QSFer Owen Lach has a new queer YA sci-fi book out, Neskan Chronicles book 1: Founder’s Mercy.
Some secrets are worth dying for.
Teenage best friends Adan Testa and Bo Shen have a plan. They’ll pull off an unlikely heist to earn their way over the wall, escaping Bolvar before serving their mandatory five years in the Bolvar Union Defense Force. But Adan has a secret talent that no one has seen in the five centuries since the First Explorers colonized Neska. And when the Union discovers Adan’s gift, they’ll do everything they can to learn his secret even if it kills him.
Warnings: Mild violence, References to childhood trauma
Adan stared out the passenger window at the different buildings as they drove by. They were in a nicer part of Bolvar than Adan typically saw. The streets seemed to be in better condition, all the lights worked, and there was even an occasional park stuffed between buildings. But, as they drove past one of those parks, Adan caught sight of something that sent chills down his spine. An auto was parked at the intersection. It looked just like the one he’d seen from the tram the night before. Its lights were off, and he couldn’t see if anyone was inside it. But it could only be one thing. Pinchers. The only other citizens who used autos were Union and Committee officials who needed to be driven around Bolvar. It was unlikely that a Committee member was out and about during the Gories. And ordinary citizens like him usually had to make do with walking and Bolvar’s transit network.
Once they’d driven past the auto, Adan leaned out so he could look back in the side mirror. Everything stayed quiet for a few moments. Then the auto’s lights came on, it pulled out onto Meki, and started following them.
Adan groaned. “Damn it.”
Bo quickly glanced at him. “What’s that?”
“Pinchers, I think. Following us in a black auto.”
Bo checked the mirror on his side. “I see the lights back there. You’re sure it’s the Pinchers?”
Adan nodded. “I saw the auto when we passed it. It’s the same kind they had last night.”
Bo gulped. “Okay, they could be following us. Or it could be a coincidence. There’s only one way to find out.” He slowed the van as they approached the next intersection and turned left. Then Bo pressed on the accelerator hard, slowly building up speed. “Are they following us?”
Adan kept his eyes on the mirror through his window, waiting for the auto to make an appearance. After a moment, he saw it turning to follow them. “I see them.”
Bo smacked the wheel. “Damn it.”
Adan took a breath, trying to calm himself. “It could be anything. They may not know who we are. They may just be bored.”
“I know,” Bo answered, sounding strained. “But, even if they don’t, I can’t exactly lead them back to the Thatcher.”
“Oh, yeah.” Adan tried to remember all the times he’d poured over the city map. Where could they go to lose a Pincher auto in a van full of bashki barrels? The barrels! He had a dangerous idea. “How upset do you think Min will be if we show up without their barrel?”
Bo glanced at him suspiciously. “What are you thinking?”
“We could use one of the barrels to slow them down enough to get away.”
Bo chuckled. “Founder’s mercy, Adan! Alright, I’ll slow down and let them catch up a bit, then turn uphill. You climb back there and get ready. Do you think you can knock one out the back by yourself?”
Adan was already getting out of his seat. “I will if I have to.” He climbed onto the nearest barrel, then crawled across the tops of the others until he was near the back doors. The way they’d set them inside, there was just enough room for Adan to brace himself against the side and push a barrel out with his legs. Assuming his legs held up. Adan’s mind started racing, wondering what they would do after that. Would they still make it to the Thatcher’s? Would they have to ditch the van and run? No, he couldn’t let his thoughts drift. He needed to focus.
“Are you ready?” Bo called back to him.
Adan gulped. “Yes. Just let me know.”
He could feel the van starting to slow and wished the back doors had a window to look through. But he leaned forward anyway, ready to throw the rear doors open, hopefully without falling out himself.
“I’m making the turn. Hang on and get ready!” Adan made sure he was well situated as he felt the van lean into the turn then straighten back out as they headed uphill. “Okay, now!”
Adan grunted and flipped the door latch. The doors flew open, revealing the front of the Pincher’s auto and the shocked expressions on the Pinchers’ faces. Adan scooted backward and braced his shoulders against the van’s side wall. Then he set his boots against the barrel closest to the edge and pushed as hard as he could. It was almost too hard, and the barrel immediately started tipping away from him. Adan scrambled to grab onto a piece of the van’s metal framing to keep himself from sliding out. Then he watched as the barrel fell all the way out and smashed into the front of the auto with a loud bang. The surprised Pincher behind the wheel frantically tried to control the auto, but it still swerved to the side and smashed into the building there. Adan watched smoke pour from the auto’s crushed front end as they pulled away.
Owen Lach (he/him) is a queer artist, gamer, and author who lives in the PNW. He loves to write queer stories. Especially YA fiction and science-fiction, that’s also queer. When he’s not writing, Owen enjoys reading books from queer, femme, trans, and POC authors, watching anime, or playing video games.