My #Afrofuture novelette, “El is a Spaceship Melody,” is up on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Inspired by Sun Ra. On a starship powered by jazz music. #blacktothefuture

El is a Spaceship Melody

I. Dare to Knock at the Door of the Cosmos

The living crystals were displeased. The dissonant chords of a harried melody rocked the starship Arkestra. When Captain LeSony’ra Adisa was a young girl dreaming about one day commanding her own vessel, she had never considered it would be filled with so many day-to-day irritations. She sprang from her seat in the main bridge at the sound of the music. She was not one to be tested today.

“Overseer, we aren’t due for a command performance for another three hours.” On the verge of yelling, she opted to save her anger for the person who deserved it.

“Commander Marshall moved the performance ahead.” The timbre of the Overseer’s voice, emanating from the unseen broadcast units, vacillated somewhere between clearly male and clearly female. Its AI was integrated into every fiber along the length of the Arkestra, its calculations vital to monitoring the ship’s systems, including the harnessing energy from the kheprw crystals that powered the ship.

“On whose authority?” The crystals needed to be recharged every few solar days, depending on the mission use, but the next performance wasn’t scheduled until 1400 hours. From the way LeSony’ra felt her last nerve being worked, she knew the answer before Overseer responded.

“His.”

“Of course he did.” She flung her headdress past the twists of the front part of her hair, the flat-ironed portion flaring out behind it.

Their mission was a joint venture between the Thmei Academy, where LeSony’ra headed the largest laboratories, and Outer Spaceways Inc., the private interstellar shuttle conglomeration, so the command structure of the Arkestra was fraught. Captain LeSony’ra Adisa held authority over all things related to the mission above Titan, while Commander Clifford Marshall retained jurisdiction over everything concerning the ship. Issues related to the crew fell into a gray zone. Because of the way Marshall commanded, even holding a lesser rank, he held more sway over the crew.

“Steppers, Chappel, you’re with me.” Cradling a small crystal ball in her hand, LeSony’ra nodded, and the two security officers flanked her. Breastplates covered chrome colored body suits. Each wore a gilded animal mask; Steppers an eagle, the Chappel a dog. They brandished shields, though their charged batons remained at their waist. The trio of women exited the bridge.

Their strident march from the turbo-shuttle to the engineering chamber drew everyone’s attention. Steppers and Chappel positioned themselves inside the doorway of the engine room. LeSony’ra stormed in, annoyed both by the musical cacophony in the room and the fact that the engineering crew had begun the performance without her.

Marshall led the six-person engineering crew. He had the delicate bone structure of a dancer, with his high cheekbones and fine hair. His razor-thin mustache was manicured within inches of its life. Fans billowed the heavy fabric of his shimmering command cloak like a sail in a stiff wind. His saxophone barely skipped a note at LeSony’ra’s entrance.

‘Captain Adisa’ had to be diplomatic; ‘LeSony’ra’ could be petty as hell. And she was all LeSony’ra right now.

She cast a baleful glare in his direction, withdrew opaque citrus-colored glasses, and set the crystal ball on the keyboards at her station, unlocking the vintage Clavioline. Its amplifier fed directly into the kheprw crystals’ containment unit. Her voluminous black caftan whipped about her as she took her seat behind the Clavioline, its iridescent silver overlay interfaced with the keyboards. Her gold chainmail headdress lightly jingled as she began to work the instrument. Her striped platform oxfords—“moon boots” the crew called them, since they were designed for zero gravity situations—found the foot pedals. Marshall used any opportunity to undermine her authority. Always eager to ingratiate himself to the crew, to prove who ought to be in command. He was in need of a reminder of who was in charge. It was time for a true command performance.

Her Clavioline chords strained to find a place in the jumble of sounds. All captains were trained in improvisation, a skillset based on observing, listening, and reacting. No plan, no program, no control; only the interplay of past preparedness and honed intuition. Since she had handpicked the engineering ensemble during her travels, she trusted both their muscle memory and instincts. On her mark, the music reset and the Arkestra‘s crew followed her lead. The bass rumbled in tow. The drums pounded. Marshall’s saxophone pealed in faint protest. A torrent of sound, but once LeSony’ra shifted register, the chaos harmonized. She never told them what to play next. Not the song, not the chord changes, not the key. They just had to keep up, composing and performing at the same time.

The kheprw crystals glowed with approval.

[READ THE REST OF THE NOVELETTE HERE]