New Release – Facilitated Interrogation

In accordance with my plan to release a new title every month, on Monday, 15 May, I released a novelette called Facilitated Interrogation.

Doctor Luisa Melendez works for the FBI, specializing in a revolutionary facilitated interrogation technique that renders a suspect unable to tell a lie, without causing injury or trauma of any kind. Though initially controversial, the technique passed every test and has now become completely mainstream.

She never dreamed the technique might be used for nefarious ends. But after her colleague disappears, evidence of a high-order conspiracy to conceal the truth about facilitated interrogation puts her square in the path of danger, as she struggles to decide what to do next.

Facilitated Interrogation is a 10,000 word science fiction novelette, about 30 printed pages in length.

You can find it pretty much everywhere for $2.99.  Alternately, if you support me on Patreon or become part of my Advanced Reviewer Program (via my newsletter), you can get a copy for free.

Enjoy, amigos!  Until next time.

The Beastly Novelette And The Ebook Store

Just a quick note to let all y’all know The Beast And The God-Woman is published!  It’s live now on Amazon, ready to be downloaded at your pleasure.

Beast Cover (600x900)

The greatest terrors come from within.

Yili never questioned the Gods’ decrees, as handed down to the people from the elders. Do not tarry long on the beach, for there lurks the Beast. Do not venture beyond the breakers, for the sea holds nothing but death and man lives on the island alone.

Until the day a strange object approached the island, borne by the wind and waves toward Yili’s home until it broke apart on the reef and deposited a woman and a man, who could only be Gods themselves, onto the beach. The Beast wants to destroy them. The elders distrust them. And Yili finds himself helplessly drawn to the God-Woman, at the risk of all he knows and loves.

Check it out!

Passing In The Night – Part Four

This is the final chapter of Passing In The Night, the prelude to my new novel, The Pericles Conspiracy.  You can find Passing In The Night on AmazonNookKoboAppleSony, and Smashwords.  I hope you enjoy it.

Passing In The Night Cover (Revised)

Passing In The Night

Part Four

The Captain screamed, “NO!”

The ball of superheated gas from Bryce’s rifle struck the alien in the shoulder, sending it smashing into the bulkhead.  It slumped to the ground, clutching at its wound.

The alien’s neighbor bounded over to it and crouched down, to render assistance, no doubt.

The leader and the remaining alien turned to see their stricken comrade, for a heartbeat apparently as stunned as Carlton was.

Then they roared, their lips drawing back to reveal their teeth.  Turning back to the humans, they seemed to coil as they dropped into low stances and advanced.

Malcolm tackled Bryce, bearing him to the floor and pinning him there.  Bryce’s rifle went skidding away out of his reach.

Stephanie stood there, a shocked expression on her face.

James fumbled at the snap on his holster.

Carlton found himself doing the same.  Why wouldn’t the cussed thing unsnap?

“NO!” shouted the Captain again.  She jumped in front of the advancing creatures, her hands, empty, raised with palms facing them.  “Stop!”

The lead alien grabbed the Captain by the throat and, with one hand, lifted her about twenty centimeters off the deck.  It pulled its free hand back as though to punch, but Carlton saw what looked like razor-sharp claws unfolding from the points at the tips of its fingertips.

He got his holster unsnapped and drew his slugthrower.  From the corner of his eye, he saw Stephanie sighting in on the leader.

“Don’t shoot,” the Captain managed to say, her voice sounding strangled.

She waved frantically at them with both hands, forceful downward gestures commanding them to lower their weapons.

Very reluctantly, Carlton complied, and he saw Stephanie do the same.  James hadn’t gotten his slugthrower out yet.

Malcolm pressed his forearm into the back of Bryce’s neck and his knee into Bryce’s kidney, drawing exclamations of pain from him.

The alien leader hissed, and its fellow stopped advancing.

The leader looked at the Captain for a long moment, then at Bryce and Malcolm, then at the others.  Then, ever so slowly, it lowered the Captain to the ground.

With a bark, it released her and stepped back.  The other alien stepped back as well, but its hand found the sword hilt, or whatever the thing was over its shoulder.  The alien looked very ready to use it.

The Captain slumped backward, her hand going to her throat.  She coughed heavily.  Carlton moved forward to support her, but she brushed him aside.

“Alison,” the Captain said, her voice still a bit strangled.  “Help them.”

Nodding, Alison passed the video recorder off to James, and, hefting her medical bag, moved toward the aliens.

She hadn’t gone more than two steps before the alien with the sword stepped forward again, growling with menace.  She swallowed and opened her bag.  Withdrawing a roll of gauze, she held it up for the aliens to see.

The leader made another hiss-bark, in a different tone than the first, and the creature that was tending to their wounded comrade responded in kind.

The medic stood and helped its fellow to its feet.  The wounded alien’s shoulder was bound with narrow black bands of some material Carlton didn’t recognize.  It looked like they had first aid under control.

Alison nodded in understanding and backed up, replacing the gauze into her bag.

The leader made another bark, this time with a long, drawn-out hiss at the end.  The alien medic led its wounded fellow through the airlock door.  The patient gave the humans a look that, had a human made it, promised extreme violence.  But it allowed itself to be led out without further incident.

When they left, the leader touched a button on the breast of its uniform.  A soft beep sounded, and the leader began speaking, a quick succession of hisses, barks, growls, and whistles.  A similar stream of alien words emanated from the button, clearly a communication device of some kind, in response.  The leader bobbed its head and waited.

On the camera display, Carlton saw the lifepod’s airlock door open again.  Two new aliens stepped into the mating tunnel, pushing a large machine of some sort ahead of them.

The machine hovered in the air.  Despite its obvious bulk, it appeared easy to maneuver down the tunnel and into Pericles’ airlock.  That hovering bit was a neat trick.

The leader moved aside as the new pair pushed the machine through the inner door and into the center of the room.  The machine hovered half a meter above the floor, and was about two and a half meters long, a meter wide, and a meter and a half tall.  Constructed of black metal, with a transparent hinged lid on top, it had a number of what looked like controls on one end.  The lid was frosted over, making it difficult to see inside.

After they finished positioning the machine, the two new aliens turned and went back to the lifepod.

The leader stepped up to the machine and ran a hand over the lid.  It was almost a caress.

The strangely tender moment ended quickly.  The leader straightened and turned to the Captain.  It made another sound, a cross between a hiss and a growl, and gestured for her to approach.

The Captain nodded and, swallowing, stepped forward.  Carlton noticed she was being very careful to keep her hands empty and plainly in view.  That didn’t seem such a bad policy, considering.

The leader moved over to the machine’s control panel and gestured again for the Captain to follow.  When she reached its side, it pointed to a button on the panel and looked back at her.  She nodded, and the leader touched the button.  A low-frequency tone sounded, and the machine slowly lowered to the floor.  The leader pressed the button again, and a higher frequency tone sounded.  The machine rose from the floor and after a moment was hovering once more.

The leader lowered the machine back to the floor then moved to the next button.  But before pushing it, the leader made a chopping motion with its free hand and issued another bark-hiss phrase.  From the way it sounded out the words, whatever they were, Carlton surmised whatever the leader said was very important.

The leader pressed the second button, and the lid cracked open.  Clouds of steam poured through the crack.  Carlton checked himself.  That wasn’t steam; it sank to the floor after it escaped the machine.  It reminded him of melting dry ice.

The leader pushed the lid fully open and reached inside the machine.  It withdrew an oval object, a bit larger than a baseball.  It was green, streaked with yellow.  It had a wrinkled, leathery texture, but appeared firm in the alien’s grasp.

The leader turned back to the Captain and looked at her.  Cradling the object in its arm, the leader gently pet it.  Then, looking the Captain in the eyes, the leader pressed its free hand to its belly, then to the object.

“An egg,” Alison said softly.

Stephanie gasped, and the Captain’s eyes widened as the truth of Alison’s analysis hit home.

The leader, apparently satisfied at their reactions, replaced the egg in the machine and pressed the second button.  The lid shut with a solid click, and almost immediately frosted over again.

Turning back to the Captain, the leader then withdrew a rectangular black object from behind its belt.  The object was about eight centimeters long, two and a half wide, and one centimeter deep.  There were three raised red areas on it.  The leader pointed to the first red area, and touched it.

In the space above the object, a three dimensional image appeared.  The image was clearly holographic, an impressive enough feat that for a moment it distracted Carlton from what he was actually looking at: a star chart.  In the lower portion of the image, a flashing green dot was visible, as well as a curved yellow line leading from the dot to a small star.  Carlton knew his star charts well enough to recognize the green dot as their current location, and the small star as Sol.  The aliens must have plotted out Pericles’ course to determine their destination.  It wouldn’t be that hard to do.

The leader moved its finger into the image of Sol, and a new line, this one blue, appeared, leading from Sol across the chart to another, larger, star system.  From what Carlton could tell of the scale, the second system was at least two hundred light years from Sol, well outside the area mankind had explored.  The leader pointed at the Captain, then laid its hand on the machine.  Finally, it pointed to the star system at the end of the blue line.

That couldn’t mean what Carlton thought it meant, could it?

The Captain seemed to be having similar thoughts.

“Sir, we can’t…”

The leader cut her off with a mixture growl and whistle.  Then, again, it pointed from her to the machine to the star.

The Captain sighed and nodded.

The leader growled quickly, then pressed the second red area on the object.

The star chart disappeared, replaced by an image of the leader.  It began speaking, more of the same grunts, growls, barks, and the rest.  The speech cut off as the leader pressed the first red area again, and the star chart re-appaeared.  It pointed at the second red area, then at the star at the end of the blue line.

The Captain nodded again, and the leader pressed the final red area.

One dot appeared, with a strange symbol next to it.  A second later, that was replaced by two dots, with a different symbol.  Then three, then four, all the way up to eight.  Then different combinations of the symbols appeared, along with others.  The image continued on like that for a minute or so, and then shifted to become a continuous sequence of symbols, probably a hundred fifty characters across and a hundred lines in length.  The leader whistled, and waved its hand above the red area.  The image shifted to another sequence, different from the first.  Then, with another wave, yet another sequence appeared.  What the hell was that supposed to be?

The Captain looked baffled also, but Malcolm’s eyebrows had risen high onto his forehead.  He wore an expression of awe.  Catching Carlton’s gaze, he spoke softly.

“It’s their mathematics.”

Carlton frowned.  Why was that so impressive?  Then it hit him.  With knowledge of the aliens’ mathematics, humans could translate scientific formulas, or technical specifications.  Carlton would bet good money that’s what those final pages of symbols were.

The leader pressed the third red area again, and the image disappeared.  It pointed at the red area, then pointed at the Captain and the rest of the team in turn, even Bryce.  Finally, with a low growl, followed by a bark, it held the rectangular object out toward the Captain.

Slowly, gingerly, she reached out and took it.

The leader made a hiss-bark similar to one it made earlier, and its companion backed away into the airlock.  When it had gone, the leader made a strangely intricate gesture with its hands, ending with an inclination of its head toward the Captain.  Then, it turned and strode out of the room, into the airlock.

“Where’s he going?” Carlton asked.

The entire welcoming committee moved to the inner airlock door, all save Bryce, who remained lying on the floor, despite Malcolm releasing him from the submission hold.

The alien leader didn’t look back, but walked straight into the lifepod’s airlock.  The door shut quickly behind it.

They all looked at each other in confusion, and no small amount of shock.  Then lights began flashing in the mating tunnel, and a oscillating siren sounded.  Malcolm’s eyes widened, and he quickly moved to the airlock control console.  He hit a button, and the outer airlock doors slid shut.

No sooner had they done so than the mating tunnel detached.  Through the small window in the outer airlock doors, they saw the tunnel begin to retract, then it and the lifepod disappeared, leaving nothing visible but the slowly rotating starfield.

The Captain rushed to the workstation and called up the external camera view.  Nothing.  She hit the intercom to the command center.

“Sven!  Where did it go?”

Sven, sounding nearly breathless, responded promptly.

“Just off the starboard side, Captain, moving away at about seventy meters per second.  Wait.  Velocity is increasing rapidly.  Gained visual on the number 6 hull monitoring camera.”

“Right.”  She called up that camera, and they all saw the lifepod moving quickly away.  Very soon it was too far away to make out without additional magnification, and she shifted to the forward upper camera, which Sven directed to track the lifepod.

Malcolm hit the control for the inner door, and it slid shut.  Then he spoke.

“It makes sense, Captain.  They would have continued on in the same direction as the velocity vector they had the instant before they detached.  On the first deck, the rings rotate at about seventy meters per second, so…”

The Captain interrupted him.

“I understand physics, Malcolm.  Why the hell did they leave?”

Bryce, still lying there with his face pressed to the floor, sobbed.

“I’m sorry, Captain.  I was so scared.  I thought it was pulling a gun.”

The Captain gave him a withering look.  Good thing for him he couldn’t see it, or he’d either turn to stone or burst into flame.  Then her expression softened.  Carlton was surprised by that, but not by her reply.

“It’s alright, Bryce.  We were all scared.  I shouldn’t have put you in that position.”

Bryce looked up, a grateful expression on his face.  Then, wiping his nose, he sat up.  Probably he didn’t get the deeper meaning to her statement.  Carlton was sure Bryce would never see high-stress tasking again.  He did not know it, but his career just came to a standstill, at least on this ship.

Carlton cleared his throat.

“Am I crazy, or did they just ask us to…”

He stopped speaking as a bright flash on the display drew his, and everyone else’s, attention.  His eyes went wide as he realized what he was seeing.  Where the lifepod used to be, there was only an expanding cloud of hot gasses and shrapnel.

The Captain hit the intercom again.

“Sven!  How far was it when it blew?”

“Five hundred kilometers, Captain.  I’m tracking the largest fragments.  They should pass well clear of us.”

The Captain let out a breath, her expression one of relief.

“Very well.”

She switched to the ship-wide intercom.

“Attention, this is the Captain.  Our visitors have departed.  Resume normal watch routine.  That is all.”

With that, she turned back to the group.  Nodding to Carlton, she spoke again.

“Yes, Carl, they did.  They want us to deliver their eggs to their homeworld.”

From her tone of voice, she was just as confused as he felt.  Malcolm spoke up.

“Probably that reading they took in the airlock is what did it, Captain.”  He held up a hand to forestall a retort.  “They got data on our atmosphere as soon as they entered the tunnel.  When they got to the airlock, they also got data on our gravitation.  They probably realized they couldn’t survive on our ship for long, and went with plan B.  The eggs are on ice.  Don’t need the same resources they do.  So at least they have a chance to preserve something of themselves.  Assuming we keep our end of the deal.”

“Why should we?” James asked.  “We’ve got enough to worry about.”

“They paid us, for one thing,” Malcolm retorted.

“And it’s the right thing to do,” the Captain added.  She looked at the alien machine, with its precious cargo, and sighed.  “Let’s get this thing stowed.  Malcolm, figure out what kind of power it needs and rig up something to provide it.”

Malcolm looked askance at her and opened his mouth to reply, but stopped after a second and nodded, saying nothing.

The Captain traced her fingers along the length of the artifact and pursed her lips.  “Carl, we’re going to have one hell of a message to send.  Get a draft ready for review by the end of this watch.  For the rest of you,”  she looked at each crewmember in turn, “as far as anyone off this ship knows, this never happened.  No talking about it except for what is necessary for shift turnover.”

“You’re not really thinking of changing course?”  James sounded incredulous, but also afraid.

The Captain shook her head, shooting him a withering look.  “Of course not.  We don’t have the fuel for that sort of adjustment.  And besides, we’ve got passengers and cargo who need to get to Earth.  When we get there, we’ll turn this thing over to the authorities, and they will see it sent home.”

“So much for the boring center passage,” Carlton said, trying to insert a bit of humor.

The Captain looked at him, but her expression was one of resignation.  She shook her head and sighed again. “Space travel sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?”

First Contact is complete, but the story is far from over.  The adventure continues in The Pericles Conspiracy, a science fiction thriller from Michael Kingswood and SSN Storytelling.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Josephine Ishikawa changed the course of history, but no one knows it.

She cannot talk about what happened during her last shift as Captain of the starliner Pericles, nor does she care to.  She passed the ball to the authorities, like procedure required, and now has her sights set on getting Pericles through a major maintenance overhaul and back out to the stars.

Until she learns of a betrayal so large it defies belief, leaving Jo to decide between the life she loves and her duty to the beings she brought back from outer space.  Her decision will affect not just her future, but possibly the futures of everyone on Earth and the other colonized worlds.

The Pericles Conspiracy is available in print and ebook formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

Passing In The Night – Part Three

Passing In The Night is the prelude to my new novel, The Pericles Conspiracy.  As part of the celebration of Pericles’ launch, I am posting Passing In The Night here in its entirety over the next several blog posts.  You can find Passing In The Night on AmazonNookKoboAppleSony, and Smashwords.  I hope you enjoy it.

Passing In The Night Cover (Revised)

Passing In The Night

Part Three

Standard procedure in the event of a general emergency was to muster the crew in the command center.  By the time Carlton, Alison, and the Captain arrived, everyone else had gathered, the night shift looking mussed and bleary-eyed.

The Captain strode to the front of the small crowd with a brisk, business-like pace.  Turning to face them, she placed her hands on her hips and spoke in a commanding tone.

“All right, people.  We’ve got a situation.  Carl, the video please.”

Carlton stepped up to the main display screen’s control workstation and tapped in a command.

The recording began playing on the screen, to a collective gasp from the crew.  Their expressions ranged from awe to excitement to curiosity to fear as the Captain related the events leading up to Carlton sounding the General Alarm.

Malcolm, the Shift Engineer, spoke up in the silence that marked the conclusion of her briefing.

“How do we know it’s a lifepod, and not a weapon of some kind?”

The Captain answered, “We don’t.  But it wouldn’t make any sense to attack us, would it?”

“Fair enough.  How long until it gets here?”

The Captain looked at Carlton, and he answered.

“It stopped accelerating and is running at .98c.  It’s 3.5 AU astern, so we have about fifteen and a half hours.”

The Captain spoke again.

“We are obligated to render assistance, now that it is possible to do so without stranding ourselves.  In the next fifteen hours, we need to figure out how we’re going to do that, and then get it done.”

There were protests, of course.  Several of the crew wanted nothing to do with rescuing unknown aliens who may or may not have as their intention the slaughter of every human aboard so they could claim Pericles as their own.  Only the inevitability of being overtaken whether they liked it or not got everyone onboard with the notion.

They set to work.

It was an easy decision to not bring the aliens aboard in section four, if only to keep them as far from the children as possible.

Section 2 contained hydroponics and consumables storage.  There, it would be relatively easy, if time-consuming, for Malcolm and his techs to redirect some of the ventilation to raise the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in a few compartments near the section 2 airlock, so the aliens would have a better chance at adjusting to the atmosphere.  It would mean less carbon dioxide going to feed the crops, but in general they received more than they really needed, so it was a relatively safe move.

What to do with the aliens for the duration of the flight was another matter.  Alison was hard-pressed to give an opinion as to whether the cryo-suspension units would be usable.  They were designed to sustain humans, after all.  With no idea as to the aliens’ metabolism, there was no telling what the units would do to them.  All the same, she was able to modify a few unused units to supply gasses in closer proximity to the concentrations observed from the alien vessel.

That just left figuring out how to ask them to be guinea pigs.  With all due respect to his wife and the Captain, Carlton wasn’t about to place odds on their chances of accomplishing that.

The final question was how to get the aliens aboard.  Carlton and Sven, his night-shift colleague, had that task.  They brainstormed several ideas, but were unable to come up with a viable solution until Rachel, the teacher, reminded them of the mooring lights.

Pericles, like every starliner, had a number of moveable, high-powered spotlights mounted in various places on the hull.  Their purpose was to aid in mooring, but the crews also put them to good use for other tasks.  They were ready made to point the aliens where to go.

Early in the planning process, the Captain ruled out the airlocks in the crew’s acceleration quarters or in the shuttle bay – Pericles had one short-range shuttle for commuting back and forth to space stations without full mooring facilities, stored in the same bay where the replacement nav beacons were housed.  Getting the aliens from there to a suitable living area would be complex, and the crew would be in a less than optimal defensive posture, should things turn hostile.

That left the rings.  Both were equipped with four airlocks, one in each section.  Ring A’s faced forward, Ring B’s faced aft.  The logical choice was the airlock to section 2, Ring A.

Preparations took most of the time available, but the key players managed to swap a few hours of sleep before the rendezvous.  With a half hour to go, the welcoming committee met in the command center.

The Captain, of course, would take the lead.  Sven had relieved Carlton as pilot on duty, so Carlton had the job as the Captain’s second.  Alison would provide medical assistance, if needed.  Malcolm insisted on coming along, with Bryce, Stephanie, and James, one of the horticulturists, in case things got ugly.

Carlton was surprised when the Captain agreed to that, and even more surprised when she ordered the small arms locker opened.

All starliners had a small cache of weapons onboard.  Nothing special: a dozen slugthrowers and a few plasma rifles.  Just enough for basic defense.  The odds of ever needing to use them were very small, but there were a number of circumstances that might require it.

Carlton always viewed the weapons the same as a condom: better to have one and not need it, than to need one and not have it.  All the same, except to conduct periodic inventories, he had never seen the small arms locker opened.

Carlton gave the Captain a wry grin as he strapped on a slugthrower.  “Don’t do anything provocative, right Cap’n?”

She sniffed.  “Nothing in the procedure about committing suicide.”  Pulling the straps on her own holster tight, she straightened and looked over the other members of the team.  “Everybody ready?”

They all nodded, doing their best to look calm.  Bryce wasn’t doing so well at acting, Carlton noticed.  He licked his lips and adjusted his grip on his plasma rifle every few seconds, and his eyes darted around.  He bore watching.

It took a few minutes to get to section 2.  Fortunately, each ring had an intra-ring transit system: a small railcar that allowed swift transport between the various sections.  Without the rail, it would have been a long walk.  Nevertheless, by the time they arrived at the airlock, there were only about ten minutes until the lifepod caught up with Pericles.

The airlock was a standard inner and outer door design.  To the right of the inner door was a walk-in storage area containing spacesuits and emergency breathing equipment.  On the other side, a display screen and control workstation was installed in the wall.  Malcolm and Stephanie retrieved breathing equipment from the storage area while the Captain activated the workstation’s intercom.

“All set at the airlock.  How are our visitors?”

Sven answered promptly, from the command center.

“Five million kilometers astern and closing, Captain.  Ready to secure ring rotation at your command.”

“Is Janet ready?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Right.  Standby.”

The Captain turned away from the console.  She took a moment to don a breathing mask and tank, but didn’t seal the mask, instead letting it hang loose around her neck.

Her poise impressed Carlton.  He was about ready to jump out of his skin, anxious as he felt.  But the Captain was in total control.  He guessed that’s why she got the big bucks.

“I’ll order Janet to adjust atmospheres in this section after we’re sure there’s not going to be trouble.  Be at the ready, but don’t do anything to provoke them.”

With that, she turned back to the workstation and keyed the ship-wide intercom.

“This is the Captain.  We’re about ten minutes from contact.  Prepare for zero-G.”

Her voice still echoed down the corridor as she switched back to the command center.

“Sven, secure ring rotation.”

“Aye, Captain.”

A pause followed while he keyed the command.

“Stopping sequence initiated.  Band Brakes applied, thrusters firing.  Rings will be secured in eight minutes.”

“Very well.”

The Captain tapped a few commands on the workstation, and the display screen came to life in two-pane format.  The approaching lifepod appeared in one pane, and a high-level ship’s status display appeared in the other.  Already, the rings were beginning to slow perceptibly on the display.  Carlton could feel a small force pushing him toward the far bulkhead as the ring slowed.

The Band Brakes were huge.  Carlton had seen one of them removed from the ship’s hub during the last maintenance upkeep.  Even though he knew intellectually how large it had to be to slow the millions of kilograms of mass contained in each ring, he was nonetheless stunned when he saw it for himself.  But large and powerful as they were, the Band Brakes were nowhere near enough to stop the rings all by themselves in any reasonable period of time, just as the Spinning Motors were not powerful enough to get the rings moving by themselves.  So the starliners used thrusters, aligned to impart force in-line with or opposed to the rings’ direction of rotation, to assist.

Over the next several minutes, the deceleration force remained small, but detectable.  It wasn’t enough to move an adult standing still, but if you were walking, you might find yourself turned without realizing it.  Low mass loose objects and children tended to get pushed though, so procedure required checking all inhabited compartments for stowage and strapping the children in before starting or stopping the rings.  More noticeable, the centripetal acceleration from the rings’ movement lowered, making everything feel lighter.

Then there was no weight at all.  The most minuscule movement pushed Carlton off the floor, and once more he found himself floating in zero-G.  His favorite.

Sven’s voice piped up over the intercom.

“Ring rotation secured, Captain.  Zero-G in all compartments.”

“Very well, Sven.  Proceed as briefed.  Let me know if anything unexpected occurs.”

“Aye.”

There was nothing to do but wait.

On the display screen, the range to the lifepod ticked down quickly, and its bearing rate began to increase.  It looked like the aliens would pass down Pericles’ port side.  As the range lowered to ten thousand kilometers, the lifepod’s forward velocity began lowering rapidly.

Interestingly, the blue-purple glow still appeared from that one location, near the far side of the craft.  Carlton had presumed that glow was a thruster of some sort before.  But if that were the case, it wouldn’t be slowing them now, would it?  It was puzzling.

The Captain shifted the other pane from ship’s status to one of the hull monitoring cameras.  Mounted astern the bridge, facing aft and upward, it provided a good view of the now-motionless rings and the section 2 airlock, stopped at the 2:30 position.

When the lifepod closed within a hundred kilometers, as briefed earlier, Sven shut off Pericles’ hull illumination lights.  Only the collision avoidance strobes, set at intervals around the rings, and the running lights at the bow and stern remained lit.  In the hull monitoring camera, Pericles became a dim object, barely discernible from the interstellar darkness beyond.  Then when the lifepod closed to 20 kilometers, Sven turned on four of the powerful spotlights.  Two illuminated the lifepod itself, and two illuminated the section 2 airlock outer door.

On the display, the lifepod image completely filled the aft upper camera’s field of view, so the Captain shifted to a hull monitoring camera and tracked it in.  Much harder to see without the large magnification, it took a couple minutes to find the lifepod as it stopped its relative motion amidships, about five kilometers to port.  There it stayed for what seemed an eternity.

In reality, that eternity was just a few minutes.  Carlton could imagine the conversation going on aboard the lifepod.  “What do they intend?”  “Should we go aboard or take our chances in the void?”  “Foolish earthlings, don’t they know we mean to kill them all and take their women?”

Well, on second thought the alien creatures would probably have no interest whatsoever in human women.  But he couldn’t rule out hostile intent in his mind, however dire the aliens’ circumstances.  He found himself reflexively fingering his slugthrower, and thinking maybe Bryce wasn’t so far out of line in his jumpiness.

The lifepod turned and began to close Pericles.  It quickly closed the kilometers from its holding position and took up position in front of the airlock.

The Captain shifted the camera view to one located not far from the airlock.  From that angle, they could see the lifepod rotate in space until one of those circular markings Carlton saw earlier faced the airlock door.  The lifepod began moving, ever so slowly, toward the airlock outer door, and everyone took a reflexive step backward.

Except the Captain.  She remained at the workstation.  As the lifepod drew near, she entered a command, and Carlton could see, through the windows on the inner door, the airlock outer door slide open.  He swallowed, trying to loosen the lump in his throat.  Glancing around, it looked as though his fellows were doing the same.

A tube extended from the lifepod.

A docking device, no doubt.  But it was like no device Carlton had seen, because the end of the tube, where the sealing surface was, morphed in shape as it approached the airlock, until it exactly matched the mating surface on the outer airlock doorframe.

Carlton’s jaw dropped as the lifepod made contact and the contact lights on the airlock status display illuminated.  How did they do that?

He glanced at Malcolm, and saw he wasn’t the only one surprised by this.  It wasn’t often that Malcolm was impressed, but he wore an awed expression on his face.

The Captain pressed a button on the workstation, and the display shifted to a camera inside the airlock.  Carlton heard the hissing sound of rushing air, and the airlock interior pressure indication rose until it reached normal atmospheric, then held steady.  One minute later, the pressure hadn’t dropped.  It was a good seal.

“Sven, positive seal on the airlock.  Commence ring rotation.”

Sven sounded more than a little on-edge when he responded.

“Aye, Captain.  Spin sequence activated.  Thrusters firing, Spinning Motors online.”

Sven’s voice came over the ship-wide intercom, announcing the imminent return of Gs.  Then a moment later, ever so slowly, the ring started to move.  The mating tunnel flexed a bit, but the seal held, and the lifepod began moving with the ring.  The welcoming committee spread out as the closest bulkhead moved toward them.  One by one, the team members struck it and pushed themselves down to the deck.

Carlton always found this part amusing.  Every so often, a newbie wouldn’t watch himself when rotation started, and would end up getting tangled up with other people.  This group was all seasoned, though, so the transition from zero-G to steadily building centripetal acceleration was smooth.

They re-arranged themselves in a semicircle around the airlock inner door, with the Captain a pace ahead of the others.  For a few minutes, nothing happened.  The gravity slowly built, until they were at about two-thirds earth normal.

Then, on the display, Carlton saw the outer door on the lifepod slide open.  This was it.

Four figures emerged from the lifepod.  Dressed in loose-fitting grey garments that were not dissimilar to those the humans wore, the aliens were bipedal, as Alison predicted, but they had short tails.  They walked barefoot, with a hunch, in quick, fluid steps.

Their gait changed abruptly as they passed from the mating tunnel into the airlock.  A step that in the tunnel had barely made their heads bob caused their entire bodies to lift a centimeter or two off the deck.

“Artificial gravity,” Malcolm said, echoing Carlton’s thoughts.  “How do they manage that without spinning, I wonder?”

The quartet paused in the airlock, and the humans got a better look at them on the display.

They were smaller than an average human, but appeared powerfully built.  They wore breathing masks, but their facial features were clearly visible.  They looked almost feline, with peaked ears atop their heads and elongated snouts.  But they were hairless.  Their skin was a yellow-orange color, with streaks of green, and it shimmered somewhat as they moved.  It took Carlton a minute to figure out the reason: their skin was scaled.  Their hands were three-fingered, with opposable thumbs – another point in Alison’s favor.  Their fingers ended in small points, rather than in pads.

The alien in front removed an instrument of some kind from a pouch on its belt.  After studying the instrument for a moment, the alien made a gesture and said something.  As it spoke, it revealed razor-sharp teeth and a green, flicking tongue.

All that was fine and dandy, but Carlton zeroed in on one last detail more than the others: they all had what looked like the hilt of a sword sticking up over their right shoulders, and what could only be holsters on their hips.

“Be ready,” said the Captain, and she unsnapped the holster on her slugthrower.  She noticed the weapons too.

From the corner of his eye, Carlton saw Bryce and Stephanie raise their plasma rifles to their shoulders.  They all looked tense.  Bryce was sweating up a storm.

The lead alien knocked on the inner door with the instrument it had just used.  The sound traveled easily to Carlton’s ears.  For some reason, it seemed ominous.

“Alison, are you filming?”

Alison had refused the thought of carrying a weapon.  She was a doctor, not an undertaker.  Instead, she brought along a video recording device.  Sven was making recordings of every external and internal camera feed, but few of them had audio, and they didn’t cover every area that might be needed, so her recording was going to be the most vital.

“Yes.”

“Alright.  Malcolm, open the door.”

Malcolm stood closest to the control station.  He nodded and hit the inner door control switch.

The door opened.  There was a slight hiss, and a small breeze, as the pressures between the two spaces equalized.  The aliens stepped, one by one, into the room.  They looked over the group of humans slowly, then the leader took a step toward the Captain.

“Oh Jesus,” Bryce murmured, drawing Carlton’s gaze.  The guy was shaking badly.  Malcolm, the closest to him, looked at Bryce with concern.

Either the Captain didn’t hear or it didn’t register.  She managed a smile and said, “Welcome aboard.”

The lead alien cocked it’s head to the side.  It studied the Captain for a moment after she spoke, then said something that sounded a mix between a hiss and a bark.  The leftmost alien reached for its holster.

Bryce shouted, “OH JESUS!” and fired his plasma rifle.

Everything seemed to happen at once.

This is the end of Part Three.  Part Four will follow within the next couple of days.  I hope you enjoyed part one.  You can find the rest of Passing In The Night on AmazonNookKoboAppleSony, and Smashwords.  The Pericles Conspiracy is now available in those same outlets as well.

Thanks for reading!

Released!

The Pericles Conspiracy is now out there, for the reading public to consume.

I am, of course, psyched.  And you should be too, because Pericles is, if I do say so myself, a great read.  😉  You guys really need to check it out.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Josephine Ishikawa changed the course of history, but no one knows it.

She cannot talk about what happened during her last shift as Captain of the starliner Pericles, nor does she care to. She passed the ball to the authorities, like procedure required, and now has her sights set on getting Pericles through a major maintenance overhaul and back out to the stars.

Until she learns of a betrayal so large it defies belief, leaving Jo to decide between the life she loves and her duty to the beings she brought back from outer space. Her decision will affect not just her future, but possibly the futures of everyone on Earth and the other colonized worlds.

Available for purchase now on Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo (though for some strange reason the cover art does not appear on the Amazon sales page.  I’ve contacted them to get the problem fixed, but so far no joy).  Nook will follow probably tomorrow, depending on how fast they process the files, and the other sites will follow as Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital get them out through their distribution channels.

But I know what you’re thinking.  Kingswood, how do I know if I’ll like it?  Well you can download a sample, you know.  But just in case you want something more, I’ll sweeten the pot.  Passing In The Night, the prelude to The Pericles Conspiracy is now free on Smashwords and Kobo.  Download it and you’ll get a nice little novelette to chew on, as well as the first scene from Pericles.  If that doesn’t wet your whistle…not sure what will.  🙂

Passing In The Night Cover (Revised)

A year-long shift in the middle of the interstellar void can get pretty boring.  For the Fourth shift crew of the starliner Pericles, enroute to Earth from one of the colony worlds, the passage could best be called routine.

Until the forward sensors detect an unknown and unexpected object ahead.  What they find there, in the endless night of space, will forever change the universe, for them and for the all mankind.

Go ahead and download Passing In The Night, and enjoy.  And if you want to do me a favor, swing over to Amazon’s Passing In The Night sales page and let them know that the story is free elsewhere, so they’ll price match.  I want it free on Amazon as well, so everyone can get a free taste.

Right.  Thanks, everyone.  Cheers!

Passing In The Night – Part One

Passing In The Night is the prelude to my new novel, The Pericles Conspiracy, which is set to release in ebook tomorrow, 24 August, and in paperback early next week.  As part of the celebration of Pericles’ launch, I am posting Passing In The Night here in its entirety over the next several blog posts.  You can find Passing In The Night on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Apple, Sony, and Smashwords.  I hope you enjoy it.

Passing In The Night Cover (Revised)

Passing In The Night

Part One

Space travel sucks sometimes.  The thought crossed through Carlton’s mind as, for the three-hundredth time this shift, he checked the navigation display.  Just as it almost always did, the ship’s position tracked exactly with projections.

Terribly boring.

But then, that was to be expected of interstellar travel.  With hundreds of thousands of Astronomical Units – AUs – to cover, even a relatively short trip could take years.  Unfortunately, this was no short trip.  The run from the Gliese system to Earth, though routine, was also 20.5 light years in length.  Even at the ship’s cruising speed of 95% of the speed of light (.95c), it would take almost six and a half years to complete the trip.  Of course, it took a little less than a year to get up to cruising speed, and a another year to slow back down again, so the total trip was closer to ten years.  But it could be worse.  Without the time dilation caused by relativity, it would be almost twenty-five years.

God bless Einstein.

It was just rotten luck that Carlton drew this portion of the trip.  The center passage was mind numbingly dull: nothing much to do for the year but monitor instruments and readouts and maybe make a slight course correction every now and then.  Which is why it paid the least.  But everyone drew the short stick sometimes.

He tapped the upper right corner of the display, and it shifted from Navigation to Engineering.  Another tap pulled up the reactor specs.

Located two kilometers aft of the crewed area of the ship to save on shielding material, the reactor was an old-style fission device.  Newer ships had fusion generators these days, of course.  But construction on Pericles completed two years before Kilpatrick and Holbert patented the containment device that made fusion practical, and there was no point in scrapping a new and perfectly capable ship just because some new tech came along.

So the Company put Pericles in service on the Gliese run.  This was her fourth transit of the interstellar void.  When they reached earth, it would be time for her hundred-year overhaul.

That didn’t make a whole lot of sense to Carlton.  Sure, Pericles would be about a hundred Earth years old when they docked, but she had only experienced a little less than 40 years of time-dilated service.  No one asked him, though.  He was just the driver.

The reactor specs all fell in the normal range.  No surprise there, considering that without the plasma generators online to power the main engines, the reactor put out just a small fraction of its rated power.

Carlton moved on to life support.

Again, everything read normal.  Consumables were depleting as expected.  The crops in the hydroponics section were looking good, and the waste reclamation system was churning along nicely.  Carlton expect this, as the system was operating at much less than its maximum capacity.

Next, gravity.

The crewed section of the ship consisted of two rings, each a kilometer in diameter and fifty meters wide, with three decks.  They connected to the central hub of the ship through four passage tubes, and rotated continually in opposite directions during cruise flight to simulate gravity.  During acceleration to and deceleration from cruise speed, the main engines provided all the G forces necessary.

Though initially set to simulate Gliese-normal gravity, the computer system slowly lowered the rotation period so that, at the end of the journey, gravity would be reduced to Earth-normal.  The slow transition made it easy for the crew and passengers to acclimate to their new environs before arrival.  That was one good thing about these longer passages.  The passage from the Centauri colony was short enough for the transition to be difficult for some people.  None of that trouble on the Gliese run, though.

Accelerometers in each section of A and B rings sent readouts to the display monitor.  10.36 m/sec2.  Right on track.

Carlton pulled up cryogenics.

Cryo was the most important system on the ship, at least to the eggheads at Corporate.  Five thousand passengers, plus the rest of the crew aside from Carlton’s shift, peacefully slept away the cruise under cryo-suspension, with periodically programmed massage and movement sessions.  Cryo-suspension did not completely stop metabolic processes, after all.  The nearly ten year passage would be equivalent to about six months of normal aging: long enough for the passengers to suffer severe muscle atrophy if they were not kept in motion periodically.  They, and the cargo in the holds, were the reason Carlton was here.  Their fares paid his commission, so he supposed cryo was the most important system for him, too.

He chuckled at that thought.

Just one last thing to check.  Carlton punched up the external sensors and began a scan.

First, the hull monitoring cameras.  Again as usual, he found no blemishes on the hull.

Next, the forward looking scanners.  Pericles had radar units, of course, but at her current speed, by the time they received the returns, they would be almost on any objects in their path.  And while starliners were equipped with exterior coils that generated a magnetic field to repel charged particles, the field did nothing for solid objects.  Even a tiny object could create a fatal collision at relativistic speeds.  The destruction of the Avalon, one of the first transport vessels to the Gliese system, was reportedly caused by a collision with a meteor the size of a melon.

To help defend against that, and to assist with navigation, the Company deployed and maintained a quartet of beacons every few light-hours along the spacelanes between the various colonies.  Every starliner carried a few beacons to replace units that were approaching end of life or whose orbit had carried them too far from the most efficient course between stars.  Pericles had just three days earlier deployed four to replace an aging quartet.  The beacons transmitted coded radio signals.  Pericles carried receiver units tuned for them, and could use the signals to help triangulate her position as well as detect objects ahead by interpolating the interference patterns between the signals from the beacons.  It was a pretty efficient system, all things considered.

It took just a second to update the ahead display after Carlton shifted over from the cameras.  There were no objects of concern within the next four hours of travel.  Satisfied, Carlton set the automatic monitoring system to issue an alert if it detected anything, then pushed back from his console.

The bridge was smaller than a lay person might expect for a ship Pericles’ size: just a pilot station, a communications panel, and a command console for the Captain, all situated in a small bubble atop the hull, with viewing windows in all directions.  The Captain’s station was astern and above the others.  All were nestled between stairs leading back to the aft bulkhead, where the hatch to the rest of the ship nestled in the floor.  During acceleration, crewmembers could walk up the stairs to sit in the chairs, their backs to the G forces.

Carlton could have run the diagnostic programs from a workstation in the command center down in the crew quarters, but he rather enjoyed coming up here.  For one thing, it had some of the only windows on the ship without a rotating view.  It was nice to be able to look at one point in space without losing it after a few seconds.

Of course, the view at cruising speed was different, disconcerting to the un-initiated.  The light from the stars ahead was so blueshifted that very little was actually visible to the eye.  The stars astern were redshifted similarly.  But looking athwartships one could almost think one was looking up at a normal night sky from the surface of a planet somewhere.

Almost.

The other thing he enjoyed was being in zero-G.  No matter how many times he experienced it, Carlton never quite got over how different, and fun, it was.  Some people got space sick from being in zero-G for too long, but he never had.  He almost wished he could spend the whole trip like this.  But he wasn’t a big fan of losing all muscle tone and getting brittle bones, so he did not wish too hard.

Carlton only lingered for a moment before pushing himself through the hatch to the central corridor of the hub.

Handholds on the walls made for easy travel through the bulkheads and hatches that separated the bridge from the crew’s acceleration quarters, and then through more bulkheads to the junction with Ring A, two hundred meters aft.  During acceleration, the handholds would be ladder rungs, and the corridor a vertical shaft between decks.  Yes, it was much more fun moving around during cruise, in zero-G.

At the junction, he took a moment to locate the tunnel to section four.  It was always a bit annoying getting into the lift, with the hatch rotating around the junction, but he managed it without too much trouble.

The hatch slid shut behind him, and Carlton found himself pressed up against one wall as the ring’s rotation met his body and carried it along.  Positioning himself feet “down”, toward the ring itself, he pushed himself to what would be the lift’s floor once the G’s began to build up and pushed the button for the first deck.

Ring A, Section Four, First Deck was crew quarters.  The rest of Ring A contained consumables storage, hydroponics, life support equipment, and passenger berthing.  Ring B was completely taken up with cargo storage.  As with buildings planetside, the rings’ decks were numbered from bottom to top, so the first deck was the outermost and the third deck the innermost on the ring.

It took two and a half minutes to descend the five hundred meters to the first deck.  By then, Jack’s feet were planted firmly on the floor, and he felt normal gravity, or at least a close approximation.  If he threw a ball, it would not fly exactly the same way it would in a real gravity well, but it was close enough to do the job.

The lift door opened, and he stepped out into a small alcove, recessed in the aft wall of the main corridor.  The wall directly opposite the lift door was terraced, almost like stairs turned on their sides.

Stepping into the corridor itself, Carlton noted as usual how it curved upward noticeably in each direction.  The corridor was tiled in light brown tiles that, barring close inspection, were easy to mistake for wood.  Faux-wood panels on the walls and softly glowing light fixtures at regular intervals combined with potted plants every so often gave the passage a somewhat homey feel.  Prints of various artwork hung on the walls as well, except on the lift side of the corridor, to the left.  During acceleration, the changing crew shifts could walk up the stairs in the wall from the lift, then down the corridor to the crew’s cryo-suspension beds.

Newcomers to space travel might be surprised at the decor, very much like a nice hotel, but researchers long ago discovered that the more comfortable people were in their living quarters, the less stressful they found long duration space flight.  For the passengers, this was not a concern.  They entered cryo-suspension not long after boarding, before the ship actually got underway, and awoke after the ship moored.  But the crew had to live aboard, so starliner designers tried to make their living arrangements as close to luxury as they could.

Carlton found the Duty Captain in the command center, fifty meters down the corridor to the right.  She was sitting at her desk near the back of the room, dressed in the light grey coveralls that all starliner crewmembers wore underway and sipping on a cup of coffee as she watched the news feed on a view screen.

The news came across on the coded signal from the beacons.  While it was very time late, it helped morale to have some notion of what was going on at their destination.  It beat showing up to the planet and having no idea of recent history on the ground.

Seeing her alone, Carlton grunted.  “Where is everyone?”

The Captain shrugged.  “Bryce went off to fix a problem in the galley.  Malcolm and Stephanie are helping teach science class.”

Bryce was one of the two general technicians on the shift.  Malcolm was the shift engineer, and Stephanie one of the reactor techs.

Each shift manned the ship for one year of the passage, and was kept as small as possible.  In general, a shift consisted of the Duty Captain, two pilots, the shift engineer, two reactor techs, the doctor, two cooks, two horticulturists, and the teacher.  Plus the crew’s children.  The pilots, techs, and cooks swapped twelve hour watches.  The others were on call as needed, but generally worked a normal day.

“Ah.  Well everything looks good.  Right on the money.”  Carlton walked over to her desk to get a better look at the view screen.  “Anything interesting going on?”

“More riots in Brazil.  Looks like it’s getting pretty bad.”

“Well, it’s nothing we need to worry about.  If you need me, I’ll be helping Alison.”

“Right.”

It became very obvious, in the earliest of humanity’s excursions to the stars over five hundred years ago, that it was asking far too much for a person to leave family behind while embarking on a decades-long journey.  By the time a starfarer returned from even a short trip, he would have missed much of his kids’ childhood, to say nothing of the toll it took on marriages.

So almost from the beginning, crewmembers brought their families with them.  Large as the starliners were, though, extraneous personnel were a burden, so family members learned tasks to assist in running the ships.  Case in point, Alison was Carlton’s wife, and the shift’s doctor.

Eventually, the crews of the various ships became more extended families than colleagues, and the starfarers developed a culture altogether unique from the ground-based.  Entire generations were born, lived, and died working on the starliners.  Sure, some crewmembers left after their initial contracts expired, deciding they preferred life planetside.  And some children opted for a different life as well.  But for the most part, starfarers were a distinct clan.

Like him, Alison was raised on a starliner.  They met on shore leave five years ago.  When it came time for her to ship out again, he arranged a transfer onto Pericles to be with her.  The rest, as they say, was history.

Carlton found her in the clinic, taking an inventory of the various drugs in storage.  Managing medical supplies was tricky on long voyages.  Drug expiration had to be carefully tracked, and fresh supplies removed from cryo-freeze early to avoid any gaps in availability during the long thawing process.  Carlton did not envy her that.

Alison looked up as Carlton entered and beamed at him.  “A letter from Sasha came over a few minutes ago.  He got into Harvard Med!”

Sasha was her younger brother, stationed on another starliner on the Gliese route.  Family members who were not on the same ship almost always worked to remain on the same route.  It often worked out that they were able to see each other on shore leave on one side of the route or other.  With the time compression of cryo-suspension, that generally worked out to seeing each other every three or four waking years, for a few months at a time.

Carlton returned Alison’s smile.  “That’s great!  When does he start school?”

“They’re four earth-years ahead of us on the route, so he should be just about finishing when we arrive.”

“Just in time for graduation.  That should be a good party.”

Alison nodded.  “And we’re rolling to shore duty, so we can be there for his residency.”

Shore duty.  It was both cherished and dreaded.

Starfarers got leave at the end of each run while maintenance crews worked on the ship.  Depending on how much was planned for the upkeep, they could get anywhere from three to six months off.  But this run was different.  Pericles’ overhaul was scheduled to take almost four years.  That was too long for the crew to do nothing, so typically they were assigned to train new hires or manage projects at the corporate headquarters.  It was good, in a sense.  Being in one place for a while had its advantages.

But a body could grow soft, too.  Especially for people with children in their teen years, being ashore that long carried its own worries.  Most children who opted out of the starfarers’ life were teenagers planetside on shore duty.  They lost their love for the ships during that time and left, leaving their parents with an impossible choice: to leave the lives they loved or the kids they loved.

That’s why most of the short-hop starliners were manned with older crews.  The crewmembers could continue their jobs, but still see their kids every few earth years.  It was a compromise many made that seemed to work out.  Fortunately for Carlton and Alison, their son was only three, so that worry was a long way off, still.

Carlton was about to respond when the first few bars from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony emanated from the console on the wall and drew his attention.  Each crewmember wore locator devices that allowed the ship’s internal sensors to keep track of them and forward calls wherever they were onboard.  Beethoven’s Fifth was Carlton’s “ring tone”, to borrow a phrase from ancient Earth history.

He walked over to the console and tapped the screen.  An automated message popped up.  Forward sensors had detected something ahead.

Carlton frowned in annoyance.  Probably just another rogue asteroid crossing their path.  All the same, he had to check it out.

“I gotta go back to the bridge, babe.  Be back in a bit.”

Five minutes later, he floated up to his pilot’s console and woke it up with a tap on the screen.  A couple taps later he had the forward sensors called up.

This was no asteroid.

Whatever it was, it was big, about a light-hour ahead, and traveling on a near-collision course with them.  The doppler readout indicated the object was traveling at .8c: slower than a starliner, but definitely not natural.

Carlton punched up the intercom to the command center.

“Yeah Carl.  What’s up?”

“Better get up here, Cap’n.”

In the few minutes it took the Captain to get to the bridge, Carlton entered the commands to wake up the lower forward observation camera.  Essentially a 4 meter telescope mounted beneath the bow of the ship, the camera, and its fellows mounted just aft of the bridge and above and below the main engines’ fuel tanks aft, was onboard for just this purpose.

The camera finished warming up and was beginning to zoom in on the approaching object when the Captain arrived at his side.

“Object ahead, Cap’n.  Moving too fast to be an asteroid.”

Her eyes scanned the sensor readout quickly, and she nodded agreement.

“Another starliner?”

“Not supposed to be another until Haverly, next month.  Besides, this thing’s too slow.”

“Maybe…”

The Captain’s words stuck in her throat as the image from the camera filled the screen.

It was difficult to make out in the faint illumination from the distant stars, but it was definitely a vessel.  It was of no design Carlton had ever seen, though, and he had seen them all.  No rings, no plasma engine nacelles.  It was crescent-shaped, off-white in color, and tumbled slowly end over end through space.

“What the hell is that?” Carlton breathed.

The Captain was silent for a long minute, her expression one of curiosity.

“What’s the CPA?”

“Wait one.”  Carlton tapped the display, and the data came up.  “Closest Point of Approach: .75 AU, Bearing 328 mark 47, in one hour, seven minutes.”  A CPA above Pericles and to the left explained why he did not detect the vessel earlier.  Though it was in their plane of travel now, it must have drifted up from below.

“Hmm.  On that trajectory, it didn’t come from Earth.  Any other colonies out that way?”

Carlton shook his head.  Even before calling up the nav display, he knew the answer.

“Closest is Talos, but that thing’s forty degrees off course to have come from there.”

There was a long silence as they watched the strange ship grow slowly larger on the camera display.  Carlton knew the Captain was thinking the same thing as he, but it was too incredible to voice.

“Maybe whatever crippled it knocked it off course.”

The Captain snorted.

“What do we do?”

Pushing herself away from the pilot’s console, the Captain floated to the starboard side viewing window.  She looked out at the passing stars for a while.

Carlton alternated between watching her and the approaching ship.  He knew better than to press too hard, though.  When she got pensive like this, the Captain could be snippy.

Eventually, she spoke, in the tone she used when she really meant business.

“Keep watching it, and let me know if anything changes.  Be sure to record everything.  I’m going below to check on a couple things, but I’ll be back before it reaches CPA.”

With that, she pushed off and floated back to the entrance hatch.  Before she disappeared below, she issued a final order.

“Keep this quiet, Carl.  Lock out the workstations in the ring, and don’t breathe a word to anyone until I get back.”

Carlton blinked.  Lock out the workstations?  That was almost unheard of.  What was she worried about?  This was potentially huge!  Everyone would want to know.  Would deserve to know.  But he had flown with the Captain for a lot of years, and had learned to trust her judgment.  Obediently, he keyed the commands to restrict access.

This is the end of Part One.  Part Two will follow within the next couple of days.  I hope you enjoyed part one.  You can find the rest of Passing In The Night on AmazonNookKoboAppleSony, and Smashwords.  The Pericles Conspiracy will be available in those same outlets in a couple days as well.

Thanks for reading!

2013 Writing Goal – Week 11

Another week ended the other night.  Time to tell you guys how I did.

In a word, meh.  Observe:

Week 11Just 4,402 words.

But that’s ok.  I ran a freaking Triathlon last week!  Suck it, beeotches!  😛

Or something like that.

But seriously, not so good.  I didn’t hit the goal.  But I’m over 77,000 words on The Pericles Conspiracy now, and the end is in (close) sight.  I feel good about that.

On another down side, I heard back from Ellery Queen about my new Cop story: they don’t want it.  And I heard back from Writers of the Future about my first quarter entry: straight up reject.  That brings me to 5 rejects and 3 Honorable Mentions.  Not a horrible ratio but still, this whole R/HM trend is getting old.  How about a Semi- or Finalist or winner, Dave?  🙂

The story in question from WotF is called The Beast and the God-Woman, and runs at 16,500 words.  Given its length, most of the short fiction markets are out, but I decided to try one I’ve not gone to before: GigaNotoSaurus.  It’s a monthly web-zine that pays, but not at pro rates.  But they’ve pub’d some good folks, so what the heck?  We’ll see what happens.

And in the meantime, I’m working to finish up Pericles.  I’m actually to the point where I’m getting sick of it, so it’s a good thing I’m almost done.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story and I love it.  I’m just tired of writing it, want to move on to the next thing.  And I’m eager to see what other people will think of it once it’s (finally – and I mean really finally; I only wrote the first scene in May 2011, for Christ’s sake) finished.

Wow, the last couple paragraphs were rather depressing to read.  But no worries, I am not upset, angry, hurt, depressed or what have you.  My ego and feelings are far tougher than all of that.  It comes from the submarine life; you learn quickly how to focus on the mission and how to fend off being made fun of.  Making fun of each other is how we entertain ourselves underway, after all.  No room for emo wimps on a submarine, let me tell you.  So the idea of getting freaked out or all “Oh woe is me” over a rejection or two is just, frankly, stupid to me.  Every time I read some writer opining about how rejections are so hard, I have to stop myself from leaving a comment saying something along the lines of, “Seriously?  Grow a pair will you?  Stop being such a fucking crybaby wimp.  You are not the center of the universe, you know!”

So yeah.  Rejections don’t bother me.  It’s just business, and I can always post them myself.

That said, I guess I’ll get back to writing something.  Cheers, y’all!

 

Changing the Covers

I use GIMP to do covers.  At least I do when I don’t hire out for them.  It’s pretty powerful, and the price was right – FREE!

Over the last year and a half I’ve learned a lot about how GIMP works, and I like to think I’ve gotten a lot better at covers.  Certainly the cover for The Necromancer’s Lair is pretty good, IMHO.  This one also is pretty good.  It’s for a novelette called The Suspect’s Wife.  I wrote it under my Mystery pen name, Alex Mariner, and released it last month.

Suspect's Wife Cover (1333x2000)I like it because it’s simple and to the point.

Now that said, some of my older covers REALLY suck.  I modified a few of them a little while back.  And while those modifications were improvements from the originals, looking at them now, some of them are still pretty weak.

Problem is, though I’ve learned a lot about how to use GIMP by trial and error, my knowledge is still fairly elementary.  Or rather, was.  A few days ago, I found a great GIMP tutorial site that gives step by step instructions in how to do a lot of cool stuff, some simple and some complex.  Just reading through a few of the tutorials showed me how to better use a number of GIMP’s features, in particular layer manipulation and text effects.  So last night, I decided to work on the cover for Lords of the Remnant, one of my earlier short stories.  I like the story, but frankly, the original cover was lacking.  Here are the results:

The original cover:  Lords of the Remnant Cover

And the new one:    Lords

I think this new one is about a 1000% improvement over the original.  I’m sure there are more ways to improve it, but I like it a lot.  I think I’ll be re-working the rest of my early covers over the next several months.  Stay tuned for the results.

In the meantime…

Lords of the Remnant.  A fun science fiction short story, now with a more fun cover.  It’s feeling lonely, though.  You should go say hi to it, check it out.  🙂  And while you’re at it, say hi to it’s cousin, The Suspect’s Wife.  You’ll be happy you did.  🙂

#NaNoWriMo Update – or – Why It’s Not Bad To Come Up Short

Well, it’s 22:19 on the 28th.  I’m just about to hit 30,000 words for the month.

Not bad.

But…not good enough for NaNoWriMo.  Of course, I’ve got some more writing in me tonight, so I’ll probably get to 31,000 or so today.  With two days to go I could still get to 50,000.  If I didn’t have to go in to work or take care of the family.  So I’ll probably end up with around 35,000 words for the month.  Respectable, but it means I’ll be batting .500 for NaNo.

And that’s ok.

I realized a week and a half or so ago, when I didn’t write for several days straight on account of doing fun things with the family, that I wasn’t going to make it this year.  Oh well, no big deal.  The main point of NaNo for me, this time, was to get myself back into the habit of writing, since between the move, adjusting to San Diego and the new job, and the new kid’s arrival, I didn’t write much at all over the summer and early fall.  And from that perspective, NaNo has been a total success.

35,000 words, divided up into a 16,600 word novelette, the completion of a second mid-teens novelette (which I started last month and am finishing up now), a 9,000 word novelette, and the start of a fourth short story which may just turn into a novelette before I’m done with it since that’s what seems to happen more often than not, lately.  Not too bad a showing for a month’s work.

So that’s that.

So…what’s next?

I’ve been thinking a lot about goals for 2013.  So I’ll be fleshing those out a bit and making preparations to track them in better detail than I did this year.  And I’ve got a few stories to send to markets and/or publish in December.   That’ll eat up the first week of the month, probably.  Then it’s back to Pericles.  I really need to hunker down and finish that thing up.  If I can do in December what I’ve done in November, I think I can do that, too.  Worst case, I’ll finish it up in January.  Then comes the big question: pub it or send it on the query-go-round.  I’ve been pondering sending it out to editors as sort of a challenge to see what happens.  But that does seem like a total pain in the butt, with very limited prospect for success or even positive feedback.  *shrug*  We’ll see.  First thing is to finish the damn thing.

And then it’ll be time to assess 2012 and move on to 2013.

I’ve got great things in mind for this next year.  More to follow on that topic in a bit.  But for now, it’s back to that novelette.

Cheers!

Burning Up

Yeah, that’s right, baby.  I’m on FIRE!

Metaphorically speaking, of course. 🙂

On Friday, I pushed publish on another title: another collection of five stories.  But instead of shorts, I combined all of my novelettes and my one novella into the collection.  The result:

 

A fateful meeting in deep space.

A journey to a distant world to hunt the ultimate game: Dragons.

Two young soldiers search for a lost family heirloom.

Honeymoon bliss turns into a fight for survival on a remote moon.

The Champion of Light battles the Champion of Dark to determine the fate of the universe.

Tales of Adventure is a collection of five science fiction and fantasy novelettes and novellas by Michael Kingswood: Passing in the Night, So You Want To Be A Dragon Slayer… , Grandfather’s Pendant, Delphinus, and The Champion.

 

 

The ebook is live now, for $5.99 at the following stores: AmazonDriveThruFiction, and XinXii.  Barnes and Noble and Kobo are still processing the files, and I’ll have the Smashwords version up later today.

Since the five stories together come to over 60,000 words, Tales of Adventure will also be out in trade paperback.  The proof is on the way and should be approved in a week or so.

 

So yeah, that makes three titles published this month, and ten so far this year, bringing my grand total of titles published to twenty.  So yeah, I’m on fire, baby.  🙂