Following is the opening excerpt of my story, Gentle Push, originally published by Mindflights Magazine, and now available at Amazon in Kindle format.
Illustration by Laura Givens
I encountered the leading edge of retreating human vessels 20 light hours from Delta Pavonis–a steady column bound for Earth, where they believed we could protect them. My mission would determine if that faith was justified, and if so, for how long.
As I skirted the system’s rocky halo, I spotted the small starship drifting quietly in the mid-outer dust cloud–a tug with strong field generators fore and aft. It was not preparing to flee. I looked closer. Its artificial environment was intact. Its engines were functional. It had a single human occupant, alive and well as far as I could tell.
I hailed it. “Do you require assistance?”
It responded abruptly: “Leave me alone.”
It was my first direct conversation with a human, and not what I expected. I was intrigued. But with no sign of emergency, I continued and found the blue-shifted forward wake of the Akridi fleet one light year beyond: 22,410 heavy ships moving at 0.9 C, including hard-shelled battle cruisers capable of demolishing small moons and misshapen population transports bulging with the next generation of Akridi workers and soldiers. They fired. I spun, outran the weapons, and returned to Delta Pavonis well ahead of the armada. Because of my velocity, my two-day round trip was two years relative local time.
No humans remained on the surfaces of the worlds and the last orbital stations and skyhooks were dismantled. Stragglers accelerated to solar escape velocity. But the small tug still drifted. It still had life support and one occupant. I routed enough power to project me steadily into the ship in as close to a human form as I could manage.
Its occupant sat in a small observation lounge near the engine section. Thrusters were off, but warm. The main power unit hummed at low output.
Humans were a two-gender species, and this one was female…
Copyright (c) 2012, J. C. Conway
Things get more confusing before they get clear.
GENTLE PUSH is available in Kindle format for 99 cents.