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Excerpt – Barbara Custer
Her shortness of breath made running impossible. Instead, she crept left, withdrawing her laser as she went. Adrenaline seeped into her blood. Selective perception fell away, and the hydrii’s bright yellow eyes illuminated every detail: the puddles of blood leading to Valborg’s battered ship; a body clothed in rags, probably a derelict; the hydrii slithering under the ship’s dented hatchway. With red plates and fangs long as hairpins, the creatures reminded her of pictures she’d seen of dinosaurs. Underneath them, squirming in the blood-soaked grass, were dozens of baby hydrii. Coated with oily red slime, each stretched long as an adult’s forearm.
The adult hydrii rose up and hissed at her. Their tails lashed back and forth, and then laid itself over the babies as if protecting them. Lilly palmed her laser, aimed, and tracked the reptilian heads as they twisted and dodged. Those creatures know what’s coming, she thought, and then she depressed the laser’s red button.
The blasts sang into the quiet night, and the hydrii disintegrated in a ball of fire. The babies writhed and twisted, eyeballing Lilly with glittery eyes the size of marbles. If Lilly had breath to spare, she would have screamed.
Teeth chattering and breath rasping, she turned and walked on stiff legs with no feeling in them. She had no idea of what she would do next until she spotted a pile of loose branches. With trembling arms and jerky movements, Lilly scooped up the branches and hugged them against her chest. She carried them back to the ship.
“I’m your worst nightmare,” she sang with glee. She stepped toward the clutch of hydrii before the terrified sick person in her mind could seize the remote, turn her, and make her run. That person wouldn’t care if her lack of oxygen killed her.
At least two dozen of these hydrii crawled under the hatchway. One raised its marble eyes toward Lilly and gave a hiss almost too high-pitched to be heard.
Still not allowing herself any pause, Lilly took slow steps toward the hatchway. A snakelet skated across the grass toward her. She stepped on it; its body hadn’t yet developed the tough, protective plates. She tossed the branches before the hatchway. Its residents skittered toward her.
Lilly stepped on another and saw that a third clung to the leg of her pressurized suit, holding on with its tiny claws and trying to bite through the material with its still tiny fangs.
“Nightmare,” she muttered, scraping it off with the side of her other boot. Her face felt cold and drenched with sweat. Her respirations ran over thirty a minute, painful, shallow breaths. If the hydrii didn’t kill her, the blood clot would. She retrieved her laser again, but her hands shook so badly, she almost dropped it. More of the thread-like snakes crawled toward her. One wouldn’t kill her, but an army might.
“Nightmare!” She depressed the laser’s red button, and it popped fire. For a second, the beam guttered pink around the branches. There was a poof sound, and the branches became a nest of red flames. The flames spread toward the hatchway, blackening the branches. The fire reached the clutch of hydrii and consumed some of them. More hissing as the hydrii burned. Sizzling as their blood ran into the ground. Some of them darted under the ship.
Lilly backed toward the trees squirting the laser as she went. More flames sprang up, forming a red, gauzy curtain against the moonlit sky. The heat baked against her face shield, fogging the glass. The chest pain gripped her. She saw herself in the NICU again, trying to fix Stevens’ ventilator. She saw him in his cardiac arrest and shivered at his mother’s accusations. She felt a sudden urge to rush into the fire.
Excerpt – Tom Johnson
The man in civilian clothes was laughing again. This time it was evil, venomous. He intended to kill them, leaving no clue to their murder, just death by misadventure – death from the bite of rattlesnakes!
“God have mercy,” prayed Jean Sims.
Eddy Edwards closed his eyes in his own prayer.
Stuanofu whispered softly, “Fear not.” He raised his hands slowly and below them the snakes became more agitated, yet they appeared to be moving to the side, to the walls of the pit, as if moved there by intelligent control. As if a guiding hand was sweeping them back against the walls, and the center of the pit was instantly void of the deadly snakes.
The civilian nodded his head and the guards moved forward. Two of them pushed him and Jean into the pit, and at the same time the mysterious hiker raised his hands to heaven and there was an instant bright flash, like the explosion of a thousand flash bulbs from cameras
“Starship Invasions“ Barbara Custer and Tom Johnson
Welcome to a world not so very different from our own, yet infinitely strange. That’s what you’ll find in Starship Invasions by Barbara Custer and Tom Johnson. The pair of authors alternate stories, weaving an interesting, and sometimes disturbing, image of what’s to come or what might already be.
Barbara Custer’s stories tend to be more other worldly, interacting with aliens and the like. Her stories make the reader stop and think about the possibilities. Could aliens live among us? Have they concealed themselves to fit in? Have they unwittingly mated with Earthlings in order to create a hybrid race? These stories also reflect Custer’s own concerns about the future of healthcare in the United States, often featuring a hospital executive more worried about the bottom line than whether the patients receive care.
Tom Johnson’s tales follow a character named Eddy Edwards, a former military man who now works for a group who investigate UFO’s. Thrown into a variety of eerie circumstances, Eddy pursues his goal of extraterrestrial investigation. Along the way, he meets an alien by the name of Stuanofu, who rescues Eddy more than once. Eddy’s investigations take him from a small west Texas town to Area 51 and on to Kansas. He follows leads, avoids danger and searches for the truth. Johnson’s final story in the collection, Mesa of Terror, sets Eddy aside and focuses on a young man named Don Donovan. He and his friends save the world from an ancient menace.
Starship Invasions is a wonderful collection of science fiction short stories that take me back to my youth. I highly recommend this short story collection to anyone who likes thought provoking, diverse and fun fiction.
Review by Dellani Oakes, Author