Here’s another great story from my Champions: “The Orb”

The Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, bring forth another great Sci Fi story collaboration. Today, we reveal Part 4, the penultimate installment of the story!

The Orb

A Circle of Champions collaboration story

Jim Hamilton, who won my October Contest, took on the challenge of writing a story in five parts with two other champions, Katherine Shaw and S. Songweaver. Each writer will write a segment of 500 words or less. Jim started the story below, wrote Part 3 and will finish the story with Part 5.

Each Friday, I’ll bring you a new segment, and we’ll see how this the story progresses. And we’ll see if Jim can bring it home with a big finish. I know he can.

In today’s edition, we add Part 4 by S. Songweaver, who won my March Contest with the story “Lucky Day.”

The Orb

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

It was five o’clock on a Saturday morning when Elizabeth and Robert Tanwell were rudely awakened by a pounding on their front door.

“Who the hell can that be at this hour?” asked Betty. She nudged her husband. “Go see who it is, Bobby.”

“I will, honey,” he said, getting out of bed and drawing on his bathrobe. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

As Bobby descended the stairs, the pounding continued. “I’m coming!” he yelled, as loudly as he could. When he reached the door, he peered through the peephole and was surprised to see a policeman and a man in a dark gray suit staring back at him. He unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door. “Good morning, officers, what can I do for you?”

The middle-aged gentleman in the suit regarded Bobby with piercing eyes. “Are you Robert Marris Tanwell?”

“Yes, sir, that would be me.”

Holding up several folded sheets of paper, he handed Bobby one of them. “You are hereby under arrest for felony theft, including breaking and entering a government facility.” He handed Bobby another set of papers. “This is a warrant allowing us to search the premises for any evidence involved in the afore-mentioned crime.” He handed Bobby the last of the papers. “And this is a warrant authorizing the freezing of any assets you may have.” He nodded at the uniformed policeman. “Officer Wilmington here will take you into custody.”

The officer spoke up. “Please step out of the house and face the street, sir.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!”

Dazed, Bobby complied and became aware of the numerous vehicles that lined his driveway. Within seconds, a menacing-looking, riot-gear-clad squad rushed past him into the house. As the officer brought Bobby’s arms behind him and fastened them with handcuffs, Bobby swore he could hear Betty screaming over the policeman’s words.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” He turned Bobby around to face him. “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” Bobby protested. He looked at his house, searching for Betty. “What about my wife?”

The officer repeated, “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“Yes, yes, I do.” Bobby shook his head, “I think I want a lawyer now.”

Without replying, the policeman led Bobby to a marked SUV and opened the rear door. “Watch your head.”

Before climbing in, Bobby turned once more toward the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Betty, but there was still no sign of her. As the door closed behind him, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. One thing he knew for sure, it had to be something to do with that alien artifact he had found in his backyard two weeks ago.


Part 2 by Katherine Shaw

Bobby’s heart hammered in his chest as he sat sandwiched between two stern-faced officers, both of them staring forwards as the SUV jostled them in their seats. No one had spoken to him since they had set off, ignoring his anxious questions until he finally gave up and succumbed to their silence. With nothing to distract his whirring thoughts, Bobby’s panic only grew.

They hadn’t told anyone about the artifact, had they? No, definitely not. It was in his office, in its box, while they figured out what the hell they were going to do with it.

The journey was taking much longer than Bobby had anticipated. He’d had no time to properly dress or put on his watch, but the rising sun told him it must be nearly six. Surely the police station is much closer than this? Unless . . .

A dull ache spread across his tightening chest. Are they going to kill me?

Finally, the car slowed, and the crunch of gravel under the wheels suggested they had reached their destination. Bobby braced himself for the worst as the officer to his left stepped out of the car and signaled for him to follow.

He was led into a stark, featureless building with no obvious signage or markings, and the inside was equally devoid of identity. The walls were painted a humorless gray, and the expressionless staff members walking the corridors were dressed in plain, dark suits. He could have been anywhere, which only frightened Bobby more.

The leading officer stopped partway down a corridor and motioned for Bobby to enter a room to his right. It didn’t take a genius to recognize it as an interrogation room. He shuffled to the lone chair in the center of the room and sat, his hands clasped tightly on his lap. After several long minutes, a new officer entered. He was tall and thin, all angles and corners. His eyes were like cold steel.

“Where is it, Tanwell”? His voice was as sharp as his features.

“I’m sorry, what—“

“Do not play dumb with me. We’ve seen the tapes.”

“Tapes? What tapes?” Panic roiled in Bobby’s stomach. “Will someone tell me what’s going on? I haven’t done anything!”

The officer’s mouth twisted into a smirk and Bobby’s panic froze into ice cold dread. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, Mr. Tanwell, but what about several minutes of film?”

He held up a small remote and pushed a button. The nearest wall opened up to reveal a large, black screen which came to life at the officer’s touch. It showed a security tape from some sort of museum or archive, dated the night before.

What does this have to do with . . . ?

Bobby’s eyes bulged as a figure walked into the shot. A recognizable but impossible figure. It was him. Bobby himself!

“No! It can’t be! I’ve never—“

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 


Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

Bobby had a sinking feeling in his gut. He didn’t remember this place or breaking into it, but now
that he thought about it, this explained where the meteorite must have come from. And that nasty
gash on the back of my hand
, he thought to himself.

He glanced at his bandage as the officer spoke. “Isn’t that where you hurt your hand?”

Bobby paled as he looked back up again. “I . . . I think so, but I don’t remember it, I swear!”

The officer smirked as he said, “Let me guess—you’re taking Ambien?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, nothing like that, but I’ve had several blackouts recently where I don’t
remember what happened.” He pointed at the screen. “That must be one of them.”

“Blackouts? Seriously?” The officer laughed. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

Bobby nodded vigorously. “It’s the truth, officer. It all started with an alien artifact that fell into
my backyard.”

The officer laughed again. “Oh, now you’re bringing aliens into it?”

“I’m serious! Two weeks ago, my wife and I heard a loud thump coming from the backyard.
When we went to see what it was. There was a dull silver sphere, about the size of a golf ball, embedded in the dirt. From the very beginning, we both felt . . . I don’t know, drawn to it. I picked it up and we brought it back into the house.”

“Maybe a large ball bearing fell from a plane?”

“That’s what we thought. However, when we went to bed, it was on our coffee table. When we
woke up, we found it in our microwave. It was glowing brightly enough to hurt your eyes to look
at it.”

“How did it get in the microwave?”

“I don’t know.”

Bobby shook his head, knowing it sounded insane. “One of us must have moved it,
but neither of us remember doing so.”

He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Since then, we found it in the sink, filled with water. Then it moved to a large wooden box. Next it was nestled into some kind of sawdust and fertilizer. Then a light coating of sand was added. Last night, I found what looked like a meteorite in the box next to it.” He pointed at the video that was still looping. “One that I . . . apparently stole from this place.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that cockamamie story?”

“Yes! Because it’s the truth! I went to the store last night to get groceries and when I got home,
the meteorite was in one of the grocery bags and my right hand was bandaged.” He rubbed his
temples. “I remember shopping and coming home, but I don’t remember anything else.”

“As we speak, we’re searching your house. Care to tell me what we’ll find?”

Bobby nodded. “The box is on my desk.” He smiled. “However, I don’t think that your meteorite
is actually a meteorite.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, when I went to bed, it had cracked open and green goo was oozing out.”

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 


Part 4 by S. Songweaver

“Green goo?” The officer raised an eyebrow; it sounded absurd.

“Yes, green goo,” Bobby insisted. “Actually, not unlike the stuff that’s coming out of the door behind you.”

The officer didn’t budge, his steely, cold eyes fixed on Bobby. “You really think I’ll fall for that?”

“I mean, it’s nothing to fall for, sir.” Bobby said, frowning at the green sludge squeezing through the crack of the interrogation room’s door.

The man in front of him scowled and turned. “What the . . . ?” he managed before his face was accosted by the green mush sliding up his nostrils and into his mouth.

Bobby panicked and jumped up from his chair as the officer slumped and fell forward onto the floor.

A few moments passed before he gathered enough bravery to nudge the man with his feet. “Sir?”

“Sir . . . ? Are you . . . OK?”

The man stirred, causing Bobby to jump back.

“Mr. Tanwell, you are safe.” The officer broke into a broad smile.

Bobby gulped.

“We have to get you out of here.” The man’s voice sounded squeaky; it was different than before. His eyes were glazed, like he didn’t quite know how to operate them.

“Uhh . . . ”

“Don’t worry, we might be alien, but we come in pieces,” the officer offered, making a Star Trek-style sign with his fingers.

Confused, Bobby managed, “Are you the orb thing that’s been controlling my wife?”

“Yes, terribly sorry about that.” The officer gathered himself off the floor, seeming like he was learning how to walk again. He looked down at his arms like they were new to him. “We needed something from the museum and this facility. I promise we’ll get you home safe, and you won’t remember a thing. Nor will the people here.”

The man made a hiccup noise as he walked into the door. “Right, primitive technology,” it reminded itself, finding the doorknob. “Follow me, Mr. Tanwell. We shall meet up with your wife. My mates are with her now.”

Bobby hesitantly looked at the officer and the open door, then back at the chair that he had been seated in just moments before. “This is a weird dream. I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up soon.” He pinched himself. No dice.

“Hurry, Mr. Tanwell, we are on a line-dead.”

The man gestured for Bobby to go.

“You mean deadline,” Bobby corrected, following the officer out of the room and down the hall.

“No, I mean line-dead. My connection to the others was terminated when I came to get you. And until we meet up with them again, I can’t restore my live connection. If we don’t meet up at the checkpoint, I might miss them, and my ship will leave without me,” the officer replied, rushing past the security doors. “I just want to go home, Mr. Tanwell. I hope you can relate.”

Bobby frowned. It was as much as he could relate to a clump of green goo, he supposed.

“Your planet is terribly primitive, and we never, ever wanted to end up here again,” the officer added. “We were supposed to go to Andromeda, but my mates insisted on exploring something new. This is the last time I let them drive.”

At that moment, Bobby realized he might have a lot more in common with the strange alien sludge than he had thought.


We hope that you are enjoying “The Orb” so far. If so, please leave some kind comments for Jim, Katherine and S. below. And make sure to check back next Friday when we release the conclusion in Part 5 written by Jim Hamilton.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

This is the Winner of the Matthew Cross Writing Contest

The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is

Glenn R. Frank

I started the story below. See how Glenn starts after the red line and takes us to a surprise ending and reveals a dark plot.

Mayday

By Glenn R. Frank and Matthew Cross

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is United Polity Ship 999Q2-292-383-858-112, courier class. I have multiple air and fuel leaks following a collision with unknown debris—just dust probably—checking scanners now, mmmm, the immediate danger appears to have cleared, but I’ve cut engines to conserve fuel and prevent an explosion. Here are my coordinates. [Series of beeps, clicks and static sound.]

I’m listening to the Mayday from the cockpit of the Scrappy Doo, a merchant scrapper. Don’t ask about the name. It was Mom’s idea, and after she passed, it seemed disrespectful to change the name.

The shipboard comp is automatically recording this message and storing away the coordinates. I recognize the coordinate prefixes. The Polity courier is in my quadrant of the Belt, the vast ring of asteroids that forms the outer limits of the Halcyon system. But that covers a lot of space. After all, the Belt’s diameter is wider than the rest of the solar system inside of it.

I’m the only one on board, but even so my air’s gonna run out in less than 8 hours. Even if I blew all the fuel—if I wanted to risk an explosion—I’d be at least 200 hours out from Halcyon 5. I need a priority pickup under authority of the Polity Navy.

Eight hours of air. It’s every spacer’s nightmare. Without a rescue, you know the hour and the method of your death. And suffocation is a bad way to go.

I’m watching my own scanners as I listen. When you’re in the Belt, you have to be on constant watch. Courier-112’s case proves the point. A small shower of pebbles or even just a patch of dust can perforate a hull and turn it into a sieve. Doesn’t matter whether you fly into it or it flies into you.

The population of the Belt is sizable–mostly miners and scrappers like me. But we’re spread out over so much space you can go years without seeing anyone unless you intend to. So I’m certain someone else will answer the Mayday call. But that’s because I forgot about the family’s luck.

I open my eyes and check my scanners again. That’s when I see the blinking red comm light. My stomach drops.

Reluctantly, I lean forward and reach slowly for the comm switch. Click.

Scrappy Doo. This is Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. This is a priority comm.”

It’s not that I don’t want to help. But I have my own problems. I just loaded up the Doo five days ago with supplies on credit and I need to gather some scrap to pay back Fram. He’s an old friend of Mom’s and the only outfitter who will give me credit. Since Mom died almost a year ago I’ve been living hand to mouth.

And I’ve got a lead on a good haul that could square me with Fram for good. Maybe even give me a small cushion. So I don’t need distractions.

“This is Scrappy Doo,” I mumble.

“Did you receive Mayday UPS Courier-112?”

They know I did. You would have to bore into the middle of a planet not to receive a Mayday. Even the wilds of the Belt are filled with boosts to carry emergency messages.

“Affirmative.”

In my head, I’m repeating a mantra. Not me, not me, not me . . .

“You are the closest ship to Courier-112. Your ship reports you have adequate fuel to reach the Courier and reach orbit at Halcyon 8.”

My head thumps on the control panel. I bought all that fuel on credit. And now they want me to burn it all in a rescue mission for a lousy UPS courier with one passenger?

But what can I do? Space Control and my ship already made the automated electronic handshake. They know my position, my vector, my fuel levels. Control has all the data shown on my control panel and faster comps to spin it up into any simulation they want.

That’s why I’m sitting cross-legged in the pilot’s seat with my crossed fingers tucked under my thighs, hoping I won’t be close enough to help.

I’m also biting my lip, but that’s just because everybody gets nervous when you hear a Mayday. It makes your heart jump into your throat.

If I don’t render aid, then I’ll lose the Scrappy Doo the first time I make port. They’ll impound the Doo and throw me in the brig.

“This is Scrappy Doo.” I hear some chuckles in the background from Control. I grit my teeth but then smile. With Fram as my only friend, I can’t afford enemies. I smile because you can hear the difference over comms. “I’m changing course to render aid.”

“Affirmative Scrappy Doo. We’ve fed your ship the coordinates for the optimum intercept. We’re also sending a priority UPS Medical Transport to rendezvous with you near the rim of the Belt. Thank you for your service and we’ll try to get you back on your course as soon as possible.”

Even without checking my comp, I know this trip is going to use up half my fuel. If speed is not a factor, you burn the most fuel just changing course. One turn to meet the courier and one to head to the rendezvous point with the med transport . . . I just shake my head.

I paste on a fake smile.

“Control, have you confirmed the identity of Courier, umm . . .” I’ve already forgotten the courier ship’s designation. I check a monitor. “UPS Courier-112? I’m solo crew and I have minimal weapons capability.”

I can’t keep all the quaver out of my voice. It’s actually worse than it sounds. My shields are only rated for space debris and minor port collisions. And the ‘defensive lasers’ that came standard with this scrapper model are really just part of the array of cutting tools for scrapping. Sure, they’re strong, but the aiming and target-tracking programs are a joke, and the combat display features on my monitors are clearly an afterthought.

So, I’m not completely defenseless. But any well-armed pirate . . . Let’s just say the thought makes me damp under the arms.

“No worries, Scrappy Doo, we’ve confirmed the identity of the UPS courier. It’s the real deal.” There’s some chatter in the background. “That courier has some special Navy designations, too. They’re classified, but let’s just say the passenger is somebody important.”

A VIP, huh? Maybe there’s an upside here, as long as he and I both survive this.

They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“We’ll live monitor your progress until rendezvous. I’m also sending your ship a boost code. Your ship’s automated beacon will warn all other ships that you are under Mayday orders and protected by Control and Polity Navy authority.”

Oh, goody, I think. Control is millions of kloms away. They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“Thank you, Control. Changing course to respond to Mayday UPS Courier-112.”

The comp says six hours to intercept, including deceleration to match speed and direction of the courier. That’s good. The courier reported he had less than 8 hours of air, which is not a precise number. But air consumption is not a precise measurement, no matter what the engineers say, and add a tiny, undetected leak or two and it’s anyone’s guess.

If the courier is conscious when I arrive and the ship’s hatch is not damaged, then bringing him aboard will take no time at all. If he’s trapped in a can leaking fuel, that will get tricky. 

I spend the first hour checking Control’s intercept calculations. Of course, they’re right, but it’s a good math exercise to run. How often do you get a chance to run real space math and check it against a Control calculation? If you want to pilot a ship, you gotta know your math. Calculations also calm and center the mind.

That task done, I try and take a nap. It’s hopeless, of course. I’m nervous for the courier. I’m terrified for me.

So I do some more math. I plug myself back into the comp and run air, water and food calculations for two people aboard the Doo. AOK.

I run rescue simulations, practicing some extractions with each of my cutting tools. The first run throughs are pretty smooth. Control didn’t send me much for specs on the courier, so I send a message to request those. I get back a set of generic specs on Polity courier ships. I send again, asking for Courier-112’s specs from its own computer. The terse message back says those are classified.

Classified? They want me to run a rescue and not give me the specs? That sounds like the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.

“A bunch of morons,” I say to myself.

I spend the rest of the trip checking equipment again and again. And then I check it again.

Before I’m in visual sight of Courier-112, I hail it. The ships already made their electronic handshake. Something in the codes from Control must have authorized the courier ship to do that much. But the courier ship won’t tell me anything about passengers or bio signs. It’s classified, I’m sure.

After three explosions, my hands are shaking.

The courier’s pilot is not responding to my hails, either.

I add fuel leaks to the rescue simulations. Big mistake. After three explosions, my hands are shaking. I unstrap and float to the back to the equipment storage.

Until I was close, I didn’t want him to use up any air talking. I could have just texted, of course. But to tell the truth, I put it off until now because I didn’t want any bad news.

When I reach visual range, it doesn’t look so bad. Courier-112 looks to be in a single piece. It’s riding straight, not spinning out of control, gliding smoothly on course. I let go of the breath I’d been holding in.

The Doo and I go through the docking sequence together. The Doo aligns with Courier-112 and I make the final small adjustments visually. I feel the slight vibration as the ships connect. Textbook docking!

I slump back in my seat, relieved. Ships only make this kind of docking maneuver in cases of rescue or combat. I’d only done it once before with Mom at my side.

The relief doesn’t last long. I still can’t raise a response from the courier’s pilot. I try everything, including the comms built into the Doo’s docking arms connected to the courier.

I’m going to have to go outside. Vac, vac, vac!

I hear Mom’s voice in my head. “Never hurry. Think it through. Make a plan. It’s only the spacers that lose their heads and rush around that get hurt.”

Instead of unlatching, I check my monitors. First, assess the situation. I had set a countdown clock based on 8 hours of air. If the courier’s estimate was good, he should have plenty of air left. But he could still be injured. Unconscious.

I went through my options. Legally, I could report this to Control and stay in my seat. The duty to render aid on a Mayday does not extend to space walks. Legally, all I had to do was wait here until the courier’s pilot climbed aboard or death was confirmed. I could even earn a small commission just giving the ship a push in the right direction for a Halcyon recovery crew.

I run through all my options twice, but the truth is, I’m a spacer. And in space, a spacer renders aid. Because this could happen to anyone. Mom would agree.

I send Control a quick update, half hoping they’ll tell me to sit tight. I get no response. That happens in the Belt. Dead patches run throughout. With shaking hands, I unlatch and climb into my suit. I move slowly and deliberately. I think through every action.

Before I know it, I’m opening the hatch of Courier-112. So far, Control and the ship’s own comp have been so secretive, I half expect red lights and sirens when I pull the inset lever to reveal the wheel. Instead, the wheel begins to turn itself. The pilot told the ship to let me in. That doesn’t mean he’s conscious, I remind myself. He could have set the sequence before passing out.

The hatch opens, revealing the clear film of a gel seal. A courier ship is too small for a separate decompression chamber. Only the seal separates the cabin’s oxygen and open space. Through the film, I see the top of the pilot’s head. He’s wearing a suit and helmet as well. He does not move.

I push my helmet through the film and connect to his helmet.

Both our reflective faceshields open automatically at the connection, leaving clear panes for us to see through. Our suits have synched their own comms.

His eyes are closed. A shock runs through me. I’m too late, I think.

Then he opens his eyes. He has dull blue eyes, almost gray. He smiles slightly as his eyes focus in on mine. Then his pupils open wider as he examines my face.

“You’re just a kid!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the kid that’s saving your hide.”

“Negative, it’s too late for that,” he says. He looks down.

I see a detail I missed before. Small threads of red extend from the chest of his suit, wiggling in the thin air. Blood. The suit sealed itself, of course. Just two small holes, but they’re high on the chest.

And then I see the bubbles of red in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you alone?” he asks.

What a creepy question. That’s my first thought. But it’s an important one. A fair question, I guess.

“Yes, I’m the solo captain-pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

I see confusion in his eyes.

“I’m a scrapper.”

“Negative,” he says. “Now you’re UPS Courier-112. Get this to Halcyon 5.”

He raises his hand to me, holding a black slip of plastic. A data chip, no doubt.

“Halcyon 8?” I say weakly.

“Negative,” he mumbles, “Halcyon 5. It’s . . . “ He gasps and I hear burbling sounds. “. . . urgent.”


I push my arms through the gel seal and grasp his shoulders, but he’s gone. The data chip floats from his hand and I swipe for it, but my clumsy glove swats it away instead.

Just my luck, or clumsiness.

I follow the floating chip into the snug cockpit where it pings off the forward canopy. This time I corner it with my gloves and gently slip it into my suit pouch.

Small holes in the canopy glass are patched with emergency gel. Blood is splashed across the console. A sealant canister floats nearby. Twin holes are in the back of the seat, ringed by blood droplets which cling to the chair only by surface tension.

What was this Naval courier doing out here in the Belt? Why would he be desperately trying to get back to Halcyon 5 when 8 is closer?

I place my hand on my suit pouch and look at the data-reader in the console.

No, I can’t.

It’s classified.

I take a long, deep breath. But he told me I am UPS Courier-112 now. Belt Control’s team will take this back to Halcyon 8 instead of the Navy on 5. The dead pilot didn’t seem to want that to happen.

I carefully retrieve the chip from my pouch and slide it into the data-reader slot. Video of a ship’s hull, illuminated by spot lights, scrolls past on the display screen. The ship’s name comes into view: UPS Ceyx. Belt coordinates and tracking information follow the video of the dark and silent warship.

I pull the chip and put it back in my pouch. I need to get back to the Doo.

The stale atmosphere of the Doo is strangely comforting as I remove my helmet and slip into my pilot’s seat. The comm light is blinking again. I hesitate, then click the switch.

Scrappy Doo, have you made contact with the pilot?”

“Control, the pilot is dead.”

“Stay on station, a team should be there soon.”

I cut the comms without confirming. “A team” sounded ominous to my ears. Something’s not right. I run my hand through my hair and sit back. I could make a run for 5 with telemetry off, but they already know who I am.

A clank of the docking hatch behind me breaks my thoughts. I turn. A combat suit stands before me, weapon held in my face. An electronically distorted voice crackles:

“Sorry it had to be you, kiddo.”

Kiddo? — “Fram?”

“This wasn’t how you were supposed to repay me,” the faceless soldier says. “Your mom wouldn’t have wanted it this way either, but . . . ”

“I said I would pay you back!”

“Belt Control has me under their thumb. They need the ship to stay hidden for the coming rebellion against the Polity. You’re the scapegoat for the missing courier.”

I can’t believe my bad luck.

“Those shots didn’t come through the canopy did they? They came from behind.”

“You’re smart, kid.”


I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Glenn R. Frank and I wrote together. He’s a great collaboration writer!

If you enjoyed Glenn R. Frank’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

Be stellar! 🚀✨

Matthew Cross

This is the Winner of the Matthew Cross Writing Contest–April

The winner of the Matthew Cross Flash Fiction Collaboration Contest is

Jeremy Wilson

I started the story below. See how Jeremy Wilson starts after the red line and takes us to a smart, action-filled and deliciously vengeful ending.

Fools

by Jeremy Wilson and Matthew Cross

I like shiny things.

I think most cat burglars do.

Is that why we wear skintight suits and climb tall buildings? Yes. To retrieve shiny things. Plus, it’s just fun.

That’s why I’m hanging off the side of this 16-story, private resi tower right now. From this corner, I can see in one direction the 20 hectare property stretching off into the darkness and the brightly lit, private driveway that winds from the gate at the highway. In the other direction, I can see the private beach and the softly glowing surf. As you might guess, some pretty rich people live here. Some of the richest on the planet: M. Lasone and M. Lasone.

Yeah, those Lasones.

Why is that the richest people have the most beautiful jewels? Oh, yeah, coz they have the money.

My earpiece softly chimes, bringing me back to the task. I test the suction cups I just adhered to the plate window on the top floor. I attach the cables dangling from the roofline. Will it hold? I’ll find out in a few mins.

I liberally apply the repel gel on the glass around the suction cups. The windows were made to withstand everything from lasers to warheads, so they’re pretty tough. But they have seams, which are only covered by polysteel. That’s pretty tough, too, which is why I brought demolition-grade nanobots. They love polysteel.

I stole them from a junkyard. That was a tough job and not at all glamorous.

I highly recommend testing your nanobots before applying them hanging upside down from the 16th floor. I did. I borrowed a suite at the Ritz Boca Hotel in town for an afternoon. It had a lovely walk-in shower. That’s where I learned to apply the repel gel thickly. By the way, I don’t recommend making a reservation at the Ritz Boca for a while. Not until they clean the nanobots out of their plumbing system. Oops.

It’s crucial to go through every step of your plan meticulously. Especially when you’re mixing a job with revenge. On the upside, when you’re seeking revenge, choosing the target is real easy. I’ve had two years trapped at an all-girls prep school to prepare for tonight. It’s gonna go like clockwork.

I’ve timed out everything. There’s the chime in my earpiece again. I carefully open the sealed package holding the nanobots and spread them over the glass. They drift like gray dust across the shiny surface. They have no problem clinging to the slick glass. I’m a little jealous.

I can see the private beach and the softly glowing surf. Photo by Jordan Steranka.

I’m not exactly sure how long they’ll take to eat through the polysteel frame holding the window in place. But I tested a small sample of the nanobots on a bar of polysteel thicker than this window. It took them less than sixty breaths to consume the whole thing. Like I said, they love the stuff.

I climb back up to the roof and wait.

I don’t want to be hanging next to that window when the frame is gone.

I cross the roof to the corner’s other side. My guests are beginning to arrive.

This is the offseason for the beach, so the family is away. But there are still a couple of guards and some maintenance staff that live here even in the offseason. I gave them a few distractions. Just a couple days ago a package was delivered with an amazing new video game. Don’t worry, I bought it on someone else’s credit and it can’t be traced back to me. The gift card inside says “Play it loud to unlock bonus features.”

When I climbed up here tonight, the windows on the first three floors were vibrating. So I’d say they have a pretty good sound system in there. And I’m counting on that to distract them from the fact that the rooftop cameras went out for a little bit. I’m just jamming them until I get inside.

The second distraction is forming at the gate on the highway.

Someone spread the word of a secret blitz party. Meet Downtown. Bring your own transportation and your own drinks. Costumes encouraged. Party favors will be provided.

As I was climbing the tower, my earpiece chimed to confirm that another scheduled message had gone out with the address for the Lasone’s beach resi.

On my way here, I also dusted the hinges of the gates with a tiny amount of nanobots. And from the lights and shouts wending their way down the long driveway, I figure the gates must be open.

Actually, there’s a long line of lights stretching up the highway towards town. Looks like it’s gonna be a rager of a party tonight.

Oh, and the last message said they could park anywhere.

I hear popping sounds and then a low, dull “tonggg.” I walk back to the other wall and look down. The large rectangle of glass is hanging from my wires and swaying gently to and fro. OK, party time for me is over. I slip inside.

It’s a large bedroom. I pad to the closet.

This is the offseason for the beach, so the family is away. Photo by Tobias Rademacher.

This is not the master suite, which takes up most of the floor. This is an adjoining guest room next to the elevator. The closet actually has a back door that leads to utility rooms and the machinery for the elevator. There are cameras here, too. And I have to jam them with the equipment in my backpack until I get to the bare patch of wall right behind the huge, walk-in closet in the master suite.

On the other side of this wall, the closet itself is jammed full of clever security features, including cameras and lasers and whatnot. And two combination locks that I can’t crack. Sure, I can jimmy or pick simple locks. That’s a necessary skill for a high-story thief. But I’m no safecracker.

But I don’t have to be. Not when you back the safe up to a simple cinderblock wall. And not when you don’t even guard that wall with cameras or any kind of alarms. Fools! When you do that, you give me all the time in the world.

I set my pack down and draw out the heaviest and most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever used. It’s an industrial marine drill. Works wet or dry, hot or cold. I slip the air filter over my mouth and nose and slide earprotectors over my ears and the earpieces. This is gonna get loud.

See why I planned for some loud distractions?

The drill cuts through the cinderblock like a hot knife through crème dela crème. There it is, the dull-gray finish of the back of the safe! I clear a larger whole in the cinderblock. This is where it gets tough. I have to make a hole large enough for the top half of my body and then lean into the hole. I snag a brocade chair from the bedroom.

Don’t worry, I jammed the cameras both ways. And I’m careful not to leave a trail of cement dust everywhere I go.

I can’t hear what’s going on around me because of the earprotectors. So I’m looking around furtively every 50 breaths. It’s annoying and the sweat protector across my forehead is beginning to feel damp. My earpiece gives another chime. This is a special chime that sounds like a short trumpet fanfare. That was supposed to celebrate finding the back of the safe. After all, finding it on the first try is no guarantee. But I’m already drilling into the safe’s outer core. So I’m well ahead of schedule.

I’m not normally superstitious. But when you’re on a job, you need to use your brains and your guts. And when your guts say something’s off, you need to listen. Everything is going according to plan. In fact, it’s going far better than expected. And my gut says this kind of luck can’t hold.

But there’s always an element of risk to a job. Otherwise, where’s the fun?

I stop the drill and wiggle my way out of the hole in the wall. I slip off my earprotectors and listen intently in the darkness of the utility hallway. Nothing. I check my jamming device. It has a small screen that allows me to see the feeds coming from cameras very close to me. I click through all the cameras I can reach on this floor. Everything looks dark and quiet. I left sonic sensors on the wall of the double elevator shaft. No movement of the elevators.

I even check my jammer device again to make sure I haven’t been jamming one of the cameras this whole time. That could draw attention.

I shrug and get back to work. You can plan for every eventuality. In fact, you must. But there’s always an element of risk to a job. Otherwise, where’s the fun?

I eliminated all the risks I could. I timed this out perfectly. I have to trust to my distractions and stick to the timetable.

I figured M. Lasone really wanted to protect his wife’s lavalier. Photo by Patricia Zavala.

The standard version of this safe is built with five layers of polysteel with some thin carbon layers in between. Even that standard version requires some heavy-duty floor supports, which are even more expensive than the safe itself. My timetable allows for seven polysteel layers with possibly a few extra carbon layers.

I figured M. Lasone really wanted to protect his wife’s lavalier. After all, I had nearly stolen it the first time two years ago. Well, I actually had stolen it. I was literally holding it in my hand when they caught me. But I looked up at the judge through wet eyelashes and he knocked it down to “attempted theft.” Old fool.

Of course, he still sentenced me to stay on this lousy planet and go to school. School!

And then the Lasones offered to pay my tuition at the prestigious Wycombe Hall boarding school. The same school their own daughter attended, they told the judge. But don’t think they were doing me any favors. Sending a poor girl to Wycombe is cruelty, not kindness.

But did you know that rich girls like to gamble? They do. Especially when the betting pools are based on their classmates’ social lives and their steps into womanhood. More than once there was an awkward throng waiting for some debutante to come out of the shower in the locker room.

PopPop was a bookie, so I knew a lot about the trade. But I put together some betting pools he never would have imagined. That’s how I paid for this amazing drill.

Thief, con artist, bookie. Maybe Wycombe did help me round out nicely.

The drill breaks through to the inside of the safe. I’m stunned. The drill bit spins in midair for a few breaths before I release the trigger. That cheap, hairless, milk drinker Lasone! He put his wife’s most precious jewels inside a five-layer safe. A basic model.

I should feel grateful, but I don’t. I feel insulted!

I shake my head. You’re on the job. Focus!

I pull the marine drill out. It’s no good for cutting at angles. I insert my telescoping drill and camera. I drill upwards through two shelves and there it is. The lavalier. It captures the light from the drill and paints blue fractals on the safe’s walls.

A warning chimes in my earpiece. The elevators are moving. It could be something. It could be nothing.

I flick my wrist and the lavalier slides down around the long neck of the drill. With a few twists, I maneuver the necklace over the hole in each shelf and gravity does the rest.

There’s my beauty!

Resting in the dust-covered palm of my gloved hand.

Another chime. One of the elevators has moved above the fifth floor. I pull out of the hole and flip through the camera feeds. Again, I can’t see every camera on this floor, but nothing seems amiss.

I slip the lavalier down my neckline. My own necklace ends in a simple hook at my breastbone. The lavalier snags on the hook. I tug to make sure it’s secure. It feels cool against my skin. I tremble.

I also have a cat mask. A little inside joke. Photo by Soroush Golpoor.

There’s a funny thing about rich people. Despite all their vast wealth, they’re very cheap when it comes to someone outside their circle. Say, the help, for instance. With my bookie earnings, I was able to supplement one of the maid’s meager wages. And you wouldn’t believe the things she told me about M. Lasone and M. Lasone.

For one thing, that’s one sick marriage. I kind of let the maid think I was a gossip reporter. That made her a lot less suspicious when I asked about their bedrooms, their jewelry, and their schedules. But I also had to listen to a lot of details about the Lasones, including the children, that I can’t unhear.

The best secret I learned was about the safe room. It takes up two floors of the subbasement. And there’s a glide tube from the master bedroom straight down to the safe room.

I slip the backpack over one shoulder and head out through the bedroom closet. I leave the rest of the gear behind. I always handle all my gear with gloves so bio traces are minimal and degrading every sec.

I flinch as I open the closet door into the bedroom. In total darkness, I can tell a difference in the trace light from outside. Then I feel the ocean breeze and smell its salty tang. Turns out the nanobots were real hungry and all the windows along that wall have fallen out of their frames. I hear more popping sounds and one of the windows on the other wall silently falls out of sight.

There are no audible house alarms, but my elevator sensors now chirp in my ear. Both elevators are headed up. With windows on this floor dropping out of the sky, they have to know something’s up. Plus, I probably triggered some motion alarms in the safe or its closet sometime during the drilling and at least one more when I lifted the lavalier from its base.

It’s time to join the party outside.

I glide down the brightly lit tube for 16 floors. Photo by Joe Ciciarelli.

In my pack, I have a party dress that slides easily over my catsuit. I also have a cat mask. A little inside joke. But the costume serves a practical purpose. It hides my real features from cameras, whether they be security cameras or cameras carried by partiers. After all, I’m still on parole and I can’t be seen at this party.

I also have five mailer pouches in my pack. When I reach the party outside, all I have to do is find five of my plants wearing orange vests. There should be ten people wearing orange vests, so five should be easy to find. Then all I have to do is hand off my envelopes and make my exit.

The slider tube is in M. Lasone’s smaller closet behind a parquet door. I type in the code, step in, and glide down the brightly lit tube for 16 floors.


Or at least it should’ve been 16. Two floors down and I know something’s wrong. And then it hits me . . . literally. The ceiling of the tube collapses onto my head as the tube crashes through the side of the resi tower.

Looks like I may have miscalculated the appetite of the nanobots. Hungry little rascals.

As the tube careens into the sand below, I do my best to stick the landing to the great amusement of the revelers. I land on my feet, obviously, and quickly check my mask before turning and throwing my hands in the air, screaming like I just won the lottery. A thousand wild eyes light up and mix with a deafening roar as I’m swept up in a cresting wave of intoxicated party goers. With the side of the building practically dissolving, there’s nothing stopping the throng from exploring their new playground.

I should feel safe within the chaos, but something’s not right. There’s too much orange. Glancing around, I realize there’s way more than ten people wearing orange vests. Apparently construction worker is a very popular costume.

Time to improvise.

I check the camera feeds one last time. The remaining guards and staff are all abandoning ship.

A self-appointed DJ has set up shop on the upper floor. With all of the windows missing, it’s become quite the nightclub. I can feel the bass from here.

I spend a few too many breaths staring at a camera feed of two drunk girls violently squabbling over a throw pillow but, hey, who doesn’t like a good cat fight?

Suddenly, a familiar silhouette stumbles into the frame. It’s “Princess” Lasone, awkwardly coaxing some rando onto the makeshift dance floor. I should’ve known she’d show up to a rager at her own resort. Probably even took credit for it. I hate her.

I decide to scrap the mailers. I can’t risk handing the lavalier to a stranger or getting caught with it myself. Plus, this was as much about revenge as it was about the shiny.

I quickly thread through what’s left of the party on the beach until I find what I’m looking for: A bubble-gum-pink Benz with a diamond-studded license plate that reads “M&Ms.” Barf.

I check the handles. Unlocked, of course. I rummage through the compartments but finally decide to stash the lavalier in Princess’s glove box. Crazy, right? But the people who get hired to clean up this sort of thing know better than to mess with the Lasones’ things.

A cacophony of sirens and diesel engines signals my cue to slink away into the darkness.

I figure either her car will get towed, allowing me to easily recover the lavalier from the impound yard before Mommy and Daddy come to the rescue. Or she’ll get caught with it and she’ll actually have to go to jail this time. Did I mention that rich girls like to gamble?

Either way, I win.

After all, she’s always been a terrible big sister.


https://matthewcrosswrites.com/2021/04/18/explore-the-beautiful-photos-that-illustrated-fools-learn-more-about-the-photographers-and-follow-links-to-their-work/

I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction that Jeremy Wilson and I wrote together. He’s a great collaboration writer!

Make sure to check out the original, beautiful photos used to illustrate this story. and learn more about the photographers.

If you enjoyed Jeremy Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Enjoy 2 quick stories: One Infinite Loop Series

Seth Comire and I started a new short story series on his website, I Heart Sci Fi.

He started with Part 1: A Midsummer Hike. I really enjoyed his story, and his surprise ending blew me away.

I love his website dedicated to all things Sci Fi. And I kept thinking about his story ending. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say I started thinking about that ending and loved the idea of exploring more. I contacted Seth, who is very cool, and he agreed to let me write a “sequel” or follow-up story.

I wrote it up in a couple of days because I was so excited about the stories and the way they link. Seth liked it and posted it before I even knew it. He also created a cool new logo for the series, which you can see below.

Please enjoy both stories, starting with Seth’s Part 1. And if you like to write Sci Fi flash fiction, consider writing the third installment in the series. Each story is linked but can be very different. Read both stories and you’ll see what I mean.

Night of the Rocket–Kite Night

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the final story of a set of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. At the bottom of this story are links to the other five stories. And there will be more to come. I promise!]

Kite Night

by Matthew Cross

The United Polity Ship Pacifica, a Naval carrier, slid towards the planet, riding down the bent space of the sun’s massive gravity well. Ward was a Marine, not a scientist, so she knew the general theory but not exactly how the Slide Engines worked. The details were classified anyway, one of many strategic advantages tightly controlled by the Polity’s military. With such massive military advantages, the war should have been going better. Raised by the Polity Navy on an academy ship, there was no one more loyal to the Polity of Unified Planets than Capt. Ward. But she knew to keep her doubts to herself.

Shipboard duties during a Slide for a Marine were light, so Ward kept her Marines busy with constant training, surprise drills and study. To keep the peace with the ship’s crew, Marines also volunteered for KP, swabbing decks and other scut work, to show they weren’t just freeloaders. It was all in the SEAL Leadership Manual. “Stick to the Manual, Ward, and you won’t go far wrong,” said Commander Argyle, when pinning on her captain’s bars.

“And when the Manual doesn’t cover it, Commander?” she remembered asking.

“SEALs were born and bred for off-Manual, Captain.  Achieve the objective, by any means necessary.”

The SEALs have a lot of slogans. So many it’s a common joke in the Navy. Achieve the objective, by any means necessary, was one. It was not one of the cleverest or one of the most uplifting. It did not summarize what a SEAL was, but it cut straight to the heart of what a SEAL did.

Ward calmed the butterflies in her stomach and laid the last of the fine silver. Photo by Siniz Kim.

Ward was in the Officer’s Mess, setting the table for Cookie, the chief steward. Technically, officers weren’t supposed to do scut work, but Ward found small ways to lighten the load or at least lighten the mood when shipboard. She didn’t mind. It reminded her of simpler times aboard the U.P.S. Euphorion, her first academy ship where all the students did whatever needed doing. Cookie came out from the galley and announced that the planet was within visual-light range.

Ward calmed the butterflies in her stomach and laid the last of the fine silver. She was proud her hands did not shake, not noticeably anyway.

“Wanna take dinner in your quarters, Captain?” Cookie asked.

“Yes, please,” Ward said gratefully. Cookie was shipborn and cared little for planets. But Ward was planetborn and raised until her academy years. She lived in space and had the bug for exploration, but landing on a planet was the closest she would ever come to returning home.

In her quarters, Ward turned on the high-tech holo equipment installed for her to review battlefields in space and on the ground. She had already been using the high-radiation scans to get the lay of the land. And her intelligence lieutenant had gleaned all he could from the planet’s communication’s transmissions that traveled this far. It was dimmed little.

These people clearly had no interest in contacting anyone offworld, which was very strange. What kind of backwards rock was she going to? But when the brilliant blue marble appeared in the middle of her quarters, she threw herself onto her berth and stared at it. Even at maximum magnification, even using AI estimations to fill in the image, it was no bigger than her thumb.  When she cut the planet’s yellowish-white sun from the image, the planet looked tiny and fragile floating in the darkness of the room.

What kind of backwards rock was she going to?

She watched the planet, really just a half-sphere view, revolve in the sun’s light on the live feed as she took her dinner. Cookie delivered her meal in person, which made her blush. “Cookie, you shouldn’t play favorites!”

Cookie waved a large, pudgy hand, and tucked his thumbs into his straining apron strings. “You work as hard as any crew on this bucket and I seen you doin’ for favors for anyone and e’ryone. If Cap’n Ward wants to watch a blue rock spin here in the privacy of ‘er quarters, ‘en Captain’s P’rogative.”

 “Captain’s Prerogative is a right of a ship’s captain, not a Marine captain,” Ward said, trying to reprimand Cookie with a stern voice but failing.

“Cap’n’s P’rogative,” Cookie said again and closed the door.

The food was excellent, of course, but Ward found herself picking at her food and letting it grow cold as she watched the slowly spinning blue orb.

First Sight was a tradition in the Navy. Unless the ship was engaged in battle, most of the crew was given light duties for as much as 20 hours. It was a sound policy. Even when sliding, the briefest interstellar trip took more than a year. And you couldn’t keep planetborn away from the viewscreens anyway. So ship captains gave a First Sight holiday. And when the holiday ended, they used the natural rise in energy to finish the many chores remaining before attaining an orbit.

Ward tried to enjoy the first hours of the holiday, but her mind kept reviewing her orders and her last transmission from 3Q Fleet Command. They had been pretty simple. Simple was good. But usually orders were very detailed, giving a company-grade officer little to do but review the extensive instructions and implement them.

Here it had been the opposite: Secure the planet against the enemy and begin extraction of resources vital to the Polity Navy. Destroy any resources of use to the enemy but not of use to the Navy. It was vague; dimmed-stars vague.

She watched the slowly spinning blue orb. Photo by Daniel Olah.

She had discussed it with Capt. Exeter, the ship’s captain, of course. He was polite and gave a few vague suggestions. Eventually, Ward quit asking. The answer was clear. No one knew anything about the planet or its resources. As the commanding officer of the landing, she would have to figure out on her own what resources needed extracting and what needed destroying.

There would be tough choices ahead. Ward had made tough choices before and she would have to make them again. That’s the price of a captain’s bars or any officer rank. But she didn’t have to like it.

So far, the butcher’s bill had been light. In three years of the Slide, they’d only had two engagements. The first had been a small skirmish not far out from Nestor, a Polity hub on the edge of Polity space where Ward had joined the U.P.S. Pacifica. That space, so close to a Polity stronghold, should have been cleared. Such was the state of the Polity in the Third Quadrant. No one spoke of it, or not in more than whispers, but loyalty to the Polity had been shrinking in the quadrant ever since Ward had graduated from the academy.

The skirmish had only lasted a few hours. Barely enough time for Ward and her Marines to get involved. They had loaded into transports for boarding the enemy ships but had been recalled after the enemy broke off.

Capt. Exeter had harried the departing ship with a long stream of salvos meant to provide cover for the returning transports. But the fleeing ship had fired off a few parting shots and managed to hit one of the transports. Twenty dead, all told, three Marine squads, a Navy pilot and a Gunner’s Mate.

Four fighters zipped out immediately to harry the pirate ship.

That would count against Capt. Exeter’s butcher’s bill, not her own, as it happened while the Marines were in a Navy transport. Not that it mattered to Exeter or Ward. The Navy kept track of such things, in case a court martial was necessary. But unless you were a complete vac out, nobody reviewed the figures, especially during times of war. What mattered was that personnel were lost. Friends and friends-of-friends. But there was always a butcher’s bill to be paid. Officers had to pay it, learn any lessons that could be learned and move on.

The second engagement had been more serious.  Two years into the Slide they had run across an armed ship attacking a merchant vessel. Afterwards, opinions among the ship’s officers varied on whether the crew of the armed ship were seasoned pirates or just opportunists. But everyone agreed this was Polity space and the Polity Navy had the duty to stamp out piracy, even in contested Polity space.

The pirate ship and its target had been far off the Slide vector, so the best Capt. Exeter could do was reverse Slide Engines and provide cover fire. Four fighters zipped out immediately to harry the pirate ship. Ward and two transports of Marines were sent out close behind them.

Capt. Exeter had not deemed the engagement worth revving up and sending out one of the bombers. The bombers were not ideal for space engagements on anything smaller than a destroyer and were considered high-value assets. If the four fighters and Ward’s contingent could not get the job done, Exeter would harry the pirate from a distance but resume the Slide towards the objective, leaving Ward behind if he had to. Orders were orders. Achieve the objective.

Fighting pirates was like shooting fish in a barrel. They rarely had military training beyond the captain, they were undercrewed and sometimes half-starved. So Ward took seasoned lieutenants but the greenest Marines. Just for the exercise, she ordered the transport pilots to perform a running drop rather than land and lock on the ship. Ward’s squad took the main communications array. She told the lieutenant to synchronize explosions with the squad taking out the pirate’s main gun. Not necessary for this mission, but good practice.

Ward knew the man would take some time to die in space.

Ward stood on the hull watching the squad and monitoring the other squads on her comms and HUD. She turned when she felt the telltale vibration in her boot. One of the pirates had gotten bold, or was smarter than his mates, and came out an airlock. He never saw her. She was behind the hatch before it fully opened. When his head emerged, her serrated blade cut both his communications and air lines. He did not even realize it until he had fully emerged. Then she kicked him off into space.

He was so distracted with his flailing air line that he failed to notice he was untethered in space. Just in case he had a gun and came to his senses before he asphyxiated, she finished him with a couple taps from her sidearm.

By the time Ward rechecked her HUD, the ship’s weapons and comms were destroyed. Two squads near the bridge infiltrated, extracted the pirate captain, and set explosives on the bridge. Ward lost two Marines in the fight for the bridge. Not wanting to tempt fate, she ordered the transport pilots to come back for a lock-and-load. Before the bridge even blew, the two transports had departed, following the distant lights of the fighters on their way back to Pacifica.

From the brig, Ward presented the pirate captain to Capt. Exeter via comms. Exeter seemed uninterested in any intelligence the pirate captain held. He gave Ward’s intelligence officer one hour to extract what he could. Then Capt. Exeter appeared at the brig personally, listened to a quick summary of the facts gathered, and pronounced judgment.

“By the power vested in me as captain of this Polity ship, you are found guilty of high piracy. Sentencing is execution and vacuation. Sentence to be served immediately.” The pirate began to wail and tried to throw himself on his knees, but Capt. Exeter had already drawn his sidearm and fired two shots into the man’s chest. He aimed low, avoiding the heart, and Ward knew the man would take some time to die in space. A midshipman and a spacer dragged the pirate away to be vacced from the nearest airlock.


Ward set her landing course so that she would pass visibly over each of the cities from the southern coastal city to the subterranean settlements in the mountains to the north. She then circled back south to land in a field near the largest city, the one with skyscrapers.

As a SEAL, Ward was used to planning and making unseen penetrations of enemy lines.  But these are Polity citizens, not enemies, not unless they choose to be, she reminded herself.

As she descended through the atmosphere, rather than dampen the sound, she chose vectors over each city that would direct the roar of her rockets for maximum effect. They would hear and feel the rumble overhead. She painted purple streaks across their sky.

With her noisy and highly visible entrance, she was making a statement.  The Polity Navy has arrived.  You are safe from the enemy.  We are here. And she was summoning the planet’s leaders to meet her.

The Marine Lander sat squatly in the high grass on a rise overlooking the city and the river beyond. It was an ugly craft and painted an uglier color, a patchy mix of greens and browns meant to serve as generic camouflage on most breathable planets. Ward liked its sturdiness. She was a SEAL, not a pilot, so she was not a finesse flyer, and the Lander drove like a bus, but a sturdy, stable bus. She could land it in nearly any kind of weather. And the Marines liked it because it had heavy armor, lots of room and could even serve as living quarters on inhospitable planets.

It could be used to hop about a planet, too, but it ate rocket fuel like the beast that it was. Slide technology did not work well in atmospheres, and even older grav technology worked better close to the ground and not in high altitudes. So landings required rockets, and Marines used the Lander.

Ward joined the knot of lieutenants on the hummock. It was not good strategy for all the officers to gather in one place, but she allowed it. First, they were technically on a Polity planet. Second, this was largely a diplomatic mission and she was trying to get her officers, and herself, to think of it that way. Finally, their intelligence revealed that the city’s greatest weapons were the few pulsar cannons mounted on the walls, and Ward had landed beyond their range. A good thing. In their dress whites, the clutch of officers made an excellent target.

The nighttime landing was part of the plan, and so far, things were going to plan. The city residents hid behind some type of crude force wall. Shortly after dawn, after the city had ample time to view the Marine Lander by daylight, a door opened and several gravcraft exited and lined up before the city walls. Each was a small, armored craft with a single pilot. Finally, a sleek, blue vehicle that screamed unarmed civilian emerged and glided slowly towards the Marine Lander. In fact, it came at a reluctant crawl.

Ward called for a wheeled vehicle and grabbed one bottle from the case of wine she had brought as a gift for the city leaders. Alone, she drove to meet the blue vehicle halfway.

The city’s ambassador was a tall, thin man with short brown hair and blue eyes full of lively curiosity. His blue suit and bearing screamed civil servant. Maybe a leader of some type, but probably a bureaucrat and not a politician. A lucky break! She hated politicians. No, she loathed them.

“Welcome to the First City of Whitehall,” he said with a nervous smile and shaking hands. “I am Leonardo.”

He spoke Polityglot. Another lucky break! Ward knew this lucky streak could not last, but she would milk it for all it was worth.

After brief introductions, Leonardo invited her into the city. She countered by inviting him to join her in the front seat of her vehicle and to share a glass of wine. The bottle clearly piqued his interest. After only the quickest look over his shoulder at the city, he shrugged and joined her.

Looking through the viewpane at the City, Ward and Leonardo sipped their wine and talked. In an unspoken agreement, they took turns each asking one question and listening to the answer. Leonardo was clearly curious about Ward and the Polity, but even before the wine kicked in, his answers to her questions grew longer and longer. He clearly had a quick mind and enjoyed educating others.

The Swearing Moon rose and skirted the horizon. Photo by Kym MacKinnon.

In no time at all, Ward learned a great deal about the Globe and its governments. Sifting through Leonardo’s words and combining that with pieces gathered by Lt. Lancaster, her intelligence officer, she realized that the five cities were actually ruled by their own separate governments. Leonardo proudly stated that Whitehall was the technological hub and intimated it ruled all the cities, but Ward was also able to glean from a word here and a gesture there that the other cities might not agree.

They talked and drank as the largest moon, Leonardo called it the Swearing Moon, rose and skirted the horizon, and the sun rose to noon. Leonardo sent a grav-tech drone back to the city and a larger drone delivered lunch. Ward had another bottle of wine brought to them and they had a surprisingly pleasant and civilized lunch. Ward finally had to break out water to avoid consuming too much wine and to combat the heavy salt of Whitehaller fare.

The city leaders clearly overcame their initial fears because a communicator on Leonardo’s wrist began beeping and buzzing incessantly towards the end of the meal. Again, he invited her and her Marines into the city, but she shook her head. She had already made up her mind to wait for the leaders of the other cities. Whitehall might be the most powerful, but she did not want to play favorites. Not yet.

She made her first trade of the diplomatic mission. She knew that once Leonardo reentered the walls of Whitehall that he would be whisked away for a long debrief. Meanwhile, they would saddle her with a true politician, a know-nothing, who would wheedle her for favors before the other city’s leaders could arrive. So, she promised Leonardo she would answer two questions for every question she asked if he would stay. He eagerly agreed.

She decided to push her luck.

“Leonardo, the Polity Navy recognizes Whitehall as the First City of the Globe. It’s obvious, even from space.” She pointed into the sky for emphasis.

He nodded, agreeing with the obviousness of it.

She continued. “So, naturally, Whitehall should host the gathering here. Neutral ground but under protection of the First City.”

They had a surprisingly pleasant and civilized lunch. Photo by Marianela O.M.

“You mean, out here, in the savagelands? I don’t want to alarm you, Madame, I mean, Captain, but we’re lucky the beasts have given us peace for this long.”

It took an hour more of negotiations, mostly Leonardo speaking and tapping on his wrist communicator with his superiors, but they eventually settled on hosting the cities’ leaders inside the Marine Lander with Ward’s Marines guarding the perimeter. Ward suspected that Leonardo had swindled her, with his wide eyes and his talk of beasts, so that he could get a good look up close inside the Lander. But the main bay of a Marine Lander held few military secrets.


That afternoon, Capt. Ward’s lucky streak ran out.

It started well enough. Every city’s leader eventually did show up, as she knew they would. A City Councilor from Finsbury was the first to arrive, a rotund woman with green eyes, named Calpurnia. Leonardo made polite introductions but there was clearly an uneasy tension between the thin man and the fat woman. Next to arrive was Eglamour, the owner and Head Gaffer of the Smith from the desert city of Westminster. A large, muscled man, he had the most striking eyes, dark with violet flecks, and Ward found herself staring.

Next to arrive was Solanio from the Newlondon Guild, who had the farthest to travel. He arrived almost at dusk, giving apologies for his lateness as there was some sort of “complication” with the Whitehall authorities. He said it with a serpentine smile and Ward took an instant dislike to him that she could not explain. Solanio also said he would speak for Belmont, and all the others nodded as if this was expected.

Whitehall’s Governor Octavius finally came out from Whitehall’s gates, with Whitehall’s Mayor Flavius at his elbow. Flavius smiled too much and rubbed his hands nervously. Octavius, a large man in every dimension, with white curling hair and brown eyes set in a pudgy face, was clearly trying to make an impression as the last to arrive. He brashly welcomed them all and Ward allowed him to wrest control as the host of the event. This was slightly spoiled when a hooded man from Belmont arrived to the shock of everyone. He quietly gave the name Vernon and melted to the back of the throng.

“Peace,” he said, quietly.

More bottles of wine were opened and Whitehall’s salty meats and cheeses, apparently quite a delicacy, were served. Everyone agreed jovially that the Polity’s wine suffered in comparison to Finsbury’s wines and beers, but they drank plenty just the same. The Lander’s normally cold main bay grew warm with bodies and good cheer. With the dignitaries half drunk, Ward decided it was the best time to make her announcement.

“Thank you all for such a warm welcome,” she began. “Especially to Whitehall and Governor Octavius, oh, and Mayor Flavius, for their hospitality.” There was a mumble of agreement. Ward had tried to pace her drinking throughout the day, but perhaps she had lost track, because she felt the warm glow of the collected guests. “Now it’s my turn to welcome you back to the protection of the Polity.”

At that, all noises stopped and all eyes looked at her soberly. Had she misjudged the moment? She pushed on. “I don’t yet understand the full history of the Globe, but I hope to. I plan to. I know your ancestors meant to leave Polity space in pursuit of …” She sought out Leonardo’s eyes.

“Peace,” he said, quietly.

“Yes, peace,” Ward echoed. “I know the Polity was at war when your people left.”

“Are you still at war?” someone called out.

“Yes,” Ward said. “Yes, unfortunately, we are at war, again. And the war threatens the Globe much as it threatened your home planet.”

“Not war. The Polity!” called out someone behind Ward.

“Yes, the Polity is the threat,” Governor Octavius said, almost at her elbow. “Authority ignited rebellion, as it always does!”

The Globe’s leaders all spoke at once. Faces red and voices raised, they ringed Ward, stepping closer. I’m vacced, she thought.

Then she thought of her two concealed knives. For a moment, she considered carving her way out of this ring. She closed her eyes and took a breath. Ridiculous! She didn’t need anything more than her bare hands to incapacitate these soft politicians. But that would solve nothing.

She needed to be diplomatic.

She was saved from coming up with a solution by the sound of metal on metal. Everyone turned to find the hooded Vernon from Belmont lightly banging on the wall of the Lander like a gong with a mallet. The metal mallet was small but sturdy and covered in runes. He must have brought it with him.

The metal mallet was small but sturdy and covered in runes. Photo by Raul Barrios.

He was a strange figure, covered in a black cloak and hood. He almost seemed to stand in a dim spot of his own making, and Ward could not see any features of his face under the shadow of his hood. She just caught occasional glints of reflection where his eyes should be. Was he wearing mirrored goggles?

“Captain,” the man said quietly, “I recognize a smokescreen when I see it.”

“Yesss,” Solanio inserted himself, “I agree with the gentleman from Belmont. I’m certain that the Polity Navy does not have the resources to send a ship to every planet just for protection. Why have your generals sent you here? What could we have that you need?”

On the Naval Academy ship, she had learned the basics of government and politics. As an officer, she had studied rudimentary diplomacy. As a SEAL, she had studied how to destabilize governments and how to bolster them. Most SEALs were better with knives than words, but one lesson came to mind. In diplomatic situations, tell the truth when you can. And tell the truth when you must.

“Sirs, you are correct. While I have been sent to protect this planet from our enemies, I also have orders to protect and to collect resources to support the war.” There were mumbles, but they allowed her to continue. “Usually, taxes are collected in the form of Polity currency. I have been granted authority to forgive the 500 years of taxes due the Polity in return for full cooperation.”

The leaders exploded in a cacophony of epithets and strange phrases.

“Villains!”

“Dogs of war!”

“Freedom!”

“Domination!”

“False promises!”

Governor Octavius stood on a chair that could barely handle his weight. “You preach peace, but you mean domination. This is why we escaped the Polity! We must unite to fight this!”

Flavius, beside him, weakly shook his fist in the air, but quickly jerked it down with a look from Ward.

Perhaps her greatest weapon was their disunity.

“Live free!” cried the Westminster delegate, but none of the others seemed ready to follow the Whitehall governor’s lead. Perhaps her greatest weapon was their disunity.

Taking a cue from Vernon, she banged the Lander’s hull with the tang of one of her knives, whipping it from concealment and returning it in one swift motion. The sound quieted most, but the eyes of those closest to her grew large at her expert handling of the knife, as well. There was diplomacy and there was diplomacy.

“There is no need to make any decisions tonight. I will visit each of your cities over the next few days. I will meet your leaders and answer what questions I can. Then I will begin a catalog of the planet’s resources. That will give each city time to meet, to vote, what-have-you, and make your decisions.”

“And what choice are you giving us?” asked Councilor Calpurnia from Finsbury.

Glowing orange, they whizzed about madly overhead. Photo by Melanie Magdalena.

Ward smiled. “I’m glad you asked.”

On cue, the back door of the Lander lowered and Ward led the way onto the grassy knoll. The night sky between the Lander and the city walls was filled with drones of all sizes. Glowing orange, they whizzed about madly overhead. The large, red Swearing Moon had circled the horizon during the day and hung just behind the city’s tallest skyscrapers, creating beautiful if ominous silhouettes.

“I’ve done some research on your home planet, the one your ancestors left. There was a tradition called Kite Day, where all the children flew paper cut-outs on the wind,” Ward said.

She did not know if this was true or not, but many cultures on many planets had a similar tradition. She had learned from Leonardo that the Globers had lived here 500 years and the space crossing had taken five generations, so she doubted they knew enough history of that last world to challenge her.

“The kites were flown as a symbol of peace and hope. So as a gift to the children of Whitehall, we purchased these drones. The children are flying them right now.”

“So many!” said Councilor Calpurnia.

“Costly,” said Westminster’s Eglamour. “And do the children get to keep the drones?” Ward could see calculation in his eyes.

“No, it’s part of a light show just for tonight,” Ward said. “Capt. Exeter of the U.P.S. Pacifica should be starting it any moment.”

Lasers struck from the sky. They touched the wildly flying drones, which exploded impressively in sparks and even gouts of flame. The Navy Gunner’s Mates could have destroyed all the drones in the span of five breaths, but they made a good show of it, drawing out the carnage for the count of one hundred.

When all the orange drones had been shot down, three remained. These were controlled by Ward’s Marines.  They aligned and began flying in a huge circle between the Lander and the city, flying so quickly they formed three ribbons of light in the air. Red on top, then yellow, then blue. They matched the stripes on Ward’s sleeves. The colors of the Polity flag.

When the explosions ended, Ward could hear the claps and cheers from the distant city. The light show continued with fireworks from the city, mortars and even a cannon shot from the Lander, and more lasers from the Pacifica above.

Ward clapped and laughed when someone in the city even fired off some of the pulsar cannons.

The leaders around her stood stoic and unsmiling. The message, hidden in a light show for the children, had not been lost on them. There was no hiding from the power of the Polity Navy. They controlled space and now they controlled the Globe.


I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share any comments below.

Make sure to check out the original, beautiful photos illustrating this story, and learn more about the photographers. A few photos may surprise you.

You can also enjoy the first five tales in the Globe Folio that lead up to Capt. Ward’s landing on the Globe:

Capt. Ward and the other characters you’ve met so far in the Globe Folio will return in even more stories soon. If you follow me on Twitter (@mattcrosswrites), you’ll see my announcements of new releases.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Don’t miss this new “first contact” short story

Investation: A Short Story of First Contact

What would you do if you could buy anything?

Duncan Andrew’s life is going nowhere. He and his wife, Ursula, live in a filthy trailer where they use the floor as a shelf.

Clever, smart, engaging. Get your free copy before it’s gone.

Then his uncle dies and leaves him an inheritance. Ursula’s idea of financial management? “We can blow it on a roulette wheel and act all fancy-pants for once in or lives.”

At first, all Ursula wants is a new caravan trailer with the built-in transmitters so she can watch more channels. But Duncan likes his caravan.

A broker talks Duncan into investing in the “celestial market.” And Duncan finds himself the owner of a distant solar system. He’ll never see it in person. It’s thousands of light years away from Earth. And the tolls through all other owned space to get there are exorbitant.

But the young broker promises him an investment “guaranteed to increase your wealth.”

“In the next few years, whatever you buy isn’t going to be on the edge of space anymore. . . . That means it’s guaranteed to increase in value.”

Once the money’s invested, Duncan figures he won’t see a return for at least 20 or 30 years. That’s too bad for Ursula, who needs to pay a deposit to be the next new star on Real Caravan Wives.

But Duncan’s investment pays off much sooner than expected. Intelligent life forms from his solar system arrive . . . . on Earth. And the next thing he knows, Duncan is seated between the President and an alien delegation.

Unlimited wealth and unlimited alien tech? What could go wrong?

I recommend this clever story about a loveable loser thrown into the deep end of interstellar dealings. It’s smart and engaging. You don’t want to miss laugh-out-loud funny scenes. Duncan hires a no-money-up-front lawyer to negotiate the biggest deal in Earth’s history. And then Duncan invites the squid-like Bakchu to his caravan trailer for dinner and serves up spaghetti.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so just get your free copy now, before it’s gone.

Don’t miss this great finalist ending to “Mayday”

During the month of June, I’m sharing the finalist stories from the May Contest. Today’s featured finalist is Shanel Wilson.

Shanel is a writer who has been creating stories from her earliest memories as a child. She loves to explore the core of human nature in extraordinary circumstances, whether that is on a deep space mission or climbing to a nearby antenna array. Shanel is also one of my Champions, a winner of my monthly writing contest, and a frequent finalist of the contest. Whenever she decides to enter, she writes an excellent ending, which I love to share. You can also see more of her writing at starviewsbyshanel.wordpress.com.

In this May Contest story, Shanel found a sinister thread in the directions from Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. To the young scrapper, something does not seem right. So the scrapper with few friends turns hero, even at the risk of making an enemy.

I started the story below. See how Shanel starts after the red line and takes us to a fresh and gripping ending.

Mayday

By Shanel Wilson and Matthew Cross

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is United Polity Ship 999Q2-292-383-858-112, courier class. I have multiple air and fuel leaks following a collision with unknown debris—just dust probably—checking scanners now, mmmm, the immediate danger appears to have cleared, but I’ve cut engines to conserve fuel and prevent an explosion. Here are my coordinates. [Series of beeps, clicks and static sound.]

I’m listening to the Mayday from the cockpit of the Scrappy Doo, a merchant scrapper. Don’t ask about the name. It was Mom’s idea, and after she passed, it seemed disrespectful to change the name.

The shipboard comp is automatically recording this message and storing away the coordinates. I recognize the coordinate prefixes. The Polity courier is in my quadrant of the Belt, the vast ring of asteroids that forms the outer limits of the Halcyon system. But that covers a lot of space. After all, the Belt’s diameter is wider than the rest of the solar system inside of it.

I’m the only one on board, but even so my air’s gonna run out in less than 8 hours. Even if I blew all the fuel—if I wanted to risk an explosion—I’d be at least 200 hours out from Halcyon 5. I need a priority pickup under authority of the Polity Navy.

Eight hours of air. It’s every spacer’s nightmare. Without a rescue, you know the hour and the method of your death. And suffocation is a bad way to go.

I’m watching my own scanners as I listen. When you’re in the Belt, you have to be on constant watch. Courier-112’s case proves the point. A small shower of pebbles or even just a patch of dust can perforate a hull and turn it into a sieve. Doesn’t matter whether you fly into it or it flies into you.

The population of the Belt is sizable–mostly miners and scrappers like me. But we’re spread out over so much space you can go years without seeing anyone unless you intend to. So I’m certain someone else will answer the Mayday call. But that’s because I forgot about the family’s luck.

I open my eyes and check my scanners again. That’s when I see the blinking red comm light. My stomach drops.

Reluctantly, I lean forward and reach slowly for the comm switch. Click.

Scrappy Doo. This is Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. This is a priority comm.”

It’s not that I don’t want to help. But I have my own problems. I just loaded up the Doo five days ago with supplies on credit and I need to gather some scrap to pay back Fram. He’s an old friend of Mom’s and the only outfitter who will give me credit. Since Mom died almost a year ago I’ve been living hand to mouth.

And I’ve got a lead on a good haul that could square me with Fram for good. Maybe even give me a small cushion. So I don’t need distractions.

“This is Scrappy Doo,” I mumble.

“Did you receive Mayday UPS Courier-112?”

They know I did. You would have to bore into the middle of a planet not to receive a Mayday. Even the wilds of the Belt are filled with boosts to carry emergency messages.

“Affirmative.”

In my head, I’m repeating a mantra. Not me, not me, not me . . .

“You are the closest ship to Courier-112. Your ship reports you have adequate fuel to reach the Courier and reach orbit at Halcyon 8.”

My head thumps on the control panel. I bought all that fuel on credit. And now they want me to burn it all in a rescue mission for a lousy UPS courier with one passenger?

But what can I do? Space Control and my ship already made the automated electronic handshake. They know my position, my vector, my fuel levels. Control has all the data shown on my control panel and faster comps to spin it up into any simulation they want.

That’s why I’m sitting cross-legged in the pilot’s seat with my crossed fingers tucked under my thighs, hoping I won’t be close enough to help.

I’m also biting my lip, but that’s just because everybody gets nervous when you hear a Mayday. It makes your heart jump into your throat.

If I don’t render aid, then I’ll lose the Scrappy Doo the first time I make port. They’ll impound the Doo and throw me in the brig.

“This is Scrappy Doo.” I hear some chuckles in the background from Control. I grit my teeth but then smile. With Fram as my only friend, I can’t afford enemies. I smile because you can hear the difference over comms. “I’m changing course to render aid.”

“Affirmative Scrappy Doo. We’ve fed your ship the coordinates for the optimum intercept. We’re also sending a priority UPS Medical Transport to rendezvous with you near the rim of the Belt. Thank you for your service and we’ll try to get you back on your course as soon as possible.”

Even without checking my comp, I know this trip is going to use up half my fuel. If speed is not a factor, you burn the most fuel just changing course. One turn to meet the courier and one to head to the rendezvous point with the med transport . . . I just shake my head.

I paste on a fake smile.

“Control, have you confirmed the identity of Courier, umm . . .” I’ve already forgotten the courier ship’s designation. I check a monitor. “UPS Courier-112? I’m solo crew and I have minimal weapons capability.”

I can’t keep all the quaver out of my voice. It’s actually worse than it sounds. My shields are only rated for space debris and minor port collisions. And the ‘defensive lasers’ that came standard with this scrapper model are really just part of the array of cutting tools for scrapping. Sure, they’re strong, but the aiming and target-tracking programs are a joke, and the combat display features on my monitors are clearly an afterthought.

So, I’m not completely defenseless. But any well-armed pirate . . . Let’s just say the thought makes me damp under the arms.

“No worries, Scrappy Doo, we’ve confirmed the identity of the UPS courier. It’s the real deal.” There’s some chatter in the background. “That courier has some special Navy designations, too. They’re classified, but let’s just say the passenger is somebody important.”

A VIP, huh? Maybe there’s an upside here, as long as he and I both survive this.

They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“We’ll live monitor your progress until rendezvous. I’m also sending your ship a boost code. Your ship’s automated beacon will warn all other ships that you are under Mayday orders and protected by Control and Polity Navy authority.”

Oh, goody, I think. Control is millions of kloms away. They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“Thank you, Control. Changing course to respond to Mayday UPS Courier-112.”

The comp says six hours to intercept, including deceleration to match speed and direction of the courier. That’s good. The courier reported he had less than 8 hours of air, which is not a precise number. But air consumption is not a precise measurement, no matter what the engineers say, and add a tiny, undetected leak or two and it’s anyone’s guess.

If the courier is conscious when I arrive and the ship’s hatch is not damaged, then bringing him aboard will take no time at all. If he’s trapped in a can leaking fuel, that will get tricky. 

I spend the first hour checking Control’s intercept calculations. Of course, they’re right, but it’s a good math exercise to run. How often do you get a chance to run real space math and check it against a Control calculation? If you want to pilot a ship, you gotta know your math. Calculations also calm and center the mind.

That task done, I try and take a nap. It’s hopeless, of course. I’m nervous for the courier. I’m terrified for me.

So I do some more math. I plug myself back into the comp and run air, water and food calculations for two people aboard the Doo. AOK.

I run rescue simulations, practicing some extractions with each of my cutting tools. The first run throughs are pretty smooth. Control didn’t send me much for specs on the courier, so I send a message to request those. I get back a set of generic specs on Polity courier ships. I send again, asking for Courier-112’s specs from its own computer. The terse message back says those are classified.

Classified? They want me to run a rescue and not give me the specs? That sounds like the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.

“A bunch of morons,” I say to myself.

I spend the rest of the trip checking equipment again and again. And then I check it again.

Before I’m in visual sight of Courier-112, I hail it. The ships already made their electronic handshake. Something in the codes from Control must have authorized the courier ship to do that much. But the courier ship won’t tell me anything about passengers or bio signs. It’s classified, I’m sure.

After three explosions, my hands are shaking.

The courier’s pilot is not responding to my hails, either.

I add fuel leaks to the rescue simulations. Big mistake. After three explosions, my hands are shaking. I unstrap and float to the back to the equipment storage.

Until I was close, I didn’t want him to use up any air talking. I could have just texted, of course. But to tell the truth, I put it off until now because I didn’t want any bad news.

When I reach visual range, it doesn’t look so bad. Courier-112 looks to be in a single piece. It’s riding straight, not spinning out of control, gliding smoothly on course. I let go of the breath I’d been holding in.

The Doo and I go through the docking sequence together. The Doo aligns with Courier-112 and I make the final small adjustments visually. I feel the slight vibration as the ships connect. Textbook docking!

I slump back in my seat, relieved. Ships only make this kind of docking maneuver in cases of rescue or combat. I’d only done it once before with Mom at my side.

The relief doesn’t last long. I still can’t raise a response from the courier’s pilot. I try everything, including the comms built into the Doo’s docking arms connected to the courier.

I’m going to have to go outside. Vac, vac, vac!

I hear Mom’s voice in my head. “Never hurry. Think it through. Make a plan. It’s only the spacers that lose their heads and rush around that get hurt.”

Instead of unlatching, I check my monitors. First, assess the situation. I had set a countdown clock based on 8 hours of air. If the courier’s estimate was good, he should have plenty of air left. But he could still be injured. Unconscious.

I went through my options. Legally, I could report this to Control and stay in my seat. The duty to render aid on a Mayday does not extend to space walks. Legally, all I had to do was wait here until the courier’s pilot climbed aboard or death was confirmed. I could even earn a small commission just giving the ship a push in the right direction for a Halcyon recovery crew.

I run through all my options twice, but the truth is, I’m a spacer. And in space, a spacer renders aid. Because this could happen to anyone. Mom would agree.

I send Control a quick update, half hoping they’ll tell me to sit tight. I get no response. That happens in the Belt. Dead patches run throughout. With shaking hands, I unlatch and climb into my suit. I move slowly and deliberately. I think through every action.

Before I know it, I’m opening the hatch of Courier-112. So far, Control and the ship’s own comp have been so secretive, I half expect red lights and sirens when I pull the inset lever to reveal the wheel. Instead, the wheel begins to turn itself. The pilot told the ship to let me in. That doesn’t mean he’s conscious, I remind myself. He could have set the sequence before passing out.

The hatch opens, revealing the clear film of a gel seal. A courier ship is too small for a separate decompression chamber. Only the seal separates the cabin’s oxygen and open space. Through the film, I see the top of the pilot’s head. He’s wearing a suit and helmet as well. He does not move.

I push my helmet through the film and connect to his helmet.

Both our reflective faceshields open automatically at the connection, leaving clear panes for us to see through. Our suits have synched their own comms.

His eyes are closed. A shock runs through me. I’m too late, I think.

Then he opens his eyes. He has dull blue eyes, almost gray. He smiles slightly as his eyes focus in on mine. Then his pupils open wider as he examines my face.

“You’re just a kid!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the kid that’s saving your hide.”

“Negative, it’s too late for that,” he says. He looks down.

I see a detail I missed before. Small threads of red extend from the chest of his suit, wiggling in the thin air. Blood. The suit sealed itself, of course. Just two small holes, but they’re high on the chest.

And then I see the bubbles of red in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you alone?” he asks.

What a creepy question. That’s my first thought. But it’s an important one. A fair question, I guess.

“Yes, I’m the solo captain-pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

I see confusion in his eyes.

“I’m a scrapper.”

“Negative,” he says. “Now you’re UPS Courier-112. Get this to Halcyon 5.”

He raises his hand to me, holding a black slip of plastic. A data chip, no doubt.

“Halcyon 8?” I say weakly.

“Negative,” he mumbles, “Halcyon 5. It’s . . . “ He gasps and I hear burbling sounds. “. . . urgent.”


START EDITING HERE

His eyes close and his arm goes limp, still holding the plastic slip. I slowly reach out and take it from his glove.

“UPS Courier-112, please respond.”

I barely hear the words coming from my own helmet as I examine the small bit of plastic. It is smaller than other data chips I’ve seen. Maybe that’s why it’s classified.

“UPS Courier-112, please respond. Are you in possession of the asset?”

“This is the pilot of the Scrappy Doo. Is this Control? I just made contact with UPS Courier-112. I’m too late.”

“Are you in possession of the asset?” the voice repeated.

“Uh, I have the data chip, if that’s what you’re asking. I can pass it off at the medical rendezvous . . .”

“Negative. Return to the operational vessel and report to Halcyon 8.”

“You don’t understand. The courier is dead. This is the pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

“You are the courier now, and your vessel is now considered the UPS Courier-112.”

This is happening too fast.

Slow down, I tell myself. Okay, what are the facts so far? Control asked me to render aid to the UPS Courier-112 because of their Mayday. I arrived and made contact. The pilot died after giving me whatever this is, telling me to get it to Halcyon 5. Now a voice that may or may not be Control is ordering me to Halcyon 8 as the new UPS Courier-112. What was I missing?

I look over the controls in front of the dead pilot. The nav shows Halcyon 8 as the destination. Why did he say Halcyon 5?

“Your new coordinates have been delivered to your vessel. Your arrival imperative.”

A ping from my suit alerts me that the Scrappy Doo has a new destination target and will begin course in five minutes, whether I am undocked here or not. I quickly transfer the remaining fuel that’s left in the leaking UPS Courier-112 back to the Scrappy Doo and head through the hatch.

I stash the data chip in my pocket and get to work. I’ve only seen Mom attempt this once and she failed and that was just a training test. This was the real deal.

“Don’t fail me now, math!” I say to the console in front of me.

I get another ping that there is one minute left until the new course will take over the controls. Sweat beads on my forehead. Just a few more calculations. Just a little more.

“I did it!”

The course is disengaged. I let out a sigh of relief, but only for a moment. Whoever sent those coordinates will know soon enough that I’m not on my way to them. So much for not making any new enemies.

I retrieve the plastic slip from my pocket.

“I hope you’re worth all this,” I say to it. “Ok, looks like scrapping will have to wait for now. Let’s move.”

I cross my fingers and legs as I set a course for Halcyon 5.


If you enjoyed Shanel Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And if you have not already read the original contest-winning story, read it here!

Be stellar! 🚀✨

Matthew Cross

3 Questions with Glenn R. Frank

Glenn won my May Contest by writing a thrilling surprise ending to “Mayday: A Sci Fi Rescue.”

How did you get into Sci Fi writing?

Glenn R. Frank, doing some “mission control” cosplay at Disneyland Resort.

I became interested in writing after watching a number of Drew Wagar’s Twitch streams. He is a Sci Fi/Fantasy author who wrote a number of books I loved reading, and he was using Twitch to do a “Sci Fi and Fantasy Writing Stream.”

After he had gone through several topics, he suggested it would be fun to do some hands-on and practical writing together, to put into practice what we had learned. We worked as a group to world-build and create a timeline of “epochs” surrounding our basic outline story. Every writer took one of these epochs and circumstances in the timeline and we each composed our own stories in that world that were stand-alone tales, but also could be connected because of the timeline and shared world. This project became the Nine Streams of Consciousness anthology, which we self-published on Amazon.

We wrote our stories independently, then critiqued, edited, and offered advice/constructive criticism on-stream and through a shared Word document online. Writers in the group were from Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. so everything was done online without ever meeting in person. 

Everyone learned a lot and grew in their confidence and abilities through this process. I had originally intended to only write one 10,000-word story for the book, but I ended up writing three more in the 3,000- to 5,000-word size. In the end, we had fifteen stories, written by nine authors. Each story has its own unique style, point of view, and emphasis. It was a great first-time writing experience for a number of us. Only four or so of the authors in it had previously been published, but everyone did an amazing job and we are all very proud of how well it came out.

Other than writing and reporting for a non-profit organization in their newsletter, I have not really had a lot of writing experience, at least not in the realm of fiction writing. I really only have written fiction here and there for fun or myself, never intending to publish it. But the anthology project lit a fire under me and made me want to write fiction in a more focused way for publication.

I have always been a Sci Fi, and a space nerd, which of course makes Sci Fi my favorite type of book to read and write. I also love fantasy, ancient history, and military ships and aircraft, but Sci Fi is my true love. I hope to produce a Sci Fi novel of my own, or maybe a series, in the next year. I hope to tie some of my other interests, such as history and science, into this work in progress as well.

Why did you decide to enter the May Contest?

I decided it would be a fun challenge to try to match the style and feel of someone else’s unfinished story. I invited a number of friends, including a few from our anthology project, to give it a try, too, to give it a little more competition. I’m not sure how many others submitted endings for the contest, but I enjoyed solving the mystery that the original story introduced.

It was fun and challenging to take the hints, clues, and mysteries in the beginning of the story and imagine solutions and connections that they might hint at for the ending. It was a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle where the ending was hinted at and in relation to the completed part of the puzzle, but I could make the last part whatever I imagined it should be. 

I have not co-written a single story before. The Nine Streams of Consciousness anthology project did allow a lot of shared world-building and editing collaboration, but we did write our stories independently of each other. Yet we also looked for places in the stories where we could connect them with one another. We shared some characters, places, and events which tied them together into a connected narrative.

How did you find the contest challenging?

The challenging part was fitting an ending which wrapped up the story into 500 words or less. I wanted to make sure the implications of the conflicts and details given in the beginning had payoff and were satisfactorily tied into the ending. Five hundred words can come up on you pretty fast when your imagination is flowing!

I read and re-read the given starting story a few times and made notes on elements that were hinted at, like the character Fram, which the point-of-view character talked about. I asked myself questions about the hints in the story like “What would be on the data chip?” and “Why would he be trying to get to planet 5 instead of 8? — Was 8 or 5 closer?” Writing out some of these details and questions helped me conceive of the ending I wrote.

I encourage others to give story writing a try and see what comes of it. This monthly challenge is a fun mental exercise–a creative puzzle to solve. 

Don’t miss another great ending from a May finalist

During the month of June, I’m sharing the finalist stories from the May Contest. Today’s featured finalist is Carla Ra.

Carla Ra is a self-described “scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night” and hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She recently released a Sci Fi anthology, Artificial Rebellion, which you can get for free by visiting her website at authorcarlara.com.

In writing her story ending, Carla picked up on a theme I had wanted to explore further: Pirates! When writing the story beginning, I wanted to make space pirates a real theme of the story. But due to space limits, I just mentioned it as a reasonable fear held by our scrapper. Carla grabbed that idea and took the scrapper down a darker path.

I started the story below. See how Carla starts after the red line and takes us to a surprise ending.

Mayday

By Carla Ra and Matthew Cross

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is United Polity Ship 999Q2-292-383-858-112, courier class. I have multiple air and fuel leaks following a collision with unknown debris—just dust probably—checking scanners now, mmmm, the immediate danger appears to have cleared, but I’ve cut engines to conserve fuel and prevent an explosion. Here are my coordinates. [Series of beeps, clicks and static sound.]

I’m listening to the Mayday from the cockpit of the Scrappy Doo, a merchant scrapper. Don’t ask about the name. It was Mom’s idea, and after she passed, it seemed disrespectful to change the name.

The shipboard comp is automatically recording this message and storing away the coordinates. I recognize the coordinate prefixes. The Polity courier is in my quadrant of the Belt, the vast ring of asteroids that forms the outer limits of the Halcyon system. But that covers a lot of space. After all, the Belt’s diameter is wider than the rest of the solar system inside of it.

I’m the only one on board, but even so my air’s gonna run out in less than 8 hours. Even if I blew all the fuel—if I wanted to risk an explosion—I’d be at least 200 hours out from Halcyon 5. I need a priority pickup under authority of the Polity Navy.

Eight hours of air. It’s every spacer’s nightmare. Without a rescue, you know the hour and the method of your death. And suffocation is a bad way to go.

I’m watching my own scanners as I listen. When you’re in the Belt, you have to be on constant watch. Courier-112’s case proves the point. A small shower of pebbles or even just a patch of dust can perforate a hull and turn it into a sieve. Doesn’t matter whether you fly into it or it flies into you.

The population of the Belt is sizable–mostly miners and scrappers like me. But we’re spread out over so much space you can go years without seeing anyone unless you intend to. So I’m certain someone else will answer the Mayday call. But that’s because I forgot about the family’s luck.

I open my eyes and check my scanners again. That’s when I see the blinking red comm light. My stomach drops.

Reluctantly, I lean forward and reach slowly for the comm switch. Click.

Scrappy Doo. This is Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. This is a priority comm.”

It’s not that I don’t want to help. But I have my own problems. I just loaded up the Doo five days ago with supplies on credit and I need to gather some scrap to pay back Fram. He’s an old friend of Mom’s and the only outfitter who will give me credit. Since Mom died almost a year ago I’ve been living hand to mouth.

And I’ve got a lead on a good haul that could square me with Fram for good. Maybe even give me a small cushion. So I don’t need distractions.

“This is Scrappy Doo,” I mumble.

“Did you receive Mayday UPS Courier-112?”

They know I did. You would have to bore into the middle of a planet not to receive a Mayday. Even the wilds of the Belt are filled with boosts to carry emergency messages.

“Affirmative.”

In my head, I’m repeating a mantra. Not me, not me, not me . . .

“You are the closest ship to Courier-112. Your ship reports you have adequate fuel to reach the Courier and reach orbit at Halcyon 8.”

My head thumps on the control panel. I bought all that fuel on credit. And now they want me to burn it all in a rescue mission for a lousy UPS courier with one passenger?

But what can I do? Space Control and my ship already made the automated electronic handshake. They know my position, my vector, my fuel levels. Control has all the data shown on my control panel and faster comps to spin it up into any simulation they want.

That’s why I’m sitting cross-legged in the pilot’s seat with my crossed fingers tucked under my thighs, hoping I won’t be close enough to help.

I’m also biting my lip, but that’s just because everybody gets nervous when you hear a Mayday. It makes your heart jump into your throat.

If I don’t render aid, then I’ll lose the Scrappy Doo the first time I make port. They’ll impound the Doo and throw me in the brig.

“This is Scrappy Doo.” I hear some chuckles in the background from Control. I grit my teeth but then smile. With Fram as my only friend, I can’t afford enemies. I smile because you can hear the difference over comms. “I’m changing course to render aid.”

“Affirmative Scrappy Doo. We’ve fed your ship the coordinates for the optimum intercept. We’re also sending a priority UPS Medical Transport to rendezvous with you near the rim of the Belt. Thank you for your service and we’ll try to get you back on your course as soon as possible.”

Even without checking my comp, I know this trip is going to use up half my fuel. If speed is not a factor, you burn the most fuel just changing course. One turn to meet the courier and one to head to the rendezvous point with the med transport . . . I just shake my head.

I paste on a fake smile.

“Control, have you confirmed the identity of Courier, umm . . .” I’ve already forgotten the courier ship’s designation. I check a monitor. “UPS Courier-112? I’m solo crew and I have minimal weapons capability.”

I can’t keep all the quaver out of my voice. It’s actually worse than it sounds. My shields are only rated for space debris and minor port collisions. And the ‘defensive lasers’ that came standard with this scrapper model are really just part of the array of cutting tools for scrapping. Sure, they’re strong, but the aiming and target-tracking programs are a joke, and the combat display features on my monitors are clearly an afterthought.

So, I’m not completely defenseless. But any well-armed pirate . . . Let’s just say the thought makes me damp under the arms.

“No worries, Scrappy Doo, we’ve confirmed the identity of the UPS courier. It’s the real deal.” There’s some chatter in the background. “That courier has some special Navy designations, too. They’re classified, but let’s just say the passenger is somebody important.”

A VIP, huh? Maybe there’s an upside here, as long as he and I both survive this.

They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“We’ll live monitor your progress until rendezvous. I’m also sending your ship a boost code. Your ship’s automated beacon will warn all other ships that you are under Mayday orders and protected by Control and Polity Navy authority.”

Oh, goody, I think. Control is millions of kloms away. They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“Thank you, Control. Changing course to respond to Mayday UPS Courier-112.”

The comp says six hours to intercept, including deceleration to match speed and direction of the courier. That’s good. The courier reported he had less than 8 hours of air, which is not a precise number. But air consumption is not a precise measurement, no matter what the engineers say, and add a tiny, undetected leak or two and it’s anyone’s guess.

If the courier is conscious when I arrive and the ship’s hatch is not damaged, then bringing him aboard will take no time at all. If he’s trapped in a can leaking fuel, that will get tricky. 

I spend the first hour checking Control’s intercept calculations. Of course, they’re right, but it’s a good math exercise to run. How often do you get a chance to run real space math and check it against a Control calculation? If you want to pilot a ship, you gotta know your math. Calculations also calm and center the mind.

That task done, I try and take a nap. It’s hopeless, of course. I’m nervous for the courier. I’m terrified for me.

So I do some more math. I plug myself back into the comp and run air, water and food calculations for two people aboard the Doo. AOK.

I run rescue simulations, practicing some extractions with each of my cutting tools. The first run throughs are pretty smooth. Control didn’t send me much for specs on the courier, so I send a message to request those. I get back a set of generic specs on Polity courier ships. I send again, asking for Courier-112’s specs from its own computer. The terse message back says those are classified.

Classified? They want me to run a rescue and not give me the specs? That sounds like the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.

“A bunch of morons,” I say to myself.

I spend the rest of the trip checking equipment again and again. And then I check it again.

Before I’m in visual sight of Courier-112, I hail it. The ships already made their electronic handshake. Something in the codes from Control must have authorized the courier ship to do that much. But the courier ship won’t tell me anything about passengers or bio signs. It’s classified, I’m sure.

After three explosions, my hands are shaking.

The courier’s pilot is not responding to my hails, either.

I add fuel leaks to the rescue simulations. Big mistake. After three explosions, my hands are shaking. I unstrap and float to the back to the equipment storage.

Until I was close, I didn’t want him to use up any air talking. I could have just texted, of course. But to tell the truth, I put it off until now because I didn’t want any bad news.

When I reach visual range, it doesn’t look so bad. Courier-112 looks to be in a single piece. It’s riding straight, not spinning out of control, gliding smoothly on course. I let go of the breath I’d been holding in.

The Doo and I go through the docking sequence together. The Doo aligns with Courier-112 and I make the final small adjustments visually. I feel the slight vibration as the ships connect. Textbook docking!

I slump back in my seat, relieved. Ships only make this kind of docking maneuver in cases of rescue or combat. I’d only done it once before with Mom at my side.

The relief doesn’t last long. I still can’t raise a response from the courier’s pilot. I try everything, including the comms built into the Doo’s docking arms connected to the courier.

I’m going to have to go outside. Vac, vac, vac!

I hear Mom’s voice in my head. “Never hurry. Think it through. Make a plan. It’s only the spacers that lose their heads and rush around that get hurt.”

Instead of unlatching, I check my monitors. First, assess the situation. I had set a countdown clock based on 8 hours of air. If the courier’s estimate was good, he should have plenty of air left. But he could still be injured. Unconscious.

I went through my options. Legally, I could report this to Control and stay in my seat. The duty to render aid on a Mayday does not extend to space walks. Legally, all I had to do was wait here until the courier’s pilot climbed aboard or death was confirmed. I could even earn a small commission just giving the ship a push in the right direction for a Halcyon recovery crew.

I run through all my options twice, but the truth is, I’m a spacer. And in space, a spacer renders aid. Because this could happen to anyone. Mom would agree.

I send Control a quick update, half hoping they’ll tell me to sit tight. I get no response. That happens in the Belt. Dead patches run throughout. With shaking hands, I unlatch and climb into my suit. I move slowly and deliberately. I think through every action.

Before I know it, I’m opening the hatch of Courier-112. So far, Control and the ship’s own comp have been so secretive, I half expect red lights and sirens when I pull the inset lever to reveal the wheel. Instead, the wheel begins to turn itself. The pilot told the ship to let me in. That doesn’t mean he’s conscious, I remind myself. He could have set the sequence before passing out.

The hatch opens, revealing the clear film of a gel seal. A courier ship is too small for a separate decompression chamber. Only the seal separates the cabin’s oxygen and open space. Through the film, I see the top of the pilot’s head. He’s wearing a suit and helmet as well. He does not move.

I push my helmet through the film and connect to his helmet.

Both our reflective faceshields open automatically at the connection, leaving clear panes for us to see through. Our suits have synched their own comms.

His eyes are closed. A shock runs through me. I’m too late, I think.

Then he opens his eyes. He has dull blue eyes, almost gray. He smiles slightly as his eyes focus in on mine. Then his pupils open wider as he examines my face.

“You’re just a kid!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the kid that’s saving your hide.”

“Negative, it’s too late for that,” he says. He looks down.

I see a detail I missed before. Small threads of red extend from the chest of his suit, wiggling in the thin air. Blood. The suit sealed itself, of course. Just two small holes, but they’re high on the chest.

And then I see the bubbles of red in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you alone?” he asks.

What a creepy question. That’s my first thought. But it’s an important one. A fair question, I guess.

“Yes, I’m the solo captain-pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

I see confusion in his eyes.

“I’m a scrapper.”

“Negative,” he says. “Now you’re UPS Courier-112. Get this to Halcyon 5.”

He raises his hand to me, holding a black slip of plastic. A data chip, no doubt.

“Halcyon 8?” I say weakly.

“Negative,” he mumbles, “Halcyon 5. It’s . . . “ He gasps and I hear burbling sounds. “. . . urgent.”


He is . . . I take three steps backward before running as fast as I can, stumbling on my way back to the Doo.

My hands shake so much I have trouble clicking the comm switch.

“He’s dead,” I say, gasping.

“Can you elaborate, Scrappy Doo?”

“I went inside, and he—” I choke. The guilt for leaving him there is tightening my throat. The fear is forcing tears out of my eyes.

I hear chattering on the radio.

Scrappy Doo, you were not authorized to enter the ship.”

Not authorized? I was on a rescue mission! I had the option of staying inside the Doo, but no decent person would sit back in this situation. I rub the tears off my cheek. A hoarse, grave voice spoke in the background of Control.

“Ask him if he was alive.”

“He died in my hands,” I answer before they ask me.

The man in the background now addresses me.

“Did he give you something?” I hesitate to answer, so he continues, “Maybe a microchip?”

It brings the dead man’s request back to my mind.

“Yes,” I say. “I have to take it to Halcyon 5.”

“No. I’ll keep it. Your rescue mission will be done after I retrieve the item.”

Something doesn’t seem right. Control’s request goes against a rescue-mission protocol. And they’re not even worried about the deceased crew member.

I receive a second signal, encrypted in a frequency that screams unofficial. If it’s an attack, I’m doomed.
“Hi there.”

Yep, definitely unofficial. I ignore it, not knowing what to say.

The softly-spoken woman insists. “Do not hand the microchip to Halcyon 8 Control. The attack on UPS Courier-112 was their doing. They arranged it to look like an accident and sent you here to confirm their story. All for the data in this chip.”

I realize I had a firm grip around the microchip. I open my hand and stare at it for a second. My heart is in my mouth.

“Are you a pirate?” I ask.

“I’m your escort. Now, you have two options. Come to Halcyon 5 with us, or risk getting into an accident, just like Courier-112 did.”

I fall back in the chair and tuck my hands under my thighs, rocking back and forth. Is it true? Am I in danger?

“We pay well,” she says.

That is a compelling argument.

Assess the situation, think it through, make a plan. Why is it so tricky under pressure?

Scrappy Doo, do you copy?” Control says.

It seems they did not intercept the pirate’s signal. I take a deep breath and straighten my back.

“It’s UPS Courier-112, now.” Mom would forgive me for changing the name. “I’m going to Halcyon 5.”

“Good boy,” the pirate says.

I smile. Now I have better friends than Fram.


If you enjoyed Carla Ra’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And if you have not already read the original contest-winning story, read it here!

Be stellar! 🚀✨

Matthew Cross

Win a cash prize if you write the best finish to my story

This is a finish-my-story contest where all you have to do is write the ending in 500 words or less.


June-July Contest
: All submissions are due by midnight July 15, 2021.

Look here for contest rules.

The Festival of Juno

How many times had I dreamed of a night like tonight?

As girls growing up in a backwater planet of the Republic, we all had fantasies of escaping to a “civilized world” and living a life filled with wealth, fame, and romance. Starry nights scented with flowers and our own perfume. Hair bound up by a real hairdresser. Sheathed in a couture gown.

And now, here I am, heat sealed into a gown and ascending the stairs of the Temple of Juno. Climbing this hill to mix with the glittering hoi polloi of the City of Lights, the capitol of Pax Romana, the planet-seat of the Republic.

So what’s the problem?

First, I don’t belong here.

Don’t get me wrong. My credentials are legit. I am the Daughters of Juno representative from my planet. The Vesta Society helped me secure the spot. But I definitely don’t feel right among all these Paxers.

Second, I’m a spy.

Third, these heels are killing me.

We’re climbing the Thousand Steps from the dock below to the temple above. I don’t know how these other girls are doing it. Most of them are from Pax Romana, so they are used to the intense gravity here. My little planet looks more like a moon with gravity to match. And the exercycles and running turbines on the transport ship RPS Brutus just can’t get you in shape for this.

City of Lights, the capitol of Pax Romana, the planet-seat of the Republic. Photo by Carlos Ibanez.

The girl in front of me springs up the steps. With her long gown, I can’t see her legs or feet, but her butt looks amazing. Like she climbs steps in her sleep.

I hate her.

I’m only halfway up the curved steps that climb the slope from the lake and I’m breathing like a draft ox. I stop a moment–just a moment–to slip off my heels. As I bend to pick them up, the girl behind me bumps my butt with her head. We both curse. I snatch the slender straps of my heels with one hand, making sure not to let the candle I’m carrying go out.

There’s more cursing and grumbling going on behind me. I know they’re talking about me. Besides the usual, unladylike curse words drifting up from below are words like “spacing,” “oaf,” and “hick.” My ears burn.

I steal a glance backwards and see that the long, snaking line of candles is twitching and hitching up the stone stairs. I look ahead and see a seamless line of women and candles winding through the hillside olive orchard. I seem to be messing up their perfect promenade. I’m not exactly blending.

These Paxers love anything that smells of Ancient Rome. Photo by Mathew Schwartz.

Yes, we are climbing hand-hewn stone stairs through an olive orchard. These Paxers love anything that smells of Ancient Rome. And speaking of smells, I know they shun deodorants and claim to like natural, human musk–thus, differentiating themselves from spacers and those living in sterile “airless” colonies. But when we get into the ballroom at the top, I think we’re going to smell more like a herd of cattle than a perfumed harem of debutantes.


It’s dim in the anteroom, but all those candles provide me with enough light to see the other girls pretty well. As they pass through the door, each one bends down to remove slippers and pull on a pair of heels from her purse. Well, that explains one thing. I dunk my candle in the silver urn of water like the girl in front of me and slip my heels back on. I’m definitely going to have blisters.

I can also see everyone’s dress clearly for the first time. From the time I stepped out of the limo, I’ve been in a dark tunnel, a lightless security check, and a lightless ferry. The only girl I’ve seen clearly is Super Butt right in front of me.

No two dresses are exactly the same, not exactly. Like theirs, mine is shiny and sheer, nearly cut down to the navel from the neck and definitely cut up to the waist from the hem. When I tried on the dress for the first time on the PRS Brutus, it took my breath away. And that was even before the final fitting and heat sealing of the stiches. Helena, my minder from the Vesta Society, even smiled. A rare treat.

“Ummm . . . I love it. Really, I do. But I can see right through this thing. Shouldn’t I be wearing a slip for the fitting?”

“No, dear. Republic society women never wear anything under these dresses. It ruins the line. Tiara, necklace, dress, purse, shoes, and perfume. Nothing else.”

Aghast, I looked in the monitor showing my image. “But you can see everything. I mean . . . everything!”

Helena suggested I could get used to the attention by wearing the dress around the Brutus. I thought of the rough-handed, loud-mouthed spacers aboard the ship–my kind of people–and shut my mouth.

Of course, the Vesta Society outfitted me with synthetic skin bands on my legs and back to carry a few tools. But they do nothing to protect my modesty.

In the anteroom, I notice one more detail. Every dress ahead of me is blue. Of course. Juno’s sacred color. I look behind me. The girl behind me is managing to adjust her tiara and give me a dirty look at the same time. She is also wearing blue. And so are all the women behind her.

I am wearing red.

How had the Vesta Society missed that detail? They thought of everything!

I’m sweating from the climb up the Thousand Steps, but suddenly my sweat runs cold. If they didn’t know the Daughters of Juno all wore blue, what else did they not know? What other surprises are in store for me?

And then I see the next one. I’m almost to the far end of the anteroom. There is an older woman checking tiara, necklace, dress, purse, and shoes. I know she’ll never let me past in a red dress.

I pump the false molar just once and spit the tracing juice on the blue dress in front of me.

“Oh, honey!” I wail, faking a nasal Paxer accent. “What’s that on your dress?”

In the swarm that converges on Super Butt, I sneak past the gatekeeper. I round a dark corner and emerge into a dazzling, white light. I freeze.

A smooth baritone voice announces a name. It’s not my name, and all I can see in all directions is brilliant, white light. Then my training kicks in and I remember. I’m at the top of the winding ramp–the Gauntlet, they call it–that descends past all the vids to the ballroom floor. The name they called must be Super Butt’s. I took her place in line.

I try the elegant spider walk we practiced over and over on the Brutus, but the ship’s weak anti-grav is a poor substitute. I skitter-slide my way down the ramp to the sound of gasps and titters and explosions of light.

When I reach the bottom, my vision begins to recover. A dance floor filled with young men in black and young women in blue dresses whirls past. Out of the last bright light comes a dark form. It takes me by the hand and the waist and spins me into the maelstrom.

It takes my breath away.

I look up and my dance partner is none other than the Marquess Douro, my target. Did the Vesta Society arrange this somehow or is it just amazing, dumb luck?

There she is, Juno herself, Queen of Olympus, Mother of the Gods. The marble statue sits on a marble throne beneath a half dome. Photo by Mateus Campos-Felipe.

Dancing weightless is not the same thing as dancing at the bottom of a planet’s gravity well. And, yet, in his arms, I feel as though I’m floating. His strong arms hold an effortless frame and I cling to them. As we spin, my body brushes his and I’m very aware of the sheer nothing I’m wearing.

He is tall with broad shoulders. The wreath of green olive leaves rests on his glistening, dark curls. And his eyes? Dark-green pools my soul could dive into and drown.

He is the target, I remind myself. But I don’t feel like I’m stalking him. Just the opposite. In this style of dancing, the women step backwards as the men “lead” them around the dance floor. My steps are light. I feel like I’m fleeing backwards as he pursues me with hungry eyes. I’m fleeing, but his arms direct my every step.

“I gotta get out of here,” I mumble.

“Great idea!” he says. “I know a shortcut.”

He lets go of my waist and I miss the warmth already. But he keeps hold of my hand and pulls me easily through the crowd surrounding the dance floor.

I find myself in the temple proper and he hurries past marble pillar after marble pillar. There she is, Juno herself, Queen of Olympus, Mother of the Gods. The marble statue sits on a marble throne beneath a half dome. Behind the throne, he twitches aside the blue curtain backdrop. There’s a small hallway ending in an elevator.

He lets go of my hand and steps inside.

I’m not supposed to leave the temple, but then, he has the key. The key is my objective. Where he goes, I must follow.

My face must be showing a million emotions and he cocks his eyebrows. He’s saying “Wanna come?”

I do, but I also have no choice. I need that key. While his father, the Duke, is off planet, the key hangs from the neck of the heir apparent. The key is the only piece missing for the Vesta Society to gain access to Daddy’s sanctum sanctorum on the family estate. And to the military secrets in his vault.

I plaster on a wide smile. “What fun!” I say and step inside the elevator.

The doors close and he leans in for a kiss. I’m not sure whether it’s the elevator or his warm lips that make my stomach drop and flip. My hand is on his chest and I feel the warmth seeping through his crisp, white shirt and feel his heavy, strong heartbeat. He pulls away before I realize this may be my best chance to grab the key.

Behind his glossy curls I see the lights of the famed Night Market curving around the lake. Photo by Julie.

The elevator doors have opened and he pushes through a glass door to the outside. He’s holding the door, waiting. Oh, I realize with a shock, he’s holding the door for me. I walk into the soft summer air filled with the smell of flower blossoms. We’re on a concrete walkway beside the lake. Behind his glossy curls I see the lights of the famed Night Market curving around the lake.

Wait, we could have taken an elevator, instead of climbing all those stairs?

“C’mon,” he says, “let’s take a walk.”

He stretches out his arm, offering me his hand.


Submit your story ending

I can’t wait to see your story endings!

Please post your story endings below. And if you just want to leave a comment, that would be great, too!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. If you have any trouble pasting your story ending below, just e-mail it to matthewcrosswrites@gmail.com by the deadline and you will be entered. MC 🚀✨

Here’s another great story from my Champions: “The Orb”

The Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, bring forth another great Sci Fi story collaboration. Today, we reveal Part 5, the conclusion of the story!

The Orb

A Circle of Champions collaboration story

Jim Hamilton, who won my October Contest, took on the challenge of writing a story in five parts with two other champions, Katherine Shaw and S. Songweaver. Each writer wrote a segment of 500 words or less and handed it off to the next writer, pass-the-baton style. Jim started the story below and wrote Parts 3 and 5.

And now . . . the complete story!

The Orb

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

It was five o’clock on a Saturday morning when Elizabeth and Robert Tanwell were rudely awakened by a pounding on their front door.

“Who the hell can that be at this hour?” asked Betty. She nudged her husband. “Go see who it is, Bobby.”

“I will, honey,” he said, getting out of bed and drawing on his bathrobe. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

As Bobby descended the stairs, the pounding continued. “I’m coming!” he yelled, as loudly as he could. When he reached the door, he peered through the peephole and was surprised to see a policeman and a man in a dark gray suit staring back at him. He unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door. “Good morning, officers, what can I do for you?”

The middle-aged gentleman in the suit regarded Bobby with piercing eyes. “Are you Robert Marris Tanwell?”

“Yes, sir, that would be me.”

Holding up several folded sheets of paper, he handed Bobby one of them. “You are hereby under arrest for felony theft, including breaking and entering a government facility.” He handed Bobby another set of papers. “This is a warrant allowing us to search the premises for any evidence involved in the afore-mentioned crime.” He handed Bobby the last of the papers. “And this is a warrant authorizing the freezing of any assets you may have.” He nodded at the uniformed policeman. “Officer Wilmington here will take you into custody.”

The officer spoke up. “Please step out of the house and face the street, sir.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!”

Dazed, Bobby complied and became aware of the numerous vehicles that lined his driveway. Within seconds, a menacing-looking, riot-gear-clad squad rushed past him into the house. As the officer brought Bobby’s arms behind him and fastened them with handcuffs, Bobby swore he could hear Betty screaming over the policeman’s words.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” He turned Bobby around to face him. “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” Bobby protested. He looked at his house, searching for Betty. “What about my wife?”

The officer repeated, “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“Yes, yes, I do.” Bobby shook his head, “I think I want a lawyer now.”

Without replying, the policeman led Bobby to a marked SUV and opened the rear door. “Watch your head.”

Before climbing in, Bobby turned once more toward the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Betty, but there was still no sign of her. As the door closed behind him, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. One thing he knew for sure, it had to be something to do with that alien artifact he had found in his backyard two weeks ago.


Part 2 by Katherine Shaw

Bobby’s heart hammered in his chest as he sat sandwiched between two stern-faced officers, both of them staring forwards as the SUV jostled them in their seats. No one had spoken to him since they had set off, ignoring his anxious questions until he finally gave up and succumbed to their silence. With nothing to distract his whirring thoughts, Bobby’s panic only grew.

They hadn’t told anyone about the artifact, had they? No, definitely not. It was in his office, in its box, while they figured out what the hell they were going to do with it.

The journey was taking much longer than Bobby had anticipated. He’d had no time to properly dress or put on his watch, but the rising sun told him it must be nearly six. Surely the police station is much closer than this? Unless . . .

A dull ache spread across his tightening chest. Are they going to kill me?

Finally, the car slowed, and the crunch of gravel under the wheels suggested they had reached their destination. Bobby braced himself for the worst as the officer to his left stepped out of the car and signaled for him to follow.

He was led into a stark, featureless building with no obvious signage or markings, and the inside was equally devoid of identity. The walls were painted a humorless gray, and the expressionless staff members walking the corridors were dressed in plain, dark suits. He could have been anywhere, which only frightened Bobby more.

The leading officer stopped partway down a corridor and motioned for Bobby to enter a room to his right. It didn’t take a genius to recognize it as an interrogation room. He shuffled to the lone chair in the center of the room and sat, his hands clasped tightly on his lap. After several long minutes, a new officer entered. He was tall and thin, all angles and corners. His eyes were like cold steel.

“Where is it, Tanwell”? His voice was as sharp as his features.

“I’m sorry, what—“

“Do not play dumb with me. We’ve seen the tapes.”

“Tapes? What tapes?” Panic roiled in Bobby’s stomach. “Will someone tell me what’s going on? I haven’t done anything!”

The officer’s mouth twisted into a smirk and Bobby’s panic froze into ice cold dread. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, Mr. Tanwell, but what about several minutes of film?”

He held up a small remote and pushed a button. The nearest wall opened up to reveal a large, black screen which came to life at the officer’s touch. It showed a security tape from some sort of museum or archive, dated the night before.

What does this have to do with . . . ?

Bobby’s eyes bulged as a figure walked into the shot. A recognizable but impossible figure. It was him. Bobby himself!

“No! It can’t be! I’ve never—“

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 


Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

Bobby had a sinking feeling in his gut. He didn’t remember this place or breaking into it, but now
that he thought about it, this explained where the meteorite must have come from. And that nasty
gash on the back of my hand
, he thought to himself.

He glanced at his bandage as the officer spoke. “Isn’t that where you hurt your hand?”

Bobby paled as he looked back up again. “I . . . I think so, but I don’t remember it, I swear!”

The officer smirked as he said, “Let me guess—you’re taking Ambien?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, nothing like that, but I’ve had several blackouts recently where I don’t
remember what happened.” He pointed at the screen. “That must be one of them.”

“Blackouts? Seriously?” The officer laughed. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

Bobby nodded vigorously. “It’s the truth, officer. It all started with an alien artifact that fell into
my backyard.”

The officer laughed again. “Oh, now you’re bringing aliens into it?”

“I’m serious! Two weeks ago, my wife and I heard a loud thump coming from the backyard.
When we went to see what it was. There was a dull silver sphere, about the size of a golf ball, embedded in the dirt. From the very beginning, we both felt . . . I don’t know, drawn to it. I picked it up and we brought it back into the house.”

“Maybe a large ball bearing fell from a plane?”

“That’s what we thought. However, when we went to bed, it was on our coffee table. When we
woke up, we found it in our microwave. It was glowing brightly enough to hurt your eyes to look
at it.”

“How did it get in the microwave?”

“I don’t know.”

Bobby shook his head, knowing it sounded insane. “One of us must have moved it,
but neither of us remember doing so.”

He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Since then, we found it in the sink, filled with water. Then it moved to a large wooden box. Next it was nestled into some kind of sawdust and fertilizer. Then a light coating of sand was added. Last night, I found what looked like a meteorite in the box next to it.” He pointed at the video that was still looping. “One that I . . . apparently stole from this place.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that cockamamie story?”

“Yes! Because it’s the truth! I went to the store last night to get groceries and when I got home,
the meteorite was in one of the grocery bags and my right hand was bandaged.” He rubbed his
temples. “I remember shopping and coming home, but I don’t remember anything else.”

“As we speak, we’re searching your house. Care to tell me what we’ll find?”

Bobby nodded. “The box is on my desk.” He smiled. “However, I don’t think that your meteorite
is actually a meteorite.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, when I went to bed, it had cracked open and green goo was oozing out.”


Part 4 by S. Songweaver

“Green goo?” The officer raised an eyebrow; it sounded absurd.

“Yes, green goo,” Bobby insisted. “Actually, not unlike the stuff that’s coming out of the door behind you.”

The officer didn’t budge, his steely, cold eyes fixed on Bobby. “You really think I’ll fall for that?”

“I mean, it’s nothing to fall for, sir.” Bobby said, frowning at the green sludge squeezing through the crack of the interrogation room’s door.

The man in front of him scowled and turned. “What the . . . ?” he managed before his face was accosted by the green mush sliding up his nostrils and into his mouth.

Bobby panicked and jumped up from his chair as the officer slumped and fell forward onto the floor.

A few moments passed before he gathered enough bravery to nudge the man with his feet. “Sir?”

“Sir . . . ? Are you . . . OK?”

The man stirred, causing Bobby to jump back.

“Mr. Tanwell, you are safe.” The officer broke into a broad smile.

Bobby gulped.

“We have to get you out of here.” The man’s voice sounded squeaky; it was different than before. His eyes were glazed, like he didn’t quite know how to operate them.

“Uhh . . . ”

“Don’t worry, we might be alien, but we come in pieces,” the officer offered, making a Star Trek-style sign with his fingers.

Confused, Bobby managed, “Are you the orb thing that’s been controlling my wife?”

“Yes, terribly sorry about that.” The officer gathered himself off the floor, seeming like he was learning how to walk again. He looked down at his arms like they were new to him. “We needed something from the museum and this facility. I promise we’ll get you home safe, and you won’t remember a thing. Nor will the people here.”

The man made a hiccup noise as he walked into the door. “Right, primitive technology,” it reminded itself, finding the doorknob. “Follow me, Mr. Tanwell. We shall meet up with your wife. My mates are with her now.”

Bobby hesitantly looked at the officer and the open door, then back at the chair that he had been seated in just moments before. “This is a weird dream. I’m dreaming and I’m going to wake up soon.” He pinched himself. No dice.

“Hurry, Mr. Tanwell, we are on a line-dead.”

The man gestured for Bobby to go.

“You mean deadline,” Bobby corrected, following the officer out of the room and down the hall.

“No, I mean line-dead. My connection to the others was terminated when I came to get you. And until we meet up with them again, I can’t restore my live connection. If we don’t meet up at the checkpoint, I might miss them, and my ship will leave without me,” the officer replied, rushing past the security doors. “I just want to go home, Mr. Tanwell. I hope you can relate.”

Bobby frowned. It was as much as he could relate to a clump of green goo, he supposed.

“Your planet is terribly primitive, and we never, ever wanted to end up here again,” the officer added. “We were supposed to go to Andromeda, but my mates insisted on exploring something new. This is the last time I let them drive.”

At that moment, Bobby realized he might have a lot more in common with the strange alien sludge than he had thought.


Part 5 by Jim Hamilton

As he followed his former interrogator through the door and along the same unremarkable hallways, he asked, “You said that Betty—my wife—is okay?”

“Yes, Mr. Tanwell. We just need to collect the rest of us and get to the checkpoint.” He turned his head and smiled. “You can call me Zed, by the way.”

They arrived at the entrance where another man in a suit waited for them. Bobby watched as the new guy handed Zed an orb that looked like the one that had landed in Bobby’s backyard.

“Good job, men!” The man collapsed on the floor and, in only a couple of seconds, green goo oozed out of his pores and disappeared up Zed’s leg. Bobby was surprised by how fast it moved. Zed opened the outer door and walked over to a black SUV, apparently waiting for them. “This is where I turn us over to Harriman, here, who’ll drive us back to your house.” He passed the orb to the driver and green goo flowed down his arm and up the sleeve of Harriman.

“Get in, Mr. Tanwell,” said the driver, as the interrogator collapsed in a heap on the ground.

Bobby ran around to the passenger side and hopped in. He was glad to see that this Harriman knew how to drive as they sped down the gravel road and turned onto a highway. As they rode along, Harriman explained things to Bobby.

“I’m sure that you’re confused and have a lot of questions.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement,” replied Bobby.

“We come from a galaxy, far, far away. Our ship crashed here several hundred years ago and has lain in a museum all that time.”

“That’s the meteorite I stole?”

“Yes. And while we were waiting for a rescue probe, we kept tabs on your development.” Harriman laughed. “Your species is quite amusing.”

“Is the orb we found your rescue probe?”

“Yes. Actually, it’s the second one. The first one collided with one of your weather balloons and was taken to this facility for study.”

“And the green goo?”

“Actually, the ‘goo’, as you call it, is actually a colloidal environment that protects our silicon bodies from oxidizing and seizing up.”

“Silicon? Like nanobots or something?”

Harriman nodded. “Close enough. There’s trillions of us in this goo. We can control anyone that touches the orb, like you and your wife did.” He gestured to himself. “Or Officer Harriman here. He was the first to enter your office and was drawn to the orb. Once we controlled him, he passed the orb around to the rest of those present.”

Bobby saw that they were nearing his neighborhood. “So, where is this checkpoint?”

“It’s actually in your backyard. They’re all waiting for us.” He held up the orb. “We’re no longer line-dead. Physical contact with the orbs allows us to communicate.”

He turned into Bobby’s driveway, still filled with other black SUVs. Bobby and Harriman made their way to the backyard where a dozen enforcement officers welcomed them.

“Bobby!” exclaimed Betty, as she ran to give him a hug. “I was so worried about you!”

He hugged her back, his body flooded with relief at seeing his wife alive and well. “I’m okay. They told me you were safe, but I had to see for myself.”

One of the FBI agents called out, pointing at the sky. They all looked up and spotted a silver ball descending to where the probe had originally landed.

Bobby eyed the small sphere. “That’s it? That’s your rescue ship?”

Harriman laughed. “We’re microscopic. We don’t need a lot of room.”

Bobby and Betty watched in fascination as a large hole opened in the sphere and the goo flowed from Harriman and others into it. One-by-one, the various officers collapsed on the ground until only Harriman was left. He deposited the two smaller probes into the hole and it sealed itself.

“In a few more seconds, we’ll be gone,” he said, turning back to Bobby. “None of you will remember anything, and the videos have all been erased.” He smiled. “We want to thank you for your valuable assistance and apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused.”

With that, Harriman collapsed and the silvery ball shot up into the atmosphere. Bobby and Betty barely had time to lock eyes in bewildered amusement before their vision faded to black, and their bodies collapsed from under them.

Later, they groggily awoke. They were alone, the only sound being the cool early evening air stirring the shrubbery around them. 

“Why are we lying out here in the yard?” asked Betty.

“I don’t know,” answered Bobby. “But I had the strangest dream about aliens.”

“Aliens?”

“Yes. Aliens.” He pulled out the notebook he always kept with him and began furiously scribbling. “It’s a great idea for my next novel, and I want to get it all down before I forget it!” 

Bobby smiled and looked up at the darkening sky. “This one’s going to be a real corker!”


And, indeed, this pass-the-baton story was a corker! Thanks to Jim Hamilton, Katherine Shaw, and S. Songweaver for sharing this fun Sci Fi story.

If you enjoyed “The Orb,” please leave some kind comments for Jim, Katherine and S. below.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Here’s another great ending from the first May finalist

During the month of June, I’m sharing the finalist stories from the May Contest. Today’s featured finalist is Jeremy Wilson.

You may recall that Jeremy was the April Contest winner. As one of my Champions, he cannot win the contest again this calendar year. But if he had not already been a Champion, he could have won the contest with this great story ending filled with action, intrigue and an elegant loop effect.

I started the story below. See how Jeremy starts after the red line and takes us to a surprise ending.

Mayday

By Jeremy Wilson and Matthew Cross

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is United Polity Ship 999Q2-292-383-858-112, courier class. I have multiple air and fuel leaks following a collision with unknown debris—just dust probably—checking scanners now, mmmm, the immediate danger appears to have cleared, but I’ve cut engines to conserve fuel and prevent an explosion. Here are my coordinates. [Series of beeps, clicks and static sound.]

I’m listening to the Mayday from the cockpit of the Scrappy Doo, a merchant scrapper. Don’t ask about the name. It was Mom’s idea, and after she passed, it seemed disrespectful to change the name.

The shipboard comp is automatically recording this message and storing away the coordinates. I recognize the coordinate prefixes. The Polity courier is in my quadrant of the Belt, the vast ring of asteroids that forms the outer limits of the Halcyon system. But that covers a lot of space. After all, the Belt’s diameter is wider than the rest of the solar system inside of it.

I’m the only one on board, but even so my air’s gonna run out in less than 8 hours. Even if I blew all the fuel—if I wanted to risk an explosion—I’d be at least 200 hours out from Halcyon 5. I need a priority pickup under authority of the Polity Navy.

Eight hours of air. It’s every spacer’s nightmare. Without a rescue, you know the hour and the method of your death. And suffocation is a bad way to go.

I’m watching my own scanners as I listen. When you’re in the Belt, you have to be on constant watch. Courier-112’s case proves the point. A small shower of pebbles or even just a patch of dust can perforate a hull and turn it into a sieve. Doesn’t matter whether you fly into it or it flies into you.

The population of the Belt is sizable–mostly miners and scrappers like me. But we’re spread out over so much space you can go years without seeing anyone unless you intend to. So I’m certain someone else will answer the Mayday call. But that’s because I forgot about the family’s luck.

I open my eyes and check my scanners again. That’s when I see the blinking red comm light. My stomach drops.

Reluctantly, I lean forward and reach slowly for the comm switch. Click.

Scrappy Doo. This is Halcyon 8 Perimeter and Belt Space Control. This is a priority comm.”

It’s not that I don’t want to help. But I have my own problems. I just loaded up the Doo five days ago with supplies on credit and I need to gather some scrap to pay back Fram. He’s an old friend of Mom’s and the only outfitter who will give me credit. Since Mom died almost a year ago I’ve been living hand to mouth.

And I’ve got a lead on a good haul that could square me with Fram for good. Maybe even give me a small cushion. So I don’t need distractions.

“This is Scrappy Doo,” I mumble.

“Did you receive Mayday UPS Courier-112?”

They know I did. You would have to bore into the middle of a planet not to receive a Mayday. Even the wilds of the Belt are filled with boosts to carry emergency messages.

“Affirmative.”

In my head, I’m repeating a mantra. Not me, not me, not me . . .

“You are the closest ship to Courier-112. Your ship reports you have adequate fuel to reach the Courier and reach orbit at Halcyon 8.”

My head thumps on the control panel. I bought all that fuel on credit. And now they want me to burn it all in a rescue mission for a lousy UPS courier with one passenger?

But what can I do? Space Control and my ship already made the automated electronic handshake. They know my position, my vector, my fuel levels. Control has all the data shown on my control panel and faster comps to spin it up into any simulation they want.

That’s why I’m sitting cross-legged in the pilot’s seat with my crossed fingers tucked under my thighs, hoping I won’t be close enough to help.

I’m also biting my lip, but that’s just because everybody gets nervous when you hear a Mayday. It makes your heart jump into your throat.

If I don’t render aid, then I’ll lose the Scrappy Doo the first time I make port. They’ll impound the Doo and throw me in the brig.

“This is Scrappy Doo.” I hear some chuckles in the background from Control. I grit my teeth but then smile. With Fram as my only friend, I can’t afford enemies. I smile because you can hear the difference over comms. “I’m changing course to render aid.”

“Affirmative Scrappy Doo. We’ve fed your ship the coordinates for the optimum intercept. We’re also sending a priority UPS Medical Transport to rendezvous with you near the rim of the Belt. Thank you for your service and we’ll try to get you back on your course as soon as possible.”

Even without checking my comp, I know this trip is going to use up half my fuel. If speed is not a factor, you burn the most fuel just changing course. One turn to meet the courier and one to head to the rendezvous point with the med transport . . . I just shake my head.

I paste on a fake smile.

“Control, have you confirmed the identity of Courier, umm . . .” I’ve already forgotten the courier ship’s designation. I check a monitor. “UPS Courier-112? I’m solo crew and I have minimal weapons capability.”

I can’t keep all the quaver out of my voice. It’s actually worse than it sounds. My shields are only rated for space debris and minor port collisions. And the ‘defensive lasers’ that came standard with this scrapper model are really just part of the array of cutting tools for scrapping. Sure, they’re strong, but the aiming and target-tracking programs are a joke, and the combat display features on my monitors are clearly an afterthought.

So, I’m not completely defenseless. But any well-armed pirate . . . Let’s just say the thought makes me damp under the arms.

“No worries, Scrappy Doo, we’ve confirmed the identity of the UPS courier. It’s the real deal.” There’s some chatter in the background. “That courier has some special Navy designations, too. They’re classified, but let’s just say the passenger is somebody important.”

A VIP, huh? Maybe there’s an upside here, as long as he and I both survive this.

They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“We’ll live monitor your progress until rendezvous. I’m also sending your ship a boost code. Your ship’s automated beacon will warn all other ships that you are under Mayday orders and protected by Control and Polity Navy authority.”

Oh, goody, I think. Control is millions of kloms away. They can’t save me from pirates, just hunt them down if I’m killed. I’m so relieved.

“Thank you, Control. Changing course to respond to Mayday UPS Courier-112.”

The comp says six hours to intercept, including deceleration to match speed and direction of the courier. That’s good. The courier reported he had less than 8 hours of air, which is not a precise number. But air consumption is not a precise measurement, no matter what the engineers say, and add a tiny, undetected leak or two and it’s anyone’s guess.

If the courier is conscious when I arrive and the ship’s hatch is not damaged, then bringing him aboard will take no time at all. If he’s trapped in a can leaking fuel, that will get tricky. 

I spend the first hour checking Control’s intercept calculations. Of course, they’re right, but it’s a good math exercise to run. How often do you get a chance to run real space math and check it against a Control calculation? If you want to pilot a ship, you gotta know your math. Calculations also calm and center the mind.

That task done, I try and take a nap. It’s hopeless, of course. I’m nervous for the courier. I’m terrified for me.

So I do some more math. I plug myself back into the comp and run air, water and food calculations for two people aboard the Doo. AOK.

I run rescue simulations, practicing some extractions with each of my cutting tools. The first run throughs are pretty smooth. Control didn’t send me much for specs on the courier, so I send a message to request those. I get back a set of generic specs on Polity courier ships. I send again, asking for Courier-112’s specs from its own computer. The terse message back says those are classified.

Classified? They want me to run a rescue and not give me the specs? That sounds like the old joke about “military intelligence” being an oxymoron.

“A bunch of morons,” I say to myself.

I spend the rest of the trip checking equipment again and again. And then I check it again.

Before I’m in visual sight of Courier-112, I hail it. The ships already made their electronic handshake. Something in the codes from Control must have authorized the courier ship to do that much. But the courier ship won’t tell me anything about passengers or bio signs. It’s classified, I’m sure.

After three explosions, my hands are shaking.

The courier’s pilot is not responding to my hails, either.

I add fuel leaks to the rescue simulations. Big mistake. After three explosions, my hands are shaking. I unstrap and float to the back to the equipment storage.

Until I was close, I didn’t want him to use up any air talking. I could have just texted, of course. But to tell the truth, I put it off until now because I didn’t want any bad news.

When I reach visual range, it doesn’t look so bad. Courier-112 looks to be in a single piece. It’s riding straight, not spinning out of control, gliding smoothly on course. I let go of the breath I’d been holding in.

The Doo and I go through the docking sequence together. The Doo aligns with Courier-112 and I make the final small adjustments visually. I feel the slight vibration as the ships connect. Textbook docking!

I slump back in my seat, relieved. Ships only make this kind of docking maneuver in cases of rescue or combat. I’d only done it once before with Mom at my side.

The relief doesn’t last long. I still can’t raise a response from the courier’s pilot. I try everything, including the comms built into the Doo’s docking arms connected to the courier.

I’m going to have to go outside. Vac, vac, vac!

I hear Mom’s voice in my head. “Never hurry. Think it through. Make a plan. It’s only the spacers that lose their heads and rush around that get hurt.”

Instead of unlatching, I check my monitors. First, assess the situation. I had set a countdown clock based on 8 hours of air. If the courier’s estimate was good, he should have plenty of air left. But he could still be injured. Unconscious.

I went through my options. Legally, I could report this to Control and stay in my seat. The duty to render aid on a Mayday does not extend to space walks. Legally, all I had to do was wait here until the courier’s pilot climbed aboard or death was confirmed. I could even earn a small commission just giving the ship a push in the right direction for a Halcyon recovery crew.

I run through all my options twice, but the truth is, I’m a spacer. And in space, a spacer renders aid. Because this could happen to anyone. Mom would agree.

I send Control a quick update, half hoping they’ll tell me to sit tight. I get no response. That happens in the Belt. Dead patches run throughout. With shaking hands, I unlatch and climb into my suit. I move slowly and deliberately. I think through every action.

Before I know it, I’m opening the hatch of Courier-112. So far, Control and the ship’s own comp have been so secretive, I half expect red lights and sirens when I pull the inset lever to reveal the wheel. Instead, the wheel begins to turn itself. The pilot told the ship to let me in. That doesn’t mean he’s conscious, I remind myself. He could have set the sequence before passing out.

The hatch opens, revealing the clear film of a gel seal. A courier ship is too small for a separate decompression chamber. Only the seal separates the cabin’s oxygen and open space. Through the film, I see the top of the pilot’s head. He’s wearing a suit and helmet as well. He does not move.

I push my helmet through the film and connect to his helmet.

Both our reflective faceshields open automatically at the connection, leaving clear panes for us to see through. Our suits have synched their own comms.

His eyes are closed. A shock runs through me. I’m too late, I think.

Then he opens his eyes. He has dull blue eyes, almost gray. He smiles slightly as his eyes focus in on mine. Then his pupils open wider as he examines my face.

“You’re just a kid!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the kid that’s saving your hide.”

“Negative, it’s too late for that,” he says. He looks down.

I see a detail I missed before. Small threads of red extend from the chest of his suit, wiggling in the thin air. Blood. The suit sealed itself, of course. Just two small holes, but they’re high on the chest.

And then I see the bubbles of red in the corners of his mouth.

“Are you alone?” he asks.

What a creepy question. That’s my first thought. But it’s an important one. A fair question, I guess.

“Yes, I’m the solo captain-pilot of the Scrappy Doo.”

I see confusion in his eyes.

“I’m a scrapper.”

“Negative,” he says. “Now you’re UPS Courier-112. Get this to Halcyon 5.”

He raises his hand to me, holding a black slip of plastic. A data chip, no doubt.

“Halcyon 8?” I say weakly.

“Negative,” he mumbles, “Halcyon 5. It’s . . . “ He gasps and I hear burbling sounds. “. . . urgent.”


His eyelids flutter shut as he slips back into unconsciousness. Before my brain can even process what’s happening, the slow beeping of his heartbeat in my earpiece turns into a solid tone.

Terror seizes me . . .

A blast of garbled static brings me back to myself. Something in the courier ship must be causing interference. I pull my helmet back through the film, into the vac.

Scrappy Doo, this is Halcyon 8 Control. We received your last update. What is your status?”

I pause. Even with dead patches in the Belt, Control should have been live monitoring everything and should already know the status of the courier and his ship.

Unless . . .

With a sudden moment of panic, I remember that there is no Perimeter and Space Control on Halcyon 8. Mom would’ve scolded me for missing that.

“Standby please,” I manage weakly.

That would explain why they wouldn’t give me the specs for the courier ship. They couldn’t. So they told me it was “classified.”

They didn’t know where the courier ship was until it blasted its Mayday and they needed someone to get to the courier before the Navy could. Scrappers are easier to deal with than Rim Frigates.

“Control, the, um . . . courier is unconscious but stable. Hull integrity seems to be holding. I’ve supplemented his oxygen and set his autopilot to rendezvous with the med ship at the designated coordinates. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to be on my way. My creditors don’t usually accept acts of goodwill as payment.” I force an uneasy chuckle.

“Affirmative, Scrappy Doo. Thank you for your service.”

I unceremoniously stash the data chip in a small pocket on my suit and set the courier’s autopilot with a ten minute delay to give me time to get back to the Scrappy Doo.

That should buy me some time; I just hope it’s enough. As soon as I’m back aboard my ship, I disengage all automatic comm protocols and plot a direct course to Halcyon 5, running the engines as hot as I dare.

By some miracle, it takes them nearly a week to catch up to me.

The first blast hits somewhere on the aft section, causing an explosion behind me. A red-hot piece of the Doo cuts across my leg before imbedding itself in the nav computer.

I start getting dizzy. Something must be leaking. Or I’m losing blood.

Another blast knocks out my port stabilizer, sending the Doo into a slow spiral.

“Ruh-roh,” I say aloud. I giggle.

The pain in my leg snaps me back into reality.

With the nav computer gone, I’m flying blind, so I point the ship toward the bright ball of gas that is Halcyon Prime and struggle to regain control.

As my vision goes dark, I can just make out the twinkle of Halcyon 5 as it passes in front of its star.

I blast one final desperate plea into the void:

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Halcyon 5 Space Control, this is UPS Courier 112 . . . “


If you enjoyed Jeremy Wilson’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

And if you have not already read the original contest-winning story, read it here!

Be stellar! 🚀✨

Matthew Cross

Here’s another great story from my Champions: “The Orb”

The Circle of Champions, the winners of my monthly writing contests, bring forth another great Sci Fi story collaboration. Today, we reveal Part 3 of the story!

The Orb

A Circle of Champions collaboration story

Jim Hamilton, who won my October Contest, took on the challenge of writing a story in five parts with two other champions, Katherine Shaw and S. Songweaver. Each writer will write a segment of 500 words or less. Jim started the story below, wrote Part 3 and will finish the story with Part 5.

Each Friday, I’ll bring you a new segment, and we’ll see how this the story progresses. And we’ll see if Jim can bring it home with a big finish. I know he can.

In today’s edition, we add Part 3 by Jim.

The Orb

Part 1 by Jim Hamilton

It was five o’clock on a Saturday morning when Elizabeth and Robert Tanwell were rudely awakened by a pounding on their front door.

“Who the hell can that be at this hour?” asked Betty. She nudged her husband. “Go see who it is, Bobby.”

“I will, honey,” he said, getting out of bed and drawing on his bathrobe. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”

As Bobby descended the stairs, the pounding continued. “I’m coming!” he yelled, as loudly as he could. When he reached the door, he peered through the peephole and was surprised to see a policeman and a man in a dark gray suit staring back at him. He unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door. “Good morning, officers, what can I do for you?”

The middle-aged gentleman in the suit regarded Bobby with piercing eyes. “Are you Robert Marris Tanwell?”

“Yes, sir, that would be me.”

Holding up several folded sheets of paper, he handed Bobby one of them. “You are hereby under arrest for felony theft, including breaking and entering a government facility.” He handed Bobby another set of papers. “This is a warrant allowing us to search the premises for any evidence involved in the afore-mentioned crime.” He handed Bobby the last of the papers. “And this is a warrant authorizing the freezing of any assets you may have.” He nodded at the uniformed policeman. “Officer Wilmington here will take you into custody.”

The officer spoke up. “Please step out of the house and face the street, sir.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!”

Dazed, Bobby complied and became aware of the numerous vehicles that lined his driveway. Within seconds, a menacing-looking, riot-gear-clad squad rushed past him into the house. As the officer brought Bobby’s arms behind him and fastened them with handcuffs, Bobby swore he could hear Betty screaming over the policeman’s words.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” He turned Bobby around to face him. “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“I haven’t done anything wrong!” Bobby protested. He looked at his house, searching for Betty. “What about my wife?”

The officer repeated, “Do you understand these rights as I have explained them?”

“Yes, yes, I do.” Bobby shook his head, “I think I want a lawyer now.”

Without replying, the policeman led Bobby to a marked SUV and opened the rear door. “Watch your head.”

Before climbing in, Bobby turned once more toward the house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Betty, but there was still no sign of her. As the door closed behind him, he wondered what he had gotten himself into. One thing he knew for sure, it had to be something to do with that alien artifact he had found in his backyard two weeks ago.


Part 2 by Katherine Shaw

Bobby’s heart hammered in his chest as he sat sandwiched between two stern-faced officers, both of them staring forwards as the SUV jostled them in their seats. No one had spoken to him since they had set off, ignoring his anxious questions until he finally gave up and succumbed to their silence. With nothing to distract his whirring thoughts, Bobby’s panic only grew.

They hadn’t told anyone about the artifact, had they? No, definitely not. It was in his office, in its box, while they figured out what the hell they were going to do with it.

The journey was taking much longer than Bobby had anticipated. He’d had no time to properly dress or put on his watch, but the rising sun told him it must be nearly six. Surely the police station is much closer than this? Unless . . .

A dull ache spread across his tightening chest. Are they going to kill me?

Finally, the car slowed, and the crunch of gravel under the wheels suggested they had reached their destination. Bobby braced himself for the worst as the officer to his left stepped out of the car and signaled for him to follow.

He was led into a stark, featureless building with no obvious signage or markings, and the inside was equally devoid of identity. The walls were painted a humorless gray, and the expressionless staff members walking the corridors were dressed in plain, dark suits. He could have been anywhere, which only frightened Bobby more.

The leading officer stopped partway down a corridor and motioned for Bobby to enter a room to his right. It didn’t take a genius to recognize it as an interrogation room. He shuffled to the lone chair in the center of the room and sat, his hands clasped tightly on his lap. After several long minutes, a new officer entered. He was tall and thin, all angles and corners. His eyes were like cold steel.

“Where is it, Tanwell”? His voice was as sharp as his features.

“I’m sorry, what—“

“Do not play dumb with me. We’ve seen the tapes.”

“Tapes? What tapes?” Panic roiled in Bobby’s stomach. “Will someone tell me what’s going on? I haven’t done anything!”

The officer’s mouth twisted into a smirk and Bobby’s panic froze into ice cold dread. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, Mr. Tanwell, but what about several minutes of film?”

He held up a small remote and pushed a button. The nearest wall opened up to reveal a large, black screen which came to life at the officer’s touch. It showed a security tape from some sort of museum or archive, dated the night before.

What does this have to do with . . . ?

Bobby’s eyes bulged as a figure walked into the shot. A recognizable but impossible figure. It was him. Bobby himself!

“No! It can’t be! I’ve never—“

The words caught in his throat as he saw his doppelgänger punch into a glass case to retrieve an item from within. He didn’t even flinch, simply pocketed the object, turned and walked back out of the shot. The tape flickered and looped around, showing Bobby over and over again. But it wasn’t Bobby; it couldn’t be. 


Part 3 by Jim Hamilton

Bobby had a sinking feeling in his gut. He didn’t remember this place or breaking into it, but now
that he thought about it, this explained where the meteorite must have come from. And that nasty
gash on the back of my hand
, he thought to himself.

He glanced at his bandage as the officer spoke. “Isn’t that where you hurt your hand?”

Bobby paled as he looked back up again. “I . . . I think so, but I don’t remember it, I swear!”

The officer smirked as he said, “Let me guess—you’re taking Ambien?”

Bobby shook his head. “No, nothing like that, but I’ve had several blackouts recently where I don’t
remember what happened.” He pointed at the screen. “That must be one of them.”

“Blackouts? Seriously?” The officer laughed. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

Bobby nodded vigorously. “It’s the truth, officer. It all started with an alien artifact that fell into
my backyard.”

The officer laughed again. “Oh, now you’re bringing aliens into it?”

“I’m serious! Two weeks ago, my wife and I heard a loud thump coming from the backyard.
When we went to see what it was. There was a dull silver sphere, about the size of a golf ball, embedded in the dirt. From the very beginning, we both felt . . . I don’t know, drawn to it. I picked it up and we brought it back into the house.”

“Maybe a large ball bearing fell from a plane?”

“That’s what we thought. However, when we went to bed, it was on our coffee table. When we
woke up, we found it in our microwave. It was glowing brightly enough to hurt your eyes to look
at it.”

“How did it get in the microwave?”

“I don’t know.”

Bobby shook his head, knowing it sounded insane. “One of us must have moved it,
but neither of us remember doing so.” He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Since
then, we found it in the sink, filled with water. Then it moved to a large wooden box. Next it was
nestled into some kind of sawdust and fertilizer. Then a light coating of sand was added. Last
night, I found what looked like a meteorite in the box next to it.” He pointed at the video that was
still looping. “One that I apparently stole from this place.”

“Do you honestly expect me to believe that cockamamie story?”

“Yes! Because it’s the truth! I went to the store last night to get groceries and when I got home,
the meteorite was in one of the grocery bags and my right hand was bandaged.” He rubbed his
temples. “I remember shopping and coming home, but I don’t remember anything else.”

“As we speak, we’re searching your house. Care to tell me what we’ll find?”

Bobby nodded. “The box is on my desk.” He smiled. “However, I don’t think that your meteorite
is actually a meteorite.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because, when I went to bed, it had cracked open and green goo was oozing out.”


We hope that you are enjoying “The Orb” so far. If so, please leave some kind comments for Jim and Katherine below. And make sure to check back next Friday when we release Part 4 written by S. Songweaver.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross