QSFer R.M. Olson has a new queer sci-fi book out (Lesbian, Non-Binary, Trans MTF), The Devil and the Dark book 1: Devil to Pay.
In a world of pirates and murderous ghosts, one naval cadet must choose between loyalty and survival.
In the Level’s Naval Academy, officer candidate Silas Hunt stumbles across a secret that could get him hanged for treason. The only hope he has to save his own life and to find justice is to join up with a ruthless pirate captain, a woman known as Mad Dog—even if it means sacrificing everything he’s spent his life working for.
The Verity is just a ship of the line, but for Stacks-born Captain Hollis Ives, it’s not just her first command. It’s her one chance to prove that a woman from the slums can handle a high-ranking naval position—even if it means accepting a posting that’s likely to be a death sentence.
Treasure Island meets Master and Commander with a science-fiction twist in R.M. Olson’s thrilling new space opera series, The Devil and the Dark.
Silas glanced around irresolutely, then slipped into a grimy side alley to take stock.
He double-checked his pockets, and breathed out a sigh of relief. The thief hadn’t got any of the information chips, which was by far the most important thing. But his knapsack had carried every possession he had to his name, although, granted, it wasn’t much—his spare jacket and a change of clothing, his extra buck knife, the energy pistol he used ship-board, where a projectile would chance breaching the hull and killing everyone on board.
He still had his cutlass and his projectile pistol, which he’d shoved into the holster on his belt, as well as his sparker, which he always carried on his person. His regular buck knife was still in his pocket, and although he’d kept most of his extra credit chits in the knapsack, he still had the ones on his comm. Enough to keep him alive for a few weeks, at least, if not to buy him passage off this hell-hole.
And if he needed to do that, it would mean he’d failed. He’d gambled and lost, and he’d have no place to go back to, and he’d deserve whatever fate he’d damned himself to.
He forced his mind from dwelling on the thought. He still had the information chips, and God willing, that was enough. And if he saw that thief again, he’d show her the colour of his damn cutlass.
He turned, bracing himself to push back into the crush of the streets, when he heard a small, terrified gasp.
At the end of the alley, an old man lay propped against the damp wall, eyes wide with terror. His long grey beard was unkempt, particles of food lodged in it, his clothing filthy and ragged, an open bottle tipped over beside him. Any other time, Silas would have dismissed him as a drunk sobering up after a bender.
But it wasn’t the man that had grabbed his attention and held it.
It was the translucent shape that floated not a metre away from the old sailor.
Even from here, Silas could make out the ghost’s features—an older woman, with kind lines on her translucent face that told him that in life, she’d been someone he’d have trusted on instinct.
It hardly mattered, though—when a person turned ghost, it left nothing of their personality, or thoughts, or instincts. A ghost was a reflection of past trauma, given form by the cellular degeneration caused by faster-than-light travel. And it wanted nothing more than to destroy anything it came across.
The man’s face was bloodless with terror, and he whimpered as the ghost drifted closer.
Silas cursed under his breath. The man must be drunk—any sober and sane person knew better than to make a sound or move a muscle when there was a ghost nearby.
Even from where he stood, he could see the burning black pits that made up the thing’s eyes, the mouth opening impossibly wide, gaping with sharp, translucent teeth that he knew damn well were enough to rip a person to shreds.
A ghost that was still forming was easy enough to dispatch with a sparker. But this one was fully formed, and deadly.
It was just an old man, a drunk in an alley. If this ghost missed him, he’d no doubt be killed by another next week.
But dammit, Silas had seen people killed by ghosts before. No one deserved that type of death.
He was running toward them before he could think better of it, yanking the sparker from his pocket and igniting the flickering blue tip as he ran.
He reached the man just as the ghost sprang. The man gave a long, quavering scream as ghostly fingers closed around his throat, and Silas jabbed the sparker into the thing, hunting for the spot where the spark of electricity would hit its core, dissolving it.
The ghost spun on him, letting go its grip on the man, and he jumped back.
His hands were damp with sweat, and he could feel the terror climbing up his spine.
He’d missed. It was difficult to kill a fully formed ghost with a sparker, even if you were experienced. Harder still when the thing was facing you, fear leaching off it like poisonous gas.
He shoved the sparker into the thing once more.
The ghost lunged, and he yanked his sparker free and shoved it forward one last time, desperately …
There was a soft, barely audible hiss, like a breath of air. For a moment, the ghost hung in front of him, a still-life painting of a nightmare, horrifying in its verisimilitude.
And then it dissolved, melting out and down from the flickering blue tip of his sparker into a mist that dissipated across the filthy alley floor.
Silas sagged back in relief. His hand holding the sparker was trembling so badly that the tip danced, making odd glowing-blue patterns in the darkness.
“Thank Our Lady.” The old man’s voice shook. “Thank Our Blessed Lady of the Ghosts, and thank you, lad. May Our Lady watch your path.”
Silas replaced his sparker carefully in its holster with still-shaking hands. He was biting the inside of his cheek to hold back an almost hysterical laugh at the absurdity of it all—this man was a pirate, almost certainly. A drunk and a pirate. His commanding officers would have told him to shove a sword through the man’s throat and save the ghost the trouble.
But there was something about the instant danger, the rush of adrenalin, that made him feel alive in a way he hadn’t since he’d set foot in the Academy.
R.M. Olson writes queer, feel-good space opera, featuring diverse casts, found families, and loads of action. R.M. has ridden the Trans Siberian railway, jumped off the highest bungee jump in the world, gone cage-diving with great white sharks, faced down a charging buffalo bull, and knows how to milk a goat. Currently they reside in Alberta, Canada with their four children, three cats, and a dog the size of a small bear. R.M. goes hiking and skiing more often than they probably have time for, eats more chocolate than is probably good for them, and reads more books than is probably prudent.