QSFer Foster Bridget Cassidy has a new MM sci fi book out: Spark in the Stars.
A case of mistaken identity could lead to love for an aloof starship captain and a brilliant if underappreciated mechanic from the sticks—if they can survive the dangerous mission assigned to them.
Ginnovi Oshwald just needs someone to give him a chance. He can keep anything running, despite the “spark” his body produces that sometimes wreaks havoc with electronics. Gin gets his chance when Captain Lian Hartford comes to Tallahassee in search of a mechanic. The trouble is, he’s looking for Gin’s sister. But since he only has a name to go by, Gin tells a little white lie. What could go wrong?
Lian loves his ship and his work as a diplomat but has difficulty connecting with others—only partly because of his mixed human and alien heritage. Something about the eccentric mechanic intrigues him, though, and their easy friendship could become more… if they live long enough to broker peace between humanity and a hostile race while pacifying a crew that thinks Gin belongs in prison.
GIN TWIRLED the wrench through his long fingers and gazed down at his masterpiece: a billy-crawler perfectly restored to working order. More than fifteen years of work, reconstruction, and bartering for old pieces. He’d just finished fastening the last solar cell, which arrived this morning with Temmy’s weekly inventory shipment.
He appraised the car, a sense of pride and nostalgia welling inside him. This was the last project he and Temmy had worked on with their father. Dad had smuggled the broken-down vehicle into their garage when Gin was just a baby. Dad had slaved away reshaping the body, finding compatible thrusters for sufficient lift, even purchasing yellow paint to match the shade enforced by the Dramman Federation ages ago. It was beautiful, and so much like another member of the family, its completed state made it seem as if Dad were still alive.
Embarrassingly, Gin’s eyes turned misty.
Before Gin touched the glossy metal of the billy-crawler’s body, his fingers sought the rubber band that held back his hair. He wore it long simply for this reason, and divided into two tails above either ear. This gave him two rubber bands, in case of an emergency. Most thought his habit a nervous tic, but it was closer to superstition. Bad things happened if he went too long without coming into contact with the stretchy material.
He walked from the tail to the front, and back again. Perfect. Not a single element was missing from the original.
Gin turned to Temmy. She stood at the garage door, wiping her hands on a graying rag. Though three years his senior, she stood nearly a foot shorter. Other than that, they were almost twins. Same blond hair and pointed chins, inherited from their mother, gray eyes and gift for mechanics from their father.
He grinned at her and nodded. “You all finished with the cruiser?” She was repairing a leaky thrust tank on a Starlight model in the real garage. A top-of-the-line beauty. Gin hoped he’d be able to help when the next one came in.
“Not yet. Maybe another hour.”
Gin made an impatient noise. “I don’t want to wait. Can we take the billy-crawler for a whirl now?”
She hesitated. “Why don’t I double-check it first?”
His good mood vanished. He thought they were past this. He stood up straight, stretching his full height over her. “I did it right, Temmy.”
She ignored his looming stance and said cheerily, “No harm in having a quick peek.” She headed toward the top of the car then hit the button that popped up the hood.
Reluctantly, he joined her.
The engine was a board of wires and circuits all interweaving and connecting. Dad had done most of the reconstruction on it, devoting all his after-hours work to tinkering with the contraption. Gin hardly had to touch it.
“Let me see your click,” Temmy said.
Gin pulled the device from his pocket and thumbed the screen. He had the blueprint up already, knowing she’d insist on looking. He handed it over to her.
She glanced from the engine to the click several times. “This looks good.”
He accepted his click back and shoved it into his pocket.
She shut the hood, then moved to the rear. She took Gin’s wrench, still lying on the concrete floor, and unfastened the solar panel he’d just finished installing. She handed the panel to Gin, then stuck her hand inside to fondle the cell. She removed it from its hole and inspected his handiwork.
“I told you it was right.”
She put it all back together. Then she placed the tip of her toe on a creeper and pulled it toward her. She got on her back and shimmied under the car. Once turned on, it would hover at least three feet off the ground. Now, it was resting atop four jacks at the car’s corners.
Gin didn’t follow. He knew he’d done everything correctly. He’d spent too long, been too careful, for there to be a mistake.
Eventually, Temmy emerged, a surprised look on her face. “Gin, I’m impressed. I think it is ready.”
He scowled at her, and let his expression hide the burst of pride at her words. She hardly ever praised him. “I told you,” he repeated.
She smiled. “Right, right. So, let’s do this.”
“I want to do it.”
Her grin slipped and she nibbled on her bottom lip. “Gin.”
“Don’t do this, Temmy. This was my project. I earned the right.”
“I helped, too.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Well one of us has to earn money or we’ll starve.”
They glared at each other.
He couldn’t believe they were still doing this. How long before she trusted him? How long before he could join her in the garage on a permanent basis? He was ready. The billy-crawler proved it.
She wasn’t his mom; she wasn’t allowed to dictate his life. Yet she did.
Not anymore. He was an adult—technically. He’d spent his time fixing this car. He was going to push the damned button.
He shoved past her and went to the driver’s door. He leaned over the side and stuck his finger at the green button. Green for go. Dad had said that to them when they were children, mostly to get them to eat their vegetables.
“Gin,” Temmy said warningly.
That was the final straw. He clamped his jaw tight and pushed.
He’d forgotten to touch his rubber band.
The consequences were instantaneous. He felt the spark jump from his finger as the car’s engine roared. It should have been quiet. Though nowhere near as clean as current technology, the billy-crawler was light-years ahead of the fossil-fueled cars of the past.
Temmy’s hands grabbed his shirt from behind and dragged him backward. He fell to the floor, rebounding on his ass. He didn’t waste time yelling at his sister. He got to his feet and ran after her. The smell of burning plastic already filled the air.
He got to the door a half second after Temmy. It was right in time. The explosion shook the walls of the garage and the heat of it chased them through the still-open door. It wasn’t the solar cells that blew. The damage would have been much greater. Likely it was the engine.
“Hell and high heaven,” he cursed.
Temmy advanced on him and he stiffened, waiting for her to smack him upside the head. Instead, she gripped his shoulders and peered into his eyes. “Are you hurt?”
Gin ran his hands over his chest. His butt hurt, but he didn’t think that was what she meant. “No, I’m fine. Are you?”
“No.” Then she smacked him. “What were you thinking? I told you not to touch it!”
“If you hadn’t distracted me, I would have remembered to touch the rubber band!”
“Oh, that damned rubber band! That doesn’t do anything, Gin! This spark you say you feel is all in your head!”
Back to this same old argument. Gin was sick of it. Sick of all this. Instead of fighting with her, he turned back to the garage. Smoke was slowly leaking out the door. Inside, the destruction wasn’t too bad. The closest tables had been pushed over from the force of the blast. The billy-crawler’s hood was still emitting thick plumes of smoke.
Gin took a deep breath, then walked in. First, he hit the button that lifted the garage door. It helped clear the air. Then he grabbed one of the fire extinguishers against the wall. He pulled the pin from the nozzle and aimed it at the car. The smoke ceased.
Gingerly, he felt the metal of the hood. It was still warm, but cool enough for him to hit the latch. When it swung open, the bottom of the metal was scorched. The engine was a mess of fried circuits and black patches. It would have to be completely rebuilt. All Dad’s hard work, ruined.
Temmy was suddenly by his side, gazing down on the decimated engine. “I think we need to discuss our options.”
“It won’t be hard to find a new engine. I bet Dall has one he’s willing to sell.”
“I’m not talking about that, Gin. I’m talking about you. I can’t keep you in the garage anymore. We’re lucky the wires burst before getting to the solar cells. You know how dangerous those can be. Your accidents seem to be escalating. How soon before you blow up something major?”
“I’ve never blown up anything,” he protested. “Sometimes I can feel the spark. But I always stay away when that happens. This was just an accident.”
She shook her head. “I’m going to talk with Paulie and see if he’ll get you a position at his place.”
Gin’s mouth fell open. “What?”
“You know he gets busy during the summer when tourists visit. He could use the extra help.”
“I’m not going to be a cook, Temmy. I’m a mechanic.”
“That’s my point. You aren’t.”
He drew back from her, like a dog who’d been kicked.
She continued, refusing to see his hurt, or ignoring it. “The sooner you realize this, the sooner we can move on with our lives. You’re young. There’s plenty of time for you to find a job that suits you.”
“I can’t believe you’re actually suggesting this.”
“Well, I’m serious. I can’t trust you back here by yourself.”
“So, you’re firing me? From our family business?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t get so dramatic. Plus, it might do you good to be in town more often. Socialize. Meet people.”
“I don’t want to meet people. I want to work on cruisers.”
“This is not up for debate.” She pulled the rag out of her back pocket and wiped her hands. “Now, get to work cleaning up in here. I have to finish that Starlight.”
She left, paying no attention to the tears already filling his eyes.
Work at Paulie’s? How could she say such things? Didn’t she understand how much this garage meant to him? Even apart from it being Dad’s, and where they spent their time when they were little. He loved it here. The smell of the oils, and the smoldering metals. The feel of the smooth, aerodynamic designs. The clangs and thuds of moving parts, even the gentle hums once everything was fixed. This place was his sanctuary, and she took it away from him.
You think I’m giving up? he thought savagely as he lifted a table and placed it upright. Well, I’m not, Temmy. And if you’re not willing to give me a chance, I can look elsewhere.
Maybe tomorrow he’d pack up and head for Atlanta. There had to be someone who’d take him on.
Foster Bridget Cassidy is a rare, native Phoenician who enjoys hot desert air and likes to wear jackets in summer. She has wanted to be a fiction writer since becoming addicted to epic fantasy during high school. A million ideas float in her head, but it seems like there’s never enough time to get them all down on paper. When not writing, she spends time with her two adorable Dachshunds and her less adorable husband.