. It uses Buddhist mythology, birth, rebirth and nirvana as a way to decide when the mind is ready to be released into the universe. I won’t say more than that, but trust me it’s a fascinating idea.

My one real issue with the novel is that it needed a good editor to trim down the fat. There’s a lot of overwriting here. Paragraphs of description that feel redundant because the subtext of the preceding dialogue already told me what was happening, or didn’t, but a single line of dialogue would have sufficed. This is already a short read, but that kind of brevity would have made it go by smoother.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this. For a debut novel, Mr. Dubeau absolutely nailed this. I can only imagine the series getting better!

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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Reviews

Review of “Star Wars: Lost Stars,” a novel by Claudia Gray

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Publisher: LucasBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (560 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars

Image result for star wars the lost starsI’d heard so many good things about this book that I decided to give it a shot. I usually don’t like young adult so I wasn’t sure it was for me.

I’m so glad I took the chance. This was easily the best new canon Star Wars novel I’ve read so far by a long shot. In my opinion, never before has Star Wars gotten so personal. This story of the love and connection during war, between Thane and Ciena, was as captivating as any I’ve ever read. Sure there are some young adult elements like during their training and some love scenes that had me roll my eyes, but never enough to take me out of it.

The war between the rebels and the empire is a staple of Star Wars as everybody knows, but it never felt realistic to me until now. It was more an exaggerated dark vs light conflict. But seeing the war from both sides, from the perspectives of two normal officers who are drawn to opposite sides, really had me invested in the struggle. This book didn’t need the force or bounty hunters to hold my interest, and I think proved to me how ripe the Star Wars universe is for every type of story.

And the way Gray plays on the events of the original trilogy to bring Thane and Ciena at crucial times added so much to those movies for me. It made me care about the people on the Death Stars who died in ways the movies couldn’t. The horrors of war were plainly visible here, like a story of two people on opposite sides of our own civil war drawn to fight one another.

I highly recommend this book. Don’t be scared off by the young adult tag if that’s not your thing. This book is rife with realistic relationships and adult themes.

 

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

 

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Reviews

Review of “The Darth Bane Series,” by Drew Karpyshyn

Publisher: LucasBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (Three Books. 1009 Pages overall)
Rating: 5/5 stars

KeepDarth Bane: Star Wars Legends 3-Book Bundle: Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, Dynasty of Evil (Star Wars: Darth Bane Trilogy - Legends) by [Karpyshyn, Drew]ing up with the current Star Wars craze, this is one of my favorite novels set in that universe. Though it may be a “Legends” story now, Darth Bane himself remains canon and hopefully one day this book will be too.

I LOVE stories that focus on the villains, and that’s what you get with this trilogy. Drew Karpyshyn takes the reader into mind of one of the most powerful Sith Lords there ever was -Darth Bane, the founder of the infamous ‘rule of two’ we hear references to in the movies. It’s such an interesting look into the Sith mindset that sometimes it made me question whether the jedi really are completely good. It’s a perspective I’ve always wanted to see more fleshed out in a Star Wars book.

This is a three book series so there is a lot to cover, but I’ll avoid any spoilers because it’s worth the trip. Darth Bane is a captivating character, all at once terrifying and charismatic. While I found the first book (which is solely about his rise to power in the sith order) to be the best by far, the others were still great as he takes on a female apprentice named Darth Zannah. The action is fast-paced and thrilling, and the slow parts are filled with intriguing descriptions of the philosophical ideals which breathe further life into the dark side of the force.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, I can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy this. If you’re not, there’s still a lot to love. The trilogy is a wild ride, and Mr. Karpyshyn’s ability to seamlessly add additional characters throughout the sequels is masterful. This is especially true in the second book when there is a POV jedi character, Johun, and the reader gets to see the direct contrast (and similarities) between the two creeds. Star wars is often so black and white, so it was great to see some grayness here.
Overall, the ending of the third book was a little disappointing for me, but it isn’t enough to detract from the entire trilogy. It’s a wonderful story about the pursuit of true power. In my opinion, Bane stands alone as the most compelling villains that Star Wars universe has to offer.

The complete series can be purchased for kindle here.

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Reviews

Review of “Star Wars: Lords of the Sith,” a novel by Paul S. Kemp

Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S.Kemp

Publisher: LucasBooks
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: Novel (321 pages)Length:
Rating: 4/5 stars

This is the first Star Wars novel in the new canon that I’ve finished so far. There’s no question that this is a solid story, but don’t let the title trick you. This is being marketed as a tale of Vader and the Emperor, but they really come off as secondary characters. It’s really a handful of others who take center stage. I love the dynamic between Vader and the Emperor so I might not have picked this up had I realized that, but I’m glad I did. While it doesn’t live up to some of my Star Wars favorites (Bane Trilogy, Thrawn Trilogy I’m looking at you) Lords of the Sith kept me captivated from beginning to start.

The novel takes place only a few years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. The planet Ryloth is suffering under the heal of the new Empire and a Twi’lek named Cham Syndulla leads a resistance movement against them. After an encounter with Vader and witnessing his power, he decides to try and cut the head from the Empire by having both Vader and the Emperor killed. What follows is a deadly game of cat and mouse between this small group of rebels, imperial officers and the two most powerful people in the galaxy.

In my opinion Cham and his partner/romantic interest Isval are the stars of this book. They have a wonderful dynamic; he as the calm, collected but jaded rebel leader with the weight of the movement on his shoulders, and she as a former sex-slave at the hands of the Empire fueled entirely by rage. They couldn’t be more different, but Mr. Kemp did a great job of building their relationship over the course of the book. Isval especially stood out for me. Without spoiling anything, there’s a scene early on in the book showing what she does when she takes a break from freedom fighting that nearly brought a tear to my eyes.

On the other hand are Vader and the Emperor, and their struggle to survive the attempt on their lives. I wish they had more scenes together because every single one was brilliant. There’s a constant tension present between them. Vader respects his master’s power but it’s clear there are no feelings of true friendship. And he’s constantly being tested for weakness by the Emperor. Unfortunately, the extent of their role in Lord of the Sith’s story-line leaves them without any character arc whatsoever. It’s a real shame. They start the book with that dynamic, and when it ends nothing has changed at all.

I wasn’t as sold on the final two POV characters, Imperial Moff Mors and her overly ambitious second-in-command Belkor. They serve their purposes well as far as the storyline went, but I found myself less invested in the chapters focusing on them. I’d much rather have spent more time with the others. Even if the relationship between the Emperor and Vader wasn’t going to change dramatically, a few more conversations exploring it could’ve easily replaced the numerous pages filled with Belkor’s complaining.

All in all, I’d recommend this book to any Star Wars fan. The story is strong, the action thrilling and often brutal, and the ending came together flawlessly even while knowing certain characters obviously had to survive. There are also plenty of references sprinkled throughout that are sure to excite people who follow the universe closely (and especially who watch Star Wars Rebels). I just wish someone would change the title and the book description. This isn’t a story about Vader and the Emperor, it’s the story about two Twi’leks who dared to fight back against insurmountable odds.

This book can be purchased for kindle here.

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