Exclusive Excerpt from Space Mac
by Emma Jane
Dust tickled his nostrils. He sneezed and woke himself up. Mac took a moment to realise he lay on his side in the dirt, that he was not in Martin’s bed, and that usually when you woke up from a dream you actually left the bloody thing. He scrabbled upright, heart pounding, and retreated to the back of the cage—cage, he was in a fucking cage!
Not a dream.
He was naked, again, the red coat gone. But his hands were free and there was fabric on the ground before him that he snatched up and, once he’d worked out where the arm holes were, put on. It was a white, scratchy, trouser-and-top number that made him feel like a criminal.
“I am not made for burlap!” he yelled, hoping someone somewhere was listening to him. “My skin will not take this shit!”
He hugged his arms around his waist and approached the front of the cage. Metal bars on three sides of him; cold stone wall at the back. The sky above was blue, and the sun beat down as if he was in the Sahara. He knew now though that he wasn’t even on Earth anymore. Aliens walked past the cages—he was in a row of them, most occupied—and nobody paid him a blind bit of attention.
A bang on the bars to his left made him jump out of his skin, and reluctantly, he looked over.
“You look kovan,” the creature said. “But you smell like an oosh dog from one of my planet’s moons. Possibly Steplar—the oosh dogs are particularly rancid on Steplar.”
Mac gazed at her. It was female. She had the body of a woman—light blue fabric draped over all the right curves—but her face was more angular, and she had two great, curved horns coming from her head like those of a ram.
“And you look like a goat,” he told her. “A particularly old goat, who’s all haggard and not even good for a curry.”
She grinned at him and leaned against the bars. “I like you, oosh dog. What are you here for?”
Mac scratched the back of his head and moved a bit closer. “To be honest, I’m not really sure. I don’t even know what’s going on or where I am.”
“Ah, you have been at the tonic? Your frame is small. You should drink less.”
“No, I’m not… I’m not drunk. There was this…thing, this pin…” He stopped and stared wide-eyed at the ground. The pin. He’d dropped the fucking pin! It was probably his key to getting home. For fuck’s sake.
“I see. I am Lenara.” She reached with her hand through the bars, her forefinger extended towards him. He wasn’t entirely sure what the gesture meant, but he had the feeling he’d offend her if he ignored it. Mac took hold of her finger and shook it.
“Mackenzie Jones,” he said, too befuddled to think up a lie. “Human, by the way.”
Lenara withdrew her hand and eyed her finger with a bemused smile on her face.
“Human,” she repeated. “I’ve not heard of your species, I am sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. I don’t know what you are either. I don’t know what any of these…people…are. I’m…my planet hasn’t ever really done space travel before. You know. Not to anywhere other than, like, Mars or something. Do you know Mars?”
Lenara shook her head, the horns making the movement slow and heavy. “No. My species, the veneks, are from a planet called Nevka. I do not think any of us have heard of Mars.”
“Nevka. Huh. I thought it’d be Venekasia or Veneksta or something. Although, I guess it’d make more sense if humans were from Humania.” Mac frowned to himself. Then he shook his head and looked at Lenara. “I’m from Earth.”
“Do not know it.”
“No.” Mac sighed. “Look. So, I’m in a heap of shit here, and I have no idea what to do or how to get myself out of it—”
“You want out?”
Mac frowned. The way Lenara said it made him instantly suspicious, as if she were about to do something incredibly dodgy or reckless or dangerous. Or all three.
“Yeah,” he said. “I can’t stay here.”
“Good.” She flashed her teeth at him—like human teeth but wider, flatter. “Then we get out. Little human, you watch and be ready.”
He didn’t really know why she called him ‘little,’ as they were pretty much the same height. She was a touch taller, perhaps, and muscled, but he sure as hell didn’t feel little in comparison. He watched as she moved to the front of her cage, plucked something from between her breasts, and threw it out into the crowd.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then came a clack clack call, like that of a magpie, shortly followed by another from across the way. A large animal sprung up from the crowd and flapped its great wings before descending on whatever it was Lenara had thrown. The other creature, which had echoed the first call, also leapt into the air and launched itself in an attack against the first. They reminded Mac of lizards with wings.
Dinosaurs, he thought, watching as they scrapped over the object, flapping and cawing and biting and clawing. People moved quickly aside, shouting and screaming.
Two guards—or police officers, since they wore the same red uniform as the man who’d arrested Mac—jumped into action, calling for order and waving batons.
Mac, distracted by the commotion, had momentarily forgotten about Lenara until the cages shook. When he looked, she lowered her head and rammed the bars between their two cages again and again until the metal buckled and bent, and she squeezed herself into Mac’s space. Before he could say or do anything, she turned and butted the front of his cage until the bars warped enough for her to squeeze herself through. She reached for his hand and pulled him after her.
“Run now,” she told him. “Follow me.”