The tramp freighter Erstwhile is on the run when Captain Maddox and his crew become embroiled in a chain of events which lead them into an encounter with a lost colony of children and the Artificial Intelligence which cares for them.
With the very freedom of the Core Worlds at stake, can Maddox deduce the real reason behind the attacks committed by the ‘Children of Earth’ and prevent the AI’s to return to Earth before it is too late for both his crew and the free citizens of the inner worlds?
Targeted Age Group:: 14 – 100+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was writing a horror/suspense story in 2012, which was based upon a role play game I used to run for unwitting victims….I mean, players. Long tale short, my mum died at the end of 2012, and elements of that tale were heavily involved in the afterlife so I shelved the idea, wanting to be as far from it as possible, but loved writing my stories.
Another genre I used to run as games for players was sci-fi, and loved the old style ray-guns and rocket ships style adventure (like the original Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon with Buster Crabbe).
Have you seen Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow? I loved the whole retro-futuristic imagery, so I decided to write a retro-sci-fi story of my own, which evolved into this dystopian epic that has now seemingly taken over a great portion of my life!
I wanted to write stories that were free from smut, swearing and erotic imagery. I wanted young adults as well as older children (!) to be able to pick these titles up and read them, without the need for censorship or the like. That’s why they have evolved as they are, clean adventure romps into the worlds of the future, with mad scientists, robots, ray guns and rocket ships, but with a tinge of grimy reality lurking there behind the pages……
How is writing SciFi different from other genres?
Science Fiction allows for much more ‘wriggle room’ when it comes to imagineering plots, diabolical villains and gives scope and potential to the author in terms of painting many diverse and varied scenarios to readers.
In many respects it shares many elements with writing other genres, such as development of characters, evolution of plot-lines, etc….. but when it comes to the actual story itself the actual scope is limited by one’s own imagination itself.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
To be quite honest, I do not know. They just happened. As the story evolved, so did their own back-stories, with some parts of these lending themselves to little side adventures, or ideas for future developments.
I certainly didn’t sit down and write them out on paper first. Their name appeared, then they just got on with the adventure. The rest just happened (as still is happening) along the way.
I’m still discovering things about them too! Sound strange? Maybe……
1 Meeting at Diner Dave’s
‘You want the stuff on this list, you pay the price I just gave you. Your lot sent you here to buy it and I’m not here for haggling mister, I’m just dropping off and collecting my money. Understand?’
Maddox lowered his gaze to the inventory list displayed on the pad in his right hand, hoping like hell his frustration did not appear too obvious to the over-zealous trader he was forced to deal with. She had obviously hiked up the prices in the certain knowledge that he had been sent to do the deal, and would be forced to give in and pay as the supply of thermo-couplings was scarce when you did not trade openly on the regular markets, and their own supply had mysteriously vanished from their supposedly secure storage depot. Why some fool had decided to put the all in the one place he could not even imagine, but now they were faced with paying an extortionate amount of credits to this entrepreneurial team who just so happened to have a good supply of the things. They could investigate the more salubrious supplies from sources within the black market, but quite simply, he could not afford the extra time to save quite a substantial amount of credits.
With a disarming smile he raised his gaze to the face of the eager young trader and chuckled slightly, placing the pad onto the table in front of him as he shrugged his shoulders rather dismissively.
‘Yes, I understand what you are saying. Thing is I’m finding it hard to believe how lucky we were to find a merchant such as yourself with a generous supply of these things, especially after someone cleaned out our storage compound.’
‘So now you’re accusing me of stealing?’ The Venusian girl put on her most defiant face and pose, obviously confident that in the end he would have to do the deal but the price may just go up in the interim. ‘Well, that’s fine, you go and get your couplings elsewhere pal. I’m not dealing with someone who tries to tarnish my rep just to get lower prices. You can go to hell.’
She tapped her ear-piece communicator with her right forefinger. ‘Tam, close it up and warm the core. We’re leaving.’
‘Oh, very good,’ Maddox said with an amused smile. ‘Now you play the injured party and I cave in to persuade you to stay and do business, but now I must pay a bit more for the insult. It’s a nice ploy, but it won’t work here.’
‘You think so?’ She replied. ‘Well, you just keep thinking that as you watch me leave. See? This is me, leaving!’
Maddox raised an eyebrow and regarded her closely, deciding just how far he could push this and how daft he would look if he had misjudged the whole affair. No, he was pretty sure he had read her right from the moment she had strutted up to the table for their pre-arranged meeting.
‘Go on then. I’m quite interested to see how far you will be willing to go, risking your little scam falling through and all that effort you went to firstly to steal this stuff and then to get me out here onto this desolate little rock all coming to nought. You get to walk away with no credits and a hold full of Venusian manufactured thermo-couplings, which I think you will find it hard to shift through legitimate means as the company may have been Venusian, but it is owned by the Aries Corporation of Mars and they don’t take too kindly to people trading stolen goods openly.’
Sitting back slightly into a more relaxed pose, Maddox looked up at the trader who was now standing at the end of the table, seemingly undecided as to her next move.
He leaned forward slightly and picked up the sample she had brought which lay on the table to the right of the inventory pad, turning it over in his fingers and scrutinising it as if looking for something on its surface.
‘Ah! There we go. You see here?’ He said quite off-handed as he held it slightly towards the girl. ‘Here’s the mark they put on each one which identifies it, property of Aries Corp. so that’s how I know you’ll have problems.’
Even though she was retaining her haughty air, her brow furrowed slightly as she looked at the sample, scrutinising the nearest edge as quickly as she could for the mark which he spoke of.
At that moment, Maddox knew he had her.
Ever since they had met she had put forward an impression of pushy arrogance, but now that the deal appeared to be going sour and she had fallen for the slight exaggeration about the markings, which were actually just machining marks left by the manufacturing process, Maddox could quite plainly see there was a naivety to her behind the act. She was playing a role and now that the whole scenario was deviating from the script she had imagined and prepared herself for, her uncertainty and inexperience was quite plain to see.
‘Look,’ he said in his most soothing tone as he put the sample back down on the table and gestured over at the seat opposite to him, inviting her to sit once more. ‘Nothing bad has happened and no one has been hurt. Just a few people left with their noses out of joint and a little bit of inconvenience, that’s all. So where did you get the idea for this little heist? Your first?’
She looked at him with indignation at first, then her gaze lowered to the surface of the table and her shoulders slumped slightly as she gave in to the fact that the person she was dealing with was obviously more experienced than she had bargained for. With a shrug, she re-took her seat, the thought running through her mind that maybe she could still get something out of it if she appealed to his better nature.
‘Yes, our first big job and look how it’s turned out. Now I suppose you’re going to persuade me to do the right thing and return those damned couplings before you turn me into the authorities or something like that?’ She said and fixed him with a steady glare, but with none of the intense arrogance she had portrayed before.
Maddox could not help but break into a broad grin as he feigned his best startled expression.
‘Authorities? Out here? Now I know you’re green. Look Maia,’ he said, but then paused slightly and raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. ‘Your name is Maia right? Not some stage name you chose for the plan.’
She nodded in response, taking a sip of the drink which sat before her, previously untouched, but now quite a welcome diversion from the embarrassment she felt as his seemingly genial manner, even though she had quite obviously just tried to rip him off, was quite genuine and friendly.
‘Okay, out here in the Belt there are individual little groups all doing their best to get by and survive away from the over-bearing watchful eyes of the Corporations and naval patrols. There are families who have banded together, small entrepreneurs who are mining the asteroids for whatever ore they can dig out and then there are pirate cartels who use this area as cover for their operations against the merchant ships within the core worlds. All have one thing in common and that is the understanding that we all have to get along out here and those who can’t either leave in a ship or a box. Simply put, those that draw fastest tend to live longer.’
He paused to take a sip from his own drink, which had been ordered when he first sat down at the booth, grimacing slightly at the taste and the fact that it was now cold. One day they would find a way to approximate the taste of coffee out here in the belt. There was one place he knew of which did serve a mean approximation of the stuff, but that certainly was not this place.
‘How did you get this job anyway?’ he asked with genuine intrigue. ‘Seems a bit of a stretch for a girl with little understanding of the workings out here to suddenly pitch up with a ship and crew and start hitting storage depots out of the blue?’
‘I’m not that naive,’ she retorted with genuine indignation. ‘And while we’re just getting things straight, I’m a woman not a girl thank you very much.’
Maddox held his hands up in a gesture of submission.
‘As for how I come to be here talking to you, well to cut a long, boring story very short, I met a guy who knew a thing or two about flying ships and we decided to elope together. He had a ship, so we headed out this way and then he got word about some chance opportunity to make a few credits really easy. He got word of an easy to crack storage depot and once we cleared it out we simply put the word out of what we have to sell. Those who lost the stuff won’t want to report it and others like you lot will pay a premium for these things. A done deal really. Satisfied?’
‘No, not really,’ Maddox replied quite flatly. ‘I mean in principle the whole run in and grab a load of stuff then sell it for a fast turnaround is viable if the value of the stuff is worth the risk, but this? I mean, it looks like a lot, but after you have done the job and flown about a bit enjoying the spoils you have tanks of fuel to fill, docking fees to pay and then your maintenance and supplies. Not too long before your little haul has dwindled and you need to hit another depot. Next time your meeting might not be as pleasant as this one.’
He lifted his drink in salute to her to punctuate his statement, then braced himself and took a sip in preparation for the bitter aftertaste that would ensue. In an effort to disguise his grimace, he raised his free hand and wiped at his lips with the back of his forefinger whilst carefully replacing the offending beverage on the table once more.
Maia raised her gaze from her own drink, which she had been staring at intently whilst Maddox imparted his experience to her in response to her explanation. There was definite uncertainty and a vulnerability in her features which Maddox could not ignore, it was the dawning look of realisation he had seen so many times before on so many faces.
‘I… I don’t know about any of that. I just wanted to get away from that space port and see the stars, visit new places and have a bit of fun. This is not quite what I had in mind!’ She admitted, becoming slightly emotional with tears beginning to form his the corners of her eyes.
Whilst Maddox was genuinely concerned for her feelings, as well as not wishing to be responsible for bringing the girl to tears in the midst of a rather busy diner such as this one, his attention had been split between her and the entrance to the diner. He could see activity outside the airlock doors, and did not like the people he saw there.
‘Out of interest, this guy you met and flew away with and have just tried to pull this scam with, is this Tam who you called earlier during the ruse?’
‘Yes, what of it?’ she asked, genuinely confused by the sudden change of tone and wiping at her upper cheek with the back of her hand to deny the tear which had escaped free passage.
Maddox’s face had taken on quite a serious expression and he seemed to be increasingly distracted as he looked around the other patrons in the small diner they had chosen as the venue for the meeting.
‘Just wondering if you had heard from him since you told him you were on your way back. It’s been a while now and usually I’d expect at least a call to see where you where…’
Maddox’s voice tailed off as his brow furrowed. The airlock doors were at the end of the diner directly behind Maia and as such she did not have the view of what was happening that her booth companion did. She was pretty certain that whatever was happening, it didn’t bode well by the look on his face.
‘What is it?’ She asked instinctively turning to try and see what he was looking at.
Maddox shot his hand forwards and grabbed her forearm, which rested upon the table surface, gently restraining her movement and preventing her from turning about. With a sharp jolt of surprise she glared down at the point of restraint and then up to Maddox, her face with a burning question as to why he was holding her fast.
‘Stay still, don’t go turning and looking,’ he quickly said to her as he slowly removed the restraining hand in the hope that she would not take this opportunity to bolt. ‘Just so we’re clear on things, did you handle any of the arrangements for this little meeting or were you just sent in here because it was suggested a pretty young girl… sorry a pretty woman would probably have more success in twisting my arm? Did you arrange any other meetings here in case I was a no show?’
‘N.. n.. no,’ she stammered slightly in reply. ‘Tam handled all the broadcasting, but I think when we got the call from Phoenix to say someone would be here, he stopped. I think he was a bit excited they had picked up the offer so quickly.’
Maddox sighed loudly. It was becoming more and more obvious to him that this was most definitely a trap, one which he had volunteered to wander into but as he now sat watching the movements of people outside the airlock he began to regret his overconfidence.
‘Well, there’s a GravSled pulled up outside and armed Martian Militia troopers with their ground commander are now entering the outer airlock door over there. That means there’ll be a patrol cruiser somewhere overhead and possibly a couple more foot soldiers on the ground outside.’
Maia felt her stomach churn.
There was a chance that these troopers were here for a completely different reason, but in her heart she knew that the coincidence was just too much to be believable. All her ideas and dreams whilst working around the space port on Venus, all her hopes of a life of freedom amongst the stars now came crashing down in that moment, realising that they were now trapped within this rather grubby replica of an American Diner situated on a floating rock amidst the debris cloud of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
‘Okay then, what do we do now?’ She asked him quite openly and keenly hoping for some debonair solution.
Maddox looked squarely into her green eyes, instantly reading the look of genuine fear on her face and realizing that whilst this may be an awkward moment for him as it was just one of the many sticky situations he had been through, this was probably the first time for her and the fact she had not quite connected the dots yet with regards her apparent business partner just reinforced her level of naivety of how things worked out in the big bad solar system.
He had to admit that his own suspicions with the arrival of these troops just at that moment in time could be unfounded and it all be a huge coincidence, but experience taught him that he was in the middle of a rather traditional sting operation to flush out a member of the Phoenix resistance group. As he stared into her big eyes, he silently hoped that he was wrong for her sake, as she had mentioned that both she and Tam were eloping.
Chances are she was in for a very painful life lesson.
Quickly drawing himself away from her gaze, he returned his attention to the troopers who had now opened the inner door of the airlock and were divesting themselves of their protective helmets, moving slightly further into the diner as they did so and beginning to look about the patrons present. It certainly seemed as though they were actively looking for someone.
The readying of the rifles they carried also denoted they were not simply looking for a casual chat.
‘Look, we do not have much time. I have a nasty feeling your little friend is part of a Martian strike team operating a sting to uncover Phoenix operatives and he was using you as a front to draw us out into the open to try and re-acquire those thermo-couplings. The facility they were taken from was deep inside the core of a small unmanned asteroid and protected by automated turrets and a secure locking algorithm on the approach doors. Only high grade scramblers and decoders can penetrate that level of security. Believe me, Phoenix has to work hard to gather resources and then what they stockpile they protect very well with security systems. Not your common opportunist thief or amateur heist job. That store was professionally cracked.’
She felt quite embarrassed and stupid as she listened to Maddox, his words making quite clear sense. Tam had approached her in the Space Port, proposed they make a life for themselves amidst the stars together and it was he who had navigated their ship out here to the belt.
He was charming and gave her no reason to suspect any of the facts which Maddox had put to her. Up until now everything just seemed to be part of the flow and them working to forge a life for themselves. Part of her still wanted that proposed life and tried to deny it all.
Then she recalled his private conversations over the comm., always requesting she leave the flight deck when he had to call in to his contacts. She knew of his Martian heritage, but he had declared himself fiercely apart from Martian society on the whole.
Now, after Maddox voiced his suspicions she began to quickly realise how much in the dark he had kept her and keenly steered conversation away from his past and family. She had been so blind and naïve, an innocent face to lull their target into a false sense of security with her innocence.
Her eyes began to fill with tears as the realisation took hold. Now she was far from her home, from her old friends and facing a very difficult situation in the company of a complete stranger who had every reason to hate her for this entrapment.
‘Oh for crying out loud,’ Maddox exclaimed under his breath. ‘Okay, you come along with me, but if I think you’re trying to hold me back on purpose I’ll leave you behind with no reservations whatsoever. Understand?’
She glared up at him in complete surprise, his direct offer of helping her escape her seemingly inevitable fate hanging in the air between them.
‘Well?’ Maddox urged keenly. ‘You in or out?’
‘I’m in!’ She almost shouted, but caught herself in time, looking a little sheepish and repeating in a more hushed voice, ‘In!’.
‘Okay then, get hold of your helmet and be ready to make a quick dash for that open gap in the serving counter over there, once you get through we’re heading into the food prep area and out of this place.’
He paused slightly to check how the Martians were faring against the rather imposing and forceful owner of the diner and slowly he retrieved a small unit from his inside jacket pocket, his thumb poised over the centre of its waiting display, which presented the graphic of a large red button.
‘Get ready,’ he quietly said to her, waiting for just the correct moment to effect his planned means of diversion. He did not have to wait long before his moment came and his thumb descended onto the control’s screen and the graphic of the red button depressed on its display, the unit then being discarded to the table as Maddox prepared for his quick departure.
There was a single occupant of that booth beside the airlock closest to the Martian militia who now stood from his seat and turned to face the troopers, opening the front of his jacket to reveal explosives tightly packed around his waist and a control switch held in his outstretched hand. Their immediate response was shock, weapons being brought to bear on the man, but no shots fired as the senior officer tried to convince him to stay his action.
The man simply stood there, looking about and remaining silent in the face of his Martian opposition.
‘Come on,’ Maddox said to Maia earnestly as he kept a watchful eye on the militia facing the apparent threat. ‘Time we made our exit!’
‘Our exit? To where?’ She asked as she knew the main airlock was completely out of the question, then she followed his indication as Maddox nodded and glanced slightly to his left.
‘We head out the back way, through the cargo loading bay at the back of this dive. It’s how Dave gets his supplies in regularly. Chances are though that those Martians will be upon us in moments when they realise my little friend down there is just a hologram, only to discover we have made our move. So we need to move quickly and without falter, get through the door to the supply room and then secure the airlock door into the loading bay. Once we’re in there we cycle the system and hope it finishes before they can get their associates outside to come around the building to cut off our exit.’
Something in the plan was not filling her with the utmost hope and her face seemed to display this uncertainty.
‘Don’t worry. Once we’re outside and free to move my ship will pick us up. We just have to keep ahead of those militia until she arrives. Easy really.’
His statement was finished with a big reassuring grin, but still it failed to encourage her that his plan was indeed simple and foolproof.
‘Sounds like you’ve done this before?’
‘What? Escaped from the confines of a tacky diner on a backwater asteroid whilst being pursued by at least three Martian Militia inside and god knows how many outside waiting for us to emerge? Can’t say it’s a regular occurrence, but I’m willing to give it a go!’
She glared at him with a look of abject disbelief, only to be greeted by that roguish grin and a wink. That was the problem with rocket boys, they always tried to wind you up when you wanted a sincere answer on the level.
‘Come on!’ he said to her as he darted from his seat, trailing his helmet behind him as he moved quickly towards the open end of the serving counter.
Maia only took a moment to decide. Stay here and be herded up by the Martians, subject to whatever happened at their discretion in light of their failure here or follow the disturbingly enigmatic Captain John Maddox in some hair brained scheme to escape and fly to freedom with every chance they were going to be captured at some point along the way. Hell, they may even make it.
Diving from her seat she hurriedly followed in Maddox’s wake. Not the first time she had followed some nice guy on an apparent fool’s errand.
About the Author:
I have always been a fan of the classic pulp science fiction genre, by which I am referring to the ‘Buster’ Crabbe Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers series. Ray guns and Rocket ships – no profanity, eroticism or hard hitting social messages which seem to pervade current entertainment. Just nice, entertaining romps into a fantastical future to entertain the brain cells for a while!
In short I wanted to write a tale which my eldest daughter (who at time of writing this is 12) could pick up and read, or could tell her friends about and suggest they read it, without any form of censorship but which would also appeal to a wider audience too.
Does this make it a children’s book? Absolutely not.
There’s political schemes, dastardly plots and undertones of larger topics such as how the different colonies interact, the rampant commercialism and much more – but I’ve tried to put it in a form which means you can take from it what you wish. If you want a deep meaningful exploration of the socio-political worlds of the 23rd Century then go for it! if you just want mis-adventure and people trying to survive against a backdrop of a solar system in turmoil, laser pistols firing, defeating maniacal robots and foiling plots of evil-doers then again be my guest.
The main point is I am just writing stories which entertain and amuse my tiny grey cells. I’m not trying to write ‘like anyone’ or claiming to be a proficient author of top notch epic tales. I just write what I like and how I like. If you like them too, then that’s wonderful! I always love hearing feedback from people who have read any of my stories as it helps me to refine and improve as necessary.
I do hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Links to Purchase Print Books
Link to Buy Children Of Earth (Tales from the 23rd Century Book 1) Print Edition at Amazon
Links to Purchase eBooks
Link To Buy Children Of Earth (Tales from the 23rd Century Book 1) On Amazon
Author Interview on BookGoodies