Dime Store Novel: Episode 4

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Ah, the plot thickens. Enjoy the latest installment and a shower scene…

(if you need a recap, Episodes 1-3 can be found here: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/03/18/dime-store-novel-episode-three/


While Link set up the lines to refuel the ship, Rhea visited the great Hall of Books. Laria shed her outer layers with relish as if coming home and kicking her shoes off. She sighed and rolled the tension from her neck while Finn watched her from the corner of his spectacles. He never pressed, but she somehow felt compelled to speak in his presence. She watched Rhea gasp through the stacks of books, reaching out to touch only to pull her hand back in fear or reverence.

“I’m sorry to come here. I’m sorry to bring trouble,” Laria began and looked down at her dirty clothes. Finn was accustomed to seeing her disrobed to her under garments, as she tended to shed the extra weight of armor and weaponry shortly after entering The Library. He motioned for her to join him in her quarters at the end of the hall. He never offered her room to any other visitor or traveling scholar. It was Eularia’s room, even without her around. Some nights, when the desire of missing her was too great, and the Ring’s hold on her too strong, he slept there. 

“Rhea is no trouble.” He assured, glancing over his shoulder to where the young girl was cautiously exploring the section of biological texts.

“She’s—I don’t know what she is, Finn, but I gotta bad feeling about this. About her.”

“Because?”

“Because T’Elliot contacted me before his ship was blown to nothing-dust to tell me she needed to be protected. I feel like this could be—” she paused to scowl, “more important than I like to get involved with.”
Finn’s eyes settled on her thin, once-white camisole and shook himself into reality. 

“Well, we mustn’t place too much on our feelings about getting involved—” coldness tinged his words.

“Finn—” she whispered. “I can’t—You know why I can’t be here with you all the time. I’ve got too many enemies. I’ve got too much baggage. I don’t belong in one place for long. I don’t belong anywhere,” her voice cracked with the weight of the day.

“You could if you chose to! You could stay, here. You could stay with me,” he said suddenly and turned away; his whole body flushed with heated blood. “I mean here…in the book stacks. In the quiet. Aren’t you tired of fighting all the time?” he whispered and she felt his frustration in the space of the room.

Laria sighed. He wasn’t wrong.
 
“Kronos, yes,” she admitted and stared down at her scraped and bruised hands. “It’s just—Rhea. She’s different, Finn. She’s—she’s a map.”

“You mean she has a map? What kind of map?”
“
No. I think she is a map.”

“A map to what? Treasure?”

“She says it’s something called the Conduit.”
Finn’s brows drew in and he studied her. 

“The Conduit?”

“Yeah? Did I stutter?” 

He turned and raced up the ladder to the top shelf of books; the ones he’d kept away from public view in fear that they’d be destroyed or stolen. Books he hoped to read to her someday.
 He was instantly preoccupied with the search for whatever the word had inspired in him, and hunted through the rows with lingering fingers and soft words pressed between his lips; whispered names, dates, titles. For long minutes he went on.

“Okay…look, I’m gonna go clean up. You—” but Finn didn’t acknowledge her or even pretend to have heard in the midst of his fixation. “Right. Keep on, doing what bookies do.” She said, partly annoyed but mostly enamored with Finn’s singular focus. 

Link met up with her in the hall, olive eyes falling to her light camisole, before snapping to attention. 

“I’ll find the kid a place to stay, and I’ll hold off on calling my contact until we figure more out,” he said, resigned. Laria looked at him and sighed.

“Look, Link. I know it’s been a rough day.”

“And—how is that different from any other turn for us?” he smirked.

She reached out and dug a piece of shrapnel out of his leather vest. He watched her lithe fingers dislodge the shard. He heard her sigh.

“You’re not the worst partner a pirate could have.”

Link smiled and took the sharp piece from her hand, fingers grazing. “Why that might be the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me,” he smiled, dashingly. She rolled her eyes and headed for the shower room. 

The ability to wash up after the smoke-filled battle and the remnants of days without water was a decadence rarely afforded. Water was not something they had an abundance of on the ship. Though the moon of Titan was made almost purely of ice, the Royals found a way to market everything and could turn a profit from rock if it suited them. But The Library, once a rectory of power and the hubris of man’s infantile knowledge, had been equipped with running water, electricity, and quite a comfortable existence for something not directly controlled by the Royals. It was lucky for them at all that Link happened to be school-friends with Finn. It had certainly made the difference in her life. 

These thoughts and the strange history of her connection to Link and Finn played on her mind as she stripped off her underclothes and stood beneath the warm and indulgent spray. The grime of the Ring and ship life washed down the drain in rivulets of gray and left her skin, once again softly pink. The warmth seared the grazes of bullet wounds and shrapnel kisses and the caked-on blood slowly faded in ribbons down the drain. Her hair, less silt gray, her muscles less tense.

“What do you know about Saturn Rising?” The question cut the stillness as Finn rushed in, book in hand and glasses fogging from the bottom up. He tore them off and began flipping pages while steadily approaching the open tiled semicircle where she was unabashedly facing him beneath the spray. 

When he did look up, his throat contract in a hard swallow, the book softened in his hands. Eyes lingered; lips parted. She raised her eyebrows and thought of how many other men she would have killed in such a situation. 

“Saturn Rising? Is that what you call it?” she said and looked down below the heavy volume to his very unscholarly reaction. 

“I—apologies—” he fumbled and left the room with the stiff-legged pace of a man who’d encountered an immobile wall and was forced to go someplace else.

Laria stared after him and scowled. “Years alone in a monastery and that’s your response?” A pause from the 
dust-moted hallway.

“I’ll speak to you when you’re dressed.” 

“Men are stupid.” She grumbled and toweled off.
	
When she rejoined the group in the main hall, Link sat playing Druidroll with Rhea over the checkered octagon, both strategizing over the next three moves. Finn was at the table, a cup of tea going cold in front of him, his eyes cast deliberately down into the pages of the book.
	
“How was the shower?” Link asked with his eyebrow raised.
	
“It was wet,” she said, ignoring Finn.
	
“Good, I hope you used soap, you smelled.” Link smiled and made his move. Rhea’s eyes scanned the board.
	
“You’re not exactly a bed of roses yourself,” she retorted.
	
“Well, you could have asked me to join you—save some water.” Link sat back and looked at her. Finn cleared his throat. “Or was it too crowded in there already?”
	
“Don’t be a dick.” 
	
Rhea giggled and made a calculated move, taking three of Link’s pieces at once.
	
"So, what did you find out, bookie?” she asked with the sting of a woman rejected and sat in the farthest seat from him, legs folded, fingers combing through her wet hair. Finn watched her disinterested grooming over the top of his glasses and looked away, again his thoughts distracted by the memory of her water-warmed skin.
	
“Saturn Rising,” he began. 

Rhea looked up from the board and her post victory smile fell.
	
“You know about Saturn Rising?” she squeaked.
	
“What’s Saturn Rising?” Link asked and looked between Finn and Rhea.
	
“I know what it’s not,” Laria said and withdrew her moonblade to clean beneath her fingernails. Finn blushed and redirected. 

“Saturn Rising is a celestial event that happens once in a thirty-year cycle. Mostly it’s insignificant and passes without anyone knowing. While the event usually has epicenters, the locations are usually out of reach for our traveling tech. But this cycle, this Saturn Rising, is happening within the next few days. Here, inside of The Rings.”

“Uh, OK? But what is Saturn Rising? Like a solar flare? A reversal of poles?” Link asked.

Finn shook his head, “It’s hard to explain. Imagine a shift…a sort of—gathering of space and time.”

“I don’t follow.”

“It provides possible doorways, to other worlds. Sometimes even different times.”

“Ugh, could we talk about this after food?” Laria said and threw back her head. Finn scowled at her, knowing she was downplaying his intellect out of retribution, so he ignored her.

“Here,” Finn said and stood up. He took the table cloth and gathered it. “Imagine this is space—”

“Can we imagine some food to put on it?” Laria countered.

Finn went on without acknowledging her hangry fit. 
“Now, space and time sort of—undulate.” The word was sensual as his long fingers played with the silken material in soft waves. Laria watched them with entirely different thoughts in her head than space portals. “During a Saturn Rising, the fabric folds over itself. It’s believed that in these moments, people are closest to their true selves, and that we solidify into who we are in these moments of fold—”

“Ferking astrology,” Laria scoffed.

“When Saturn was first being colonized, Prophetics postulated that during one of these folds, A Conduit could be used to open a sort of slit in the fabric, and a person or ship could hop across the fold into the other place in the universe. Rhea, your father was the leading Prophetic in the study of Saturn Rising. I’ve read that he may have even been present the last one.”

Rhea blushed and her dark eyes sank into Finn’s.

“Hop into another place in the universe?” Laria chided. “Sure. I’ll just pop on over a billion light years to the neighbors for a spot of tea—” 

With an ease that should have been impossible, Finn took the knife from her hand, pickpocket speed. 

“Hey!”

He spun it in his long fingers with an agility she hadn’t know he’d possessed. Holding up the folded fabric, he gently perforated the two layers. 

“One side is our world,” he looked around the fabric to where the knife protruded. “The other side is a different one.”

All eyes stared at him. The room fell eerily silent. 

“So, Rhea knows how to find the…well the knife in this case? The Conduit?” Link said.

“If D’Sol’s theory could be believed, yes,” Finn said and laid the table cloth back down, the holes now spread wide from one another. “In the same way he found the last one. I think it’s in her genetic code to be drawn to the anomalies surrounding a fold.”

“Why in Kronos’ name would anyone want to jump across time to some place they knew nothing about?” Laria asked.

Finn held up his finger and an excited glow lit his eyes. “Ah! Beautiful question!” Laria blushed inadvertently. “D’Sol believed that on this particular rising, the cloth would fold back to Earth. He writes here that an anomaly occurred last time, thirty years ago, wherein something came through the fold and that the universe would naturally seek to fix the balance by repeating the fold on the next Saturn Rising.”

“Uh—” Laria’s disbelief hung on the air. “Earth was destroyed thousands of years ago.”

“Well, technically it still exists, it was just—uninhabitable. Or it was when humans left it. D’Sol argued that it could be a much-recovered planet and due to the difference in Saturn’s years versus the Earth’s, it would have had time to recover.”

“Wait, are you saying the Earth could be livable, again?” Link abandoned the game.

“What would that matter if it was? We can’t get possibly get back there. It took people thousands of years just to get to Saturn, to set up operations…to start over. You’d never have enough fuel to make it there, let alone the life span to survive the trip.” Laria injected harsh reality into the hopeful glow.

“Unless the trip only took a few minutes,” Finn whispered, leveling his eyes on her “Across a fold of space.”

Dime Store Novel: Episode Three

Quick announcement in today’s blog: If you are in the Fort Collins or Northern Colorado area, I will be doing a live reading of my short story “Rinse, Reincarnate, Repeat” in partnership with CopperMuse Distillery (https://www.coppermuse.com/) on March 28th from 4-6pm. Along with a fun little story about God, Love, Stardust, Split-Aparts and Dogs, this incredible distillery will be featuring a special cocktail to go along with the story.

And now, this:

Part three in the continuing saga. Today’s excerpt is a bit longer… Because, I couldn’t not introduce Finn O’Toole. If you need help catching up, here are the first two installments.

1.) https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/01/21/dime-store-novel-episode-one/

2.) https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/02/18/dime-store-novel-episode-two/

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com
“Have you any idea what you’ve just done?” T’Elliot’s voice snapped onto the com before Laria had a chance to change Walt’s course. 
“Look, Telly, if you didn’t want those men to get shot—”
“And stabbed,” Link added, unhelpfully.
“—they shouldn’t have shot first. This ain’t no sandbox on Iapetus, you had a bounty—” Laria's throat constricted. “We took her.”
“What you did is put this whole solar system in jeopardy, maybe the whole universe, you worthless Mutt!”
“Ease up, Telly. I gotta long memory and I’m likely to see you again before those kinds of words get forgotten.”
“She isn’t just some map! That girl is incredibly important!”
“So says the payment,” Link spoke now.
“And did you ever stop to wonder who was paying for her?” T’Elliot’s voice got quieter. “Or why so much was offered?”
“I dunno,” Laria scowled at Link. “Did we think about that?” 
“The men, I can forgive you for. They were idiots and shoddy pirates at best, but if you bring her back, I’ll forgive the debt you owe.”
“I don’t owe you a kronosdamn thing,” Laria said and swung the ship across two vectors to reach the adjacent ring, slightly off course for Titan. She needed to think.
“What are you doing?” Link covered the com with his hand and looked at her. 
“What are we doing? Who’s paying for this girl?” she whispered back.
“I am not a man to beg,” T’Elliot interrupted their conversation, more calmly than before. Laria could picture him putting his bald forehead to steepled hands and sighing into the holy space of what usually amounted to a hypocritical prayer. “But, please, Eularia Longfellow, bring her back. We have to keep her safe.”
“Safe from who exactly?” Laria said. Silence filled the space between the orbiting ships. “Who is she, Telly?”
“She’s the map.”
“Yeah, well that means about gorseshit to me right now. I don’t need—”
“To the Conduit.”
“Could somebody please tell me what the ferk that means?” Laria yelled. Link shrugged. Rhea smiled at her from her bound position in the back chair. A knowing smile. A map at peace with herself and her silence. T’Elliot broke the confusion first.
“The Conduit is the tool that opens the portal—” 
Static. Silence. A slight tremor in The Ring. Laria looked behind them to see a ripple in space from where they’d just flown. A blossom of orange in the dark sky. A ship, snuffed out, leaving only the burning ember of wreckage. 
“Holy Ferk,” Link said, staring with wide eyes. 
“Kronos,” Laria breathed and immediately hit the cloaking button, bathing her ship, Walt, in the soft blue glow that hid them from sight and enveloped them in a forcefield. She redirected course immediately, causing the ship to swerve down and below the ring-way. 
“What are you doing?” Link yelled, not buckled and tumbling around the cabin until she righted the ship in its new course. “You put us in cloak and we’ll never have enough fuel to make it to Titan!”
“We’re not going to Titan,” Laria said.
“What? But the paycheck!”
“Somebody wants her, or wants to kill her, bad enough that they blew up a whole ship in the broad light of space. And I’m not getting blown up today, Link, so sit down and shut up.” She programmed in new coordinates, factoring in the tremendous cost of energy and fuel to the cloaking apparatus which wasn’t exactly sanction. They had a two-hour range, and only a few ports that might be safe. Once word got out that T’Elliot’s ship had been destroyed and they were the last ones in contact with it, those few ports dwindled to one, and Laria’s cheeks warmed at the last option.
“Mimas,” she whispered. 
“Mimas? Why Mimas?” Link said buckling up and settling in to help run the diagnostics that would keep their cloak from burning up too much fuel.
“The Library is on Mimas,” she said simply.
“Finn O’Toole is on Mimas.”
She scowled at Link.
“Does she ever smile?” Rhea sang from behind them.
“If she ever did, it was probably on Mimas,” Link chuckled.
“Mimas is overlooked and out of the way. It’s an orbital sanctuary, has a re-fueling station, and The Library will have information on what in the hades a Conduit is, and why it’s worth so much money and death.”
“And Mimas has Finn O’Toole.”
“Shut up, Link.”

*	*	*	*

“My old friend!” Link shouted and raised his arms, as if it were his home that Finn O’Toole had just walked into, and not the other way around. “It’s been too many turns!”
“Has it?” Finn said. “Sometimes it feels like it’s not enough.” He searched the sky to assess any danger his loud-mouthed, former school mate might have brought with him. 
When Link came to town, it was usually followed or preceded by some sort of mayhem, and usually in the form of blaster fire. Of course, it also meant that Eularia would be with him. And that’s where he directed his attention next; to the ship’s loading bay, opened wide like a great yawning mouth. A small, dark-haired girl walked a pace behind Link, absorbing the sky and surroundings like someone who’d been too long in space. Or someone who’s mind was not completely in this orbit. Her small feet took heavy steps as though they were her first. Interesting as this girl’s clandestine and tranquil manner was, he was really hoping for a scowl, from someone more uniquely beautiful and rough.
Finn had been kept away, at Eularia’s blaster length, for their first few years. It wasn’t a surprise; she trusted so few. But he’d discovered her soft fondness for the written word and through books, had been able to bring an unguarded smile to her face on more than one occasion. Since then, he’d judged his worth on how often he could make her smile. It meant bringing out some of his rarest books, or reading to her while she pretended to be asleep in his dilapidated hammock by the high window of The Library. 
He still recalled the last time they’d visited him for Sanctuary. He sat below her, reading. And as his persuasive words drifted up, followed by his gaze to light on her resplendent form, she draped one long arm over the side, a beautiful wide smile on her lips and his heart fell. Her fingers gently tugged on his curls and she pulled him in for a warm kiss before retreating back into the woven cocoon.
“I love when you read to me,” she whispered.
The destruction of his heart was complete in that moment. Finn stood no chance at ever living through her. Only five or so times they’d met in the last few cycles, and he looked forward to each and every one. Did she ever feel this way? The heart pounding anticipation of just being in the same room?
Link roused him with a knowing shove.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be here. She’s powering the decelerators down. We had to ride the last six orbits in cloak and Walt’s a bit hot.”
“Why in hades were you in cloak?” Romantic thoughts of Laria drained from Finn’s mind as quickly as they’d spread. He examined the sky again.
“Oh, am I supposed to ignore that sad puppy face you were just making when you thought I came alone?”
“I don’t—I don’t know what you’re—who’s this?” Finn asked, sidestepping Link and offering his hand to the young girl who held up her metal-clamped wrists in response. “Why’s she bound?”
“She is our bounty—least that’s what I thought she was this morning, but Longfellow is having inner turmoil over the matter. So naturally, she’s come looking for comfort.” Link said with a wry grin and wiggled his dark eyebrows in Finn’s perplexed direction. 
“Bounty? But she’s just a child—and what do you mean by comfort—”
“My name is Rhea D’Sol,” Rhea cut in and beamed up at Finn. She had to look quite a way up. He stood taller than most, lanky and in possession of a wild mop of curly hair, glasses and a regimented bow tie, Finn wasn’t the kind of man women sought comfort in. Least of all women like Eularia Longfellow 
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he tried to shake her hand again and turned back to Link. “Really? Are the binds necessary? We are not barbarians here. You’ve stepped off of your ship and onto my grounds. And I don’t hold with detaining prisoners in The Library. You know the rules,” Finn said, quiet but stern, and Link merely shrugged his shoulders. 
“Hey, bookie, take it up with the Captain. I’m sure she’d love to have you boss her around.”
Finn swallowed hard and looked to where Eularia had finished camouflaging the ship from overhead view and now strode across the flight deck, Walt’s hull door steaming closed behind her. The evening Mimas winds blew her hair across her heart-shaped face and the light of the setting star lit her skin in a warm golden glow.
“Pull your thoughts outta your groin and back into your head, bookie, and try breathing with your mouth closed,” Link whispered up to his ear. 
“My thoughts—”
“She’s like an angel,” Rhea whispered in reverence.
“She’s no angel,” Link answered though similarly heart struck at the sight of his captain and her determined gait. 
“What the ferk are you all standin’ around for?” she scowled. Finn smiled goofily at her before composing himself with a serious throat clearing.
“Captain Longfellow, I don’t think I should have to remind you that The Library es expiabat sanctuarium ab nocere.”
“’S that how we’re starting? Latin? After the kronosdamn day I’ve had?” she snapped.
“Apologies, but the rule still stands,” he said. The quiet velvet of his voice offered more reprimand than she knew how to handle. She cleared her throat, shifted a bag over her shoulder, and looked at her scuffed boots.
“I—know, I’m sorry. You’re right. She’s not really a prisoner. She’s just…a huge pain in my ass.” Laria cut away the weak bonds with her moonglass knife and Rhea rubbed at the swollen skin.
“How do you do that?” Link whispered and nudged Finn in the ribs, hard. “She’s never apologized to me!”
“You don’t deserve any apologies!” Laria yelled back at Link. “Sanctuary from Harm has saved our asses more than once, and I think there should be some honor amongst thieves. Even poor excuses for them like you! Fuel the ship, laser brain.” She brushed past the group and stepped through the carved stone door before the blush on her cheeks could incriminate her further.
“I like the Captain when she blushes. She’s very pretty.” Rhea skipped along behind her.
“In a cut-your-digit-off-for-touching-her-thigh kinda way.” Link muttered. 
“There’s nothing wrong with having boundaries.” Finn smiled; secretly happy he’d never suffered that fate.
“I’ve worked with her for eight cycles and not once has she ever taken my advice, Finn.”
“And we thank the stars for that, or you’d both be dead by now,” Finn said, matter-of-factly and followed Rhea inside.

Dime Store Novel: Episode Two

And now–a continuation of last month’s “Saturn Rising

(If you need to catch up, here’s the link to Episode One: https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/01/21/dime-store-novel-episode-one/)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
 
 “Where in the hades are we taking this—thing?” she barely acknowledged the bound and now gagged girl in the seat next to him. The gag had been Laria’s idea. Though their ‘package’ had come willing with Link’s smooth and deep-voiced insistence that she had nothing to fear, Laria couldn’t have her sobbing out thanks or screaming in alarm. They had enough ferking problems. 
 
Getting off of T’Elliot’s ship hadn’t exactly been graceful and Laria suffered a deep gash when a lucky blaster shot had caught her arm as they’d tumbled through the airlock and activated the emergency escape course. Thank Kronos her ship was smarter than Link. The girl looked at Laria from beneath long, black lashes and a shiver ran beneath her suit. Those nebulous eyes, deep and trusting, reminded her of Edmund D’Sol. He had those eyes. Too soft for a place as hard as The Ring. Maybe this girl was a Prophetic also. Maybe she was just a girl that someone wanted.
 
“I’m not into flesh trafficking, Link, so you’d better have something else in mind.”
            
“Ugh, do you think me so crass?” Link placed his hand over the heart of his blue leather vest. Leather. Remnant of the creatures that had almost made a go of it in some of the settlements. Almost. Nothing survived out here. 
             
“I don’t know what to think of you anymore,” she shook her head.
             
“Now that hurts! Eight years we’ve been out here and you’ve never cut me so deep.”
             
“We both know that’s not true.”
           
“I forgive you my finger.” He said and held up the shortened digit in salute.
             
“Forgive me? Listen, you deserved that ounce. Probably more.” 
            
 “And to this day I’ve learned my lesson not to touch unless invited.” He smiled. She felt a small tickle in her cheeks, as though they were trying to mimic it. “Is that invitation still waylaid, or can I expect it soon—”
          
“The girl, Link. Focus.”
             
He rolled his eyes. “Someday, Eularia, you’ll see me for the catch I am.”
             
“I already know of at least three things I’d catch from you so, no thanks. The girl.” 
             
“Titan,” he said the word like a bitter taste in the back of his throat.
             
“No ferkin—”
             
“Titan, the far side,” he repeated.
             
“I—”
             
“Hate me?”
             
“Don’t like this. This whole thing. This isn’t Dolarian Chickens, Link! This is a kronosdamn human! Who pays for humans? No one good, I can tell you that much.”
             
“Do you want to get out of The Ring or not?”
           
Laria set the course to stay in the orbit of the second ring then spun her chair around to face the girl. Reluctantly, and with a scowl so fierce she might have been able to overthrow a government with it, Laria removed the gag from the small triangle of her face. The girl did not scream, only studied Laria, curiously.
             
“You are from a different people,” she said softly and in broken words. “Mismatched eyes, very rare. Are you alien?”
             
“Oh for…no! I’m a Mutt.” Laria shifted uncomfortably. 
             
“But you have old blood…something…before Royal even—” The girl’s face was in awe.
             
“I didn’t ungag you to talk about a lot of old people that I wouldn’t give two shits for. I wanna know who you are.”
             
“I am Rhea.”
            
 “Wow! The goddess? Funny, I imagined you taller.” Laria dismissed.
             
“Rhea D’Sol.” Rhea elongated the last name and stared at her pointedly. Laria cocked her head and shied away from the coincidence.
            
 “And?” she said, as if that was supposed to mean something.
             
“I am the map to the Conduit.”
             
“Like I said, a map.” Link said, a wave of his hand and everything explained.
             
“A map is a set of coordinates, laser brain, not a kronosdamn person.”
             
“I am the map to the Conduit,” the girl repeated, as if for the first time. The revelation meant nothing to Laria even on the second go around. She sighed, the line between her eyes deepening.
             
“Right. A map. Cool—” she rubbed the line inadvertently hoping the headache behind it would magically stop. “Link. I swear to the gods—”
             
“I promise, its nothing shady!”
             
“If we get there and its some drooling old Royal looking for his kicks with a fourteen—”
             
“I am fifteen—”
             
“Year old kid,” Laria interrupted. “I will tie you to a lanyard and drag The Ring with you.”
             
“I swear, Eularia—”
             
“I will hit e-ve-er-y ferking rock in The Ring, Link.”
             
“Understood, Captain,” he leveled his deep brown, olive eyes on hers and smiled. Laria buried her head in her hands and nodded. 
             
“I guess we’re headed to the dark side of Titan. Buckle up, ferkers. It’s gonna get rough.”
  
 *          *          *          *
  
 “God is a mean-spirited, pugnacious bully bent on revenge against His children for failing to live up to his impossible standards.”
  W. Whitman
  
 Evangeline A’Faust hated Saturn. Mostly, she hated Saturnians. But today she set into motion a plan that would allow her to leave this Kronos forsaken out-post, once and for all. Based on a prophecy she had intercepted in the grit of The Ring; she began planning the acquisition of an important map that would lead to a Conduit. A Conduit which, she hoped, would open a portal to a new planet. 
 
She had always been underestimated; the spoiled daughter of the Supreme Council Leader himself. But she had no desire to take control of this planet’s dying population. She wanted a new solar system to mine. More bountiful profits to gain. She could be the Supreme Goddess of a new world if she desired, unfettered by the laws of this one. Evangeline smirked at the turbulent and impassable rings outside her window. The key to her power was on a ship not six-marks from them. By the end of the moon rise in Titan, she’d have the map and soon the Conduit.

Evangeline looked down at her manicured nails and picked a bit of crusted blood from one corner; murdering the Prophetics who knew of the Conduit had proven to be nasty, bloody business. But one she took pleasure in. Bloodshed could only lead to a higher purpose, higher than any who had come before her. And, after all, Saturn’s Children were born to be sacrificed.
 
When the vastness of space began to close in on her, she turned away from the viewing deck and clasped her hands carefully in front of her robes. She’d sent that idiot, Janus A’verlink, for the map, having learned by removing a Prophetic’s organs, one at a time, that it was in the possession of T’Elliot’s pirating crew. The Ring Rats were also attempting to at gain control of the Conduit, it seemed. Her back-up, because where Janus ‘Link’ A’verlink was concerned one should always have a back-up, was to have her best and most viscous marksman go after them and clean up any Ring Rat interlopers that might try to take control of the map. 

It was a delicate balance to maintain. But Evangeline loved balance. 

Dime Store Novel: Episode One

Hey Kids! Do you know what time it is?

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That’s right! It’s the inaugural episode of The Beautiful Stuff’s Novella Series. Every third week of the month I’ll be running a small piece of one of my light-hearted sci-fi novellas for your mental break and enjoyment. Without further ado, enjoy!

Photo by Nicole Avagliano on Pexels.com

Saturn Rising
By Sarah Reichert

“You have not known what you are, you have slumber’d upon yourselves all your life.”
W. Whitman

“I’m getting pretty ferking tired of your great ideas, Link!” Laria shouted over the sound of blaster fire. She dodged away from the shrapnel exploding by her head and cursed beneath her breath. “Half-assed, brain-frozen, Royal snot rocket—”

            “Hey!” he yelled back from his crouch on the other side of the hallway. “Easy with the ‘Royal’. You’re gonna hurt my feelings!” he smiled the beautiful smile of someone who had an easier upbringing. She scowled back and yelled intelligibly as she emptied her cartridge into the hallway, leveling six of the ten armed men.

            “Kronos, Laria—” Link barely had a chance to look through the smoke to see the rain of death she’d served, before she’d reloaded with an angry shake of her head and charged down the hall in the moment of confusion. He didn’t want to be accused of being cowardly on top of her tirade, so like any reluctant partner, he followed, covering her charge with his blaster fire. He winged one, caught another in the neck, and she dispatched the other two with frightening speed and the two moonglass knives tucked into the sleeves of her suit.

            The gunfire ceased. The hall turned into a fog-covered graveyard and settled in eerie silence.

            “That wasn’t so bad.” Link looked around with a nod and an impressed smile.

            “You’re a ferking idiot.” She shoved his shoulder and moved passed him. “We’ll be lucky if that little welcoming party didn’t wake the whole kronodamned ship. ‘In and out, quiet as a couple of space rats!’ That’s what you said!” she swung her head to the left and right as she moved with stealth down the hall way.

            “Well, if we’re taking count, when have I ever been right about the ease of things?” he smiled to her back. She felt it, like a warm pocket of laughter trying to caress. She drew her shoulder blades back to ward it off.

            “Don’t try being cute, let’s just get the kronosdamned map and get out of here.”

            “You’ve got such a lovely mouth.”

            “I ferking hate you,” she said and ended the conversation by kicking in the door to the storage bay with the snapping cock of her recharged weapon.

            The bay was dark and unguarded. Not something she expected to be sure. Especially with the line of goons that T’Elliot had stationed outside. She opened the shield bag from her utility belt and her eyes swept the room, adjusting to the dark quicker than Link’s.

Royal genetics, she sniffed as he bumbled into a crate beside her; useless in The Ring. Royals liked to shit on the Ring Rats and Gassers, but every Saturnian, from the Titans to the smallest moon outliers knew that the Royals were a dying breed. Remnants of an inbred class system, and not a hard day’s work among them.

            “How big is this map?” she whispered, as Link reached for his light and swept it into the far corners of the crated room. A pair of eyes flashed back at them. Dark eyes…nebulous. The firelight inside them burned into Laria’s brain instantaneously. They belonged to a girl, small and buried in a ragged cloak, shaking and frightened and cowering into the corner. Her long, thin arms pulled into her chest as she tried to sink back into the darkness.

            “Human sized?” Link said looking back at Laria with that same smile.

            “I ferking hate you.”

*          *          *          *

            The power in the boosters of their small Titan port ship fired with a thrust ratio not available to most in The Rings. That was thanks to Link, unfortunately. Laria reasoned it was the least he could do, tinkering with her ship to make it faster, as it was always his fault they had to get away quickly.

But this. She clenched her teeth and her jaw popped. She didn’t even want to look over at him, sitting with that smug and stupid smile, arms above his head like he was just taking in the scenery on a space cruise.

He had no right looking like a cat that caught a canary. The phrase her mother had used was still stuck in Laria’s head. Kronos knew where she’d gotten it. Probably from the strange and rare set of books she’d had. Laria didn’t even know what a cat was. Or a canary. But it was probably what the Royal Council would look like if they caught them.

She’d be crucified as a pirate, even though it was the Royals’ practices that kept The Ring on the edge of the law with excessive taxes and ridiculous rules. Regulating the Ring Rats and Gassers to death while they reaped the profits of the planet. Preaching from pulpits that it was their honor, as Saturn’s Children, to be consumed by the planet for the survival of the species.

Link wouldn’t suffer if they were caught. He had Royal blood. Untouched blood. They’d just throw him back into his father’s compound and he would be forced to shape up and stop playing smuggler. Laria snorted; get a real job.

Everything and everyone in The Rings had its place to keep the balance. The rich stayed rich. The poor marched steadily towards death with Rasp Lung, or by Fiersprout when hydrogen leaked from inadequate equipment. Like her mother and countless friends, Saturn’s Children were destined to be consumed by their father.

            Laria took a deep sigh; dropped her shoulders away from her ears and loosened her hold on the controls. All that lot; The Royals, the Gassers, Ring Rats, rules, regulations, and operations, wasn’t her fight and she didn’t want any part of it.  She just wanted to earn enough to leave this Kronos-forsaken planet, all its jumbled-up masses of moons, and the kronosdamn endless nothing beyond. Where she’d go, she wasn’t sure; but she knew there was something else she was supposed to be moving on to.

She maneuvered passed the rocky streams of the innermost rings, undetectable through the murky atmosphere and untraceable in the orbit of Saturn. Her mother’s last words ran through her mind, sudden and uninvited.

You have to go back, Eularia. You have to lead them back, back to Janus. Listen to Whitman: This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, stand up for the stupid and crazy, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, re-examine all you have been told and dismiss whatever insults your own soul. You don’t belong here; you have to go back.

The words returned her to the dusty yellow light, the small, hovelled quarters of her mother who coughed up blue spittle from Rasp Lung and insisted she was all right even as she gasped between expunges. And the faded copy of verse, barely kept together with tape and glue. “spit and the grace of Kronos” her adopted father, a man named Edmund D’Sol, would say. He would visit on rare occasions and talk about mystical things and far off futures, always instilling his own stories of The Ring and the great Kronos.

Her mother would scoff; “Blaspheme…one god, one planet, many moons…gorseshit.”

“Don’t you believe in Kronos, ma?” Laria had once asked. Her mother spit on the ground, blue and oozing, and pulled the book from the shelf, one in a small mining community that knew nothing of books.

“I believe in Whitman.”

            “But ma—”

            “Shhh! Listen—To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls—” and so she would go on. Expunging on how the desperate and sad, fond and sick, would go towards the best. Towards something great. Her eyes blurred against the endless darkness beyond, and the world that she hoped her daughter would make.

            Look where it had ferking got them? Her mother’s stories of Earth were mirror images of Saturn’s plight. Greed and power. Powerless and death. Same ferking story, different planet.

Join me in a few weeks for the next exciting chapter. See you then!