This story I wrote after reading a run of Thor: God of Thunder. During the course of this fun adventure of time travel, multiple versions of one self, and a lot of silliness to offset the grim events, Thor encounters sharks. In space. Just sharks in space, as one sees. I was so amused with the concept of a sea creature living in space as it would in the sea that my brain ran with the idea of old, long out of use naval vessels in a space setting. And thus was born “Space Sharks”. I think it’s by and far my favorite of my early stories. Maybe I’ll get back to this world one day soon.
This story was first published by Devilfish Review in 2014. I’ve decided it’s time to retire it, and share it with you, now.
By the time she watched Emmaline haul her rear end over the rail of the ship, Dayle and the rest of the crew had slashed the lines to drop the foil sail. Capsizing in space didn’t have the same repercussions as once existed back when sailing meant mist in your face and leagues of blue reflecting blue as far as the eyes could see. That didn’t mean she was eager to do it. Detritus had pierced the corner while they’d been circumnavigating the space station, waiting for her return.
They’d be stranded on the ridge without the photon sail. Not only stranded, but if Emmaline managed placing the charges into the right place on that station, the shifting of the solar wind wasn’t going to be their only problem. Dayle refused to go down like that. Not when they were so close to landing a huge strike against the Imperium. She stomped soundlessly to the quarterdeck, the rest of the crew pushing and shouting gangway!
Fools, they’d been called. Fools for using retrofitted Old Earth sailing ships. Fools for depending on erratic migration patterns of shivers of sharks for backup. But the old ships, even with propulsion sails and RADAR, were muted. Sometimes they were missed on by larger, more modern ships, mistaken for debris or chunks of asteroid. That gave them their only edge. They were silent when they needed to go dark, and shutting down all their power systems didn’t leave them dead in the sky.
Unless the sail ripped.
“Why aren’t we moving, Skipper?” Emmaline’s voice crackled, tinny and far away, in her sound powered comm. She adjusted the grav settings of her biosuit without looking up.
“Damned sail’s ripped.” Dayle didn’t bother looking for her. She was on the deck. That was good enough. Good enough she wasn’t followed. Good enough she was back safely. “FOD through the upper starboard side. Just tell me you got the job done, Em.” Her eyes focused on the gauges and dials of the bridge while Smitty fidgeted, moving fore and aft, taking and logging readings. They weren’t moving, and that always had Smitty’s knickers twisted. Dayle couldn’t say she blamed her.
“Those Imperium pricks are gonna have some pretty pretty lights soon.” There was a smile in Em’s voice that Dayle wanted to appreciate. She could see it in her mind, her line of white teeth, that little gap between the front two, the way her lips pulled back until they nearly split her face. A beautiful sight Dayle wanted to see. The urgency of the moment wasn’t going to let her.
“Skipper.” Smitty pointed to the heat sensors. “Wind’s pickin’ up. Need to move.”
“And how do you propose we do that? I’m all ears if you got a suggestion.” There was more bite to her words than she’d meant, but sitting still left her brow and pits damp and nothing clenched her jaw more than helplessness. No one wanted to be burned alive at one point six million degrees kelvin. She turned on a heel, watching Jeanie and the others clamoring through the lines. “And I want that sail back up. Yesterday.” Time didn’t have meaning until they didn’t have any. It was likely they only had fifteen minutes or so to get away unfollowed. Fewer if they were. Photon propulsion was efficient and clean but it was also slow, with no FTL. If they were followed, they were dead.
Dayle turned her head to give her a view of the crow’s nest, though it had no bearing on how well she could hear over the connection. “Watch, bridge. Go ahead.”
“Bridge, watch. Got a shiver.”
A grin flashed across her face as she slammed the button for the horn.
They used the horn when it was just a drill. Every member of the crew reacted to the mechanized screaming by rote whether already in their suits over the comms or in their racks inside. That the message now blared it was not a drill made no difference in how they responded. Everyone had a job. Everyone knew what it was. Space travel meant life or death at the best of times, and only the truly lost hesitated.
“Everyone to their line!” Dayle yelled into the comm in her helmet loud enough to cause feedback in her earpiece. She pulled herself hand over hand from forecastle to rail where the lines were secured in large, neat, coils. Where the nets lay, folded neatly, looking like scored loaves of partially baked bread.
Years of practice made her fingers as adroit in her thick suit gloves as they were otherwise. She effortlessly released the ropes, the large loops of them uncoiling in an upward spiral. The lack of gravity worked in her favor as she tied her bowline around the end, coiled it a few times, and threw it athwart to Emmaline. It glided in the arc of trajectory as if the space around it simply waited for it to be there.
She caught it–she always did–then crouched and pushed off the deck with her boot thrusters. No dancer could hope to move with the grace Emmaline commanded as her long lines of limbs stretched and waved. Everything about her was a sight to behold. Taking her place at the mainsail, Emmaline lashed her line in place, waving to the other side where Jeanie signaled she’d done the same.
Thuds of boots on deck made no sound in space, and they were so weightless they didn’t vibrate the surface. It looked effortless, the silent heave and a silent ho pulled by all hands to the rhythm of the message repeating in their ears. Dayle knew better. The solar wind would soon pass for the orbit they traveled; this cruise, this job, this hope, depended on these rare moments when the schools swam by. It’s why they always charted their course in line with migration patterns.
The nets bellied out fore of the prow and bow, held both by chains and lines. Dayle pumped her thrusters and pushed off the deck, catching the top line as she drifted past. It snapped tautly when she bound it in place before shoving from the mast with both arms. Her legs hooked over the crow’s nest and she pulled close enough to wrap her arms around the mast. Here at the top of her ship, letting weight of worry out with her breath of relief, she took just a second to appreciate it all.
The timing played out precisely as they had practiced. Perfect practice. Perfect reality. The sharks scintillated in the dim glow of the lights as they swished by, tails flicking starboard and port, their noses pushing out and filling the nets, taking on this new role as natural as swimming. The ship jerked forward with a mighty tug.
“We did it, Skipper.” Emmaline’s voice sounded in Dayle’s ear before the woman pulled herself through the ratlines and into the crow’s nest beside her.
“Looks like.” Dayle’s eyes flicked towards her, hindered by the side of her helmet, then ahead of them once again. She reached down and helped Emmaline up through the landlubber’s hole. It was close. Too close. “Almost missed them. We’d be stuck on this rim for who knows how long.” No need to voice the threat they’d barely escaped. The solar wind. Imperium patrols.
“Can’t have that.” Emmaline leaned shoulder to shoulder against her, watching a distant piece of rubbish ignite and flicker into oblivion. There was a trail where it was and then it was gone. Nothing more than a phantom where the light had once been. “That’s one ship we don’t want to go down with.”
Dayle snorted, making feedback across the comm before she turned, watching Smitty on the rudder. The sharks were slower than the sail, and they were largely at the mercy of their hunting, but some movement was better than none in times like this. “We’ll be out of range soon.”
Emmaline wiped a hand over her helmet as if she could push the tightly-kinked curl which had slipped from her Snoopy cap out of her eyes through the shield. The delay between the moving of her lush lips and the sound in Dayle’s comm no longer had that surreal edge to it. “Not too far, though. Don’t want to miss the show.”
She felt the clink of shield against shield as she leaned against Emmaline. A few Earth days and there’d be no suit to stop the incidental touches and there would be warm skin to feel again. For now a tinny-sounding chuckle and a squeeze of gloved hand on gloved hand was going to have to suffice. “Don’t worry. I don’t think we’d be able to miss it if we tried.”
She counted the seconds, watching the world drift away behind them. Ten more. Then nine. She lifted the small remote in her hand and flipped the cap open. Five more. Then four. Emmaline’s hand wrapped around hers, one thumb overlapping the other. Two. One. They pressed the button down together, and blinked into the bright breath of light.