Archive | Fiction RSS feed for this section

Synchronicity Release – February 21, 2017

20 Feb

Synchronicity Cover


Every book release is a special event, but this one is particularly so.

This novel started as a screenplay, written in the early 90’s. Predating CGI-based special effects, I’d been told the movie would be too expensive to produce. So I filed it away, in my box of Lost Hopes and Dreams.

Time passed. Lots of time. Years and years. The urge to write resurfaced, never truly defeated by life or work or circumstance (or child birthing). I found the original notes in the basement, packed away in a bankers’ box, the manila file folder titled Vampires in Space. It was a solid outline, complete with the design of the space station.

I’d been meaning to re-write that screenplay into a novel…but the script felt worn, redundant; tired. So I wrote Inner Demons instead, and gave it to my niece to test-read. She devoured it, asking for another book in the series based around Nigel.

Naturally, I thought of Vampires in Space.

First hatched in Inner Demons where Nigel had a supporting role, his was a character I particularly enjoyed. The Inner Demons concept breathed new life into the story. I kept the framework, re-wrote the details, hammered away at the craft of story-telling…and thus Synchronicity was re-born.

Physics hasn’t changed much in the last several decades – you still stick to the same side of a rotating wheel, and yes, I fact-checked that detail with a physicist friend (one of the weird topics we discussed during break). Certain scenes – like the ones featuring the observation tower – felt like coming home. A blend of everything I enjoy: vampires, sci-fi, coffee, and scotch.

This post makes it all seem easy – but it wasn’t. Nothing worthwhile ever is. It took years before its final shape emerged. But the journey was amazing.


Here are some of the novel’s influences: monsters spawned from the wellspring of 70’s sci-fi and shaped by the 80’s craze for vampires.

(hey, I said they were influences, I didn’t say they were awesome examples)


John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids

Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451


Outland (1981) (the one with Sean Connery – cowboys in space)

Blade Runner (1982) (androids in non-space)

The Hunger (1983) (vampires not in space)

Lifeforce (1985) (naked vampires in space)


And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Doctor Varma – look him up.


Interview with Steve McHugh – What’s New

4 Dec




Steve has a true passion for what’s he’s doing – and it shows. He’s come a long way from his debut release of April 28, 2012 when he self-published his first book, Crimes Against Magic, selling 28 copies opening day. Now he’s got the whole Hellequin Chronicles under his belt with book 6 Promise of Wrath released September 13, 2016. He’s working on book 7 Scorched Shadows right now, but took time from his busy schedule to answer some more questions.


You left your full-time job in December 2015, to have more time to write. At what point did you decide that you could give up your day job? Was leaving that security net scary?

Through most of 2015 it became apparent that there was no chance I was going to be able to write books quickly enough for the amount of stories in my head. At least not if I worked full-time too. I was doing maybe 1 ½ a year while working. So far this year, since leaving my job, I’m finished 2 and started a 3rd.

On top of that I started to earn enough that it just didn’t make sense to keep working full-time and write. My writing had become my major earner, and it made financial sense to run with that.

It was nerve-wracking to leave and move away from a job I’d done for over a decade, but I’d pretty much done everything I could do while I was there and was essentially coasting because it was easy. I needed the shake up of doing something new.

You tried the traditional route first, looking for an agent, then decided to self-publish. How did you feel when a publisher approached you later? And then you were contacted by an agent. Why did you decide to sign?

Self-publishing was never really my first thought when I was trying to get an agent. I did it because I had friends who had been very successful doing it, and I wanted to give it a try and see how things went. As it turned out, it went well, but when 47N asked if I’d like to work with them, the idea of having a publisher do marketing and the like, allowing me to concentrate on the actual writing side, was something I thought would help me in the long run.

After book 3 came out, I started looking for an agent. I contacted maybe 7 or 8 and explained my situation, but got rejections. Paul, my current agent, and I got on really well from the start and having someone go to bat for me in negotiations meant was great.

You’ve hinted at a new project in the works, a departure from Nate’s adventures. What will that story be about?

I’ve just finished a book that will be out next year. It’s called Divided and it takes place in the Hellequin universe, but isn’t a Nate book. It’s about a young woman by the name of Layla, who through circumstances of someone else’s making, ends up with these incredible powers, throwing her into a world she didn’t know existed.

It was a lot of fun to write, and Layla is a big departure from Nate who was already well established by the time the first book came around. Layla gets sort of dropped in the deep end and told to survive.

What advice would your old self give to a new writer? (Throw yourself back in time about six years to answer that question.) How about now?

I don’t know. I’d probably tell him to just keep writing and not worry about reviews or rankings. I’d probably tell him that he gets to do his dream job and that all of those days when I had to go to a job I didn’t care about were worth it in the long run.

On a non-writer related topic, how’s the puppy?

Unfortunately, our youngest daughter and the puppy didn’t really get along. Harley was far too skittish around the dog, and the dog was constantly trying to show her dominance over our daughter. So, we returned the puppy to the breeder. We’ll try again with an older dog in a few years when Harley is a bit older. It was sad, but it was a learning experience.

New Release Coming Soon…

20 Nov

Synchronicity Cover




A snowstorm continues raging outside, the first one of the season. Two days ago it was warm and sunny, fall leaves scattering on green lawns. And this should make me sad…but it doesn’t. Why? Three reasons:

  1. I don’t have to drive anywhere today in this crappy weather. No shovelling. Yay.
  2. Still full from last night’s BBQ grilled steak. Yummy.
  3. This cover. Wow.

Yup. This cover. It’s new and exciting. The initial buzz still hasn’t worn off yet. Another fledging about to fly into the world. I thought I would get used to this feeling. Nope. And that makes me happy.

Hat Trick

29 May



While listing all of my published work for a new contract, I released how much that list has grown in the past few years. Perhaps my list is shorter than other authors’ lists, but it is significantly longer than the one I had three years ago.

This will be my third novel released – all of them dear to me, in different ways. This one stands alone, not part of a series, nothing to fall back on. Just pure sci-fi, no ghosts or bats or gothic themes. A true product of the ‘80’s influence: different in tone and theme and voice.

A Hat Trick is when you score three goals on the same game – and that’s what this release date feels like: the culmination of a lot of hard work, a significant event, something that should be celebrated.


The Harvesters will be released on May 31: my personal hat trick.


Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

23 Apr

Where did the idea for the story come from?

Coming Soon

Coming Soon


The idea for The Harvesters came from a dream – actually a terrifying nightmare – that just wouldn’t fade once daylight invaded. Farmers’ fields being torn up by a giant machine, abandoning a home, frantic escape by car, making sure my loved ones were all accounted for…the struggle, the mad dash, the anguish of leaving things behind…

A compelling idea. Story-worthy.

The more I researched the genre, the more comments and articles I came across telling me my project wouldn’t work. Sci-fi wasn’t targeted for “women over 30”. The main character was a mom, trying to save everyone. Not daunted by those parameters, I plunged ahead anyways and wrote a few scenes.

When I tried to mold that dream into a story, it just wouldn’t work. It was dark, it was deadly, and it didn’t have a moment of victory. So I discarded the outline, quit working on the chapters I had written, and moved on.

A few years later (and a few books later), I was attending one of Brian Henry’s writing workshops intending to polish up my kids’ chapter book (The Persnickety Princess, released April 12 2016). I had an eureka moment! The Harvesters might work if I changed the point of view to the oldest sibling’s – a teenager. Armed with this new concept, I tackled the old outline and much to my surprise had a whole novel a few months later.

The book is all about things I know – the setting, the sports, the power struggles, injected with a hefty dash of sci-fi. The sunset at the lake, the wind turbines, the clash of sweaty kids on a football field, the dusty bookstore. Secrets and lies and the struggle to survive – all very human concepts. The realism grounds the fantasy.

And it all started with a nightmare.


The Harvester will be released on May 31 2016 by MuseItUp Publishing.

Hoarfrost: Episode 6

20 Jan


This is Episode Six of the Garden of Hell series of science-fiction short stories, following after Tiger Lilies, Two Moons, Crow’s Flight, Impasse, and Winner Takes All.

Copyright J. Dianne Waye January 2015

Contains mature subject matter and violence.

“Perez. Wake up. We’re here.” Crow shook me. I opened my eyes to see his grinning face, his bald head glistening.

I blinked, rubbing my eyes, swallowing in my parched throat. My skin was itchy from the dry cabin air and weeks of short water rations. Most of that time we’d drifted in space, using gravity to tug the ship forward. Every time we used the engines we had to deal with the constant threat of fighter ships finding our contrail signature, blasting us to smithereens. And every time Crow fell asleep, I tried to figure out how to override his destination co-ordinates. All of those useless adrenaline spikes left me tired and wired, out of focus.

“We made it. We’ll both be dead of old age before Mothership tracks us here.”

I wiped the cockpit window, disturbing a patch of hoarfrost obscuring the view. Tiny crystals surrendered to the heat of my touch, drifting into the weightlessness of the cabin. Outside was a beautiful sight, swirling white clouds over blue seas, brown and green swatches of colour making continents, making life.

“I get it,” he said. “You’re still mad at me. But I’m not the one that infected you, and I’m not the one that killed Andy. He was my son. Don’t ever forget that.”

How could I forget? Andrew’s death burned deep inside, a pain that didn’t go away, didn’t lessen with time.

Crow banked the craft. I buckled the seatbelt harness for a rough atmosphere entry that shook the ship. We flew over forest canopies, sweeping planes, deep ravines filled with rushing water. Birds took flight, big ones with white wings and pink underbellies. Animals grazed flatlands, disturbed into stampeding at our approach. Plenty of places to hide on this planet, with no crazy vengeful plants trying to murder us. And from its deserted look, it had been rejected for colonization.

Or had it?

Off in the distance, beyond a crescent ridge, symmetrical shapes emerged, dirt-coloured but distinctly unnatural. We drew closer. Barbed-wire fences surrounded a compound, multi-storied levels with windows lined up in a row—a view to nowhere.

“850 is the code for a colonized planet,” I said, anger making the words snap. “We can’t land here.” And we couldn’t go home. We would infect our world, wipe out millions of lives before they found a cure.

“Ah, she speaks at last.” Crow circled the ship and landed, maintaining radio silence, sending a bustling beehive of heavily-armed men marching onto the flat compound, guns and cannons raised in salute to our arrival.

“What is this place?” I hissed.

“Halcyon Colony. The prison planet. Now you have a reason to be mad.” He popped open the door, raising his arms over his head, clasping them together in the signal for surrender.

“Get out,” he said to me, nodding. “Slowly. Slowly, Perez.”

“Screw you, Crow.” I followed him outside. There was no other choice.

A bullhorn shouted instructions. “Citizen Crow—on the ground. And you, Private 4930, drop.”

“Now is that any way to welcome home the prodigal son?” Crow shouted back. “Commander Edding, I brought you a present. Our secret weapon.” He smiled that jack-o-lantern grin of his, and lay down in the dirt.

I copied him and lay prostrate on the ground, stirring up dust that tasted vile in my dry mouth, as swarms of armed men surrounded us.

In the end Crow did betray me, but not at all how I anticipated. He was really good at keeping secrets, just like his son.


My cage had a hastily-erected transparent overlay to keep my toxic spittle from melting the guards patrolling outside. Crow was in the cell next to mine, lying on the cot, no plastic shield surrounding his cage. Only bars separated our cells, which was good for him because I wanted to kill him for bringing us here.

A sink stood beside the toilet, both naked and exposed, the ledge holding a toothbrush, toothpaste, a jar of cream. The mirror was polished metal glued firmly to the wall, shatter-proof or I would have already broken it to use the shards as weapons. But someone had already thought of that.

The wavering reflection mocked me. My spore scars had healed, sunburned a different shade than the healthy skin. A fading bruise on my jaw outlined where Faust had hammered me senseless.

But the C carved into my cheek marked me as Crow’s. And hidden above the sleeve of my uniform, a vaccination pock-mark matched the one on his bicep.

Damn him. Damn all of this.

I picked up the jar of regeneration cream intended to repair my face, and threw it at the door. It bounced off the plastic shield and shattered, white goo splattering the clear walls.

Two guards stomped into the outer room, their rigid postures different from the slack spines of the men guarding my cell. Their faces were covered with helmets to keep them safe from my toxins, every inch of skin protected. I couldn’t even see their eyes through their mirrored visors, just my own fear glaring back at me.

They unlocked the cage, needing to use their tasers for me to surrender.

“Where are you taking her?” Crow’s hands fisted through the bars separating our cells. “I asked you a question!”

But he never got an answer. He didn’t have any authority here, now that they had me.


The night stick smashed into my face again. My teeth cut my cheek. Blood filled my mouth, enough fluid to spit out at my attacker. Spitting was all I could do to fight back, hands pinned behind my back, feet anchored to the chair. But that’s what they wanted me to do, what the sink and toothbrush and toothpaste was for. So instead I swallowed, because they wanted me to spit.

The interrogator yanked my head back by the hair, roots screaming in pain. If he wanted me dead, he would have killed me by now. The stick smashed into my ribs this time.

“I am Private Perez 4930. I am a hostage. I cannot be broken—”

He jerked my hair, levelling my forehead, exposing my throat. I thought he was going to break my neck, slash my throat. Instead he let me go, my head dropping from exhaustion.

Through unshed tears and blurred vision, I saw the door glide open. The interrogator left me alone in the empty room. No guards, no beatings, nothing but throbbing pain mimicking my heartbeat. There wasn’t even a ticking clock to tell me how much time passed.

Sleep. Precious sleep.

Something smashed my ribs, jolting me back to consciousness. The world narrowed again, so small my wavering universe, what I could witness through swollen eyelids.

Pain. Focus on the pain.

My interrogator wasn’t wearing a bio-hazard suit now, tempting me to attack, no doubt figuring his vaccination would protect him like it had protected Crow. It was a huge gamble; he must want to win really badly. Almost as much as me.

He drew a hand over his chin, stubble grating against his fingertips. I guess he’d been at this a while, for him to need to shave. His once-neat hair was messy, his ironed uniform wrinkled, sweat stains darkening his armpits. The focus in his eyes had been replaced by a crazy sparkle, unhinging in its obscenity.

Three pounds shook the door. It glided open, hinges silent.

Crow entered the interrogation room, handcuffs rattling behind his back. “Commander Edding, nice to see you again. I take it Plan B didn’t work.”

“Which is why you’re here,” Edding said.

“She’s too smart for you. You can’t break her by beating her. You need to hit her weak spot.”

“Which is?”

“Oh, you need my help now?”

“You came back for a reason. What’s the price?”

“My wife. My shuttlecraft fuelled and stocked.”

“And Perez?”

“Do you think I care about Perez? You get what you want, Marcia comes with me. I want your word that you won’t order our deaths, that you’ll tell Mothership we died.”

“Mothership will demand corpses.”

“Tell her you burned us. Decontamination protocol.”

“I would never order that,” Edding said.

“Then tell her it was a mistake made by one of your minions. She’ll believe that. I brought you your prize, now give me mine.”

The commander let loose a great exhale, pondering Crow’s demands. “All right. But you promised me two weapons. I only see one.”

“Yeah, well, sorry my son’s death changed your plan.”

My breath quickened at the mention of Andrew. Crow turned around, watching me watch him.

“Oh, that bothers you when I mention Andy.” He drew closer, riveting me with his gaze. So much like Andrew’s, so different the soul. “Uncuff me, Commander. Turn off the camera on your way out.”

Crow waited to be uncuffed, for the door to seal shut behind Edding, for the camera behind him to click off, before he spoke. “I get what you’re trying to accomplish here—the right thing. What you’re trained to do. What Andy wanted you to do. But it’s not going to work. The rules have changed.”

“I’m not interested in your version of how the world works,” I said, the words croaking.

“You should be, because my version affects your future. The way Edding sees it, you don’t need your knees. He can simply blast them away.” He drove his thumb into my ribs where a fresh bruise bloomed, pain spotting my vision. “You think that hurts? Imagine what losing your knees will feel like. First one, then the other.”

He leaned in, resting his hands on mine, his breath pulsing against my face. “I’ve seen him do that to other prisoners. How will you survive the agony?” he whispered.

The pulsing stopped when he pulled away. “Edding will take what he wants, one way or the other. If he can’t break you, then he’ll dissect you, cut out those precious saliva glands. If that doesn’t give him his answer, he’ll order fresh recruits down to that planet, to wait for the tiger lilies to bloom again. Your defiance will be for nothing, forgotten.”

He walked around my chair. “Misplaced loyalty is clouding your view. Mothership abandoned you to die on that planet. Andy abandoned you when he chose to die to save you. Why die here? Andy’s sacrifice would be in vain. You don’t owe anyone anything. You only have loyalty to yourself now, to your own life.”

My job is to keep you alive, Andrew had said to me. Dying would be like betraying him.

Crow circled the chair, letting his message sink in. “Your own life. That’s all you have. Your struggle will be forgotten, a waste. There won’t be anyone left to remember what you fought for.”

I remembered Crow laughing, back on that planet of hostile plants, saying Miller’s been feeding you that crap. I’ll break you Perez. You’ll see. His words penetrated my resolve, breaking me like nothing else could.

He’d been right all along; I just couldn’t see it.

Gasping and shaking, I lowered my head, the fight draining from my body.

He leaned in close again, his warm breath brushing the scar on my cheek. “Escape,” he whispered, so softly I wasn’t even sure he spoke. “You can’t escape without your knees. You need your knees to run.”

Escape. Damn Crow for tempting me with the only thing I wanted.

He continued speaking in a louder voice as if someone was listening, shoving an empty bowl under my chin. “So spit in the bowl, give Edding what he wants, and live whole and complete for another day.”

Crow was the only one who could help me escape, the only one I could rely on to keep me alive. And he was Andrew’s father. That had to count for something. I’d heard him cry over Andrew’s death, no way he could fake that sound.

I let saliva build up in my mouth, not swallowing while I pictured lemon wedges next to salted tequila shots, puckering at the memory. Andrew had toasted our mission with tequila when we got the news, downing the stunted shots like they would be his last.

Crow held the bowl under my mouth while I spit into it. Over and over, until fluid smeared the sides, thick and slimy and slightly yellow.

“That should be enough.”

Crow pounded on the door. Two bio-hazard-suited men entered, releasing my hands from behind my back, holding me upright under the arms, dragging me from the barren chair. My arms hung limply at my sides, full of impotent rage. My legs weren’t much better, bursting with needles when I tried using them.

The commander entered the room, looking neat and tidy again.

Crow held out the half-filled bowl to Edding. “Here’s what you wanted. Now give me what you promised.”

Edding laughed, a cold hard sound. “I promised you wouldn’t die at my orders. I never said you wouldn’t die. Guards, put them both in general population.”

“You lying bastard,” Crow hissed.

“How does it feel to be betrayed?” the commander said to Crow.

Like hoarfrost around my soul.

Short Story for the Month – Episode 5: Winner Takes All

20 Jul


This is episode five of the Garden of Hell series of sci-fi short stories, following after Tiger Lilies, Two Moons, Crow’s Flight, and Impasse – all posted in the fiction section.

Copyright J. Dianne Waye July 2012

Contains mature subject matter and violence.

It took two people to repair the ship – one to lift like a human jack, one to hammer the bent landing gear into place. An unwelcome alliance with Crow had to be made, if I wanted off this planet. Pretty, with the two moons ascending over the horizon, lighting up the jagged cliffs with streaks of amber and silver, colours that weren’t visible in daylight under the emerald sky. But hostile, where every blade of grass seemed bent on snuffing out our existence.

“You lift,” I said. It made sense – he was bigger than me, with muscles honed over years of prison work-outs. It was the vulnerable job, the moment he would be at my mercy. I could kill him while he was trapped under there, defenceless.

I waited for him to protest, to find some excuse to say no, but he didn’t argue with me for a change. He lay down on the ground, wriggling into the narrow space under the belly of the ship.

“Now,” I said when we were both in place.

He let loose a low groan, and the ship slowly shifted enough for me to get to work.

“Down,” he grunted. The landing gear moved away from my reach.

“I’m not finished,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. Give me five minutes, and I’ll lift again.”

Each time he took a break, the lifting time decreased. And each pause saw the job unfinished. Damn it – I was almost done when the ship lowered again.

“I can’t hold it anymore,” Crow said, wiping his sweaty hands on a rag. “I’m too tired. You’re going to have to take a turn lifting, Chica.”

I threw down my wrench. “Don’t call me Chica.”

“Perez seems so formal after all we’ve been through. And you never told me your first name.”

“You won’t fit under the landing gear,” I said.

“Sure I will.” He smiled and grabbed my discarded wrench and flashlight, shifting over, bumping me out of my spot.

I switched places with him, wedging my arms and legs into place.

“On the count of three,” he said.

I waited for his signal, and hoisted as hard as I could. The side of the ship lifted just enough for Crow to start hammering. My muscles quivered, each breath puffing from the exertion. Burning flashes of pain shot through my limbs. Sweat stung my eyes, and I blinked it away. Time slowed down, each detail of the underbelly etching into my vision, all the little scratches and dents, the part numbers of the pieces embossed into the metal, until I had to shut my eyes.

Was this where he brained me with the hammer, or let the ship crush me under its weight? Pinned me until he blasted off, while I fried in the wake of jet fuel?

“Almost… done…” He groaned, the sounds of scuffling rocks and shifting gravel marking the point he wedged himself free.

“Finished,” he said.

I slowly lowered the weight. If I dropped it quickly, the bounce-back could kill me, saving Crow the effort.

“Come on out from under there,” he said. “What are you waiting for?”

He leered over me, a jack-o-lantern grin cracking over his parched lips, grabbing my arms to help drag me out. The mist swirled around his burnt feet, tendrils of grey brightening with the rising dawn.

In the field around us, those crazy plant people stood like trees, waiting for the first rays of sunlight to bring them to life. Crow walked around the statuary clusters, some more complete than others. All the Rosevelts looked human-like; they’d had the most time to grow. The Fausts were still malformed and misshapen, as if reflecting the soul of the original man.

“Creepy,” Crow said. “It’d drive me crazy, looking at this every day.”

I ran a hand over my forehead and squinted at the night sky. The moons were almost down. I figured we had an hour, maybe two, before sunrise. “No time left for a water run,” I said.

“You can make it, if you run there and back,” he said. “My feet are too damaged for running.”

“I’m too tired. We can go together, at dusk.”

“Fine by me. Let’s test the landing gear. I’ll fire this baby up, and you tell me if the warp casing slips into place.”

“No – you check the casing. I’ll handle the controls.”

“Darling, you don’t trust me.” He laughed it off, but he knew I wouldn’t leave without a supply of water.

I stepped inside the ship and fired up the controls, testing the warp bubble, on off, on off. The lights blinked green, good to go. I popped open the cargo bay door to his wide grin.

“Looks like we’re free,” he said, as he made to step inside. “All good out here.”

I cracked him in the face with my fist, snapping his jaw to the side, spittle flying, the satisfying crunch followed by a trail of blood from his nose.

“That’s for kissing me without permission,” I said. “Don’t ever touch me again.”

“Duly noted, Private Perez 4930,” he said as he bolted the door against the rising dawn.

The pounding of my heart kept me from sleeping. Blowing sand peppered the windows. The subtle rustling of the zombie people fell quiet before the onset of the sandstorm, hunched forms turning their backs to the wind. Outside the sky grew dim.

I fired up the navigational system, searching for the co-ordinates to my first assignment, an uninhabited planet that failed to meet the standards for colonization. It couldn’t feed a nation, but it could support two humans. Or one.

“What are you looking for?” Crow leaned over my terminal, careful to keep his distance from my fists.

“Somewhere to go.”

“Let me know when you find something.” He nestled into his bunk and closed his eyes.

I settled back in my seat and went to work. It would help if I could remember that damned planet’s name. There were thousands of possibilities all ending with the co-ordinates 851, the code for habitable planets rejected for colonization. Would somebody have entered the mission results yet, or were they still buried under a stack of reports yet to be logged?

It didn’t matter if it took me all day to find it – nothing else mattered, not sleep, not peace, not hunger, not fatigue. Everything else became insignificant, yielding to the simple fact that I could never go home. And I could not live here.

Crow was snoring when I found the co-ordinates to my new Eden. I stifled the cheer that wanted to erupt. No way would I wake him and tell him what I found; it was my only leverage against him. I wrote down the details on a piece of paper and tucked it into my pocket, then tried to fall asleep.

The sunset blazed lingering streaks of blue and green across the sky. Long cool shadows stretched and faded into the twilight, finally surrendering to the darkness. Dusk fell, bringing with it the welcome slumber of the plant-people standing at attention, sentinels gathering, thickening, replicating with each passing day. I stepped outside to walk through their rows, tall and swaying like cornstalks, looking for that one special face: Andrew Miller. There was only one of him, and he wasn’t in this crowd. Disappointed, wanting my farewell, I turned away, trailing a hand over the last form. Its skin was rough like corn husks, crazy feet anchored into the dirt. The moons peeked over the horizon, casting pale double-edged shadows over the rough ground.

Crow popped outside, fresh-faced and eager. “Did you find our planet?”

“No,” I said.

“Let’s get moving.” He slung half of the empty water containers over his shoulder and trudged toward the river, limping along, but after a kilometre or two he seemed to forget about his burnt feet. “We should check the village before we leave. There’s bound to be supplies we can use.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Better time it.”

I looked at my watch. We had three hours out, three hours back, an hour margin for error, and then sunrise. Lots of time for him to ditch me and escape on his own, to leave me behind.

The village waited, an eerie hush dampening our footsteps over the moss-covered sidewalk, the village square gazebo a mausoleum to my dead companions. Inside, amongst the rotting flesh and brittle bones, the charred remains of the blazed eggplants were overrun by thriving new plants, despite Miller’s attempt to burn it all down. This was where it all started – the evolution of a new species, the mingling of plant and animal.

Outside the tiger lilies swayed, soft white blooms tipped in orange and black. Beautiful in design, heartless in purpose – the judge, jury and executioner of my species.

“Go check that house,” Crow said. “See if you can find anything useful. I’ll check the other one.” He nodded his head, eyes glued to me.

I took a few steps in the direction he pointed, then paused and looked back. He hesitated, watching me, waiting. I stepped toward the house again. He walked away, a little. I stopped. He stopped.

Our eyes locked. In those brown eyes so much like Andrew’s, lurked the shadows of betrayal. He smiled, but his grin faded when I didn’t look away.

I turned and ran. I could make it back to the ship first. I wasn’t about to let him leave me behind while I sauntered around the village looking for supplies.

He bolted after me. And for someone with burned feet, he sure ran fast.

Panting, sweating, I broke into a steady run, hitting full stride as the grasslands smoothed the way. The water bottles thumped against my hips, weighing me down, but I would need them later. A kilometre yielded. I turned, glancing back, and there he was, moonlight gleaming off his shiny bald head, still keeping pace with me.

Tired, my vision blurred; the broken shadows deceptive. A rock twisted under my boot and I tumbled down, rolling to absorb the impact. I stood up and put full weight on my foot, wincing at the results. Sprained, not broken. The pain brought on a sheen of fresh sweat. I shivered in the coolness of the lonely night, each step focusing and narrowing my vision, until the world was nothing but me and my insane pursuer, while the rows of zombie people stretched across the horizon, blocking the path to the shuttlecraft.

I plunged into their depths, running, running. The field of zombies shifted, taking me down a pathway that broke out into open space. I burst into a clearing, but it wasn’t the one around the ship. I submerged into their midst again.

This pathway led back to Crow. He sprinted over the last ridge, eyes wild with fear before he dove into the tall stalks and disappeared.

Moonlight glinted off a taillight, flashing a sliver of red, showing me the way back to the ship. I made it there before Crow.

Miller stepped in front of me, barring the way. “Eeeevaaaaa…” he moaned, the sound stopping me dead.

Everything stilled.

“Andrew,” I whispered, as I looked up into his face.

He lifted a stiff arm and touched my cheek with his fingers, tracing over the half-moon scar carved into my skin. In his eyes, the edges of brown pulsed and grew, swallowing the green, as if somewhere inside his humanity fought to be free.


I couldn’t breathe.

Crow broke free from the maze. And in that moment, as indecision paralyzed my limbs, his opportunity presented itself. He withdrew a concealed revolver, pointing it my way.

Shots shattered the night. Andrew’s scream wailed so high it broke the spell riveting me in place. He clutched at me as he fell, papery hands grasping mine, slipping away.

The stalks swayed, angry but impotent without sunlight.

“Come,” Crow said, dragging me away from his son writhing in the dirt.

Crow stowed the supplies, powered up the engines, and buckled himself in.

“Enter the co-ordinates,” he said.

I didn’t argue or pretend I didn’t know them. I tapped them into the system – 420 684 851.

Exhaustion cusped over adrenaline as I fastened my seatbelt. I closed my eyes and yawned, the ship shaking as we left orbit, to open them on the planet shrinking smaller and smaller in the viewport, until it was an insignificant speck in the heavens.

I was wrong about Crow – he never wanted to leave me behind. I finally started to relax for the first time in weeks. Or months. How much time had passed?

A clanking noise broke through my drifting thoughts, driving away the haunting memories of tangling vines and choking creepers. All around the ship the warp bubble swallowed the view, trapping us in its claustrophobic shell. No matter how many times I made the jump, I never got used to the sensation of warp travel. It felt like my soul was tearing away from my body, making me question if they would rejoin. Was this what dying felt like?

Crow looked at me and grinned that jack-o-lantern smile of his. “Computer – Override Destination Co-Ordinates.” The words came out rough as his teeth rattled in the shockwave. “New destination 370 929 850.”

850 was the code for a colonized planet.

No, this was what dying felt like.