QSFer Dorian Dawes has a new trans/gay sci fi book out:
Famous bounty hunter Talisha Artul is not having a good day. A hostile alien planet full of bandits and refugees, an entire group of mercenaries all told to kill her and take her armor, and it’s barely even noon. All she wanted was to earn a paycheck and make her mother proud. They’ve barely shared a kind word since she came out of the closet as trans and took her mother’s name.
Now she’s travelling with an android cowboy with split-personality issues and an eight-foot-tall warrior woman to beat a group of vengeful pirates and the galactic federation’s military forces to uncover an ancient alien temple. Talisha soon learns that despite her legal standing, there is little that separates her from these marginalized cutthroats and outcasts. They’re all victims here, all pawns in their shadowy employer’s game.
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“Were these seriously the best mercs you could hire?” The cigarette moved in the corner of Madame Inspector’s mouth as she spoke. She flicked her fingers across the pile of folders strewn across her desk. “Absolute rubbish.”
A little man with lily-white skin stood fidgeting with his spectacles in the doorway, clutching a briefcase close to his chest. Madame Inspector scared the living hell out of him. She liked it that way and would have smiled at his discomfort if she thought it’d make him squirm just a little bit more.
He took a tentative step, but she held a palm up and he froze where he stood. Good dog.
“Madame Inspector, I assure you they are highly qualified.” The overhanging lamp cast a glare over his glasses. “I’ve assembled before you the most dangerous individuals in the galaxy.”
Madame Inspector scowled, spreading out the files and pictures of each motley outcast passing themself off as a mercenary. “These bozos are more danger to themselves than anyone else, Mr. Snidely. Crooks and ruffians.”
“That’s why they’re perfect for the position,” Snidely said. He mustered up the courage to give her a wicked smile. “They’re completely disposable. Should be easy to turn them on one another when we’re done.”
Madame Inspector leaned back in her seat. She tapped the ashes of her cigarette into the tray and stared at him until his smile melted into open-mouthed fear. She said nothing, waiting for him to wither before the cold deadlights of her eyes.
“Mr. Snidely,” she said, a voice like gravel. “Not once have I witnessed one with as much audacity…or initiative. Good work. You’re dismissed.”
Snidely bowed his head and ducked hurriedly out of her office. She frowned as he left. The kid had gumption, ambition. They could be useful qualities in the right doses. She’d have to test him.
Archimedes IV, a war-torn rock populated by refugees and outlaws. It’d been deemed unfit for life by the Council of Thirteen following a resource war that’d decimated the planet and irrevocably altered the landscape. Some forests remained, having evolved to meet the harsh environmental conditions. The trees had become predators themselves, feeding off unwary travelers.
With its constant dangers and inhospitable environment, Archimedes IV had been abandoned by the Intergalactic Peacekeeping Federation, which made it the ideal location for all sorts of criminal scum to stash their ill-gotten gains. So long as they hid away in backwater filth, the law paid them no mind. It was out of their jurisdiction.
Talisha Artul had no jurisdiction. If the job told her to go, she’d go. The IGF had found her as reliable a resource as her mother. Abandoned science station deemed too dangerous to send in a full squad? Talisha was there with her arm cannon and jet pack.
Becoming a space-faring licensed bounty hunter had a few perks. The pay was decent—a huge bonus considering over half her funds were split between expensive hormone treatments and helping support her mother’s orphanage. Being able to traverse the galaxy and visit other worlds definitely ranked high on the list. Getting shot at on a daily basis was a minor drawback in comparison.
Reservations about this latest assignment scratched at the back of her mind as she sorted through the information provided to her on her tablet. An anonymous corporate employer had contacted her, leaving the legality of the assignment in question. She’d have to make a call to the appropriate channels to make sure her licensing fees had been taken care of. New information presented itself that she’d be assigned to a task force after previous assurances that she’d be working alone.
She threw the tablet against the ship console. “Shit!”
Talisha preferred working alone for multiple reasons. Silence kept her head clear and victory assured in any firefight. Other people introduced far more variables than she was comfortable with.
Maybe Mom would know what to do.
Talisha grabbed the headset from a compartment just above her and slipped it over her head. She made a sour expression at the tablet as she slumped back into her seat. A few moments later, her mother’s voice crackled into her feed.
“Talisha? Thought you’d be on-world by now,” Ms. Artul said.
“Mom, when is it okay to back out of an assignment?”
“Uh-oh. What happened?”
Talisha filled her in on the particulars of the assignment, making notes of the new last-minute information.
Her mother thought about that one for a while. “Your reputation is pretty strong right now. You could probably afford to back out.”
“What about you?” Talisha asked. “How’s the orphanage doing?”
“Expensive. Feels like there’s new orphans every day. People keep dying and leaving behind their little ones. This planet’s in need.”
“Do you have enough to make it through the month?” Talisha propped her elbows against the console and scratched the back of her neck with one hand.
Ms. Artul muttered under her breath in Swahili, then spat out, “Don’t you dare. If you don’t feel good about this mission, don’t take it.”
“You can’t order me around, Mom. I’m just being stubborn and paranoid…like you.”
“I wish you hadn’t called then.” There was a lengthy pause. “Fucking hell, kid.”
Talisha’s eyes watered. These were the types of conversations that drove people to drink. She gritted her teeth and pursed her lips, fingers shaking.
“I’m taking the job,” Talisha said, then threw the headset against the console.
Bluebird had seen her fair share of overcrowded dung heaps in her time—claustrophobic messes violating every single fire safety law in the galaxy; easy places to get stabbed and looted before you even had a chance to know what had happened. Folks in a hurry could trample your corpse without even noticing. By contrast, the spaceport on Archimedes IV was practically empty. A dumpster left at the back end of the long passage looked like it’d been overflowing for years. Shit and graffiti marred the walls, and it was nearly impossible to see through the teller’s window for all the grime and filth covering it.
Bluebird sniffed. She might come to like it there. Smelled just like home.
The poor terminal worker did a double take at her through the glass. “P-p-passport.”
By this point, Bluebird had become well accustomed to most people’s reactions to her appearance. She was proud of the severe scarring that marred one side of her face, the mark of a fine battle. Bluebird also knew that most people had never seen a Karstotzkiyan in their lives and were unaccustomed to seeing eight-foot-tall women with striking blue hair and hardened jowls. It’s where she’d gotten the nickname Big Ugly Bluebird. She liked it.
“Identification provided!” She slammed a meaty hand against the counter and slid a thick wad of papers through the slot beneath the window.
He stared at the mess of documentation and sighed. There were official licensing documents in the scattered heap to be certain, but there were also receipts to fast food joints, hair salons, old concert tickets dating decades back, etc. Bluebird grimaced, feeling a twinge of guilt. It’d take this poor man hours to sift through it all. She rummaged around in her pockets from some additional cash and deposited it atop the mess of documentation.
He sighed. He gulped, staring at the blue veins bulging beneath her thick muscles and the giant satchel strapped to her back. She did her best to give him a reassuring smile but was certain she only came across as even more imposing. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped.
He put a stamp on top the chaotic mess of pages and handed them back to her. “You know what, this is fine. Have a lovely stay on Archimedes IV.”
“You are most efficient. Thank you!” She gave him a thumbs-up and snatched the documents beneath her arm. She sauntered out the spaceport with a satisfied smile.
Dorian Dawes is a self-described social justice witch and full-time gender disaster who never grew out of their goth phase. In addition to fiction, they have also written for tabletop rpgs and several published essays on feminism and LGBT issues. When not writing they can be found playing video games and plotting the revolution of the proletariat.