The thing is, if you’ve lived long enough you have seen it all before. 1962 – the Liberals by election victory in Orpington; 1981 - the formation of the SDP that "signaled an earthquake in British politics" (yes, another one), but who only survived by merging with the Liberals to form the Lib Dems; and now UKIP win a by-election in Clacton and all of a sudden the media are making out this is significant.
It isn’t. If I were Carswell or Reckless I’d be updating my CV because come next May they will be out of a job and Nigel Farage will be explaining why his party failed to win a single seat in Parliament. No doubt he will blame the media. The media, on the other hand, will have forgotten that it was them that created the furore in the first place and will blame the pollsters.
UKIP are a protest vote; no more, no less. They will take a few votes off both parties but they won't change the outcome of the election, whatever that may be.
So this week, instead, I am going back to my proper writing roots and I’m going to give you a sneak preview of what I’m currently working on. It’s a very ambitious project and I’m probably setting myself up for a fall, or at least a nervous breakdown, but at least I’ll go down fighting.
It’s a 9 novel sci-fi series. Not too serious in nature but with lots of drama to keep the reader interested, I hope. I’ve completed the first draft of the first book in the series, provisionally titled The Magi and I’m now deep into book 2, provisionally titled Cash Crisis. I say provisionally in both cases because I have a habit of changing my mind about titles.
With paperback versions of my first two novels now available and my new novel The Girl I Left Behind Me due out at the beginning of next year, with the sequel due out shortly after that, I won’t be releasing the first part of this series for a while as these books take a long time to write, but I hope this little taster will encourage you to keep your eye open for these books in the future.
The Magi - Chapter One
The door of the shuttle craft hissed downwards and An Kohli stepped out along the ramp it formed. Two younglings stared at her with interest, but when they saw that she wasn’t carrying goods to barter or sell they lost interest and scuttled off about their own business.
Such was the nature of the galaxy these days; not even the arrival of a shuttle craft attracted any interest. She doubted that the younglings would even mention her arrival to their parents. That suited her for the time being. She wanted to find the one she was looking for and then get off this useless lump of rock and never see it again.
Dust swirled around her and she wrapped her neck-cloth around her face in a vain attempt to keep it from entering her mouth and nose. Already she could feel the grit between her teeth. She looked at the hand held tracker. The steady pulse indicated that her target was about one hundred li to the north, if this lump of rock actually had a north. OK, she admitted to herself, north was a concept not an actuality; her target was about one hundred li diagonally to her left. It would feel like double that in the heat and dust of this shitty rock. She wished she’d landed the shuttle a little closer but she hadn’t wanted to let him know she was coming. He was the type that always ran first and asked questions afterwards.
An Kohli took a deep breath, regretting it at once as she inhaled a mouthful of dust, and strode forward, skirting past some mud built houses. She passed the same two younglings struggling to pull a bucket of water from a well and then pour it into a small tank mounted on wheels. When the tank was full it would need both of them to drag it home. Again she puzzled at the nature of a galaxy where the arrival of a shuttle craft from an orbiting space ship could attract so little attention, but where the inhabitants of the planet still drew their water from wells. She gave a mental shrug. The galaxy was a big place and she had encountered stranger things than younglings at a well.
The dust continued to torment her as she crossed the open ground. Across the rock strewn plain she could see the building she was heading for. There were draft animals tethered outside and a crude sign announced its purpose, though she couldn’t read the alien script. She corrected herself angrily. Here it was she who was the alien.
She pushed open the door and ducked under the low lintel into the dim room. Bars across the galaxy all seemed to conform to a type, she mused. The darker the interior the more shady its clientele and there was no one shadier than the one she was looking for. Now for the fun part.
He was a shape shifter, which meant that he could be any one of the occupants of the bar. There was a trick to identifying a shape shifter, though. Stare at him or her for ten seconds or more and he, or she, was bound to reveal himself. They hated being stared at. The problem was that if you stared at people in this sort of bar you were likely to start a fight, which was why shape shifters liked bars like this one.
Her arrival had caused heads to turn. Her tall, slender figure always attracted attention. One look at the powerful Menafield Pulsar holstered on her hip suggested that there was nothing to look at here and that it was a good idea for people to just go about their business. She stomped her way to the bar, her thick souled boots making the floor vibrate. Sly looks still came her way, admiring her good looks and the waves of glossy black hair that framed her face perfectly. She ignored them and focused on the task in hand.
An ancient droid bartender creaked towards her and offered her a drinks menu. She knew that this was a pretension and that whatever she ordered would numb her taste buds for days, but she made a show of looking at it before pointing to the glass of the man standing nearest to her and saying “I’ll have one of those.”
The droid creaked away to get the drink and she scanned the room quickly, not allowing her eyes to rest on any individual for more than a few seconds. Those that been watching her covertly looked away quickly, but not quickly enough for her not to notice.
So which one was he? Not the two men sat at the back of the room. They were clearly having an argument, perhaps over the rather frightened looking female that sat between them. It wasn’t the female either. Shape shifters can’t change sex, though they can make themselves appear in female form if you don’t get close enough to find out which bits haven’t been changed. She was showing plenty of the bits that a male shape shifter would have to simulate by stuffing a bra with socks.
Not the two men sitting opposite each other in silence, staring into their drinks. They were the defeated, worn down by years of scratching a living out of land that was only fit for growing rocks. Scattered around the room were half a dozen more men, drinking by themselves, each with an attitude that suggested it wasn’t worth bothering to talk to them. Two more of them she dismissed as being in the same defeated category, which left four that might be her quarry. The droid returned and placed a foaming glass in front of her.
An Kohli took a tentative sip and narrowly resisted spitting the liquid out. She was not the sort of person who spat in public. The liquid was a sour tasting beer. The man whose drink she had copied raised his glass and took a large mouthful. An acquired taste, An Kohli concluded. She returned her attention to the four men she thought might be him and tried to stare at them without appearing as if she was staring. A difficult task as any lovelorn teenager who has ever tried staring at a pretty girl would be able to testify.
The first one was easy enough. He was the one further along the bar, standing with his back to her, though the way he twitched his head suggested he sensed he was being watched. Just as he started to turn An Kohli switched her attention to another man on the far side of the room. He was sat sideways on but the glazed look in his eyes suggested he wouldn’t notice if the roof fell on him. She counted ten seconds; nothing. She shifted her gaze again, across the room. A young man in dirty work clothes. Not likely, the one she was looking for had never done a day’s manual work in his life, but a disguise is a disguise. Nothing.
The final possibility suggested someone from off-planet. He was well dressed in a modern style which she recognised but couldn’t quite place. Not local, she concluded. He met her gaze directly but didn’t react to it. Again, nothing. She checked her tracker. The light pulsed steadily and indicated she was standing within a few mett of him. She heard the droid creak towards her again and then it hit her. She turned and levelled her gaze at it.
After ten seconds the droid slammed it’s fist onto the bar in frustration, making heads turn. Yes, she was right. A backward planet like this wouldn’t have the technology to build droids. This one was old and badly maintained and the know-how to maintain it wouldn’t exist here either. She doubted that they had even developed as far as steam power.
“F**k you.” The droid said, its voice wheezy and crackling.
“You can drop the disguise, Den.”
“Not in front of the natives.” he wheezed. “Don’t want to scare anyone. How did you find me?”
“Female intuition.” She smiled a mischievous smile.
“You bitch. You planted a tracker on me, didn’t you?”
“That would be telling.” She continued to grin broadly.
The droid figure let out a wheeze of anger, like a hiss of steam from a leaking pipe. “Well, now you’re here you better tell me what you want.”
“How do you know that I’m not just looking for a bit of company?”
“Quit fooling around. We both know you didn’t cross a hundred parsecs of space just for the pleasure of my company, so spit it out.”
“I’ve found them.” She whispered.
“Found what?” His jaw dropped with a clang as he realised what she was talking about. “Oh. Them. So where are they?”
“Well, when I say I’ve found them I really mean I know who has them and I have a rough idea of where she may be.”
“Oh, so you haven’t found them then. Not really.”
“OK, Mr Pedantic, maybe not found found, but at least I know where to start looking.”
“So who has them?”
The droid figure nodded its head, making a noise like fingernails on a blackboard. “Makes sense. She could crack the vault of the Bank Of The Universe if she could get past the guards. So why do you need me?”
“You know that one person couldn’t take on Su Mali. She’s too clever and too good a shot. Beside, she’s one of yours. Only a Gau can recognise another Gau at first sight.”
“You know, An Kohli, I have a long lived desire to die peacefully in my bed surrounded by a bevy of Sutran beauties. If I go with you the chances of that happening are reduced to about zero. Not only would Su Mali be out for my blood, our blood, but the Fell would send every bounty hunter in the galaxy, and a few other galaxies, to track us down and kill us. That’s not a job you would apply for if you saw it on the galactic vacancies board.”
“It’s worth a lot of money.”
“If I was interested in money I wouldn’t be working here for 10 nuks a day. After the last caper I decided that there was more to life than the pursuit of money.”
“Wow, you’ve changed Den. I never thought I would hear you say you weren’t interested in money.”
“When you’ve had your genitals held in the very tight grip of a Norian warrior you start to re-evaluate your life a little. You can’t make love to a Sutran beauty if you don’t have any genitals.”
An Kohli spotted her opportunity. “OK, how about the women. There’ll be plenty of those if we recover them. They’ll be throwing themselves at you.”
“Will you be one of them?”
“Only in your dreams.”
“That’s what I thought. I’ll stick with the Sutrans. No deal.”
Once she might have considered a relationship with Den Gau, but not after coming back on board her own ship to find him in a very compromising position with her co-pilot, Gala. An Kohli had forgiven Gala but kicked Den Gau off the ship. She had been sorely tempted to eject him from the airlock without a space suit but had relented when Gala had pointed out that Den Gau still owed her money. While An Kohli might be prepared to forego any debts Gala would rather be repaid in full. Some chance of that, An Kohli had thought at the time.
“OK, There’s fame and glory.” That would surely appeal.
“You remember Malik?”
“The Sentinel who rescued Gib Dander?”
“That’s him. Well that rescue got him fame and glory. He’s dead now. His body is spread across three star systems. That’s what fame and glory gets you. No deal.”
That was a bitter blow. She had liked Malik. He was one of the good guys. If Den Gau turned her down she had been going to go to Malik next. Sentinels were expensive, but they were the best. To be honest Den Gau was far from her first choice but he had the sole advantage of being both a Gau and available; if he could be persuaded.
“What about Bubar?”
“In hospital last I heard. Lost an arm. It’s taking time to grow back”
“On permanent retainer to Gib Dander now, along with Harker and Elway. You won’t find any other Sentinels willing to take on the job, not for what you can afford to pay and not on this side of the galaxy.
She chewed the inside of her cheek, a habit she had when she was deep in thought. “OK.” She said finally. “What will it take to get you on board.”
He was about to reply that wild Fiju couldn’t get him to take the job, but then he had an idea of his own.
“Get me into the Guild”.
An Kohli’s eyes opened wide with surprise. She hadn’t expected that. With Den Gau’s reputation It was unthinkable.
“You have to be joking.” She struggled to keep the scorn form her voice. She couldn’t afford to upset him, at least not at the moment.
“Never been more serious.”
“But they’d never take you.”
“With you recommending me they might.”
“Flattering, but I think you over estimate my influence within the Guild.
“Not if you recover the Magi.”
She shushed him and quickly scanned the room to see if anyone had heard him use the M word. “Careful what you say. If anyone gets wind of this we could be screwed before we even start.”
“But you see what I mean.” Den Gau continued, knowing he had the advantage. “If finding the….them can make me rich, get me women and get me fame and glory, surely it can get me into the Guild, especially if you were the one who recovered them and I was the one helping you.”
He had a point, An Kohli had to concede. But the Guild set high standards and they didn’t, ever, work on the wrong side of the law which was more, much more, than could be said for Den Gau.
“Look, I can’t make any promises….”
“But you can promise to try. Put in a good word for me. For crying out loud if we pull this off then we’ve….”
She cut him off again before he could blurt out what the effects might be. Who knew who was listening.
“OK, OK. I give in. If we succeed I’ll do whatever I can to get you into the Guild, but I can’t make any promises that they’ll accept you.”
“You’re a Guild member. Your word is your bond so I’ll trust you. Besides, if we don’t succeed it won’t matter anyway because we’ll probably be dead.”
“Good point.” She extended her hand and the droid figure shook it, letting out another shriek of tortured metal that made the bar’s occupants turn to look once again.
With her business complete An Kohli let her natural curiosity get the better of her. “How did you get the job here anyway? This planet doesn’t have the technology for droids.”
“You know me. I can sell snow on an ice planet. I turned up as myself and offered the owner a droid bartender for 10 nuks a day. All it would need is a storeroom at night where it could recharge. He said yes so the next day I turned up looking like this. Not only do I get a roof over my head I get 10 nuks a day and all the blash that I can drink. Not that any sane person would want to drink more than a glass of that stuff.” He indicated the glass that sat untouched in front of An Kohli.
“What about food?”
“They sell food here as well. Well, food of sorts. I get the leftovers and with the quality of food they serve here there’ always plenty of leftovers.”
“I suppose you know all the regulars.”
“We don’t get many regulars. This is a drovers and traders bar. Most of the customers come in for a few drinks and are then back on the road as soon as they sober up. We get a few in from the village, but not many. They don’t have a lot of cash round here for drinking.”
“What about him? The one behind me with the smart cloths.”
“I’ve been wondering about him myself. He turned up a couple of days back and has been in and out a few times. Looks like he’s waiting for someone.”
“Is there any reason that he might be looking for you?”
“You know me. Its more than a possibility. If he is then he hasn’t made any attempt to make me show myself, which anyone who knew me would do straight away. Are there any other ships in orbit?”
“The ship’s sensors didn’t show any. I haven’t seen any shuttles parked close by either.”
“Well, he pays cash and he’s not caused any trouble, which around here is always a good sign. Who knows, he might be hiding out here as well.”
“If he was then he’d dress down a bit. Make more of an effort to fit in. He doesn’t fit and that bothers me.”
“You’re paranoid, Kohli”
“An Kohli. You know I hate it when people don’t use my full name.”
“So where is Su Mali?” Den asked.
“Not now. I’ll give you the low down when you join me. My shuttle is on the other side of the village. Meet me there when you’ve finished here.”
With that she stood up and walked out of the bar. Several pairs of eyes followed her. Most were for the traditional reasons that men’s eyes follow the swaying rear view of an attractive female, but the well-dressed man appeared to have less salacious motives. He watched the empty door frame for several seconds after An Kohli had disappeared, before returning once more to his waiting.
End of extract
If you enjoyed that short extract you may be interested in the other books I’ve written. Details can be found on the ‘Books’ tab and you can download extracts and short stories by clicking on the ‘Free Stuff’ tab.
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