This week's host: Jennifer Slattery
Today we launch our speculative clash with two delightfully weird excerpts. Read them both and let us know which one you enjoyed most. So get your voting finger ready and let the games begin!
With a raised fist, he signaled his five-man team lined up behind him to stay put while he peered around the edge of the crumbling bank building. The debris-filled terrain limited visibility, so he engaged his helmet-mounted perimeter-scanner. No response.
Frustration burned his gut. He tapped the side of his helmet. A distorted glow lit the 3-D visor-screen before it went blank. They needed that information before leaving their cover. His jaw ached from holding in his anger. Another systems glitch, only one of many equipment failures they’d endured since landing. It pointed clearly to sabotage.
He sent up a silent prayer and thumped the sensor harder. The electronics buzzed with loud static, blinked on-off twice then began its scan. His gratitude was cut short as the perimeter alert overrode the scan with an alarm. Hostiles were closing in on their location. The ground vibrated. A D.O.O. the size of a military transport stalked into their path. Decimating Organic Organism 867 might be the scientific classification, but the man-engineered monster blocking their escape had mutated way beyond the three-inch version of its reclusive dragon origin. This version of the once non-lethal 867 had been bio-engineered to eliminate one specific species of noxious weed plaguing the Tyro’s farmers. What had gone wrong?
Jack checked his scanner and inched forward to get a visual. The mottled bulk of the D.O.O. swayed from side to side on its back haunches in a slow methodical shuffling gait. Its claws scraped against the crumbling asphalt, like knives against a honing stone. The beast stopped and raised its head. The spiny ridges along its back stiffened as another D.O.O. approached.
Adrenaline revved Jack’s pulse up several notches. His team was patched in to the recon visuals. It was obvious they’d never make it to the ship with those beasts in their way.
His second-in-command, Lieutenant Jake Haggerty, let loose a string of expletives. “All of the scientific data HQ gave us about this planet is fictitious garbage--” Haggerty finished with another expletive.
Jack hated to admit it, but Haggerty was right. The genetically programmed 867 weren’t supposed to live more than a year or get bigger than a six-pound river rat before the DNA coded self-destruct cycle kicked in. These hideous creatures had grown to unbelievable sizes, consuming everything organic in their paths, including each other.
Jack took valuable seconds to download this latest data into the reconnaissance computer under his bio-suit, which also fed into the ship’s log to store for later analysis. In less than three hours the decontamination devices they’d planted went to auto-mode detonating and cleansing the surface of every living organism. It would take a decade before any reclamation of the planet could begin.
Anger buried his doubt and filled him with determination. At least one of them had to survive. He’d give them that chance..
When he calls, I come. When he commands, I obey. When he rages, I cower at his feet. By his word I live; by his word I die. So I stay to the shadows, sleeping in the pen with Master’s dogs and fighting them for the scraps that fall from Master’s table. Sometimes I win. Most times I don’t. Then long nights follow. Cold nights, when wind pierces the wood.
Tonight Master’s dogs curl up together in the corner away from the wind. I try to join them, but the Others growl and snap. I go away to the pen’s other side and wrap my fur around me. It is long, but only covers my head and the extra coat Master gave me is full of holes. The Others’ fur covers all of them. This is one reason why I am Beast, not an Other.
Light comes after a long time, but it is cold light, angry light. My insides hurt. I curl into a tighter ball, but the hurt does not go away. Maybe some of Master’s pack will come and he will call me to do the things only I can do. Then he will laugh, I will have food, and the hurt will go away for a little while.
The house door opens—it creaks—and Master’s Mate calls. “Warrior, Mongrel, Huntress, Arrow.”
The Others immediately rise, yapping and jumping against the pen’s boards.
Mate does not call me, but I uncurl anyway. Pressing my forepaws into the dirt, I swing the rest of me forward, my useless hind leg dragging behind. I am not as quick as the Others, but they have four good legs, and I have only three.
Without looking at me, Mate tosses bones to the Others. Her mouth is thin. I wait by the boards, face to ground. I do not know why I wait. A thin mouth says Mate is displeased and my insides always hurt more when Mate is displeased. Day will be cold and long.
I raise my head. She called me?
Her fingers grasp the gate, her mouth thinner.
She did call. I bound forward.
Mate opens the gate enough for me and me only, then closes it on my useless leg.
I yelp and roll forward. My leg, my leg! I curl into a ball, forepaws to my useless leg, water running down my face.
“Quit your whining.” Mate hits my back with a stick. “Hurry up.”
I slink toward Master’s house, but not fast enough. Mate’s stick finds my back twice more before I reach the flat rock by the door. She raises the stick to strike again. I cower. The door opens.
“Enough, woman!” Master steps between Mate and me. “Get back to your work.”
She scowls but turns away.
Master pats my head. “Don’t worry about her, Beast.” He goes into the house. “Come, girl.”.
Now that you've read both excerpts, let's chat. What do you think makes for a great spec. fic. novel? What's been your favorite speculative fiction novel yet? Your favorite science fiction movie? ET? Back to the Future? Star Wars?
If you could travel into one of the world's painted by science fiction movies or speculative fiction novels, which one would you dive into? Me? I think I'd like to spend a day with the guys from Back to the Future, only I'd venture off script a bit, landing in Ancient Greece. Let's chat about this via the comments below, and don't forget to vote on your favorite excerpt! Who knows, you might even win a free book!