New Fiction!!! “Catlike Tread,” a Tale of Fortuna (part 1)

It’s Monday!  Here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia it’s a little colder than I like (but I’m southern enough to think that any temp below 80ish is too darned cold!), but the sky is blue and clear and I’m feeling froggy.  This weekend was good for me.  The church where I grew up had their homecoming, when all attendees, former and present, come back for preaching, music, and tons of good food.  I missed the first part (I had to play piano at my current church), but I made it to the last part.  We made a special effort to attend, my sisters and I, because they were honoring our mother and acknowledging her passing.  She played piano for that church all through my childhood.  The rest of my family came as well, of course.  Even better, my daughter and her sons came down from their mountaintop aerie to attend as well, and they all came back to our house afterwards, so I got to spend the afternoon with my precious boys.

Okay, on to the business at hand.  As I’ve said ad nauseum, I don’t just write for you, dear readers.  I write non fiction (which is what underwrites the more fun writing), and I write audio drama for the online production company, Gypsy Audio.  Just like for you, I generate steampunk and pulp for them.  Blackburn Gaslight Adventures is my steampunk show over there, starring James Leeper and Gwendolyn Jensen-Woodard.  And then there is Fortuna, my current foray into pulp SF, starring an ensemble cast, including Alex Gilmour, Gwendolyn again, David MacIver (who is absolutely brilliant and worth the tuning in for all by himself), and *gasp* me!  Yeah, I know, right?  It was blackmail, plain and simple, that got me in front of a microphone, but I have to say, I’ve enjoyed it so far (hint: I’m the one with the hick accent).

Now, with classic pulp, there is a great crossover of media.  Doc Savage has been in short stories, novels, radio shows, TV shows, and movies.  If Doc Savage can do it, why can’t I?  So today’s offering is part one of a short story about the crew of Fortuna.

The radio show of Fortuna is still in its early days (only two episodes posted so far, plus the one that’s still on the mixing board), but let me give you a little background.  Captain Helen MacKenzie captains the crew of the Fortuna, a bloodthirsty band of dangerous pirates terrorizing the trade lanes of the Badlands between the Interstellar Imperial Alliance and their sworn enemies, the Confederation.  Okay, not so much on the bloodthirsty.   But still plenty dangerous. Mostly.  Depending on the captain’s mood.  It’s a thing.

Okay, enough already, right?  Just get on with the story!  Well, here you go:


 

Cat Like Tread
Part One

Captain Helen MacKenzie gripped the arms of the co-pilot’s chair so tightly her knuckles were turning white.  For the thousandth time, she wished the safety specs on the ship allowed for the collision shields to be open during hyperspace flight.  As creepy as it was to look out into the hazy chaos of hyperspace, it had to be better than flying blind.  It just felt wrong.  Her attention was supposed to be focused on the map display in front of her.  But her eyes kept straying over to the pilot’s station to her right, where her older brother Mac sat in his custom wheelchair and guided the ship.  Just as her gaze drifted over there for the fifth time, Mac glanced up and caught her.

“How we doing?” said Helen.

“The same as we were the last time you asked, oh, say — ”  Mac looked to his wrist, where no watch resided.  “– thirty seconds ago.”

“How much further to the next hyperspace relay?” Relays were beacons on the most commonly used hyperspace routes; they boosted the navigational beacon signals, and also allowed for branchings of the beacon in multiple directions.

“Another twenty minutes or so,” said Mac.  “Now quit staring at me.  You’re making me nervous.”  Helen obeyed, managing to hold her gaze on her own console for a whole ten minutes before glancing over again.  Of course Mac caught her.

“For the last time, Helen, I’m doing the best I can,” he sighed.  “We’re staying outside the ICC Burana‘s long range sensors.  Just barely outside their range, I’ll grant you, but that’s about as much as we can hope for.  Fortuna’s an old ship; I don’t dare push her any faster, not in hyperspace.  It’s just too dangerous.”

“Are you sure?” said Helen.  “Surely Casey can get –”

“Then you go ask him, and quit bugging me, okay?” snapped Mac.  “Until then, let me do my job.”

Helen sighed.  “Fine,” she said, standing up.  “If anything changes –”

“I know, I know.  Don’t worry, if an Alliance cruiser comes up on our sensors again, I’ll be screaming like a little girl,” said Mac.

That got a small smile from Helen; nothing that flew could frighten Mac.  “Just so you’re consistent.”  That got a snort from Mac, and Helen walked out.  Immediately beyond the cramped bridge of the Fortuna was were a series of catwalks, corridors and ladders that led into the rest of the ship.  Several had been modified into ramps and broad-stair steps to accommodate Mac’s limited mobility.  Helen followed the one that led ahead and down, turning several times until she found herself in the common room.  More a over-broad hallway than a proper room, this was equipped with a tiny galley; a long metal table and swiveling chairs were bolted into place opposite a row of doors that led to the various crew quarters.

At the table sat a tiny woman, not more than five foot two, with a ponytail a shade of red that was too orange to be truly attractive.  On the table in front of her was a pair of swords in black scabbards, four knives of various styles, and at least that many pistols, in various states of disassembly.   She had a foreshortened shotgun in her hands, and was busily unscrewing the barrel from the butt.

“Kitty?  You picked now to play with your toys?” said Helen.

Kitty looked up at Helen and grinned; the expression tumbled the woman’s apparent age from twenty-three or four to about eleven.  “Why not now?” she chirped.  Her speech was as young as her face, bouncy despite the thick drawl that stretched the vowels.

“Have you not been paying attention for the last twenty four hours?” said Helen.

“I try not to,” said Kitty, turning back to her work.  She got the barrel off the shotgun and picked up another, finer tool to begin dismantling the trigger assembly.

“You should, it’s been quite the show,” said Helen.  “First there was the act of piracy, wherein we used computer hacking, subterfuge and a show of force to convince the ICC Carmina to give us their cargo.”

Kitty chuckled.  “Yeah, I liked that part.”

“I don’t see why.  You didn’t get to shoot anybody,” said Helen.

“But there was shouting and pointing guns at people.  That’s always fun,” said Kitty, undefeated.

“True.  But you were so busy having your fun that you may not have noticed the whole “it’s an Alliance trap” part of the adventure,” said Helen dryly.  “How the ICC Carmina was a decoy to get us into position for the ICC Burana to jump on top of us, arrest us, and send us away to a fate I don’t want to think about.”

Kitty paused, frowned, and looked back up at Helen.  “Yeah.  That part sucked.”

Helen sighed.  “Why am I bothering to explain this to you?”

“I was wondering that myself,” said Kitty, going back to work.  “I don’t know why you’re so upset, Helen.  They haven’t caught us yet.  Mac’s the best pilot in the Badlands; just trust him.  Have some coffee; it’s fresh, and it’s real.  The Carmina was carrying two cargo pods full.”

Ooh. The thought of coffee sent a wave of craving through Helen.  That explained the delicious smell that had attacked her as she got near the commons.  But she pushed the craving down.  Business first, coffee later.  “Where’s Casey?”

“Medical bay,” said Kitty, not looking up.

“Great.  Thanks,” said Helen.  At the far end of the commons the corridor narrowed again.  Helen ducked into the narrow space.  It was dark in here; half the lights were burned out and it was too low on the repair checklist/budget to get it fixed at the moment.  But she didn’t need to see to know where the medical bay was.  All she had to do was follow the sound of raised voices.

“Casey, why do medical ethics insist on only local anesthesia for this procedure?  it would be so much easier to sew you up if you were quieter,” said Andi, as Helen reached the medical bay door.  Andi was older than Helen, maybe thirty, a short, relatively plump woman with strawberry blonde curls and a perpetual scowl of disdain on her face.  She was standing over the examining table, gloved, surgical tools in hand, masked.

On the table sat a man who was so tall and thin that he looked as though he had been stretched in a terrible industrial accident.  An unruly shock of black hair topped a curiously tired-looking face.  Helen didn’t know if he was really tired; he always looked like that.  He was smiling, though.

“I thought I was being quiet,” said Casey cheerfully.  “It’s only the voices in my head making all that noise.”

“What are they saying?” said Helen, as she stepped into the bay.

Casey looked up and grinned at her.  “I don’t know.  I don’t speak French.  Do you think we can find a translator in hyperspace?”

“Doubt it,” said Helen.  “Andi?  Report?”

“Captain Brainpan here cut himself back there in Engineering, right down to the bone.  I’m sewing him up before he infects the rest of us with his crazy.”

“Too late,” said Helen dryly.  “Casey, I was just up on the bridge with Mac and we’re just barely staying ahead of the Alliance.  What are the chances –”

“Mac called ahead,” said Casey, gesturing with his free hand toward the communication panel on the wall by the door.  “No, we can’t get any more speed.  This is the best we can do.”

“But you’re the most brilliant engineer I’ve ever met,” said Helen.

“And the craziest,” muttered Andi under her breath.

“– surely you can–”

“No. sorry, Helen.  I talked to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and this is what I got for my troubles,” said Casey, pointing down to the bloody mess in the palm of his other hand.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were what he had named the Fortuna’s engines.  “This ship is just too old.  And we really need to replace about –”

Casey’s next words were interrupted by the piercing two-tone beep of the communications system going off.   Helen jumped, wincing as she always did at the sharp sound.  There was another thing to go on the never-ending repair list:  get a less pain-inducing comm signal.

“Bridge to Medical Bay.  Helen, where are you?” said Mac’s voice, distorted and thinned by the comm panel.

Helen flipped the toggle.  “Helen here.  What’s up?”

“We got a problem,” said Mac.

“How can things get any worse than they are now?” said Helen.

“How about two more Alliance ships on long range sensors?” said Mac.

“Two more ships have joined the ICC Burana?”

“Not exactly.”

Helen hesitated a second.  “What do you mean, not exactly?”

“I mean, they’re not behind us.  They’re ahead of us,” said Mac.

Great.  Just great.  “I’m on my way up.”  Helen flipped the comm toggle.  “Andi, how soon can you get him sewed up?”

“Just finished.”

“Good.  Stick a plaster on it and get him out of here.  Casey, go down to the engine room and start reasoning with your friends.  We need a miracle.”

“They’re not gonna listen,” said Casey.

“Try harder.  Or I’m going to come down and start reasoning with them with a sledgehammer.  Andi, tell Kitty to clean up her mess in the commons; if things go south, we’ll need her.  I’ll be on the bridge if anybody needs me.”

 


 

And that’s it for now!  Tune back in next Monday for Part Two.  And do come back Wednesday and Friday for more Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp goodness.

Quick note:  On the last short story, “Errand,” I have, at the advice of a friend, gone back and added links to the end of each installment.  The links will allow you to jump forward (or back) the next installment without having to surf through the entirety of the blog archive.  Once I get a little deeper into the fiction thing here, I’ll make a Fiction page with all the links in one place.  But that’s for later.

Okay, that’s about it for me today.  I hope you’ve had fun.  Don’t forget to share, tweet, comment, come find me on Facebook and Twitter (links on my About AJ page).  And if you have any suggestions for Fun Friday, email me at the address listed on my About AJ page.  I’ll see you on Wednesday!

 

 

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Categories: Pulp, Radio, Science Fiction, short fiction | Leave a comment

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