QSFer Angel Martinez has a new FF sci-fi book out: The Anti-Quest.
It’s a simple old story—princess, dragon, knight—simple unless they’re all the same person.
Paladin Snillek’s mother was human and ruled a planet. That’s about the extent of her knowledge since they didn’t see each other much. When her mom dies in a freak accident, her father tells Snillek she’s inherited the title, and she has to learn how to pass as the mostly human Princess Siel for a planet she never thought about much. The dresses alone are horrifying and the courtiers aggravating.
In a moment of frustrated rage, Snillek’s princess persona slips and frightened palace staff misinterpret what they see. Now Paladin Snillek has been called upon to rescue Princess Siel…from herself.
Gruyere wants desperately to journey into the wilds of Tarribotia, but it’s too dangerous to go alone and so far, everyone’s laughed at her for suggesting it. When she spots a Dzedek paladin sulking in a tavern, she offers her services, hoping to pass herself off as a rogue guide.
Two women with secrets and possibly opposing goals head out into the hinterlands of a planet neither one of them knows well. They might both make it back by Winterfest if nothing eats them first.
Snillek dodged another dripping tentacle. Why, seriously, why do scientists do these things?
The multi-gorgon reared back, opening its beak for an ear-splitting raptor shriek, and swung its clubbed tail. She jumped the wildly aimed appendage and dodged when talons reached for her. As patchwork chimeras went, this was a nightmare, an amalgamation of every creature’s offensive and defensive weapons in the known universe.
The second head, the vaguely spider-esque one, made a revolting hawking sound. Snillek brought up her shield as it spit mucous-laden acid at her. It hit the repeller field with a wet sizzle and glopped to the ground at her feet.
The vibra-halberd wasn’t doing much. Sure, she’d managed to lop off a tentacle, but she couldn’t get in close enough to damage vital systems. Which had to be in the middle of that twisted mess, surely? While she’d promised the scientists that she would try not to damage the creature too badly—further study needed, blah-blah-blah—she wasn’t about to be killed by an animated version of a child’s nightmare crayon drawing.
Halberd returned to its place on her back, she drew her plasma rifle from its holster, settled the rifle against her shoulder, aimed center mass, and fired. The chimera stilled, only its three remaining squid tentacles waving, and exploded, sending chunks of foul-smelling glop flying in all directions.
Snillek had never been so thankful for a full-face polyceramic helmet in all her life.
A nearby stream offered some goop relief, but it was going to take some serious cleaning agents to get her armor shining again. She mounted her all-terrain hoversled with a huff and drove back to the labs, where the scientists still huddled in a lab-coated knot in the clean room.
The lab director cleared her throat. “Is it… ah…”
“It’s pretty well toast, if by toast we’re talking about a puddle of slime.” Snillek leaned in the doorway so she wouldn’t loom. Humans were so small. “But you’re safe now.”
“That’s a shame. We’d so hoped to be able to study the remains.”
Snillek shrugged. “You still could, I guess. Just have to scrape it into a bucket.”
A swift, whispered argument followed inside the huddle of scientists, too much like a bunch of firel birds squabbling over a food stash for Snillek’s liking. Those things were small but vicious.
Finally, the director edged away from the flock, clearly uncomfortable. The throat clearing was getting annoying. “Paladin Snillek, we thank you for your service and for preventing loss of li—”
One of her juniors whispered in her ear.
“Yes. Er. More loss of life. Ahem. But we will be unable to send a commendation for you to the Galactic Paladin’s Order. Nonfulfillment of all the request clauses, you understand.”
Snillek managed to contain her irritation to a single thump of her tail. Several scientists jumped and cringed back. “Oh, yes. I understand.”
Ungrateful, craven… oh, well.
“You’ll forgive us if we, ahem, get on with things?”
Not the most subtle Shoo, go away now, scary paladin that she’d ever received, but Snillek got the message. She offered a sharp, precise bow and strode back to her ship, telling herself that she wasn’t angry. The commendations didn’t matter in the long run. Grand Council members knew how this often went. But they did help with future incident assignments, since clients liked seeing those silver swords lined up when requesting a paladin.
The Order didn’t refuse legitimate jobs, and a paladin who specified they were only rescuing economically disadvantaged villages and orphans didn’t last long. Still, Snillek preferred the orphans to entitled, overfunded horktep.
“Welcome back, Snillek,” the Spark said as Snillek settled into her flight chair. “Are we taking off?”
“We are. Soon as you can get clearance from Planetary.” Snillek patted the console of her little runabout. “Head for the Wildfire.”
Spark trilled in delight and started nav-calc, obviously pleased to be heading back to the ship she considered her primary home. Snillek removed helmet and gauntlets, securing both in the muck bin, before she strapped in and took the controls. Oh, it felt good to unsheathe her claws and horns after their long confinement. Leaving the gravity well was like shedding another sort of confinement, a return to fitting back into her own skin.
Her father’s flagship, Wildfire, was part small city, part interstellar ship. Six kilometers long, with corridors wide enough to accommodate people with wings, it served as residence for the Hak clan as much as their cliff fortress on the homeworld did. Papa had always claimed planetary council meetings were only bearable if he could attend remotely and mute certain members when they had the floor.
On approach, Spark warbled her homecoming song. Wildfire rumbled back her song of welcome and directed them to the third level of small-craft bays. Unique to each intelligent craft, Dzedek ship songs ensured that no interloper, no matter how clever, could pose as one of them.
Not that the Dzedek had living enemies among the spacefaring races, but old habits hung on and died ponderously slow deaths.
Angel Martinez writes fantasy and science fiction with queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware, (and full time inside the author’s head) Angel has one husband, one son, two cats, a changing variety of other furred and scaled companions, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.
Visit her website for info on backlist titles, updates on releases, and works in progress.