One of my projects this new year is, well, my writing. Not in the “must write more” category (that’s never-ending), but in the, “stop being shy and pimp my writing” category.
It’s always felt somewhat rude of me to self-promote via twitter, blog, or whatever, despite half my feeds getting this from other writers. Or, more accurately, because of that. I like to tweet/blog about things that actually happen and don’t like to “bother” people with self-pimping. Of course, this is quite likely why even in my new, kindle free countdown deal, I’m on page 11 of 14 in the scifi section despite having five 5-star reviews and one 4-star review. No one’s ever heard of me because I don’t self-promote very often.
With that in mind, here’s the cover (by the awesome Tatiana at Vila Design) and the first two chapters. And don’t worry, I’m not going to be self-pimping every day or anything, that would be rude, but perhaps once or twice a month. I do have two novels and 3 shorts on amazon, after all, and will be published at Dreamspinner Press in the near future. 😀 And here’s the link to download the novel FREE for the next week.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Plonk.
Drip. Drip. Plonk.
For some reason, the rhythm of the leak changed now and again. It was a tiny thing, but noticeable to anyone who might linger in the bowels of the ship for any amount of time. The brand new, three-months-off-the-line, state-of-the-art cruise ship that shouldn’t have any leaks in the first place.
The Connemara had everything a captain, crewmember, or passenger could ever want. She was big enough to fit ten professional-sized, anti-grav football fields, had enough stores to feed a planet for a year, and could almost anticipate what anyone would request based on the personal information entered into her database.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Plonk.
During her shakedown cruise, the Connemara had performed above and beyond expectations. Her captain, an experienced man in his fifties, had nearly wept with joy at how responsive she was, how easily she cut through the solar winds. The crew went about their jobs with the proud posture of those working with the best.
Drip. Drip. Plonk.
It was such a tiny leak.
A tiny, arrhythmic leak that couldn’t possibly affect much of anything.
Rosaria looked up at the massive space cruiser and winced at the extremely colorfully dressed people walking up the gangplank to board the ship. The different shapes and sizes were to be expected on a starliner, but did they have to be so gauche as to all wear every blinding shade of the rainbow?
“What’s the matter, sweetie?”
Glancing at her mother, Rosaria pasted a smile in place and answered, “Nothing, Mom. It’s perfect. We’re going to have tons of fun, thanks!”
Tall and willowy, Josaria Fullerton Serrano flicked long, blonde hair over her shoulders and beamed at her daughter. “You deserve an exciting and special birthday bash, sweetie. I’m sorry your father couldn’t get out of work to see you off.”
Rosaria was as tall as her mother, but not nearly as willowy or graceful, in her envious opinion. She shrugged and said, “It’s okay. He’s still going to meet me when we dock on the return trip, right?”
Her mother nodded. “Of course.”
Rosaria brightened instantly at her best friend’s shriek, turning just in time to get an armful of the shorter woman. Caught up by the bouncy happiness, she giggled and hugged Abby tightly.
“All right, girls, you have fun now,” Josaria said indulgently. “Call me when you get to Alpha Centauri and again before you enter the Fluctuation.”
Rosaria hugged her mom tightly and promised, “We will. Bye!”
“Bye, sweetie! Have fun! Be careful!”
Already striding toward the gangplank, Rosaria waved back at her mother in acknowledgment.
Abby linked their arms together and said, “Oh my God, you won’t believe what Sara told me!”
Rosaria only half-listened to the rapid chatter as they walked up the gangplank and onto the ship. The strangest feeling slithered through her gut, a foreboding of something terribly wrong. Looking up at the giant ‘Welcome!’ sign as she walked under it, she suddenly, desperately, wanted to turn around and rush after her mother.
A pretty, blonde crewmember put a wreath of paper flowers over Rosaria’s head and greeted her. “Welcome aboard, Ms. Serrano! My name is Julie. I’ll be your personal assistant while aboard the Connemara. If you need anything, please let me know.”
Rosaria smiled back at her and said, “Thanks, Julie! This is my friend…”
“Ms. Abby Byrnes,” Julie finished for her, still smiling. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both. May I show you to your quarters? Your luggage arrived and is already there.”
The efficiency wasn’t surprising, given that the cruise was billed as specifically for the elite, aka the obscenely rich. Rosaria had been dealing with obsequiousness her entire life, and had to admit that Julie rode the line of ‘just enough’ very well. She nodded and said, “Lead on.”
Julie motioned them forward and then walked slightly in front to show the way.
The quarters that she and Abby shared were fully as large as those of any hotel suite she’d ever stayed in, and just as luxurious. Plush carpeting, golden accents, and rich, wooden tones offered a warm haven, and she nodded in satisfaction.
“Would you care for a tour of the ship?” Julie offered.
Rosaria looked at Abby, who shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”
They left the rooms and took the lift up to the main deck as Julie explained, “The passenger rooms are all on decks three through ten. Decks eleven and twelve are for engineering purposes and off-limits to guests. Deck two holds the ballrooms, the dining room, and function rooms, as well as the gym and an Olympic-sized pool. And, of course, deck one, where we are now, holds the bridge, the infirmary, and is the main deck. I thought we’d start at the top and work our way down, how does that sound?”
“Oh my God! What’s that?”
Rosaria followed Abby’s pointing finger to find a large, black-furred creature walking quietly behind a crewman, whose hands kept twitching at his side. It looked a lot like a giant cat, and when wide, green eyes turned her way, the image was completed by a broad snout, whiskers, and fangs peeking out from under the black lips. The paws weren’t quite right, though: more like thick, short hands with three, furred fingers and a thumb-like appendage than real paws.
Julie gave them a reassuring smile and said, “That is Ms. Ma’tha’skiyainashtra. Among humans, however, she goes by Martha. Most people can’t pronounce her name adequately.”
“Ma’tha’skiyainashtra,” Rosaria murmured to herself.
It was exotic, just like the female alien, and she liked the sound of it. Just last month her father had gone on about the Kirilisaj’avians and how their world was a massive jungle planet, hot and steamy, populated by intelligent, cat-like people. She’d assumed that he’d meant bipedals with catlike features, but hadn’t bothered to find out more about them.
Intrigued, Rosaria said, “I didn’t know the cruise was allowing alien passengers now.”
Julie nodded and said, “We’re open to passengers of all kinds, Ms. Serrano; we don’t discriminate.”
As long as they can pay the exorbitant prices, Rosaria thought with a faint smile. “Of course.”
Julie started walking again, and Rosaria fell into step behind her, but her gaze flickered over to Martha, who’d just gotten into a lift with her crewman. Jade eyes blinked at her, and the lips pulled back into either a smile or a grimace. Rosaria grinned back at the alien as the lift doors slid shut, and then returned her attention to the tour.
If Martha had a single complaint about being among humans, it was that they kept room temperatures abnormally low. Being such thin-skinned creatures with no fur to moderate external forces, it seemed odd to her that they kept temperatures so low. A little consideration for others with different environmental needs would be nice.
‘Go on the cruise,’ she mimicked her eldest son with a minor grimace. ‘Get to know the humans. Have some fun before taking over the diplomatic position.’ What was I thinking?
She growled out a sigh, which made her crewman jump a little. Rolling her eyes, Martha thought at him, That wasn’t for you, youngling. I’m just a bit annoyed with myself.
The crewman jumped again at the thought projection, but otherwise maintained his composure as he replied aloud, “Your cabin is just down the hall here,” and picked up his pace. His hands continued to twitch nervously at his sides, but that was all he showed physically to indicate his agitation.
Martha snorted to herself, catching his unease without even trying. Humans didn’t seem to know how to contain their emotions or their thoughts. It had been somewhat astonishing to find out that, while they could project to and receive from her kind without any trouble at all, they were completely blind to one another mentally.
Her room was spacious and heated to a temperature that immediately relaxed her, being equivalent to that of her home. Martha smiled broadly at the crewman, who flinched at the sight of her teeth, and thought at him, This is perfect, thank you.
He nodded and stammered, “An-anything you need, please just, ah, call me,” before ducking out as quickly as he could.
Martha shook her head in amusement and walked over to the large window. Earth sat in all its blue glory just below the Moon Dock. Given the barely-there atmosphere of the satellite, it was far easier to launch cruisers from the moon than the Earth. Not to say that ships didn’t fly out from the planet all the time, but those were mostly corporate or military. Personally, Martha thought humans just liked to look at their planet before leaving it for any amount of time. Maybe it filled some kind of primitive urge, to be both among the stars and still close to home.
A pang of homesickness flashed through her, and she wished to see the green and brown shades of her much larger planet and its two moons. In her eyes, Kirilisaj’av was the most beautiful planet; though that, of course, reflected her natural bias.
Shaking off the melancholy before it could take ahold, Martha decided to go back above-decks for the launch. It was a tradition, from what she understood, for everyone to gather on-deck as the cruiser launched from the dock. Paper confetti and fireworks filled the air, even though there were no longer any people on the dock; when the shield retracted to enclose only the Connemara, it left the dock in vacuum.
Martha ignored the gasps and frantic thoughts coming from most of the people she walked by. It really was a shame that her people’s form was so close to that of a natural predator on the human home world. Martha knew that it would take time and education for humans to see the differences between the Kirilisaj’avians and the jaguars of Earth, though to Martha the many differences were obvious.
Kirilisaj’avians were much larger and broader through the shoulders and haunches than jaguars, which were sleeker and smaller. Kirilisaj’avians generally reached between one hundred to one hundred twenty kilograms, depending upon from which region they hailed. Mountain Kirilisaj’avians were heftier, at close to one hundred thirty kilograms, while oceanic Kirilisaj’avians were slighter, barely reaching one hundred kilograms.
Of course, since jaguars were practically extinct and most humans only knew of them through books and the ancient reflex of being prey, Martha overlooked their instinctive reactions with equanimity. Martha did wonder about the girl that she’d seen earlier on–deck. There’d been no sense of fear from her, just a blatant curiosity that had caught Martha’s attention. Hopefully there would be an opportunity to meet her later. It would be nice to converse with someone who didn’t think she would eat them for saying or thinking the wrong thing.
“Coming through! Coming through! Outta the way, c’mon, outta the way!”
Martha leapt aside as a robot rolled past her at a speed that was typically prohibited in a populated area. She caught sight of a gunmetal-gray body with a vaguely humanoid face and illuminated blue dots for eyes before it swerved around a corner.
Well, she thought, bemused. At least I’m not slowing down in my old age or he definitely would have run me over.
Chuckling, Martha continued on her way to the lift.
Full Service Robot #3907665, aka FSR Bob #39, aka Bob, wheeled around the corner on an urgent mission… to reach the store of fireworks before launching in order to Press The Button. He’d been in service for fifty-three years and never before entrusted with such an important mission.
Finally, at long last, someone recognized intelligence and talent!
He sped along the corridors to the freight lift and tapped the call button. And tapped it again. And then stabbed it impatiently, accidentally breaking it by pressing too hard.
Moaning in frustration—a loud, grating noise—Bob opened his wrist plate and pulled out his connectors, pressing them to the sparking lift plate. He jumped and shivered in reaction to the electricity that jolted through the connection, but concentrated on gaining control of the lift. It took a minute, but the stupid thing finally arrived and the doors opened.
That, of course, left him with a big dilemma. If he let go of the connection outside the lift, the doors would close before he could get inside. If he left his hand behind to maintain the connection, he might not be able to work the fireworks’ controls one-handed. Wireless control was tricky for him, and had been ever since his third owner had manually tinkered with his settings. He couldn’t fix it himself, and his last two owners had been corporate, using him solely for labor, so they didn’t care about fixing him.
God, he hated teenagers.
Bob took an unnecessary breath, pulled his connectors out, and jumped for the lift opening. He made it just as the doors closed, but didn’t pull in his foot fast enough. The doors closed around his foot, trapping him just far enough away from the control panel that he couldn’t reach it and, since his foot was metal, didn’t open on their own at the obstruction. They only did that for flesh and blood. Bigots.
Bob grumbled under his unnecessary breath and decided that he could come back for the foot, disconnecting from it and hearing a thump on the other side of the doors as it fell to the floor. Getting to his foot, Bob hopped to the control panel and pressed deck eleven, typing in his access code. The lift hummed back to life and dropped swiftly, reaching deck eleven in ten seconds. The speed tossed Bob back off his foot, the lift not compensating for ‘life signs,’ since he didn’t have any.
He stood again, wheels popping out from the bottom of his foot, and rolled out of the lift at the appropriate angle that would allow him to keep his balance on one leg. Bob sped down the hall, ignoring the various robots he passed on the way. Shrill, derogatory whistles followed him to the control room: the noises of jealousy from lesser robots. He was the one who got to Press The Button this time, and he’d show them all just how smart he was by doing an awesome job and being noticed by the captain.
Reaching the control room, Bob typed in the access code and was immediately… denied entry. His jaw dropped with a creak of metal and he retyped the code, only to be denied again.
Bob spun on his one leg and found Full Service Robot #9908765, aka FSR Greg #99, aka Greg, lounging against the wall. His mortal enemy. The newer model had hated him from the moment that the captain had asked Bob to bring him coffee two months ago. It had been war between them ever since.
Bob’s eye-lights narrowed at Greg and he demanded, “What did you do?”
Greg hummed a tuneless, yet satisfied, noise before saying, “You’re so smart, you figure it out. Have fun not Prrressing The Button. Loserrr,” and wheeling away.
Bob turned back to the control panel. Time was running short. He only had three point two-five minutes to get in and Press The Button. Knowing there wasn’t time for subtlety or legal measures, he ripped off the plating and hooked his connectors into the room controls. Bypassing security took one point four minutes. Disconnecting, entering the room, and finding the right panel took one point six minutes. Sighing in relief, Bob held his finger over The Button and counted down the last twenty-five seconds, his internal clock in lock-step with that of the ship.
At precisely 1830 hours, Bob Pressed The Button.
Evan jumped in fright as a large, nearby panel retracted without warning. He rolled away, heart thudding against his chest at the adrenaline jolt, not knowing what might come out, and hid behind a large crate. Peeking out, he saw what looked like a multi-faceted cannon on a long, metal arm push out from the hole in the wall and rise. It reached another hole on the wall, this one up by the ceiling, and Evan felt a momentary flash of alarm at the view of space, but then relaxed. The shielding was in place or he’d even now be losing his brains out through his ears to the vacuum of space.
High-pitched squeals filled the air, the kind that would nearly puncture human eardrums, and Evan covered his ears. Smoke also filled the air as fireworks shot through the hole to explode outside the ship so brightly that the room was bathed in a rainbow of colors. He couldn’t see the actual fireworks, but Evan gazed happily upon the after-effects, the colors refracting through the smoke to give the blunt, metal hold a dazzling makeover.
The low-level rumbling that he’d felt ever since finding his hiding spot increased in vibration and pitch. Evan let out a relieved sigh now that the ship was underway. He’d made it. After months of planning and scheming, he’d made it into the only civilian ship to willingly enter the Fluctuation in the last fifty years. Plenty of explorers and government ships had gone into the Fluctuation without returning at all. A few had made it back out with tales of the bizarre and impossible, but they were disregarded as deep-space crazy. Barring winning the lottery to buy his own ship, this was the only chance Evan would ever have to get there, to try to find out what had happened to his parents.
Even with a state-of-the-art ship and its state-of-the-art defenses, Evan thought these people were crazy to enter the Fluctuation for fun. Of course, they were all insanely rich, too, and he figured that meant they didn’t much know crazy from sane. They didn’t have to; they could buy their own rules and bend the universe accordingly.
Evan had no such illusion. The part of space that had swallowed up almost a hundred ships since mankind had first traveled the stars would show these people no more mercy than it had to his parents thirteen years ago. The difference, of course, was that Evan accepted the near-certainty that he’d never make it back to normal space. It was worth it to get away from his aunt and uncle and have the chance to track down his parents, if they were still alive. Or of finding out why his tiny, toddler lifepod had escaped, but his parents’ ship hadn’t.
The lights from the fireworks faded at last, and the cannon quietly returned to its place in the wall, both holes sealing simultaneously.
Evan sighed deeply and moved his makeshift bed away from that wall and into an opposite corner on the interior wall of the ship. The only light he now had was from his small lamp, and it wasn’t nearly enough to do more than make a dent in the cavernous darkness of the storage hold.
Lying back down, he stared into the artificial night and whispered, “I’m coming, Mom. I’ll find you both, I swear it.”