Great to be back in Andromeda Spaceways, and to have inspired this amazing piece of cover art.
ASIM #63 can be picked up from their website, in paperback and ebook formats.
Here’s a teaser:
“Fire,” Serena coughed, cupping the tiny flame in her hands, “is your worst enemy on board. Remember that, and you’ll be fine.” Eyes watering, she passed the smouldering stub to Rickard. The ember burned in his vision.
Serena exhaled into the overhead vent. “I took the liberty of disconnecting the smoke detectors down here and adding extra filters when I first came aboard,” she grinned, her eyes shining. “Stupid Federation non-smoking regulations.”
“Too right,” Rickard stammered, easing smoke from his lungs. “Hell of a view, even if it is dying.”
Serena leaned back, taking in the vista through the small viewport. The blue giant writhed, spooling away massive wings of white gas. “It’s not dying,” she murmured, “just changing. Nothing dies.”
Rickard watched the stellar wind paint the vacuum in morphing lines of ultraviolet gamma radiation and freezing hydrogen, the slow death-throes of an ultramassive star in the process of going hypernova. “So where do you find leaf on a ship like this?”
Serena grinned. “Prescription. Medicinal, you know. For the pain.”
In the dark, her face lost in shadow, Rickard imagined how pretty she must have been, once upon a time. Before the scars. “Why don’t I believe you?”
Serena shrugged. “Quit asking questions like that and you’ll fit in just fine around here.” She stood and pushed her grav-trunk down the corridor. “So who’d you piss off that they dumped you out here? No-one chooses to work on the Spindle.”
Rickard flushed. “It’s a career opportunity is all. Chance to earn some coin.”
“Bullshit. You must be a smart kid if you’ve passed your gamma tech ratings and basic astrophysics, so you’re smart enough to know that I’m the chief and it won’t pay to try and keep secrets from me. Spill the beans.”
In the star’s crawling half-light Rickard couldn’t help but fixate on the spiderweb scars that fractured Serena’s cheeks and neck. Whatever she’d been through, those scars told him that it had to be worse than where he’d come from. He pushed his own trunk after her. “A certain voidcutter captain didn’t take kindly to me screwing his daughter.”
Serena grinned, dissolving the tension. “Was she a good lay?”
“Hardly. Bitch didn’t even give head.”
“I like you, Rick,” Serena laughed. “You’re honest, even if it makes you sound like a jerk. You’re alright.”
“Hey,” he grinned, “I’m just a guy with a wrench.”
“The less I hear about your tool, the better. Let’s go.”
* * *
In space, it is life and death, yet all men see is profit and loss. Fire was Yurgen’s friend. Every system on the Spindle was driven by fire, from the pulse thrusters to the waste recyclers to the gamma-net arrays to the coffee urns. Without fire, the Spindle would be nothing but a brittle hulk of frozen metal and desiccated corpses corroding in the Wolf-Star’s radiation.
That’s how Yurgen liked to think of the Wolf-Rayet: as his Wolf-Star. The Spindle’s path took her in a five-Earth year orbit around the magnificent blue giant, soaking up her winds. Yurgen leaned on his grav-trunk, gazing at the spectre of Archanon 64-T, wreathed in white and blue as its winds hurled massive gamma-laden hydrogen clouds voidward, driven by a fire so hot and pure that humanity would never touch it. In a mere hundred thousand years, these surging clouds would be swept away by the star’s winds leaving only the bright, hungry core of white-hot fusing helium to scour the darkness with its piercing eye. Fusion—what separated man from the stars.
Humanity had struggled in vain for centuries to achieve fusion, something the stars did by their very nature. The best they had ever achieved was gamma-fission, with all of its inherent failings. Dozens of stations like the Spindle swept around dying ultramassives like Archanon 64-T, capturing the gamma pulses they ejected as they destroyed themselves from within, and spinning that energy out into electricity in aging reactors. Humanity, Yurgen thought, with their crude tools, were simply cavemen struggling to strike spark to tinder while staring awestruck at lightning cleaving the night sky. Celestial fire.
Yurgen smiled. While the complex logic of gamma fission had always come much easier to him than the barbaric simplicity of words, he considered himself something of a philosopher poet, gazing on the might and wonder of the universe and seeking meaning in its vastness, so much greater than any civilization would ever be. So he reverently watched the eternal fire twist, boil, consume. Hungry as a wolf.
The radio crackled. He grunted a response and set off for Engineering Watchroom Five, trailed by his grav-trunk loaded with tools, radiation armour, and a battered copy of Dante’s Inferno. As usual, things were breaking down. This proof of mankind’s fallibility beneath the stellar fires pleased Yurgen. He had, after all, seen the stars up close.