Series: Hidden Earth, Book One
Author: J.S. Fields
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 06/14/2022
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, sci-fi, action/adventure, lesfic, scientists, kidnapping/abduction, sand pirates, beetle riders, crazed bunnies, spaceships, AI shenanigans, grief/grieving, HFN, intersex
Nobody leaves Queen. On the tidally locked planet, a vulva and an authority problem are the only immigration requirements. Emigration is banned.
Ember spends her days cruising Queen’s endless sand dunes, hunting sand pirates and wallowing in memories of her dead wife. After an ambush, Ember is dragged to the pirate camp and learns her wife’s biggest secret—before her death, she’d joined the pirates, built an illegal spaceship, and plotted to leave the planet.
Ember, Nadia, and the sand pirates must take back the planet and expose the corrupt New Earth mining. Taming giant beetles, wrestling stinkhorn fungi, and enlisting Queen’s rabbit population in a high-stakes aerial battle are just part of the hijinks that will determine Queen’s fate as a galactic player, as well as the futures of all its conscripted inhabitants.
The newly minted outlaws must also grapple with Queen’s narrow concept of “womanhood” and where trans and intersex people belong in its future.
J.S. Fields © 2022
All Rights Reserved
Mornings on Queen always looked like blood. Ember stood at the edge of the habitable zone of the tidally locked planetoid. She scanned the crimson and rust horizon all the way to the perpetual sunrise. Her wife’s body was out here somewhere, buried in the coarse red sand. Desiccated, mummified, likely stripped naked by the roaming packs of sand pirates Ember was out here to track.
Well… Track. Kill. The line was blurry when it involved a spouse, and it wasn’t like the presidium—the administrative body of Queen—really cared one way or the other. Ember had cared, once, but she was on day seventeen of perimeter duty, and her whole plan of dealing with Taraniel’s death by shooting grave robbers was starting to look a little thin.
A rabbit shot across her field of vision, registering in a halo of blue inside the face shield of her envirosuit. TOPA—the suit’s AI—scrolled data across the screen, but Ember ignored it. Without thinking, she yanked one of the wide, flat stones from her exterior right thigh pocket (they were supposed to keep her calm, according to Nadia) and threw it at the flash of white, fluffy tail with precision honed from years of dealing with Queen’s nuisance rabbit population.
The rabbit’s hind legs skittered out from beneath it as it slipped on the sand. Ember wrapped her fingers around another stone, preparing to hit the head this time, when the damn thing started digging with its front feet, sand funneling around it, so that Ember lost her clean shot.
She stepped forward, grinding her teeth with an adrenaline surge that would again see no release if the little shit got away. She wiped sand from her face shield with a gloved hand, smearing red across her vision.
The area where the rabbit had dug settled flat with a slight pock. Tiny fans on the outside of Ember’s face shield blew the particulate from her vision.
The rabbit was gone and her stone along with it.
Ember cursed, the words bouncing around the inside of her rabbit-hide envirosuit, wasted on recycled air and a generic TOPA. Queen didn’t have stones like that—perfect for skipping over lakes that didn’t exist on the barren planetoid. Those she carried in her pocket were some of her last reminders of Earth. And the rabbit… Ember knelt at the soft indent in the sand. It’d descended into one of Queen’s giant beetle galleries. Of course, it had.
TOPA pinged as she reached a gloved hand into the depression. Ember debated the possibility of Queen’s native beetles—approximately the height of a small school bus and twice the length—grabbing her wrist and pulling her down in pulp-era sci-fi fashion. She dismissed the idea. If beetles hadn’t accosted her yet at this site, it meant the gallery was abandoned and being used by the feral European domestic rabbit population. They’d been brought over as food stock on the colony ships. Some had escaped. Big surprise.
Please read your notes, scrolled across the interior of Ember’s face shield, in lettering so large it blocked most of the landscape from view.
“The rabbit got away. I was stupid for throwing a rock that can’t be replaced. I wasted oxygen on the exertion. That about cover it?”
TOPA didn’t respond directly, but it did fire up a series of reports.
Landmass stability: within ten meters radius: moderate.
Sand for at least three meters below the surface with scattered hollow tunnels reinforced with clay from the temperate zone. Sand transitioning to silt loam noted in geographic surveys, with increasing occurrence toward the colony dome.
Silica content of the air: unbreathable.
UV index: ten point five.
Ember snorted. That did explain the suit smell.
She balled her hands as tightly as she could in the double-layered leather of her gloves wishing, not for the first time that day, that Gore-Tex was still a thing. Leather didn’t breathe, though both the buffer and the electrical linings of the suit were supposed to. Nothing from Earth breathed outside the habitable zone, and as much as the filters of her suit tried, they couldn’t filter out the smell of human, slowly marinating in her own sweat.
Awaiting input. Continue scan?
“Yeah. Sure. Why not?”
Ember stood, swallowing the dry air the suit pushed at her. The AI had a newly installed personality patch, but Ember would need to get a lot more bored before she turned it on. Instead, she pivoted on her right foot, keeping level with as much of the horizon as she could see, and let the suit feed data into the AI. Dunes and small valleys surrounded her, and TOPA disassembled each for content.
Silica: 97%, Chitin: 3%
Silica: 78%, Cellulose: 10%, Lignin: 10%, Chitin: 2%
Suggest moving 1.7 chains northeast for better visibility.
“Picturesque view?” Ember asked TOPA. Maybe a body?
The red dunes faded into a semitransparent image of her sister, Nadia, displayed on the interior of the face shield. Ember clicked her right canines together to increase volume. The winds were too fierce outside the colony dome to hear much of anything without enhancement, even when the sound came from inside the suit. That wind was the same reason the damn rabbits tended to stay in the beetle galleries. Wind screwed with everything out here.
Nadia’s transmission showed her just outside the dome, her image picked up by one of her suit’s sleeve cameras. Sand licked her calves. Her goggles were up but her face shield down, and red soil caked her envirosuit. The only parts of her skin visible were her lips, chapped but grinning as she tapped the front of her shield and instructions scrolled across the inside of Ember’s own face shield. At the bottom of the message was a clear add-on from Nadia.
Your sentry duties now extend to Outpost Eight. Leave immediately.
Hope you enjoy the sand. I’ll make you dune-nuts when you get home. Extra sprinkles. Served on a tablecloth of rabbit hide since you love the little shits so much.
Ember read the short message and scowled—a facial contortion Nadia would see in detail from the camera inside Ember’s suit. Puns and throwaway comments about the excess rabbit population had no place on an official director request. If Nadia was willing to deface government messages, it meant she was worried. But she wouldn’t say she was worried because, historically, the sisters’ ability to communicate was right around “bug and speeding windshield.”
“Leave for Outpost Eight? I’m supposed to be here for another three days.” Ember cinched her mouth into a caricature of a frown. “TOPA will be heartbroken. It hasn’t cataloged every dune within a one hundred-chain radius.”
“There’s been a change. Director Narkhirunkanok thinks the mella pirates are going to hit one of our storage units, the one where we keep sticking all the glassware we probably don’t need but can’t get rid of. We need a sentry. You’re the closest.” The wind whipped her words away, but the auditory sensors on Nadia’s suit caught them anyway.
This time, Ember did frown. It was one thing to watch for the mella and daydream about shooting one so you could avenge your wife, who didn’t actually need avenging because she’d been about to die from cancer and had chosen to walk into a sand dune. Chasing the mella to one of their targets, even if only to spy on them, so they could shoot you, was something entirely different. She didn’t have a death wish, just a need to see her wife’s body and maybe punch someone.
Meet the AuthorJ.S. Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. They enjoy roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, and always up for a Twitter chat.
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