an excerpt from In the Dying Light by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

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  • Dedicated to CJ Henderson

Author's Note: The excerpt you are about to read was inspired by the late CJ Henderson. It was written, in fact, based on a challenge he issued me to write a Lovecraftian romance in space. He never did tell me if I had succeeded—in his view—but I am confident myself.

In the Dying Light

An Alliance Archives Adventure

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

 Earth Orbit: 42.05.18 – 0715hrs

On the command deck of the Stellar Clipper McKay, First Officer Ushimi Yakata ran the final checklist before third shift ended:

Duty Log: 42.05.18 – 0715hrs, Yakata, U.

Reactor status – nominal;

O2 levels – optimal;

Power – five percent over-consumption.

She frowned at the last item as she printed out a hard copy of the entry. We’re going to have to watch our calculations, she thought. We haven’t even left orbit and already the systems are running hot.

It was that damn shuttle Corporate had them balancing on the McKay’s nose. They were hauling the spacer’s equivalent of a luxury yacht over twelve light years to Demeter just so some CEO could tour his colonial facilities in style...There were much more important payloads they could have taken with them. Of course, it was the “pay” part that decided things in the end; the rates for transporting luxury items to the Tau Ceti system were ten times that of necessary goods.

Behind her a clunk and a soft whoosh announced the arrival of her replacement. A whiff of licorice drifted from close by her ear. She’d stopped counting the times she’d told Karl Dunn not to crowd her. A prime example of why they had a history and no future. She’d had doubts about signing him for this cruise. They had been close once, very close. But not anymore. And with only a nine-man crew, she had no hope of avoiding him.

 Her lips pressed in a tight, thin line, Yakata dropped her hand to the toggle by her hip and shifted the command chair back along its track, away from the control panel.

“Hey! Watch it!”

She brought the chair around, her grey eyes leveled dead on at Karl as he rubbed his abdomen where the chair smacked into him. Only his grip on the nearby tether bar kept him bobbing in place.

“Excuse me,” she said, her tone cool and formal. “I didn’t realize you were so close.”

The flat, persistent tone of the proximity warning sounded through the cabin, interrupting any comment Karl would have made. They both forgot their personal conflict, their attention riveted on the sensors.

Toggling the command chair back into place, Yakata automatically scanned the ship’s attitude and power consumption on the screens flanking the main monitor. At the same time, she called up the isometric collision display. The flashing alert icon vanished from the screen in front of her. In its place appeared a wire-frame sphere with a representation of the McKay in the center. Something closed on the ship from behind, moving at a fraction of a meter per second. They had about thirty minutes until it came into range over their drive section.

“Dunn, reach over and activate the aft camera,” Yakata ordered as her fingers danced in and out of the button depressions on the control panel. At her command, the main display switched from short-range to long-range scanning. She had to be sure whatever approached was not the forward edge of a meteor storm or something else their ablative hull plating could not handle.

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