QSFer Stephen Graham King has a new queer sci fi book out: A Congress of Ships.
In a desolate system on the outer edge of Pan Galactum, the skin of the universe has ruptured, tearing open a portal to an alternate reality. Witnessed only by the sentient science vessel N’Dea, a massive, battered ship falls through, housing a community of refugees fleeing an enemy that has pursued them across the cold reaches of space for decades.
But have they come alone?
Summoned by N’Dea while en route from a reunion with dear friends on the Galactum’s capital, the mystery is a lure that fellow Artificial Sentience, the Maverick Heart, cannot resist. It’s now up to Vrick, along with humans Keene, Lexa-Blue and Ember, and allies old and new, to come to the aid of this ship of lost souls. Together they must find a way to seal the breach for good, before a ravening hunger can spill through and rip the Galactum apart.
“Stephen Graham King’s Maverick Heart Cycle is the queer Firefly-meets-Killjoys series I always wanted, with the added bonus of his seemingly effortless world-building, clever plots, and themes of chosen family and “no one left behind” that bring me back every time. Trust me: go get squishy.”
Nathan Burgoine, author of Light and Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks
“Stephen Graham King is a master builder of worlds, from the organic to the technical, and he fills them with wonderfully complex characters who just have that cool factor. The entire series is a must-read.” –Cait Gordon, author of Life in the ‘Cosm and The Stealth Lovers.
The hard, luminous spray of gunfire hit the pitted surface of the wall by Lexa-Blue’s head, showering her in tiny, razor-edged shards. She hissed in pain as one bit into her cheek, making blood flow. Ducking her head out from the inadequate shelter, she cranked her sensor eye to maximum, trying to get a read on their attackers’ firing positions. Another burst of fire sent her ducking back, unable to get a fix. Raging, she shot off a clumsy fusillade from her own gun, still unable to tell if she actually hit anything. Her steel skin flared and absorbed impacts from the return spray.
*I’m not happy.* With no way to be heard over the din of the battle, she pushed the thought (or her thoughts) directly from her node to her business partner’s.
At her side, Keene Ota Chiaro fired as well, the patterns of energy flaring in the dark of the late-night air.
*I’m shocked,* he said. *I’m having the time of my life.*
*Hey, don’t get lippy, partner. Your boyfriend got us into this.*
*Don’t remind me.*
*Vrick, case us an exit strategy. Now.*
*With or without Ember?* the ship asked drily.
*At this point, I’m open to either.*
*Oh, very funny, you two,* Keene pushed back. *We are not leaving him behind.*
*Don’t worry, Keene,* Vrick said. *I have my eye on him and am working at finding him an escape route, too.*
*Fine,* Lexa-Blue said in a tone that indicated it was anything but. Keene had the distinct feeling that if they made it out of this, Lexa-Blue might shoot Ember herself.
*Keene, coords,* Vrick said, and Keene felt a rush of positional and timing data flood his node. Without questioning, he shifted position and fired according to the targeting data. He heard the distinctive sound of the beam hitting flesh and a sudden, strangled shriek. One down, he thought.
*I’ve sliced into their security system and am working on getting locator traces on the rest of them. Hang tight.*
*Good,* Lexa-Blue said. *This firing blind thing is getting really old.*
*Keene!* Ember’s push was a panicked burst that flooded Keene’s mind with knowledge of where the other man was and what was happening. Keene looked up, spotting a lighted hall halfway up the tall building’s side. As he focused his eyes, he made out a figure running from a knot of pursuers in a hail of coruscating weapons fire.
Keene felt a rush of information from Ember and rolled his eyes when he grasped the gist of the plan, but there was no time to argue Ember out of it. *Blue, cover me.*
Before he was even sure she was going to react accordingly, but trusting her completely, he stepped out and aimed at a window about six metres beyond the running figure. He heard a string of curses from Lexa-Blue, then felt another volley of gunfire erupt from her hiding place. Through his node, he accessed his gun’s controls and disengaged the safety interlocks, something that wasn’t theoretically possible. He overclocked the power core, channelling far too much of the gun’s power into one burst, which he knew would leave him dangerously low on charge, but there weren’t many other options open to him.
The thick layers of plex-polymers shattered, raining fragments down into the courtyard below. He saw Ember’s distant, running figure dive for the new opening, launching himself out into the air.
* * *
Ember ran, feeling the searing heat of the energy beams whizzing past him as he did. I got it, he thought. That’s all that matters.
Through his node, he felt Keene and Lexa-Blue below and the echoes of their firefight with Gliosto’s security goons. He felt the sharp cut of regret but tamped it down. Time for that later. If he didn’t die.
Which is looking less and less likely if I don’t think of something fast. He brought up the building’s plans, searching for some way down. Stairs and elevators were out. Elevators would be too easy to get trapped in, same with the stairwells. Too easy to get pinned down.
So outside the box it is, he thought. As outside the box as I can get. Well then, here we go. In a rush of thought, he sent Keene the details of his plan, not even waiting for confirmation. He concentrated on the spot just ahead, visualizing his speed and the specific part of the window where he needed Keene to strike.
Here goes nothing, he thought and dove forward.
He saw the window ahead shatter against the beam of Keene’s weapon and he fell through the gap, throwing his arms over his face to protect it from the rain of shards. He felt the moment he crossed the threshold from the climate-controlled building to theheavy, humid night air. As he fell, he spun his body, aiming the wrist with the Cuff at the wall behind him, and firing the micro-grapple. He heard the hiss of air and felt the shudder in the Cuff as the line shot out, then the moment it embedded in the thick, heavy framing between the windows. Another thought brought the grav-shifter online. The soles of his feet became “down”, and he fell toward the vertical wall of the building. He realized he’d misjudged the angle when he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder as it twisted against the lines of the artificial gravity field. He released the micro-grapple and fell toward the vertical wall of glass and metal.
His feet touched the surface and, after a second to orient himself, he ran down the wall, his body parallel to the ground which raced up to meet him. He fought a wave of disorientation and, at the final moment, leapt for the surface of the courtyard. As his left made contact with the wall, he cut the grav-shifter and rolled, hitting the ground harder than he would have liked. Spears of pain shot through his shoulder on impact, but he pulled himself up and ran.
Stephen Graham King lives in Toronto and is a long-term survivor of metastatic synovial sarcoma. His first book, JUST BREATHE, tells the blunt, uncompromising story of enduring treatment for a life threatening illness. Since then, his short fiction has appeared in the anthologies NORTH OF INFINITY II, DESOLATE PLACES and RUINS METROPOLIS. His first novel, CHASING COLD, was released in 2012, and the first book in the Maverick Heart Cycle, SOUL’S BLOOD, was released in January of 2016 and his next, GATECRASHER, was released in May of 2017.