Fiction (Short)

Another Day in the Black

werewolfhijack

“What do you mean you haven’t found her? It’s not a big ship! What did she do, step out the airlock or something?!” The captain was snarling now, with the spittle flying from his mouth and that crazed twitch in the corner of his right eye. Ruby had served on the little pirate crew long enough to know what happened next: he would keep screaming until his voice cracked from the exertion. His face, already red, would turn purple. His vocabulary would expand to contain every known form of profanity, and several new ones besides.

It was hardly the first time it had happened. It wouldn’t be the last—assuming, of course, that this wasn’t the rant that finally sent him apoplectic.

The best thing to do was to just stay out of the way; not that poor Tomms had that luxury. It couldn’t be helped. He’d learn fast enough. She had. And sure, she liked the kid, but that didn’t mean she was going to stick her neck out for him when the captain was on the warpath. That would just be—

“Get back down there and look again!” She winced as the captain whirled on her. “And you too! Maybe together you’ll be better than useless!”

So much for that. Ruby scrambled to her feet with a hasty “yessir” and made for the door. Tomms gave her a pained and panicked look and bolted after her. Neither one said a thing until they were well beyond the bridge and out of the captain’s earshot. Neither one bothered to pull out their blasters even then. If they needed them, they could unholster them fast enough.

“I’m so sorry, Ruby,” hissed Tomms, tentatively, as if he expected her to use it as an excuse to treat him the same way the rest of the crew did.

Poor kid. Like she’d stoop that low.

She twitched a wry smile his way and shook her head. “Not your fault, Tomms. Let’s just get this over with.”

That was, of course, easier said than done. For such a small ship, it was carrying a whole lot of cargo. And instead of all being packed together in one huge conglomeration in the center of the hold, dozens of containers were all separated out in various stacks. No doubt, it was all part of some grand system of organization. The fact that they created a veritable maze was just a side effect.

“There’s a million places to hide in here,” said Tomm. His voice wasn’t quite a whimper.

“And that’s just counting between those cargo containers. You can double that if this is a smuggling ship.”

He did whimper at that. It was the only sensible response.

“She can’t just hide forever.” The tremor in his voice added in the unspoken “can she?

“No,” said Ruby, with entirely more conviction than she felt. Because this was her home turf, not theirs. And while the cargo hold might look like a bloody labyrinth to them, she probably knew it like the back of her hand.

And then there was the whole question of why she had so carefully put her ship in orbit around the nearest moon instead of going for a hard burn when she’d noticed the pirate ship closing in. It was an unconventional response to say the least. One that had Ruby wondering what their target had hiding up her sleeve. Sure, scans had shown she was the only one on board, but that just meant that Ruby had more questions, not less. Even the most hubristic explorers of the void knew better than to try their luck entirely on their own.

And this particular star sailor had not seemed to be the hubristic sort.

“Tomms. Watch yourself.”

“What?”

Ruby made a face. “Be careful. I’m not sure what she’s up to.” Whatever it was, it was probably more than hiding like a scared rabbit.

Probably.

Tomms grimaced. “Why are we doing this, Ruby? It’s her ship.”

“We’re doing this because if we don’t, the captain’s going to start using us for target practice.”

After ten minutes of searching the hold, though, and turning up absolutely nothing at all, Ruby was starting to wonder. She stopped on her prowl down one of the narrow pathways between crates to groan softly and glare up at the ceiling. Over to one side, the dark side of the moon could still be seen through one of the small portholes that lined the top of the hold. An odd structural choice, though there was something to be said for a little natural light when loading the ship, she supposed.

After ten more minutes, she started wondering if the rightful owner of this particular little ship hadn’t actually found some way off. Because it was starting to seem highly unlikely that she was actually still on board. That, or Ruby and Tomms both were going to have to ask some hard questions about their ability to search a vessel. There was also the question of what their current employment said about them as people, but that was less specific to the situation. And while Ruby wasn’t looking forward to finding the answer at all, it would be slightly easier to handle when their boss wasn’t raging and pirating about one deck up.

He wasn’t going to be happy about the lack of results. Frankly, Ruby was surprised she and Tomm had been able to search undisturbed for twenty minutes. It couldn’t last.

“Tomms?” Her voice echoed through the hold, bouncing between the stacked cargo containers. “Anything?”

Silly question. She knew he hadn’t. He would have told her if he had.

Nothing.

Ruby frowned. “Tomms?”

Still nothing. A distinct chill went wandering up Ruby’s spine. Her hand slipped down to her holster, and she grabbed her blaster. And she kept moving forward, glancing side to side. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing.

And then, something. She wasn’t sure what made her stop and turn, but stop and turn she did, and caught the tail end of someone’s heel disappearing around the corner.

“Hey! Stop, you!”

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t. With an eloquent command like the one she had just given, Ruby would have, quite frankly, been more surprised if they had stopped. But it was something—more than something! She broke into a run.

And tripped right over Tomms’ body as she rounded the corner. Her heart jumped up her throat and started hammering at twice its normal speed, and it didn’t even start to slow down until her fingers found his pulse. Just unconscious.

A sudden clatter of footsteps on the ramp leading to the rest of the ship pulled snapped her away, and she jumped to her feet again and started running after the noise. She barely made it ten feet before she heard a faint click and a half a dozen cargo boxes tipped over in her path.

“Stop following me! Go see to your friend!”

The voice came from up the ramp, where the ship’s owner had paused just long enough to shout the command back. Even if Ruby had wanted to shoot at her, she didn’t have a clear shot.

“I—what?!” Of all the things she’d ever had people yell at her while she chased them, this was a new one.

But the ship’s owner was already gone. And as she was running up the ramp towards the rest of the ship, it seemed unlikely that the other more bloodthirsty members of their crew were going to need their help to catch her. Going back and checking on Tomms seemed like a good idea after all.

As much as she had made quiet fun of the portholes all along the top edge of the cargo hold, the sudden influx of bright moonlight as the ship’s orbit took them around to the light side of the moon provided all the light she needed to check Tomms over for injury. Which made it that much easier to see the big goose-egg bump that had sprouted from the back of his head. Ruby got the sudden impression that maybe, just maybe, they had underestimated their opponent.

For a fleeting second, she wondered if this scrappy little star sailor might be able to get the jump on the captain and their other two crewmates. If maybe the pirates would get sent scurrying. If perhaps she might have a use for a couple of crewmembers herself: even a ship this small was easier to run with a couple pairs of extra hands.

The three-to-one odds she was facing weren’t going to make that easy. Ruby glanced down at Tomms. The poor kid was out cold. Stable, but definitely unconscious. She paused. This was a terrible idea. The sort of idea you didn’t survive. The sort of idea that would get you used as an object lesson every time a certain pirate captain hired on untested hands for years to come.

The sort of idea that might be worth it anyway, just for the tiny chance that it might work.

Ruby squeezed her eyes shut. She took a deep breath. And then she checked Tomms one last time before starting off up the ramp on what was probably a complete fool’s quest.

She didn’t get far: no more than three steps. Because before she could take step number four, a terrible howl ran through the whole ship. A bone rattling, ship shaking, void piercing howl. And all Ruby’s new-minted resolve crumbled.

And then the ship went dark.

The next minutes were horrifying. The howl gave way to shouts and blaster fire and the occasional low rumble that sounded awfully like a growl. Ruby found herself cowered against the far side of the ramp, trying to think past the terrified mob of thoughts that ran wild through her head.

What was on the ship?

What had the captain unleashed?

Was this one of those deep space terrors that wasn’t supposed to exist?

Had their erstwhile quarry run straight into something even worse than pirates? That stirred something beyond panic. If the little ship’s captain had needed help before, she needed it more now. And she wasn’t going to get it from anyone else. Not with Tomms out cold and the rest of their crew being what it was.

Ruby’s throat was dry. Time to keep moving, then.

Somehow, she couldn’t manage it until a more pragmatic corner of her brain pointed out that hiding wasn’t going to fix anything, and would probably just mean that Whatever It Was would find her anyway when there was no one else to help. If she was going to survive this herself, going now was her best chance.

So she went. It disgusted her that she needed such selfish logic to motivate her, but motivate her it did. And she might as well make the most of it.

Halfway up the ramp, the ship went silent too. Ruby’s mouth was dry, but she tried to swallow anyway. It didn’t help. She still felt as terrified as ever, which was perhaps why it took her a few moments to realize that the sudden silence had not, in fact, been preceded by screams of agony. Which was a good sign. She hoped.

Somehow, she kept moving. Despite her best efforts, every step sounded like a gong on the metal ramp. A soft, muffled gong, but to her ears, a gong nonetheless. The blaster in her hand seemed like it wasn’t going to be much in the way of protection, should it come down to it. But just reholstering would have been worse, so she kept holding it in her cold, sweaty hand.

Halfway up the ramp, she got the feeling that someone—something was watching her, and her heart jumped, impossibly, even farther up her throat. She stopped. The ship creaked around her. The ship’s systems beeped and hummed, distantly.

This was ridiculous. She kept going.

At the top of the ramp, the feeling became certainty. She heard someone. Something. Breathing. Ahead of her. Above her, in the dark.

She should turn around. Going forward was insane. Going forward would get her killed. Or worse. Or—

Before she had a chance to go forward or turn back around, something came down on her head and dropped her like a sack of stones. But it didn’t knock her into unconsciousness. That would have been a mercy. Instead, stunned, she felt impossibly huge, impossibly hairy hands (or were those claws?) close around her ankles and drag her towards the bridge. She heard someone kick her blaster and send it skittering away, well out of reach. She saw, as they came out of the dark corridor and onto the moonlit bridge, three still forms lain out in a row next to each other. And she became the fourth.

That touched some primal mote of terror deep inside. So much for pretending to be unconscious and hoping for the best. She yelped and flailed and made to break away. She stopped as soon as her captor stepped into the moonlight.

It was huge. Eight feet tall, at least, and that was standing hunched. It was hairy. Wolf-shaped. Wolf-toothed. And its eyes reflected the moonlight and seemed to glow with evil intent. Ruby’s yelp became a whimper.

And the thing stopped. It bent down, bringing its muzzle within inches of Ruby’s own nose. It smelled like a sweaty dog, and its breath was terrible. Ruby flinched. She didn’t mean to. She just couldn’t help it. But the thing just watched her for three long seconds. Four. Five. And then it gave a low growl.

Ruby closed her eyes and shook.

And she stayed that way for half an hour.

It was only when someone (someone! Not something!) touched her shoulder that she dared open them. And there, staring down at her with a look of mixed wariness and vague amusement, was the little ship’s captain.

“You’re alright!” Ruby’s voice came out as a croak, but the other woman seemed to understand it well enough.

“Of course I did. I thought I told you not to follow me.”

“I wasn’t going to—but the howl, the growling, the other pirates… I thought you might need help.”

The other woman laughed. It was a barking, gleeful sound. And that was when Ruby noticed that her teeth seemed somewhat longer and sharper than those of most humans. And there was a certain wildness to her eyes. And…

“Oh. Oh no. Oh no.”

Ruby jumped away as the woman—the werewolf—brought her hand down on Ruby’s shoulder.

“What, you didn’t think it strange that I was out here in the black all by myself?”

Ruby managed a nod.

The woman grinned, showing those too-sharp teeth again. “The name’s Captain Marie Lupine. I knew you looked smarter than the rest of these idiots.” She gestured at the three pirates that lay to the side, and Ruby noticed for the first time that they were all tied up. And also all still breathing, though a few sported a few new, long scratches.

“Where’s Tomms?” Ruby’s voice was still entirely too dry for her liking.

“Your friend in the cargo bay? Still down there. I think I rang his bell pretty good. He should be alright, though.”

Ruby nodded.

Captain Lupine dropped down into a crouch and looked her up and down. “So, the way I see it, we have a couple of options here. One, I turn you and Tomms in to the authorities with the rest of these numbskulls.”

Ruby shook her head as violently as she dared. Captain Lupine grinned again.

“That’s what I thought. Or, two, I let you and him take that ship you jumped me with, and you get to keep pirating around. Problem for you is, of course, that the ship would be tagged as a pirate vessel, and I don’t much fancy your chances of survival for very long.”

Ruby looked uncomfortable.

“Or, three.” Captain Lupine eyed Ruby. “You and Tomms stay here on my crew. I turn in these three and the ship to the authorities, and I say that you’re both crew I picked up at the last space station. I write you up proper contracts of employment and you don’t have to attack innocent passers-by or watch your blood pressure spike when you get within hailing range of law enforcement anymore.”

Captain Lupine grinned one last time. “It’s your choice.”

And that was how Ruby and Tomms started working for a werewolf running cargo runs in the deep black. All in all, it was probably the best choice either of them had ever made.

Musings

[Blog] Radio Chatter

Spending as much time sitting in an ambulance as I do, there’s a part of the job that I’ve come to enjoy that I never would have thought of before: listening to the radio chatter. The company I work for is relatively small, so I actually know/have met most of the other EMTs. That being said, when we’re working, it’s generally just the two of us on a single crew, or sometimes two crews depending on what the call is: not exactly a busy, bustling office surrounded by lots of coworkers.

Now, when I drove for a rideshare company a while back, one of the things that drove (ha!) me nuts was the fact that it was so very lonely. Sure, you had your passengers, many of whom were enjoyable to talk to, but of all the jobs I’d ever worked, that was the most isolating by far.

You might think that it could feel the same way, though perhaps to a lesser degree, with it for the most part just being you and one other person all day, though I’m the first to admit that even one other person doing the same thing as you and working with you is so much less lonely than the alternative. But even then, I suspect it could get a little alienating if it was just the two of us.

Which is where the radio chatter comes in. We get to hear what everyone else on shift is doing– for the most part. Who’s going to a call. Who just got on shift. Who just finished theirs. It’s so little in so many ways, but it’s a reminder that there’s a whole bunch of us out there together. Perhaps I’m romanticizing it. Perhaps not. Either way, I enjoy it.

((On an entirely different note! Check back in tomorrow for a new short story!))

Musings

[Blog] Structure and Stealth Recommendations

As someone with a propensity for writing and planning to write, it should come as no surprise that I also enjoy stories told by other people. Part of that is the same love of a good story that so many people share, of course. And a part of that is genuine awe for how some storytellers structure and build their stories, particularly the longer ones with oh-so-many moving parts.

Like, for example, the Harry Potter series.

I recently read through the entire series again for a second time (yeah, yeah, I know… only two times?!), and was utterly amazed at just how much was set up from the beginning. Or at least, how many things from the early books J.K. Rowling managed to work into the later books– and honestly, I’m not sure which is more impressive. Characters and tiny tidbits about their history that we find out when we are first introduced become, if not central to the entire plot, then at least salient plot points.

And most of it is stuff I’d never, ever have noticed if I only read through once. (So it’s definitely a good thing various friends recommended that I do it at least twice.)

I’ve also been re-reading/restarting Girl Genius, which has been so fun. For those of you unfamiliar, Girl Genius is a steampunk webcomic that’s been running online for over seventeen years. It’s absolute madness, and after successfully keeping up with it for years, it kinda got away from me a few years back. Mostly because it’s so very convoluted that I was getting thoroughly confused.

Funny thing is, though… it’s a whole lot easier to follow when you read it from the beginning. (The trouble with that, of course, is that it’s been updating three times a week for over a decade and a half, so it’s not exactly a quick read, per se.) Which brings me back to my earlier point about structure. Sort of. I’ve caught up almost to the point where I stopped reading earlier, and it already all makes so much more sense. Kinda like it’s actually a cohesive narrative or something. (Gasp!)

What I’m trying to get at is this: good writing requires structure, and that applies to any writing, be it novels or webcomics/graphic novels. Or video games. Or short stories. Or screenplays. Or…

You get the picture.

The other thing that I’m trying to get at is that good, solid structures is really cool. And sometimes can’t be seen until you take a step back, particularly with longer works. Then again, maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to lob reading recommendations at you. But is that such a bad thing?

Musings

[Blog] Happy New Year 2020!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays, and that you’re all ready for the new year– as much as anyone ever can be!

Speaking of the new year, I’ve got a couple of announcements regarding my plans for this blog! First, weekly Wednesday posts are back on, so if you happen to be looking forward to those, you’re in luck! I’m also going to be playing around with actually writing posts ahead of time, in the hope that it means I actually update on time, and not at 11:55pm on Wednesday nights. Heh. With that in mind, if there happens to be a subject that you’d like to see written about by an unrepentantly nerdy amateur blogger, do let me know!

Second, it’s also high time for me to start posting regular stories to the blog, like I was when I first started this thing. They fell by the wayside for a number of reasons, but at this point, I have no good reason to not push myself to do them again, and a whole lot of good reasons to just go for it.

Honestly, it puts me in mind of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury quotes: “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” I’m not going for the one-story-a-week goal, but two a month isn’t bad, and with any luck, it’ll pull me out of the panicky over-editing loop I’ve gotten myself stuck in. Again. Oof.

And finally, I will of course continue plugging away at Tanner and Miranda. Expect a full update on what’s going on with them in the next couple of weeks!

How about for all of you? Any exciting new writing related goals? Any exciting new non-writing related goals? Let me know in the comments below!

Musings

[Blog] Another NaNo Come and Gone

I’m pretty sure the months are actually passing faster than they used to. It feels like this year’s NaNo event just started, and here we are several days into December. It’s madness, I tell you. Final wordcount for this year came in at right about 56K, which is not too shabby, though definitely not the 100K I was going for. Maybe next year!

Also, as is often the case, reaching the 50K goal doesn’t always equate to finishing the story. It certainly didn’t this year, so I’m still chipping away at it, and will hopefully have a completed pre-rough draft before the month’s up. And then! On to the editing!

Musings

[Blog] Homestretch!

As of five minutes ago, I reached the 50k goal for NaNo 2019! Which I’m super happy about. There was definitely a little while there, when my poor old laptop gave up the ghost, that I actually wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to finish this month. I’m very happy that wasn’t the case.

As for that 100k goal… I somehow don’t think I’m quite going to get there this year. I’m not done writing, and I still have three days, but that’s a pretty wild pace to keep to finish. We’ll see how far I get!

For all of you doing NaNo, how are your projects going? Are you ahead? Behind? Right on track? Keep on pushing! You’ve got this!

Musings

[Blog] Back in service… mostly!

I’m back! Mostly! Problem is, I’m also thoroughly distracted, because there’s a billion and one things that don’t quite work on the new laptop, and right now my brain is far more interested in fixing those than writing a novel. But! I’m writing this post from the new machine, which is a huge step in the right direction.

Also! Here’s a (short!) snippet from my current project:

I can’t imagine what Paul thought when he saw me. Or rather, I could, but I would rather not, as it wasn’t bound to be flattering. I was covered in dust, grime, sweat, possibly a few tears, and definitely a little blood– mine as far as I knew, but I couldn’t be certain. It’s a testament to the relationship he had cultivated with me and Tanner over the last two years that he didn’t reach for his gun and point it at my head as soon as he caught sight of me.

Musings

[Blog] Minor Setbacks…

They say there are two types of people in the world… those who do backups, and those who have never had a hard drive fail.

Well, I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that I don’t belong to that second category! Sadly, my faithful laptop of the last four and a half years bit the dust on Sunday. Now the good news is that my current NaNo project (and all other important projects) are thoroughly backed up, so I haven’t lost anything. The bad news, of course, is that I am in the middle of NaNoWriMo without a functional laptop. It was bound to happen sometime?

Of course, the other good news is that I have a tablet and a bluetooth keyboard. It’s a little laggy, but totally workable, and I no longer have the excuse of “I don’t have my whole project with me so I can’t write during downtime at work.” So, net good?

How is everyone else doing with NaNo? Any unexpected setbacks? Are things going more smoothly than usual? Let me know in the comments!

Musings

[Blog] NaNo19 Week 1

Super quick update this week! According to the calendar, apparently the first week of November is almost over! My wordcount is currently sitting at a little over 11,000, which is a little ahead in terms of the 50K official goal, and really, really, behind for my personal 100K goal. But! The last couple of days have been fantastic for getting into a groove, and I am optimistic!

For those of you doing NaNo this year, how’s the first week treated you? Any exciting scenes? Fun plot points? General mayhem?