Site icon Christina Engela: Author



Here’s a selection of extracts from various novels and series for you to enjoy! Reading these may help you to decide which book you want to read next – in fact I hope it does! Feel free to leave comments or to email me.

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List of Extracts:

Extract from “Mirror, Mirror” (standalone novel) by Christina Engela.

Imagine, if you will:

Captain Charles Branson, commander of the Interstellar Liner Freedom, tugged at the tight, crisp collar of his bright white tunic uniform. It was unusual for a man so young (he was just 30 years old) to be given the command of a space cruiser, but then, while Freedom was no ordinary space liner, Branson was no ordinary Captain. As a matter of detail, “Captain” Charlie Branson was lately a rather well-paid former cabin steward, whose greatest achievement in his former professional career while working on an ocean liner in the Bahamas, was to dive over the side of the ship to rescue a wealthy passenger’s dog that had fallen overboard. It was a tea-cup Yorkie. He landed right on top of it. It bit him. The end.

Or not.

Many times in his life, he wished it had been. From there though, his story got progressively worse. At least for a while. After realizing that the only way he was going to advance up the company hierarchy was by sleeping with the Captain – and Branson didn’t like older men, at least not that much – he quit that lark to try his hand at being a landlubber. He drifted from one dead-end job to another for a while. Finally, just about three years previously, while auditioning for a promising part in a porno flick, Mr. Branson happened to run into a guy who had big ideas. Er – about business, that is. After spending a good deal of time explaining his ideas to Branson, Phil Potts (yes, his name really was Potts) convinced him to join him in his venture. Potts was very skinny and wore thick glasses, so Branson assumed – naturally – that he was very intelligent and knew what he was talking about. Fortunately, for once, Charlie was correct. Potts was a lifelong computer nerd and a sci-fi fan – and he had some pretty impressive ideas about what he wanted to do with his life – and it didn’t include using the unprofessional-sounding name of ‘Bryan Stinky Crotch’ (his middle name – and his first pet was a skunk, and he actually lived on Crotch Street) – or being recorded while doing it.

Of course, it took a while to raise the kind of capital they needed to get started – augmented by the contributions of a few savvy investors who recognized the future when they saw it, and not forgetting the last resort of the eternally optimistic – crowd-funding. Between that and securing some actual loans from banks and several forward-looking corporations in the entertainment industry, Phil and Charlie managed to scrape enough dosh together to start a small yet ambitious venture optimistically called Interstellar Vacations LLC.

Now, just three years later, Interstellar Vacations was up and running – and had already upgraded its services and facilities at least once. It was safe to say that even at this early stage, IV was already bigger than any other interstellar cruise line on Earth. Bigger even, than say, Virgin. Or Quantas. Or Pan American… and they didn’t even offer interstellar cruises. At least not yet.

Okay, hang on a minute – it seems we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here – you’re probably thinking ‘how the hell could a couple of second-raters like these guys start an interstellar space line?’ Right? I don’t blame you – but as was suggested earlier, things were not what they seemed to be… Not at all.

The Freedom was in actuality not a real space ship. That is to say, it was neither a ship in any sense, nor was it capable of leaving the planet Earth – or even of lifting off its non-existent launch pad! This was only 2025 after all, and interstellar travel hadn’t even been invented yet. Strictly speaking, neither had space tourism – that is, unless you were thinking about those rich fellas who paid the Russians and Chinese or that other British airline owner millions of dollars for a quick flip up to the edge of the atmosphere in one of their quaint chemical-fueled rockets, or signed up for a one-way trip to Mars in some untested interplanetary ‘ark’ built by the lowest bidder and using engines everybody with a science degree insisted shouldn’t work but which mysteriously did anyway.

Branson, like his business partner, saw no real future in that last option at all. For one thing, those making the one-way trip to the red planet had no intentions of making a profit from their investments – they intended on starting over, by divorcing Earth and the rest of the human race, taking everything they would need with them, including the fish tank. Anyway, since none of those hopefuls had even got so much as an actual crew assembled or a rocket off the ground yet, IV had no real competition to speak of. Besides, a future without any money in it – without substantial amounts of money in it (or luxuries to spend it on) – held no attraction at all to investors not actually going on the trip! Especially if nothing would be coming back to Earth from Mars, such as rare and expensive minerals in copious amounts, or something – anything – that could be marketed to the masses to increase their wealth on Earth – or people who had changed their minds and wanted to weasel out of a one way ticket!

To come back to the Freedom, as has been pointed out, it was not an actual space ship – it was in point of fact, a giant, completely Earth-bound simulator. Yes, like one of those awkward looking boxes on hydraulic struts with big-screen TV’s over the windows used to train jumbo-jet and shuttle pilots, or by air-crash investigators to figure out why the black box was the only thing left of the plane – only, much, much more advanced!

The entire ‘ship’ was basically a kind of set enclosed within a large warehouse building – which also included a lobby and reception area, departures and arrivals lounge reminiscent of an international airport (the space port), several restaurants, gift shops, and even a small casino and motel. All of these operated on the same financial footing as shops at airport terminals, i.e. overpriced, exclusive and subject to interesting tax laws. Meanwhile, the space between the departure/arrival area and the part of the set that was the space liner Freedom was occupied by another small simulator that was meant to be a shuttle intended to carry the paying clients (naturally) back and forth between the ship and the space port terminal. At the far end of the set, on the other side of the Freedom, were a few more sets, made to look like imaginary colony stop-overs on distant worlds. Each had their own simulated tourist attractions, a few curio shops, pubs and restaurants, and small hotels – all of which leads us to the introduction of the third partner in this sordid tale of wanton greed and unbridled ambition: Shaun Harris Junior, Junior. – an entrepreneur, a business man.

Named after his late billionaire father (Shaun Harris Junior) Harris represented the bulk of the money behind the whole operation that was IV. While Potts knew about all the geeky stuff needed to make this thing work, and Branson – well, Branson was good at parading around in a fictitious space liner captain’s uniform and acting the part of a glorified airline pilot and displaying his gleaming (porno) movie-star grin to paying guests, and having made a substantial percentage of the initial investment in this enterprise raised by …erm, perfectly legitimate means of course – Shaun Harris Junior Jr. knew more about making money, getting returns on an investment and managing a large tourist-oriented complex replete with several hundred staff, than the others could hope to learn in two lifetimes! In fact, Potts had said, if Junior-Junior – as many people referred to him – were to change uniforms with Branson, he could probably pilot the Freedom through a couple of pretty good, tight loopholes in tax law – and might slip in a barrel-roll and a loop-de-loop while he was at it.

…All of which brings us to the present. It was early on a Saturday morning, around nine, and the space port terminal was bustling with tourists and people coming to meet them or see them off. The real passengers about to depart on a week-long faux return voyage to imaginary distant star systems were already lining up at the pretend departure gate, carrying real hand luggage and small items for the duration of the voyage, eagerly looking this way and that at the large display windows, which were really obviously (to anyone who didn’t actually believe this was all real) very large plasma TV screens custom made for IV from the very latest, best the hottest brand names had to offer – hooked up to a powerful computer network that ran the entire simulation.

Seemingly on the other side of the windows, there was a large expanse of concrete, not unlike an airport, except that it had a lot of futuristic sci-fi-looking oblong-shaped space ships standing on it in rows – all of them naturally bore the IV logo. Little (simulated) figures were alighting from busses and moving in queues toward waiting shuttles. Some of the little figures – governed by A.I. – were smiling and waving at the terminal building. Some of the tourists inside the terminal were waving back! It all seemed very real – even to Charlie Branson, who sometimes actually caught himself thinking he really was Captain of a space liner! It was surprisingly very easy to get caught up in the illusion of it all, and sometimes it was really hard to face the truth – that the only thing keeping him out of his previous job as ‘Bryan Stinky Crotch’ was the uniform – and that the rest of his life sucked flaccid donkey balls!

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Said a male voice not far from Charlie’s ear. He recognized it immediately.

“Gets me every time!” Said Charlie, smiling at the man about his age who was standing beside him, wearing a regular dark blue business suit, white collar shirt and sparkling yellow tie. The tie had a big gold pin stuck in it, and the company logo formed part of the pattern in the material. The man wore expensive-looking glasses, and a row of glinting gold and platinum pens protruded from his suit jacket’s top pocket. Not many people still used pens for actual writing anymore – but fancy pens made lovely accessories for aspiring young billionaires.

“Another week away?” Phil Potts asked casually.

“Yeap.” Said Charlie casually, slowly rising to the tips of his toes and then back down again, before placing the smart white officer’s peak cap on his head. “Another trip out to Quantum Centauri! Just another day at the office!”

“Well, have fun!” Potts smiled in parting, “Millions of jealous plebs out there wish they could be in your shoes!”

The encouragement recharged Charlie’s flagging ego. It was quite true, he thought, bathing in the warmth of the notion that hundreds of thousands of over-worked, stressed-out, middle-aged executives would probably trade their salaries, corner-offices and executive bathroom door keys – or actually murder someone for his job in an instant!

“Yeah? Well, my shoes are occupied.” he grinned back, leaving.

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Extract from “Demonspawn” (Galaxii Series, book 2) by Christina Engela.

Imagine, if you will:

The battle cruiser was lost. In the desolation of the vastness of space, all was silent. All, that is, except for the screaming. Then, after a short while, that too fell mercifully silent.

Captain Armon Kaine was the last of his crew that had survived – or at least, if any others were still alive, he was unaware of them. It didn’t seem likely, given the circumstances. Somehow that… thing had managed to kill every one of his crew within the space of only a few days! All had died horribly – mangled and mauled to death!

At first the deaths had been taken as freak accidents, being at first sight unrelated and spaced far apart… but that was just at first. How were they supposed to know, after all? How was he supposed to know? Then, as suspicion was aroused, murder seemed the cause – but not long after, even this conclusion proved wholly inadequate. Soon it became crystal clear that it was no natural thing that hunted them. 

Sabotage isolated them, cut the ship off from home – and without the communications system, any hope of outside help had been thwarted. Then the worst of it began… slowly at first, and then quicker. Frantic sightings of frightening things – horrible things seen by the crew – led to chaos. One by one, they were being picked off – starting in the lower levels at first, the killer began to move its way up… The crew, terrified, opted to die fighting and went hunting for their attacker. Kaine’s only regret was that they found it. 

It killed them all.


He wondered how he would meet Death. Soon it would be his turn. Kaine knew this all too well. There was nothing now that could stop it. But there was still a chance that he could choose the manner of his demise; the manner in which Kaine would meet his end. His crew – warriors all, had put up one hell of a fight! His ship – once the brightest pearl in the crown of the fleet was a mess now, in every sense of the word. Systems were in disarray, damaged equipment malfunctioned, and pieces of control panels shattered by blaster-fire littered the decks. In the fighting, severe hull damage had caused parts of the ship to be sealed off. Dead bodies – or raw red chunks of them – lay everywhere. His ship had been desecrated, just as their bodies were – it was an abattoir!

The corridors were dark where the lights had failed. His footsteps echoed eerily as he ran down them. He’d been on the run for what felt like days. He felt naked; his tattered, sweat-drenched tunic clung to his body, especially under his breastplate. Fatigue had caused him to discard his body amour. It was of no realistic use anyway, and just made him hotter and sweatier, made stealthy movement more difficult – and only weighed him down.

The weapon he held in his sweaty grip was one of a small consignment of prototypes received at the last port of call. The expert report had called it the most powerful hand weapon in the known universe. He choked. That would soon be put to the test!

Fear clutched at his heart with icy fingers, and as he wiped sweat from his stinging eyes, he fought it off. His breathing was heavy, labored. He knew the thing must already be after him, stalking him, tightening the noose. After all, if he was the only one left alive on this tomb of a ship, what else would it have to do? His sharp warrior’s senses functioned as well as any tactical battle computer, and it felt like a thousand eyes were staring holes into his back! Glancing round furtively, listening for the faintest sound, he forged his way onward. If he could just reach the bridge, there was a chance he could stop it. Just a chance – he would die as well – but he’d take it!

‘What madness would create such a thing?’  He wondered.

He had to end the madness – stop the slaughter. His will was iron, his course set. That thing must not be allowed to get out of his ship and kill again – it had to end right here, right now! His nerves were overtaxed, almost over the edge – he was relying on instinct to keep him going. Kaine’s sanity seemed to be slipping out of his grasp, but he had to hold on – he had to. Long enough to make certain the trail of blood would end here.

With him.

Finally the bridge door loomed ahead. The end was in sight! The door slid open and he stumbled weak-kneed through. Several mounds of mangled flesh – all that remained of his last bridge crew, lay sprawled on the deck grid in welcome. Most of the lights had failed in there, leaving the bridge mostly in shadow.

Kaine closed the thick steel security door as quickly as his shaking fingers would operate the control panel. It had been designed to ward off mutineers, perhaps even an enemy boarding party… but never anything quite like that! Then he locked it, and turned and faced the desecrated bridge. Alone now, he set his teeth grimly. The destroyed bodies that lay at his feet had had names once, just hours before… Kremin and Horek. They’d promised him they’d hold the bridge at all costs, until his return. They’d been good men… faithful to the end! He owed them this – as their commander!

Now he could put his plan into action, if he had enough time. He was going to order the computer to cause a deliberate imbalance in the drive system, which would cause a huge explosion – destroying the ship! His ship! He was Armon Kaine, commander of this putrid hulk – this sad, desecrated corpse of a ship, and he was going to die with it – but he was going to take that damned vile thing with him!

The machine demanded a series of access codes. As he entered the first, a faint whispering sound startled him, causing him to snatch up the sweep laser. All was silent. He mentally replayed the sound in his mind – it had sounded like metal on metal… Could he have imagined it? He listened intently.


Swallowing, he put the weapon back down on the console and entered the second code. Then, suddenly, there was a sound like a marble dropping on the floor – bouncing slowly, gradually getting faster as it dropped lower and lower…until it faded away. The thing was toying with him! Where was it? He strained his hearing, but all was again silent. He wanted to shout and scream obscenities at the monster, but he fought the impulse. It might not really know his location after all – and that would’ve only led it right to him! It must be coming for him! Surely it must be by the door by now, looking for a way in. Perhaps it would try to trick him into opening it? Time was running out! Kaine hastily keyed in the third and final access code.

Death the destroyer never is late!

The words of the old proverb of his people still milling in his mind, he hastened to complete the final destruct commands with quivering fingers. The shortest available countdown time was thirty honarks – that’s how long it would take to create an imbalance in the main reactor. There was no access code required to stop the countdown. Clutching the sweeplaser, he punched the final key. The countdown began. If it got in here now, he’d have thirty honarks to keep it away from the computer and aborting the destruct sequence! Kaine firmed his grip on the sweeplaser. He thought of his wife and his family. His two young children… A home he wouldn’t see again in this life. Thirty honarks to live wasn’t long, but he intended to live them well.

If dying’s all that’s left – then die well!

The noise came again, rustling like metal on metal. Was it toying with his mind, or was he starting to snap? Playing games like it did with the others?  Perhaps it was trying to find a way to trick him into opening the door after all… He hadn’t seen anything yet though. That thought brought with it a rising wave of raw fear. He swallowed. Maybe it couldn’t get in after all. Each passing moment reduced the hunter’s chances of stopping it – and brought him closer to eternity and his ancestors.

There was a sudden muffled thump inside the room. Behind him. Kaine turned, bringing the sweeplaser round with him. With a sudden sickening shock he realized it was there – straightening up from behind a control desk where it had been all along! The monster had lain in wait for him! Death was right on time.

Kaine, suddenly afflicted, staggered backward on legs of ether. He saw it clearly – a dark, bulky shadowy shape! His stomach turned with terror! What remained of the bridge lighting seemed to fade away around him, into total blackness. It was there – not the frightful illusions the others had seen – but the thing itself, unmasking itself to its last victim. Somehow the reality was much more frightening… It advanced on him with the rhythmic click of Death. Kaine knew that if he were to start screaming now, he would go irretrievably mad! Instinct had left him momentarily cold, frozen.

If dying’s all that’s left – then die well!

The sweeplaser came up and Kaine fired, screaming all his hate and anger and fear and hopelessness at it. Sparks flew. The flashes lit up the dead bridge and flammable material in the small room burst suddenly aflame. The chunks of bodies on the deck sizzled… globs of melted metal and plastic rained down around them… But it was not enough. Something dark and unstoppable stepped through the blasts of light and energy and the curtain of flame that had lit the bridge – and as it loomed over him menacingly, appreciating his astonishment, his fear and hopelessness – at that moment, he knew it was over. Kaine lowered the weapon and stood there, facing the Reaper. A light spectrum filled his eyes and he heard himself scream as his life boiled away, and a sound like a waterfall filled his head. Then there was nothing. All was still. All over the ship, the remaining lights and equipment shut down. Darkness fell with an echoing clang that spanned the millennia.

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Extract from “Static” (Panic! Horror In Space, book 1) by Christina Engela.

Imagine, if you will:

Stuart Flane, Captain (junior grade) of the Terran imperial starship Mercury – stood in one of the ship’s airlocks. Air was being removed from the small chamber by highly efficient pumps, and he was ready to go outside the ship, waiting for the outer door to slide open. He never really enjoyed spacewalks much – and least of all the moments just before that door opened. It always seemed a point of no return to Flane, who experienced panic deep-down that he may have forgotten to tie down a last flap, or to close a critical suit seal somewhere. Well, when that door opened, he’d find out! Today was no different – except that – well, today Flane looked down at his own naked body just as the outer airlock door began opening, and realized that he’d forgotten his entire viro-suit!

“Well… shit!” He exclaimed stoically – and then woke up in his bunk, screaming appropriately. That rather unimpressive ending to a night’s sleep over with, Flane dragged his weary ass out of bed and finished waking up under a refreshing hot shower before getting back into uniform.

Like most ships in the Terran Space Fleet’s elite exploration component known as the Pioneer Fleet, the I.S.S. Mercury was in previously unknown space for the purposes of making it into known space. After the ship had suffered the embarrassing loss of most of its crew a few weeks previously in a rather weird incident involving a long-lost loderunner …and ahem zombies… most of the crewmen aboard at the present time were new replacements fresh out of the academy. Only six of the original crew had survived and remained onboard – and that was something that Captain Flane was quite certain he wasn’t going to ever live down! He was reasonably certain that the hallowed marble hallways of Space Fleet HQ were likely to still be ringing with peals of laughter at the mere mention of his name – and he would likely be shuffled lower down in the promotion list. In fact, he had a suspicion that his name had probably already sunk a lot of notches lower on the promotion list, if not having vanished from it entirely.

After the zom– er, incident, Mercury reached the nearest Space Fleet outpost, where they took on replacement crew – and Captain Flane and the five other surviving members of the previous crew – endured hours of grilling, debriefing and questioning. Flane and his executive officer Vic Chapman, later compared the grilling they’d received to an interrogation – which was understandable, Flane supposed. After all – quite a lot of Space Fleet personnel were dead, seemingly all shot to pieces by their Captain himself, and his Exo! Each of the surviving crew was made to write out their experiences in old-fashioned paper statements in the isolation of their prison cells in the starbase brig, and the documents handed over to Commodore Peters, the CO of the starbase.

After that, the survivors endured having their minds probed with sophisticated medical equipment to determine whether they were lying. Finally more-or-less convinced the survivors were telling the truth – or at least that they believed what they’d put in their statements – Peters reluctantly called off the mandatory inquiry on the third day. Not that the investigators hadn’t anything to go on, but the sensor-logs of the I.S.S. Mercury itself, as well as numerous other scanning, recording and sensor devices aboard it, all corroborated their stories.

Then, after a few more days of orientation for the new crew and some repairs, the Mercury set off again to resume their mission of exploration in that sector – but that was all the crew, both new and old knew at the face of it! Behind the scenes, after having run the gauntlet of the three day inquiry, Captain Flane had been ordered to appear on the red carpet before the outpost commandant, where he’d taken the brunt of a lecture, a sermon and a stern reprimand. Commodore Peters, a quite elderly, condescending lady went on quite a bit, during which Flane also hoped – somewhat resentfully, that when he reached the ripe old age of 98, he wouldn’t feel compelled to occupy a desk at a lonely Space Fleet outpost because he had no children or grandchildren to go home to, or frankly, nothing better to do. Still, being mid-thirties, Flane had no cause for alarm – there was still plenty of time to effect a career change – if that’s what he wanted to later on. Meanwhile, after the chewing out he was receiving, he looked forward to settling down again in his command seat on the small bridge of the Mercury to pleasant humdrum routine, charting unexplored bits of this sector of space, fielding reports of interesting comets and strange nebulae doing flick-flacks and giant stars turning inside out for no apparent reason.

“Do we understand each other, Captain?” Peters asked pointedly.

“Hmm?” Flane grunted, coming out of his deep thought like the cork popping out of a bottle. “Yes, ma’am.”

The Commodore closed the reprimand with a stern, sarcastic warning: “Be careful with the new crew, Captain! Try not to lose them this time!”

In all fairness – his fault or not – Flane had lost around 97% of his crew – without having had the foresight to honor the Captain’s tradition of going down with his ship! Not that it was really necessary, since he actually got the Mercury back from the zoms anyway, and eliminated the threat – which is probably why they hadn’t taken command privileges away from him entirely. Regardless of all that, when Flane eventually left the Commodore’s office, feeling decidedly gnawed upon, he also recognized the familiar sensation of a pair of training wheels attached to his boots again, just like when he first graduated from Space Fleet Academy.

Also, along with his new crew and the stinging, stern reprimand from Commodore Peters, Flane had also been handed a new assignment – one which left him feeling certain that he was already being punished for his misfortune with even more misfortune. The Commodore had ordered him to essentially babysit a group of civilian TV personalities and their film crew for a few days. Not just any boring old TV personalities mind you – paranormal investigators working for the Interstellar Travel Channel! 

“Pff! Paranormal!” He thought skeptically. One look at one of those zoms he and his crew had encountered, and they’d need a change of under-everything!

Commodore Peters hadn’t reacted too kindly to his first words upon hearing what his new assignment was, but then “What is this, a joke?” was probably not the most agreeable response he could have given. Alas, what was done, was done.

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Extract from “Loderunner” (Quantum Series, book 4) by Christina Engela.

It was a mild evening inside “Japp’s Saloon and Speakeasy” – a small, quiet watering hole in the northwestern corner of the only legal red-light area of Atro City. Timaset Skooch’s aluminum framed chair creaked softly as he leaned back in it, checking his cards carefully while wearing his best poker face. Across the table from him sat Jonn Deire, a large, grumpy older man who was trying very hard to out-poker face him, and who didn’t enjoy jokes about his name much.

Three other men also formed part of the company seated around the table, facing each other, each of their faces dramatically lit by the dim light that hung from a beam in the ceiling above. One of them was called Beck the Badfeller, and the other was a gentleman who went by the handle of Peeping William. Jimmy Skoda, the owner of the fourth face, was tall and lanky – and by his expression as he gazed at the cards in his hands, lost in thought – while Peeping William’s hands weren’t visible at all. His cards lay face down on the table, and he wore a rather bored expression on his scarred old face, which had a shadow on his forehead cast from the paint stain on the lamp shade above the table. It was shaped rather like the head of an obsidian crow – and Beck didn’t like obsidian crows much – one had got him killed once, but that was another story. (“The Time Saving Agency”, if you really must know.)

Atro City – or rather more specifically, a smaller northern suburb called Lugaluru – was home to Beck the Badfeller, and proudly so because Gary Beck was a legend in his own lifetime – which, given his youth, was quite an impressive achievement to be sure! If Deanna had grown any folklore over the past century, then Beck the Badfeller was sure to feature! Beck was something of a local hero and urban legend all rolled up in one – and the legend had it that Beck was so good, he could find the missing day in a leap year! Once, so the story goes, he even found a missing sock.

Beck the Badfeller might have been the best bounty hunter on Deanna – or possibly anywhere else – but if you happened to be looking for a private investigator, then Timaset Skooch was your man. Up until two years ago, Skooch was a former Sheriff’s Office Deputy (SOD for short) in Atro City. Then, after seven years of getting shot at for not much money, he’d decided it was time for a change. As a self-employed PI, Skooch did get paid better than when he was a deputy – but not as regularly. Sometimes, he even got shot at for free. But, he supposed, that was the tradeoff.

A party of spectators – all regulars at the bar – had gathered around the table to watch the game. The stakes had started out low as they always did, but as the hours had slipped by, the stakes had piled up considerably – and even more so after Beck just happened to be passing by, and had joined in.

“Your turn, Will.” Beck said cheerfully to Peeping William. “Oh, sorry!” Beck apologized and reached across the table laden with playing cards, cash, bets and whisky glasses to pick up Peeping William’s cards, and played for him. “Oh-kay – sorry, nothing there this time, Will!”

Will just grumbled something and rolled his eyes with grudging sarcasm.

 “C’mon bounty hunter – I ain’t got all day!” Deire grunted. “Time’s a-wastin’!”

“My turn again?” said Gary, looking surprised. He put down a card. “Sorry.”

Ignoring the apology, the surly Jimmy Skoda plonked down his card and looked over at Deire aggressively.

Jonn Deire paused to think a moment, before picking up eight yellowed and dog-eared cards from the pile, grumbling “garrn!” under his breath, while chewing on a frazzled distraught-looking toothpick that whirled around between his masticating teeth. Skooch threw down a card and said nothing. There was an impatient pause as the players waited for Beck to remember – again – that he had to play for Peeping William as well, who was still grumbling softly and rolling his eyes at intervals.

“Sorry, Will.” Gary said again, and dropped a card. This time he remembered his own turn, and threw in one of his own afterwards. Skoda followed with his, and scratched his overgrown chin thoughtfully, eyeing the kitty lying in the middle of the table. There was plenty of money there, as far as small-time casual gamblers were concerned. The kitty got off it, stretched and yawned before lazily dropping off the edge of the table. Unperturbed, the players continued. Jonn Deire began tapping his fingers on the table rather nervously – and stopped as soon as he noticed everyone staring. This was the moment of truth for Timaset Skooch, who wondered how fortune might favor him! There was a small fortune on the table, and it would keep a few wolves at bay for some time, during which Tim could breathe easier… if only… Jonn Deire played his card – and there was an almost indefinable click as something slotted into place for Skooch, who dropped his card on the pile – and cried out elatedly.

“How about that – Uno!”

“Oh, damn – Uno again!” Jonn Deire exclaimed, slapping his cards down on the table in disgust.

“The pot is mine, I believe!” Said Skooch, joyfully reaching for the pile of notes and coins, and scraping it towards him as the assembly of players and spectators began to break up, muttering.

“Gentlemen.” Said Jimmy Skoda as politely and calmly as possible, and got up to leave.

Beck the Badfeller spotted a sneaky movement from the corner of his eye, and reached across to push Peeping William back into his chair.

“Not you, Will!” Gary told him firmly. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Peeping William was a wanted man – a very wanted man who was very, very slippery and very hard to find. Gary Beck – being the best bounty hunter on Deanna – was the lucky man who found him! Beck had arrested Peeping William over an hour earlier, and William had been forced to wait – with his hands cuffed securely behind his back – while Beck finished another game of cards. Well, at least Beck was nice enough to let Peeping William join in – figuratively speaking.

Gary looked directly at Skooch, smiled and nodded and said “Great game, Tim – grats! Still, take it easy – you can’t win ‘em all, eh?”

“No, I certainly can’t!” Skooch agreed, grinning back. “Say hi to Mei for me, will ya?” His acquaintance aka Beck the Badfeller rose and helped Peeping William out of his chair.

“Sure, and you say hi to Dory, ‘k? …C’mon Will – let’s get you to the Sheriff, I could use a couple of cold ones!”

“Yippee.” Said Will, not exactly brimming over with enthusiasm.

Skooch resumed sorting his winnings. He packed the notes together first, then he sorted through them to separate them into their different denominations, all the same way up, and then stacked them together again before counting them out. Seven thousand credits! Woohoo! Then he scooped the coins and the (ugh) gold tooth into an empty glass for the waitress. Seven thousand credits! …But wait, that wasn’t all – what was the plastic slip under it all? Skooch picked it up and began to look it over.

“What the heck is this?” He asked, squinting to read it under the dim light. Jonn Deire still sat across the table from him, his eyes red-rimmed and moist – the big man seemed to be having an emotional meltdown and dissolving from the inside!

“That’s the ownership papers fer ma’ pride an’ joy!” Deire said in a shaky voice. “The Celeste! That’s ma’ ship – ah knew ah shouldn’a bet ‘er. Ah, well, she’s yures now!”

Skooch stared, shocked. “You bet your ship? On a game of Uno? What for?”

“Ah needed the money!” Deire told him in his heavily accent-laden voice, “Ah had a few debts to pay off!” Deire said, subdued. Skooch put down the sheet and looked intently at Deire.

“You bet a ship on a game of Uno?” He asked slowly, incredulously.

“Well…” Deire shrugged, clarifying. “Ah didn’t think Ah’d really lose!”

Timaset Skooch thought about it for a minute. Yes, he thought – he was quite right in thinking the man a little off-kilter – the kitty was only around seven thousand give or take a gold tooth and some coinage – minus the ship – which must’ve been worth well, a lot more than seven thousand, even in scrap metal! An alarm started going off somewhere at the back of his mind, faintly, as though some cynical part of him had started to frantically wave to get his attention.

“What the hell am I going to do with a ship?” Skooch said, slumping lower into his seat. He passed the document over to Jonn, who looked at him as if he were mad. “Here, I don’t want it! I can’t take your livelihood! You have that back, y’hear?”

You don’t want mah Celeste?” Deire glowered, suddenly livid with raw rage! Skooch was by no means slow – and realized awkwardly that he might as well have just called the man’s darling little sister a two-bit counter-clockwise thigh-scrubber from North Lugaluru! “Ah lost her to you, Mister Skooch – fair an’ square!” Deire insisted.

“Okaay!” Skooch sighed, noticing the area of empty space which had started to grow around them. He had unwittingly offended the man’s sense of honor – and Deire was a big man! Hurriedly taking the document back, Skooch started looking it over again, from the top. Under the grime and stains of ages past, it read: “Terran Merchant Fleet Registration Certificate”. Somewhere in the spaces indicated below were the name of the owner – one Jonnulass Mc Watt Deire and the technical specifications of the particular vessel. It was a Rotanga Class loderunner, certified to carry cargo and passengers with a total not exceeding blah, blah, blah.

“But it’s a hundred and twelve years old!” Skooch protested. “It’s older than Deanna!”

Deire glowered silently at him.

“The colony – not the planet – well, you know what I mean!” Skooch parried sullenly.

“She still works pretty good!” Deire maintained. “Stardrive gets a mite twitchy at warp four, but that’s just a dodgy plasma injector!”

Timaset Skooch’s mind raced around in tight little circles, waving its little arms in a mild panic. He didn’t need a ship – especially not a flying museum piece! What was he going to do with it? And, as far as he knew, a dodgy plasma injector could drop you smack into a wormhole ending somewhere on the other side of the universe with no way back! Well, he could always sell the damn thing… Couldn’t he? Yes, that was a good idea! He could use the money! Damn, he could always use the money! Maybe the crew would want to buy it back from him? “Wait… dildo,” he thought, “The idiot bet it because he needs the money… which means they probably don’t have any money to begin with!”

Skooch groaned. “What’s the catch?” He asked. There had to be one. There was always a catch – just like contracts and catches – there’s a loophole somewhere. There’s always a loophole! You might not see it because it’s lurking somewhere in the small-print, but it’s there, looking at you with its beady little yellow eyes – and sometimes it’s the one that slips around your neck and strangles you!

“No catch.” Deire said, sounding strangely genuine. “On mah honor!”

Perhaps it was some kind of blessing in disguise? “Yeah, right!” a small imaginary figure with horns and a pitchfork whispered in Tim’s ear.

“Well, all right then.” Timaset Skooch said at last, shrugging. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

“She’s parked at the space port, Bay 227.” Deire said, rising. “Ah’ll have mah things cleared out by tomorrow noon.”

“I’ll come around sometime tomorrow then.” Skooch murmured, feeling numb – and wondering if the dull pain running down his left arm was some kind of warning – as the dejected older man rose and walked out. Well, alright then… Pocketing his winnings for the evening, Skooch rose and waved at the barman on his way to the exit. As he drew level with the doorway, he slowed cautiously and paused a moment to look and listen. Most guys who had just won seven grand in a card game in a dingy low class bar would stand a fairly good chance of getting mugged as soon as they set a foot outside – but not Timaset Skooch! Oh no, his reputation tended to provide him some protection! The denizens of the red-light district in northern Lugaluru usually gave him a wide berth, and were generally unwilling to tangle with him…

And that was possibly the last thought that passed through his mind before the world around him exploded into constellations of stars and other assorted bright lights!

When he finally awoke, lying on the cobbles in a puddle of his own drool, the first – ok, maybe the second thing to hit him, was that he was still alive – and that it was probably worse than being dead, but only because being dead probably didn’t hurt quite so much. While pulling himself together and taking stock via the wallet, spectacles, testicles method, he discovered that he’d been robbed. Wallet, gone…Money, all gone – the ship’s ownership paper – no, damn – he still had that…so the only thing in Tim’s coat was him and the deeds to nothing much! Hmm, thieves with savvy – fancy that! What a great start! He was actually disappointed!

It was enough to convince Tim that the Celeste was jinxed! It just had to be! He now had to get another wallet, but then what would be the point? He had nothing to keep in it now anyway! He was broke, and he still had a ship to get rid of! Well, maybe he could recoup his losses that way, he wondered? Oh, and he’d acquired a headache on top of everything else! Massaging the lump at the back of his head, he slowly made his way back to his jeepo, now more determined to get rid of Deire’s damn loderunner than ever!

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Extract from “Opsaal” (Novelette) by Christina Engela.

By mid-morning of the next day, my Oupa PJ left home for work. With no adult company, Ouma Helena kept herself busy. The children were put to work tidying up the house. The stuff left behind by the previous tenants would also have to be gone through and processed. Useful things were put away, the rubbish was discarded. She and her six children settled into the rented farmhouse. Being a wood and iron structure, it was noisy – full of creaks and soft bangs as the wood frame shifted on its foundation, and as the corrugated iron plate heated and cooled, and tapped and creaked as they expanded and contracted.

But even though she understood this, Helena felt uneasy. That explanation didn’t seem to work for everything she heard… like the footsteps on the wooden floor when she was sure she was alone in the house. All through that day, while the children finished their chores and went outside to play and explore their new home, she grew steadily more disturbed and unsettled. The children played with clay oxen and pebble-cars on the sand and in the long grass. They knew they had to return home before dark. For Helena there was no such escape – there was housework to be done – this strange new place had to be made into a home for her family. Once the children went outside, she found herself alone in the house – in a silent purgatory in which the only distractions were what she busied herself with, and when the older boy came in carrying freshly fetched firewood.

Strange things began to happen at the house.  

That first evening alone, something happened that would haunt their memories for the rest of their lives. Shortly before five o’clock, the children had returned home after exploring the homestead, chattering about what they’d seen, which games they’d played, or how one was annoyed with the others. The girls helped their mother prepare supper while the boys laid the table. Then suddenly, when the mantelpiece clock showed 5pm sharp, the crows in the trees surrounding the house began to caw in a loud, disturbing and sinister manner. The chattering children fell suddenly silent, stopped in their tracks, listening. Helena looked out a window. There were black birds in the distant trees outside, looking on, cawing menacingly. It was as though something had disturbed them – but they did not fly away! While they listened to the strange cries of the crows, something even more sinister happened: the sound of pebbles raining down on the tin roof suddenly clattered all around the house! The din was deafening and terrifying! The girls screamed. The children hid under the dining table. Helena, fighting to remain strong for the sake of her children, forced herself to remain still, and looked through a window.

She could see nothing unusual… She could see nobody outside. There were no pebbles raining down outside, no objects bouncing off the walls or roof, or away across the surrounding earth! And the crows… the crows remained there, motionless, their cries silenced by the deafening cacophony of the clattering strikes against the corrugated iron plating!

It didn’t last long before the cacophony faded away and stopped, as mysteriously as it had begun. Helena looked outside again. The crows had gone, equally mysteriously and there wasn’t a bird in sight in the clear blue skies above. It was as though it had never happened.

“Come children, it’s time to eat!” Helena snapped crisply, trying not to sound shaken. “Dulcie, help Yvonne put the food on the table!”

“Yes, mamma!”

For all of them, there was a growing sense of unease about the place as daylight faded into the pitch darkness of the countryside; they chattered mutedly over dinner, then afterwards, the children cleared away their dishes and put them in the kitchen. Then Helena and her children held the usual traditional family bible study by candle light at the table. The children read short passages in turn, beginning with the eldest, Johnny. After that, she sent them off to bed and sat in the dimly lit lounge drinking a coffee made with hot water from the wood stove in the kitchen.

Alone with her thoughts in the dim lamp light, she sat quietly listening to the creaking of the structure around her. What had happened earlier, she wondered. It had been so disturbing and so frightening! Had she imagined it? Surely not! The children had reacted to it too, and been frightened by it! And what about those birds? Were they part of it – or were they something else? A warning perhaps?

At eight thirty, Helena finished her cup of coffee and retired to the bedroom for the night, closing the door behind her. In bed, she put out her candle and tried not to think about it any further. She hoped it wouldn’t happen again. 

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Extract from “When Darkness Calls” (Novella) by Christina Engela.

It was Saturday morning at 4 AM on the day before Xmas, when my phone rang. Normally I turn my phone on silent beside my bed when I go to sleep – but because of recent events, I’d left it on, just in case. It was Roslyn – and she was in a panic! Tracey had gone, car and all! I checked my messages, and found what was basically a suicide note sent by Tracey! I immediately left home and headed to the white house to search.

As I drove, I tried to call Tracey, but her phone went straight to the voicemail message. I sent messages – and even an SMS – and they remained undelivered. I was was angry at Tracey for all the drama, and I was angry at Roslyn for not being more awake and for sleeping through Tracey’s great escape! I mean, how hard could it be to keep an eye on someone you’re sharing a bed with!

When I met Roslyn at the white house, she explained how she’d awoken when Tracey was leaving the upstairs bedroom – and how Tracey had put her back to sleep somehow! She remembered talking to Tracey while being unable to stay awake – and she remembered some kind of bright light being shone over her face as Tracey spoke to her. She also didn’t remember what Tracey had said.

What were we to do? Call the police? Yeah – and tell them what? It was the day before Xmas – most of them would either be on leave, drunk or in a ‘go slow’ mood! Why would they care a hoot about the owner of a barely legal massage establishment? I also imagined they wouldn’t have much patience for anything involving the paranormal! No, we were in this alone! Rosyln and I decided to take a drive around and look for her.

Roslyn brought Tracey’s notebook along to look for clues. I knew the password – which ironically enough, was “hope” – and while I was driving, Roslyn found the farewell letters she had been typing to her friends and relatives. Her journal of the past year had also been deleted.

The first place we decided to check to see if she’d gone there, was to the cottage she’d lived in until recently. We didn’t have keys, so I stopped the car outside the automatic gate, and Roslyn – feeling energetic – climbed over it and released the motor mechanism to open it. We drove on in to check out the cottage. There was no sign she’d been there for some time.

Then we sped out to Seaview to a spot where Tracey and I had taken sunset photos the previous week. There was no sign of her there either. Driving back, we stopped at another spot I knew she liked – with the same result. I can’t recall how many times we drove between Victoria Drive, Walmer and Seaview – a distance of around 20km – that morning, but it could easily have been six or seven times!

In the meantime, daylight was imminent. Demoralized and not knowing where else to search for Tracey, we headed back to the white house to see if she went back there. All this time, Tracey was still not responding to any phone messages or calls. We knew her phone was always running low on power or airtime, so we didn’t have much hope of reaching her. Unable to contact her, we were sure Simon would succeed – and Tracey would die.

When we got back to the white house, it was already growing light. The house was still just as we left it, still and empty – in fact, even more still and empty than usual. Nothing moved, everything seemed at rest – there wasn’t even a draft in the hall.

In absolute desperation, I decided to perform the Eyes of Heaven ritual in the huge garage. This ritual is intended to cause hostile entities in a place to cease plaguing a person, but also gives the user power over them. This is ceremonial or High Magick – and with Roslyn sitting beside a pot plant, watching – skepticism plain on her face – I set about the ritual. Right at the end of it, in following the ritual, I struck the floor with my hand three times, and then added something I improvised. I demanded from the entities present to know where Tracey was. Immediately after the last word had left my lips, my mobile phone began to ring in my jeans pocket. I took it out – and it was a call from Tracey’s number!

“It’s her!” I said. Roslyn’s jaw dropped and figuratively smacked the tiles.

Tracey sounded confused and lost. She told me she was in her car and didn’t know where she was or how she got there. She described her surroundings as best she could – and mentioned that there was so much blood. During this conversation, the signal kept dropping out and we were cut off. I handed my phone to Roslyn and told her to call her back as we clambered back into my car!

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Extract from “Lifetime” (Novella) by Christina Engela.

Virian Vanderbilt stirred. The pain, she knew, told her two things. One, she’d been hurt – although how badly she didn’t know yet – and two, she was still alive.

What precisely had gone wrong with the ship, she knew not. Some kind of sub-space anomaly near the orbit of the planet had done something to the ship – all the computers crashed and power failed. She remembered even the gravity-net had failed for a time, and they had to work in zero-g to restore basic functions… but even then, their troubles were far from over. The skipper of Alluvion had tried desperately to land on the planet to effect repairs.

The ride down had been extremely rough, and about halfway down through the atmosphere, the ship began to break up. The noise was deafening, and the chaos that ensued… it made her head hurt just thinking about it! A distress call was sent – and for the moment, Virian wasn’t even sure if anyone had heard it. Absorbing the pain for a brief moment, she steeled herself before opening her eyes, thinking about her prospects if their call for help had gone unheard. By anyone. Anywhere.

Her eyes snapped open. She saw sky above her – a strangely Earth-like sky, speckled with fluffy cheerful white clouds. It looked serene. She felt around her with her hands, and winced at more pain in her left shoulder. She noticed she was lying on what felt like gravel… sand… blades of stringy grass-like foliage tangled in… what looked like sheets of insulation – the material that filled gaps between bulkhead surfaces in ship construction… sound and temperature absorbing. The cloudiness in her head slowed her thinking, and she slowly sat up, blinked and turned her head carefully, wishing her ears would stop ringing.

Blood had run from several cuts and scrapes on the left side of her face and a few places on her arms and legs. The blood had almost dried already, and although tacky to the touch, none of them appeared serious. Both her shoes were still on, and her one-piece cover-all in soot and blood-smeared company turquoise was still largely intact. She looked around. Green hills surrounded the plain on which she lay, surrounded by a massive debris field. Most of the stuff lying around her, dotting the unusually familiar green grassland was unidentifiable – small scraps of metal, probably hull plating, and foam-like insulation, cabling, torn pieces of plastic paneling and conduits and pipes lay everywhere as far as her eyes could see. Behind her, a larger shape loomed – what she realized was part of the hull of Alluvion itself – she couldn’t make out the bow or stern, but it looked like a section of the ship somewhere between the two, in the middle perhaps. It looked torn open an exposed at either end – and flatter, like the crash had squashed and collapsed it onto itself.

A column of black smoke rose thickly into the air, and aside from the sound of burning and crackling, it was silent. She struggled to her feet, noticing for the first time that this feat indicated she hadn’t any broken bones. The scientific side of her analytical mind noted this peculiarity, and calculated the odds of that actually being the case. She’d survived a fall from orbit, she realized, stunned. From orbit! Inside a section of the broken-up ship with just a few scrapes and scratches – she cried out in pain as she flexed her left shoulder – and possibly a sprain or even a torn ligament!

“Hello?” Virian called out, hoping to attract the attention of the other survivors. There were other survivors, weren’t there? Had to be! Receiving no reply, she walked forward a few paces, closer to the looming small mountain of ruined hull section. “Hello!” She called again, looking round. Still receiving no answer, she walked up to the wreckage, carefully stepping around the sharp jagged debris at her feet. Aside from the low undulating rumble of the flames licking at the air from numerous gaping holes in the wreckage and the sharp pinging of expanding and contracting metals, all was deathly silent.

She considered entering the wreckage, to look for survivors but decided against it. Part of it looked like it was on fire – and anyway, the section looked far too dangerous to enter. She didn’t want to risk getting trapped inside it under those conditions – and anyway, it seemed like it had come to rest upside down, which could complicate matters even more. Curious about what lay beyond, she circled the wreckage instead.

She stopped at the summit of the hill and surveyed the vista beyond. Below lay a gently-sloping hill that ran down to what looked like a flowing river. Beyond that, on the rising slopes on the far bank, lay what looked like another section of wreckage. It was ablaze – as was the grass everywhere around it. Gone were any hopes of spotting a cluster of survivors walking up toward her, waving greetings.

Virian Vanderbilt sank down onto the rough gritty, grass-covered earth and tried to get to grips with the reality of her circumstances. Her mind whirled. She’d survived a shipwreck – and was now marooned on an alien world far from regular space routes of travel. She was injured, but not badly. She might be the only survivor – but she wasn’t quite sure about that yet. The planet looked quite hospitable – uninhabited, but she was sure people could live there, grow food and survive at least long enough to expect rescue. That added another dimension to her growing list of concerns – Alluvion had taken just on two months to get there in her roundabout exploratory indirect fashion. Assuming their distress call had got through – and she hoped it did – it could take roughly a month for a rescue ship following a direct route to reach her.

She sighed, her pulse rate finally coming down at last. If the distress call hadn’t been received, it might take longer for any rescuers to locate her. A lot longer, if at all.

Virian had no way of knowing how long the local days were – but it looked like the planet’s sun was at something just past noon, which should give her enough time to see to a few things. She set up a mental list. She needed to secure her continued survival – hence she would need the basics – food, water, shelter. Everything else could follow later. There seemed to be a river in the distance, so assuming there was nothing about this planet to make it toxic, she had access to water – which was a big bonus. As for food, she knew there was still a considerable amount aboard the Alluvion – but considering how the ship appeared to be in several different places at once, that might be anywhere. The grass didn’t look to appetizing, she thought cynically, and tried to think where the food store had been on the ship in relation to where she’d been at the time of the crash.

Her eyes turned back towards the other column of smoke beyond the river. The water was there – and so, likely – was the food, if any of it was still useable. After a few minutes spent searching the debris, she’d salvaged a metal plate with a small bowl-like metal dome in its center that should work as a cup – if she could somehow flatten the sharp jagged edges around the entrance to the dome… A few minutes spent hammering the edges of the plate on a large rock with a smaller rock as a hammer produced reasonably satisfying results. She dropped the improvised cup into the hollow of a shirt she’d salvaged from the debris and was using as a bag. The long sleeves tied together made a neat sling which she slung over her injured left shoulder. A length of thin insulation foam about the right size might make a good blanket, she thought – after all, she had no idea what the nights would be like here. She used a piece of appropriately sized hull plating as a knife, to cut it to size. Then she rolled the foam into a bundle and tied it with a length of cable. Slung over her shoulder as well, the cable put more pressure on the injury and made it ache worse, but she put up with it and kept looking.

She found no food at that wreck site – without risking going into the wreckage itself. The fire was still burning, but not as fiercely, and might burn out in a few more hours, Virian thought. She’d be willing to risk it sometime after that. About an hour later, she decided to hike over to the other piece of wreckage across the river, and set out on the long walk. It looked a lot closer from the top of the hill, but in reality it turned out to be a good deal further. It was the terrain – it was uneven and rough and although the earth was covered by knee and waist-high grassy stalks, underneath it was strewn with boulders that looked like dolomite, she thought casually.

It was late afternoon by the time she drew near to the river and reached the bank, which was muddy and clay-like. Curiously, there was no sign of any kind of footprints – Human or animal. Come to think of it, she hadn’t noticed a single bird in the sky either. Were there any animals on this planet at all? What about fish?

The water swirled calmly past the muddy bank, shallow at the edge – and faster and deeper in the middle as she carefully waded through it to the other side. She noted not so much as a minnow in the water – not even in the shallows. She was disappointed, because fish of a sort – any sort – meant a source of food – if she’d be able to catch them. Perhaps they were shy, she told herself – perhaps they would show themselves later. She’d get through this, she thought encouragingly.

On the other side of the bank, the other section of wreckage lay smashed and smoking at the center of a vast circle of black, scorched grass, bordered by the waning flames of the dying grass-fire. Not a thing moved. The ground was littered with debris here too, familiar slivers of metal plates rent asunder by forces she knew of and accepted, but didn’t quite grasp in her numbed state. The foam and plastic had burned and melted into strange looking lumps and shapes. That one in particular looked like a sk… she stopped dead, staring at the charred, surreal still smoking skeletal remains. She had no idea who it had been. There was no way to tell.

The body lay sprawled on the scorched ground, its limbs contracted from the heat, the cranium had burst from the great temperatures that had built up pressure within as the juices cooked and gasified… She gasped and found herself suddenly on her hands and knees vomiting, the pain in her left shoulder tearing at her as she held herself off the ground, heaving.

“It’s okay, I’m okay.” The soft little voice that was her inner consciousness said calmly, as though inside her somewhere, she was really sitting down calmly watching the horrific scenes playing out before her as though her eyes were merely windows.

Water from the river washed away the horrid taste the vomiting had left in her mouth, and helped to soothe her thirst some. It tasted fresh and good. Like water should. She wouldn’t know if it was safe now, unless it made her ill later. It was a moot point anyway, she consoled herself – if it was toxic or otherwise unsafe, she would die within a couple of days in any case since there was nothing else to drink now.

A few short scrubby trees grew near the limits of the ring of fire around the site. Some had burned and were smoldering, some had been a little scorched and remained, their fine leaves rather like pine needles in clusters at the tips of each little branch. She left her meager baggage on the ground and went to collect what bits of firewood she could from the nearest tree, and returned with an armful of torn, blackened branches.

That section of wreckage seemed a bit more intact than the other, less collapsed and less mangled. Fire appeared to have only damaged one side. She steeled herself and ventured in. The inside was a tangled, shattered mess at first, but beyond that, she discovered intact bulkheads, cabins and lengths of corridor. The decks were littered with bits of wreckage, and of course, all manner of junk. Broken appliances and equipment that had been slammed about in the crash lay scattered like sand-drifts on the lower sides of the tilted decks. At last she found two of the items on her check-list – a first aid kit, and a survival kit.

She had to make two trips to collect them and carry them back to the spot she’d left her bag on account of her shoulder injury, and at last settled down to take stock. The survival kit contained MRE’s for three days. Feeling famished, she tore into the first one, opened it, and devoured the first chocolate energy bar that came to light. A couple of other things caught her eye inside the almost spotless case – but her eyes snapped to the knife straight away. She took it out and put it down close beside her. Then she rummaged through the first aid kit and set about treating her injuries with the contents and following the instructions given via a small medical pad similar to a mobile phone that played interactive videos and had a menu diagnosing a myriad of symptoms. She had a torn shoulder muscle, a slight concussion and a few minor bruises and lacerations. She would be fine.

Evening arrived and it began to get dark at about the usual expected time she thought, whatever the time was – realizing for the first time that she’d lost her wrist watch somehow, probably during the accident. She cursed – not so much because she couldn’t tell the time, but because it had been a gift from Harald. She shook her head sadly, angrily. It’s not as if she had any meetings to go to, she comforted herself. She built a fire with the wood she’d gathered, lighting it with a solid-state lighter from the survival kit, and settled back to view her first sunset on this alien world.

Were there predators on this world, she wondered? She didn’t think so. She hoped not! Virian drifted off to an uneasy sleep, clutching the survival knife between her arms like her children had done with their teddy-bears.

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