A harsh and punishin g world.   The remnants of humanity, Synths, and Trunes battle each other and an unforgiving landscape....

Hard Time by Erec Stebbins

Hard Time by Erec Stebbins book covers

A harsh and punishing world. 

The remnants of humanity, Synths, and Trunes battle each other and an unforgiving landscape. Survival is the meaning of life. 

Hard Time is a collection of six SCIFI novellas 
(Metal, Longhorn, Cult, Trune, Synth, and Deity
that form a short series to tell a single story. 


Excerpt from Book 1, “Metal”, Chapter 8: Executioners

The monsters attacked at dusk of the fourth day.
There was no chance to analyze, to understand what kind of creatures could race through sand like water, or would dash for a metal giant lumbering in the desert that housed such a tiny meal.
They’re huge!
The approaching mounds rose to the height of her cockpit.
How did they navigate under the sand, pinpoint her position? Could they smell her? Feel her water in this parched emptiness?

The sand predators gave her no time to consider. She powered up the weapons systems, noting a failure in the left arm missile guidance system. Then the sand exploded.

The mech was battered by a typhoon of black tentacles. Razored snakes clawed and wrapped around the chassis, grating across the composite materials. But as large as the beasts were, their mass was dwarfed by the mech, the warbot’s armor too thick to pierce. They didn’t leave a scratch.
But the cockpit glass was a weak point they could exploit. And entanglement.

Black limbs yanked her mech’s legs, swaying the tank.

Can they trip me?
She wasn’t going to wait to find out.

“Let’s see if you bastards can take a punch.”
She drew her arm back in an exaggerated motion. The right limb of the mech mirrored it, and its metal fist swung with a pivot of the midsection and hammered the black blob of tentacles. The impact tore through the monster’s hide, blood spraying across her window and obscuring sight. A piercing screech ripped through the air, her ears popping. The thing rolled along the ground and thrashed its many arms.
She grabbed floating controls and pulled triggers.
A metal hailstorm erupted from the mech’s hands, powerful rotary cannons unleashing a fury of massive calibre ammunition. The thrashing creature opened like a piñata, organs and bone exploding to wet the shining desert. The beast lay still.
She pivoted the mech. A second tentacled nightmare waited on her right, bullets blasting apart several appendages. The lithe behemoth darted clockwise and behind her field of view.
The mech shuddered and tipped, forcing her to arch her body and plant its feet.

They’re wrapping up the legs.
Were they intelligent? If she were a many-tentacled monster fighting a battle mech, the strategy was obvious: loop the legs, hammer at the unprotected rear plating, keep out of sight of the big guns while doing it.
Is that what they’re doing?
She had to move, center another in her firing port. Swiping a series of floating panes, she spun the footpads in the cockpit a hundred and eighty degrees.
Outside, the head on the mech spun like an owl’s. The arms looped over the shoulders and hands rotated, right becoming left, left becoming right. The feet struggled against the tentacles to rebalance to the flipped orientation.
“There you are.”
Two of the fiends were in front of her now.
“Eat shit.”
She fired. The two darted and split wide.

So fast!

But not fast enough. Each arm tracked a horror, wrists disgorging a vomit of fire and metal. The left arm locked and launched two missiles.
They struck true. One monster burst in blood and flame, severed tentacles flung across the desert surface. Her right arm sawed off several more limbs of the other as it dashed behind her again.
So where is the fourth?
The mech tilted.

There wasn’t time to appreciate the maneuver, its cleverness, or the implications. The thing burst from under the sand beneath her, having tunneled unseen below the mech. It leapt upward against the underside, tipping the vehicle. The wounded one teamed up and slammed into the chassis, accelerating the fall.
She performed a last spin maneuver, turning her face away from the uprising sand to face the darkening sky instead. The restraints kept her in the pilot seat as the machine crashed into the surface. Above she caught the first, faint pixels of stars, blotted out by a hulking mass that smashed into her mech’s chest, tentacles flailing at the glass window.
They understand the materials.
The glass shattered. Its netted composites blossomed like a spiderweb, flakes and shards raining down to coat her in painful gossamer. Blood beaded from nicks in her cheeks and neck. The frame for the window buckled, metal crashing inward.
Her eyes opened to an agony of grit and glass. She smashed her fists together like a berserker in a dojo. Outside, the two mechanical limbs of the mech careened into each side of the beast atop her.

The thing popped like a jam-filled balloon, guts and blood spewing into the cockpit. Heavy flesh thudded around her. She held her breath, the stink impossible, the air a red fog.
Ignoring the tissue blanketing her, she struggled to move her arms and direct the mech. To raise it from its desert bed. One of the beasts still remained. It was wounded. She could still kill it. Still survive. But her mech faltered as it tried to rise, its batteries drained, leaving her vulnerable. No barrier now between the desert radiation. Or the one enemy remaining.
She scanned the readouts. Heat motion to her right. Approaching fast.
No time to think.
She pivoted the right arm from the ground as she armed the missile battery. Even as something heavy and slippery slammed into the mechanical limb, holding it down.
I don’t need to aim at this distance.
She launched. She knew it might kill her, but it didn’t matter now.
The mech exploded. Fire lit the sky around her as the right side of the chassis buckled inward. She felt metal slice her leg and arm.

Darkness fell.

Hard Time by Erec Stebbins cover

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About the Author

Erec Stebbins is a biomedical researcher who writes political and international thrillers, science fiction, narrated storybooks, and more. He was born in the Midwest, his mother a clinical psychologist and his father a professor of Romance languages at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. His father’s specialty, old Romance languages and their literature, is the source of the unusual spelling of his middle name: "Erec." It is an Old French spelling, taken from an Arthurian romance by Chrétien de Troyes written around 1170: Érec et Énide. 

He has pursued diverse interests over the course of his life, including science, music, drama, and writing. His academic path focused on science, and he received a degree in physics from Oberlin College in 1992, and a PhD in biochemistry from Cornell University in 1999. He has worked for several decades studying the structure of biological macromolecules involved in disease.