The last will and testament of a forgotten Earth...
An Impulse Power story.
For Captain Steffi Savannah and her crew of deep space smugglers, life has become little more than a dogged exercise in mere survival. Their latest disastrous heist ended with another dead crew member--and no place left to hide. She's even finding it hard to dredge up any excitement over the giant, crippled ship that appears on their radar, even though it's the salvage opportunity of a lifetime.
They find that it's no ordinary alien vessel. It's a ship of dreams, populated with the last remnants of Earth's mythical creatures. Including the blond, built, mysterious Arne, one of a race blessed with extraordinary beauty--and few inhibitions. Though he won't tell her exactly what he is, in his arms Steffi rediscovers something she thought she'd never feel again. Wonder, love...and hope.
It isn't long, though, before the Royal guard tracks them down, and Steffi and her crew are faced with a terrible decision. Cut and run. Or risk everything to tow the ship and her precious cargo to safety.
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February 23, 2010
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Excerpt from The Mythmakers by Robert Appleton
There had to be easier ways to make a living.
Steffi Savannah loosened her jaw with a gummy roll of her mouth, then shook her head to stay awake. The stars wheeled at a dizzying clip. She ducked lower into her magnetic boots, but her quads ached from crouching. The dark purple flame of her cutting torch ballooned and dripped behind the tinted welding shield in her hand. It was taking too damn long. She'd guessed at five minutes to cut the metal debris loose--fifteen minutes ago. Bright molten shards spiralled away into space as the Albatross rifled through nothingness on her way to nowhere. "Come on, you bitch," she urged.
The two chasing ships were gaining. Once mere pinpricks of light against the dull grey cloud whirls of planet October, they now had necks and glassy beaks and shiny metal wings that reflected the suns' amber. And an arsenal of major firepower ready to annihilate the Albatross.
"How's it coming, Cap?" Bo Lineker's snappy boyish voice redoubled her grit.
"Nearly there," she replied. "Don't wait for me. Get inside if you're done."
"You don't want a hand?"
"No. I'm almost through."
"Get below. Tell McKendrick to light the candle as soon as I close the hatch behind me."
The weight of resignation in his parting syllable tumbled and echoed deep inside her. She'd always hated being alone outside. Having a man to keep her company, one who'd do anything for her even though she didn't love him in the least, was a safety cord no rig could best. She looked round but he'd gone. The unique brass hull had been sleek once. Now it was dented and greening and it barely reflected starlight anymore. Laser scarring and rivulet depressions where the seams had started to buckle groaned with old age.
Steffi shot a breath from her nostrils and gripped the cutter's blunt handle. It rocked and rolled as the mangled wreckage lifted toward her. Dammit. She had to let go of the torch to duck. McKendrick had punched the throttle early, as soon as the ship's rolling had stopped. Tons of twisted metal almost took Steffi's head off as the Albatross gathered speed. Ducking backward, she lay flat on the hull. Only her knees pointed up, as her magnetic boots were still clamped. The wreckage lifted like a silver crown of thorns away, ahead of her into space. She hoped like hell the bastards would fly into it.
A large blue glove gripped her arm.
"Bo! I thought I told--"
"Sorry. Was worried about you, Cap."
She climbed up his arm and shoulder and shook her head. "Of all the dumb goddamn...I told you to tell McKendrick to wait 'til I was inside." She gave him her hardest shove. It made him blink. "I came this close to being ripped in half," she added, demonstrating the distance between her forefinger and thumb. "Now get your dumb hulk ass below and help Flyte with the Psammeticum coils."
"Soon as you're inside, Cap."
She wanted to hug him for being a loyal puppy, but he needed to learn what an order meant. Bo adored her. He'd often said so in bed. And a part of her was very fond of him--the sex and the sweet talk had brightened up many a dull evening--but no more than that. She knew it was pity more than love that kept her close to him. Pity for his dumb, harmless nature; for him being an orphan with no hope of anything but a mining or muscle job; and for him not minding being used for sex whenever she wanted it.
But this time, his mindless devotion had gone too far.
"I said get inside right now. You're not to wait for me, you're to get below and do as I say. Or I'm dumping you on the nearest rock."
His loyal squinting eyes neither moved nor blinked. What the hell could be going on behind them? She felt like the small guy from Of Mice and Men, trying to tell her backward giant friend that they'd never have a ranch together. It made her insides curl and tug. And he still hadn't responded.
"Bo? Say something."
The fingers of his glove caressed the loose folds down the arm of her suit. He gently jabbed her hip.
His mouth eased open. Blood trickled from his nose then fell from lip to lip. Steffi caught him as he began to sway sideways. Gasping, she looked down at a hole the size of a cricket ball in the centre of his chest. Gobs of blood squeezed from his arteries and froze immediately like misshapen ice lollies.
Oh my God.
Her mind blanked.
An infinitesimal spark in the tar pit of her being ignited her into action with a shudder. She swivelled her head round far enough to see loose rosaries of enemy fire following the Albatross_'s dive. The energy pulses were small but rapid through space. One sheared the corner off the open hatch. Fifty others streaked above while McKendrick barrelled the ship low and steep. Steffi made a fist with her right foot to squeeze the insole's magnetic grip. The boot loosened its hold and she swung her leg out past Bo, then clamped it down again. She almost forgot to clamp her next step, and only a magnetic toe kept her from drifting away into eternity. Rhythmic steps from now on. Rhythmic and metallic and precarious. Arrhythmic heartbeat. No way to steady that.
What about Bo? She couldn't just _leave him...but she had to.
The shots streamed by like a shower of white micro-meteorites. They lit her way across the brass hull as though she was back on old Xiu Pau's roof on Chinese New Year, fireworks drip-webbing the sky. Before she reached the hatch, the firing ceased. It felt like the eye of the storm. She waited for a single, well-aimed sniper shot to thud into her spine. None came. Where was Bo? She daren't look behind. A deep dark pool of emptiness lay around the Albatross while she gripped the hatchway ladder and bunched her toes. She tried to blink the silvery sears of light from her retina but couldn't. Spinning the exterior hatch lock above her, she thanked God for giving her a bit longer to exist. Down through the inner hatch. Into the grimy airlock. Captain Steffi Savannah pulled the gravity lever and let Sir Isaac plonk her down onto the metal floor, right onto Aurora McKendrick's white painted sign:
DON'T DO IT! YOU'RE YOUNG. YOU'RE HEALTHY. YOU FORGOT TO PUT ME IN YOUR WILL!
Anxious breaths misted the mess door's rhombus window. Two pairs of eyes peered through, waiting for the air system's green light. Suddenly the door swung open and Rex and Alexandra Van Rynn raced toward her, blankets and first-aid kit at the ready.
Steffi puffed her cheeks and sank her chin into the damp foam guard of her helmet. She'd just done a hell of a thing. Saved her ship. But it would be forgotten in no time. A few handshakes and a cup of hot chocolate and that would be that. No regrets. Achievement did not exist outside the law. Only survival, from one job to the next. She was used to it. But Bo's death had to last a little longer. How much would she miss him? As long as the power in his magnetic boots lasted, he would be clamped on the hull like a barnacle. She knew she'd never sleep while he was there.
Christ, Bo! Why didn't you just do as you were told?
Rex's huge black hands wrestled her helmet and collar off. "You okay, Cap?"
"Yeah." She sighed then took a swig of Alexandra's water. "But Bo's gone. He took a shot right through the heart."
Beautiful Alexandra reached into her blouse and fingered the pearl crucifix on her necklace. "We'll say a prayer for him tonight." Her ex-smoker's rasp stuttered into a cough. "In the meantime, let's get you rested."
"Amen," answered her husband.
Steffi removed her gloves to rub her tired eyes. "Are we clear of the Royals?"
"McKendrick seems to think so," he replied.
"She did good." Steffi sat forward and rested her arms on her knees.
"She always does. That's the problem--we never hear the end of it," Rex reminded her.
"Help me out of these boots, will you?" Steffi's fingers trembled over her shin locks. "They weigh a goddamn ton."
But even without the magnetic boots and the bulky suit and the clingy thermal undersuit, she felt no lighter. The burden of losing a man couldn't be peeled off. As she staggered into the mess room, everything seemed so familiar: the faded, cherry-coloured floor, the spindly yet sturdy dining table clamped askew, the chrome sink surprisingly shiny despite being over a decade old, the wooden board games locker with no handle, the wrinkled cream yoga mats rolled up and tied into the corner like big ancient scrolls. So why wasn't she glad to be back? After nearly three hours in zero-g in the line of fire, she ought to be.
She spotted Bo's cereal bowl in the sink. A half-eaten serving of bran flakes soaked in milk. Almost like a child's cereal. Her sock snagged on the steel grated floor as she ghosted down A corridor in her stocking feet. She let the sock rip loose. Barefoot felt much better, less restricted. Her cosy sleeping quarters consisted of an unmade bunk bed, two quilts and an out-of-date music system bracketed to the wall over her reading desk. She sank into the nest of quilts face first. Her hot breaths accumulated, stifling her pangs of guilt, on the verge of suffocation. At least it felt secluded in that livid place. When it finally became unbearable, she tossed onto a cooler spot and heaved a hollow sigh.
What the hell was she still doing out here, a fugitive in deep space?
Christ! There had to be easier ways to make a living.