Greeting, space cadets,
Today I come to you with a brand-new intergalactic space opera adventure!
Spare Parts is my newest book, a 15,000-word standalone novella featuring a refugee family, a galactic Empire, enormous spaceships, clever bots—and much more.
The Kryl invaded in the dead of night.
The Nevers family had to flee. Yuzosix, once their home, must be left behind.
Along the way, young Elya Nevers develops a strange habit… he begins to collect bot parts. Something about it soothes him.
But this strange obsession soon catapults Elya into an inescapable conflict, one that will shape the man he becomes.
And plant the seed of his destiny.
And here’s an excerpt for you to get a taste for the story. Enjoy reading!
[ 1 ]
Ever since they became refugees, Elya Nevers collected bot parts.
He didn’t know exactly how the idea had first come to him. Even his memory of it as an idea was nebulous. Elya couldn’t recall the concepts of collecting and bot parts ever pairing in his brain before they fled their cliffside solar farm in the night. He barely had time to throw a change of clothes and his tab into his rucksack before his mother dragged Elya and his two older brothers out the door and into the darkness. In their flight to the city, there had been no time for such thoughts.
Elya didn’t remember making a conscious decision to be a collector when the four of them shoved their way onto an orbital transport shuttle, fighting against the panicked crowds, nor when the shuttle blazed through the planet’s thick upper atmosphere. It was hard to focus on much of anything when the seat was rattling so hard he thought his brains would shake out of his mouth and splash all over his only pair of boots.
When they passed into space and the shuttle stabilized, Elya looked down and noticed that his left hand was bleeding where he gripped a gold-tinted gear in his palm. The gear’s reflective surface, even smeared with blood, calmed him for some reason. As he studied its finely cut teeth, noting its purposeful shape, Elya realized that he must have picked up the gear along the way, although he couldn’t for the life of him remember where or when. Its golden color was distinctive compared to the cobalt-and-crimson of the Imperial defense units who had been guarding the spaceport’s launchpad, or the dull grey of the utility bots they sometimes rented as extra hands to help during harvest time on the farm. Elya didn’t really have a use for the gear, since the Nevers had never been able to afford a bot of their own—especially not a golden one. But I do have room in my rucksack, he thought, and decided to keep it.
When the shuttle reached the limit of its range, the refugees were transferred to a Mammoth Longhauler. Elya had plenty of time to contemplate his new habit of collecting bot parts during their harried spaceflight, while his mother clutched her bead necklace and muttered prayers under her steaming breath. When she finally slept, he and his brothers listened to their frightened fellow refugees speculate how long it would take the Imperial Fleet’s starfighters to find them and guide them to safety. (Answer: twenty-three days, Imperial Standard Time.)
While they waited, the slow-moving Longhauler drifted on minimum viable power—life support only. The pilot kept the ship’s comms beacon off so that the Kryl couldn’t track them. The only lights found among the stowaways were hoarded by the few people smart enough to bring electric torches onboard, or wealthy enough to own personal service bots in their previous lives. Elya had never seen luxury bots like these up close before, but he saw while they cooked and cleaned for their masters that a few of them had exteriors in the same shade of gold as his gear.
Elya Nevers collected bot parts. Ever since he became a refugee, the behavior was as much a part of him as his darkly tanned skin or his long, dextrous fingers. When he was alone in the dark, Elya would pass the time counting and cataloging his growing assortment by feel. Since the gear, most of the spare parts he gathered had been found on the floor of the Longhauler; others, looted from a closet full of damaged Mammoth repair bots. Once, he won an aluminite power switch playing aleacc against a rich merchant’s son. The stunned look on the kid’s face when Elya rolled doubles three times in a row was his greatest source of pleasure on the seemingly endless journey. Elya placed the switch carefully in his rucksack. He would take it out and flip the mechanism back and forth, back and forth, each night when sleep wouldn’t come.
But nothing cleared or calmed his mind like the feel of the golden gear against his skin. It was the only thing that took Elya’s mind off what happened on Yuzosix.
[ 2 ]
An overwhelming stench struck Elya like a fist halfway down the airlock connecting the Mammoth Longhauler with the space station. The smell was sour and heavy and so thick it made him gag. Elya looked down and coughed, someone jostled him, and he staggered sideways under the weight of his pack.
His older brother caught him before he could fall. “Easy, little brother,” Arn said.
Arn was the eldest of the three Nevers boys—tall and calm and always ready with a word of encouragement. Had those lines in his forehead always been etched so deep? Elya hadn’t seen Arn’s face in the light during their spaceflight, but he didn’t think so. The ship’s lights had only come on for the first time when the Longhauler got clearance to dock with the space station. Elya’s eyes had been adjusting to the overwhelming brightness ever since.
“Try breathing through your mouth,” Arn said. “It still reeks, but you won’t notice as much.”
Elya nodded. He kept walking and tried not to vomit up the vitamin tablets sitting like dead power cells on the floor of his hollow stomach. By pretending he didn’t have a nose and keeping his eyes on Rojer’s back instead of the vacuum of dead space on the other side of the transparent walls, he made it to the end of the airlock’s gangway without puking.
It didn’t take long to discover the source of the stench—a crowd of sweaty, unwashed people filled the vast hangar in which they emerged. They covered the floor, even spilling over into the demarcated area where smaller spaceships docked, unloaded, or refueled. At the far end from where they stood, an arched doorway led to the rest of the station. An enormous line trailed from that opening. Elya didn’t need anyone to explain to him why it was so crowded; it was obvious: the space station’s shuttle bay had been transformed into a refugee intake center.
Elya followed his brothers and his mother to a speck of empty floor where they wouldn’t get jostled by the many moving bodies, or block the way of those still coming out behind them. The airlock they had come through was one of a dozen such mouths, each pouring out innumerable unkempt refugees from several different vessels—people from Yuzosix, just like them. Tens of thousands had already arrived and were making their vague way through the line—and then through the door that led to the rest of the station, and the end of this part of their journey. Elya didn’t know what awaited them on the other side of that door, but almost anything was better than living in perpetual darkness on the Mammoth.
Elya’s mother studied the crowd, then sighed. She looked each of her boys in the eye. “Stay close, all right? Watch out for each other.”
“Where are we going now?” Rojer whined.
“They have to process us,” Mom said. “To know how many people made it out.” Out alive. Out of Yuzosix. “It shouldn’t take long.”
Arn nodded and smiled, to reassure their mother. It worked less well than it normally did. Elya scuffed a shoe against the floor. His mother smiled back, and it looked forced. Rojer continued to look sullen and angry—but that wasn’t all that unusual.
Elya tightened the straps of his rucksack, then put his hand into his pocket and ran his fingers over the golden gear’s teeth. Their hard edges, the satisfying way they rose and fell as he traced them, kept him from showing his anxiety to the rest of the Nevers clan.
“And you,” Mom said, pointing a long bony forefinger at Elya so that he couldn’t pretend she was talking to Rojer or Arn instead. “Don’t wander off. We’re not on the Longhauler anymore. We don’t know anything about these people, and I don’t want to lose you.”
She took another deep breath and sighed, more heavily this time.
Together, they waded into the sea of people. Mom led the way, with Rojer right behind her kicking at debris and vitamin tablet wrappers on the floor. Elya came next, and Arn brought up the rear.
Not everyone seemed to be in the same rough shape Elya felt the Nevers clan was in. A large group accompanied by several security bots emptied luggage from small private ships to their right. Past them, a group of desert dwellers in brightly colored robes sat cross-legged on the floor around an oscillating hologram of a multi-armed deity who led them in prayer. A pair of old men whispered and passed a bottle between them, making faces as they swallowed. Most of the people he saw seemed to be from Yuzosix, but not all.
The less fortunate waited in a smaller line that formed fifty meters from the bigger one. Each person who got to the front was scanned for ID, and then doled out rations by a plump man in an Imperial uniform. He wielded a handheld holodisplay connected to the ship’s main computer and an expression that reminded Elya of Rojer when someone stepped on his toes. The steward was flanked by two security guards of his own—human soldiers, not bots. These men and women bore blaster rifles in their arms, and attentively studied the people in line. Like the steward, their uniforms were a rich blue trimmed in crimson. Similarly uniformed guards, each wearing a helmet that concealed their face, were spaced out around the edge of the hangar.
As they walked, Elya’s attention was drawn like a magnet to a third small theater that had formed in a far corner of the hangar. People there weren’t lined up so much as gathered around, shoulder to bot to shoulder. Everyone waiting in the crowd had a decommissioned bot either held in their arms or wheeled on a maglev dolly at their side. A few of the personal service bots were standing and operational, but most were not. Everyone seemed to be vying for the attention of a giant man in a red jumpsuit. He had enormous muscular arms and shoulders, and long dark hair gathered with rubber bands into thick ropes. The man lifted his muscular arms and rained three blows down on something that echoed with a hollow metallic gong each time he struck it. He switched the tool in his hand, slapped a mask down over his face, and touched the flame of a welding torch to the object; an explosive hiss reverberated into the hangar’s high ceilings. As people waiting jostled and shoved for prime spots near the front of the gathering, Elya caught a glimpse of the bot he was working on—a personal service bot finished in red-tinted silver. The Tri-Star Imperial insignia was painted in black on the bot’s chest.
“Watch it, runt!” Rojer snapped, shoving Elya sideways. Rojer was always calling Elya names, but this time he thought he might have actually deserved it. Elya had been so caught up studying the machinist and the anxious crowd that had gathered to take advantage of his talents that Elya didn’t notice he had bumped into his brother.
But even if he was in the right, Elya hated it when Rojer was mean to him. Rojer hadn’t seemed to have the heart to be nasty on the Longhauler, where there was no light and no one knew if they would be rescued or starve to death as they drifted through space. Here, in the light and noise of the space station, it was different. Rojer felt emboldened. Heads snapped toward them, and under the weight of hundreds of eyes, Elya felt his face flush with shame.
“Cut it out, both of you,” Arn snapped. He stepped between them, trying to defuse the situation. The smirk on Rojer’s face caused Elya to see red. He knew what Roj was thinking: Arn to the rescue. Well, not this time.
Elya lunged around Arn and grabbed Rojer by the thick curls their mother loved so much. Yanking down, he was glad to hear his brother shout in pain and fright, and flail about, slapping at Elya’s wrists. But Elya had his long fingers gripped tight about his brother’s hair, and the pain he felt at his brother’s blows wasn’t nearly as scary as it used to be. Not after their flight from Yuzosix. That experience had set his pain tolerance onto a new plateau, in ways Elya was only now, in this moment, coming to understand.
One of Rojer’s flailing arms caught Elya’s rucksack, and he managed to pull so hard that Elya stumbled forward. Hair ripped, Arn shouted, and Elya pitched to the ground, scraping his chin against the rough metallic floor of the hangar.
He fully expected the weight of his pack to crush the wind from his chest, or perhaps protect him from Rojer as his brother fell on his back, but neither of those things happened. Instead, his pack felt light as air. A musical tinkling sound made Elya’s blood run cold.
Lifting his head, Elya watched in helpless horror as the contents of his rucksack tumbled forth, between the legs and under the feet of the crowd. Not just blankets and his toothbrush and dirty underwear, but the bot parts he’d so secretively and carefully stowed. Nuts and bolts scattered and fell between cracks in the floor. Tubes and wires were stomped underfoot and ground down. A ball bearing met the toe of a shoe at speed and rocketed away, lost forever in a dense patch of people to his right. Worst of all, the golden gear had fallen out of his pocket when he hit the floor, his momentum setting the precious piece to rolling. It wobbled as it found its balance, then came upon a slight slope and rolled away, nimbly dodging between pairs of legs whose owners Elya couldn’t see and didn’t care to know.
He realized by then that Rojer’s flailing arms must have caught the zipper and opened his pack, but Elya only had eyes for the gear. He struggled to his knees, having forgotten all about Rojer until a sharp pain blossomed against the back of his skull, and a weight from above tried to smear him across the grated metal flooring of the hangar.
“Get off!” Elya shouted, “Rojer, getoffame!”
“I didn’t know you were such a packrat, Elly.”
Though it took all the air left in his lungs, Elya cried, “Don’t call me that, you sniveling little twerp!”
“Elya!” his mother screeched, as she finally noticed what was happening behind her. How she could be more alarmed about Elya’s choice of words than his short-tempered and obnoxious brother attacking him for no reason was beyond him. His mother’s abiding love and forgiveness of Rojer’s insufficiencies was one of the Seven Galactic Wonders.
Arn set his feet on either side of Elya’s head, balled Rojer’s clothes in both of his huge hands, and hauled their brother bodily into the air with a roar of effort. Rather than face his mother or watch Rojer be manhandled by Arn—as much pleasure as that always gave him—Elya scrambled to his feet and ran in the direction the gear had gone. He never took his eyes off it. The gear rolled with beautiful efficiency, its finely cut teeth allowing it to tumble unheeded over the hangar floor.
The golden gear turned between the legs of a boy, who missed his chance at grabbing it, and then beneath the frayed skirts of an old lady before it finally fetched up against a rubber sole of someone’s boot.