Flash Fiction Challenge (Space Opera Edition): The Coralhound Queens

This story was written for Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge over on his terribleminds blog. The only stipulation that it be 1000 words of space opera. I couldn't resist trying to squeeze a space epic out of my brain place. I may have tried to pack in too much story. Still, I like the characters and the world. A bit more time in the editing grinder might have done it some good, but I'm still pretty happy with it. Here's my attempt at (a little over) 1000 words of space opera. 

***  

The Coralhound Queens

 

Ava limped toward the wreckage of two Fleabites. 

Her chrome leg hissed as she knelt before the wreckage. She dug through the remains fast. Not much to be found from one-man ships. There hadn’t been a decent haul for weeks.

A howl tore through the air.  

Ava cursed.

She fastened the latch of her pack and looped it over her shoulder. 

Her eardrums nearly ruptured from the second howl. Through the wreckage stalked a tall reptilian beast with clawed arms and smouldering luminescent scales. A Radspine. The earth beneath its feet turned to ash, and Ava could feel that heat on her skin. 

She ran. 

The Radspine dropped onto all fours and raced after them. 

Ava twisted, her chrome leg threatening to buckle, and drew the Atomcutter at her hip. The pistol hissed as two red beams slammed into the Radspine. One clipped its leg, the other went through its eye and a spray of green slime exploded out the back of its head. But the Radspine kept chasing her.

It was catching up.

Ava holstered the Atomcutter, and dropped to one knee. She pulled the Starsplitter from her back and set it on her shoulder. 

She took a deep breath, staring the Radspine head on, and waited for it to get closer.

The Radspine leaped.

Ava pulled the trigger. The force sent her stumbling backward. Something in her chrome leg snapped, and she fell to the ground. She propped herself on an elbow in time to see the remains of the Radspine rain down on the sand. It sizzled where the green ichor touched. 

Ava staggered to her feet, the knee joint of her robotic leg broken, and began the long walk back to her ship. 

Something howled in the distance. 

“Maybe I won’t come back to Arax for a while.” 

***

The Coralhound was an orange and purple spacetruck that was too small to be a cargo vessel and too big to be a Fleabite.

Ava slumped into the seat and hit the automated orbital reentry. Coralhound lurched to life, thrusters taking her off the ground until they were among the clouds, then the big ‘uns kicked in. Ava was rattled around in her seat as the ship broke through the atmosphere. 

Moments later she was looking down on the dead world of Arax from the stars.  

She started to fiddle with her robotic leg. She had a spare knee joint, but it didn’t match the chrome. More and more her leg was turning into a patchwork of metals. Ava sighed as she set to repairing it.  

The comm unit buzzed to life. An incoming call. The name read Endolina. She ignored it. A message popped up on screen, seven missed calls and five messages

Ava reached out to the retro polaroid on her dashboard. She was kissing the cheek of a raven haired woman. Endolina loved all that old world crap. Ava turned it over, reading the back for the hundredth time, To Endo, love Ava. And written under that in a different hand, Sorry Ava, but I had to go. Love, Endo.  

Ava tossed the polaroid back onto the dashboard. 

“You still ignoring her?” Kegi, a short stumpy robot with a dome head, asked. 

“She’s the one that left.” 

“Maybe she wants to come back?”

Ava hunched over her leg, worrying the knee joint. 

Kegi picked up the polaroid. “Maybe you should—”

She snatched it out of his hands. “Maybe I should do what I want.” 

Kegi raised his stubby arms and waddled to the back of Coralhound.

Endo had gone to Teuton to be with her family. Family she hadn’t seen for years. Family that Ava knew nothing about. Ava didn’t want her to go, and she had made it clear. But when Gohl started to send its fleets to Teuton, Endo had packed up and left. 

Damn sentimentalists. 

A battle had taken place over Klax, that meant there’d be lots of wreckage to salvage. She punched in the coordinates, and then hesitated. Why not? She could pass by Teuton on the way there. 

“That’s the third time this month,” Kegi called from the back. “You just going to stare at it for an hour then fly off again?”

Ava hurled her broken knee joint at him. 

Coralhound entered FTL with a small hum. The ship barely rattled as the stars blurred and Ava was hurled through space faster than her mind could comprehend.  

The stars returned, and a lurch told her they had arrived. There was Teuton, red and brown with swirling bodies of blue-green water. 

And an armada of Gohlish ships hovering in orbit. 

"That doesn't look good," Kegi said. 

"Can Teuton defend against those?" 

Kegi's eyes went dull, the equivalent of rolling them into the back of his head, and he began to thrum. "Archival data incomplete. Teuton's fleets are limited. The Gigaton Hammers—heavy orbital artillery—compensates for this, but has redacted capacity. Outcome favours Gohl." 

"Well, shit." 

"Shittiness confirmed." Kegi's eyes went back to normal.
 
"What do we do?" 

"Other than fly off to Klax?" 

"Endo's down there, and that's a mean looking fleet." 

"We're sailing a spacetruck, Ava. There's nothing we can do against military ships."
 
"We can get Endo out of there." 

Ava began flicking switches and turning dials. The Coralhound could do that. She knew it could. It had to. 

One of Endo’s messages had given Ava a set of coordinates. She punched them into the dashboard and Coralhound set off toward the surface of Teuton. 

***

A pair of Fleabites hailed her. The Coralhound was escorted over the capital city and landed in the Teuton palace docks.  

Ava was greeted by soldiers with meg-blasters at the ready. Behind them was a woman in an elegant dress, a gemstone crown, raven black hair, and…

Endo?

Endo stepped past the soldiers, gesturing for them to lower their guns. “I haven’t heard from you in two years.” 

“Why are you wearing a crown?”

“I kept calling.”

“Why are the soldiers listening to you?”

“I, um. I’m the queen.”

Ava’s chrome leg hissed as it bore her weight, her meaty leg buckling. “How?”

“I’m the seventh princess of Teuton. I should have never even gotten close to the throne. But as circumstances would have it.” She gestured to the shimmering dots in the sky, the Gohlish fleet. “I’m all that’s left.”

“My Endo’s a Queen.”

Endo’s cheeks turned red. She brushed aside her hair, cleared her throat, and said, “why did you finally come back?”

“I want you to come away with me.” 

“I can’t do that. I can’t leave Teuton to be burned like the other dead worlds.”

“But—”

A booming shook the ground. A large metal cylinder passed over their heads and torpedoed into the capital city. Clouds of smoke billowed into the air.  

The cylinder split open. From within emerged a snarling pack of Radspines. They leaped into the city, tearing and rending anyone they could reach. 

Endo grabbed Ava’s arm. “You have to get out of here.”

“What?”

“This is it, they’re starting their final push. If you leave now, you can get away from it all.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“You have to.”

Ava drew her Atomcutter. “I’m not going anywhere.” 

“Ava…”

Ava shoved the Starsplitter into Endo’s arms. “You remember how to use that?”

“Of course.”

Ava pulled Endo close and pressed her lips to hers.
 
“Then start shooting.”