Queer archaeological science fiction with a side of horror and romance.
?? Lesbian POV
?? LGBTQIA supporting cast
?? Snark, Science, and Sex
The body count is rising, and so is Nel's temper.
Archaeologist Dr. Nel Bently has spent her life avoiding clingy exes, but she never dreamed she’d be escaping across the stars. Now she and a fleet of refugees are hunted at every turn by the only woman she ever made the mistake of loving. And Nel, used to outrunning everything, just lost a leg.
Facing her life’s new trajectory is hard enough, but when Nel starts hearing the deadly signal they tracked on Earth, she is forced to team up with the two men who were once her greatest enemies. Then, a grisly discovery on an abandoned hauler sheds horrific light on the voices in Nel’s head–and what, exactly, Lin is after.
Their hold is full of bodies, their plans are full of holes, and bad-tempered Dr. Nel Bently, avoidant-extraordinaire, is sick of running.
FUGITIVES FIRST LOOK
Nel dismissed the warning from her screen with a snarl before tossing over to face the window. Outside space was black. Before, Odyssey’s soft phosphorescent ambiance had allowed her to see billions of stars scattered across the black. Here it was different. The narrow infirmary room held a single porthole at chest-height. Chest-height if I could still stand. The alert had been sounding for the last two days. If collision was imminent, surely they would have plowed into something by now.
The alert clicked off, only to be replaced by her door chime. Ignoring that too, she pulled herself out of bed, balancing on her left leg enough to lean against the slim porthole’s sill. Her head rested on the cold acrylic wall. A massive asteroid appeared through her window. Its pocked surface loomed just outside inches of reinforced glass, seeming close enough to graze the ship’s side. Realistically, it was probably several thousand meters away. It would have been thrilling if Nel cared about asteroids. The entire journey would have been thrilling if Nel cared about anything at all.
Another asteroid drifted behind this one, and another and another, dotting the sky above their ship for miles—probably more. Nel’s Earth-born depth perception was utterly useless in a place where distances were measured based on the speed of light. “Where the fuck are we?” she muttered.
The door dinged again and she jabbed a finger at the comm button. “I can’t make it to PT today, sorry.”
“I’m not PT,” came the answering drawl.
Nel grimaced. There was only one person she wanted to see less than the hideously chipper PT tech, and it was Komodor Muda Dar Nalawangsa. “What do you want?”
“Open up and I’ll tell you.”
“If it was important, it’d be one of the hundred fucking notices pinging around my computer screen. I’m not interested and really don’t want to talk to anyone.”
“As evidenced by your treatment of those who still attempt to visit.” He quipped. “Just open the door.”
“I can’t reach it,” she lied.
“I can bypass the security of your room and set off every single med alarm. The whole team would come rushing in there to see what’s wrong and probably jab you with needles.”
Oh fuck right off, you pompous asshole. Still, his clever threat was not Nel’s idea of a good time. She hopped over to her chair. A glance at the brakes told her it wasn’t going to roll away the second she put her weight in it like the first two times she’d transferred herself unsupervised. Seated, she shoved herself over to the door and slammed her hand onto the panel. There was a pause, then the door hissed open.
Dar leaned on the wall across the hall from her. Immaculate, of course, and still wearing his officer’s robe—despite his insistence that there was no command here beyond the flight crew. Soft chimes and the low sound of conversation drifted in with the distinct scent of iodine and something that might have been curry.
“Make it quick.” She remained in the doorway, blocking entry to her rooms. These four monochrome walls were hers, even if she hated them, and she wasn’t about to let Dar’s snippy self sully what was shaping up to be a perfectly miserable wallowing session.
“Yeah, you’re so damn busy.”
The bell rang for its allotted three times. Nel didn’t know how they managed to make something as dire as a proximity alert sound boring, but they’d succeeded with flying colors.
“Where even are we? And what day is it?”
He snorted. “You don’t know?”
“What am I supposed to do,” she sneered, “check the position of the sun? Oh wait—we don’t have one!”
“You have a comm and computer. Don’t act like you’re imprisoned here by anything other than your own shitty attitude.”
She glared. Truthfully, she barely looked at her computer to do anything other than swipe away notifications that she’d missed yet another appointment or meeting, or dismiss the incessant proximity alerts. She slept or she didn’t, neither mattered or helped her mood.
“We’ve been traveling for five weeks, twenty-three days of which you’ve been conscious. More or less.” He rolled his eyes and gestured to her room. “You want answers, you're going to have to let me in. This isn’t for general consumption.”
Something that resembled curiosity, if curiosity was born of apathetic boredom, unfolded in her mind, and was just as quickly squashed. It’s not like I can help them with any of this. Not anymore. With a final pointed, if childish, glare she backed up and gestured dramatically to the room.
He swept in, scanning the untidiness with disdain. “You don’t have a chair?”
She smacked the side of her wheelchair. “Only this one and you can’t have it.”
He shook his head and went to the window. He was probably checking his own reflection instead of watching the seriously close asteroid tumbling above them.
“You still haven’t seen your mother. Or anyone, actually.”
“What, you’re talking to her now?”
Dar snorted. “Hardly, never met the woman. I just hacked your door’s data logs.”
“Gross,” Nel snapped. “How is who I visit any of your business?”
“It’s time you got out of here. You’ve been wallowing in your own misery for weeks. You saved Earth. You lived through it. You’re approved for the highest-tech prosthetic we can make—which you would know if you went to a single one of your appointments. Get over yourself long enough to be grateful.”
Nel snarled and turned away. She hated Dar. She hated the lack of empathy. She hated the pretentious, spoiled thoughts in the man’s perfectly groomed head. Mostly, though, she hated how much he reminded her of Lin.
“I mean, it’s obvious you have some feelings,” Dar observed. His voice had dipped into something other than his usual bark. She couldn’t place it, but it sounded as if he were about to impart some sacred knowledge.
Nel wished he would just leave her alone. “No shit, Sherlock.” She had a lot of feelings, if you counted each specific flavor of her anger and apathy separately. Fuck, by that measure she probably had more feelings than space had shitty dark corners. And, judging by however long they’d been traveling, space had about a zillion of those.
He sighed. “I have an investment in you, and I’m less than pleased that it appears to be almost impossible to make that pay off.”
That made her scowl deeper. “I’m a person, not an investment, you creep.”
“Right now you’re pathetic,” Dar muttered.
The numb chill that permeated from the hole inside her chest spread in a brittle layer just under her skin. Dar’s words shattered its surface. A flame of her anger licked up through the cracks. “Stop being a fucking alien!”
“Stop being a bitch maybe I would!” Dar snapped back. “The minute you get over yourself, I’ll start treating you like an adult.”
“Your ship blew off my leg, goddammit, I can’t just get over that,” she shouted, shoving her tray table away. It crashed against the far wall with a clatter. The flash of anger fizzled back into numbness.
“I respect that. But I need you to respect that what I’ve got is a lot of problems. And not enough people to solve them.”
“That why we’re drifting around some fucking rocky minefield?”
The question had the desired effect—Dar’s face settled from his judgmental sneer into something that was either stony anger or reserved frustration. She never could really tell with Dar. “We’re out here because it’s the only place we can hide right now. We’re out here because we don’t know where we’re going next. We’re out here because your infuriating and ridiculously determined ex-girlfriend has been point-three sectors behind us the entire way. You really don’t read a single notice, do you? This is all old news to pretty much everyone in the fleet.”
“Well, I’ve been busy.” She braced for the inevitable quip about what she could have possibly been busy with, but to her surprise, it never came.
“We’re safe out here, but it won’t last forever. And we burn too hot when we’re running to waste any power on our analysis systems. We could really use your help. No one else saw as many stages of this investigation as you.”
She shook her head. “Look, I’m not one of you. I have no idea what half the stuff I saw down there even was, let alone what it did or how. It was fun, I guess, to play for a while, but I’m not cut out for this sci-fi shit. Just get out of my room.”
“Nel, next week it won’t be your room.”
“You’re no longer in need of acute medical care. You’re scheduled for a psych eval and assuming you pass it—and despite your nasty attitude, you will—you’re moving to the residential units and starting service shifts.”
“What?” For the first time since she woke, very real concern spread in a chill through her body. Psych eval? Would they flag her because of her temper? What about how she had handled Mikey’s death? Or Gretta’s? Or Paul’s? Or facing down her own in the bitter cold of New England’s wilderness, or consumed by raging fires in exchange for Earth’s safety? Nel wasn’t a therapist, but there was a lot to flag on her chart, surely, and most of those flags looked pretty fucking red. And that wasn’t even including the dreams, the number of times she woke drenched in sweat with a thousand voices screaming accusations in her skull. “Why a psych eval?”
“It’s protocol. To make sure you’re not a danger to yourself or others. You’ve been through a lot—all of us have.”
She glared up at him, wondering if that was actual sympathy in his voice. “I’m just not a fan of therapists. And I don’t see why I need to move at all.”
“Look, I pulled every string I could to keep you here so far. But it’s selfish now. You’re wasting the medics’ time and frankly, we really need the bed.”
She paused. “Why do you need the bed?”
“We’re a refugee fleet, Bently. Most of us escaped during firefights. You’re not the only one who lost a limb. You’re just lucky you only lost one.” He paused in her doorway. “You need to be done wallowing.”
Nel glared at him, wishing IDH had outfitted her with something useful, like laser eyes to zap jerks. She squeezed her eyes closed. Pressure built in her ears, between her eyes, the background mutters of several dozen accusing voices crescendoing every time her lids slid shut. When she opened them again, she was alone. She wasn’t done wallowing. No longer wallowing meant she’d have to actually do something and she hadn’t the faintest idea where to start.