|Photo courtesy of Shirley Golden|
Shirley Golden spent ten years working in factories, where making up stories in her head saved her from terminal boredom. She returned to education in her late twenties, gained a degree in psychology, and worked in research for a few years before deciding to dedicate herself to writing fiction full time.
Many of her stories have found homes in the pages or websites of various magazines and anthologies; some have found their way on to competition long and short lists. She won the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition in 2013. She loves flash-fiction and is one of the editors for the FlashFlood Journal, created by Calum Kerr, to celebrate National Flash-Fiction Day.
She is door person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can sometimes be found on Twitter when she should be writing. She likes to bake jumbo chocolate and pecan cookies and goes for long bike rides to burn off the calories.
Shirley's latest novel is Skyjacked, a sci-fi/fantasy novel published by Urbane Publications in May 2016 and today Shirley is very kindly sharing the opening extract.
The year is 2154, and Corvus Ranger, space pilot and captain of the Soliton, embarks on a penal run to Jupiter's prison moon, Europa. It should be another routine drop, but a motley band of escaped convicts have other ideas. When Soliton is hijacked, Corvus is forced to set a new destination, one which is far from Earth and his son. Unable to fight (or smooth talk) his way to freedom, Corvus finds himself tied to the plans of the escapees, including their leader Isidore and a gifted young boy who seems to possess strange abilities. Desperate to return to Earth and the son he left behind, Corvus is thrown into the ultimate adventure, a star-strewn odyssey where the greatest enemy in the universe may very well be himself.
Earth year: 2146. Unnamed planet in HZ 57754
The boy felt it rising inside of him, a tide that swelled and crashed against his guts. He forced back the urge to retch.
A face drew close to his.
‘Try again.’ The research officer gave him a prod.
The boy remembered the monster, the thing that came at him with a roar, claws slashing. He thought he would die. Instead, the feeling, followed by release - and afterwards, a sour taste burnt the back of his throat. He tried never to think of the faded image that haunted his nights.
He remembered the woman too. He knew by instinct that she could handle this energy he couldn’t contain; she wasn’t afraid of him. He wasn’t sure what she was, not human. He couldn’t read her, but he need not fear hurting her.
This man, bunched in the corner, arms shielding his face and vibes falling like tears, this wasn’t right. The man was inside his head, crawling beneath conscious perception: don’t hurt me, please. The prickle of fear rose until the boy closed his eyes so tightly he thought they’d never open again.
Another prod. ‘Just do what you did before.’ The voice was louder this time, more insistent, the prod harder. But he felt something else leaking from his tormentor, thin but present. Reluctance.
He could no longer read from those who came to visit and demanded he do things. It wasn’t like when he’d first arrived. Then they had been kind. He sensed things wouldn’t be like that again.
He remained mute and blank. After a few more minutes, the research operative released a heavy sigh and headed for the exit, dragging the trembling man out with him and locking the door.
The boy slumped from the bunk onto the floor. He brought his knees to his chest and clutched them. He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t feel exhausted. He raised his head to the sound of footsteps, faint in the corridor, and growing louder. Please don’t let it be Sable, he thought. It wasn’t.
Knowledge rushed into his head: it was a newcomer; nervous, ambitious, and wed to the cause. The boy held his head with both hands as if he might block the incoming signals. It didn’t help, so he rocked back and forth and moaned.
* * *
The girl moved like a wild cat. Sable viewed her through the one-way filter. He traced her outline on the reflector, dragging his nails along the glass as if smoothing her mane of hair. In sixteen cycles, she’d yet to experience the sort of tests the boy had been subjected to, but he needed to know if she could be of use. And it was as if she sensed what was coming.
The buzzer sounded and Sable blackened the filter, obscuring the cell and its occupant. He glanced at the door screen and pressed release.
Two operatives walked in, the younger man he didn’t recognise.
‘Progress?’ He eyed the older man who shook his head, not meeting his commander’s gaze.
‘Still nothing, Sir. I don’t think subject zero one is going to be of further use.’
Sable turned away, his shoulders stiffened. ‘Very well,’ he said. His voice was clipped as if it was an effort to speak without shouting. ‘Let’s move on. He’s out. We can test the wipe on him, and then ship him off on the next prison transport run – just to be on the safe side.’
‘I’ll see to it,’ the older researcher muttered.
Sable sat down behind the desk that dominated the room. He rested his elbows on the edge of the glass, his fingers forming a steeple. ‘Some of the others in the new batch are bound to show signs of the talent – zero one can’t be the only subject to demonstrate it. Besides, we have the girl. Phase two of testing can begin next week.’
‘Really?’ The man shifted from one foot to the other. ‘You’re ready to start on her?’
Sable’s skin went white from the pressure as he forced his fingertips together. ‘Why not?’ His words were fired out as a challenge.
The researcher hesitated. ‘Erm, I don’t … I think … I’m not sure … is it too soon, perhaps?’
‘I’ll do it.’ The new researcher stepped forward.
Sable turned to him. ‘And you are?’
‘Operative 915-21,’ he said.
‘You understand what this will entail?’
‘I read the brief.’
Sable nodded a curt affirmation.
‘He can’t take on that level of responsibility,’ the first researcher said. ‘He hasn’t studied the backfiles. He hasn’t even got full security clearance – he can’t work without synaptic blocks.’
Sable bowed his head and began keying in letters that scrolled across a screen. ‘That can be arranged,’ he said.
The researcher’s voice rose in pitch. ‘He can’t. It takes weeks of trai…’
‘Don’t tell me what can or can’t be done,’ Sable said. His fingers stopped moving. ‘He’s in, you’re out.’ He swiped the pad under his desk, reaching beneath to an opaque section. He ordered two wipes and two transits to Europa.
A guard entered and at Sable’s direction, he raised his weapon and escorted the researcher from the room.
The door slid shut. It fell silent.
The remaining man looked tense but Sable could see he was young enough and arrogant enough to believe things for him would be different. Sable smiled. Things would be different: this time he’d ensure no one else would gain access to the backfiles.
Eight years later: 2154 Earth
Corvus balanced the image of his ex-girlfriend in his palm and resisted the urge to clench his fist. Through his apartment window he counted aerocabs, which passed with a hiss. With his free hand, he drummed his fingers on the desk as if to an imaginary beat and the tips began to feel numb.
Trudi looked immaculate as always – expensive suit, and accessorised like a catwalk model. He wished he didn’t have to speak to her.
‘I told him you’d be there.’
‘Always am.’ He didn’t get what the big deal was.
‘Three days late last year, Corvus. Know why it’s called a birthDAY?’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ He hoped his image conveyed the shrug. She hated it when he shrugged. ‘Clyde gets it, Trudi; he’s old enough to understand. Runs don’t always go to plan.’
‘Nothing you do ever goes to plan.’
He tried not to grin. Plans and rules existed for one purpose – to be messed with.
She smoothed an imaginary crease in her skirt, and he knew she’d seen the shrug. He took pleasure in seeing her struggle to control her irritation. ‘What type of run is it?’
‘Junk run,’ he said.
Even in the miniature image, her eyes narrowed. ‘I thought you said you weren’t going to do another of those.’
‘Yeah well, needs must.’
‘Are you in debt again?’
‘Not your problem.’
When they’d split, she kept the house on the agreement Corvus wouldn’t have to pay maintenance. She’d always earned more than him, taking high profile cases and defending clients whose needs were challenging but who possessed unlimited resources.
‘For once you’re right, it’s not my problem, not anymore. Well, at least there shouldn’t be any hold-ups if it’s a junk run.’ She pressed her lips together, hard, as she always did when she thought he was lying. ‘Just make sure you’re here, Corvus. And make sure you’ve washed the stench off. He’s going to be ten. Remember how it felt to be ten?’ She didn’t wait for an answer but with a flicker, her image dissolved out of his grasp.
Corvus yanked the comtool strap off his hand and resisted the urge to fling it across the room. Trouble was she remembered him from when he was ten, and knew his dad never missed a birthday. But then again, his dad never piloted craft on off-world runs.
Only the run wasn’t a junk run, it was a penal run to Jupiter’s prison moon, Europa. But if he’d told her that she’d have gone off like an accelerated Fusion Propulsed (aFP) Zelta 4 shooting from the outer edges to home.
He sighed; if luck was with him and all went smoothly he’d be back in time. He didn’t see it as a lie, more a case of shielding Trudi. She worried too much, about everything. He blamed it on her profession – so close to daily misfortune, she had all sorts of warped theories about missing people and covert off-world dealings. Not his problem anymore. He ran a hand around the back of his neck and felt the crunch of muscles. He swore he’d prove her wrong for once. He’d get to see his son’s birthday; he’d make damn sure of it this time.
Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Designated prison colony since 2127
The ship descended slowly, and Corvus hooked her up to the holding area with barely a jolt. He grinned. ‘Ain’t no one better, hotshot.’ He figured no one else would feed him a compliment so he might as well do it himself. And he was a good pilot; it wasn’t an empty brag. He switched off the engines and pulled on his jacket. He patted the console. ‘You always deliver, Soliton.’
He activated the screen and scanned the files one last time; he didn’t want hold-ups. The guards would be securing the area ahead and preparing to exchange posts. Not that he’d ever had trouble here – well, nothing he couldn’t handle. He checked the synap plug was primed and tucked it inside his jacket. The two guards had been tedious on the trip out; he hoped the company would be more stimulating on the way back.
He ducked out of the opcab door and climbed down spiral steps, bypassed the mess and cabins to enter a wide loading bay. The inner exit doors were open and he strode towards them, wondering why the guards hadn’t buzzed back. But it was no more than a passing thought.
A woman stepped in through the doors. She held a weapon. It looked old, handmade, lethal and definitely illegal: a prohib, aimed at his head…
* * * *
You can purchase Skyjacked from:
You can find out more about her books and connect with Shirley using the links below:
I'd like to say a big thank you to Shirley for stopping by today and I hope that our paths will cross again one day soon!