QSFer Harry F. Rey has a new MM sci fi romance out in the Galactic Captains series: Altered Tides. And there’s a giveaway.
A malfunctioning STAR drive strands Captain Ales in a new galaxy. Trapped on a dry, dusty red moon where the rains fall only once every forty years, the restless population barely survives on a teardrop ration of water. Now, the rains are years overdue, and the ruling clerics view Ales as a savior—or a devil. Just as Ales and the She-King’s brother discover a secret the clerics have been hiding for far too long, this world is invaded and torn apart from a most unlikely source.
The blue moon is a world covered in water—water that flows over to the red moon as rain every forty years, thereby drying up the domain of King Sarlord. He’s finally had enough and gathers an army to sail into the sky on the waterspout, land on the red moon, and defeat the god who steals his ocean. His son, Prince Malar, will do anything to avoid staying behind, but even he gets much more than he bargained for when the world as he knows it is swept away on altered tides.
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The girl lifted her eyes over the dry, dusty horizon bathed in a sandy haze. She blinked through the pain, through the dryness, as she always did. On the shore of an ancient seabed, the girl kicked clumps of dust heaped on the ground like forgotten eggs that had never hatched. They fell apart with barely a touch. There was no water to hold the dust together. No rain fell to fill the sea nor waves to break against the shoreline.
She’d last had water two nights ago. Her father gave her and her four sisters their one allotted teardrop of stale, salty liquid. Two for the baby; although even her mother, Sanhelda, said it was a waste. The baby would not live till the rains came—if they ever did.
Out here by the cliffs along the empty shore, she could at least get away from the cries of thirst that haunted the village throughout the baking days and stuffy nights. Their settlement was not a wealthy one. They lived far from the city with its water vats. Although her father’s brother had returned from the city a few nights before with the news even those had run dry. Rations had fallen to one teardrop per day. Hoarders went without. Soldiers patrolled the dusty streets, but they couldn’t prevent the nightly gatherings outside the palace of the She-King. The people were thirsty, and they were starting to blame the drought on her.
The girl knew this was nonsense. The king did not control the rains. According to the clerics, the goddess Aquina sent the rain from the blue moon in the sky. Although her mother, always a practical woman, said the rains came when their world was perfectly aligned with the blue moon. The king didn’t control the movement of stars and moons, the girl knew that much, nor was the gender of the King stopping the clouds from forming and the rains from filling up the cenotes, the water pits and boreholes, despite what most people now thought.
The girl bent over and scooped a clump of dust from the ground. Gazing into the hazy sky, she rubbed the dust into her cracked lips, soothing the broken skin. The girl wondered what she would do if she were king. She’d never wondered that before she knew a woman had taken the throne.
The rains came once in forty years. The entire system of life on these dusty plains depended on this climactic event. When it did rain, the water filled the vats and boreholes, every drop saved and stored and rationed because everyone knew the water had to last another forty years. Whatever was wasted evaporated in the stifling heat. Whatever was used disappeared into the dusty ground the clerics expressly forbade any person to dig into. Disobeying the clerics meant going a week or more without a teardrop to drink.
The clerics spoke with the gods and calculated each family’s allowance of bottles. Families planned the children they could have and the crops they could grow with the aqua supply front of mind. Donating a little bit extra to the clerics was never a bad idea, though. If the gods pronounced, speaking through a cleric of course, that a person was destined to die before the blue moon rose again in the night sky, the water rations of the condemned individual would be cut to nothing. There was no water to waste on the dying.
It had happened to the girl’s uncle a few years back. He’d had an argument with their local cleric over something obscure that old men passed their time by squabbling over—the price of beets, perhaps. But the cleric won the argument by foretelling her uncle’s sudden death within the month. The family fretted; his wife and children terrified their provider would have a sudden accident. They drastically cut their own rations to keep him alive and at home, even as their crops rotted in the field. Eventually, after much scrambling and scraping and late night discussions on how much the wider family could afford to spend, they managed to sell off a valuable young calf at market in the city in exchange for a bottle of fermented beet wine. The cleric dutifully accepted the sacrifice to the gods, and after returning one night from the sacred temple, his lips stained red and speech slurred from the beet wine, had pronounced to an anxious family that he had interceded with the gods on their behalf, and her uncle would not fall foul to an accident after all. His rations were restored, although their crops went to ruin and the calf they had been counting on to provide milk for three new babies had been sold off for tender meat, but at least her uncle would live. Could live, indeed, now he had water to drink. Such were the petty tyrannies of life under the clerics.
But life was not all terrible. In the thirty-ninth year, a great celebration was held in advance of the coming rains in the fortieth year. A diligent population suffering from a generation of thirst had their rations increased. The clerics and their influential friends would feast and crack open vintage bottles of beet wine as soon the rains would come and replenish their cisterns and water bores.
That had been two parched years ago.
The old king refused to believe anything was wrong and ordered the populace to continue swigging and feasting because the rains could not be far off, the clerics had assured him. That king was dead, and his daughter now sat on the clay throne.
The girl couldn’t believe people could be so shortsighted as to blame someone who was only trying to do her best. The She-King diligently slashed the rations of the clerics and soldiers down to the same as the general populace: one teardrop per day. She’d banned all travel and commerce to prevent thirst, and called on all pregnancies to be prevented while the world remained dry.
Otherwise, there was little else that could be said or done except to gather each night and stare into the clear black sky and pray for it to darken with clouds.
Standing on the bone-dry shore, the girl could only hope. In the distance, something caught her eye. A fiery flash in the sky blazed a trail of false clouds across the blue moon rising from the horizon. She blinked away the haze in her vision, not understanding what she saw, and took a step closer to the edge of the empty sea.
Whatever it was sliced through the dusty atmosphere and left a trail of smoke in its wake. Was this rain? She did not know what rain was meant to look like, but from the stories her parents and grandparents had told her, this didn’t seem like rain.
The dusty rocks underfoot dislodged and crumbled down the cliff edge, and she held back a bare foot in caution. Yet something drew her forward. She needed to know what this fiery thing shining like a metal star was. Had their god Calini returned? Perhaps he had come from the blue moon after forging a peace with the goddesses Aquina and Terrina, and ending this long drought. The gods were fighting, so the clerics had quickly explained as to the reason why the rains refused to fall, and they must all be diligent in their prayers and listen to the men lest the evil goddesses seep into their minds and turn them wicked.
The girl glanced back at the open plain, but there was no one else around. Not in the heat of the day, at least. Biting her broken lip and tasting dust, she decided to climb down the short distance and make her way toward the streak in the sky, tumbling ever closer to the ground.
By the time she got close to the bottom, the bright shiny streak had nearly disappeared from view. As her foot landed onto the cracked ground, a shudder rumbled through the rock. Or even through the very world.
The girl peered forward, tracing the rock line of the other side of the sea shore, looking for lumps or sites of impact. Then she saw it, a plume of dark black smoke snaking into the hazy sky. It looked to be just beyond the cliff edge. Glancing back once more, the girl wondered what to do. What would the She-King do? Would she rush back to the village and alert the sleeping elders? They would just bring more people from the city to come and investigate, priests and soldiers, people who would need to drink.
She could ignore it and turn back now. Pretend like nothing had happened. But her curiosity would never forgive her. And that was a coward’s way out. The She-King would never ignore a mystery such as this.
Suddenly her throat did not seem so dry. Her vision cleared with a flush of cleansing tears, and a spurt of energy rushed through her muscles like she’d just swigged a whole bottle dry. Without trepidation, without fear, the girl put one foot forward on the scarred and empty seabed and walked toward the mystery beyond.
Harry F. Rey is an author and lover of gay themed stories with a powerful punch with influences ranging from Alan Hollinghurst to Isaac Asimov to George R.R. Martin. He loves all things sci-fi and supernatural, and always with a gay twist. Harry is originally from the UK but lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his husband.