Deep Magic - April 2017
- Book info
- Author updates
DEEP MAGIC is a bi-monthly electronic magazine that publishes clean short fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc). Our issues are also filled with author interviews, art features, book reviews and tips for writers.
In this issue you'll find an exclusive story for Deep Magic by bestselling author DK Holmberg called "The Price of Healing" - it is set in a new world that he'll be introducing in an upcoming novel. We also showcase a great sci-fi story that we loved called "Between Earth and Exile" by Laurie Tom. Clint Johnson also brings us "The Dealer, the Hag, and the Boy Who Dreamed" and "Not That Kind of Wizard" by day-time attorney Eugene Morgulis. Finally, an enchanting story of love, loss, and dragons in "Autumn at the Dragons Cave" by Kathryn Yelinek.
We've also rounded up a great interview with Shawn Speakman and the multiple hats he wears in the genre. We interview the amazing artist Andree Wallin. Love that sci-fi cover! He did concept art for the latest Star Wars movies. And bestselling author Nick Webb gives us the technical know-how on interstellar travel with his article "Fictional Space Propulsion."
This month we also feature two book excerpts that we think you'll love to purchase. Jeff Wheeler's new Kingfountain book "The Hollow Crown" and a sneak peek at Emily King's debut novel, "The Hundredth Queen" - both are sneak peeks and will be published in June 2017.
Release date: April 11, 2017
Print pages: 178
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Deep Magic - April 2017
Between Earth and Exile by Laurie Tom
We had captured the Alcaltan frigate a week ago. It should have been an easy job. We chose that moment for a reason. The ship was being towed for decommission and only had a skeleton crew for defense. But that hadn’t mattered. They still killed Kellen.
Sometimes no amount of planning or preparation is enough. Most of us, had we lived anywhere else on Earth, would not have had the opportunity to escape on the Bloodborne. We understood how some things came down to a matter of luck.
But luck still had to be dealt with. And Kellen was gone.
I knocked on the door to my Captain’s quarters, telling myself that my plan was sound, even logical, and not that I was homesick after all this time. I was twenty-one and had served under the Captain for six years. Age did not matter in the face of survival.
Even while we were docked at Pyre Rock, the Captain preferred his quarters aboard the Bloodborne. It was quieter than the base most days, given all the construction and the wailing from Emma and Daiki’s new baby.
I pushed open the door and it squeaked in protest. The Bloodborne ran on limited power while docked. The only reason we still had normal Earth gravity was because we were at Pyre Rock, where we could take advantage of the stolen generators we’d installed in our base. The Alcaltans’ command of gravity had been one of the deciding factors in the war. It was nice to make it work for us.
“Alexa,” he said, with a glance in my direction, “isn’t your team lining the walls of the new wing?”
He sat behind a rough desk of our own construction, dark hands rotating a display of Pyre Rock on the holo. It was a draft of the construction. We hadn’t burrowed into that much of the asteroid yet.
“Finished, sir. If I might have a moment of your time?”
The Captain gestured for me to take a seat at a small table a meter from his desk. He did not get up to join me, nor did I expect him to. The Captain had never been much for coddling his crew, or himself. His quarters were spartan, save for the rack of shelves on which he kept keepsakes of our victories. They were a reminder that against all odds, we still survived.
“Captain,” I said. “Right now, the crew has its hands full. We’re trying to expand our base and man the Bloodborne at the same time. And I hate to say it, sir, but Kellen’s death has hit us hard.”
He nodded, silent. I don’t think he wanted us to know how much he missed Kellen. If the Captain was the head and the heart of the Bloodborne, Kellen had been the limbs to make everything happen. We’d lost crew before, but the second-in-command of the Bloodborne had been a sharp, intuitive man. Replacing him would not be easy. Not that we could really replace anyone, but even pulling from what we had, no one was Kellen.
“We need more people,” I said. “I know there’s a chance they’re not even alive, but if we’re building a colony here, I would like to rescue my family. My mom was a structural engineer before the war—she could help build Pyre Rock—and now my brother is old enough to crew.”
The gaze that met mine betrayed neither surprise nor anger, but it was unflinching, hard. The Alcaltans had tried to break us many times, but even with Kellen’s death, I knew they would never break him.
“We have been exiled,” he said evenly. “You know you can’t go back for them.”
That was the agreement, the only reason the Bloodborne had been allowed to leave.
“I don’t need to go back to Earth itself. Just the solar system would be enough. We need more people, before there aren’t enough of us left . . .”
It was selfish to want to rescue my family. I wasn’t supposed to care about things I could not change, people I could no longer see, but no matter how I wanted to be like the rock that was my Captain, I could not be that strong. He had gone into exile with his head held high and a willing crew at his back. I had gone in tears.
My Captain studied me, and I tried to still the twinge in my gut. “And how do you propose to get your family off planet?” he asked.
“I have an idea,” I said, and I felt very small sitting in the office across from the man to whom I owed everything. “I think I can get them smuggled out on a carrier. It won’t be easy, or cheap, but I believe I can manage.”
The Alcaltans were not a hive mind any more than humans. Though in exile, and officially hunted by Alcalta, there were a few rogue outposts where we, the crew of the Bloodborne, were tolerated despite what we were. We had connections, and if I pressed them hard enough, paid them well enough, I was reasonably certain I could arrange something even on occupied Earth.
“I’ll handle all the arrangements,” I said. “I just need your permission to borrow a shuttle.”
I prepared myself for his refusal, because with a crew of a hundred, two on leave caring for a child, and no way for us to gain new recruits, he could scarcely afford to lose anyone to a whim, to a purpose that arguably served the individual more than the crew.
“If I offer this opportunity to you, I must offer it to everyone,” said the Captain finally. “Find out who is interested and how many people that means you will have to rescue. If you think you can manage, you have my permission. However, I think you will find that a shuttle will not be enough.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
* * *
My life had changed the day the Captain’s ship landed on the outskirts of Concord Grove, bringing the last human colonists home in defiance of Alcalta. It had stayed grounded for only a few hours.
The police, the human police, had surrounded the ship, as though they could hold a dreadnought and its crew at bay with tiny tanks and a handful of rockets until a representative of our government could arrive—the same government that had surrendered to Alcalta once they realized that the aliens only had an interest in keeping humanity contained and not in obliterating us.
Captain Jonathan Mercer had been an officer in the Earth-based fleet, but he didn’t roll over when the war ended. He and his crew stole an Alcaltan dreadnought to rescue the survivors of a colony that would have died without help, survivors who would probably die anyway on a depleted and overpopulated Earth. Our government called it a pointless venture, but for that, the Captain and his crew were branded a threat to the peace.
If not for the fear that murdering the Captain would have turned him into a martyr, I had no doubt they would have executed him on the spot.
Instead the sentence was exile. He and his crew were to take that blasted ship and leave Earth, forever.
I remember seeing the Captain, standing so tall and proud that I doubted they could have forced him into exile if he had not agreed. He didn’t belong there on Earth. To the rest of us, to those who crowded around his ship despite our fear, he issued a warning, that the Alcaltans would not hesitate to eliminate us the moment we became too great an inconvenience, that we might discover ourselves unhappy with the sacrifices demanded in a life of appeasement.
So he extended an offer, to any who were willing, to join his crew. At first only a handful dared to walk past the police, and when they weren’t shot, a handful more. No one knew what kind of future a life in exile promised, but the Captain seemed so assured, so strong, that we knew he would not limp into the stars and fade away. I had no future on Earth, where every day revolved around finding enough to eat. With the new refugees, there would be even less.
My mom refused to go. She did not believe we could survive on a ship without a port, in the face of aliens that had made it plain they would only tolerate our existence if we remained on our home planet. I was afraid too, but I was more afraid of what would happen if I stayed.
I still remember her fingers in my hair, how her body shook as I hugged her good-bye and told her I had to go. She said she understood, though I don’t know that I believed her. Without me, there would be one less mouth to feed, and she could care for my younger brother without worrying about what could happen to a teenage girl in a broken city. We’d fought so much—over school, over food, over curfew—that I could barely believe she let me go.
For a moment, I reconsidered, but fear was stronger than tears. When I darted past the police line, I did not look back. I fell in behind the new crew members preparing to board, the last to join.
In retrospect, we should have found it strange that we had been allowed to leave Earth on a stolen dreadnought, that the Captain had been allowed to take dissenters with him. The Alcaltans did not let us go so easily. Our first battle as a unified crew was shortly after we cleared Earth’s orbit, once we were far enough away that we were out of sight of those on the ground below.
The Alcaltans planned to kill us where there would be no chance of martyrdom or inspiration to those who remained behind.
We were terrified, outnumbered, running a ship many of us had never served on before, some of us not even familiar with ships at all. I considered it a testament to our Captain that we escaped. We then understood what measures we needed to take simply to survive.
Our crew was alone in a universe where we were the only humans outside of Earth. We named our ship the Bloodborne and took to raiding for food and supplies. It wasn’t out of rebellion, or a patriotic desire to show the Alcaltans that humanity was not done. We were pirates, and we could only rely on each other.
But as I relayed our Captain’s offer to rescue our families back on Earth, I soon discovered that, though I trusted my fellow crew, I hadn’t really known them.
Peter had a sister, three years younger than him, who’d lost an eye in a crossfire. Valerie had left behind her husband of only two months, not realizing that helping Captain Mercer in the colony rescue would result in her exile. Manuel wanted to know if his parents were all right. And Justin had asked me to find his son. I hadn’t known he was a father.
Hitomi and I had even gone to the same school, though being in different years, we had never met. Richard’s mom owned the store where I used to buy slushies before the sky fell, and if I thought hard, I could remember seeing him there on Friday afternoons.
When they learned the Captain had approved smuggling their families off planet, their lives came tumbling out, and by the time I finished speaking with everyone, I had a list of just under two hundred names. Not all the crew had family they could speak of, some had lost everyone in the war, but there were still more people than we could fit in a single shuttle.
I knew that the chances of all of them being alive would be negligible though. Perhaps a quarter would be, and we could work with that.
The amount of money needed to bribe our contacts to get information on two hundred people was astronomical. The crew chipped in whatever they could, even those without loved ones to rescue. We used the Alcaltan lumil when dealing with the outside world, each member of the crew getting a share of the spoils after a successful raid, but we didn’t use it with each other. There was no such thing as paying for room and board. You served on the ship, you got a room and three meals in the mess. Any lumil we kept was just gravy, and yet I couldn’t account for more than half of what we needed.
People started talking about pawning their belongings the next time we visited an outpost. Human goods were nearly worthless to Alcaltans in their intended forms, but a diamond from a ring could be repurposed for manufacturing, the metal from old electronics could be salvaged.
“I can arrange the necessary information gathering,” I told the Captain, when next I met him in his quarters. “The only problem is the money. Not everyone can afford it, but it doesn’t seem right that we should restrict rescuing family to only a portion of our crew. And how would we choose? It’s easy to say those who can afford it should get priority, but what about the rest? Would we hold a lottery?”
A part of me regretted conceiving this plan at all. If no one was rescued, we’d be no worse off than before, and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see someone else’s family come home while mine was left behind.
Once again I sat at the small table while the Captain remained behind his desk. The distance may as well have been the entire ship. I was just a part of the crew. I wasn’t Kellen. I couldn’t expect sympathy. After all, I was the one who’d dug myself into this mess.
My Captain spoke. “Would you consider it right to leave a few people behind, when by the luck of the draw they could have been the ones you save? You can’t give hope only to take it away.”
“It wouldn’t be right, but it would be fair. I just didn’t think this would happen—that we wouldn’t have the money to even find out if the people we want to rescue are still alive. I thought the crew would have saved up a little more. It’s not as though we’ve needed a personal stash of lumil to survive.”
Indeed, we ate better on the Bloodborne than we had during our final year on Earth.
“And what did you save for?”
“I . . . I wanted to buy my own ship,” I replied, feeling silly to admit it. “When I was in school, I had this idea I would buy my own ship, see the galaxy, go to Alcor, Yukikawa, and all those planets we don’t have anymore. Of course, now I know I wouldn’t be able to afford much more than an oversized shuttle, but it would have been less recognizable than the Bloodborne, so we could have used it . . .”
The Captain stood and walked over to the shelves suspended along the wall. “For years we’ve stolen everything we needed to survive, and used the ship’s communal funds to procure what we could not. There are no longer such things as homes, vacations, or retirements to save for. It’s unsurprising that the crew should spend the majority of their earnings on the rare outpost entertainment.”
He retrieved a small brown box from the top shelf and offered it to me. “Not everyone is as industrious a saver as you. Here. This should cover the rest.”
Had he known? I had contributed the largest donation to the smuggling funds, but I hadn’t told anyone, feeling sheepish about how much money I’d saved. The crew already made light of my spending habits whenever we docked at an outpost.
“It’s what is inside the box,” said the Captain.
Remembering myself, I popped the lid and found a recorder inside. I flicked it on, bringing up the display, and stared.
“The schematics to an Alcaltan battle cruiser?”
“The new one, put into service in the past year,” he replied. “I had intended to wait before bargaining with it, so that the Alcaltans would be less likely to tie it to the attack we made six months ago.”
This would certainly pay for everyone’s families, not just for the information, but to smuggle them out as well. There would probably even be money left over. Certainly there were some Alcaltan malcontents who could put this to use and would pay handsomely for it.
He nodded and walked back to his desk. “That is only to pay for costs remaining after the crew has contributed all they can. Anything left over is to be added to the communal funds for the Bloodborne and Pyre Rock.”
I turned to go when a sudden thought occurred to me.
“Captain! I forgot to ask. Do you have family back on Earth?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Thank you, again.”
* * *
I didn’t tell the rest of the crew of the Captain’s contribution, especially when it occurred to me that the only person on the Bloodborne more miserly than me was the Captain himself. The battle cruiser plans had come from his personal collection of trophies, which shouldn’t have been much larger than any of ours, except that we tended to pawn things we didn’t want as quickly as possible, and the Captain tended to dispose of his spoils as gifts or bargaining chips.
Finding a buyer for the schematics was the frightening part. I didn’t know how the Captain could stand it, trading for ship parts and illegal weaponry on a regular basis. I did have connections, though, and a few inquiries took me to an Alcaltan weasel who claimed to have a wealthy client.
My mom wouldn’t have recognized me, haggling over battle cruiser plans as if they were a scarf at a swap meet. I struck a deal, and with several members of the crew present for protection, we exchanged the schematics for two large crates of surya. The Alcaltans used the rainbow crystals to perform large, untraceable transactions, but I’d never seen so much at once.
With the profit, we doled out cards of lumil and handfuls of surya to individual weasels, but never in sight of each other, never letting them know that while we asked one to look into ten people, we were asking another to look into eight. The Alcaltans did not value familial relationships as much as humans did, and we counted on them to not piece together the reason for our inquiries, but as we waited for news, we could not help fearing that they would.
When their reports arrived, I was grateful.
Roughly a third of our list could not be tracked down, their whereabouts unknown even to the weasels. Others they confirmed dead, but they were able to locate forty of our family and friends in varying degrees of health. My mom was alive. She was over fifty now—despite everything she must have endured, she was still alive! She hadn’t moved from Concord Grove, terrible though it was. My brother was in a labor camp. The Alcaltans were comfortable with exchanging food for work, so my brother was probably healthy, but for how long?
A sense of malaise settled over the crew. For some, they had lost family all over again, and we worried over the state of affairs on Earth in a way we hadn’t since the earliest days of our exile. No matter that we had been forced off the planet—we didn’t hate our home—but if I could not have Earth, I at least wanted my family.
We were overdue for a raid, but the Captain refused to launch the Bloodborne. He didn’t tell us why with any words, but I knew from a look and his silence that we were in no shape for combat. I found myself doubting again whether I should have brought up my plan to the Captain, but I remembered his words about offering hope only to take it away, and I wasn’t going to be the person who let the Captain down.
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