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Rarity From The Hollow by Robert Eggleton

Rarity Cover with rocket

Lacy Dawn’s father relives the Gulf War, her mother’s teeth are rotting out, and her best friend is murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. Life in The Hollow isn’t great. But Lacy has one advantage — she’s been befriended by a semi-organic, semi-robot who works with her to cure her parents. He wants something in exchange, though. It’s up to her to save the Universe.
To prepare Lacy for her coming task, she is being schooled daily via direct downloads into her brain. She doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her own family and friends come first.
Will Lacy Dawn’s predisposition, education, and magic be enough for her to save the Universe, Earth, and, most importantly, protect her own family?

Rarity from the Hollow is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy and satire. It is a children’s story for adults, not for the prudish, faint of heart, or easily offended.

The original, uncut version is available in all formats and can be ordered from anyplace that sells books. The second edition is scheduled for release on September 30, 2016.

Many thanks to the author for providing this guest post! Here is some important information:

Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997, and which also included publication of models of serving disadvantaged and homeless children in the community instead of in large institutions, research into foster care drift involving children bouncing from one home to the next — never finding a permanent loving family, and statistical reports on the occurrence and correlates of child abuse and delinquency.

Today, he is a recently retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. http://www.childhswv.org/ Robert continues to write fiction with new adventures based on a protagonist that is a composite character of children that he met when delivering group therapy services. The overall theme of his stories remains victimization to empowerment.

Purchase links:

http://www.amazon.com/Rarity-Hollow-Robert-Eggleton-ebook/dp/B017REIA44/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rarity-From-Hollow-Robert-Eggleton/dp/1907133062

http://www.doghornpublishing.com/wordpress/books/rarity-from-the-hollow 

Author Contacts:

http://www.lacydawnadventures.com

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13603677-rarity-from-the-hollow 

https://www.facebook.com/robert.eggleton2 

 

Author Interview – The Child Victim in Fiction

I’ve worked in the field of children’s advocacy for over forty years. Last year, I retired from my job as a children’s psychotherapist for an intensive mental health, day treatment program. Many of the kids in the program had been abused, some sexually. Part of my job was to facilitate group therapy sessions.

One day in 2006 during a group therapy session, I was sitting around a table used for written therapeutic exercises, and a little girl with stringy, brown hair sat a few feet away. Instead of just disclosing the horrors of her abuse at the hands of the meanest daddy on Earth, she also spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future: finding a loving family that would protect her.

This girl was inspiring. She got me thinking again about my own hopes and dreams of writing fiction, an aspiration that I’d held since I was twelve years old. My protagonist was born that day – an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the universe: Lacy Dawn. I began to write fiction in the evenings and sometimes went to work the next day without enough sleep. My fantasy of becoming the next Charles Dickens had awakened. Every time that I would feel discouraged, when I felt like giving up, I would imagine Lacy Dawn speaking honestly about the barriers that she faced in pursuit of her dream of finding a permanent and loving home.

Charles Dickens may not have been the first novelist to address the evils of child victimization, but his work has certainly had an impact on the consciousness of us all. Every Christmas, Tiny Tim pulls at our heart strings, now by cable and satellite, and stirs the emotions of masses. In another Dickens novel, after finally getting adopted into a loving home as millions of today’s homeless children also dream about, Oliver eventually made it to Broadway well over a century later. Oliver Twist may be the best example of Dickens’ belief that a novel should do much more than merely entertain, but entertain they did, very well.

My wife and I talked it over and decided that author proceeds, if any, should be donated to the prevention of child abuse. Three short Lacy Dawn Adventures were subsequently published in magazines. Rarity from the Hollow is my debut novel. The second edition is scheduled for release on September 30, 2016. At least half of author proceeds have been donated to Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, a nonprofit child welfare agency where I used to work in the early ‘80s. It was established in 1893 and now serves over 13,000 families and children each year. childhswv.org.

During my career, many emotionally charged situations have tugged my heart strings so hard that child welfare became more than my job, more than a cause. It became a calling. Rarity from the Hollow fictionalized some of my true-life experiences and includes elements of poverty, domestic violence, child maltreatment, substance abuse and mental health problems. I wrote what I know best. My characters are more real than not, even though the backdrop of my stories have been science fiction.

I modeled the flow of stories after a mental health treatment episode: harsh and difficult to read scenes in the beginning are similar to how, in treatment, therapeutic relationships must first be established before very difficult disclosures are made; cathartic and more relaxed scenes in middle chapters as detailed disclosures are less painful; and, increasingly satiric and comical toward the end through an understanding that it is “silly” to live in the past, that demons, no matter how scary, can be evicted, and that nothing controls our lives more so than the decisions that we make ourselves.

When writing Rarity from the Hollow, and I know that this sounds weird, but I imagined victims benefiting from having read a science fiction story. Maybe I was trying to rationalize a balance between these two competing interests – writing fiction and my interests in child welfare. I felt a little guilty about retiring from work. The decision to donate author proceeds to child abuse prevention helped resolve some of my guilty feelings.

In hindsight, maybe my idea that victims of childhood maltreatment could benefit from reading Rarity from the Hollow wasn’t so off-base after all. Six book reviewers have privately disclosed to me that they were victims of childhood maltreatment, like me, and that they had benefited from having read the story. One of them publicly disclosed that she was a survivor of rape as part of her review: “…soon I found myself immersed in the bizarre world… weeping for the victim and standing up to the oppressor…solace and healing in the power of love, laughing at the often comical thoughts… marveling at ancient alien encounters… As a rape survivor… found myself relating easily to Lacy Dawn… style of writing which I would describe as beautifully honest. Rarity from the Hollow is different from anything I have ever read, and in today’s world of cookie-cutter cloned books, that’s pretty refreshing… whimsical and endearing world of Appalachian Science Fiction, taking you on a wild ride you won’t soon forget….” http://kyliejude.com/2015/11/book-review-rarity-from-the-hollow/

I wanted Rarity from the Hollow to be a tribute to the concept of victimization to empowerment. Many abused kids have demonstrated resilience that, for me, has been amazing. I wanted parents who read my story to understand that child victims, more than anything in the world, want to love their parents, and that, while the damage done may not be forgotten or forgiven, that children are strong and can not only survive, but can become empowered.

If you or one of your readers has experienced childhood violence and your emotions are easily triggered, please exercise caution before deciding whether or not to read Rarity from the Hollow. While there is only one violent scene, the third, it is intense and there are mature references in the story. Subsequent chapters become increasingly satiric and comical, and may even seem silly if the political metaphors are missed: “…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them. In fact, the rustic humor and often graphic language employed by Lacy Dawn and her compatriots only serve to highlight their desperate lives, and their essential toughness and resilience…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” http://awesomeindies.net/ai-approved-review-of-rarity-from-the-holly-by-robert-eggleton/

The novel won a second Gold Medal and an excerpt from that review is also apt to the prevention of child abuse: “…Full of cranky characters and crazy situations, Rarity from the Hollow sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved….” https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/rarity-from-the-hollow The intent was to sensitize people to the issue of maltreated children the way that Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim worked his way into the hearts of millions of fans.

However, if your readers are looking for an exposé or a memoir on child victimization, they may not appreciate this story: “…It is funny and irreverent but beneath the hallucinatory story of visits to shopping planets and interstellar shopping games, there is a profound critique of social problems, substance abuse, child sexual abuse and child murder that is quite eye opening… Rarity from the Hollow is very, very good…I’d recommend Rarity From the Hollow to anybody who likes a side helping of the lunatic with their science fiction and fantasy.” http://www.addictedtomedia.net/2016/03/rarity-from-hollow-robert-eggleton.html

No book is for everybody. If Rarity from the Hollow is not your cup of tea, but you want to help victims of child maltreatment, there are lots of ways to help. It is a world-wide problem that exists in your own community, everybody’s community. For example, there are thousands of underfunded emergency children’s shelters all over the United States. You could send an anonymous gift with a note addressed to the shelter director to give it to a needy child. If it’s clothing, any size will do because maltreatment comes in all colors, shapes, and sizes.

 


Excerpt from RARITY IN THE HOLLOW:

Cozy in Cardboard

Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school. She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language.

Nothing’s more important than an education.

The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother’s new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before. Her father brought it home for her to play in.

The nicest thing he’s ever done.

Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off. She lived in the next house up the hollow. Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities. Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail.

All she needs is a little motivation.

Before they had crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped the upper corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, “The place of all things possible—especially you passing the fifth grade so we’ll be together in the sixth.”

Please concentrate, Faith. Try this one.

“Armadillo.”

“A, R, M … A … D, I, L, D, O,” Faith demonstrated her intellect.

“That’s weak. This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points. Come on.”

Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word.

I’ll trick her by going out of order—a word she can’t turn into another punch line.

“Don’t talk about it and the image will go away. Let’s get back to studying,” Lacy Dawn said.

My mommy don’t like sex. It’s just her job and she told me so.

Faith turned her open spelling book over and rolled onto her side. Lacy Dawn did the same and snuggled her back against the paper wall. Face to face—a foot of smoothness between—they took a break. The outside was outside.

At their parents’ insistence each wore play clothing—unisex hand-me-downs that didn’t fit as well as school clothing. They’d been careful not to get

muddy before crawling into the box. They’d not played in the creek and both were cleaner than on the usual evening. The clubhouse floor remained an open invitation to anybody who had the opportunity to consider relief from daily stressors.

“How’d you get so smart, Lacy Dawn? Your parents are dumb asses just like mine.”

“You ain’t no dumb ass and you’re going to pass the fifth grade.”

“Big deal—I’m still fat and ugly,” Faith said.

“I’m doing the best I can. I figure by the time I turn eleven I can fix that too. For now, just concentrate on passing and don’t become special education. I need you. You’re my best friend.”

“Ain’t no other girls our age close in the hollow. That’s the only reason you like me. Watch out. There’s a pincher bug crawling in.”

Lacy Dawn sat almost upright because there was not quite enough headroom in the refrigerator box. She scooted the bug out the opening. The clubhouse door faced downhill—the best choice since nothing natural was flat in the hollow. If it had sloped uphill, too much blood in the brain would have been detrimental to studying spelling or any other higher calling like changing Faith’s future. Faith watched the bug attempt re-entry, picked it up, and threw it a yard away into the grass. It didn’t get hurt. Lacy Dawn smiled her approval. The new clubhouse was a sacred place where nothing was supposed to hurt.

“Daddy said I can use the tarp whenever he finishes the overhaul on the car in the driveway. That way, our clubhouse will last a long time,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Chewy, chewy tootsie roll. Everything in the hollow rots, especially the people. You know that.”

“We ain’t rotten,” Lacy Dawn gestured with open palms. “There are a lot of good things here—like all the beautiful flowers. Just focus on your spelling and I’ll fix everything else. This time I want a 100% and a good letter to your mommy.”

“She won’t read it,” Faith said.

“Yes she will. She loves you and it’ll make her feel good. Besides, she has to or the teacher will call Welfare. Your daddy would be investigated—unless you do decide to become special education. That’s how parents get out of it. The kid lets them off the hook by deciding to become a SPED. Then there ain’t nothing Welfare can do about it because the kid is the problem and not the parents.”

6

“I ain’t got no problems,” Faith said.

“Then pass this spelling test.”

“I thought if I messed up long enough, eventually somebody would help me out. I just need a place to live where people don’t argue all the time. That ain’t much.”

“Maybe you are a SPED. There’s always an argument in a family. Pass the test you retard,” Lacy Dawn opened her spelling book.

Faith flipped her book over too, rolled onto her stomach and looked at the spelling words. Lacy Dawn handed her the flashlight because it was getting dark and grinned when Faith’s lips started moving as she memorized. Faith noticed and clamped her lips shut between thumb and index finger.

This is boring. I learned all these words last year.

“Don’t use up the batteries or Daddy will know I took it,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Alright—I’ll pass the quiz, but just ’cause you told me to. This is a gamble and you’d better come through if it backfires. Ain’t nothing wrong with being a SPED. The work is easier and the teacher lets you do puzzles.”

“You’re my best friend,” Lacy Dawn closed the book.

They rolled back on their sides to enjoy the smoothness. The cricket chorus echoed throughout the hollow and the frogs peeped. An ant attempted entry but changed its direction before either rescued it. Unnoticed, Lacy Dawn’s father threw the tarp over the box and slid in the trouble light. It was still on and hot. The bulb burned Lacy Dawn’s calf.

He didn’t mean to hurt me—the second nicest thing he’s ever done.

“Test?” Lacy Dawn announced with the better light, and called off, “Poverty.”

“I love you,” Faith responded.

“Me too, but spell the word.”

“P is for poor. O is for oranges from the Salvation Army Christmas basket. V is for varicose veins that Mommy has from getting pregnant every year. E is for everybody messes up sometimes—sorry. R is for I’m always right about everything except when you tell me I’m wrong—like now. T is for it’s too late for me to pass no matter what we do and Y is for you know it too.”

“Faith, it’s almost dark! Go home before your mommy worries,” Lacy Dawn’s mother yelled from the front porch and stepped back into the house to finish supper. The engine of the VW in the driveway cranked but wouldn’t start. It turned slower as its battery died, too.

Faith slid out of the box with her spelling book in-hand. She farted from the effort. A clean breeze away, she squished a mosquito that had landed on her elbow and watched Lacy Dawn hold her breath as she scooted out of the clubhouse, pinching her nose with fingers of one hand, holding the trouble light with the other, and pushing her spelling book forward with her knees. The moon was almost full. There would be plenty of light to watch Faith walk up the gravel road. Outside the clubhouse, they stood face to face and ready to hug. It lasted a lightning bug statement until adult intrusion.

“Give it back. This thing won’t start,” Lacy Dawn’s father grabbed the trouble light out of her hand and walked away.

“All we ever have is beans for supper. Sorry about the fart.”

“Don’t complain. Complaining is like sitting in a rocking chair. You can get lots of motion but you ain’t going anywhere,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Why didn’t you tell me that last year?” Faith asked. “I’ve wasted a lot of time.”

“I just now figured it out. Sorry.”

“Some savior you are. I put my whole life in your hands. I’ll pass tomorrow’s spelling quiz and everything. But you, my best friend who’s supposed to fix the world just now tell me that complaining won’t work and will probably get me switched.”

“You’re complaining again.”

“Oh yeah,” Faith said.

“Before you go home, I need to tell you something.”

To avoid Lacy Dawn’s father working in the driveway, Faith slid down the bank to the dirt road. Her butt became too muddy to re-enter the clubhouse regardless of need. Lacy Dawn stayed in the yard, pulled the tarp taut over the cardboard, and waited for Faith to respond.

“I don’t need no more encouragement. I’ll pass the spelling quiz tomorrow just for you, but I may miss armadillo for fun. Our teacher deserves it,” Faith said.

“That joke’s too childish. She won’t laugh. Make 100%. That’s what I want.”

“Okay. See you tomorrow.” Faith took a step up the road.

“Wait. I want to tell you something. I’ve got another best friend. That’s how I got so smart. He teaches me stuff.”

“A boy? You’ve got a boyfriend?”

“Not exactly,” Lacy Dawn put a finger over her lips to silence Faith. Her father was hooking up a battery charger. She slid down the bank, too.

He probably couldn’t hear us, but why take the chance.

A minute later, hand in hand, they walked the road toward Faith’s house.

“Did you let him see your panties?” Faith asked.

“No. I ain’t got no good pair. Besides, he don’t like me that way. He’s like a friend who’s a teacher—not a boyfriend. I just wanted you to know that I get extra help learning stuff.”

“Where’s he live?”

Lacy Dawn pointed to the sky with her free hand.

“Jesus is everybody’s friend,” Faith said.

“It ain’t Jesus, you moron,” Lacy Dawn turned around to walk home. “His name’s DotCom and….”

Her mother watched from the middle of the road until both children were safe.


Please let me know your thoughts on this powerful, unique story and Robert Eggleton’s mission. These children need your support.

Cast Adrift by Mannah Pierce – Guest Post PLUS excerpt

CastAdrift_FrontCover

 

 

 

Cast Adrift is the first part of a science fiction saga set in an interstellar world of the far future where Earth is merely a myth. Ean is queen of the Willow, a small ship with a Traditional crew who live in space and trade between the stars. Suddenly Tre, the laid back crew enforcer, is demanding that they dash to one system to pick up cabin boys and then divert to another to recruit an adolescent who is utterly unsuited to spacer life. Who is Jax? What is Rae? Why is the most powerful individual in Known Space interested in Kip? Most importantly, what is Tre up to?

 

Many thanks to Publishing Push and Mannah Pierce for this guest post! Here, the author gives us an in depth view of her novel.

    Love between the stars by Mannah Pierce

In my interstellar world of the far future, spacer crews travel along the shipping routes that link occupied solar systems, earning their living by trading.

Most spacers are male, because there are many planets that offer no future to adolescent males with limited education and no connections to the local elite. This means that the majority of spacer crews are all-male.

Faced with this ‘reality’, what would spacer crews be like? As an author, my mind went to similar, Earth-bound, situations: prisons; gangs; schools; the military; Ancient Greeks; the Spartans. Then my mind settled on the crews of the tall sailing ships that crossed the great oceans, including pirates.

Then I took it a step further. For some crews, their spaceship would be their home. They would be true nomads.

In this way, Traditional spacer crews were born.

A Traditional spacer crew is associated with a specific ship. Each ship, in my novel Cast Adrift it is the Willow, has existed for centuries. The components making up the ship have changed, like the individuals making up her crew have come and gone, but the Willow continues. It is like a family home or a genealogical tree.

It is somewhere for those discarded, future-less adolescent males to settle, to belong and to grow.

A ship, a spacer crew, must have a captain. In a Traditional spacer crew the captain must stand apart so that he has authority. Space is intrinsically dangerous. A good captain has to be objective enough to take the hard, split-moment, life-and-death decisions. Captain Mel of the Willow is in his fifties. He has put aside the passions of his youth and stepped up. He knows that Tre picked out the Willow and its crew because of its quality as well as its traditions.

A spacer crew also needs a queen. In everyday matters the queen’s word is law. The queen is the heart of the crew. Ean, the queen of the Willow, is atypical. He is very young. He does not use his looks and his power as weapons. He is subtle, kind, patient and persistent. Tre needed a queen of unparalleled quality and Ean has the potential to be just that.

Conflict between spacer crews has to be managed. When a spaceship is lost, the whole crew dies. Space battles are to be avoided. Traditional crews settle their disputes through ritualised combat. The enforcer of one crew fights the enforcer of the other; hand-to-hand with standard knives as the only weapon. The consequences of victory and defeat are negotiated before the combat begins. Tre is the Willow’s enforcer. As a cyborg, only another cyborg or a highly trained hybrid fighter can defeat him.

Other than the captain, the queen and the enforcer, there is the senior crew. Senior crew members have their knives; they can hold their own in a fight. They fulfil the other roles in the crew: navigator; pilot; engineer; medico; technician; cook. The Willow usually only has a navigator, a pilot and an engineer. Then there are the junior crew; older apprentices who have their knives but are still learning the skills they will need. Finally there are the cats and the cabin boys. Cats should be over fourteen. Cabin boys are between twelve and fourteen. Junior and senior crew members can buy into a crew. Cats and cabin boys are adopted.

I know that some readers baulk at the idea of cats, which is short for catamite. I refer you to those Earth-bound, all-male examples. What would happen when you put a group of human males, mostly in their teens and their twenties, in a metal box (the space ship) with no exits (only vacuum outside) for long periods of time?

The answer is that they would end up having sex with each other; it would happen even if they thought they were heterosexual before they joined the crew.

Traditional crews have rules to manage sex, like they have rules to manage disputes between crews. Joining a spacer crew is like entering into a group marriage. The default setting is that everyone will share sex with everyone else. The exceptions are the captain, who must keep a professional distance, and the cabin boys, because the age of consent among spacers is fourteen.

So far it sounds fair, but in reality that is not always the case. Some members of the crew form stronger relationships, mostly pairs but some trios, and opt out. They announce their exclusive status with love rings. This threatens the cohesion of the crew. The solution is that cats are not allowed to opt out; that way no member of the crew ends up isolated.

Some Traditional crews do not allow love rings and the exclusivity they represent.

Others, like the Willow, protect their cats by restricting the sexual acts they are allowed to perform.

If the Traditional crew is sound, it works. Lost boys join a crew. Cabin boys are cosseted. Cats are loved. They grow up and enter a profession where their backgrounds no longer matter. If space does not kill them, they end up with enough funds to make choices about their future.

And sometime they fall in love.


 

Excerpt from CAST ADRIFT:

Jax had to trot to keep up with his escort. The big man’s stride was smooth and effortless but deceptively quick. Jax recognised it as one of the many features that dissuaded the honourable from challenging and the dishonourable from attacking.

Other, equally intimidating, characteristics were his height, his muscular bulk and the knife scar that ran down his left cheek.

He wondered what the man’s name was. He would not ask, just as he had not asked the other five men who had escorted him over the last three days. They would not remember him; the forgetting pills would see to that.

 

So this was Carrefour Station. Jax recalled the models of spacestations that his tutor had insisted he study. This type of corridor, ten paces wide with its walls lined with advertisements, was typical of throughways in residential sectors. They passed a media screen. On it was displayed the person Jax used to be; a towheaded, green eyed boy in a velvet jacket. It was a shock. None of the simulations had suggested that his uncle would throw the net this wide this soon.

The reward for useful information had been raised to five thousand credits and the cover story of a kidnapping would be more believable out here than at home.

 

Suddenly the corridor was wider and lined with shops. Jax realised that they were closing on their destination; the margins of the spacer quarter were where residents sold and spacers bought. Reflected in one of the shop windows was a small, cloaked figure trotting beside a large spacer. Peering out from inside the hood were dark eyes and Jax could see wisps of brown hair.

His eyes and his hair; his mother had made temporary changes and then reprogrammed his nanobots to maintain them.

He blinked back tears. He would never again hear her voice or feel her touch.

 

There was no time for such sentiment. As his mother had made him promise; he would escape and survive until he could challenge the usurper and reclaim his inheritance.

This day was critical; he had to go through an open recruitment fair and yet end up with the correct crew.

They slowed. The change in pace refocused Jax on his surroundings. The shops had gone, replaced by stalls. Now almost everyone around them was a spacer, identified by their long hair, short jackets and tall boots. Instead of their path being direct, it swerved this way and that; residents scuttled out of a spacer’s way but spacers avoided each other.

Then their route was blocked by people standing with their backs to them; the rear of a crowd.

His escort’s hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him close. It was a shock to be manhandled; Jax had to stop himself twisting away. No one other than his mother, his father or his trainer had been allowed within touching distance for as long as he could remember.

 

The crowd was not uniform; it was made up of groups with gaps between them. Jax realised the groups were crews and that they must weave their way carefully between them. Touching a spacer without permission was dangerous; it could easily precipitate a challenge.

His escort made Jax walk before him, a large hand on either shoulder.

Then they were out the other side of the crowd and into the Killing Square. Jax’s eyes went immediately to the empty floor around the cross.

It was clean; no blood had been shed since it had been scrubbed at station’s dawn.

 

They joined the queue that contained the younger boys; a few were alone but most had adults with them.

These were those wishing to be cabin boys. Most crews did not recruit cabin boys; they were considered more trouble than they were worth. It made more sense to stick to cats, who were bigger, stronger and old enough to help relieve sexual tensions amongst the crew.

That was how his tutor had put it; relieving sexual tensions. The other men in the household had been much blunter; cats sucked rod and, once they were old enough, spread their rear cheeks for anyone who was interested in poking a hole.

Jax would not think about that.  He was pretending to be twelve, which was too young. He would be a cabin boy and not a cat.

 

Two ahead of him in the queue was a very small boy.

“Age?” asked one of the two recruiters seated at the table.

“Twelve,” the boy squeaked.

“Not a chance,” the other man said. “Be off with you.”

“I’m a hybrid,” the boy replied. “It’s not my fault I’m this size.”

 

Jax was intrigued. He had never seen a hybrid close up; his father disapproved of them. He moved so he had a better view between the adults in front of him. The boy did not seem to have a tail, which was a disappointment.

He did, however, have whiskers. He also had fangs, which he was displaying to the recruiters.

“You been tested?” the first recruiter asked.

“No,” the boy admitted, “but I’ve got the fee.”

 

Jax wondered where the boy had got the gold credit that he put on the table. There was a silence; apparently the recruiters were similarly surprised.

“Fine,” the second recruiter decided. “Name?”

“Ray,” the boy replied.

“How do you spell that?” the recruiter asked.

Jax doubted the boy could spell but he answered, “R, A, E,” and the man tapped the information into the tablet strapped to his forearm.

Then the gold credit was exchanged for a token and the boy was directed to one of the booths at the side of the square.

 

The next boy, like Jax, had his test results. The man with him, maybe his father, passed a tape to the first recruiter, who checked it in a portable viewer before taking the boy’s details, giving him a token and directing him to the pen.

They suggested that the adult accompanying the boy wait in the crowd until the end of the fair, which was worrying. Jax had thought the adults handed the boys over and left. Certainly his escort would not stay.

 

Jax was next. His escort pulled down his hood as they reached the table. The two men looked at him with approval, which was more than they had done when faced with the previous two boys.

“Age?”

“Twelve,” Jax answered. Neither man queried it. It was as his mother had said; a well-nourished boy of eleven could easily pass for twelve.

“Name?”

“Jax.”

“Test?”

He handed over the tape and watched, heart thumping, as they checked it. The last thing he wanted was for them to insist on a retest; the data on the tape had been heavily edited.

 

“Fine.” The second recruiter turned his attention to Jax’s escort. “We accept responsibility for the boy Jax until he becomes a member of a certified Traditional crew.”

Jax realised it was a compliment. It meant that they were certain he would be placed with a crew.

Then his escort was gone and Jax was walking towards the indicated pen clutching his token.

 

When he got there he took off his cloak, folded it carefully and strapped it to the outside of his pack. Once he had slung his pack across his back, he stood up straight and risked looking at the crews, hoping that one of the men would give him a signal he recognised.

 

Jax was accustomed to being the sole focus of attention. This time was different. He wished the crews were paying attention to the other boys.

None of the men gathered around the pen, nor any one of those he could see in the crowd, had offered the prearranged signal.

The queens of three of the crews were well into a ruthless negotiation with one of the recruiters over who should claim him. In a bizarre way they reminded him of his mother, which was crazy because they were male and ugly while his mother was female and beautiful.

 

Perhaps not ugly; different. All three were thin. Their long hair was dyed, their jackets embellished and their faces painted. To Jax’s eyes, their pants were too tight, their heels too high and their chests too exposed.

If no one gave the signal, he would end up going with one of these men.

“It’s up to you,” a voice whispered.

It was the hybrid boy. Jax twisted around and looked at him.

“The recruiter gets a cut, so he wants them to bid each other up, but the rules say you choose. That’s why you have the token.”

Jax had forgotten that. He looked back at the three queens. He didn’t want to go with any of them. He scanned the crowd around him, his gaze darted from man to man, hoping to see the signal.

 

Another voice, this time soft and pleasant. “My name is Ean; I am queen of the Willow.”

Jax looked around and up. It was a young man with kind brown eyes.

“What’s your name?”

Jax knew it was in the information on the tablet but the young man, Ean, was not holding one. “Jax,” he replied.

Ean smiled and Jax felt himself smiling back.

“Excuse me,” one of the queens interrupted in a tone that said, “Get away from him.”

The recruiter was beginning to look anxious. “Please stay away from the boys unless you are serious about making an offer.”

Ean turned to face the queens rather than the recruiter. “I am Ean. I am queen of the Willow. We are interested in the boy Jax.”

“You are too late,” one of the other queens hissed.

“Have you registered an interest?” the recruiter asked, much more politely.

 

Someone walked up behind Ean and handed him a tablet. Jax moved a little so he could see better; it was an older man with a captain’s insignia.

“Yes,” Ean replied. He turned back to Jax. “The Willow is a small, strictly Traditional crew. Our song goes back centuries. Over a thousand spacers have begun their new lives with us. With us you will learn what it means to be a spacer.”

“Six thousand credits,” squawked one of the other queens.

The sheer magnitude of the offer stunned the other queens into silence.

Ean recovered first. “It is not about credit,” he continued, still only speaking to Jax. “I know that you get three-quarters of the fee, I know that four and a half thousand credits seems a lot, but what you could get from being cabin boy and cat on the Willow is beyond price.”

One of the other queens snorted with derision and another laughed outright.

 

Jax had already decided. Something had gone wrong. The man he was meant to be meeting was not here. He either chose a crew or walked away with his test tape and his token. The latter was not an option. A boy of eleven would not last a single night in a spacestation without protection.

If he was going with a crew, he preferred Ean’s.

“Can I meet the rest of your crew first?” he asked Ean.

Ean smiled again. “Of course you can.”

 

One of the other queens groaned, turned and walked away. The other two were slower to accept they had lost but they faded into the background when Ean’s crew came to stand around him.

There were Ean, the captain and five others: four with knives and a cat.

Then another man appeared at Ean’s side and, suddenly, Jax could not look anywhere else.

 

He was a cyborg. Jax had been trained to recognise them. What was a cyborg doing spacing? Converting a man into a functional cyborg cost…Jax discovered that he did not know how much; enough that even his father could afford only a few of them.

Then the cyborg’s fingers were moving and Jax recognised the signal.

 

It all fell into place. This was the man: the one his father had ordered to prepare a crew for him; the one who had held him as a newborn and pledged his life to him.

That his father should allocate one of his precious cyborgs to the task was unexpected. Perhaps his father had cared more about him than he had ever shown. Jax’s eyes prickled with tears but he willed them away. He would not cry. Only the weak cried.

 

Ean was introducing the crew. “…Captain Mel. This is Vic, our engineer, Art our navigator, Ben our pilot and this is Cas.” He did not introduce the cat, which Jax recognised as proper space etiquette. Then he turned to the cyborg. “This is Tre.”

Jax held out his token.

“I see you have worked your usual magic, Ean,” the engineer, Vic, commented. He was the oldest other than the captain. Of course the cyborg could be older; if you were paying for cybernetic enhancements you would not skimp on nanobots and age retard.

The captain looked towards the recruiter. “We will give you an honorarium of two hundred credits.”

The recruiter managed to look grateful for the payment, even though it was scant compensation for missing out on over seven times as much commission.

Ean’s fingers closed on the token and Jax gave it to him.

 

It was over. He was safe. Jax had thought he would feel better than this. Instead, he was convinced he had missed something important.

He found himself looking back, toward the hybrid boy. What was his name? Rae.

The boy gave a grin, which showed his fangs and lifted his whiskers.

He seemed more pleased that Jax had found a crew than he was worried about no one showing the least interest in him.

“Is that your friend?” Ean asked.

One of the crew, Jax thought it was Vic, groaned.

“Yes,” Jax heard himself answer, which was weird because he didn’t have any friends. Neither his father nor his mother approved of friendship.

“Ean,” the captain warned.

“But…” Ean began.

“One is more than enough,” Art complained. “Let’s go.”

“Wait,” the cyborg, Tre, ordered. He was looking at the tablet; presumably at Rae’s details. “You, Rae, come here.”

 

Rae came over. Suddenly Jax was aware that the boy was grubby and probably stank. Worse, he was a hybrid. What had possessed Jax to claim him as a friend?

“Put your hands this far apart,” Tre instructed him.

Rae’s whiskers twitched in what Jax guessed was suspicion but he did what he was told.

“I’m going to drop a coin. I want you to catch it. No moving your hands until you see it drop.”

Jax squirmed. It was impossible; Rae was being set up to fail. His hands were too far apart; no one’s reaction time was that good.

 

The coin dropped but there was no clink of the coin on the metal floor. Rae’s left hand had moved so fast that all Jax had seen was a blur.

“By the Lady,” Ben murmured.

“We’ll take this one too,” the captain said immediately.

The recruiter looked over. He obviously had not seen the outcome of Tre’s test. “The hybrid?”

“Rae,” the captain clarified.

 

Rae’s chin came up. “Maybe I don’t want to go with you.”

Ean frowned slightly. “We are a good choice, Rae. If…”

“As if you have anywhere else to go,” Art interrupted, which Jax thought was rude. Ean was queen; Art should be treating him with more respect.

“I’ve survived on my own this long,” Rae replied. “I’ve a choice. It’s up to me.”

“Yes, it is,” the captain agreed.

Rae paused for a moment and then held out his token and the coin to Tre. “I’ll join because you thought I would pass your test. No one ever thought I could do anything before.”

Tre nodded and took both. He handed the token to Ean and the coin back to Rae. “You won it.”

Rae pocketed the coin and grinned.

Jax got his first close-up look at Rae’s fangs. They were long and impressively pointy.

What had he done?

 

Learn more about the author’s imaginary world of the far future at www.mannahpierce.com . Read more about the crew of the Willow in Cast Adrift,  its sequel Foothold and her upcoming novel, Homeward.

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