QSFer Christina Engela has a new queer sci-fi book out (ace, lesbian): Freedom Inc.
Freedom. Independence. Friendship. Adventure. You could have it all! Or, you might die trying. The only question worth answering is: How bad do you want it?
Bad enough to become a threader – a drifter who makes their way across space doing anything they could to make money, just to be able to reach the next port? Mostly, threaders are just one payday away from being actual space pirates – or bums marooned in the ass-end of space, widely regarded with mistrust and suspicion.
For Tang Gunar, Mycos Atellu, and others who join their crew, there is no other choice but to adopt this identity as an act of survival, rebellion, hope and defiance as they embark on a journey across space to seek adventure and fortune on the Fringe, to find out where it will lead them.
It was a Saturday afternoon in Big Town. Miners at the nearby copper mine had got paid and trickled into town to buy supplies and to relax and enjoy themselves. This they did at the various entertainment spots that were found only in Big Town – a slew of small diverse stores, a cinema, a night club called “the Blue Moon”, and a saloon called “the Sweet Spot”.
The Sweet Spot was the biggest saloon in Big Town, and on this particular afternoon, it was quite crowded inside. Music was playing on a public juke box set up in the far corner of the saloon. A few guys and girls were dancing together on the tiny dance floor beside the end of the bar counter, and most of the tables were surrounded by customers – most of them employees of Gideyon Charo, an imposing, unpleasant-looking man in his fifties, who wore the finest suits and the shiniest shoes, with graying hair at his temples, and a scar down the right side of his face that made his face look lopsided whenever he smiled.
Not that Gideyon Charo let that bother him – or abstained from life’s pleasures at all. He was a Saturday afternoon regular at the Sweet Spot, holding court with his many cronies and underlings, working to ensure their loyalty by treating them to free food and drink in addition to their week’s wages. Upstairs of the main saloon, visible around the edges above, was the balcony and private rooms that spanned the rest of that floor, occupied by miners and members of the Charo gang, and the sex workers whose abode it was.
In the far corner, not far from the jukebox, a young man sat, looking decidedly out of place as he nursed a drink alone at his table. He was of tall, slender, muscular build and wore his long blond hair in a ponytail that hung down the center of his back. His skin was smooth and unlike most of the locals, unmarked by the power of the Phlebus’ sun. His face looked youthful, pleasant, even slightly effeminate – depending on who was asked, and even though he was from Big Town, born and bred, wearing ordinary clothes – a pair of gray skinny jeans, black lace-up ankle boots, and a maroon button-up shirt under a black 18th century-style frock coat, this young man looked like he just didn’t belong.
He sat there, seemingly minding his own business, nursing his drink, and doing nothing more interesting than listening and watching the proceedings going on around him – which appeared to be coming to a head.
The mayor of Big Town, an older man of modest build by the name of Nicholas Slim stepped up and cleared his throat, seemingly conscious of the fact that the mayoral chain around his neck was really made of plastic spray-painted gold, and that he was really slumming. A man behind him dressed in a shabby brown suit two sizes too big for him waved at another guy near the jukebox, who nodded and then reached down to unplug the thing from the wall socket. Silence abruptly fell.
“Friends, as Mayor of Big Town,” Nicholas Slim announced, “it is my sincere pleasure to call our town’s benefactor, our friend, Mr. Gideyon Charo to say a few words. Mr. Charo, sir.”
Gideyon Charo put on a bit of a show, looking surprised, waving his arms in the air jovially as he approached the dais – which consisted of an unmarked spot on the floor dead-center of the bar counter, behind one of the unoccupied pool tables. Charo even shook hands with a slightly reluctant Mayor Slim, who put on a notably insincere smile which he flashed round at the room without even looking at anyone, before stepping back into his employer’s shadow.
“Friends!” Gideyon Charo announced to a flurry of cheers. “Big Townians!” He added, eliciting more cheers, “Countrymen… lend me your fears!” This brought about more raucous cheering from the crowd in the Sweet Spot. “Today’s the first of September, and I have to tell you that August was a great month for us! That’s right, we’re showin’ record profits! I…”
“Profits?” Said the youth loudly and clearly, rising to his feet. “Don’t you mean plunder? Loot?”
A shocked, sudden silence filled the whole interior of the Sweet Spot, right up until into the rafters and the small work rooms to the sides of the balcony upstairs. Gideyon Charo’s mouth flapped open and closed a few times, and his eye bulged as though he couldn’t believe the nerve of the boy who dared to say that out loud.
“Who… who the hell are you, boy?” Charo demanded awkwardly.
The youthful figure stood there silently. Observers close to him might’ve noticed him shaking his head slightly from side to side, as though offended Charo hadn’t recognized him.
A man in the crowd recognized him and called out. “His name’s Gunar. Tangerine Gunar.”
A few people laughed half-heartedly, in an attempt to make fun of his name.
“Tangerine?!” Charo laughed gutturally. “What kinda dumb name is that? Sounds like a kinda fruit!”
The Charo gang laughed right on cue.
“I feel like some tangerine jam on my toast tonight, dear!” Charo went on, performing for his audience, who again laughed dutifully.
“Actually, Tang will do.” Said Tangerine Gunar, folding his arms in a dignified manner. “Or, it would – if any of you were actually my friends.”
“Okay, Tangerine Gunar.” Charo grated unpleasantly. “You seem to have something on your chest. Care to let me know what it is? C’mon… spit it out! This’ll be the only chance I’ll give you – before you die!”
“I’m honestly not surprised you don’t remember my name – but I am a little surprised you don’t seem to recall my family name.” Tang Gunar began, seemingly not the least bit concerned about Charo’s blatant threat against his life just now. “After all, it was just twelve years ago that you had my brothers murdered…” Tang Gunar continued, his brown-green eyes misting over as mental flashbacks appeared and played out before them in his mind.
Christina Engela is a transgender writer, poet, artist, human rights activist, and D.I.Y.’er from South Africa. She is also an author of horror, fantasy and science fiction novels. Her books are never short of suspense, adventure and humor, while her colorful characters and thought-provoking settings take readers into another world, making her one of the most gifted and creative storytellers. Christina is a firm supporter of the LGBT community and believes that Sexual and Gender Minority characters aren’t reflected enough by authors due to a number of reasons. As such, Christina’s writing isn’t stereotypical, and her characters aren’t stereotypes, regardless of their sexuality or gender. She has written a number of academic and non-fiction works as well. You can find more information about her on her official author website.