QSFer Mary E. Lowd has a new queer sci fi book out (ace, lesbian, non-binary, trans ftm), Entangled Universe Book 3, Starwhal In Flight.
Where are the other starwhals? The question haunts Clarity, echoing in her dreams.
The cyborg starwhal who Clarity and her crew inhabit has become more than a spaceship or home to them. She’s their friend. But while Clarity and crew are filling their starwhal’s belly with a gengineered garden, the rest of the pod is still held captive by the Aether Gaia scientists who tinker with and experiment upon them like lab animals.
The all-powerful AI, Wisper, who stretches across star-systems — inhabiting computers on every space station Clarity has visited — promised to free the other starwhals. But either she’s broken her promise, or something worse has gone wrong.
Clarity and her crew must rescue the starwhals, hoping it will it cure their own beloved starwhal, who has grown sick with worry.
Or is she sick with something else?
Don’t miss the final installment in the epic Entangled Universe trilogy!
Where were the other starwhals?
Clarity still woke up with nightmares about the universe breaking into pieces around her. In this dream, she’d been Cassie, her cyborg starwhal spaceship, searching for the other starwhals who’d been freed when Wespirtech’s research on them had been ruled illegal. But those weren’t the dreams that haunted her. The dreams that could ruin an entire day, leaving Clarity grumpy and discomfited, were the ones where she’d made a different choice and left behind the universe she knew—the bully of a universe that kept threatening to break into pieces around her—and taken a one-way journey into a universe with a higher number of dimensions.
Clarity dreamed of nine-dimensional space and life falling together into an orderly—nay, beautiful—pattern. She dreamed glimpses of fractal fields of sunflowers and music that tasted like candy; candy that sounded like music. Impossible perfection.
And she woke up in a cold sweat, in the same universe she’d always lived in, wondering when Cassie would get up her courage to go find the freed starwhals.
Clarity had never felt trapped simply by existing before. But now she’d tasted the freedom at the edge of the third, fourth, and fifth dimensions, and she couldn’t stop wondering: what if I’d followed that path instead?
What if she’d stepped off the edge of the cliff and fallen forever into a different life? A life where she didn’t have responsibilities and commitments, because everything was new? She wasn’t tied to a cyborg starwhal who both desperately wanted to go find her kin, and also seemed too afraid to do so? Everything could be bigger, and more complicated, and yet more perfect than she could even comprehend in the small life she’d chosen to continue instead.
But the small life around her was cozy: Clarity awoke from nightmares and fleeting, haunting dreams of perfection, but she awoke in a comfortable bed, covered with a patchwork quilt, in a curved ventricle-like room that glowed a rosy pink from its fleshy walls. She lived inside the belly—or lungs, or heart, well, some kind of internal organ—of a starwhal who loved her.
Sure, her life depended on the whims of a starwhal who couldn’t seem entirely to decide what she wanted. But inside that starwhal, Clarity and the rest of Cassie’s crew was kept safe and warm.
Some days, Clarity woke up with the fuzzy, orange-furred arms of her beloved, best, platonic friend Irohann wrapped tightly around her. The big orange canine alien squeezed the small human woman like she were his teddy bear, even though he looked a lot more like a teddy bear than she did being a pink-skinned primate with gene-modded, photosynthetic green hair.
Other days, Clarity awoke to the gentle, lulling buzz of Mazillion, the swarm alien, singing to her with the vibrating wings of an orb-like cluster of their tiny, miniscule, insectile bodies.
Clarity never felt alone, living aboard—inside of—Cassie. Although, she sometimes worried that Cassie felt alone.
Even when all the other organic bipedal crewmembers were sleeping, stray bodies of Mazillion always hummed through the air, and Zephyr—being a robot who didn’t need to sleep—always seemed to be in the scullery, working on art projects, zir papers and colored pencils scattered over one of the tables that protruded up from the fleshy floor.
And Zephyr was always willing to take a break from zir art projects to lead any of the other crew members in a session of their ongoing game of Starsplosions & Spacedroids. So there was no room to be lonely. And Clarity was grateful for that.
But she also felt a little crowded. Clarity and Irohann had traveled the stars for decades together, aboard a normal, simple, metal-and-plastic spaceship before fate, circumstances, and a wickedly clever AI named Wisper had thrown them together with Cassie and the others. Sometimes, Clarity wanted to return to that simplicity.
Yet she felt guilty for the mere flicker of a shadow of a thought of leaving Cassie. At least until Cassie got up her courage to seek out the rest of her herd.
The young starwhal’s body beat around Clarity like a heart, holding her safe from the all-consuming, all-crushing, empty vacuum of space. Cassie enveloped them in flesh and love, and Clarity was part of a crew now. Captain, even, through a strange sort of election that the others had held behind her back. Clarity felt a little like the crewmember who hadn’t known to step back when Cassie had called for volunteers to be captain. But there she was: captain of a ship, member of a crew, ensconced in a chosen family.
And sometimes, she wanted to un-choose it.
Maybe someday. When Cassie didn’t depend on her so much.
Today, though, Clarity awoke to find Teya and Oksana in her quarters, looming expectantly over her.
The lapine pilot, Teya, was practically bouncing with impatience, her long ears standing tall above her head and her fuzzy nose twitching furiously. Oksana, an ungulatoid who’d joined the crew as Teya’s friend, was calmer, more stolid, with her hoof-like feet firmly on the ground. Large, heavy horns curled out of either side of her head, giving her a balanced look, but there was also an expectant gleam in her goat-like eyes.
They both seemed painfully young and eager to Clarity.
“Come on!” Teya exclaimed. “Zephyr wants us out of the way for her art show, and now that we’ve finally wrangled a meeting with one of the sun garden botanists, we don’t want to waste it! Out of bed! Out! Out!” Now Teya really was hopping up and down like the anthropomorphic bunny she looked like.
Mary E. Lowd is a prolific science-fiction and furry writer in Oregon. She’s had more than 180 short stories and a half dozen novels published, always with more on the way. Her work has won numerous awards, and she’s been nominated for the Ursa Major Awards more than any other individual. She is also the founder and editor of Zooscape. She lives in a crashed spaceship, disguised as a house and hidden behind a rose garden, with a large collection of animals, both real and imaginary, who collectively serve as her muse.