QSFer Drew Seren has a new queer sci fi book out in his Skylar Mars series: Skylar Mars And The Floating Islands.
Skylar’s past rises from a watery world.
After the destruction of Stars’ End, the school’s students are scattered across the universe. Skylar and most of his friends find themselves on the tropical paradise of Tursipia.
Their peaceful studies are soon interrupted in ways they never anticipated.
Secrets hidden deep under water force Skylar and his friends into action.
Dark forces are at work on unimaginable things beneath the waves, but what Skylar discovers makes his distrust of the corporations and the people controlling them grow.
What he is forced to do shakes him to his core.
When he uncovers the truth beneath the floating islands, will he be able to put the pieces of himself together, or will he and his friends be torn apart forever?
Wonder, excitement, and terror await Skylar and his friends on the floating islands.
Drew is giving away an eBook copy of Skylar Mars and the Stolen Egg (first book in the series) with this post – comment below for a chance to win.
As they approached the hangar, Del was standing at the ramp leading up into the ship. The first thing that hit Skylar was that Astara was bigger, nearly twice the size of the Aduncus family ship Deep Diverparked next to her. With the modifications they’d helped Astara make, the ramp no longer just went into the side of the ship like when they first showed her how to create one; now it came down from the ship’s belly and could close up smoothly when she was ready to fly.
Del had trimmed his blue hair to the point it was little more than fuzz on his gray scalp. When he’d done it a couple of weeks earlier, he’d explained to Skylar that it helped him swim with less drag, and that most Tursiops kept their hair to a minimum when they were at home to make them sleeker and faster in the water. It was taking Skylar some time to get used to, as it made Del look a lot more like his grandfather, and Skylar’s reader tutor, Professor Aduncus.
“How far out were you guys?” Del asked, a high level of excitement in his voice.
“Not that far,” Solaria said. “Now, please tell me you’ve got the air conditioner working in there. I’m ready to cool down for a while.”
“That and more.” Del waved them up the ramp. “Astara, Melody, and I have been busy. We’re going to need to go find more metal soon.”
Filzbalm landed on Skylar’s shoulder, careful to keep to the padded leather sewn into his lightweight shirt, which wouldn’t have provided any protection from the Solar Drake’s needle-sharp talons by itself. He didn’t say anything as he wrapped his tail around Skylar’s throat. It had grown long enough to reach all the way around.
Skylar walked up the ramp and whistled. He’d been so busy with classes, training, and getting a feel for his temporary home that he hadn’t set foot in Astara for a week or more. The amount of work Del and Astara had gotten done in that time was amazing. Gone were the overly clean, practical lines of a basic metal box. The corridors curved and were a dark gray that was just shy of being black. Where before there had just been openings between passageways and rooms, now there were doors separating areas and providing privacy.
“Up here first,” Del said, heading the direction the command room had been previously. “Melody’s waiting for us on the coms.”
“Del, you and Astara didn’t do all this by yourself.” Solaria ran her hand along the wall. It rippled with colors, running from blue, to red, to yellow before going back to dark gray. “This feels more like hide than metal.”
“We’ve been doing some experimenting,” Del said as they entered the command chamber. “Astara can fabricate almost anything as long as we can get her the chemical makeup. It helps if the things she’s making it from are close to what she’s constructing. It takes less energy that way.”
“That’s why we’re going to need more metal soon.” A young woman stood in the middle of the command room. She was about the same size as Del, but looked more like Melody, other than having nearly silver skin and hair. Her eyes were an odd orange that contrasted with the rest of her appearance.
Skylar stopped and stared. “Who are you?”
Del laughed. “This is Astara. You remember how we fought that one AI’s drone body in the room full of smaller drone bots?”
“Yeah.” It wasn’t something Skylar was likely to forget. It was when they’d all discovered that Del had the power to control AIs, or at least communicate with them on a telepathic level. The drones were creepy and strange.
“Well, Melody and I were talking a week or so ago—”
“And we decided it might be nice for Astara to have something similar,” Melody cut in, her hologram stepping from behind Astara. Melody and Del were both obsessed with new knowledge, and Astara was something none of them had heard of until the AI armada had attacked Stars’ End. After the battle, she was the last of her kind. “It took some doing, because we didn’t want her to be too…ah…inhuman. But the body had to be something she could easily store away and charge as she needed.”
“I really do want to be able to interact with all of you without needing to have Del around to translate, or having to use an interface,” Astara said. “I think this body will work nicely for that.”
Solaria nodded. “I do too. Now you’ll be able to fly when I want to go hunting somewhere and Del is busy.”
Del frowned and put his hands on his hips. “Hey, we haven’t talked about things like that. Oh, yeah, speaking of, Grandfather sent us over Astara’s official registration.” Del walked over to a console in front of the pilot’s chair. He tapped something, then the main screen that occupied the majority of the wall at the fore of the ship lit up. There was the form.
Since the Central Galactic Council didn’t recognize AIs as life forms—they were actually banned from Council space—they’d had to apply for registration of an experimental ship they had built on Stars’ End. Luckily, Professor Aduncus and Ms. Grissom, the new principal of Stars’ End, had understood what they were doing and sent the appropriate fake paperwork backing up their claim of constructing her. The form had all four of their names on it—Del Aduncus, Solaria Unica, Melody Porsche and Skylar Mars were all listed as the owners and operators of the light personal cruiser named Astara. It also had the ship transponder codes they would need to install in Astara’s systems so she’d be recognized when they traveled. Having the legal paperwork would create worlds of opportunities for them to travel during their off time.
“Wow,” Leonada said staring at the screen. “The only people I’ve ever known at school who had their own ship were corp-brats and their folks. This is great.”
Although he’d known it was coming, Skylar had worried that something would throw a wrench into their plans. But having everything legal with Astara opened up his hopes of being an explorer, if he could convince the ship to do that. She wasn’t like any other ship in the galaxy. She was her own thinking entity. To perceive her as anything else, anything that would obey their every command, was too close to slavery. They’d all started to think of her as a friend.
“When can we go out for a flight?” Skylar asked. He desperately wanted to get off planet, even if it was just for a few minutes. He needed to not feel the oppressive gravity of Tursipia pulling at him.
“I’ve checked with Grandfather, and he said if we didn’t mind eating synthesized food, or waiting until we got back for dinner, we could go for a short hop now.” Del sat in the pilot’s chair and patted its arms. “So, who wants to fly?”
Skylar plopped down in the co-pilot’s chair to Del’s right, leaving the other two seats on the command deck for Solaria and Leonada. The seats were a vast improvement over the improvised stools Astara had created when they had first freed her from the AI network. “Let’s go.”
Astara grinned. “Give me a minute to warm up the engines.”
Del tapped his com. After a second a hologram of Professor Aduncus appeared over Del’s wrist. “Grandfather. We’re taking Astara out for a short flight. We promise not to go far, maybe just beyond the moons and back.”
“Very well.” The hologram glanced around. “I see Mr. Mars, Filzbalm, Ms. Unica and Ms. Cloudara with you. Please be careful. Report in when you get back so I know you’re all safe and sound.”
“We’ll do that, Grandfather,” Del said, then tapped his com. The hologram faded into thin air.
“I wish I could be there with you guys,” Melody said.
“We shall maintain our com connection with you,” Astara said as she walked to the space just in front of and between the pilot and co-pilot’s chairs.
There was a soft click that made Skylar glance at the floor. Astara’s feet appeared to be merged with the decking. The click also reminded Skylar to put his seat belt on. Then the main screen stopped displaying their license and a view of the hangar appeared.
“Hey, you got the front screen working,” Skylar said. His biggest complaint when they’d first freed Astara, even more than the awkward seating, was not being able to see where they were going. He loved watching the stars and planets as they shot through space.
“That we did,” Del said. “Actually, Melody worked it out.”
Melody’s hologram hovered just on the other side of Skylar, like she was trying to not be in his way of enjoying the view. “It took some digging. The clean metal formula is one of those O’Byrne Corp proprietary secrets, but since I’ve got a backdoor into all of Dad’s systems, all I had to do was find it. There’s all the latest advancements in everything now in Astara.”
“After having Star’s End blown up, we even made sure to upgrade the weapons,” Del continued for her. “But we had to hide them in every way possible. If we’re scanned, they won’t show up, and they aren’t obvious from the outside. But they’re there if we need them. We also updated all the sensor arrays.”
“It was really interesting trying to get Astara’s systems to work with some of the modern tech.” Melody picked up the narrative when Del stopped for a breath. “In some ways, her systems have things we couldn’t dream of, but in other ways, they were light years behind ours. We’ve done our best to make her a perfect blend of the old and the new.”
A soft rumble rolled through Astara. “We’re lifting off now. Del, where would you like me to go?”
Del glanced at Skylar.
Skylar shrugged. He hadn’t planned on going anywhere, but he did want to get off-world for a little while and feel space around him again. He pointed up to the sky where one of the four moons rose over the horizon. “That way.”
“Vague, but I can work with it,” Astara said. Her voice was fairly flat and monotone. It made Skylar wonder if Del and Melody would be able to program any emotion into her voice patterns. He didn’t doubt that, over time, they would be making constant mods to the ship as new and interesting tech came along.
As she left the hangar, her flight was silky smooth, even though to Skylar it felt like the planet was pulling harder against them as she rose farther into the sky. Del often told him it was his imagination. He said that it wasn’t possible for a person to tell the difference between when they were in space and when they were on a planet, particularly if they were on a space station, but Skylar was always aware there were slight differences in the way he felt, and space seemed so much freer than being on a planet.
Once they cleared the atmosphere, two more moons came into view, as did a number of satellites. Farther out was the dim glisten of the stargate that was just beyond the orbit of the farthest moon. It would allow them quick access to almost anywhere in the galaxy, much faster than taking years to fly between systems.
The farther they went, the lighter and freer Skylar felt. After leaving his home on Hummassa, he’d realized he was made for space travel. He felt a simple peace among the stars.
“Okay. I’ve been wanting to try out the new scanners,” Del said as he started moving his webbed hands across the control panel in front of him. “We should be able to scan every lifeform on the planet all at once. And with Astara’s database of human-based lifeforms, we can tell what everyone is made from.”
“Del, this is still weird,” Solaria said, leaning forward to look over his seat. “I know my folks are finding more evidence that a good number of the bipedal species in the galaxy are human-based, but it’s taking a while to make it seem like second nature.”
“I hear you,” Del said as his screen changed. “But we can’t deny the evidence, and with the data files Astara had in her systems, we’ve got more of the lost history of Sol Three than ever before.”
“It’s even more than some of the old books my mom has,” Melody said. “It’s incredible how much the corps have hidden from us.”
“They’re good at hiding things,” Skylar said. His own mother had never had anything nice to say about the corps that ran the galaxy. They might have a Central Galactic Council, but everyone knew it was the corps who pulled the strings and made things run the way they wanted them to.
“Okay, this is weird,” Del said. He tapped the console and the image of the middle moon, a huge body that shone green in the night on Tursipia but in space was a massive ball of iron, disappeared and the scan he was running came up. “It looks like there’s an island full of Boarisk down there. There are a lot of other species there too.”
As the spot where Del tapped grew bigger on the screen, Skylar’s stomach tightened. It had been Boarisk raiders who’d killed his mother, laid waste to his planet, and possibly killed his best friend Teir. They didn’t have any evidence of Teir’s death—his body had never been recovered from the devastation. Skylar wanted to do everything in his power to wipe the Boarisk from the stars. They were a blight, and knowing there were some on Tursipia pissed him off something fierce. He balled his hands into fist and glared at the growing island. They’d destroyed the sense of peace that had settled over him.
Drew Seren was raised on a diet of science fiction, both in print and on the screen. He spent many nights watching Star Trek and Space 1999 with his father. Comic books were a main staple of his reading, and then when he was in high school he started reading Dragon Riders of Pernand quickly began devouring any science fiction he could, luckily his father had an extensive library at the time. He started writing soon after that, letting writing help him make it through class.
During college and his corporate life, Drew spent a lot of time writing to help him endure the mundane things that gnawed at him. Through his twenties and thirties, comic books and science fiction helped him survive. To this day, he’s still reading as much or more than he’s writing.
He’s also an avid gamer, playing first Dungeons and Dragons, and currently lots of World of Warcraft. He’s recently turned his attention to writing full time and exploring the vast galaxy through new and interesting eyes.