|Art by Micah Epstein|
“Angel of the Blockade” by Alex Wells (9444 words)
This is a rather fun story of smuggling and hopeless causes and one pilot just trying to get by and survives until she’s reminded that there are some things worth taking big risks for. Nata is an orphan, blind, and carries something of a chip on her shoulder partly in the form of a Traveler AI that helps guide her through the world. Her policies are straight-forward and survival based—you don’t get rich or alive enough to enjoy being rich if you take hopeless missions, so when a man contacts her to run what seems an easy smuggling run, she jumps at the opportunity, only to find that the situation is anything but ideal and that her ship gets overrun by religious refuges/amateur pirates. Which would be bad enough, only they’re also idealists, and threatening in ways that Nata has been very careful about. And that’s probably what I love most about the story, that it’s about the danger and beauty and power of ideals. Nata spends her live conservatively, not because she’s conservative by any means but because it keeps her safe, and she has some unresolved issued, imo, about the deaths of her parents. She avoids situations where she might be put in a moral dilemma, trying to lean on professionalism and distance to keep herself above or at least detached from the problems of the universe she flies through. When they end up in her lap, she has to deal with finally being vulnerable not to others but to her own desire to do what’s right. It’s a rather classic rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold situation and it works very well, Nata’s avoidance of having to make these choices smart given the powers that be, given the risks that are inherent in being on the wrong side of galactic “justice.” And I love how the story explores that, gets into Nata’s head and under her skin, the invasion of her ship also an invasion of her person. It represents something getting through her defenses to infect her with caring about a lost cause. From there, the story shows how she deals with it and how she begins to drop some of her defenses to maybe let other people in, to start making a home for herself that isn’t just the lonely stretch of space between stations. It’s a fun and resonating story that you should definitely check out!