QSFer M F Alfrey has a new sci fi collection out that includes queer stories: Symbionts.
Nice body. Think you control it? Think again. Eight stories. Eight realities. Eight ways to be enslaved. The symbionts are coming and not all of them come in harmony.
- A colony-wide blackout, but two engineers have a much bigger problem.
- Trapped by ghosts on a planetoid where escape isn’t what you would imagine.
- An alien spore puts humans to sleep and reshapes Earth.
- A drifting wreck slowly repairs itself, but every breath brings the survivors closer to death.
- An aerial assault on a bug planet, but who is truly in control?
- A stomach infection that writes bestsellers.
- Aliens have moved onto our planet. They won’t be any trouble, they promise.
- Twenty-third century Earth and two types of human exist: Orgs and Mods and then there is the AI, Animo…
Note: The stories in the compilation which follow LGBTQ+ leads are:
“The Wall” Jane Slaski – an engineer stuck on a waterworld in a dead end job finds herself acting a lifeboat for an entire species
“A Sea of Sisters” The Captain – is a bioengineered androgyne soldier who identifies as female. She is about to lead her fellow marines into a battle she knows is futile.
It seemed not to bother most colonists on Omorfi Thalassa that the place was a mystery. Only the archaeologists and those in Research and Design asked questions now. Still busy figuring the origin of the wall and the secret to its impenetrability.
Everyone else just got on with living, had forgotten that the place and structure were alien. Forgotten they were sitting on a material that would change the course of human existence in space—if only they could crack it. To Slaski, Omorfi was the armpit of the universe, that’s what bugged her most. She would’ve chosen anywhere but here, however, the company’s say wasfinal. They were punishing her for sure.
A great wave smashed into the wall. She jumped up as white foam frothed over the top, slid down its smooth surface to the floor and ebbed towards her. Slaski stepped from the serviceenclosure she was working on. Her waist tether tugged back. She didn’t mind though. One unexpected wave over the top and you’d be washed away without it. Today—if it could be called a day—the waves grew thunderous in her ears, even with her helmet’s external pickups turnedoff.
The foam thinned as it crept forward as though it knew she was there. Slaski loathed it more than anything. The seawater was reasonably safe if just a little splash. Take the plunge though,and given time, you’d disintegrate and disperse—EVA suit or not. The submarine transports to the subterranean excavations, referred to by all as the mines, lasted a lot longer being hauled out of the sea when not in use. It was the power conduits which needed constant maintenance.
The conduits ran up from the sealed mines which also housed the geothermal powerplant from which Vasi was fed its main supply of power. Teams worked night and day patching here and there in heavy duty suits. But take the plunge in a regular EVA suit and you were in trouble.
Slaski watched as the dirty grey-blue foam bubbled and spat, eventually evaporating leaving the wall untainted.
When the foam had completely bubbled away, Slaski knelt back down to the panel inside the Inexpugnium–that’s what the first team who touched down here had named the ferromagnetic metal the wall was constructed of. As impregnable as much as it was a mouthful to pronounce; inexium was the preferred shortening.
When the foam had completely bubbled away, Slaski knelt back down to the panel inside the service enclosure.
‘Damn foam. Damn sea,’ she muttered to herself.
‘This whole place… I tell you,’ said Slaski over the comms. ‘Jury-rigged crap hole.’
‘Can only blame yourself Slas,’ said Steensen, her voice calm and crisp through the radio.
‘That’s just the way it is Slas,’ said Steensen.
She peered inside the enclosure which allowed engineers like her to service the power cables running the entire circumference of the wall. A huge loop of cabling waiting to be devoured by the sea. It was her only job really, replacing reams of heavy-duty cable.
Slaski was still waiting for some smartass in R&D to crack inexium’s secret and produce a
cable housing that lasted longer than just a few months before it started corroding. But then that would mean she’d be out of a job and who knows where the company would send her next.
Better the devil you know.
She was back at the control tower, nice and warm. Out of the wind. Slaski liked the sound of Steensen’s voice as much as she liked her. They were just colleagues though. Steensen was happily married and Slaski—an admirable woman—was no homewrecker.
‘Argh, it’s just—damn it…this place.’ Slaski slammed the panel shut. ‘Nothing—absa-freakin-lutely nothing—we do lasts here. What’s the point?’
Slaski had tried to take that medicine and each time it seemed a bitter dose. How could it ever be anything else? How could she stand against an entire planet? How could anyone?
To begin with, Slaski had enjoyed the posting, despite the circumstances. Seeing the famous Ring of Omorfi Thalassa, the archaeological dig and the subaquatic mines around the column had made up for such a distant posting and the crush of being under big G again.
She sucked in her frustration and sighed it out. Her suit’s PLSS, the primary life support system which she wore like a pack, vented a visible stack plume of water vapour as the micro wet scrubber system rendered Omorfi’s air breathable.
‘Service enclosure A-07,’ Slaski began, the bitterness gone, replaced by the monotony of work, ‘corrosion on access panel, upper right. Seepage at weld. Cable guides showing some sign of wear, but they’ll last until the next tour comes around. Magnetic strip in reasonable condition. Safety rail’s in good nick.’
She scrutinised her cuff checklist then looked up at the wind turbines she’d checked earlier.
‘Turbines looking okay-ish… though five and nine will need replacing next tour.’
‘Let the next team worry about it. Easy trip for you,’ said Steensen. ‘Huh. Come off it, Steen. I’d rather be doing something.’
Slaski stepped close to the wall, disengaged her magnetic boots and stood on tip toes to get a look at the stretch of undulating nothing that passed for a sea.
Head-sized windows had been built into the ring wall long ago by whatever had constructed it. Standing on your tip toes was the only way to get a look at a grey-blue sea which blended seamlessly with a silver-grey sky.
She sighed heavily.
Slaski wondered why she even bothered risking to look at all. She had to remind herself somehow, she supposed. That there was more to life than just an endless stretch of cables,
service panels and wind turbines to maintain. Just wall and nothing else.
Slaski turned around to look inwards at Vasi. Here the wall was below shoulder height and
Vasi base was clearly visible across the placid inner moat of Omorfi’s sea radiating light like ayoung star nestled within its accretion disc. When you were in that flying-saucer-shaped facility you could kid yourself you were back on a station somewhere, drifting amongst the stars.
Wrestling her gaze away, Slaski forced it upon the smooth, grey path of the wall and started to clomp back to Tower A unclipping and clipping onto the safety rail each time she reached a magnetic wall bolt snagging the tether.
Biting down on the tube by her mouth, she took a sip of cool liquid and swallowed. ‘Two weeks Steen. Two weeks,’ she said, with an inflection of hope. It was enough to hold back the Sickness.
Slaski unclipped her tether just as she felt a tremor through her boots and snapped it back on out of instinct as a gust of wind whipped up. Setting herself rigid, she slammed her gloves to the wall engaging the mags and stuck fast like a gecko. If you got caught off guard with only your boot mags, you’d snap at the ankles for sure.
M F Alfrey likes to keep things mixed up in life. He teaches English as a second language, quite often subjecting his students, or captive audience, to wild sci-fi concepts. Besides that, he runs long distances, tries to climb and is striving not to break his neck whilst realising an unfulfilled childhood aspiration to skate. He lives in the UK with his wife and their skateboards.