Flash Sci-Fi Fiction: Deadly Jewellery

What happens when your to-die-for jewellery really is just that?

Take a peek into Ministry Commander Taren's life on board a Galactic ship with this Flash Fiction Friday story:

The glittering ball nestled against Thea’s throat, suspended on a delicate silver chain. It was warm to the touch, a soft weight between her fingers as she toyed with the jewel.   

“It looks good,” Aera commented in a tone that was only mildly considering whether detaching Thea’s head from her neck to get the jewel was worth a try. “Your tunic sets it off, not exactly Galactic issue though is it?”

Galactic had once issued jewellery to every soldier, male or female, only the idea of wearing tracking bracelets hadn’t really appealed to them. People had stuck them to their consoles and wandered off wherever they liked. Five weeks it had taken Command to figure that one out. They were still writing subspace communications about it.

Thea glanced down at her standard issue navy tunic, as shapeless as a circus tent at night viewed by a one eyed man with glaucoma. It’s only redeeming feature was the inclusion of one large pocket directly on the front where you could hide your smokes. The jewel twinkled like a star back up at her. “Eh, who cares if it is? Not like Commander Taren is going to notice it is he? Doesn’t notice anything that one.”

It wasn’t so much a bare faced lie as a completely nude bodied one. Ministry Commander Taren noticed everything, even the things the heavens hadn’t noticed. He’d risen quicker than a missile through the ranks and was now settled comfortably – if you could settle comfortably in that black body armour they wore – as President Gailan’s favourite mercenary. It was unlikely that he’d be bothered about a shiny jewel, but then you never knew with him. He had ice cold blue eyes that never smiled, never shone, never lit up. Thea knew he’d be handsome if he’d just smile once in a while. Trouble was he was only known for smiling during battle and she’d quite enough of that for one journey out from New Earth Starbase thanks.

“If he does, I’ll say it’s a present from a lover or something,” she muttered, rolling the jewel between her fingers. The round little ball seemed to be even warmer against her skin.

“He knows when you’re lying, it’s that implant.”

“It’s a tactical implant, not a My-Crew-Are-Lying-Through-Their-Teeth implant, Aera. Anyway – getting off course. It’s mine, it’s shiny and no-ones taking it off me, alright?”

Aera nodded, shrugged, considered tossing the other soldier out of an airlock. After grabbing the necklace of course. Thea always managed to scavenge the nicest things. All Aera had ever managed was a datapad that went on the blink a lot. She slouched back against the railing encircling the flight deck, staring up at the rest of the crew.

They milled around their consoles, checking this, fixing that. Her job was strictly admin – bring them what they wanted in flight and find a spot somewhere in the middle of a squadron when they went on a recce. You were less likely to get noticed in the middle, less likely to get blown to bits by some Galactic-hating alien idiot. Unless you ran into the rebels, then they seemed to go for the middle didn’t they?
Part of Go For The Middle, It’s Where The Laziest Hang Out strategy that Gabriel Alpha had written, available in all good revolutionary bookshops.

Aera on the other hand was a navigator, destined to stand safely behind a console and read out co-ordinates while someone else did the hard job of following them. She was good at numbers and staying calm. Thea was good at bringing things, sitting quietly and not getting shot at which so far had served her well. Sitting quietly didn’t get you in a lot of trouble, messing up the navigation could get all of them killed, particularly if it was on a ship that Commander…sorry, Ministry Commander Taren navigated. It wasn’t a bad job overall, apart from the chance of getting blown to bits.

Though she was slouching back against the railing facing the wrong way Aera could still pick the moment that Taren stepped onto the flight deck. People’s backs became ramrod straight and everything seemed to take on that frenetic intensity that followed the Black Guardian wherever he went. Even Aera stood up straight and silently cursed, she was stood right where he was likely to walk.

She fancied the air grew darker as Taren’s footsteps came down the ramp towards them, like he was bringing the emptiness of space in with him. The swift clips slowed, paused, came very softly towards them.

“Good morning, Commander Taren,” Thea burbled, trying to look as bright and focused on her job as possible. “I’d like to report…”

“That necklace, soldier,” Taren barked, navy blue eyes storm tossed. 

“Um, yes, Commander. I…er…it was a present.”

“From someone you like?” She looked up sharply at his words but the savagely handsome face was a mask of stone. In anyone else Thea would have said the tone was teasing but there was no such hint of that in Taren.

“Um…um, yes?” Thea tried.

“Cause I find it hard to believe someone you like would hand you a Lazeron destroyer and claim it as a necklace,” Taren continued as if she hadn’t even spoken. His gaze was focused on the charm with a lazy intensity.

“IT’S A WHAT?” Thea barked, scrabbling at her neck with both hands.

Aera would have laughed at Thea’s face if she wasn’t busy trying to get as far away from the weapon hanging around her friends’ neck as possible. A wave of people spread out from Thea, getting away from the now too hot orb resting against her throat.

“Uh….I’m…please help me!”

Taren rolled his eyes, the robotic fingers of his right arm cold against her skin as he deftly snapped the necklace. Metal creaked as he toyed with it for a moment, then crushed it between his fingers. The brilliant shine of it dimmed, then ceased.



Three Things Thursday

Writing this while currently puppysitting with a sleepy pup on my lap, it's been a good day so far!

Currently Reading:

I'm currently reading MEN AT ARMS by Terry Pratchett and loving every minute of it. Pratchett is possibly my favourite fantasy author and a master at worldbuilding - I'll be talking about him in my vlog this week!

This book is about the City Watch, Commander Vimes and suspicious murders going on in Ankh Morpork - well, more suspicious than the normal amount of murders anyway.

Currently Listening:

Listening to CATCH THE WIND by Donovan on my writing playlist at the moment. Feeling in that kind of 60's hippie lets-try-and-change-the-world peacefully vibe at the moment and always love a song that tells a story. This song is about wishing things were different but accepting that right now they aren't the way you want them to be.

Currently Watching:

Still on my rerun of Blake's 7, almost at the end of Season 1. Already crying about losing the first Space Commander Travis even though I know it means Brian Croucher is about to turn up.

Also watching Heartbeat Season 3 and loving the more dramatic storylines at the moment. Still can't warm to Kate Rowan but it's a fun, warm and friendly show that makes you wish you were cooped up during a snowdrift at Aidensfield.

That's it for Three Things Thursday this week! Drop me a line and let me know what you're reading, watching or listening to this week below or on any of my socials.



Writing Dialogue

I used to hate writing dialogue with a vengeance, I'd write anything to get out of it. Characters would have long monologues or spend forever staring out of windows while I wrote tons of exposition just for them. Whenever I absolutely had to write dialogue it was short and usually dramatic. Re-reading it highlighted just how abrupt the conversations seemed to be, drifting in a chapter with no real place.

When I wrote for a long time in an rpg I also tried to avoid dialogue because I hated it. My characters would have long periods of internal monologues or in the case of Sebastian, my most used rpg character, he'd growl everything and swore an awful lot. Most likely he went to bed with a sore throat!  Santangelo, one of the protagonists in my debut novel HUMAN NATURE is a taciturn Mafia boss who said very little unless he was talking to Ronnie, so he was easy enough to write dialogue for. Eventually though, I realised you couldn't just have quiet or angry characters if you want to have a believable story.

The best thing I learnt was:

Every piece of dialogue should have a point and move the story on.  

Previously I'd write and think; dang, Seb's been too quiet for a bit, better have him talk. Or he'd explode with a lot of capital letters. This bit of advice has been the best for me in figuring out how to include holistic dialogue in my novels, dialogue that flows as integral to the story rather than a sticking point.

For example, last night I wrote a piece of dialogue between Dex and Maeve. I would have struggled with this previously but working out what the point of the conversation was helped me script it. In this scene the point is that Dex and Maeve's friendship is developing. In the rest of the series he will come to be one of her best friends so it's important the seeds of this are sown early on. With this in mind I found it much easier to script dialogue between them that shows an easy affection developing them. Without this point I might have given them staccato words that didn't really go anywhere.

What point do you want this piece of dialogue to achieve? If it has no point, do you really need to include dialogue?

Don't overuse dialogue tags.

If you could see how red my face is right now writing that. Think back to the first novel I ever wrote at the age of 13 - a thrilling expose about the royal family of Sweden, in which they discovered a secret son and a royal plot. Good thing it never saw the light of day because I never changed any of the names from the actual  Swedish Royal Family and I'd probably be wanted in Sweden! In this novel I wrote a tag for every bit of dialogue I wrote. EVERY single one! e.g.

"You can't do that!" Victoria muttered.

"Yes, I can, Victoria, don't give me the shifty eyes," muttered Sven.

As you can see, every Swedish male is called Sven, even the royal ones. Also, fairly sure no-one in Sweden has ever said shifty eyes. *rolls eyes*

But every single line had a tag, every single line referenced a name. In my teens I thought that's how you wrote dialogue, or how would you know who was speaking? Since then I've learnt that you don't have to use it every single line. Most people can follow a conversation between two characters talking without dialogue tags. If you have to bring in more, they should only be used to reference a change in your internal camera with a different speaker.

In short, Emma said, "Don't overuse dialogue tags," Emma repeated. Emma again!

Don't use your dialogue for long chunks of explanation.

Also guilty of this one once upon a time....alright, I was guilty of a lot! Learn from my mistakes!  I used to assume that if you wanted someone to understand something about your world or a plot point, you'd do it in dialogue. That way the other characters know right? But unless one of your characters is a total newbie to the world, they should already be aware of things in their world. It sounds odd and stilted to start explaining a huge chunk in your dialogue, especially if it would already be common knowledge to your characters.

For me, if I'm using dialogue to explain a lot of the story it asks the question of whether my story is well thought through and whether it's easy enough to understand. Your characters shouldn't really be doing the job of explaining large plot points or storylines to readers or it becomes way too convoluted - unless of course one of your characters is God, then He does know everything!

What do you need to explain? Is there another way?

I hope these 3 little points have been helpful for you. Do you have any tips on how to write better dialogue?



Book Review: Machines Like Me

Having never read an Ian McEwan book before (I know!) I wasn't sure what to expect. I was surprised to see that he'd written a book in the sci-fi genre - alternate history/androids - but intrigued. I'm also obsessed with anything robotic so definitely had to grab this!

Full disclaimer: As a Science-Fiction author I was a little offended to read that Ian McEwan had asked not to be referred to as one and that he didn't like the genre. Mind you, I did also read this on Facebook over a morning coffee. Besides the obvious joys to the Sci-Fi genre I tend to think that it's a great tool for exploring the human condition and testing our own boundaries. Still, the lure of androids was bigger than my offence and soon I had a copy in my hot little hands.

Having read it, I see why he wasn't keen to refer to himself as a Sci-Fi author. Although technically it is in the genre, being an alternative history, it almost doesn't feel like one. Although it contains a new cybernetic discovery in the form of Adam, the android (which happens to be exactly the same name I've chosen for my android in ARCHANGEL ONE!) it doesn't feel like one.  It's an interesting exploration of what would happen if Alan Turing had chosen to do time rather than be chemically castrated and of Charlie Friend, his protagonist, a somewhat feckless dreamer fighting against the shackles of adulthood.

McEwan creates an alternate history in which Turing chose the path of doing time then capturing the world with his inventions. Thatcher is still PM and the Falkands are still a main focus. Like Deighton's novel SS-GB and Dick's Man In The High Castle it is interesting to see whispers of the true history trying to assert itself. Turing's genius has led to the creation of Adams and Eves - androids who are capable of self-awareness with programmable personalities and multiple functions.

Charlie is a feckless kind of wanderer who is currently stock trading, though not doing very well at it. He finds himself with an inheritance and promptly spends it on an Adam. He lives in the same apartment building as the woman he loves, with their relationship developing throughout the book. He wants a change but seems at least for the first part to be ambivalent about it. His girlfriend Miranda is intriguing, with secrets that lie deep beneath the surface. Charlie appears to be alternatively annoyed and intrigued himself by these secrets.

Enter Adam, an android whose personality is half keyed in by Charlie and half by Miranda. At first Charlie thinks that Miranda has created the perfect one to love her and it certainly seems so when Adam develops a love for her. It turns into a love triangle between Adam, Miranda and Charlie if you can imagine a lovesick android. It poses some interesting questions about self awareness and whether machines do have the capacity to love. Due to Miranda's hidden secrets Adam's love for her is tested and ultimately brought against his infallible belief in justice and truth. This has some unexpected consequences for Charlie and Miranda which leads to the breakdown of the love triangle.

Adding in meetings with Alan Turing is a nice touch and it's interesting to imagine how the man would have taken on cybernetics and an alternate 80s history. I loved his last speech to Charlie and how Charlie reacts to this - all through the novel people have been indulgent with Charlie but Turing pulls him up straight.

Adam himself is a clever character, demonstrating something more than android awareness right from the beginning and developing a deep sense of himself as we go through. There's a sub-plot regarding the Adam and Eve's sinking into deep dismay and in some cases suiciding. I wish this was further explored throughout the novel rather than it ending with the androids being recalled. It would have been great to delve into what they had imagined human life to be like and why it resulted in so many completing suicide in robotic ways. I feel like this was a missed chance here.

MACHINES LIKE ME introduced me to Ian McEwan's work, which I'll definitely read more of. I can see now why he doesn't want to be included in the sci-fi genre and I wouldn't classify it as one either, though he does include elements. It's an effortless prose that hooks you but if you're looking for a cybernetic exploration, you might be left a little wanting.

What did you think to it?




Author of Science-Fiction and Fantasy books about strong women with a compelling story to tell.

Emma is the author of HUMAN NATURE,  a dystopian fantasy exploring love, redemption and the darker side of humans.

She is currently writing her second book, ARCHANGEL ONE, a space opera exploring rebellion, freedom, love  and finding light in the darkness.

Emma has been writing since she was little, falling in love with making up stories. Her dream has always been to be a published author and at the age of 29 her dream came true with her debut novel HUMAN NATURE. She is inspired by epic fantasies and vintage science-fiction.

Emma would like her words to be escapism for her audience and to help others. Her aim is to create more sprawling stories with Alpha males and strong, intelligent women.

Setting a routine

In Pinteresting as much inspiration as possible for ARCHANGEL ONE I kept coming across a common theme in writing quotes. No matter which author it was coming from the theme was the same - writing is also about setting a routine and disciplining yourself to stick to that routine.

Surely not, I thought, going on to Pinterest vintage sci-fi images from the 70s until my heart was a riot of hypercolor and cylindrical robots. Surely writing is just inspiration and scribbling away whenever it hits? Surely hundreds of pages would fly forth at this moment and your novel would be completed in a week, a blur of laptop and coffee.

I can be so naïve sometimes.

Blanketed with same naivety I started writing ARCHANGEL ONE, envisioning floods of writing pouring forth from my fingers. I very quickly learnt that while your mind might be full of ideas and half composed scenes, your body is less inclined to sit at a laptop. My burning need to write lasted a week before I began to lag. Tiredness begged me to go to bed at a normal time rather than sit up and write for hours. The lazy Sunday I planned writing filled itself up with family time and binge watching the Sopranos. I reasoned it was only a day I'd missed in my schedule, then two days, then an entire weekend had passed and the laptop had stayed closed. Guilt washed over me and I tried to force myself to sit down at the laptop and write. I wrote a page of stilted conversation before I turned the laptop off.

What you don't see is the blank screen on the other side.

Setting and sticking to a routine in writing is one of the most important things you can do to become disciplined in your craft and to ensure you actually finish your projects. The failed Nanowrimo attempts of 2014-2016 I have are proof of this!

I felt guilty about not writing and then slightly rebellious of wanting to shuck a routine. It's different to other aspects in my life, like my work, where I have a routine every day. So why couldn't I stick to a routine in my writing? Why had I suddenly become such an undisciplined little git, causing havoc and guilt for myself by just not sticking to a routine?

I decided to take a couple of days off writing, spending that time binge watching my favourite TV shows and reading instead. Suddenly I wanted to write, scribbling ideas down and thinking of ways to resolve plot bunnies I'd been struggling with. As soon as I took the expectation off myself the desire to write came back. My tiredness vanished and I found myself sitting back at my laptop, headphones in my lap.

I've come to the conclusion that setting a routine and sticking to it is definitely important or we'd never get anything done. Setting time in that routine to take a break and recharge your batteries is just as important! I've rejigged my writing routine now to include time to just relax, sleep, read, whatever I feel like doing. It takes the weight of expectation off me and I've found that when I am on a writing day I write more.

We put so much expectation on ourselves, particularly if you compare yourself to everyone else on Instagram but that's another post! How about scheduling some time to rest in your writing routine?