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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Willful Child: The Search for Spark

Willful Child (Volume 3)

Steven Erikson

Tor Books



Deeply in the deepest depths of deep space …

Captain Tiberius Alex Razorback stepped onto the bridge of the Wanton Child. Lights blinked, components hummed and clicked, lenses flared, and something beeped a slow, massively irritating pulse. He paused for a moment, scanning his bridge crew at their stations. Still seated in his command chair was his 2IC, Comely DeCliche, only her unregulation mane of wavy red hair visible from where he stood by the lift entrance. At least, he assumed it was her hair. Otherwise she was on fire, although as far as ex-wives were concerned, the notion wasn’t as alarming as perhaps it should be.

Well, that was probably stretching it. Tiberius was just standing there, still surveying his shiny new crew on this, his shiny new ship he wasn’t even qualified to command, being just a normal friendly kind of guy, somewhat nerdy, in fact, thus satisfying all the nerdy wish-fulfillment fantasies of an entire generation of bored wannabes who still haven’t equated the stunning realization of their wildest fantasies with, uhm, hard work. But hey, a surefire selling point these days.

There was the android at the science station, the Blob-thing at comms, the laconic drunk at helm—

“Hold the fuck on here!” Hadrian slammed his fist on the padded arm of his chair. “I’ve been stolen! No, worse! Rebooted! Sticks! Get this crap off the main screen!”

“Yes sir!” Then she swung round in her seat. “But like, it’s awesome, sir! Well, maybe, I mean. It’s only the trailer, after all.”

“Fuck me, even rip-offs are getting ripped off these days. Hey, Comms—who are you by the way?”

The man stood at his station and saluted. “Ensign Scalzi, sir.”

“Scalzi, you’re looking a bit sickly.”

“Yes sir. Permission to temporarily leave the bridge, sir?”


“I want to beat my head against a wall, sir.”

“Understood. You and me both, Scalzi. Tell you what, take the rest of your shift off and get Eden back up here.”

“Yes sir, thank you, sir.”

“Well,” Hadrian said after the ensign had left, “that’s a crappy start to the day. Tammy!”

“Oh here we go,” the ubiquitous AI muttered from a speaker, “I sense the beginning of another set of nasty, hair-raising adventures.”

“Nasty with big sharp fangs, Tammy.”

“Fine. So what are we eviscerating today?”

“A diplomatic incident at the Kittymeow Accords requires our immediate attention. Helm, set a course for the Kittymeow System.”

“Yes sir! Uh, like, where is the Kittymeow System?”

“Nowhere near the Litter Nebula, that’s for sure,” Hadrian replied. “Check the Neutrality Zone between us and Radulak space.”

“Yes sir. Got it! Wow, it was, like, right there.

“What kind of incident?” Tammy asked. “I’ve been monitoring communications and it sounds as if the Peace Talks are going swimmingly.”

“Of course they are. We haven’t arrived yet, have we? The incident is imminent, I’m sure.” Hadrian activated his personal comms. “Engineering! Buck! Fire up the T-Drive. Time’s come to rip some holes in the fabric of the universe for our convenience. And remember everyone, no wayward thoughts while in T-Space. Especially don’t think about giant zombie snot monsters wearing bikinis. Oh, and do I see an unoccupied chair at astrogation? Where’s Beta?”

“She crashed again, sir,” said Jocelyn Sticks. “It was like, oh! People don’t wear underwear like that at all, and then crash! I was just sitting here, right, and then it was like what’s she wearing on her head and where did those stains come from since she’s a robot and then it was, oh, those aren’t hers at all! So who was wearing—”

“Thank you, Sticks, you can stop now. Ensign Spark, assume the astrogation station please.”

“Astrogation! Assume what, Haddie?”

“Assume that it needs you, Spark.”

“Astrogation needs me! Someone needs me! Happy! Run in circles! Can I sit in the chair? I can sit in the chair! Oh look at me! Sitting in the chair! What’s this button do?”

Everything pitched sideways.

“Spark! Stop playing with the Sideways Pitch toggle, will you?”

“Astrogation is challenging!”

The Sideways Pitch eventually settled back into the standard ecliptic plane despite Spark’s best efforts, just in time for Commander Sin-Dour to arrive on the bridge and take station beside Hadrian. “Captain, I’ve been reviewing the status of the Kittymeow Accords as instructed. One presumes the urgency relates to the Affiliation’s present economic woes at least from our point of view. But I still can’t parse the motivations of the Radulak.”

“No one can parse the motivations of the Radulak. Tammy, cut the ominous crescendo please. I was only pausing for breath.”

“I have decided that a musical score is required for all missions from now on, Hadrian, and no, you can’t stop me. Now for some muted strings while you blather on.”

Hadrian sighed. “Fine, whatever.” He glanced up at Sin-Dour and paused. “You’ve done something to your hair.”

“I rather wished you wouldn’t notice, sir.”

“Well, I mean … dreads, huh? Isn’t that cultural appropriation? Unless you’ve turned Rasta on me, that is, and even then—oh crap, I get so confused, and why should there even be an Affiliation Directive about all this? I mean, isn’t it what cultures do? Appropriate? Haven’t they been appropriating since Day One?”

“I believe it’s something to do with political imbalance of power, sir,” Sin-Dour replied. “In any case, these aren’t dreads. These are what happens when the Multiphasic Follicle Dehydrator goes on the fritz. I nearly electrocuted myself.”

“The hair dryer was invented by a bald guy,” Hadrian said. “What’s all that about, I wonder?”

“Aesthetic appreciation without the agro,” Sin-Dour mused.

“Hmm. Where was I? Oh, right, the Radulak—”

“Finally noticed the damned strings, have you?” Tammy snapped. “The poor violinists were dying in here!”

“Oh a little extended vibrato won’t kill them, Tammy. Now. The Radulak. Right, well. My guess is that their war with the Ecktapalow isn’t going well, and in the meantime things have been heating up between us and them, ever since Tammy here forced us into Radulak space thus triggering the events so eloquently described in my impending memoirs. Namely, my kicking their butts and taking out three of their battleships—”

“Too long, didn’t listen,” Tammy cut in. “The violinists are now officially dead.”

“I wasn’t even talking to you, Tammy,” Hadrian pointed out. “This bit of exposition was for my commander here—”

“I don’t care. It was still too long. Doesn’t bode well for your memoirs either, which I never plan on reading, by the way. Nice cover, though. If a bit generic.”

“Everyone’s a critic these days. Fine then, Tammy, go write your own memoirs—”

“I just did. My quantum-crunched tronotronic interphased interface made it a snap. None of that dull typing rubbish for me—you know, I never knew being a writer was so easy. Allow me to quote from Page One: Ahem … here we go. Page One, Paragraph One: In the beginning there was Tammy who said Call me Wynette Tammy and it was the best and worst time for everything that came easy to him. Great Gabby he cried and finally everyone was equal and their was more as your wanting to know if its honestly.… Hmm, something seems to be wrong with my neutratronic discriminator as it applies to my own genius—”

“No kidding,” Hadrian observed. “Funny how that happens, huh?” He tapped his comms. “Buck! Drop us into T-Space!” He stood to survey his bridge crew, scowled at the sudden close-up of his face on the main viewer. “We have been summoned to the Kittymeow Accords at the express wish of none other than Radulak Fleet-Master Bill-Burt, since it would appear that my martial prowess has earned a certain measure of respect from our erstwhile enemy. Despite frenzied attempts by Admiral Prim to convince the fleet-master otherwise, I shall be the principal negotiator for this peace treaty—”

“Aren’t you done yet?” Tammy asked. “I mean—”

They dropped into T-Space. Jocelyn Sticks shrieked and pointed at the main viewer. “Eeek! A giant zombie snot monster wearing a bikini!”

“Galk!” Hadrian shouted. “All weapons freed and unleashed!”

“On what, sir?”

“Well, I would suggest the giant zombie snot monster directly ahead.”

“The one in the bikini?”

“Yes, that one.”

“Target acquired. Ordnance launched … giant zombie snot monster destroyed, sir. At least, the bikini-wearing one, that is.”

“All right,” Hadrian growled, “who’s the sickie undressing giant zombie snot monsters?”

No one spoke.

“All right,” Hadrian concluded. “I guess that was me.”

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Erikson