I decided to randomly drop a short story collection today. Not because it’s particularly romantic (it’s really not) but because I thought it’d be fun.

You can order Remain Alert: Science Fiction Stories in ebook and paperback from your favorite online retailer!

Now, because the ebook sample shows an introductory flash fiction piece and the beginning of one of the more somber stories in the book, I decided to include a sample of one of the wackier tales below. Enjoy! 🙂

Lesson #1 in intergalactic mixology: VIPs take it floated, not stirred.

Explore the farthest reaches of the galaxy in Kate Sheeran Swed’s newest collection of science fiction stories.

  • In “Chosen,” an intergenerational spaceship returns to Earth after disaster strikes;
  • In “Ugly Earthling,” an ambitious chef attempts to fry her way across the universe;
  • And in “It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Usurps the Galaxy,” a Supreme Galactic Emperor takes on an ambitious building project under dubious circumstances.

Absurdity and tragedy commingle in tales where space travel is run-of-the-mill, time can be recovered, and second chances hold the key to survival.

Buy Remain Alert now!


Remain Alert Sample: Ugly Earthling

This is the opening scene to a *very* strange story of mine that first appeared in the online zine Electric Spec. My husband brings up the sentient scale pretty frequently. I’m proud of it. And a little weirded out that I can be so… well, weird 🙂 

Esmeralda left Earth in search of culinary perfection.

Two dozen interviews later, she landed a gig washing dishes on a hip little moon on the outskirts of the Milky Way, after revising her cover letter to describe her time as head chef in a five-star Parisian restaurant as “less inspiring than the fungus on fueling-station moon fries.”

Her prospective employer, a multi-tentacled space squid (just squid to him, given that this particular moon was devoid of water and required imports not from the planet it orbited, but from a pristine and uninhabited neighbor, which was part of its appeal), laughed for five minutes while smacking his arms on the desk. Esmeralda kept her smile relaxed, and hoped.

After what felt like an eon, Barthemous—who had recently installed his nephew as sous-chef and claimed to need all paws on deck (she didn’t correct him) for the Galaxy Gastro cooking competition—waved his tentacles at her in order to seal the agreement. He laughed another five minutes at her attempted reciprocation, then set her to work scrubbing stardust out of a gravity-resistant cocktail mixer (lesson #1 in intergalactic mixology: VIP’s take it floated, not stirred).

She’d paid her dues once before, on Earth.

She could do it again.

Beside her at the sink, a three-foot space faery (just faery to her, given that the legend of Earthen faeries originated from a few bold pranksters of her race) washed plates with impressive vigor. The faery’s wings buzzed, giving her the impression of a dragonfly trying to land.

“Why do you need the stool?” Esmeralda asked, nodding to the wings.

“Rude,” said a line cook from behind a curtain of silken hair that brushed Esmeralda’s shoulder as he passed, forcing her to wonder what good his full-body net could possibly be doing to keep the strands out of the space-weed noodles.

Or perhaps space foodies had a taste for alien-hair pasta.
“Sorry,” Esmeralda said. “I try to avoid acting like the ugly Earthling.”

She preferred the term Earthen, truth be told, but sensed that to use it would win her no favors.

The line cook snorted, inhaled a wad of hair, and coughed all over the noodles.

“That’s all right,” the faery said. “I get it a lot. My wing-beat speed is only around 670 per Jupiterian hour, when the average faery can do 1,720.”

Esmeralda didn’t know how to respond appropriately, so she just nodded.

“Means she’s slow,” said the line cook.

“Not exactly,” the faery whispered to Esmeralda. “It means I get tired quicker. I’m Adele.”

“Esmeralda.”

Esmeralda was debating the safest way to ask Adele more about herself when Barthemous’ nephew-the-sous-chef burst into the kitchen, tentacles flailing.

“Health inspection!” he cried, spinning a circle that brought carnival rides to mind.

Ezekiel, the space squid nephew, was apparently only part squid, as his entire body was covered in a fine layer of scales. Esmeralda assumed the scales to be the same type one might find on a reptile or a fish, until they leapt up to voice their own squeaky-toned panic: “Hide them! Hide them!”

Esmeralda had not noticed sentient scales on Barthemous. In fact, she found these ones to be so distracting that she didn’t see the line cook coming, which made it all the more surprising when he shoved her toward the closet with one heave of his hairy paws. The faery, Adele, fluttered behind.

Esmeralda, who’d tried to make herself agreeable, said, “I’d like to know why we’re being stored with the mops, when someone has a moment.”

It was, perhaps, the rudest sentence she’d ever uttered.

“Quiet!” shushed the line cook. He slammed the door, leaving Esmeralda and Adele alone in the dark. At least, it was mostly dark; Adele’s hair glowed faintly with a sheen of green light that Esmeralda hoped wouldn’t leak under the door.

“Earthlings aren’t supposed to be allowed in kitchens,” Adele told her, and suppressed a shudder. “Think of the disease.”

Esmeralda looked at her hands. “I think I’m rather clean, all things considered.”

Adele patted her shoulder, then wiped her hand on her skirt. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Esmeralda said, though she wasn’t sure she meant it. Apparently there was a reason she hadn’t been able to procure a job beyond Earth’s stratosphere.

She was vermin.

“And you?” Esmeralda asked. “Why are you in here?”

Adele brushed a strand of fluorescent green hair behind her ear. “Tax evasion.”

With the door shut fast, Esmeralda could not see the creatures attached to the footsteps that now invaded the kitchen. Space elephants, perhaps, or space kraken—they certainly sounded as though they had as many limbs as Barthemous and his nephew combined.

“Won’t they need to check the closet?” Esmeralda whispered. She couldn’t help but wonder if the acidic scent cloying at her nose was meant to be some kind of an Earthen repellent, as it was starting to make her woozy.

Adele responded with a nudge to Esmeralda’s ribs. Not the time for discussion, apparently.

On the other side of the door, voices murmured. That was expected. Esmeralda pictured check marks on clipboards and questions about hairnets.

Next, there came what sounded like the clang of a rather large pot. Less expected, but perhaps space health inspectors were more hands-on than their Earthen counterparts.

Third, the unmistakable hum-and-crash of a DestructoBlast-4000 laser gun, followed by return fire from a Defend-O-Matic 9, which, to be honest, didn’t stand a chance, though Esmeralda would have been first to admit her bias in favor of the DestructoBlast. They might not be as user-friendly, but were endlessly customizable.

Silence.

Muffled voices.

More thunderous footsteps, the swish of the kitchen doors, and then silence, this time stretching long enough that Esmeralda dared to turn her head to find Adele’s gaze in the dark.

It was beginning to seem unlikely that the line cook would return to liberate them.

Esmeralda cracked the door open.

The first thing she saw, when her eyes adjusted to the light, was that the previously spotless tile floors were strewn with four-foot-long strands of hair.

The rest of the room was covered in bits of the kitchen staff.

“I guess it wasn’t really a health inspection,” Esmeralda said, opening the door for Adele to see.

“Wow,” said the faery. “Where did they get a Vapor-Blast?”

“I think it was a DestructoBlast. The 4000.”

“Not likely. The coating of bile is as even on the ceiling as it is on the walls. A DestructoBlast could never achieve that kind of uniformity. It practically looks painted.”

Esmeralda, who’d seen the power of the DestructoBlast line for herself at the 3019 Galactic Showcase while working a dunk-the-Earthling tank (which, in retrospect, ought to have alerted her to the extent of the galaxy’s anti-Earth sentiment), was so busy formulating her argument in favor of the superior gun that she almost didn’t hear the squeaky voice calling from the spoon rest.

“Help us! Help us!” it cried.

When Esmeralda picked up the utensil, Ezekiel’s last living fragment hopped onto her hand. It was a single scale the size of an Andromedan dollar coin, copper in color and in possession of strong vocal prowess, though Esmeralda could not see where it kept its mouth, or any of its facial features.

It looked, quite frankly, as though it ought to be decorating a shoe.
“You saved us!” it cried.

Esmeralda looked around the gut-strewn kitchen. “I think it’s just you.”

The scale perched on her shoulder and hopped left, then hopped right, as though searching for its brethren. “Oh, woe!” it screeched. “Oh, what have you done!”

“It wasn’t us,” Adele said. “Who would want to murder an entire kitchen staff?”

Esmeralda, who had not yet sampled the food, felt it might be best to refrain from comment.

“Casino scum!” the scale said. “They’ve been after us since that poker game in the Centauri System.”

Esmeralda, who had to twist her head at an awkward angle to address the shoulder-clinging scale, said, “I see. You owe them money.”

“A token. Maybe a few,” the scale admitted. “But it’s no reason to vaporize us!”

“I told you it was a Vapor-Blast,” Adele said.

Click here to finish the “Ugly Earthling,” and to check out the rest of the tales in Remain Alert: Science Fiction Stories

About Kate Sheeran Swed

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