Karyss aboard the Hegemony ship, Respondent.

I’ve posted a lot about my science fiction novel in progress. I’ve talked about the illustrations I’ve done for it and plastered them across this site. I’ve blabbed about the processes I’ve used to get my head in its reality. I’ve mentioned the spacecraft and its denizens, and blah blah blah…  but I’ve never actually shown anything from its pages.  I guess its about time, eh?

Like all things, there are reasons for that.  Creative types can be insecure about their work, especially their “favourite child.” But a protective father needs to let their sweetheart out of the house to live her own life, so here we go.

Pan Spectrum Analyzer (working title)

“We all aspire to take upon ourselves a Great Journey, but only a few of us ever do.”


Mbali Sector, deep space, T + 65 days (Starship Sequential/Chronological Time)

“Collision imminent!”

Karyss was only dimly aware of the vacc-suit’s alarm klaxons insistently sounding off, somewhere deep under layers of her ragged, forced breathing. The shrieking rush of blood in her ears was far clearer than the proximity warnings and victimized screams leaping from the comms. Too much was happening, too fast to follow. Overwhelming. Soul crushing. She needed to focus and figure out what was important.

“Collision imminent!”

Deep breath, girl, deep breath. She clawed air into her lungs, bringing brief clarity. She shrugged around in the stiff vacc-suit, glancing around as much as she could, snatching glimpses that brought her situation into an even starker reality.

Incandescence surrounded her – the dying breaths of a hundred spacecraft exhaled as violent flowers of burning vapour miraculously blooming from their hulks: volatile gas spilled from shattered starships shocked to ignition by radiant, prismatic showers of sparks. They rapidly boiled away into the void, eerily silent, their passage illuminating skeletal wrecks, scattered bodies of crew, faint zig-zag plumes of lifeboat burn motors; the embers of a once proud navy.

Death throes of the spaceship giants, wrenched her breath away. Oriented just off her vertical axis, kilometer long mountains of metal were locked in the devastating embrace of combat, looming with dizzying vertigo, reminding her just how out of place she was. A terrified young civilian: a runaway, a lost soul, some twenty light years from home – now careening past their monolithic hulls on a ever-widening vector, without even the benefit of a spacecraft around her. Her vacc-suit emphasized her stark vulnerability – a soft, thin fabric shell meant only for spaceship repair rather than the battlegrounds of these technological gods. Its small manoeuvring vernier rockets whispered and gasped its movements, rather than projecting the roars and shrieks she needed.

Her hands hammered the maneuvering controls in nervous reaction to the constant fear of collision prompted by irrepressible alarm warnings. Without knowing the threats’ origin, she was flying blind. Better some action, than none, she thought glibly. Small swift kicks from the verniers pushed her, altering her course ever so slightly, but hopefully just enough, as it was all she had.

“Collision Imminent!”

Another bright flash and what seemed to be a shower of rain lasting less than a second. Then another. Fragments from another explosion, driven toward her so fast it was only barely visible in passing. She felt a tiny nudge, as if someone had patted her back and immediately blinking red lights blotted the warning readout, their meaning falling apart in a dizzying wash of neon acronyms and jargon she had no time to decipher.

“Pressure loss… Pressure loss…” the voice warbled, in an odd apathetic monotone, unmoved by Karyss’ fear, as though she meant nothing.

That warning was obvious enough. The “rain” must have damaged the suit, punctured it perhaps. It must have been small fragment though, as any impact at these velocities from an object of a decent size would cause catastrophic damage to the suit, or obliterate her entirely in an instant.

More debris flashed past. Fragments of ablative armour, ceramic plating, shards of circuitry, pipes, wires… Small chunks torn from a starship hull by weapon impacts, secondary explosions, violent decompressions, gravitational flux weapons… It was pointless trying to figure out what it was, or could be, it was death all the same.

She was sure she’d burned the verniers dry by now, twiddling the reaction controls as best she could at barked suggestions from the advisory computers in the suit, but she was beginning to ignore its warnings. The suit could only detect and provide warnings for the larger pieces. The things that would likely hit her would slice the suit open and spill her insides into the cold vacuum without ever triggering a warning, travelling faster than her mind could react.

Futility drove her inward. She tried to shut the world out by delving deep into vivid memories, clinging to their blissful reassurances as though she’d be dragged into reality if she did not. Their colours bled from one image to another, half remembered and vague, yet the sensation was so intense, as though translucent emotions smoothed across sight and sound, blending them together with a prismatic sheen of their own.

Reality’s harsh realm clawed at her with bitter and unyielding talons, relentlessly threatening to tear these remembrances from her desperate grip, and her life along with them. She plunged her will deeper inside herself, away from the catastrophe outside, until blood rushed in her ears and her heartbeat slowed like the undulation of a sine wave caught in amber’s translucence, along with memories of joy, sorrow and hope:

Under scattered reflections of gaudy nightlife, burning hot, they laughing, excited as though they are all that matters, running side-by-side down the rain-slicked street. Suddenly he pulls her into it, pressing her against a wall. They come together, pressing warm lips, melting their bodies together as rain washes over them, cool and refreshing.

Memories warping, overlapping, indistinguishable.

An argument; each one of them more angry than they should be, venting their passions, but too much. He turns his back, noble and strong, and begins to leave. She realizes too late, apologizing, again and again, knowing that she can’t be without him, afraid to lose him, afraid of what she’ll be without him.  The door closes, cold glass becoming a daunting wall, its bubbled lens distorting his apparition, warping, fading, then gone, leaving her hollow.

Memories reduced to their essence; her self, her humanity.

A gift of a tiny statuette, a water creature with an arched, sweeping back, leaping – carved from deepest lapis – ocean pure cerulean – polished to a pristine gloss. And a letter; a declaration of forgiveness, undying love, dreams for a shared future. She showers him with kisses, embraces and hot tears, shared promises of renewed love.

These moments she treasured – her reasons to live – holding them closer than life itself, as if they were life; tokens of a life worth living held up as meagre defence against fate, or perhaps, the malice of gods, if there were any.

She was not aware of the shards of circuitry that sliced her suit open, traveling at near impossible speeds, spilling her life in all its hidden crimson glory into hard vacuum. She continued to stare, lost in her moments, breath ever so shallow, hearing muffled by fading consciousness; her dilated eyes barely moving, seemingly locked onto the delirious vision of a dying battle-fleet, as she gracefully spun along a new vector inspired by that final collision.

A precious thought accompanied her into the dark: “Azize, I love yo-”

If you’ve gotten this far, then I’ll take that as a good sign. I’ve been over this prologue about six times now, and probably will do so many more before the novel is complete. The opening of a novel, or indeed any writing, is perhaps the most important piece and so many things can go wrong with it. Does it grab attention, does it inform the potential reader of what to expect, does it reveal too much or not enough, is it boring? I’m still not sure with this one.

PS: The article was “done” almost two weeks ago, but I couldn’t let it out of the studio without an illustration. I ended up doing about 4 or 5 of them, but canned them all to take one last stab at it.

Image Credits: Ken McCulloch, 2013.