QSFer Molly J. Bragg has a new queer sci-fi/alien invasion book out (gender fluid, lesbian, pansexual): The Master of Puppets.
Jakari, an alien assassin, receives orders taking her to a primitive alien world. She expects the mission to be like any other. Get in, eliminate the target and get out again. Instead, when she arrives, she finds out that one of the leaders of the fascist Char Oram is there, seeking to turn the inhabitants into mindless soldiers that could tip the war in favor of the Char.
Hayami Takahashi follows a strange woman down a dark street and all she wants is to make sure the woman didn’t wind up as the next victim of a kidnapping ring working the streets of Dallas. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of a civil war between two factions of shape shifting cyborg aliens.
After Jakari saves Hayami from becoming a test subject in a Char lab, the two of them are working together to stop a war that’s been raging for nine thousand years.
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Excerpt (1000 words max) “WHAT ARE THOSE?” JAKARI asked, staring at the hologram floating in the middle of the medical bay.
“Those are humans,” Dubari said. “Dominant intelligent species of Sol 3, AKA Terra, AKA Earth.”
“They named their planet after dirt?” Jakari asked.
“According to the report from Napati’s unit,” Dubari said.
“Primitive? Barbaric? Dumb?” Dubari asked. “Honestly, what do you expect from a species that’s still debating whether they are the only intelligent life in the universe?”
“I was going to say weird,” Jakari asked.
Dubari shrugged. “That too.”
Jakari sat down near the hologram and dropped her hand on the control interface point on the arm of the chair, bringing up the vital statistics on ‘humans.’ The report from Napati included about ten million genetic profiles and a reproductive algorithm that would allow them to ‘breed’ unique profiles for her and Dubari to use. That was fairly standard for an infiltration package. What wasn’t standard was the humans themselves.
In the ten thousand or so years she’d been alive, Jakari had seen a lot of aliens. Big ones, small ones, flora and fauna evolved. Predators, scavengers, and grazers. Carnivores, omnivores, herbivores, chemivores, and photovores. Oxygen breathers and methane breathers and water breathers. Even a handful of species like her own that had long since left their purely organic origins behind in favor of techno-organic or even fully robotic bodies. There was a lot of variety, but she hadn’t seen anything quite like humans before.
The lower segment of their legs didn’t end in a proper paw or hoof. Instead, it was shortened into a kind of elongated hand with vestigial fingers at the forward end. The whole thing was pressed against the ground as some weird sort of ped. There was a joint where it connected to the rest of the leg, that had a bit more mobility than a joint in that place normally would, but the main joints of the leg were the knee between the upper and middle segments and the hip joint. There was no tail, which must have made balancing even harder with the oddly shaped peds. The sex organs on the male just sort of dangled loosely between the legs instead of withdrawing into the body or into some sort of protective sheath. The lower spine had an odd bend in it. The female had enlarged mammary glands, even when they weren’t actively nursing their young. The arms were normal enough, she supposed. They actually had a better range of motion in the shoulder than most species. A short neck, which was common enough, but then the head. The face was oddly flat, the fangs were undersized to the point of uselessness, and there was a huge, flat plate of bone above the eyelids. The strangest thing was the hair. They only had hair in significant quantities under the shoulder joints, around their sex organs, and on the top and back of the head. The males did grow hair on their lower face after they reached maturity, but Jakari could hardly see the point. They were mostly just big, pink, naked things.
“Was there anything in our orders about why we’re going to this planet?” Jakari asked.
“Just that it was a high priority mission, and that Napati would brief us when we arrived,” Dubari said.
“Wonderful,” Jakari said. “I hate going in blind.”
“You hate going in.”
Jakari looked over at Dubari, who had a grin on their face. She shrugged because what they said was true. She hated their job. It was necessary, and they were both good at it, and what they did probably had more impact on the course of the war than any number of battles and sieges, but it didn’t mean she had to like it.
“I just want to know who we’re supposed to kill,” she said.
“Does it really matter?” Dubari asked.
Jakari had to bite her tongue, because of course it mattered. Assassinating some dumb, young lieutenant leading a resource scouting mission wasn’t going to have any sort of lasting effect on the war and was a waste of their time. Not that she seriously believed that was their mission. Napati was second-in-command of the entire Suil Agam. She wouldn’t be out here on some godforsaken mudball if there wasn’t a reason. The problem was, Jakari no longer trusted Arthan to have a good reason. Not since Cruthanna. What had happened there had broken her faith in Arthan, and the more she watched him, the more apparent it became that most of what he did these days was about holding on to power, and not enough of it was about actually ending the war.
“Arthan assigned us this mission personally,” Dubari said. “It’s got to be important.”
“I hope so,” Jakari said. She looked back at the hologram of the humans. “And if we have to wear that, I hope it’s quick.”
“Are you going to pick a male form this time?”
“Do I ever pick a male form?” Jakari asked.
Dubari laughed. “No.”
“Then what makes you think I’d do it this time?”
“I thought you finally might be getting bored of the whole woman thing.”
Jakari shook her head and told the computer to ‘breed’ a set of genetic profiles for her.
“You could try it,” Dubari said.
Jakari didn’t answer, but then she didn’t have to. It was an old argument between them. Dubari had been born centuries after the Migration. They’d never really known what it was like to have a body that couldn’t be reshaped at will, or how much that body could become a part of your identity. Jakari had been born a woman decades before the Migration, and she had liked being a woman. Dubari, like most of the Gadan born after the Migration, viewed gender as a relic of the past. They didn’t understand why shifting into a male form made Jakari want to crawl out of her skin.
Molly J. Bragg is a 46-year-old autistic trans woman with a degree in Astrophysics and a love of storytelling. She loves science fiction, superheroes, and giant robots. Her hobbies include collecting transformers, watching way too many crafting videos on YouTube, playing Dungeons & Dragons, and complaining bitterly about the way a certain comic book company treats her favorite superhero.