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Monthly Short Story Winner: Space Opera

Planet Above by John Harris

“Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare and often romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space. It usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons and other sophisticated technology.” – Wikipedia

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and George Lucas’ Star Wars are all space operas. The term was coined by Wilson Tucker in 1941 and for him this was a “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn”. The mix of a cheap western and a soap opera put into space.

This gave our entrants two interesting options.

On the one hand, they could write a cool and fantastic sci-fi story with space ships, aliens, etc.

On the other hand, they could write a cheesy sci-fi cliché story Wilson Tucker would have detested. 😉

Both were valid options and led to some very entertaining results.


1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Must be recognizable as a space opera.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
5. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That’s why they’re called limits.

This month’s winner was by John Kelly, and is imaginatively (hehe) called “Space Opera”.

Congrats on your win, Jmack!

You can find all our entries here.

And now on with the story!

– – –

“Space Opera”
by John Kelly

I knew my plan was in trouble when I started singing the aria “Nessun Dorma” in Act I, though it doesn’t come until Act III. Not that I could have told the difference until a few hours before I went on stage. Opera? Not exactly my thing. But while the implant was working just fine – I’d been assured this was a recording of the finest young tenor on the planet – I’d left Barscrap in charge of selecting the proper songs at the proper time. On any mission, relying on my gunner for more than hitting a moving target would have been a terrible choice. Unfortunately, it was my only choice.

So when the words nessun, dorma! nessun, dorma! came out of my mouth instead of non piangero, Liu; se in un lontano giorno, and the audience of Clatherites started looking confused.

Crap. And pulled the blaster out of my borrowed costume robes. I’ve been late enough times in my career that being early just once should be allowed.

“Barscrap!” I yelled into my communicator, between shots, “Let’s get this show on the road!” I slapped the control to spin up the anti-grav skates in my boots. “Plan Beta, on my mark.”

The Clatherite president was alone in his personal box as advertised, center of the opera house, about as exposed as you could ever hope for with that paranoid, schizophrenic, homicidal bastard. His bodyguards were rushing to him, crashing through the seated crowd. They must have gotten pretty lax that my semi-brilliant plan was looking like it might succeed.

I’d covered about half the distance, the snatchbox gripped in one hand, when the ceiling exploded. Barscrap. A little early himself.

“No, no, no! On my mark!” is about all I can remember screaming, though maybe the gunner’s name got in there too, along with some mild swearing.

I careened into falling debris. A huge chunk of something slammed my shoulder, throwing me into a dizzying spin through plaster, wiring, ceiling beams, and a million fragments of atmospheric dome. No sooner had all this started to fall, when it began to rise again. A roar of air exiting the breach in the dome was joined by blaring claxons and the screams of a thousand opera-goers all heading for space. Blood-thirsty, piratical opera-goers, but still – you have to admire what some folks will go through to get tickets to the shows they want to see. The Clatherites kidnapped artists; hell, they’d hijacked a whole opera company, which was why the cast of Tosca had been willing to help with my plan.

Captain Rogue Morgan – that’s me – was here to rescue one particular Clatherite captive and get her back to Agreement space. Too bad we had no idea where she was. Nabbing the Clatherite’s president and forcing a trade had seemed like a good idea earlier in the day, and great for my reputation if it worked; but as I started to fall up toward the ruin of the dome, I was having second thoughts.

Then there was the president, tumbling upwards too. I twisted, got a hand on his collar. A guard tried to pull him away; I managed to put a boot in the guy’s face, the anti-grav giving him an instant tan. Mr. President turned out to be a pretty determined old fuck. He scratched and hit like a demon, but I swung my arm around, slapped the snatchbox onto his neck, and that was that. I looked up to see the welcome outline of the Rapscallion’s bay doors wide open above me and a vacuum-suited Barscrap reaching down to pull us in.

I really need to fire the idiot. Right then wasn’t the time to give him the news.

I rolled the president onto the cargo deck as the doors slammed shut. Something was wrong with the left side of my body where I’d been winged by that piece of opera house. Adrenaline was pumping through me, but I could tell there was massive discomfort just waiting to say hello. “Get me a stim shot!” I ordered. “Then rig the Rap for silent running and get us on course for the asteroid.”

Our prisoner started laughing. He was flopped on the deck, all control of his limbs gone, kidnapped by desperate assassins as far as he knew, and he was laughing.

“There’s something wrong, Captain,” said Barscrap, in his usual slow cadence.

“I’ll say there’s something wrong,” I groused. “You hit the wrong recording in Act 1 and then you triggered the blast too early. You could have killed me!”

“It’s gone a little too easy.” He was staring at a monitor of the space around us.

“What?” I started to feel the pain lurking past the shock. “Easy is good! Easy gets us paid.”

“Why isn’t anyone searching for us?”

The question stopped me, and I stared into a display singularly empty of Clatherite ships. Mr. President just laughed harder.

“Get us moving,” I said after a moment. “Then I figure out what the fuck is going on.”

The stim shot got me to medical. The Rapscallion got us to our hide-away in a tunnel our guns had dug in asteroid 8Z11Hc5. Optimistically renamed “the 18th Hole”. Coffee got me ready to interview El Presidente.

He was still laughing, though it was sort of low-key and internal now, mainly in his eyes and a twist of his mouth. He had pretty young-looking eyes for a three-hundred year old nut job. I checked his hands, and they didn’t look like they could be a day over a hundred.

“You’re not him,” I said.

“Decoy, Captain,” said Barscrap, from over in the corner.

“Expendable, Captain,” sighed Mr. Expendable.

“Explains the lazy guards and the easy in and out for my ship.” I rubbed my face with one hand. Wanted to do it with both, but you don’t argue with a med-bot that’s knitting the bones of your favorite arm and shoulder back together.

“What do we do now?” asked Barscrap.

A day later I thought, Well, what worked against us might work for us, right?

It was a good thing that Martin – the decoy actually had a name of his own – hadn’t exactly volunteered for the whole pretend-I’m-a-dictator-so-assassins-will-shoot-me-first detail. He was pretty smart; had all the call signs, passcodes and accesses from before the snatch – which they’d have changed by now – but also the ones they’d most likely changed them to. He had special DNA strips in his mouth and on his fingertips, just loaded with his boss’s little bits of double-helix. I wonder if it ever occurred to the Clatherites that by enlisting a captured actor with way above average intelligence, they’d created themselves a significant problem.

“Now look,” I said to Barscrap, “I’ve entered all the timings into the computer. You drop us here; you plant the charges there, there, and there; you pick us up here. One rescued captive and her daring rescuers, guns blazing, headed for warp, Agreement space just a few hops away. Repeat back to me.”

“Why do we need explosives and guns if they think Martin is their president?” The guy could be positively maddening.

“Are you the gunner or the captain?” I asked through gritted teeth.

She was a dancer, our kidnapped artist. She was also a princess of New Granada and rich, which explains how her family could afford to hire Captain Rogue Morgan’s Galactic Recovery Service.

According to the security computers that Martin was at last able to access for us, she was in apartment 892C in the Bolshoi dome of an “Artist’s Cooperative” on the southern continent.

We went in at night.

Martin got us past the guard ships. Pretty much the whole Clatherite defense apparatus was focused on the executive residence on the northern continent, worried about another attempt on the real Mr. Crazy. Lucky for us, the old coot was known to show up at the strangest times in the oddest places to basically terrify everyone around him. So no one wondered at Martin’s sudden appearance. We landed by the nearest airlock to the Cooperative, dust screaming around the Rap’s retros. Then more security, easily handled, and we were knocking on the door of 892C.

As the portal irised open, I was thinking that Barscrap might have been right about not needing a diversion. Then explosions began to shake the city around us.

Fucking Barscrap. Early again.

After that it was grab the girl, blast our way through the local cops, slide under the escape-proof doors, and run like crazy to the ship’s gangway while my time-challenged gunner waved us in. The princess was laughing through the whole thing. I was glad someone was having a good time.

So there we were, sitting in the galley with steaming coffee, while the Rap hustled toward jump-point.

The princess had pretty old looking hands for a 25-year old. Lots of little lines around the eyes too.

The woman just laughed.

– – –

Congratulations again to John Kelly! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information.

Happy Writing!

Title image by John Harris.


One Comment

  1. Avatar Davieboy says:

    Fine writing, well done John Kelly!

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