The Calamity Disaster
There’s only one thing reality show producer Callie hates more than cameras: her terrible, beautiful camerawoman. When Callie’s show goes awry and her starship crashes, she learns that her entire life’s been scripted—and the aliens that did it also killed her father.
Callie is determined to survive. When she defeats the Real Housewives From the Planet Next Door, accidentally creating the best episode of reality TV the galaxy has ever seen, she is invited to the Ratings War: a Hunger Games for reality stars—where the loser’s planet is destroyed.
Now she must defeat the aliens who run the Ratings War, who even now manipulate every reality show in the galaxy via their pernicious mind control. To beat them, she’ll have to team up with her worst enemy—her camerawoman—and finally face the dreadful cameras before the aliens take Earth off the air for good.
EXCERPT This is the cold open.
In space, everyone can hear you scream.
Especially when we have cameras on you. Your scream gets piped through subspace at post-lightspeed, reformulated on at least thirty-two planets, beamed across the airwaves, and plopped onto holoscreens or handhelds or plain old-fashioned retinaplants or goggles by the millions. It’s even translated into Goorish, or Mitzelsplainian, or Shin’shau, or my personal favorite: Irish.
God, you should hear your scream in Irish.
Well, not you. The royal you, by which I generally mean the hot, not-too-bothered-with-talent, properly grizzled and perfectly coiffed crew of my current assignment.
Welcome to the USS Butterfly.
Who am I? I’m glad you asked. But I’m not the one sitting for this testimonial. I’m not even the one in charge.
“The Forvians saw us coming,” Doctor Bentley Brusher was saying, brushing a lock of curly blonde hair back delicately. “So that ion blast to the starboard hull? Yeah, that took out a good hundred of the crew. It’s a good thing I’m a miracle worker.” She flashed a smile to the camera.
I checked my notes. There had been a hundred injuries, not deaths. I opened my mouth to say something, but Doctor Brusher was already continuing.
“But the captain had an ace up his sleeve,” she said. “You know how he always likes to formulize mint tea? Never could stand the stuff, myself. Always preferred Earl Grey. Anyway, he turns to me, and—no joke—he says: ‘Brusher, leave the tea in my ready room.’ Which was, of course, code for sex.”
Diz glanced at me from behind the camera, rolling her eyes. The doctor was still rambling on, something about how the captain had deftly ridden the blastwave from the ion cannons, sweeping behind the Forvians and catching them unprepared. Then he’d ridden the doctor, in a scene our cameras had unfortunately caught but our producer had immediately vetoed.
We’d have to edit all this out later.
“Well, that was useless,” Diz said after the doctor had finally left. “You coming to the mess hall, Cal?”
I hated when she called me that. “Callie. And no. Actually, neither are you. We’re supposed to get some B-roll from the bridge. An establishing shot, too.” I checked my notes.
Diz sighed all too loudly, glaring at me and grabbing her gear. “Fine. But let’s make it fast.”
I tried to glare my hardest back, but had to drop my gaze before it really took effect. Damn Diz. Maybe next time I’d succeed.
I tried not to look at her ass as she walked out ahead of me.
The bridge was done up in golds and blues, typical for an Ender Class starship, although they’d maybe put a bit more extra work into the lighting. We had to hit the cameras with lens flares as much as possible, of course—it was central to the whole experience. I motioned for Diz to do her standard opening shot, twirling one finger in the air.
She got the idea.
Captain Deckard Shane walked out onto the bridge as if on cue—which he was—brilliant, perfect teeth reflecting the white lights in the corners of the room. Diz’s camera flew up into the air, doing a perfect circle around him as he strode toward the captain’s chair. I checked my handheld, watching the shot. He was beautiful, the camera perfectly capturing his square chin, the flinty sparkle of his bright blue eyes, the way his navy uniform clung to his perfectly sculpted body, the set of his jaw as he stood there and surveyed the crew. The camera finished rotating, coming to rest on his beautifully lit face. No lens flares. Okay, just one. Maybe two.
I blushed, took a breath, and tried to stop staring.
Diz was glaring at me again.
“Ensign,” Captain Shane said, “set a course for Tavo V, maximum speed.”
The ensign, a twenty-something by the name of Kelly Pow, smiled brightly at the captain. “Course laid in, sir.” She was a bit overeager, if you asked me. And her uniform was far too tight.
I tried not to stare.
The captain turned, Diz’s camera following him perfectly. It even picked up a new lens flare. Nice.
“We’ve just received word from Command,” Shane said. “They’ve picked up a distress call originating from right outside of Tavo V. It’s a Star Corps ship, and the timestamp indicates that they’ve been there for over a month.”
“Why haven’t we caught the signal before?”
It was First Officer Stryker, all bearded chin and chiseled chest. Stryker Hotly. I was reasonably sure that was a stage name.
Captain Deckard Shane turned to him. “It was masked by interference from the Aganomnon Nebula. Star Corps only just managed to pick it up as Tavo V shifted in its orbit.”
“So the ship is in orbit around the planet?” Stryker’s chest swelled as he spoke.
“Unclear. In any case, our orders are to—”
The bridge rocked with a sudden blast, sending me nearly off my feet. Diz’s camera went off course, veering toward navigation and getting a quick upskirt on the overeager ensign Kelly. I wasn’t sure if Diz had done that on purpose. Her camera was always doing things like that.
“Report!” Shane said, but another blast hit the ship, sparks flying from the navigation desk. I fell this time, my knee hitting the minimally carpeted floor rather hard.
“It’s the Forvians!” Security Officer Jenna Storm said, rapidly tapping at her console. “They’ve brought reinforcements!”
“Red alert!” Captain Shane shouted.
I checked my handheld, stumbling to my feet. We had three static cameras in the room, plus Diz’s, and now my producer was in my ear.
“Mark! Tambika! I need more cameras on the bridge!”
Burnett sounded furious.
I imagined the other camera operators running as fast as their little legs could take them, careening down passageways and dodging past the crew. For now, I was the only producer here. Third production assistant, to be precise, but hey. At least production was in my name.
I had finally found myself an opportunity.
“Diz!” I shouted as the bridge buckled yet again. Flames burst out behind the captain’s chair. Why was the bridge so prone to visual failure? “Let’s get a testimonial!” I could barely keep my feet.
“What, now?” Diz shouted at me, but I nodded, pointing at the captain.
She zoomed the camera in.
“Captain,” I said, hearing a slight quiver in my voice, “can you tell us what’s going through your head?”
There was a loud zap, an explosion in the distance, and the viewscreen at the front of the bridge changed to show a massive Forvian warship bearing down on us, ion cannons blazing. It was scary, but I didn’t think to be afraid for my life just yet.
I had a job to do.
Captain Deckard Shane smiled, perfect teeth glistening, lights hitting his face just beautifully. He beamed his blue eyes right into the camera, all else forgotten.
For a moment, he was mine.
“Our first course of action must be to contain the threat,” he said. “And, of course, evade total destruction by the enemy’s hand.” His smile was gratuitous. “The Forvians always have been a bit of a problem.”
“So you’re calm?” I asked. I didn’t think he even knew who I was.
“Calm as a daisy in a grassfield,” he said, and in that small, strange moment I remembered my father. He had used to say that very thing. But I shook my head to avoid the memory, stumbling as yet another blast hit the ship.
“Are we going to actually make it out of this?”
But the captain was already elsewhere, directing his crew to push this, to switch that, to maneuver using algorithm Evasive Alpha Seven, which was undoubtedly something they had all learned in Star Academy. It was impressive. It was effective. All I could do was watch the viewscreen as the Butterfly shot its slipstream lasers, bright lights permeating the hull of the Forvian ship. There was a bunch of technospeak that the cameras perfectly caught, and then it was over. The Forvians were destroyed, their ship erupting in a burst of inexplicable flames, and they were gone. We were safe.
Captain Deckard Shane had saved us once again.
His jaw was a jutting smile as he hit cameras two and three, then Diz’s, then the fourth one in the wall, then walked with a perfectly perfected swagger toward his ready room. “Have Brusher bring my tea,” he said, as the other crew members straightened their blue jumpsuits.
That was when Mark and Tambika finally arrived.
“Did you get it?” Burnett howled in my earpiece. “Did you get good coverage? Orion, I can’t believe it was you on the bridge.”
I sighed, but didn’t turn my communicator on just yet. It was always like this. I was always the last pick. But instead of responding to Burnett, I approached Diz. I even managed to look her in the face.
“Nice job,” I said. “Your shots looked good.”
It grated me to say it. She had never treated me well, even back when we were in school. She didn’t deserve my compliments now.
“Thanks, Cal,” she said, swinging her pouch across her shoulder. The camera zoomed smoothly into her hand, and she mouthed me a kiss. “See you in the mess?”
“Fine,” I said, turning away. I couldn’t look at her anymore. “And it’s Callie.”
I know what you’re thinking. Wait.
I turned to camera three.
I know what you’re thinking. All this reality show nonsense is bullshit, right? Even if Space Dogs is the most popular show on thirty-two planets, does that make it good? Is it art? Does anybody care if the advertising money rolls in? Right. I get it.
I turned to camera two.
See, I always wanted to be a starship captain. Doesn’t everybody? My father got the closest, but even he was only next in line. Me? I was destined for poorer things. Like third assistant PA for the stupidest reality show that ever graced the airwaves.
But enough backstory.
I left the cameras, heading for the mess hall, where I was sure that Diz and the rest of the crew were waiting. But I wasn’t hungry, strangely. Maybe that action had been too much for me. I’d never actually been on a bridge during a firefight, after all. I suddenly realized just how jittery I was.
Motion distracted me as I trudged down deck twelve aft. A dark room was there, its door inexplicably open to the ship, with whirling lights and shapes inside. It was an edit bay.
I stepped inside.
Burnett was there, face stark against the glowing glass. “What do you want?”
He didn’t shout, but I imagined it as such, and I cringed before such force. I managed to lift my head, gathering some semblance of wit, and clenched my teeth and said, “How did the coverage look?”
He relaxed, shifting backward in his chair. “Better than expected. Your camerawoman—Diz, is it?—is actually quite good.”
I glanced at his screens, which were showing various angles on the action with the Forvians. The explosions popped, the fire bright, the expressions on the nearly-wounded crew members sufficiently dramatic. It would play well, I knew. This would be an episode to remember.
I wondered how the Forvians were taking their defeat.
“Looks good,” I said, turning to leave.
“Thank you,” Burnett said, clutching my arm suddenly. His fingers were like a vice.
I turned to look at him, but before I could I saw something else on the screens. Camera three had caught it, text on the Security Officer’s console. I skimmed the words, not sure if I could believe what I was seeing.
FORVIAN SIMULATION X7 TO COORDINATES 197.32.42763
REACT FOR 5 SECONDS
FIRE SLIPSTREAM LASERS
REACT FOR 3 SECONDS
No. It couldn’t be.
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s a script,” Burnett said, not even bothering to look at me. When he finally did, he obviously saw the shock on my face. It didn’t take him long to burst out laughing. “What? Did you think any of this was actually real?”
This excerpt contains:
- Strong language
- Sexual content