N.L. Bates


N.L. Bates is a Canadian author of science fiction, fantasy, and slipstream stories, and is the moderator of the long-running critique group Reading Excuses. When not writing stories, she enjoys biking, dancing, and tabletop RPGs. She also writes and performs music as her alter ego, Natalie Lynn, and filks occasionally, usually by accident.

Short Fiction

A collection of N.L. Bates' short fiction published to date. Click through each title for an excerpt!


Kirin reached for the whistle that hung around her neck. When she blew it, a dark shape appeared in the sky. Kirin heard Natasa's intake of breath.

"Bend your knees," she suggested as the creature hurtled toward them. The force of the heliosaur's landing sent Natasa stumbling back, and Kirin reached out a hand to steady her. "Meet my friend Noble."

Noble was easily three times Kirin's height, even perched on all fours, curious black eyes gazing down at them from the end of a long, swanlike neck. If swans had necks as big around as a person. And that person was a lumberjack.

Variegated wings stretched out from his foreshortened front limbs, almost like a bat's except for the feathers at the edges and tips. His hide was slate grey and leathery, with blue highlights in his feathers and the fleshy wattle under his chin.

"Go ahead," Kirin said to Natasa, who stretched out a tentative hand. Noble extended his neck, snuffling at the Wrecker with a beak as long as Kirin was tall.


It has been a long road, made longer by the string of ruined cities that stretches out behind us.

Some of them, we remember: from our own experiences, or from the engrams of the long-ago Ngisikaa whose memories uplifted us to sentience. Laanjiwe, with its once-impressive seaweed farms. Uungunqi, brimming with clockwork marvels. Juahaki, which used to tower over the continent on great stilts, gleaming in the sun. Others whose names are no longer remembered, not by us, nor the Uchafumlaji or Kuhifadi who have been left to pick through their ruins.

Perhaps other Ngisikaa remember, but so far, we have not been successful in finding others of our species, not since we went back to the ruins of the memory depository in the north. We have only ourself, and the single crystalline fragment of engram core we have managed to salvage. For all we know, we hold in our ten tentacles the last surviving fragment of centuries upon centuries of collected memory.

In this way, the Ngisikaa are no different than the other sentients of Juno. We too are left picking through the ruins of our former glory.

They are, I remind myself, only pirates.

Not monsters, whatever the navy wants us to believe. Not krakens, not Gigas crabs, not sygnaed. Just pirates.

Pirates who have made themselves rich raiding the best-defended fort on Luire's eastern coast yet keep raiding anyway. Pirates who've captured two of the Luirien navy's best warships and sunk a third. Pirates who have also, probably, sunk my entire academic career. (Well, no, Charlene. You did that yourself.) Pirates who have definitely just figured out I'm here.

Here, in the shadowed hold of the Jack of Diamonds, which smells of mold and nutmeg. The meager sunlight filtering through the open hatch feels like an assault. I'm hidden behind some crates, hoping to stay out of sight until I know why the pirates are down in the hold while the ship is still moving. And then the ship pitches beneath my feet and sends both me and the crates flying.

The crates probably wouldn't have caught anyone's attention. But most crates don't yell "fuck!" when they go tumbling to the deck.


I land in a puddle that I try not to think too hard about. That's how the pirate finds me: bruised and soaking in bilge water.


There were plenty of superheroes who could handle your standard foil-the-villain, defeat-the-doomsday-device, save-the-child-from-the-burning-building type situation.

Annalise Warren, glorified garbage collector, wasn't one of them.

True, the garbage she collected for a day job happened to be radioactive. Which was kind of neat, sure. But mostly being immune to radiation meant having to 'out' herself as a super constantly. Like when her dentist asked for an X-ray. Or explaining to her OBGYN that science had yet to discover a way to give her a mammogram.

Still, Anna did enjoy ordinary things. Gardening. Manicures with color-changing nail polish. Deconstructing old toasters into suits of armor. When CAPER's priority ringtone startled her out of her garden on a Saturday afternoon, Anna—more intrigued than annoyed—answered on the first ring. It wasn't like she had plans with her girlfriend. Ex-girlfriend. Pauline. Whatever.

"Code name Radiant," her boss said. "It's Eleanor. I need you for a waste retrieval. I’m afraid it's urgent."

Being the new person on the crew she was supposed to be captaining was a challenge, and Mae's attempts at banter and morale building had gone mostly unacknowledged. She decided to focus on the readouts in front of her instead of Sienna's tone. Most of the new entries were just rock and ice. One had trace amounts of nickel, but not enough to bring them up to quota.

"This one looks interesting." Sienna tapped the screen with an implausibly immaculate nail. "Never seen an asteroid quite like that. Good thing Ayse catalogs literally everything, eh? Whatcha think, Captain?"

"Don't—" Mae's breath caught when she read its official classification: Dwarf planet. "How did we miss a dwarf planet in our solar system?"

The Quorum had a mandate to disseminate information on new extraterrestrial objects so that they could be cataloged and any resources disseminated. New asteroids were discovered all the time, especially out here in the Scattered Disc, but a planetary-mass object in humanity's native solar system should be plastering the airwaves from here all the way back to Earth.

Sienna shrugged. "Q-comm's down, remember? The newsfeeds probably haven't picked it up yet." She eyed the entry appraisingly. "Still, a rock that size has to have something worth mining, right?"