The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen series, continues his hilarious science fiction series--parodying and paying homage to exploring the final frontier--with Willful Child: The Search for Spark.
These are the adventures of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms.
We join the not terribly bright but exceedingly cocksure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.
Steven Erikson has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole overblown mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way adventure. The result is a novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.
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About the Author
Steven Erikson is an archaeologist and anthropologist and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His Malazan Book of the Fallen series, including The Crippled God, Dust of Dreams, Toll the Hounds and Reaper’s Gale, have met with widespread international acclaim and established him as a major voice in the world of fantasy fiction. The first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon, was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. The second novel, Deadhouse Gates, was voted one of the ten best fantasy novels of 2000 by SF Site. He lives in Canada.
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Deeply in the deepest depths of deep space ...
Captain Tiberius Alex Razorback stepped onto the bridge of the Wanton Child. Lights blinked, components hummed and clicked, lenses flared, and something beeped a slow, massively irritating pulse. He paused for a moment, scanning his bridge crew at their stations. Still seated in his command chair was his 2IC, Comely DeCliche, only her unregulation mane of wavy red hair visible from where he stood by the lift entrance. At least, he assumed it was her hair. Otherwise she was on fire, although as far as ex-wives were concerned, the notion wasn't as alarming as perhaps it should be.
Well, that was probably stretching it. Tiberius was just standing there, still surveying his shiny new crew on this, his shiny new ship he wasn't even qualified tocommand, being just a normal friendly kind of guy, somewhat nerdy, in fact, thus satisfying all the nerdy wish-fulfillment fantasies of an entire generation of bored wannabes who still haven't equated the stunning realization of their wildest fantasies with, uhm, hard work. But hey, a surefire selling point these days.
There was the android at the science station, the Blob-thing at comms, the laconic drunk at helm —
"Hold the fuck on here!" Hadrian slammed his fist on the padded arm of his chair. "I've been stolen! No, worse! Rebooted! Sticks! Get this crap off the main screen!"
"Yes sir!" Then she swung round in her seat. "But like, it's awesome, sir! Well, maybe, I mean. It's only the trailer, after all."
"Fuck me, even rip-offs are getting ripped off these days. Hey, Comms — who are you by the way?"
The man stood at his station and saluted. "Ensign Scalzi, sir."
"Scalzi, you're looking a bit sickly."
"Yes sir. Permission to temporarily leave the bridge, sir?"
"I want to beat my head against a wall, sir."
"Understood. You and me both, Scalzi. Tell you what, take the rest of your shift off and get Eden back up here."
"Yes sir, thank you, sir."
"Well," Hadrian said after the ensign had left, "that's a crappy start to the day. Tammy!"
"Oh here we go," the ubiquitous AI muttered from a speaker, "I sense the beginning of another set of nasty, hair-raising adventures."
"Nasty with big sharp fangs, Tammy."
"Fine. So what are we eviscerating today?"
"A diplomatic incident at the Kittymeow Accords requires our immediate attention. Helm, set a course for the Kittymeow System."
"Yes sir! Uh, like, where is the Kittymeow System?"
"Nowhere near the Litter Nebula, that's for sure," Hadrian replied. "Check the Neutrality Zone between us and Radulak space."
"Yes sir. Got it! Wow, it was, like, right there."
"What kind of incident?" Tammy asked. "I've been monitoring communications and it sounds as if the Peace Talks are going swimmingly."
"Of course they are. We haven't arrived yet, have we? The incident is imminent, I'm sure." Hadrian activated his personal comms. "Engineering! Buck! Fire up the T-Drive. Time's come to rip some holes in the fabric of the universe for our convenience. And remember everyone, no wayward thoughts while in T-Space. Especially don't think about giant zombie snot monsters wearing bikinis. Oh, and do I see an unoccupied chair at astrogation? Where's Beta?"
"She crashed again, sir," said Jocelyn Sticks. "It was like, oh! People don't wear underwear like that at all, and then crash! I was just sitting here, right, and then it was like what's she wearing on her head and where did those stains come from since she's a robot and then it was, oh, those aren't hers at all! So who was wearing —"
"Thank you, Sticks, you can stop now. Ensign Spark, assume the astrogation station please."
"Astrogation! Assume what, Haddie?"
"Assume that it needs you, Spark."
"Astrogation needs me! Someone needs me! Happy! Run in circles! Can I sit in the chair? I can sit in the chair! Oh look at me! Sitting in the chair! What's this button do?" Everything pitched sideways.
"Spark! Stop playing with the Sideways Pitch toggle, will you?"
"Astrogation is challenging!"
The Sideways Pitch eventually settled back into the standard ecliptic plane despite Spark's best efforts, just in time for Commander Sin-Dour to arrive on the bridge and take station beside Hadrian. "Captain, I've been reviewing the status of the Kittymeow Accords as instructed. One presumes the urgency relates to the Affiliation's present economic woes at least from our point of view. But I still can't parse the motivations of the Radulak."
"No one can parse the motivations of the Radulak.Tammy, cut the ominous crescendo please. I was only pausing for breath."
"I have decided that a musical score is required for all missions from now on, Hadrian, and no, you can't stop me. Now for some muted strings while you blather on."
Hadrian sighed. "Fine, whatever." He glanced up at Sin-Dour and paused. "You've done something to your hair."
"I rather wished you wouldn't notice, sir."
"Well, I mean ... dreads, huh? Isn't that cultural appropriation? Unless you've turned Rasta on me, that is, and even then — oh crap, I get so confused, and why should there even be an Affiliation Directive about all this? I mean, isn't it what cultures do? Appropriate? Haven't they been appropriating since Day One?"
"I believe it's something to do with political imbalance of power, sir," Sin-Dour replied. "In any case, these aren't dreads. These are what happens when the Multiphasic Follicle Dehydrator goes on the fritz. I nearly electrocuted myself."
"The hair dryer was invented by a bald guy," Hadrian said. "What's all that about, I wonder?" "Aesthetic appreciation without the agro," Sin-Dour mused.
"Hmm. Where was I? Oh, right, the Radulak —"
"Finally noticed the damned strings, have you?" Tammy snapped. "The poor violinists were dying in here!"
"Oh a little extended vibrato won't kill them, Tammy. Now. The Radulak. Right, well. My guess is that their war with the Ecktapalow isn't going well, and in the meantime things have been heating up between us and them, ever since Tammy here forced us into Radulak space thus triggering the events so eloquently described in my impending memoirs. Namely, my kicking their butts and taking out three of their battleships —"
"Too long, didn't listen," Tammy cut in. "The violinists are now officially dead."
"I wasn't even talking to you, Tammy," Hadrian pointed out. "This bit of exposition was for my commander here —" "I don't care. It was still too long. Doesn't bode well for your memoirs either, which I never plan on reading, by the way. Nice cover, though. If a bit generic."
"Everyone's a critic these days. Fine then, Tammy, go write your own memoirs —"
"I just did. My quantum-crunched tronotronic interphased interface made it a snap. None of that dull typing rubbish for me — you know, I never knew being a writer was so easy. Allow me to quote from Page One: Ahem ... here we go. Page One, Paragraph One: In the beginning there was Tammy who said Call me Wynette Tammy and it was the best and worst time for everything that came easy to him. Great Gabby he cried and finally everyone was equal and their was more as your wanting to know if its honestly. ... Hmm, something seems to be wrong with my neutratronic discriminator as it applies to my own genius —"
"No kidding," Hadrian observed. "Funny how that happens, huh?" He tapped his comms. "Buck! Drop us into T-Space!" He stood to survey his bridge crew, scowled at the sudden close-up of his face on the main viewer. "We have been summoned to the Kittymeow Accords at the express wish of none other than Radulak Fleet-Master Bill-Burt, since it would appear that my martial prowess has earned a certain measure of respect from our erstwhile enemy. Despite frenzied attempts by Admiral Prim to convince the fleet-master otherwise, I shall be the principal negotiator for this peace treaty —"
"Aren't you done yet?" Tammy asked. "I mean —"
They dropped into T-Space. Jocelyn Sticks shrieked and pointed at the main viewer. "Eeek! A giant zombie snot monster wearing a bikini!"
"Galk!" Hadrian shouted. "All weapons freed and unleashed!"
"On what, sir?"
"Well, I would suggest the giant zombie snot monster directly ahead."
"The one in the bikini?"
"Yes, that one."
"Target acquired. Ordnance launched ... giant zombie snot monster destroyed, sir. At least, the bikini-wearing one, that is."
"All right," Hadrian growled, "who's the sickie undressing giant zombie snot monsters?" No one spoke.
"All right," Hadrian concluded. "I guess that was me."CHAPTER 2
Near the Litter Nebula ...
"Combawt Spweshalwist Paws, wis it dead yet?"
Lieutenant Pauls studied the sensor data on his screen, and then looked up and squinted at the small drifting vessel on the main viewer. "Not entirely, Captain. I still have faint life-sign readings."
"Awrr, wewwy good! Wewwy werrl, fffirwerr wagain!"
"Another Minimal Inert Projectile, Captain? I mean, sir, a simple torpedo would blast it to smithereens —"
"Foowish whewtenwant Paws! No tworpedo! No wailgwun! Wimiwal Winert Pwoyectwile wagain!"
"At once, sir. Targeting ... firing."
On the main viewer there was a faint puff of destroyed matter from one flank of the vessel, sending it spinning.
"Awrr! Wook wat thwat! Hawr hawr. Wife sirgnss?"
"Uh ... very faint now, Captain."
"Captain," cut in Lieutenant Janice Reasonable, "it is my duty to remind you at this point, again, that the Belkri vessel is a noncombatant galactic ambulance. Unarmed. Furthermore, the Belkri are our allies. Affiliation members, in fact."
"Ffirwerr! Wawr! Wife sirgnss, Whewtenwant Paws?"
"Even fainter, Captain!"
Captain Gnawfang, a.k.a. Prince Hazel of the Klang Royal Family of Klangdom and now captain of the AFS Ssentwy Wobbwer, leaned back in his command chair, and then lazily stretched. "Nowww we wait fwor wimiwal wautomwatic wepawrs ..."
Janice sat back down at the science station, rubbing at her eyes. She glanced over at 2IC Frank Worship, but he was still asleep, curled up at the foot of the command chair, being stroked every now and then by the captain's long, fluffy tail. "Sir," she tried again, "the last automated repairs to the Belkri took ninety-three hours. Given the present damage inflicted on the vessel by this latest round of weapon-fire from us, we can estimate a minimum of two hundred twenty-one hours before ship functions are restored."
"Wexcwewent! Wand swo we shawrl wwait fffor pwetty Belkwi wessel to gwet bwetterrr. Wawr, swuch fwun!" A moment later the captain coughed up a fur ball and spat to one side, so that it fell to the floor beside the chair, joining the countless others.
Surreptitiously, Janice popped another antihistamine.
And then a few more uppers.
[begin strikethrough]Pwisson[end strikethrough] Prison Planet Rude Pimente
"Unmitigated success and look at us! Chained to a blasted rock at the very reaches of a mining tunnel on a barren icy planet in a useless system a thousand light-years from that wonderful planet not-yet-dislodged-into-an-inimical-orbit-thus-engendering -lifelong-hatred-for-one-Captain-Hadrian, and this is what I get for my ingenious Affiliation-crashing scheme of economic destitution!"
"Actually," said Molly, "we're not exactly chained —"
"I meant metaphorically, Molly! Now then, how did I do?"
"Well, ex-Captain Betty, I think this has been a pleasantly terse summing up of our present circumstances."
"Ooh, nice addition, that ex-Captain thing."
"Thank you, sir."
"Have we covered it all, do you think?"
"Indeed, sir. Pretty much, that is."
"Oh? What else?"
"Mmm, let me think. Well, we're mining Irridiculum Crystals which are of course a necessary component to the T-Drive not that anyone knows what they're supposed to do, only that they're an essential component of the T-Drive, particularly in the interface between the Origam Conductor Coils and the Oxyom Phase Insinuator. And that, despite their crucial delicacy, everybody uses embittered unqualified prisoners to mine them from the porphyritic karst, or is it concatenated gneiss? Whichever."
"Very good, Molly. I think we have truly covered all the essentials now, barring the mysterious fact of our presence on this prison planet."
"Well, Captain Betty, that's a mystery even to us."
"Hmm. Good point. But I'm sure an explanation will arrive sooner or later. And if we don't — oh crap, here comes Felasha, our Purelganni nemesis."
The two Klang prisoners cowered up against one rough stony wall of the tunnel as the nasty alien flopped its way closer. Infernal whiskers twitched on the Purelganni's white-furred button-cute face, and then Felasha spoke. "Ah, my Klang pretties! My flippers need licking."
Betty sighed. "You keep mistaking us for Terran cats, don't you? Well, the Terran cat contingent will be found down Tunnel 727B, and as far as mining operations are concerned, they're almost useless. But hey, do I look like a — hold on. Molly!"
"Who's running this prison planet again?"
"Err, Ahackan? Baint Flitter Clan, I think. Could be Zugru though. But the foreman's definitely Baint Flitter, since it eats babies since they're crap at mining anyway —"
"Right. As I was saying, Felasha, do I look like a Baint Flitter? No. We're Klang! The only galactic civilization to defeat the Affiliation through economic infiltration and sabotage of basic capitalist principles of value fixed through supply versus demand. Too much supply, at too cheap a price, guts demand. Simple! Furthermore," and here Betty straightened, proudly swelling his narrow, furry chest, "I am the genius and indeed famous captain responsible!" "Lick my flippers."
Betty sighed and gestured. "You first, Molly."
"Sir, as a mere underling I lack sufficient cachet to reaffirm Felasha's high status among the prisoners who will witness this ignominy. Isn't that correct, Highest Glory Felasha the Lovely and Powerful?"
"Yes," the Purelganni replied. "Most true. Good point. ExCaptain Betty, lick my flippers or most horrid death shall be visited upon you."
"Molly, remind me why I keep you around."
"Pecking order, sir. But solely within the cultural dictates of the Klang."
Grunting, Betty dropped down on all fours and began licking Felasha's flippers. "Utter humiliation, inviting secretive thoughts of vicious revenge."
"I heard that," murmured Felasha, her huge eyes closing in faint tremors of ecstasy. "Oh, keep licking! Ahh, yes, good. Nice cat, nice cat, mmmmm."
"I'm not a damned cat!"
"Actually," said Molly, "with our doctored meerkat genes, one could postulate —"
"Shut up, Molly."
Kittymeow System ...
Supreme Admiral Drench-Master Drown-You-All-in-My-Magnificence Bill-Burt, Ultimate Class, slouched heavily in her command chair of the Ultra-Bombast Radulak Fleet Flagship I Saw No Need to Mention My Mother's Moustache, munching on the crunchy head of a Muppetlike proto-Klang servant whose flight reflexes were — it turned out — not quite up to scratch.
At the admiral's side stood Snuffle-Drench-Master Bang, temporarily demoted to executive officer with the admiral's ascension to command of the vessel. Bang's leather jacket was not as ornate as Bill-Burt's, not studded with as many rhinestones, but only Bang's attire was a proper trophy, torn from the drool-lathered broken corpse of a genuine Varekan, and the stenciled Terranglais words on the back were proof of that. Bang wasn't sure what TOM'S TOWING actually signified, but the human-spawn Varekan had not died easily. Perhaps the greatest surprise had been the man's prodigious supply of dark brown mucus, orally projected with sniper accuracy into one of Bang's eyes, resulting in the patch Bang now wore. Even this brief recollection of the Varekan's fierce counterattack made the XO quiver slightly.
"Oh very well," sighed the admiral, "even though you know I always save the best for last, you can eat the nether regions." He handed over the bottom half of the proto-Klang.
Bang grimaced with her many discolored fangs. "I but tremble in anticipation, Supreme One."
"Cease trembling! This is not war! This is peace!" In a fit of rage Bill-Burt flung the half-eaten corpse away. A flurry of other proto-Klangs converged on the bedraggled body. In moments even the bones were gone. Hackles rising and slather slathering, Bill-Burt snarled and said, "We win this treaty with fever-dry Terrans and so achieve undistracted focus on destroying Ecktapalow! Then, with those fools suspended in a sea of deadly slime, we break the Terran treaty and descend in a galactic tsunami of snot and spit, drowning every Affiliation planet, moon, moonlet, and space station in glorious ejaculation of righteous dominance!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Willful Child: The Search for Spark"
Copyright © 2018 Steven Erikson.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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