Dystopian Stories Don’t Have to Suck 🧟‍♀️

One of my world-famous emails, originally sent Saturday 15 June. Get on the list here!


Man, there’s a lot going on.

And that’s just in my part of the world. This week, there are so many funsies. Before we hit the main events, you may have noticed a new header graphic ⬆️ up there. Let me know what you think of it, because I almost went blind putting it together.

Where was I?

  • A new release!
  • An interview;
  • An outstanding promo;
  • Your excerpt, aaaand
  • A free novel, no strings attached.

I am breathless with all the awesome. Let’s do it.


Tyche’s Lost is Out!

Yeah, I almost don’t believe it myself. This is Chad and Saveria’s story – two people who’ve both died before, about to die again.

It would suck to be one of my characters.

I started this one off as a riff on Beauty and The Beast … In Space, and then got carried away with it. I hope you dig it – if you grab it, let me know what you think 😬 If you’ve still got lingering doubts, there’s an excerpt at the end of this email.

Saveria’s been dead twice before. Third time’s the charm.

The Gravedigger crashes on an uncharted world. She carries the Emperor’s spymaster Chad Forradel, and his young ward Saveria. They find a forgotten human colony corrupted by Ezeroc.

Humanity’s hated foe sent the planet’s best back into the stars as a corrupted seed. Chad and Saveria must warn the Empire, but they’re fresh out of starships.

Survival seems hopeless, but if they don’t make it out, the Empire will fall. Alone and cornered by the enemy, Chad and Saveria face death one last time.

If you like page-turning action with great dialogue, get your copy of Tyche’s Lost today!

(It’s out on the Zon, B&N, Kobo, and Nook).


Carol Van Natta

Inmate name: Carol Van Natta

Last Known Locations: author.carolvannatta.com | Facebook | Insta

Book in the promo: Overload Flux (Central Galactic Concordance Book 1)


Q: You live with a mad scientist. I have … so, so many questions, but I’m going to start with: has anything burned to ash in the house, are your cats a result of experiments, and is there a biohazard trefoil on your fence line?

A: The resident mad scientist and I looked through 29 years of his journals, and find no instance in which anything burned to ash. Charred a bit, perhaps. We do find various chemical burns, electrocutions, and two energetic explosions. He recently moved on from his series with ionic liquids to designing experiments that will require several days, no questions asked, with the large hadron collider to implement. He promises not to toast his ham sandwich on the collider during a run. I’m trying to convince him to play with 3D printers so he can make spaceship parts for me.

Our cats are the result of us being complete suckers for cats. All but one is a rescue, and they keep us vastly entertained. Our oldest is the Empress of the Universe, and even at age 20, she is still the benevolent dictator (unless you cross her). The cats also help me write by insisting that all books are improved by the presence of felines. I have succumbed to their blandishments in about half the stories I’ve written in both my space opera and paranormal shifter romance series. The cats were quite put out when I wrote a space opera novella, Pet Trade, that had cats, but a dog ended up the final hero. They made me write a follow-up novella called Cats of War where dogs drooled and cats saved the day.

The neighbors own the fences, so we don’t decorate them with signs. However, we do ask visitors to our house to sign a non-disclosure agreement and liability waiver in the front entry.

Q: You’re trapped back in time (…perhaps with those shifters you write about). You can take 3 people with you. Who do you pick, and why?

A: I’d want people with skills that will help us survive in whatever era we’re in. I suspect these three people, whether or not they’re brave and clever shifters, won’t be pleased to be stuck with me. I research lots of things for the characters in my books to do, but I don’t have practical experience with hunting for food, using flint to start a fire, or speaking ancient languages. I’m very fond of technology. My idea of wilderness is staying in fully improved mountain cabin that doesn’t have an internet connection. A mind for trivia, a knack for storytelling, and the athletic agility of a sea slug aren’t very useful qualifications for time travel adventuring.

Furthermore, the farther back in time we go, the more women were treated like chattel, so I would likely be a rabble-rouser and change history. Then none of us could ever come back home because of the multiverse/timestream paradox thing, and my fellow time-travelers would be very put out with me.

Q: Of the stories you’ve written: favourite character, piece of technology, and villain?

A: My story ideas always start with characters. I love them all and worry about them (even though it’s my fault they’re in trouble), and want to see them succeed and be happy. I can’t pick favorites.

I get the most fan comments about Mairwen Morganthur, the main female character in Overload Flux, book 1 of my Central Galactic Concordance space opera series. She has extraordinary abilities and knows a hundred ways to kill, but is flummoxed by ordinary social interaction. The agency she escaped from told her she was no longer human, but she’s finding out they lied about a lot of things. Lucky for her, she meets Luka Foxe, who is brilliantly intuitive but has a unique mental talent that is destroying him. She helps him find a way to handle it, and he helps her learn how to navigate relationships, friends, and community.

Outside of faster-than-light starship engines (interstellar travel!), my favorite piece of invented technology is an autotailor. You select and customize licensed clothing designs. They scan your measurements, then spin thread to create perfectly custom-fitted clothing in minutes. Complex costumes or specialty items like high-tech boots take a couple of hours. Autotailor stores are as ubiquitous as coffee shops. Rich people have their own. Poor people buy from second-hand stores. I invented this piece of technology because I detest shopping for clothes—they never fit, or if they do, they’re in a hideous color and pattern, or don’t have pockets (grrr!). I would be a very happy autotailor customer.

My favorite villains are as hard to pick as the heroes, but I’ll mention two. Dixon Davidro appears in Pico’s Crush (book 3) and Jumper’s Hope (book 4). He is clever, pathological, and delusional; in short, a gold-plated arsehole. He’s the kind of villain who deserves any and all karmic justice he gets. Jane Pennington-Smythe appears in Minder Rising (book 2) and the upcoming Spark Transform (book 5). She is smart, a team player, and thoroughly convinced her actions are for the good of humankind. To me, she’s the scarier of the two.

[Gimme Carol’s Book]


Gritty 5-Star Reads

I like to curate a selection of highly-rated reads for you from time to time. I’ve gathered a selection of stories so gritty you’ll feel the sand between your teeth. All are 4.5 stars or higher, and all are 0.99 or less.

You’ll find cyberpunk (of course! It’s me…), world’s end dystopia, and space opera that’ll make you feel dirty. I hope you love them.

[Take me to the 99c Gritty Sci-Fi promo]

I wanted this one out there after I read a raft of bad, bad, bad dystopias. I figured they couldn’t all be terrible, and – lo! – I found a bunch with really good ratings, redeeming my faith in the universe (…a little).


Excerpt the third: Tyche’s Lost

(Catch up on Parts One and Two… stick around to the end, below this is your on-da-house-yo novel).

CHAPTER FOUR

Forrest sprinted through the streets of a town he knew like the dirt on his soul. Faces watched, intent, hungry, but staying out of his way. If anything, they were distancing themselves. Shutters slammed closed. Doors shut.

He might have known the town well, but he didn’t understand it anymore. Breath rasping in his chest, feet skidding on loose dirt, it was an uncomfortable realization. Forrest felt like his mind was clear for the first time. He’d stood at Vigil with the rest, then set out to hunt the godkillers. The Altar wouldn’t be denied.

Once he saw Gravedigger, his face heated. Feelings pushed aside duty. It wasn’t that she was perfect. She was different. He tried to help her.

Maybe you shouldn’t have locked her up.

They’d caught him as he exited the temporary jail holding the other godkiller. Forrest figured it for a mercy when Marla’s hard eyes settled on him. The village chief stroked his scarred jaw as two of her best enforcers held him steady. When she’d stared at him, Forrest felt like she looked into him. At his soul, his wants, and the dark desires that distracted him from the duties of Vigil and the needs of the Altar.

So, he’d hidden a tack in his pocket. When he’d pressed the short spike of metal into his side, Forrest felt the pain and truth of his body. Marla hadn’t got what she’d wanted. Just stray scraps. It’d been enough for them to hold him ready for the Altar. Forrest needed mending. He felt it himself. Didn’t he?

But… I don’t want to be fixed.

Forrest ran. Feet pounding on familiar-yet-strange streets, running away from friends-but-hunters. He skidded around a corner, barging past a couple out for an evening stroll. Forrest almost missed the swing of a pole from a doorway, ducking low at the last second. He felt the whoosh of air as it passed where his head was a moment before. He kept on, heart pounding, mouth tasting of dirt, the air behind him full of hate.

Blue-white light backscattered against the buildings. It came from the square, accompanied by a fzzzt-crack of sound. Forrest spared a glance back. The shadows thrown by the light made it look like the square birthed lightning. The godkillers had fearsome weapons. They weren’t people. Not like Forrest, or even Marla. They were perfect, beautiful, and deadly.

What did the prisoner say? She’s the most broken thing there is. Gravedigger wasn’t right, and not just because she took his weapon and purpose both without really paying attention. Gravedigger’s eyes looked through him, just like Marla’s, but instead of the iron will of a ruler, he saw confusion. It was as if she didn’t know which gods she’d come to kill.

A man lunged for him from an alley. Forrest skidded sideways, almost lost his footing, and pressed on. Focus on getting her away from here. That’s all that matters. A baker’s awning greeted him ahead. He made for it. The baker was closed, which made the shop ideal. Forrest jumped the railing of a porch, snared a rainwater pail from under a leaky roof, and vaulted down the other side. The baker’s shop lay dead ahead. He slowed his run enough to spin, tossing the bucket through the front window. It broke with the crash of sin. Forrest accelerated, jumping through the gap.

The glass and wood splinters still stuck in the frame snared his jacket and cut his face. He barely noticed. Inside the bakery, empty shelves promised fresh bread on the morrow. The back-door hung dark and empty. He made it through as the main door crashed open in a splinter of wood, one of Marla’s enforcers shouldering the wood aside like it wasn’t important.

The back room led past wood-fired ovens. Forrest grabbed a sack of flour as he ran, upending it in his wake. Hand on the back-door handle, he yanked it open with a rattle of timber and metal. He didn’t check whether his pursuer slipped on the flour.

Cooler air greeted him as he made the back alley. He turned right, jumping a crate of supplies, then jinked left through an open window. A hand on the sill, a vault, and he was inside, staring at a family sat down for an eventide meal. He gave them a nod, tossing, “Pardon!” in the wake of his passage as he barged through their home. He caught glimpses of wooden toys scattered on the floor, narrowly avoiding skating on one.

The wall beside his entrance window ruptured inward in a shower of dust and wood. The family screamed as another of Marla’s troops slammed through. A wall! That’s hardly fair. Forrest shored up next to the front door of the house, rattling the handle. It was stuck. He glanced back, taking in the giant grinning in triumph moments before he collapsed on the floor as a toy cart skidded from under his feet.

The door gave, and Forrest was outside. Speaking of carts, the was one parked below the eaves of Old Man McGuire’s roof. Forrest ran for it, scrambling up. A hand whispered past his shoulder, almost collaring him. He jumped, grabbed guttering, and hauled himself to the roof. Below, three of Marla’s men made to follow. Forrest didn’t know how such big men could run so fast, because he wasn’t slow by any means. He’d known Marla recruited the best for her soldiers, but their abilities seemed unjust by any measure.

Scampering across the roof, he made the neighboring house, keeping his footsteps light and his speed high as he dared. A holler behind drew his attention, and he spied one of his followers falling through a roof. Size isn’t everything. He spared a grin for the dusk, then ran on.

Down to the street, left, jump the cat, dodge the barking dog, second right, and straight on. Sweat soaked Forrest’s shirt, his jacket feeling the wrong choice for the evening’s activities. Ahead lay the barn. All he had to do was get there, let Gravedigger out, and point her to the trees. That was the extent of his plan.

Forrest slid around the corner outside the barn. He slowed, pulling to a halt beside the main door. It was still closed. He took a moment, bracing hands on knees as he sucked air. None of his pursuers were here. It might be safe to open the door. Forrest waited until his breath settled enough to hear more than the bellows of his lungs. Nothing.

“Young Forrest Blake.” Marla detached herself from a huddle of shadow where roof gave cover from the meager starlight.

Forrest took a step back. “Marla!”

He saw her face was marked, bruising starting on her forehead. Her top lip was bloody, but her eyes held steel and fire despite that. “It’s rare one who stands at Vigil would turn on us.”

“I didn’t… I mean…” Forrest’s words ran down, his bucket of thought emptying into the void. Marla’s closeness focused his mind, giving him renewed purpose. He hadn’t thought to stab himself with a pin. He’d fancied himself free.

“I know. It’s not your fault. That’s why they can kill gods. Do you see?” Marla stroked his face, running a hand down the scar on his jaw. “We must maintain the Vigil.”

“We must maintain the Vigil,” he agreed.

She turned away, eying the barn door. “This is the place.” Not a question, because she had no need for them. He nodded anyway. “You’ll be spared, Forrest. Youth and desire aren’t crimes.”

He sagged, relief flooding him. “Perhaps I should go to Altar.”

She shook her head, still looking at the barn. “We’ll have need of a good warrior against the dark.” Marla eyed him over her shoulder. “Make no mistake: evil’s come to our homestead.”

Forrest nodded again. It’s what his heart wanted to do. He stepped past her, hand on the barn door. The rough wooden beam that he’d dropped in place earlier today waited for his touch. He hefted it aside, dropping it to the packed dirt of the alley floor. A heave, and it was done. The barn lay in wait.

Lantern light lapped around his ankles. One of Marla’s enforcers arrived, carrying a wary flame. It pushed shadows aside. The three of them entered the barn, eyes everywhere.

Two horses. One cow.

Forrest looked up to the roof. Above a horse stable, rotted wood had been pulled aside. Beyond, stars winked at him. Gravedigger was on the wind.

CHAPTER FIVE

The night welcomed Saveria like an old friend, albeit one with a cold handshake. She’d made her getaway from the village not long after Forrest locked her up. She’d had enough of him for now. At a base molecular level, she thought he might be decent, but something darker rode him like a prize stallion. A purpose she didn’t understand governed his actions. It wasn’t nice to hit people with clubs. It wasn’t nice to lock them up.

While the day got on with its business, she’d wriggled through the barn’s roof, then scampered away from rooftop to rooftop. Her feet felt light, her body ready. It was like whatever was in her head making her stumble was coming to an agreement with the machine it piloted. She wasn’t sure which way she should go but figured the escape pod’s site was a lost cause. She angled farther south, with a little east thrown in for good measure.

Not a soul saw her jump across the roofs above them. The town wasn’t large, maybe a couple klicks aside. A good Navy destroyer felt roomier.

How do you know what a destroyer’s like? Have you fought another’s wars?

That didn’t seem right. Saveria shook her head, then dropped from a roof into a goat pen, and set off toward fields that looked very similar to the one she’d crossed earlier. She waded through grass like it was the ocean. She touched her face, wondering if she’d felt salt spray in her life.

Saveria made a copse of trees that became a forest. Day turned to dusk as it tended to. The light faded, which caused her to stumble as her borrowed moccasins collected against something buried in the dirt. She bent, brushing loose soil and tiny plants aside. Her fingers rasped against stone.

It’s called ceramicrete.

Saveria looked up. The forest hadn’t reclaimed this section of the world. It tried, but Engineers built the best things. A ceramicrete road lay ahead, straight as an arrow, a clear indication of where she should go. Most of it was covered with dirt, fallen leaves, and encroaching vines, but the trees hadn’t clambered over the road yet.

The forest encouraged her on. She stood, following the road. Before too long she encountered a crater. The ceramicrete was broken, descending into a basin filled with water. Rocks and dirt formed a small island in the middle, and a single tree grew there.

This was a missile strike.

Birds gave their evensong, cheering on the whispering wind. She spied a pile of lichen-covered rocks.

Those aren’t rocks.

She made her way toward them. The ‘rocks’ turned into three bodies. One wore lichen-covered armor. The other two were below it. All that remained to tell the story of who they were was bones and tattered clothes.

The armored one covered the others with their body.

It hadn’t helped. All died in the blast. Saveria put a hand on a shoulder plate, unsure why. The dead didn’t need her regard. She stood, leaving the tiny huddle of regret behind her.

The road drew past structures, most sagged to rubble and detritus. The marks of heavy ordnance were visible everywhere. Scattered ceramicrete and metal. Broken armor. Bones, and damaged air cars. The forgotten and lost waited for a redemption that never came.

She passed an archway leading to nowhere, rubble beyond hinting at a building that no longer existed. Saveria ran a hand across the archway’s pitted surface, feeling like she should feel its memories, but getting nothing back but the rasp of old stone.

Darkness dogged her steps. She made it to a wide-open area, the trees keeping their distance. Ahead, a starship hunkered against the ground. Saveria walked toward it. Her heart didn’t know machines. She’d need an Engineer to know if it could fly again.

Pain lanced her skull. She gasped, dropping to her knees, hands against her head. It felt like liquid lava inside her skull, a fluid made of pure fire coursing inside. Within the flow, she felt something click.

Hope Baedeker is the best Engineer in the universe.

“Who is Hope?” she screamed. Her yell fell flat against the empty space. The starship didn’t answer. Saveria gasped, hand on the ground in front of her. It shook but held her. Not metal, but flesh. Weak, but good enough. Saveria tasted bile, but the pain passed. She stood.

The starship was the only thing of note here. She moved toward it, then stumbled as her feet passed through what she’d thought was a collection of leaves. Her toe stubbed against something hard and heavy. She moved brushwood aside. Beneath the detritus was a skull. It wasn’t human, its massive mandibles looking hungry even in death.

Most of it was damaged and chipped. The skull was cored by a hole. Saveria searched, finding other pieces of scattered chitin.

This is the enemy. They took my Hope from me.

“Who is Hope?” she whispered. Saveria spied the telltale snub of a PDC hanging below one of the starship’s wings. A careful examination showed another three visible turrets sprouting from the hull like a promise of things to come.

The ship itself wasn’t anything fancy. It didn’t have the sleek lines of a racing yacht. Four drive cores at the back, three decks, and two hundred meters nose to tail. The back yawned open, a ramp descending to the landing pad. While the ship murdered alien life forms that got too close, Saveria couldn’t see any humans around the verge. It protected nothing but ghosts.

Are the PDCs still live? Will it recognize me as a friend or enemy?

Saveria walked a circle around the craft. She was a hundred meters from it when she’d found the dead alien, so she kept the same distance as she strode the perimeter. The flight deck was visible from the ground, but the interior was dark. Vines climbed the sides of the ship, as if hungry to embrace the hull and draw it into the earth. Through a break in the vegetation she made out the ship’s name. ARDENT FURY.

It’s not a warship. Why is it named like one?

The PDCs didn’t track her progress, but that wasn’t a sign of safety. They were likely somnolent, waiting for something to trigger their crisis condition. She could just leave the ship here. Walk away, leave the mystery for someone else to solve. But it felt like…

You’ve killed so many people. You owe the universe.

Her head flared with pain, not as bad as before, but enough to remind her there was something wrong with her. For a moment, she had an image, brighter than the horror show of the insects. She was on a desert world. Sol beamed bright above, a brilliant majesty. She stood with her troops: a people forged of metal and thought. She held a weapon, something her kind made as a warning against their gods.

Saveria spat bile. She was on her knees again. She looked at the Ardent Fury, hand outstretched. The ship waited.

Another memory came to her. She was on a space station. Pirates came from across the hard black, in a warship stolen from the Empire. They attacked her home, and she … pushed. Saveria made so many people die. They walked out airlocks or escaped in pods with no destination set. She’d done that, because she was afraid.

Saveria cradled her head in her hands. What is happening to me? One part of her remembered standing on a desert planet with machines she called friend. The other lived with humans on a station. Both these things couldn’t be true. Saveria couldn’t be both organic and construct.

A whine drew her attention. She looked at the Ardent Fury. A PDC woke, the weapon swiveling to track her. She stood, realizing she’d crawled toward the ship in her reverie. Saveria spun, looking for cover, but there wasn’t any. Not that it would help. This close, PDCs could turn armored vehicles to gravel.

The gun didn’t fire. She eyed it. A red light winked beside the turret. She looked down, seeing a laser cross-hatch played over her body. Mapping her, working out what she was. A second later, the turret shuddered, pointing to the ground.

It knows what humans are and counts them as friends. Saveria wondered if it was an error, then shook her head. Thoughts like that weren’t useful. Error or not, the ship was her only path to answers, and a way off this rock.

She jogged toward the extended ramp, heading inside.

* * *

Inside the Ardent Fury, light found a home in the gloom through portholes, the circular windows ringing the hold. A few near the extended ramp were covered by the reaching fingers of vines, but farther back the starship looked like what she’d expect. Nature receded, leaving the clean lines of human manufacture.

Saveria spied a bird’s nest above. A bellbird watched her, head tipped sideways as it wondered at her intrusion. She moved further in, eyes wide, head up, before stumbling. Glancing down, she saw she’d tripped over the sad remains of a person. The ship suit they wore was unmarked by time, good Guild tech withstanding the wearying march of years without breaking a sweat. The ship suit held a skeleton close, encasing it like a shroud.

The skull looked … wrong. Saveria knelt, and touched the bones as delicately as she could. The skull was devoid of hair or other tissue. The back of it was open, the rim looking gnawed. She searched the body, looking for anything that would identify this person. The ship suit bore a name.

CHAPLAIN MORRIS

UD ARDENT FURY

She traced her fingers over the UD. It wasn’t an organization she was familiar with, military or otherwise. Near the body was a small personal console, but it didn’t wake when she pressed its activation stud. Out of power or broken, it didn’t matter. Saveria smoothed the ship suit. “I’m sorry for what happened to you. I’ll see if I can fix it, so it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Saveria stood, heading deeper into the ship. Her moccasins made no noise over the metal decking. The cargo bay airlock was open. Beyond the airlock, she found her first complete dead alien. Its forelimbs were lodged into a wall, stabbing claws piercing the metal. Plasma had chewed holes in its carapace, but did less damage than a blaster would to a person. These aliens were tough.

The enemy had me. Who saved me?

She snarled, kicking the corpse. It rattled, then fell to pieces on the decking. Saveria stood over the remains, wondering what to do next. The bridge would have a ship’s log. But before she made it to the bridge, she needed a weapon. PDCs watching outside or not, the monsters made it inside. They’d breached the boundary humans made, killing everyone inside.

They get inside you. That’s what they did to me. She touched her head, fingers probing the back of her skull. There were no lumps or lines of scar tissue. But she was sure that’s what happened. They’d got inside her, desecrated her flesh, and warped her mind. She stood against her friends and would have killed humanity.

They would have made me kill my Hope.

She groaned. “Who is Hope?” The Ardent Fury didn’t answer. The ship made no noise at all. Even the air cyclers were quiet. Saveria needed a weapon more than answers.

You are a weapon. It’s what they made you.

Saveria shook her head. She padded the corridors of the Ardent Fury, looking for a weapons locker. She found more bodies, different names on the suits but all noting the same two letters: UD. She found a ladder heading up and took it. The railings were clean and smooth, no signs of neglect in ship maintenance. The middle deck stretched left and right; left would head aft to Engineering, and right would go to the bridge.

Her heart tugged in her chest. It wanted left. She turned, heading rear. She passed a mess, with a collection of bodies inside. They looked to have died in horrible ways. Two of the alien corpses were among them, clear evidence of a rampage ending here. She wondered at their story, whether it finished in derring-do and bravado, teeth bared and fierce against the storm. No. They would have died in terror. Saveria saw no weapons with the dead. It confirmed her suspicions this wasn’t a warship. She’d have found at least one blaster by now.

She found Engineering sealed. The door was locked down. Angry red lights watched her from the access panel. Saveria put her hand on it. It chirped, then gave a flat tone. She cast about. Her eye found a loose panel to her right. She ran her fingers around the lip, looking for purchase. It rattled, then popped free to clatter on the decking. The noise echoed down the corridor, dogging her path, reminding her the bridge waited. If anyone’s alive on this ship, they’ll have heard that. Hell, it’d been loud enough to wake the dead.

The fallen panel exposed the wall’s interior. A narrow opening ran aft to Engineering. It didn’t have the look of human manufacture. Something had clawed its way through the innards of the ship, like they’d done to her body. Chewed, and ate, and made a home. She eased her head in the gap. Roomy enough for her. It looked like something much larger made this. Saveria edged inside, following the tunnel. She passed torn conduit, water and air lines, and chewed support beams. The path didn’t travel very far. It made it past the airlock, emerging within Engineering.

Saveria slipped out. All around her lay death, but not of it recent. Empty ship suits. An Engineer’s rig, brown stains over the metal. A plasma torch, laying on the deck, a small section of melted metal near the tip. Someone dropped that while it was on, and it chewed into the decking before running out of power.

Saveria found an acceleration couch. The material of the chair had ruptured. Old stains marked the surface. She looked about, trying to find reason within the carnage. A collection of Engineers worked here. Evidence suggested all were dead. But the empty suits held no bodies. She crouched near a ship suit. The side was rent like you’d fillet a fish, the meaty innards removed. Saveria breathed the stale air of Engineering, wondering why the aliens left other bodies but took these ones.

They took you for your skills. Engineers know human tech.

This world was bereft of working things. No gravity elevators or functioning starships. Were the aliens trying to build a way up the gravity well? It didn’t make sense. They had ships in orbit. One followed them down.

Saveria felt her heart beat faster. She’d remembered something from before the escape pod. She’d been on the bridge of a starship, watching the man she’d woken next to work the controls. The enemy was already here, waiting in orbit.

She moved to the reactors. One still worked, but lights were amber. The other two beside it were dead. She turned the dynamo on one, but got nothing, then did the same to the other. She glanced around, looking for the reactant supply. She found a spare fuel canister in a supply rack, dragging it across the decking with a squeal of metal. It was as heavy as she remembered them being.

When did I last carry a reactor fuel container?

It didn’t matter. She couldn’t get the canister into the reactor’s feed chamber. It was designed to be lifted by a rig. Saveria eyed the one laying on the decking. She picked it up, touching the power icon on the breastplate. It hummed, then the signature four limbs articulated out. It clambered on her, encasing her in its machine embrace. The visor slipped over her face, HUD blooming to life. Many, many red warnings. POWER CRITICAL was the most significant, but she had to hope it had enough to lift the canister.

She worked the controls set in the arm of the unit, wondering how she knew how to use it. A flash of memory: two sets of limbs tangled together on the deck of a starship. Someone with pink hair lay with her, tracing fingers up Saveria’s arm. Her skin shivered in remembered sympathy, goosebumps pricking her arm beneath the rig’s protective shell. Here, said the woman with pink hair. You use them like this. Pointing at the controls set in the arm, then touching Saveria’s head. They know what you want. You just have to know how to ask.

Saveria wanted to hold the memory, clutch it close, but it left. She saw the person with pink hair. Tasted her skin and felt the heat of her. If she wanted to see her ever again, she needed to get this starship working. Saveria growled, then walked to the fuel canister. She told the rig to heft the canister. Two limbs articulated out, gripping the reactant. Two others braced her on the deck.

Nothing else happened.

You just have to know how to ask.

She didn’t know how to use the cognitive interface, but she still had her voice. “Install reactant, please.” The rig chimed. One arm left the decking to remove the cover from the reactor. It dropped the fuel canister into the waiting slot, sealing it. Saveria fist-pumped the air, then walked to the rear of the reactor. A few quick spins of the dynamo, and the reactor hummed. Green lights bloomed over the display.

A moment later, the starship groaned in response. The hiss of air cyclers, and the subliminal tones of reticulation systems coming back online. All the happy noises of a hull that would keep humans from death in the hard black.

Her rig blared an error, noting POWER DEPLETED, then dropped from her like a shed skin, forming into a small cube as it fell. It clanked to the decking. She hefted it, moving to the acceleration couch. Unspooling cable, she docked it to charge. She might need it later. One thing was certain. She’d need more than a single container of reactant to get off this rock. Endless Drives were hungry.

Saveria settled in the acceleration couch, trying not to think about the rent at her back. She tapped on the console, bringing the holo to life. Saveria found the logs of the ship’s Chief Engineer, scrolling to the bottom few, and hit play.

The holo shimmered, cleared, and then filled with the head and shoulders of a woman. Piercing eyes. Strong jaw. Knew what her job was, no mistake. The Chief Engineer looked behind her, as if sensing a threat hidden from the cam, then faced forward. “Chief Engineer Marla Cupicha of the Undying Dawn missionary vessel Ardent Fury.” A pause, a glance down, and when Marla looked at the cam again, her eyes held fear. “Viukde Gamma is lost, and God has forsaken us.”

[Tyche’s Lost is out now – you can get on the hook-up here]


$0.00: Chromed: Upgrade

Did I not tell you this week was an awesome email?

Chromed: Upgrade is free for a limited time. This was the book I most wanted to write when I was a baby author. I’ve re-edited – some might say re-written – the entire story, and now you can get the ebook for … nothing.

Head on over to your favorite digital retailer and grab it while it’s hot. This is a limited-time thing; I sacrified the right amount of fatted calves and got accepted into a BookBub for this.

This isn’t limited to Amazon/Kindle; it’s also on B&N, Apple, Kobo, and Google Play.

I’m really proud of this series … I hope you love it.

[Give me Chromed: Upgrade]


That’s it from me this week. If you check out the gritty reads, let me know what you think – these take a while to pull together and I’d like to know I’m hitting the mark for you. And please grab a copy of Chromed: Upgrade … on the house.

Until next time, keep up the good work you do. You were put on this world to make it brighter, and I think I can see you shining from down here.

R