Thursday, October 28, 2010

Friday Fiction for October 29, 2010

It’s Friday Fiction time again, and Christina Banks is hosting this week over at With Pen in Hand. You’ll find the Linky tool there, with its wondrous list of reading material for your enlightenment and pleasure.

This is the final Friday before the start of NaNoWriMo, and this week I can’t post the prologue to my fifth WriMo novel yet, as I can’t start writing it until Monday. Instead, I’m sharing a sketch story I did to play around with three of the characters. This story establishes the “working relationship” between the three Voidship Technicians, and helps me get a better handle on these characters. This episode won’t appear in the Erikson Exigency, even though it would be nice to get a 1500 word headstart.

Erikson Reception

Violet Versak watched the Galileo recede in the distance. The old voidship – now part museum and part training facility – had been her home for six months, and her feelings were mixed as she left it behind. She was happy to be finished with her training, and ready to move on to actual duty aboard the CV Erikson, but there had been a charm to the old vessel, and she was going to miss her fellow trainees.

The hopper rolled, shifting the view through the window from the Galileo to the lunar surface below. With the vehicle controlled from a central tracking system in Earthrise City, the only thing for Violet to do was hang in the seat restraints and watch the scenery.

Passing over the lunar city of Frontier’s Gate, the hopper reached the lowest point of its arc and began to regain altitude. Erikson remained in synchronous orbit above Earthrise, and barren lunar surface appeared below as the small craft closed to distance. This soon gave way to outbuildings, before the main city of the Moon filled the view.

“Approaching CV Erikson,” the computerized voice of the hopper announced.

Violet stretched to look out the other window, and caught her first look at the colony vessel. Though still several kilometers away, the Erikson stood out clearly against the dark background of space. At this same distance, the Galileo would have been barely more than a bright speck – an exceptionally bright star standing out in a field of stars.

It was difficult to believe the first manned expedition to another star had been accomplished on a vessel the size of Galileo. The three hundred meter long voidship had traveled the four light years to Centauri Proxima and back, carrying a small lander craft and minimal crew. Erikson, on the other hand, measured just over two kilometers in length, and would carry hundreds of colonists and the equipment to convert a world into a livable habitat.

A pair of cargo boosters positioned one of the drop canisters into place on Erikson’s central beam. Several of the canisters were already secured to the ship, and from their size, Violet surmised they contained the atmospheric conversion units which would extract nitrogen and oxygen from the available sources in the system, releasing the gasses in the proper proportion for human respiration.

The hopper flipped end for end, and decelerated as it approached the docking collar on the starboard side of the forward superstructure. The diminutive size of the hopper only seemed accentuated by the huge voidship, and Violet marveled at what she would be taking care of for the next ten to twelve years of her life.

At least, as much of those years as she was required to be awake. With two other voidship technicians aboard, they would rotate duty cycles, and spend the rest of the time in SusAn sleep.

A gentle thunk signaled her arrival, followed by the hiss of the empty space between the two locks filling with air. “Docking complete,” the hopper said. “Restraints are unlocked. You may depart now.”

She slipped the restraints from her shoulders and legs, and floated free in the limited space. With the practiced ease developed over her previous six months in training, she moved through the open hatch and into Erikson’s outer airlock.

“Identifying,” Erikson said. “Violet Versak, Journeyman Voidship Technician. Duty berth, one-seventeen delta. SusAn chamber six dash kilo forty two. Technician Versak, please follow green indicators to preliminary duty briefing.” The inner hatch opened, and sequencing green lights flashed ahead down the corridor.

“Acknowledged,” she said, and propelled herself down the corridor.

Nearly a hundred meters down the corridor, the lights indicated a turn, and she pivoted to face the direction she needed to go. At the corner, she grabbed hold of the handle on the wall with both hands, and tucked her legs up. In the “cannonball” position, she flipped around the corner and held on. Once she was sure of what was ahead, she put her feet on another handle, and pushed off.

The lights led her to an equipment compartment, and she stopped just inside the room. “Hello?” she called.

An older man looked from behind a console. “Oh. You’re here. I expected you to take longer to get from the hopper to here. Hang on,” he said. He vanished behind the console again for several minutes, and then floated out to look at her. He let out a sigh, and shook his head. “You’re worse than I imagined.”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t take it personal,” he said. “I told the execs we didn’t need a third tech, but they sent you anyway. I had hoped at least for one with enough body bulk to handle some heavy tasks, but obviously you weren’t picked for your strength.”

“Who are you?” she asked.

“They didn’t brief you at all, did they? I’m Senior Voidship Technician Lionel Brunfeld, and you work for me now. You might have had some illusion of working for the Voidship Commander, but you can forget that. The business of keeping the Erikson in prime condition is mine. I interface with the Commander, and you interface with me.”


“I know who you are – you’re the technician we don’t need but got anyway, so let me tell you how things are going to be for this mission. I’m the Senior Technician, and I’ve been working with Master Technician Rich Smythe for years. We make a good team, and we’ve been helping prep Erikson for departure for months now. We don’t have time to hold your hand while you learn the intricacies of this vessel, so you’re going to get all the grunt work. If we have to put up with you, at least you’re going to free us from the brainless jobs, so that we can concentrate on the important ones. If you keep your mouth shut and do your work without complaint, we’ll get along well enough to survive this mission, and you can take your pay when we get back, and do whatever it is you came on this mission to enable you to do.” He turned towards the back of the compartment. “Rich,” he called. “The scrub is here. Show her what to get started on, okay?”

“Sure thing,” the reply came from somewhere behind the equipment.

“Rich is back there,” Lionel said. “He’ll tell you what you need to do. By the way, if you haven’t guessed, you answer to him, too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” He disappeared back behind the console without further courtesy.

She made her way to the back of the compartment, where a younger man hovered over an electronics drawer. “Hello,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. “I have a circuit here that’s giving intermittent errors.”

“Do you want me to troubleshoot the circuit?”

“No, that’s my job. I want you to go to spares storage, and bring back a forty-twenty-two, ninety-one-fifty-five alpha assembly. Think you can handle that, or do we need to get a remote to babysit you?”

“I don’t know what I did, but why do you both have such a problem with me?”

He scowled at her. “Lionel told you; we told the execs we didn’t need a third tech, but then we were informed we were getting one anyway, and then we were told the tech was a woman. I don’t know if you padded some exec’s bed to get this assignment, or just led one to believe you would, but we don’t appreciate having unnecessary crew forced on us because some exec thought you were pretty.”

“I didn’t get this job by flirting my way into it,” she said. “I studied and worked, and had to do better than a lot of other candidates to get here.”

“Yeah, right,” he sneered. “I haven’t met a woman yet that didn’t think breasts and behind were their magic ticket to getting whatever they wanted from a man. You’re here, despite not being wanted or needed, which means some exec ignored the opinion of those more knowledgeable about this vessel, and sent you anyway. That means he had a reason to contradict the Senior Tech, and to obligate the expenditure of the pay you’ll receive for this mission. That’s a lot of credits, and the Corporation doesn’t just throw it around for no reason.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“I don’t need to, and what’s more, I don’t want to. Now, either go get the part, or admit you’re already over your head, and I’ll get a remote in here to hold your little hand while you try and do what you’re told.”

She left the compartment, and prompted the ship for directions to the spares storage. Is it too late to request a different assignment? She wondered. No. I won’t give them the satisfaction.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Friday Fiction for October 22, 2010

Karlene is hosting Friday Fiction this week on her blog, Homespun Expressions. Be sure you pop over there, and let her know how much you appreciate all the work she does for this (and for her writing).

The Faithwriters Weekly Challenge Topic for June 4, 2009 was “Empty and Full.” I submitted a short story titled, “Exiled With a Fool,” which dealt with the idea of lab-grown humans, programmed to the buyer’s request. I followed shortly thereafter with a Friday Fiction piece titled, “The Requisition,” and the idea for my NaNoWriMo 2009 novel, “Empty Threats,” was born. This was my tenth completed novel, and the fourth story in the Eridanus/Archipelago series.



The remotes loaded the last of the containers into the cargo hold, moving out of the way before the vessel secured each in the proper location for optimal balance. From his position in the pilot’s seat, Peri felt each action through the cybernetic interface with Stardreamer. The manifest of ferl fruit and medicinal salve bound for Alsafi would be preserved by a modified SusAn field, and despite the time it would take to traverse over twenty-four light years of space, the produce would arrive as though it had just been harvested.

Com-link instructions to other vessels, both orbital and planetary, entered his hearing through the same sensory link. The communications were exclusively in English, which still seemed odd to him considering the official language of the planet was Qi’le. Even after all the years that the Terran Archipelago had been carrying on business on the world, they still refused to call it by anything but Epsilon Eridanus.

When the load was fully secured, and the total mass calculated into the flight profile, Peri closed the loading hatch and initiated seal integrity checks. Next came the final self-tests on the orbital drive and the preliminary checks on the plateau drive, though most of the ship verification was transmitted as sensation into his body. If something was wrong, he would feel pain or discomfort.

It was well into afternoon when he was finally ready for departure. “Temple City Control, this is Stardreamer requesting departure clearance for Eridani orbit,” he said through the com-link.

Stardreamer, you have departure clearance on vector two-seventy point five. Current conditions mandate noise abatement measures until fifteen kilometers AGL.”

“Affirmative.” Stardreamer lifted from the tarmac and pivoted towards the instructed vector. The orbital drive pulsed up, propelling her both forward and upward, using less than thirty percent of the potential thrust of the drive, in keeping with the noise abatement requirements. The heavily forested highlands favored by the local population soon gave way to coastal desert, and then ocean as he climbed through eight kilometers of altitude.

The mainland, with the cities and villages concerned with noise, were far behind him as he crossed the fifteen kilometer threshold. He increased the thrust to sixty percent and pulled into a steeper climb, easily maintaining escape velocity through the thinning atmosphere.

The sky around him turned to black at the edge of space, and he continued to climb until he reached the nominal orbital altitude for trans-stellar departure. He leveled off, and brought the orbital drive down to idle.

With the void insulating the world beneath from the possible effects, he performed the final checks on the plateau drive, and finished the calculations for the journey to Alsafi. “Puerta del Cielo control, this is Stardreamer, requesting clearance on filed plan for Sigma Draconis.”

Stardreamer, you have clearance for departure in three orbits.”

“Affirmative,” he replied. He prepared a final message for transmission back to the Temple City, which would be relayed to the village of T’Cha where his family still lived. His regrets for not visiting while on planetfall were spoken in Qi’le, and would elicit some grumbling from the Terran workers in the com-link system, but probably not as much as they would receive from his grandmother.

He wished he could tell her the truth – that it was just too much for him to see how much older she had become each time he returned from a manifest. Even at the speeds the plateau drive could take him, he would spend years crossing the void, preserved by the SusAn field. Life continued in T’Cha, while he remained nearly frozen in time.

As the plateau drive started his acceleration away from the world of his birth, he weighed the sensations of being one with Stardreamer against the costs of being a rover, and once again decided he wouldn’t trade his life for the world.

Any world.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Friday Fiction for October 15, 2010

Friday Fiction finds it home this week on Karlene’s Homespun Expressions, where you’ll find the Linky tool enjoying a relaxing weekend, pointing us to the other great submissions.

NaNoWriMo 2008 became an exercise in a different kind of story for me. While both “The Daedalus Child” and “Lana’s Pack” were Pod spin-offs, “Precocious by Design” was a standalone story, and something of a sci-fi twist on a crime drama. I have since reworked the Prologue two or three times, and this latest revision is the shortest yet. As such, to keep this Friday Fiction entry from being much too brief, I’ve included a portion of Chapter 1 to help establish the flavor of the story. While one of the darkest stories I’ve ever written, “Precocious by Design” also ended up with some of the most blatantly Christian content of any of my books.


Friday evening

The commuter train pulled to a stop at the Tibbington Street station, its last stop in the city of Sunny Grove on its nightly journey out of Los Angeles. The disembarking passengers were mostly a mix of office workers and students returning home, and they ambled from the platform to either the parking lot or the bus benches for the next leg of their trips.

A young girl exited the train, carrying a small backpack in one arm, and a baby doll in the other. Her long, brunette hair was held back by a pair of barrettes which matched her pale blue dress. She went and stood near the vending machines, waiting while the other passengers hurried on to their destinations.

When the platform was mostly deserted, a man walked up to her. “Well, hello,” he said.

“Hi,” she said, and smiled. “Are you Gary?”

“Yes,” he replied. “I’m Gary.”

“Oh, good. When I got off the train and didn’t see you, I was afraid I might be stuck here for a while.” She made an eager hop. “I wanna go someplace fun tonight. Are you gonna take me someplace fun?”

“Of course,” he said, and extended a hand to her. “I think we’re going to have a very good time tonight.”

She slid the backpack onto her shoulders and took the offered hand. Half walking, half skipping, she let him lead her from the platform towards the parking area.

The platform remained deserted for a few minutes, before another man hurried up the steps. He looked around, and then flung his arms down in frustration. Glancing first at his watch, he then checked his phone for messages. He typed a quick response to a question from his boss, and didn’t bother to return the phone to his pocket.

He paced, periodically walking to the edge of the platform and looking down the tracks for signs of the next train on the schedule. When it finally arrived, he scanned the lines of people emerging from the cars, until he once again remained alone in the station. With a look of dejection, he drafted a text message on his phone.

Late to station due to accident on freeway. No sign of Lisa. - Gary

Chapter 1

Monday morning

Lieutenant Lloyd Timmons followed the patrol officer down the sparse trail below the highway. The spring wildflowers and weeds were already starting to dry out around the Los Angeles Metropolitan, and he paused several times to pull burrs out of his socks. “Who found the body?” he asked.

“A couple of hikers,” the officer replied.

“Where are they now? They did stick around to answer questions, didn’t they?”

“They’re up by one of the patrol cars. I don’t get the idea they wanted to be near the body.”

They stepped over a dead sapling and skirted a copse of bushes. Around the other side, the group of Sunny Grove police officers revealed their destination. The breeze carried the other clue to the proximity of the body, and he fought the gag reflex. His first partner on homicide had told him he’d get used to the smell eventually, and after fifteen years, he was still waiting.

The coroner was already there, and the young man looked up as he approached. “Timmy,” he greeted pleasantly. “They put you on this one, huh?”

“Mike, how many times have I told you not to call me Timmy?”

He smirked. “I quit counting long ago, but you still give me such a great scowl when I do. Are you still hearing dead people in your head?”

“It’s a problem solving technique.”

“Whatever; let’s see if you want to hear this one.”

Lloyd reached in his pocket for a handkerchief to press over his nose. The aromatic paste he’d infused into the cloth helped block the smell, without leaving residue on his lip the rest of the day. “So, what do we have?”

Mike pulled aside a few branches in a dense shrub to reveal the body. “Female victim, Caucasian, approximately eleven or twelve years old, dead approximately forty-eight to fifty-six hours. From the looks of it, I’d say she was thrown from the side of the highway and landed here. The only footprints we found on arrival matched those of the two guys that called it in, and were fresh this morning. She’s been here, however, since either late Friday night or early Saturday morning, and there’s no perimeter branches disturbed to indicate she was brought in from ground level.”

The nausea went beyond just the smell. The body was naked, and her skin was the sickly gray of early decomposition. “How about cause of death?”

“We’ll need to verify this, but she has strangulation marks on her neck. Some of the wounds appear to be posthumous, probably from her landing in the brush, but since we were waiting on you to get here before we moved the body, we haven’t checked for other wounds that might not be apparent yet.”

“No clothes, so I’m betting sexual assault.”

“Yeah, that was my first thought, too. This has all the appearance of child abduction, and the perp probably thought this was a good spot to dispose of the body where it wouldn’t be found right away.”

“I’m kind of surprised she was found this soon,” Lloyd said. Heavenly Father, let me catch this guy, please. Let me keep him from ever putting another child and another family through this hell.

“Are you okay?” Mike asked.

“To be honest, no,” he replied. “But I don’t want to ever be okay with something like this. I think if I ever get to the point where a case like this doesn’t make me sick, or make me angry, then it’s past time to retire.”

“You’re probably right, but I’m too young and, frankly, not rich enough to retire. I’m not going to give up my wild and crazy lifestyle just to get away from tragic stiffs.”

Ignoring the irreverent comment, Lloyd closed his eyes and imagined a young girl dancing and skipping in a grassy park somewhere. Shadows covered her, making it difficult to discern any details of her face. Miss? He called to her in his mind.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Friday Fiction for October 8, 2010

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by fellow 4-time NaNoWriMo winner Sara, on her wonderful Fiction Fusion blog. Pop over, read some great fiction, and say ‘hi’ to Sara!

For my second NaNoWriMo in 2007, I wrote the fifth story in the Pod series, “Lana’s Pack.” I’ve posted the Prologue for this story before, way back on Jan 2, 2009. I love this story, and had a great time writing it.


Sunday, 10:02 a.m.

Deputy Marshal Raymond Bittman followed the lab assistant through a series of hallways and secured doors. His assignments usually started in jails, prisons, or his office in Sacramento, not in some secluded research facility in Nevada, and he fought back feelings of annoyance at having his Sunday morning interrupted for what should be someone else’s job. They passed through one more set of doors to arrive in a small, densely organized office, where the middle-aged man at the desk did not bother to look up at them.

“Thank you, Simons,” the man said, turning the page of a stapled stack of papers. “If you would, please, see if the coffee is ready and bring me a cup?”

“Yes, sir, Dr. Sonders,” the assistant replied. “Marshal, would you like a cup as well?”

“Thank you, I would; just black is fine.” He turned back to the man at the desk. “Dr. Sonders, I am-”

The doctor held up one hand to forestall the introduction. “One moment, please,” he said, turning the next page. His eyes scanned down the sheet before he folded the pages back to original order and set it to one side. He looked up with an appraising gaze and his expression became dourer. “You are the Federal Marshal sent to assist us with the retrieval?”

“Deputy Marshall Bittman, Dr. Sonders,” he said, displaying his badge for emphasis. The doctor’s condescending tone did little to assuage his worsening mood. “My team is gathering as we speak, though I must say I can’t understand why my office has been called in on this assignment. We track dangerous fugitives and return them to custody. From what I have heard of this case so far, this is more in the jurisdiction of the FBI; you had a security breech and property stolen. We don’t investigate break-ins and we don’t recover stolen property, unless it’s in the apprehension of a felon.”

Sonders folded his hands in front of him and leaned back in the chair. “Do you have any idea what we do here, Marshal?”

The assistant returned with the coffee, and Ray thanked him as he took the cup. He took a sip; it was average tasting but properly brewed and welcome. “Well, considering that the rumors are your perps were members of an upstart animal rights group that is calling themselves ART, for Animal Rescue Team, I’d say it’s a safe bet that you do animal research.” He pulled over a chair and took a seat, tired of waiting for the doctor to extend the courtesy of offering it to him. He noticed the man hadn’t acknowledged the arrival of his coffee, either.

“We do genetics research here, Marshal. Our job has included studying the work of Anthony Marcel, Daryl and Geneva Malach, and others, along with seeing how their theories and techniques can be applied in more practical and acceptable ways. The animals that were stolen are more than just research animals; they are genetically modified prototypes and case studies.”

Cocking his head to give the man a sidelong glance, he folded his arms across his chest. “I thought in the wake of what Marcel and the Malachs did, such research was illegal?”

“It is illegal to perform such research on humans, and I assure you, Marshal, we are doing nothing on human subjects. Additionally, I assure you we are doing nothing as extensive as what Anthony Marcel accomplished. The truth be told, I would love to be able to duplicate Marcel’s success, but even after studying it for over twenty-five years, we still cannot figure out how he managed what he did. No, what we’re doing is much simpler, and could best be described as shortcutting around many years of selective breeding. We are accentuating potential that is already there, even as a breeder would do over many generations of purposeful breeding. We’re just not taking many generations to reach the goal.”

“That still doesn’t explain why a team of Federal Marshals has been tasked with this and not an agency more suited to such work.”

“These animals are considered classified, and the National Security Advisor felt it best to get them back as quickly as possible. To that end, she elected to call in the agency with the most experience in tracking escapees. I really could not care less who they send, as long as I get my animals back.”

“How did these activists get access to this facility if these animals are classified? I passed enough security doors just getting to your office to have frustrated an accomplished spy; a bunch of bunny huggers should never have gotten inside the outer gates.”

“We’re looking into that; we suspect they had inside help.” He handed over a sheet of paper. “Most of the animals have tracking collars and RFID chips, though my tech weenies so far haven’t managed to get a lock on the location. One of them suggested maybe the thieves knew about the tracking and have taken measures to block it. This is a list of the frequencies and ID codes for you, and this-” he handed over a photograph. “Is what we suspect is their vehicle. All the security video for the time of the break-in was deleted, but they didn’t go back quite far enough and left us with a second or two of this van driving by the gate.”

He took the photo and sighed. “This isn’t much to go on; no license plate, and in the lighting it’s difficult to tell even what color the paint is.”

“I’m told the U.S. Marshals are the best for tracking down people with minimal information; maybe that’s why you were assigned this task. If you can find the thieves, you should also find the animals.”

“To think I had to skip teaching the Bible study at church this morning for this,” he said, wondering who the pastor would have found to fill in for him on such short notice. “You do understand, Dr. Sonders, that this isn’t our normal quarry. We as yet do not know who our thieves are and whether they have priors we can work from. We have no established patterns to base reasoned behaviors off of, and we don’t even know for certain the thieves will keep the animals. They may transfer them to some rescue society, release them, or keep them in a remote, shielded location. My team will do their best, as always, but this is going to be new ground for us.”

“Just make sure you’re paying more attention to getting my animals back than to studying some antiquated religious texts.”

As difficult as it was to believe, the man’s disdain was worse than before. Rubbing his forehead, he overlooked the doctor’s attitude. “Are any of these animals dangerous to the public? Is there anything my team needs to know before we potentially face them?”

“They’re animals, Marshal; they have some genetic enhancements, yes, but they are still just animals. None of them was bred to be vicious, nor do they carry any diseases. All have been properly vaccinated and kept well-socialized. However, it would be remiss to not remind you that, as with any animal, they might react in unexpected ways if cornered or threatened. Use the same kind of caution you would when approaching any animal that doesn’t know you yet.”

“You do understand that I will hold you personally responsible if any of my team or anyone nearby is injured by one of these animals because you withheld information?”

“If any of the stolen specimens were particularly dangerous, I would tell you,” he said, turning his attention to his computer. “Simons will show you to the enclosure the animals were stolen from, in case you can gather some evidence there.”

Ray turned to follow the assistant; rolling the sheets of paper he’d been given, he was just about to step through the door when Sonders called after him for one more comment.

“Oh, and Marshal Bittman? It should go without saying that these animals are very valuable. I trust you and your team will make the utmost effort to insure they are returned to us healthy and unharmed.”

He took another sip of coffee, letting the hot liquid stop him from saying that it wasn’t the animals he was considering harming.