Saturday, May 31, 2008

Space Pirates, the Continuing Saga

Read the beginning here, or the second excerpt here, or just keep reading for the third installment, below.

I had not intended on posting the story, but then I figured it might help my creativity with other projects. For those of you who've read the previous entries, there's a gap in action between excerpts 2 and 3. I left out a scene 1) because it seemed boring, and 2) it's contents would be implied by what happens next. (But, since this is a work in progress, anything can change!)

And now, on Space Pirates:

A sleek blue merchant approached astern the Martina Vega. Finney watched on the screen, saw the government insignia on the nose marking the vessel as a constabulary presence, but did not acknowledge the ship until hailed.

“Ahoy the Vega. This is Captain Iona Zoltana of the Orpheus, requesting permission to dock.”

Ungritting her teeth, Finney loosened her jaw a little before acknowledging. “Aye, Captain Zoltana, the Vega welcomes you aboard.”

“Well done,” said Kristoff’s quiet, amused voice behind her. “You told that lie with a straight face.”

Finney guided the Vega gently to starboard aft, pleased when the craft obeyed and met the Orpheus with so gentle a kiss that neither ship so much as squeaked. “How’s the headache? Thought Doc told you to stay in bed a day or two.”

“Nothing to do there.”

“You could think of something.”

“Not without company.”

“Hope you wore your best shirt. You know how starchy Zoltana is.”

“That’s not the company I meant.”

“Well, it’s all you’re getting, captain.”

Kristoff stepped closer, his voice near her ear vibrated down her backbone, and his breath ruffled her hair. “One of these days, Fiona Grace.”

She refused to shiver, or to let heat rise up her neck. “Yep. One of these days, I’ll jump ship and hire on to a courier vessel.” She smiled. “Faster, prettier, and with a better-looking crew.”

He drew back. “That a hint to raise your pay?”

“You know I never turn down cash.”


“A girl’s gotta have principles.”

“And a good ship.”

“And a good ship.”

Finney waited until his footsteps faded before she relaxed her grip on the controls and slumped in her chair.

One of these days, Fiona Grace

c. 2008, Keanan Brand

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Thanks to Tex...

Texican over at Pappy's Balderdash has listed "Adventures in Fiction" as one of the blogs that makes his day. Check out his blog -- guaranteed to make you smile!
The rules for this award are:
1) Write a post with links to 5 blogs that make me think and/or make my day.
2) Acknowledge the post of the award giver (Muchas Gracias, Texican!)
3) Tell the award winners that they have won by commenting on their blogs with the news!

(Just because a blog is listed below does not obligate the blogger to provide his or her own list. This is merely an acknowledgment of good writing and interesting sites.)

Here are my five choices:
1. In the Open Space: God & culture. Carmen Andres. An invitation to view the world through a new lens, to see God's presence in art, cinema, literature, and various unexpected places. Also a good source of movie reviews, with a spiritual spin.
2. A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Rebecca Miller. Christian fantasy writer and main mover behind the monthly Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. She sure knows how to stir up debate!
3. The Write Fashion. Jadesmith. A friend's eclectic blog about anything from fashion (I'm just this side of clueless) to books to writing to life in general. She sometimes posts samples of her artwork, too.
4. Overheard Lines. Funny or just plain strange snippets of actual conversations. There are many contributors, so there's not a name to list here. Just check it out -- but conversations are recorded without censorship, so beware raw language.
5. Scriptorius Rex. Jeff Draper. Get ready for deadpan, tongue-in-cheek humor, as well as news on work, home, and the writing life.

So, to those whose blogs I've listed, Congratulations! To everyone whose blog I didn't, you are by no means forgotten. If you're over on my blog roll, you have something interesting to say. Everyone, check 'em out!

Monday, May 26, 2008


It's Memorial Day here in the States, a day for remembering those who served our country and gave their lives for it.

My father is still very much alive, and served in the Navy during the Viet Nam years (when I was born). My "little" brother is currently in the Air Force, and has been for almost all his married life, having joined in his late teens. Sundry other relatives on both sides of the family have served in other branches: Marines, Army, and Coast Guard. I, however, have only been able to support and admire them, which I do with all my heart.

There's a stone-walled national cemetery in the city where I work, and it's decked out in American flags, the gates flung wide even at night this weekend. When Mom and I drove past on our way home from Arizona, we saw someone drive through the gates and down the lit, flag-lined drive at around 9:30 p.m., an older gentleman going to pay his respects.

I have taken kids from the youth center there for photography trips, and they are always fascinated by the headstones and the history, and I relish the opportunities to speak with them about patriotism, sacrifice, honor, heroism, and other old-fashioned, high-sounding concepts that seem to have lost their meaning (especially among civilians) in this modern age.

A Memorial Day poem:

M is for mothers who sent their children off to war

E is for the everlasting gift of freedom

M is for the mums that decorate the graves of the soldiers

O is for the old men that are veterans

I is for the island off Hawaii where the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor

A is for America, the home of the brave

L is for the land of the free

© 2001 Anna, 3rd Grader, Academy Elementary School, Madison, Connecticut.

May we never forget.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Space Pirates, Yet Again

Remember The Muppets television variety show? There was a comic space opera segment called "Pigs in Space." Funny stuff.

For some reason, I think of that when working on my space pirates novel (still no title). It's not quite as witty and funny as the goofy puppets, but I'm having fun with it. The beginning was posted near the first part of May (I can hear the television voice-over narration: "Previously, on Space Pirates"), and here's installment number two ("And now, on Space Pirates").

Smiling, Kristoff stood a moment longer in the crow’s nest, a low-profile turret above the crew deck, and stared out into black, starlit space. He’d rather be here than anywhere.

Descending the ladder to the deck, he caught the low intense sounds of voices in muffled argument. Great. Corrigan and Wyatt, or Corrigan and Alerio, or Corrigan and anyone else.

No. From the next level down. The passenger cabins. Already?

He strode along the crew deck and clattered down the companionway, finger-combing his hair and tucking in his shirt as he went. Since negotiating for cargo, he hadn’t considered trivial things like a shower and a clean shirt. Hope nobody’s allergic to stink.

Down the last step, around a right angle, and he entered the passenger quarters. Two men, faces red, stood nose to nose and chest to chest.

“Afternoon, gentlemen—”

“You will not speak to her, you will not look at her, you will not be in the same room with her—”

“She’s a free woman!”

“She’s mine!”

“She’s not a crate of cargo!”

“Gentlemen.” Kristoff gripped the men by their shoulders and smiled, not happily. "This is a freighter first and a pleasure cruiser a distant second, but we aim to serve our guests. We can’t do that if they don’t behave. Now, there’s a corner of the cargo deck where you can beat each other to a squishy pulp, but you will not block the passage, and my crew will not clean up the blood.”

The belligerent idiot “owner” of the unnamed woman tried to pull away from Kristoff’s grasp, but without success. “Who are you?”

“Helmer Kristoff, captain of this fine vessel.”

“Fine vessel?” the idiot sneered. “More like a death trap.”

The lover grabbed the idiot by the shirtfront. “A death trap, and you brought her here anyway? You son of a—”

The idiot threw a punch. It landed poorly, skimming the other man’s cheek. The lover responded with a knee to the groin.

Kristoff grabbed fistfuls of the combatants’ shirts behind their necks, and dragged them along the passage, through the common room, through the guest galley—where he almost lost his grip on the struggling men—then down the companionway to the cargo deck, the idiot and the lover trading curses and half-landed blows, most of which struck Kristoff, if they struck anyone.

Corrigan looked up, wiping his hands on a greasy rag. “Want help with that?”

“You can lock the cage, as soon as I toss ‘em in.”

Slapping his palm with a business-size wrench, Corrigan grinned.

The lover flailed at the idiot, who flailed back. Kristoff pushed them inside the cage. Just as Corrigan grabbed the door, Kristoff saw a blur out of the corner of his eye.

Pain exploded in his head. Comets and constellations whirled before him—then all was black space.
c. 2008, Keanan Brand

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Night Shot & Sibling Evilness

Below is a photo taken by my niece, age 10, of the fountain by "Old Main", the original building on the University of Arizona campus at Tucson. We were leaving the graduation festivities, but "the fountain was just so pretty, and kinda neat," so she had to take a picture. (Click on the picture to enlarge, and get a better view.)

(c. May 2008, JE, fountain in front of Old Main, UA campus, Tucson, Arizona)

* * *

I'm dealing with allergy crap, so the nose is runny or stopped up -- it's fickle -- and this morning the nose is prone to snot. My brother, being of a "helpful" nature, offered a Kleenex. He waved it in my face. Pulled it back. Laughed. Asked if that was torture. Said torture was in The Sibling Handbook. I snagged the darn thing and blew my nose.

Then the two nieces were playing: Laughing, Big Sis (10) whirled in circles, and Little Sis (almost 1) tried to keep up. Perhaps Big Sis has been reading The Sibling Handbook.I think her dad wrote it.

Night Shots

My brother and I have just returned from taking photos at night. We were out for about an hour, leaving some time after 9:00 p.m. and returning to the car at 10:30 p.m. The moon was full, the sky clear, the temperature 85 degrees -- perfect weather, perfect light. Unfortunately, not-so-perfect camera.

However, we still came back with some great shots. Once we downloaded the results on the computer, we ended up deleting about a third of the pictures, but here are a couple shots we kept:

(c. May 2008, SE, bridge on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona)

(c. May 2008, KB, moon over Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Way of the (Sleepy) Warrior

Last night, we attended my brother's informal graduation event, and endured lack of seating, too little air conditioning, a long program, and skimpy "meal" so we wouldn't have to drag ourselves from bed early today, forge our way through Tucson traffic, and push through the advancing hordes of other graduation attendees just to sit in more heat while waiting to watch my brother (who would be even more uncomfortable in cap and gown) stand up and be recognized by strangers.

That's all well and good, I suppose--the recognition of strangers--but he already knows what he's accomplished. Does he need the dean to tell him, too, so he can feel good about himself?

Oh. Did that sound cranky? I'll blame it on the lack of a nap.

Speaking of naps, half the family has been napping on top of napping. All the festivities last night have sapped our fighting strength. After all, how many hors d'ourve can a warrior clan consume before losing their fighting edge?

We do have a collection of fight songs, though. Ever hear of Sandra Boynton? She writes and illustrates children's books. She also has a few musical volumes accompanied by CDs: Dog Train and Philadelphia Chickens are the two we listened to this morning, after the first round of naps was completed.

Then it was another napping shift, with only a few of us remaining alert enough to stand sentry.

Now, as the troops slowly reawaken, we are preparing for the standard fare of any warriors worthy of the name: grilled meat. Red meat. Charcoal and fire. Secret marinade. Nifty barbecuing tools. Although stabbing a steak with a really sharp sword and sticking it over an open flame would work just as well.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Adventure Begins

Early tomorrow morning, my mom and I head out for Arizona. I'll be computerless for at least the first twenty-four hours, maybe more.

Since I no longer have a camera of my own, I've been using the camera from work, but that's not possible this trip, since I'll be gone too many days. Therefore, I can't promise any pictures.

My truck being the gas-guzzler, we're traveling in Mom's newer, sportier, and shinier little car. While I'm gone, the truck will sit stolidly in the driveway, and hopefully give would-be intruders the idea that I'm still home.

Now, I'm heading to the store for a few travel items, and then home to finish packing. Yippy-skippy.

(image courtesy of

Swapping Tales

So, my friend Jade and I have been exchanging stories for years, ever since college. 

There was a long while when we stopped trading critiques--the writers and the stories were too immature to handle them--but we're grownups now, and we've developed thicker skins. I've even developed a part-time job based on editing and critiquing other writers' manuscripts. I most enjoy working with writers who check their egos at the door: they are out to improve their work, not to hear pretty compliments. Yeah, we all like to hear nice things about our babies, but if those nice things don't help our writing, what's the point?

Anyway, back to trading stories: Jade and I have been stretching our writing muscles, venturing into fictional territory we've never explored before. She recently wrote a short story about a vampire hunter. I thought it quite good; she's struggling with a re-write.  (She sees flaws I don't see. My uncle was like that. An artist, he could always see the mistakes, but the rest of us were blown away by the images he presented.)

I only read a short story, but she's reading an entire novel, passing along comments on a few chapters at a time. It's cool whenever she asks a question I know I've answered later in the text, or she gets a small joke I've tossed in, or she wants to know more about a character. That means I'm doing my job. She also points out inconsistencies or gaps in the information, and that is (to me) more valuable than the other remarks; by calling my attention to the problems, she helps me fix them.

I traded another story with Eamon. He sent along the first three chapters of his children's science fiction tale; I sent the space pirates. He has created some interesting characters and an intriguing history/backstory that I want to explore further. (hint, hint, ahem) He also gave permission for the story to be read to the kids at the youth organization where I work. Talk about instant feedback! Kids will be honest every time. I predict they'll want to read more.

*     *     *

Tomorrow's Story Time, we will finish Coraline by Neil Gaiman, a scary little tale that has them enthralled. I think they like it when I "do the voices" and pace back and forth in front of the group. It was really cool when one boy said, about two years ago, "It's just like going to the movies, only better, 'cause you can see things for yourself."

Hey, if I have to wave my arms and make faces and talk in really bad accents, I'll do it, if it gets kids interested in reading for themselves.

Our annual literacy program, Reading Quest, had its most successful year in 2008. From January 1 to May 9, the children turned in 467 books. Amazing. Last year, we didn't even make it to our goal, and this year we blew out the record (set in 2006) by more than 100 books. Tuesday afternoon, we had a pizza party, handed out certificates and awards, and drew names for other prizes. A fun time for all.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Droopy-Eyed Tuesday

I was up late last night/early this morning, cleaning up the house a bit before my trip later this week. 

In my experience, most single folk, male or female, probably don't do much housework unless they're down to the last pair of underwear, the last clean fork, or the last scrap of space on the couch or the dining table. I do housework under pressure: when company's coming over, when the spiderwebs in the corners are gathering dust, when I'm working off anger or an excess of caffeine, or when--as now--I don't want to return from a trip and be faced with a cluttered house musty from being closed up for several days.

So, last night, when I typed a blog post stating that I'd be up for a few hours, I wasn't surprised when the phone rang near 2:00 a.m.

I didn't even say hi, but asked if this was my little brother. Laughing, he said, "Yes, it is," and admitted to having just read my blog. I called him evil, and we hung out on the phone till about 4:00 a.m. 

I'm going to be in Tucson in a few days, but that's not an issue; he and I can usually find something to mock, laugh about, or discuss deeply. Not deep issues, just deep discussion. (laugh)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gladiators and Hobbits and Stuff

After Bachelor at Wellington's post regarding film scores, I looked at the movies on my shelves, picking out a few with my favorite movie music, which led to me re-watching some of them.

I've just finished Gladiator, a disaster for the historical purists, but a great story for the rest of us. Emperor Commodus (portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix) was even more vile than he is presented in the film, and he had his sister killed. He really did play at being a gladiator, but with poor skill. After a failed poisoning attempt by one of his concubines, Commodus was killed later that night by his wrestling partner. If the facts had been presented on film, they would have made for a compelling story, but I like the movie, too. In fact, there are parts of it that remind me of another of my favorite stories, Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem. 

A film that I did not list in my favorite movie scores is The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King). Howard Shore's music is awesome.

It's nearly 11:00 p.m., and I'll be awake for a few more hours, so I think I'll start watching LOTR from the beginning. If I viewed all three films back-to-back, I'd finish them around 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning! 

More Space Pirates

For Lavinia, here's one more excerpt of the space pirates tale (it needs a title).

I had originally posted this a few days ago, but deleted the entry. Not sure how much of this story I want to put out into the universe just yet, especially since it's an unfinished piece. This is the beginning scene:

“Cargo aboard, sir. Freight lockers secure.”

“All of it stamped?”

“Just like it were legal.”

“Excellent. Knew I hired you for a reason.”

Haldis grinned. “Aye, captain.”

“Cheeky. Passengers?”

“Three cabins, sir.”

Kristoff rubbed his chin. He needed a shave. “Only three?”

“Wyatt was delayed, counting all those crates, so Corrigan stood as steward.”

“In that case, thank God for any passengers at all.”

“With your permission, captain, you haven’t met ‘em. You see the ugly looks they’re giving each other, you might not be so thankful.”

“How many times I have to tell you, Haldis? No paying customer is unattractive. Well, rarely unattractive.”

“Yeah. I mean, yes, captain.”

“What’s all this sir and captain stuff?”

“It’s for the passengers. Sir.”

Kristoff narrowed his eyes; grinning, Haldis didn’t blink.

“Get below”—Kristoff nodded toward the companionway—“and hold on to something.”

Engines—beautiful things—quickened until their thunder became a deep-throated howl. No mortal song was sweet as this. It shuddered through the ship beneath his feet, hummed along his bones, up his back, out his fingers, through his skull. Braced against the railing, Kristoff swayed as the Martina Vega spread her silver wings and lifted from her slip.

Each change in the rhythm and pitch told the story: queuing for departure, angling for trajectory, increasing speed, resisting the planet’s gravity, roaring through the atmosphere. Flying free.

The radio on his belt crackled. “Wide open, Kristoff.”

He unclipped the radio—old Earth tech, but it worked—and held down the broad gray button on the side. “Good hands as always, Finney. Join you in five.”


“And don’t you forget it.”

c. 2008, Keanan Brand

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sort of a Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day, but my mom has a fever, and I'm feeling a bit poorly myself.

I did go to her house this morning, gave her a card, and loaned her a book (A Pale Horse by Charles Todd)--not quite what we had planned for the day, but any day involving a good book can't be all bad.

I teased her about passing along her illness through the phone lines yesterday, and didn't stay long; the sore throat makes talking difficult.

Before I left, she warned me to get my lunch before the Baptists got out of church, or the traffic would be dense for at least half an hour. Taking her advice, I didn't go grocery shopping (which must be done soon), but--feeling like an utter hedonist--picked up a soft drink and a roast beef sandwich at a local fast food drive-thru and brought lunch home.

So, here I am, about to add to the novel. There's some cool stuff coming up, and I can hardly wait to get to that part of the story.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Work in Progress

The following scene (from the second fantasy novel) is the one that's been bugging me for a week or so. I want to avoid melodramatic and unnecessary speechifying in my fiction, so whaddya think of this:

Gaerbith once more offered his hand. “My lady?”

After a moment, she turned and took it, sliding her cool fingers into his grasp.

“Walk with me?”

She matched his stride down the slope to a tumble of stones and a half-submerged log at the edge of the water. He chose a broad, flat rock that lay at a slight tilt toward the river and turned, bracing his weight on his good leg.

She did not withdraw as he expected, but tightened her clasp. “Take me with you.”

He meant to speak, to further explain his decision and why it was best that Yanámari go to Disson, but when he faced her, all he could think of were wide, purple eyes full of that thing that squeezed his chest. He could not find breath, much less words.

She gave a choked laugh. “I am begging. I have little pride left.”

Omwendinn, is this possible?

With Me, anything is possible. And then, with almost a chuckle, All My gifts are good.

Gaerbith laughed, and Yanámari drew back, puzzlement and shame in her gaze.

“Nay, my lady, nothing like that."

“Take me with you?”

He nodded.

“Then I will try not to resent your oath or your god.”

“Someday, perhaps”—he rubbed his thumb across her fingers—“you will hear the Voice.”

With her free hand, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, and looked across the river. The hilt of the silver knife gleamed along the inside of her arm.

He remembered that knife flying down a corridor, striking the king’s wolf handler. Only two days ago, the knife had killed a Nar’ath. Lord Arien had been far-seeing when he left his sister such a gift.

“There will be more danger, my lady. We will be in a smaller company, less protected and more hunted.”

Her smile was tight, brief. “Do not try to talk me out of it.”

His chest constricted until his heart seemed too large for it, battering against ribs, pushing aside lungs. “Beyond warrior or Keeper, I am only a shepherd, my lady. If matters had been different, after the war I would have returned to my father’s house. I do not presume to count myself your equal but, if you go with me as companion, will you not also go as—as wife?”

There it was again—that look in her eyes. Her voice, warm wine: “At my father’s table in Elycia, I made my choice, and do not regret it.”

He could not speak.

“And it is I, Captain Gaerbith, who am not worthy of this honor.” She looked long at him. “If your god exists, I thank him.”

He saw truth in her gaze. Many things he longed to ask, to say, but this was not the place, not with Rubin’s family and the remnant of the Fourth Lachmil looking on.

Giving her hand a light tug—“Ro’Ar is waiting”—Gaerbith turned from the river.

c. Keanan Brand 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Back to the Beginning

Lately, I've been in a hinterland of sorts, trying to find my way in my writing, in my life, in my work.

Sometimes, the only way to get a clear picture is to step aside, be objective. Sometimes, in order to get one's bearings, to make progress forward, one must look where one has been.

So, as part of the effort to reorient myself, here's a look into the past, the very first blog entry I wrote, originally titled "The Red Book of Westmarch":
Christmas 2002, a friend gave me one of my favorite presents ever: a hardbound book with a red cover, embossed in elven filigree, with a star stamped in silver at the top, a silver double-B at the bottom, and a silver title, There and Back Again, its lined pages waiting to be filled with whatever words I wished to write thereon.

Having read, in the 70s or early 80s, an edition of The Hobbit subtitled There and Back Again, a Hobbit's Holiday, I was both amused and excited to own this small volume--and a little unwilling to mar its pristine pages with cross-outs or scribbles or poor penmanship.

Two months later, I found the courage.

February 25, 2003

So begins my own Red Book.

February 27, 2003

So many people who love Tolkien's work love the completeness of Middle-earth. What is it in all of us that wants something more? That seeks a world of our own, away from the one we know?

Truth can be told in a tale. A story can be a mirror held up to life, altering our perspective, clarifying details that appear fuzzy in reality.

In Middle-earth, everyone has a purpose. Their actions and words have a goal. In a story, all events point toward the end, the culmination of all things. Then, when the end comes, we readers are not always willing to leave the imaginary for the concrete. Perhaps we feel purposeless in the real world, or small and insignificant, lacking importance or place. Yet Tolkien gave great importance to halflings; mayhap we little folk can bring about great things?

Since then, I have weathered periods of self-doubt, frustration, criticism, and other plagues that attend being a writer. Yet, amid the negatives, there have been moments of wonder and insight and even wisdom.

This blog is for sharing and exploring the journey, the detours and the shortcuts, the bogs of despair and the fields of imagination, and the plodding from one page to the next, even when creativity seems to have shriveled up like a sun-blasted raisin.

Readers as well as writers are welcome on this road. After all, a writer's words cannot truly live without anyone to read them.

Join me?

At first, that request for fellow travelers went little heeded. In recent weeks, a few more of you have joined this journey. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Getting Restless

In 9 days, I get to go to Arizona for a nice long break from the day job at a youth organization. All you parents and educators will know exactly what I mean!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Space Pirates

Okay, break's over.

Yesterday, my brother called--he had babysitting detail, so there were bursts of random noises in the background, and occasional older-sibling scolds when the baby ventured where she should not--and we talked about nothing and everything: his college finals, the latest in computer gaming news, the family, my qualified early success planting stuff (haven't killed anything yet), my job, and the novels.

For a week, I've been working on a single scene in the second Dragon novel, deleting as many or more words than I have kept. After my brother's call, I decided to spend my mental energies on a different piece of writing--in this case, the space pirates, who travel in an obsolete tub and use old Earth technology, like pencils and paper, hand-held radios, and so on. Don't have a title yet, but I do have fun coming up with crazy stuff to add to the tale.

Below is a slice from Chapter 3, which I now present without context or explanation:

He radioed the engine room. “Alerio, any chance you and Corrigan can whip up a little Vega Surprise?”

“With or without the cinnamon sprinkles?”

“Nothing fancy. It’s just gotta work. We’ve got a runner on our six.”

“Aye, captain. One Vega Surprise coming up. Tell Finney to gimme a minute.”

Finney called out, “I can give you thirty seconds.”

No reply from the engine room, just static. Good man, Alerio. Not one to waste time with words when action was needed.

“If that runner has guns on it—”

“Don’t even think it, Finn.”

She reached up, slapped her palm over an entire row of toggles—“Get ready”—counted to three under her breath, and flipped them up.

The ship shuddered, hesitated, then surged forward, downward, twisting left then down again, and then Finney pulled the stick, bringing the Martina Vega’s nose up into a sharp incline. Kristoff was plastered against his seat, fairly certain he had left his innards and most of his good sense somewhere behind that rock Finney had just dodged.

“Wa-hoo!” erupted from the radio. “C’mon, Finney, do that again!”

Dragging his radio to his mouth, not sure if he would retch before he finished speaking, “Shut up, Haldis,” ordered Kristoff. “Galley okay?”

“Sahir looks green, but we’re good.”

The runner had fallen behind and, if it were possible, looked confused. A small moon, a massive crater on its southern pole, hid the Vega in its shadow—and, as long as anything flaming didn’t choose that moment to shoot through the field, the freighter could put the entire moon between itself and the runner. Such a large mass would interfere with the Orpheus’ scanners long enough for the Vega to leapfrog behind another mass, and possibly run fast enough to reach Port Henry ahead of Zoltana, offload its cargo and refuel, and be away again before the constable caught up to them.

Of course, the harbormaster might be suspicious of a crew so eager to turn around a cargo of liquor, ship parts, low-priority medical supplies, and miscellaneous crates of goods specially ordered by the local citizenry. He’d want to know what was so urgent about such commonplace things. Kristoff could try fobbing him off with a story about a sick mother or some such lameness, but he’d rather not have to say anything at all.

Wasn’t that Jink Turner fella a stevedore? Maybe he could be convinced to help out a bunch of poor, downtrodden smugglers like the Vega crew. Maybe he could get together with the Port Henry stevedores, play on their sympathy for a fellow dockworker, help him offload the cargo jig time—

“Whoa!” Kristoff gripped one arm of his chair and with his other hand grabbed the bar above his head. The ship rolled to starboard, tilted down then up again, and swooped behind another blob of space stuff.

So much for supper.

c. Keanan Brand, 2008