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Indie Spotlight: Skylark In The Fog, by Helyna L. Clove



So when the universe falls to pieces, it doesn’t mean your life has to, right? That comes later.


Jeane Blake, captain of the spaceship Skylark, makes her living by looting dead worlds, planets fallen prey to naturally occurring wormhole-like rifts plaguing the cosmos. She survives the only way she knows how: avoiding commitment and arguing with her dead foster father's ghost. But when her crew stumbles upon an alien device that could collapse the wormhole network and wipe out all sentient life, they catch the hungry eyes of the Union, a tyrannical empire hunting the sinister tech.


As she flees the Union’s brainwashed agents, Jeane is forced to take on a shady mission and gets stuck assisting the runaway monarch of a technocrat planet. Queen Maura Tholis is seeking the aid of an interstellar resistance to reclaim her war-torn world, with another trouble-magnet device as her bargaining chip: a glove that allows her to command AI systems. Jeane couldn’t care less about the whole deal, but things become personal when the Union annexes the place she calls home. And it might be her fault.


Reluctant to become weapons in the hands of power-hungry militants and desperate rebels, smuggler and queen join forces. But to save their homes, they must redefine themselves, work with the enemy, and face personal traumas they’d buried long ago—and only stars know which challenge might break them in the end.


 

Excerpt


The spaceship jolted, and a series of yellow warning messages flashed up on the screens. On the radar display, the markers showing the Lark and the Union vessel hot on its trail flickered in and out of existence in the interference, and the gravitational anomalies of the lane kept throwing both ships off-course. Their pursuer was gaining on them.


“The generator didn’t like that,” Kliks groaned in the co-pilot seat. His lean form hunched over the console, large black eyes tracking the numbers on the status indicator. “Alignment issue, I think. Can we get out of here now?”


Jeane frowned at the code running on the main computer screen, then at the model above, where the Skylark’s current trajectory appeared atop the schematic representation of the lane: a stream of parallel lines forming a shifting and contorting chasm in the spacetime continuum. “We need five more minutes to compute a vector,” she said. Although only a rough estimate, that sounded like just enough time to be blown to smithereens by an overeager Union agent.


Her Talalan companion made a frustrated noise, realizing the same thing. “I’ll take a look. We won’t get far without proper thrust.”


He stood, crossed the cabin with one long stride, shoved the door open, and stormed out. Only a few seconds ahead of the next blow from the Union vessel.


The hit shook the entire ship, and this time, the artificial gravity grid in the walls and the floor couldn’t compensate fast enough. The impact pushed Jeane to the deck, and while she grasped for the edge of the console, a bone-chilling metallic creak reverberated through the hull, making her teeth grind.


She hauled herself up and punched the comms button. “Kliks, come in! Are you okay?”


One of the lamps above released a spray of sparks over her keyboard, and the next second, all the lights blinked out in the cabin. The engines sputtered one last time before they gave up the fight. Silence and darkness fell over the Skylark.


Jeane sank back into her chair, and as the ventilation wound down around her, she took a shaky breath and started counting her heartbeats.


Eight, nine, ten, eleven—then the auxiliary generator rattled to life.


The shrill sound of an alarm filled the cabin. Jeane shuddered, swallowed the acrid bile rising in her throat, and scanned the awakening displays. Most of the ship’s instruments reported errors, their shields and the engines were down, and although the front screen flickered to life to show the immediate environment of the Lark—nothing but the glow of this precarious tunnel in spacetime they’d decided was a good idea to jump into—the main computer remained offline.


She killed the alarm and tried the comms again. “Kliks? ALU? What’s your stat, guys?”


There was no answer. Panic crept up her spine. They were dead in the water in the middle of a gods-forsaken lane with an apeshit agent set on offing them. How’d this day gotten so bad, so fast?


“...got us on the tail...fell down the frickin’ ladder!” Kliks’ words started pouring out of the speaker, occasionally dropping into silence just to reassemble into somewhat comprehensible phrases a second later. “I’m afraid the generator...to bring back power!”


He sounded pissed, but at least he was alive.


“What do you suggest?” Jeane’s gaze kept wandering back to the swirling fog of the lane displayed on the screen. She couldn’t shake the feeling that the void outside was watching her.


“The bastard…stopped shooting at us, so...and look at it.”


Jeane pushed away from the console, detaching the flashlight from the belt of her cargo pants.

“I’m going down there. Is ALU with you?”


“They’re on their way up. ...a vector?”


“Nope, system fried first. Don’t move. I’m coming.”


She barely walked out into the darkened corridor when a series of sorrowful beeps sounded off from ahead. With another step forward, the flashlight beam fell on her technician’s angular form.


“No power,” ALU said, crestfallen. They seemed uninjured, but their insect eyes scanned the hallway as if they were waiting for an ambush. Their squat, boxy body bounced up and down, and they waved their four multi-jointed, metallic arms around. “Don’t like it.”


Jeane reached down and grabbed them by one long limb, turning them around and marching them across the darkness. “Give me something useful!”


“Structural integrity sixty-three percent. Life support ten percent,” ALU recounted, pattering forward. Without power, gravity would linger in the ship for several hours, so at least they wouldn’t have to acrobatics their way through it for now. “Generator and shields at zero. Engine room sealed off.”


Skies damnit. Shouldn’t have asked.


The agent knew what they were doing, immobilizing the ship without destroying it. But the Union was usually not this merciful when dealing with lanehunters, so Jeane didn’t even dare to imagine what the bastard really wanted with them.


The Skylark had been lifting off a dusty little planet in a backwater dead system when the agent had shown up. The small lane leading to the highly unstable central star of the world didn’t have a name and was only identified with a row of numbers. It was the last place to expect an attack from the Union. The empire’s henchmen preferred the busier sectors to catch themselves some innocent scavengers.


The crew had already been in a hideous mood, finding nothing of value on the deserted military base, save for some scrap metal and defunct weaponry. The offices had been cleared out, and the decrepit ships in the docks loomed empty. This wasn’t all that surprising. The Altex, the race that had built the place, had been extinct for a hundred years because the central system of their empire had been destroyed by a forming lane, then the Union had purged their surviving colonies. But this was a newly discovered outpost, its location recovered in files smuggled out by lanehunters from stars know where. Virgin waters and all that jazz—definitely worth a trip, their source on Metallia had said. Except they clearly hadn’t been quick enough about it.


After a few hours of fruitless foraging, Jeane and her companions had climbed back into the Lark to plan a course to their next objective, hoping that one of these days, they’d actually earn the price of their fuel and maybe the funds for a few necessary upgrades too. They’d just left the atmosphere when the Union nailship had started tailing them. Jeane had raced the agent to the lane, hoping to lose them on entry, but Jerkface had followed them in.


 

About the Author



Helyna L. Clove (she/they) is a science-fiction/fantasy novelist, and a lover of all types of storytelling, hot comfort drinks, and a universe full of stars.


She was born in Hungary and raised in a small village a few miles off the shores of Lake Balaton. She was often described by her teachers as someone always having “her head in the clouds”, and she spent the first fifteen years of her life mostly consuming books from her parents’ home library, watching some great 90’s sci-fi shows, and working on her eclectic music taste. After several arduous years of obtaining her astrophysics degree, she currently lives in Wales with her small family of a wonderful boyfriend and Puddle, the tortoiseshell cat. Skylark in the Fog was her debut in 2022, and she's releasing the first novel of her new dark fantasy duology in September of 2024.


When not writing her stories, she can be found commandeering radio telescopes, reading, cooking, playing video games, or trying her hand at different art forms. 


 

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