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To Heaven And Back Again – A Steampunk Short Story

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Cover Art, To Heaven And Back Again

This short story was originally published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine. It’s releasing indie on February 5th, but is available here for Members to read early.

Meleny is a Lady of the Queen’s Court and that makes everyone frustrated, but Meleny is the most proud of how well she can piss off the captain of the Queenguard. So well, in fact, that he will commandeer a spaceship of the fleet and pursue her to the very ends of the system. What is she to do with him now?


To Heaven And Back Again

Meleny watched the dotted line on her screen that indicated a safe path between the moons hurtling around this edge planet and very carefully kept the Lion’s Pride flying on that line. The engine spun so fast her entire craft shook.

At only ten meters long, the Lion’s Pride was a tiny ship, hardly large enough to register on radio or sonar. She held a single bunk room that Meleny shared with Konsta and just enough storage for food and tea. Space was at a premium and thankfully, Konsta didn’t hold to the British Empire’s ideas of propriety. Meleny always found them stifling and with so little room to live on Lion’s Pride, having a co-conspirator would never work otherwise.

Steam hissed out of release valves, alternately easing pressure and sealing. They’d started this adventure with a full tank of water, but the system wasn’t closed and they’d lost steam to the vents and a slow leak in the hallway. It made the air hot and humid. Meleny’s hair stood up around her head, but she didn’t have time to pull it back. When they got out of this mess, Meleny swore she would track down the plummer who’d installed this system and make him fly it around for a while. He would probably fix the leak in record time.

They approached the first moon on a vector that brought them just to the edge of its gravity. Lion’s Pride jumped against the pull, shaking and shuddering.

Behind Meleny, Konsta sat with his hand on a radio dial, manually filtering the planet and moon’s magnetic influence to see the large craft that pursued them. His skin, dark like mahogany, looked polished in the humid air. He was tall–over one hundred and eighty centimeters–though he’d assured Meleny he was merely average for his people. Since Meleny measured an even one fifty, she was certain his people were all descended from giants. His towering presence among the English court helped keep the more violent-prone lords at heel, which Meleny couldn’t manage herself thanks to her stature and gender.

He wore a snug jacket buttoned from waist to the tight collar, the cotton weave dyed green–as was the Lion’s Pride–and the buttons shining brass. Not at all an acceptable style at English court and therefore one of his favorites.

The Queenguard’s own HMS Valkyrie pursued them at high speed. The captain of the Queenguard himself chased Meleny at the edge of the known universe. She was proud to have pissed him off so completely. It was disappointing that she didn’t have some other plan in place to take advantage of his absence back at court. She never expected him to chase this far.

Captain Finley Mills was known at court for his cool head under pressure, broad shoulders, and winning smile. Meleny knew him as a selfish prick who cheated his way to the top and enforced his position there brutally. He couldn’t intimidate Meleny and she’d been a thorn in his side ever since gaining his position. She quite enjoyed poking that bear. Especially since Konsta could take the man in a fair fight and they both knew it. Hand to hand or with the sword, Finley Mills simply wasn’t the exceptional lord he claimed to be. Still, he remained the court darling and Meleny could only run.

“Still gaining, Lady.” Konsta reported.

Meleny frowned. “Release a tracer decoy on my mark.”

“Last one.”

A lady of the fleet didn’t curse. Meleny let out a low colorful one, long past the point of caring about ladies–in the fleet or otherwise. The situation was getting dire. “I’m going to try a sling around the first moon to pick up some speed. Ready that decoy.”

The Valkyrie Mills captained measured over forty-five meters long and nearly thirty on the diameter. She could dock the Lion’s Pride like one of her shuttles. Over one hundred people could staff that ship at full-capacity, but with the urgency everyone launched, Meleny wouldn’t bet there were more than twenty on board now. Like all English ships, she was outfitted with three torpedo launchers. Mills hadn’t fired at Meleny only because he knew the Lion’s Pride was too quick to catch with a static missile. They were better saved for surprise engagements. But if the Lion’s Pride slipped too close, the Valkyrie was equipped with more than enough grappling power to clamp down like a hunting dog and never let go.

Konsta was silent for a moment, likely reading their situation and checking Meleny’s course of action. Meleny was happy to hear any suggestions that might keep the Valkyrie at bay. But Konsta offered only, “Yes, Ma’am.”

Meleny turned the ship. They slipped off the carefully plotted dotted line and fell into the gravity well of the moon. Its yellow clouds swirled, a creamy coating on top of a surprise dessert.

“Release the tracer.”

A thump shook the ship as the tracer, little more than a ball of metal filled with fuel, ejected from Lion’s Pride and shot along their former dotted line. With luck, Lion’s Pride could disappear in the static and the English captain would follow the tracer instead. He’d figure it out as soon as the little ball ran out of steam, but by then, Meleny would be halfway around this moon and well out of sight.

Lights on her console flashed red. The shaking smoothed into nothing at all. Deceptive. Many inexperienced pilots had crashed their ships into a planet or moon chasing that smooth ride through space. Meleny had been doing this for a while–the coasting silence dug into her heart and rose the hairs on her arms. They were crashing.

“Valkyrie has followed our course.” Konsta reported quietly.

Blast. There was nothing for it, now. They were committed. She could pull the Lion’s Pride out, but Valkyrie would be on her in a breath, grappling and securing her for the long flight back to English space. She and Konsta would be treated well, escorted directly to the Queen for execution. Meleny had harassed the monarchy enough to know she wouldn’t be spared. And Konsta… they wouldn’t be kind to him. The monarchy considered his people little more than animals in the face of their savage beliefs. Meleny had stuck more than one lord with a hat pin and a smile for that.

There were wheels turning slowly in the English court. She had people and good places, whispering in the ears of those who could change the world. But without Meleny her best laid plans would grind to a halt. English court loved the latest gossip but chose to act very slowly. There was still so much left to do. She couldn’t be caught.

Meleny turned the ship deeper into the well. Perhaps they could still escape the Valkyrie with a close skim of the surface and a gravity-assisted fling back into space. Clouds of yellow and amber swirled on the moon’s surface. None of her instruments could penetrate the thick weather. For all she knew there were jetties of rock waiting to greet her. The Lion’s Pride skimmed through the wispy upper layers of atmosphere. Meleny fought to keep the ship up, out of the worst. Crosswind buffeted their craft and the shaking returned with a vengeance. They weren’t pulling up.

“Lady…?” Konsta said.

“This might get rough.” Meleny grit her teeth and braced in the chair. Straps over both shoulders held her in place, pressing her practical jacket and trousers tightly against her skin. A proper English lady wouldn’t tolerate such dress, but proper English ladies didn’t find themselves in space. Except on large and slow cruises to Luna with plenty of room for their ballgowns and hoops.

Lion’s Pride dropped into the mustard clouds. Visibility fell to effectively nothing. They screamed through the space, faster than Meleny had ever pushed her ship. The moon and planet’s gravity hauled them along–just another speck of dust to collect.

Something roared. Like the voice of a world, or maybe space itself? They suddenly skimmed over a rough surface and Meleny spun Lion’s Pride wildly upward to avoid it. Spires the size of Helvellyn. Evenly spaced. Teeth. They were teeth.

“Oh…” Meleny’s heart thumped. Her hands twisted on the controls, tense and hard. There were monsters here in uncharted space. Had they found one?

The Lion’s Pride shook through the atmosphere. They darted out of the teeth and past a vertical cliff of… something. Dark and craggy. Rock-like. It blinked. A wide eye, yellow as the clouds and sharp, focused on them. They were close enough for Meleny to see the individual string structures in the iris, layers and layers, a tapestry of depth around the black hole of the pupil.

Meleny gaped, “What… is it?”

Konsta crossed himself. “It is the face of God.”

They broke out of the clouds. The beast churned them, kicking material into space. Huge, broad fins the color of a mountain breached the yellow clouds and stirred them like the universe’s largest cup of soup. Spines surfaced and plunged under the waves. The beast roared again and this time Meleny saw the mouth gape, the jagged spire-teeth, a dark chasm for a throat. A tongue, thick and wide, forked like a lizard. A monster the size of a moon.

Suddenly Meleny’s sense of relativity changed. The mountain of creature rose rapidly overhead and it seemed for all the world as if the Lion’s Pride was falling, plunging into the depths of the moon. Meleny yanked back on the controls, but she had already pulled the yoke as far as it would go. She checked her attitude on the instruments, but all her readings said she was still flying up.

The beast twisted out in the churning clouds, exposing an outcropping–a limb tipped with three claws the length of redwood trees. They knocked the Lion’s Pride at a glance and the ship careened to one side. An accident of proximity, nothing more. Meleny’s view spun, up became down, then up again.

Steam hissed into the cockpit from a busted pipe. Sparks danced over Konsta’s controls and he cursed as they nipped at him. Meleny wrangled the spin and got them pointed upward again even as her hands trembled. She’d never seen anything like this before and now even the Valkyrie didn’t seem like such a threat.

“Stopper that leak, Konsta,” Meleny said as she drew the ship further away from the moon and its resident.

Konsta stood, the repair kit already in hand. The cockpit was small, but if the Lion’s Pride got hit again, Konsta wouldn’t survive it out of his seat. It was up to Meleny to keep him safe.

As the distance yawned below her viewscreen, Meleny watched the monster–the dragon–dive back down into the thick mustard clouds. Its fins mixed the air as it passed, its massive tail slapped the surface like a monstrous whale. Then it was gone again, as if it had never been.

With a snap, gravity flung them free.

Konsta sealed the leaking pipe with wax and wrapped it tight. He returned to his seat with a heavy sigh.

“Where’s the Valkyrie?” Meleny demanded. The ship had been right behind them on entry, but the Lion’s Pride was smaller, more maneuverable, quick to spin and dart left when gravity pulled right. Or when a monster yawned.

Konsta jumped at his station. “I… don’t see her, Lady.”

They were falling through space at a speed the Lion’s Pride could hardly convey on screen. Zipping away from the moon. “Pray they are safe.”

“Are they not an enemy?”

“I wouldn’t wish a death like that on anyone.” Meleny shook her head. Captain Mills was an ass, but he deserved an honorable death on Konsta’s sword like anyone else.

Konsta shrugged. “Being devoured by a God is not so terrible if it serves a purpose.”

“There are many beliefs among your people, Konsta, that I have no wish to meet in person.” Meleny said wryly. Lion’s Pride flew on a rapid tangent beyond the pull of the twin moons and their planet. If they truly were free of the Valkyrie, Meleny had work to do, people to put into motion, and little time.

With any luck, they had not been followed by man or God.


dragon divider

To Heaven And Back Again is available for purchase or preorder as Ebook or AI audio. Members, don’t forget your 10% off coupon for (DIRECT sales only) listed on the Perks page.

Ebook: Direct
Ebook: All Other Stores (preorder, releases Feb 5th)

AI Audio: Direct (coming soon)
AI Audio: All Other Stores (preorder, releases Feb 5th)

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