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Secret Sun: Chapter One

Hey, Oort-Clouders!

I thought since you were all so supportive of my finishing my novel I thought I should maybe give something back. So here's the first chapter of the book! I hope you like it! As always, I do love me some honest and direct feedback! Helps the plants grow and keeps my teeth clean.

Peace!

- Chang!

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Secret Sun: Chapter 1

Mother was waking Leonardo roughly again, shaking his little body as he was watched an episode of “Meritt’s Marauders on Mars” on his tablet. First it felt like something wrapped around his legs, as if the bedding had gotten tangled up. Maybe something had gotten inside the mosquito and faraday netting and attached itself to him. But when he lowered his tablet he saw it was his mother. She tore through the protective netting on his bunk. Their eyes met and he knew from the look and her messed up hair that she’d been at the Jimmy-Stim again. He listened for his other siblings but couldn’t hear them. Mother reached up and shook him, muttering in a weird language as she began to tie his arms and legs up in the thin, dirty sheets. He wondered what he’d done this time. It didn’t feel like he’d wet the bed. He wondered if maybe he hadn’t tied the house barge to the mooring correctly. Maybe they’d drifted out of the canal and into the ocean in the night. The last time that happened they’d almost struck a mine. He looked up at Mother as the tablet fell off the bed and hit the floor. Her face grew darker and light swirled around her hair. He knew he was in real trouble then. She’d be sure to make him stay up all night on watch or worse.

Capt. Leonardo Reyes de la Valencia of the OFWSS Resurgam awoke with an astounding hangover as Dwi8, one of his biped AI walky-talky’s, was roughly stuffing him into a pressure suit. He attempted to speak a restraint code but couldn’t work out more than a choked rasp from his throat. He tried to fight back and restrain the walky-talky but his body was totally unresponsive. His hands couldn’t move, nor could he get his legs to work. The air was cool and cloying on his skin. Total darkness surrounded him, augmented by swathes of light blazing back and forth across his vision. The blurry view of the world was augmented by blasts of blazing color in his eyes. Was it fire? He took in a breath and suddenly felt like he was burning inside. Too cold. He tried to move a hand again but found himself trapped. His head barely moved and his tongue was thick and sluggish in his mouth. It slowly dawned on him that he’d been dreaming of his childhood. The sharp edges of sensation in all five senses told him that this was the reality. Once the walky-talky had enclosed him in the suit, the biped took a step back and spoke to him. Lights from its wrists, headpiece and chest panel shone on him. “Captain,” it said in its calm, even, synthesized voice, “Resurgam has crashed. The survey team is dead. As are seven of the crew members.”

Leonardo managed to raise a hand and wave it weakly at his side. His throat finally cleared and he attempted to speak. “Skhhhh?” The biped took this as a cue to continue.

“The ship is entirely without power. Even triple redundant base level systems are non-functional. Also, the Wal8 unit is damaged beyond repair.” Dwi8 stood in its place like a patient servant. Leonardo felt his suit meds begin to restore some functions to his body. Blood began creeping slowly through dried, empty veins.

“A-alive?” he asked. “Who?”

“The only surviving crewmembers are yourself, XO Baz Chalouri and Astrogatrix Drina Reyes de la Valencia. All others are dead.”

Leonardo found that hard to take in. His mental faculties were buried under layers of chemicals administered into his body over a slow period to sustain it during the long journey home. Deep sleep during hi-space travel was not meant to be broken quickly. It was a tedious process begun days or in some cases weeks before arrival at ones destination. His body would be slow to come around under normal circumstances. That he had to take in a massive crash as well was not helpful. His limbs began to feel slightly less leaden. Then a flailing attempt at getting up exhausted him and he fell into the sleep berth.

“How?” he panted.

“That is unclear. I was off-line during the journey. Wal8 was on watch during hi-space flight, sir. Without access to ship’s systems and AI’s, I can’t view astrogation logs or charts. I was activated when The Resurgam was struck by debris as it left hi-space. I was only able to access a few seconds of what occurred before my own activation. Those records are severely damaged. It seems something made us exit hi-space early. Flight AI Marconi had registered a red-level distress signal, and dropped the ship down from hi-space to answer at the originating coordinates. Astrogating AI Magellan believed we would be coming out into open space, but it appears instead to have been an asteroid field. Upon re-entry to normal space, we were immediately struck by debris within the unknown asteroid field. AstroNav AI’s Magellan and Vespucci engaged in an emergency search for a suitable planet for landing. Due to the second in a series of miscalculations, they chose not an E-class planet, but what appears to be a dwarf planetoid of as yet indeterminate composition. We made a statistically improbable landing on this planet’s surface.”

“Baz… help…”

“Sir? Shall I go see to XO Baz and Asgx. Valencia?”

“Yes.” The walky-talky departed on a spun heel and left for the quarters of the XO. Darkness swept in around Leonardo. Not even emergency lighting was working. Leonardo lay back and let the suit do its work to revive him. During their conversation, the suit had fully assessed his physical needs and begun to pump the necessary medication into him to speed the recovery process. He’d be able to get up in a few minutes. Even with the suit’s assistance it would be a difficult recovery from the enforced awakening. And there was no sense in tiring himself out trying to get up before the body was ready.

He thought back to events just before being put into deep sleep. They’d left Baaklum Cha’am with the survey team, having been called away by an urgent message from OFW Outpost Keenan. Preparations for the journey back went smoothly. The cargo was secured, and the survey team was placed in their sleep berths in their modular compartment in the bay. Once they were under, The Resurgam’s crew finished their assigned tasks and were themselves put under one by one with the help of Wal8 and Dwi8. Finally the Captain did last checks, gave Drina the OK and went under himself. That was the last thing he remembered, along with thoughts on the return to Earth: his own retirement, Drina’s disengagement ceremonies, and their impending divorce soon after.

Leonardo saw a light come down the hall towards his quarters. Dwi8 returned and stepped up to the sleep berth. “Sir, XO Baz is conscious and recovering from enforced awakening. I have told him of your condition.”

“Drina?”

“Sir, Asgx. Valencia’s condition is delicate.” Now Leonardo knew he was feeling better. The walky-talky’s attempt at discretion was as irritating as it was alarming.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Sir, she is not conscious. Her condition is stable. She is alive and her berth’s redundant systems are keeping her that way. But without functioning medibots or Dr. Africa, I am not able to make a diagnosis. My own abilities are limited to - ” Leonardo waved him to be quiet. Leonardo was about to ask the whereabouts of the doctor when he remembered the doctor was among the dead.

“Go tell Baz to wait until his suit systems tell him he can get up… We seem to be stable enough wherever we are that we can wait…. Then go and… check out the ship. We need to make sure we know of all… hull breeches and full damages so we can begin repairs. Dwi8, how much of the ship is still intact?”

“Unknown, sir. From our angle, we came to rest with a a slight listing to starboard. I would estimate some thrusters and sensor equipment on the starboard side are fully damaged. Without a full visual examination, I cannot say anything with certainty.”

“Alright. I want you to get me a full list of damages: systems down, hull integrity, breeches, and anything else ASAP. Go.”

“Yes, sir.” Dwi8 left again.

After twenty minutes of lying quietly and breathing slow, Leonardo’s suit chimed. “You are now ready to sit upright. Please note that the effects of enforced awakening from deep sleep can last for several hours or even days. Also note that the elevated alcohol content detected in your blood can exaggerate these side effects.” He responded to the gentle ping of the suit monitors with an emphatic “Go to Hell!” Leonardo swung his legs up out of the berth and nearly crashed out into the hall. Ship’s gravity was inoperative. And the gravity on the planet was significantly less than what he was used to. The world swooned for a moment and he took a deep breath in to stabilize himself. Leonardo slapped the front of his suit to activate the chest panel lights and tongued a button for the lights around his helmet to come on.

Illuminated, his surroundings began to take shape. His quarters looked exactly as they had when they left Baaklum Cha’am, only any belongings not secured were flung towards the bow and starboard side of the room. He regarded the small pile and tried to make out what was broken beyond keeping. He knew it was a pointless effort when the ship was in such a state and carefully got up to stand. When he felt like he could slowly move without fainting or falling over, he left the cabin.

Next to his quarters were those of his wife, the Asgx. Drina Valencia. He stepped into her room and listened. Like the rest of the ship, it was silent. He raised an arm to shine wrist lights over the prone body of his wife. She lay still, her breath barely noticeable under the heavy layers of medical blankets and her suit underneath. Her helmet fogged up slightly where her breath hit the faceplate.

“Capt. Valencia approaching. Disarm.” A chime sounded in his helmet and his display read “PROXIMITY SECURITY OFFLINE.” Leonardo noted the systems were down, as it should have said “DISARMED” back at him.

The Astrogatrix was the nerve center of any OFW ship, even a freighter like this. The assurance of her survival was the imperative of the entire crew, especially the captain. While there were security precautions at all times on board to insure her safety, when an Astrogatrix was injured the precautions rose to an almost hostile level. As a young pilot he’d served on board a ship where an overly curious sailor had accidentally entered the cabin of their Astrogatrix. Three steps in and he’d been quickly and viciously neutralized by the rooms security. The captain left the bloodstains on the walls outside the cabin as a reminder of the rules. The only people who ever saw the Astrogatrix on a ship and lived were the captain, the XO and if need be the medics.

But now those security precautions were offline and almost nothing could protect her except for Leonardo himself.

Leonardo stepped closer and shone his wrist lights on Drina. Even under the diamond cover of her berth, he could see no visible damage. No signs of wire overload or nano damage. He looked around the cabin and saw no other apparent damage from the crash. Not that he expected to, for two reasons. One was that Drina kept her quarters in a low level of disarray on the best of days. He’d long ago given up fining her for the mess in her quarters.

The other was that though the ship was not designed for planet fall, it was built to withstand almost any space borne incident imaginable. And despite their bizarre miscalculations of the rest of the journey, the astrogating AI’s Magellan and Vespucci (or “duppy-i-i” as they were called) had masterfully landed the hulking form of The Resurgam on the planet in such a way that even three of the crew had survived. The officer's quarters and those of the Astrogatrix were shielded and suspended within the ship by a complex system of anti-grav and barrier elements. OFW Ships retrieved from battles or crashes often had their Astrogatrix quarters fully intact with their occupant alive but very jostled.

He looked closer at his wife. Even with their differences, she was still beautiful. Reddish hair flowed out from her head, with thick cables connecting her to the ship snaking into their sockets placed around her skull. Drina’s slender nose and cheekbones were accentuated by the slight toll hi-space travel took on any Astrogatrix' complexion (Drina called it her "throne tan"). Despite the pale shade of her skin, and everything they’d been through he'd never tire of looking at her. His heart panged a bit, seeing his wife and colonel in her weakened state. Leonardo noted the small mole on her right cheek just near her eye. She hated it and always spoke of having it removed but Leonardo always talked her out of it. Sometimes he thought she complained just to hear him tell her how beautiful it made her. But the last time they’d talked like that had been years ago.

That Drina was alive was the most important thing: half the battle, in fact. If the ship was not terribly damaged and the Choudhury drives were functional, then they had some chance of escaping the planet. They could get outside the gravity well of this thing they’d landed on and Drina could get them back to the home system. He let the idea of how they were going to get a ship that wasn’t supposed to land on a planet off-planet get tucked back into the growing backlog of details about the crash. No sense in jumping weeks ahead when he wasn’t even sure they’d survive the next twenty-four hours.

He watched a tube snake its way out of the side panel of Drina’s crèche work its way into a socket on her chest panel. A red light went on and then turned green as something was pumped into her suit. No doubt an aerosolized medication of some kind. He thought he’d let the doctor figure out what the medibots were up to. Then he remembered again that the doctor was dead in his berth.

Leonardo turned away from the unconscious form of Drina and activated his suit systems menu. A bright orange graphic appeared before his eyes with a list of suit functions: Weapons, Life Support, Network access, Communications, Medical Assistance. He chose Communications and activated the suit's recorder. The small graphic of a playback transport appeared in the left hand side of his heads-up display. He looked at the red "Record" button and the counter began rolling.

“Capt. Valencia’s suit log engaged. Sub-vocal recorders seem to be functioning. We have crash-landed. I am now assessing the damage. It seems –"

He stopped short, seeing something just outside his vision. He whirled around to see a pressure suited figure step into the doorway. His suit noted the immediacy of his reaction and armed itself. A look into the faceplate and he saw it was only Baz. Leonardo looked at the disarm icon in the upper right corner of his vision and the suit disarmed its weapons. Baz held up a hand and then bade him to continue.

“Uh, Capt. Leonardo Reyes de la Valencia, Commander, OFWSS Resurgam. All of the ship’s systems are inoperative, thus I am forced to rely on suit systems for the time being. The reasons for the crash remain unclear. Something forced us out of the hi-space portion of our journey. We emerged from intra-cosmic deep sleep into an asteroid storm. Again without the proper data from ship’s AI Jason nor the duppy i-i's Magellan and Vespucci, I cannot ascertain how that occurred. Dwi8, the surviving walky-talky, tells me from its internal records that the AstroNav AI’s interpreted open space where the asteroid field was. Flight AI had registered a red-level distress signal, and dropped the ship down from hi-space to answer. Upon re-entry to normal space, we were immediately struck by debris within an unknown asteroid field. AstroNav AI’s engaged in an emergency search for a suitable planet for landing. Due to another in a series of malfunctions, they chose not an E-class planet, but what appears to be an icy chunk of ammonia and rock in the depths of uncharted space. This is an asteroid with a stolen atmosphere.” He looked at the playback transport in his lower left and blinked at the stop button. Then he looked at Baz.

“Sir,” Baz said, saluting Leonardo. Leonardo waved him down.

“Don’t bother with that, Baz. We got bigger problems than maintaining OFW decorum.” Baz smirked from behind his faceplate.

“You’re telling me, Leo. What the hell happened? How’d we survive?”

“I have no idea,” Leonardo said, slipping past his XO. “The more I see the less sense it makes. Let’s get some visual data. Find out what state we’re in and work from there. I sent Dwi8 out to survey the ship. Let’s see what he’s up to. Actually - ” Leonardo said, turning about face in mid-sentence “ let’s head to the bridge and see if we can get something up and running.”

“Coffee’d be good. Suit coffee sucks.”

“Maybe later, Baz.” Leonardo knew his XO was joking and was glad for it. Baz’ talent for lightening up tense situations and for decisive action in critical situations was why he’d kept him on his crew for almost three decades.

Leonardo briefed his XO as they walked forward towards the bridge from the officer's quarters. At the end of the corridor they came to the bridge doors. During normal hi-space flight the AI on duty closed the doors. During a crash situation they automatically locked shut to prevent fire spreading or atmosphere loss. Leonardo banged at the door for a moment with his gloved hands. He turned to Baz.

“Looks like I’m gonna have to force it open.”

“Roger that. Jesus, Leo. What the hell shut everything off? We should at least have base power.”

“No idea.” Leonardo looked over to the left of the doorway. A red square was painted midway into the wall. His suit display flashed “Emergency Door Release.” He punched his gloved hand into the square and the wall gave way. He felt for the handle inside and pulled it out a half a meter from the wall. Leonardo began to crank it back and forth until the door finally began to ease open.

“They can put a man on the moon in three hours but they can’t make a decent emergency door release.”

“Engineers," Baz said. "They do it complicated.”

Finally Leonardo had the door open almost the entire way and the two men slipped into the bridge. The bridge was shaped like a semi-circle thirty feet deep, forty feet wide with thirty-foot high ceilings. It was painted in varying shades of gray, like the rest of the ship, though it was all dark except where their lights shone. In the center of the room was a large horseshoe-shaped console running waist high and open at the back to allow entry inside. The outer walls of the bridge were featureless white wherever the suit lights shone. Baz walked to the outside of the ring and the captain walked inside, stepping up onto the raised platform. Below the outer wall panels were five seats spread out evenly in front of angled white desktops.

These same blank desktops were what the captain saw inside the ring. Two seats set at desktops stretched along the interior of the ring. One chair was set slightly elevated behind these: Leonardo's captain’s chair.

“Looks okay to me,” said Baz. “I mean. Except –“

“Except there’s no power at all,” said Leonardo. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a completely blank bridge before.” Wherever he looked at the desktops, Leonardo’s display read “OFFLINE.” He turned around, now only half expecting to see the display showing him Drina in her throne. But the wall was blank. He knew she was far behind the wall, unconscious and unaware of their plight.

“Alright, Baz. I guess there’s nothing else we can do here right now. No damage that I can see. When we get power back…”

“We’ll get a better idea of how fucked we are?”

“Yeah. Well put, Baz. Let’s go see what’s outside.” Leonardo didn’t expect to see much damage in the bridge. It was only slightly less secured and protected than their quarters. They were still deep inside the ship, about thirty meters from the hull. Leonardo had to calm himself and not worry about the unknown extent of damages. With the total loss of power they couldn’t even send out distress beacons. He quelled his mind and they exited the bridge by hand cranking the doors on the port side entry.

The walked down the hall towards the aft of the ship. After about a hundred meters of walking the silent and empty corridors they came to an open set of doors leading to Midships Airlock One. The emergency door release was also broken open here. “Dwi8, where are you?” Leonardo asked the walky-talky.

“Sir, I am in the Survey Team’s Quarters. I am working my way down through the ship to assess damages. I will move on to the engine rooms presently. Sir, I believe you should come down here and investigate for yourself. There appears to be - ”

“We will, Dwi8. Just secure it for now. Have you been through the portside airlock?”

“Yes, sir. Is there a problem?”

“No, just making sure it was you, is all. Valencia out.” Baz was at the airlock’s manual controls. To the left of the airlock was a panel Baz had opened. Inside was a large red handle. Warning notes were plastered all on one side the box and above and below it as well.

“Exosuit on,” Baz spoke and a slight rippling occurred in the suits frame, filling it out. He turned the handle counterclockwise as both the inner and outer doors slowly opened in front of him. Weak blue light began to spill into the darkened space. Leonardo’s faceplate adjusted to the sudden increase of light. Baz finished cranking and turned to look out the airlock doors.

“Snow.”

They saw a cold blue world stretched out before them, covered in bluish snow with streaks of yellow through it. Far in the distance, yellowish mountains rose up from the horizon. A weak white sun shone down on the landscape.

“Huh, those mountains look like scrambled eggs,” said Leonardo.

“Hungry,” said Baz.

“Can it.”

“Just saying.”

Their displays told them what the naked eye could not. The yellow was sulfur; the hills were approximately ten clicks away from them. After a few seconds the chromatograph gave a report. The ice was made up largely of ammonia with some other trace substances. A light wind blew drifting snow around and into the airlock.

“Hunh. Gonna be interesting getting down.” Baz pointed and Leonardo followed his hand. Twelve meters below them was the surface, snow, rock and ice broken apart by The Resurgam slamming into the planet. Under normal circumstances, in a vacuum crash, a ladder or gangway would have extended from the ship, depending on what the ship thought would suit the team best. But there was nothing extended, only the long drop down to the surface.

“We’re pretty light. Should be able to jump down,” said Leonardo.

“And back up?” asked Baz. Leonardo had to agree. The surface could be unstable. Or there could be something underneath it. The phrase “known unknowns” popped up from his training.

“Fair enough. Let’s get something tied here to help us down.” Leonardo went to a utility locker and opened it. Finding a length of cable inside, he brought it out and looked about the inside to the airlock. Rails ran waist-high along the inside of the airlock from the outer doors back four meters to the inner lock doors. He attached the cable to one end, double tying it and tugging on it as a test.

“That’ll do for now. Worse comes to worst we can call Dwi8 to come and get us.” Baz nodded in his suit and stood at the lip of the airlock with Leonardo. “Who goes first?”

“The captain!” said Leonardo and leapt off the edge of the airlock. He slowly fell towards the surface and came to land softly in a few inches of powdery ammonia snow. He looked up at Baz. Baz held up his hands in a gesture of resignation and jumped down. He came to land as smoothly as his captain.

“Let’s see what she looks like from outside,” said Leonardo. They stepped back a few paces and surveyed the exterior of The Resurgam.

Leonardo sighed heavily. The Resurgam was nothing like the previous ship under his command, The Wellstone. That had been a Zeus class battleship, four kilometers long and fed by enormous stores of an-mat. The bulk of a Zeus with all its bristling armor and weaponry showed those who saw it the OFW meant business. The mere appearance of a Zeus class ship in a star system often led to the uprising or military action taking place to quickly surrender and reassess their demands. The Wellstone had a fearsome rendering of Huitzilopchtli, the Aztec god of war painted over her weapons-bristling bow as an extra intimidation tactic. The Resurgam had a very muscular spider on it, eight small but powerful limbs each holding a tool of some kind.

The Resurgam, an Araxine class vehicle, was essentially an armed freighter by comparison. Leonardo honestly could barely stand to look at it under normal circumstances. Seeing it now, bent and broken, was even more difficult to bear. The Resurgam looked not unlike a large eyeless salamander he’d seen in his childhood. Long, sleek and white with small limbs poking out from the sides. In this case, the small limbs were her maneuvering thrusters. The smooth hull was broken up only by the occasional porthole or dome and sensor array. Its normally lichen green color was blackened near the nose and underside by the crash. The atmospheric burn on entry had torn away a good portion of her shielding. Though a kilometer in length, it was powered by tiny engines compared to the monstrous Choudhury's that flung Zeus class ships into battle. The fore section of the ship seemed more or less intact, with a slight list to starboard. Amidships was where the damage really began to appear with holes punched in the hull. The Resurgam’s rear lay crumpled, supports and shielding bent at odd angles. Massive openings torn into the hull would mean damage to the engines. They could see the trail it had gouged into the surface stretching behind it.

“Christ,” said Baz. “We’re lucky she didn’t strike those mountains as we came down. She’d have split in half or worse.” He pointed to the mountains aft of the ship. The jagged yellow hills looked as if they’d have torn it apart like a knife through cloth.

“We’re lucky to be standing here,” Leonardo said. “The bow seems to be in good shape, with the ship resting on its belly.”

“Yeah, that’s somewhat positive.”

“Remember the crash of the Koln?” asked Leonardo. “She was an Araxine class like Resurgam. Came down nose first onto Tiger Lily’s surface after she took a hit from some raiders hiding in the rings there. Her crew was setting up for hi-space jump. Got hit by a direct MHT blast while they were securing cargo. Everything from the cargo bays up slammed into the bow. Anyway, I sat in on the review tribunal for that. Even the crew in the bridge was just smeared on the displays. Their Astrogatrix was crippled.”

“Jesus, that’s awful. Hey, look!” Baz pointed out the path the ship took in, going from the right down over the mountains to where the Resurgam lay. “It’s like she just glided in,” Baz said. Leonardo nodded.

“I’m dying to see the flight data. I want to know how to get such a smooth landing like this and patent it. Get a medal for it… maybe.” He knew Baz could hear the tone in his voice. The words hung in the air in their helmets.

“Look over there,” Baz said, pointing towards Resurgam’s aft. Leonardo saw two holes blasted into the ship’s side three quarters down its length. The first was smaller, perhaps only three or four yards around. The second was further down the hull towards the rear and bigger, perhaps six to ten yards around. Shards of hull material lay several hundred feet away from the hole. Strips of shielding, pipes and hull materials were sprayed out from the side of the ship in a ghastly metallic wound. Some contents of the hold had burst forth from the hull. Debris clung to the sides or fluttered in the light breeze of the planet. These open gouges in the hull broke up the black scar of atmospheric burn damage to the ships underside like holes punched in burnt flesh.

“That’s near the main cargo bay. Let’s go check it out.” They began walking through the snow towards the ship. With the light gravity of the planet and their strength, they should have made the distance in short time. Leonardo knew had they not been sleep-drunk, Baz would have challenged him to a race. By the time they got to the ship, however, both he and Baz were short of breath.

As they approached the ship, Dwi8 emerged from the smaller hole in the hull waving its arm. “Captain, the situation in here needs your immediate review.” Through the last tendrils of the deep sleep fog, Leonardo remembered the walky-talky requesting his presence in the bay earlier.

“Right, right. Coming, Dwi8.” Leonardo looked around for something to pull himself up on and then remembered the planet’s low gravity. He jumped and made it just into the hole, knocking himself around slightly. This smaller hole was nearly wide as it was tall, making the jump fairly easy. He stepped inside and waited for Baz to join him. When Baz made it up, the three of them stepped into the remains of the survey teams quarters.

The survey team was quartered in a modular multi-purpose unit attached to the cargo bay floor. The main cargo bay, eight hundred yards long by three hundred yards wide, held everything for the journey: the team’s belongings as well as the container of artifacts loaded up from the surface. The Resurgam’s bay was fitted with several modular boxes seventy-five feet long by thirty feet wide and twenty-five feet high. They could be pre-programmed for any storage needs: food, live cargo, hazardous waste and even for habitation. The survey team’s container had been brought with them from Earth. This container was placed up against the port wall next to the larger sized airlock.

Leonardo, Baz and Dwi8 were faced with a grim situation as they entered. A sizable explosion had occurred inside. Something had blown a hole through the hull, venting the container’s atmosphere. The hulls layers were blown outward as were the inner walls of the modular container. The interior walls were blackened with scorch marks that extended from one end to the other of the crew’s quarters. Whatever had been on the wall that exploded was shredded and torn apart, thrown about the cabin. Everything inside the modular had been partially incinerated in the blast. Bits of burnt books, smashed tablets, clothes and other items were strewn around the cabin floor and out the door into the cargo bay.

They looked about the room at the extent of the damage.

“Jesus Christ,” said Leonardo. Baz stepped around him and began pointing to the far wall as he spoke.

“My guess is the explosion blew out the control systems for the berths. They probably failed along with all the other systems in the ship. This unit was hooked into Resurgam’s power grid. Nothing was spared from that apparently,” he said. Leonardo grunted in assent. There had been seven members of the survey team. There were six berths stacked three to a wall facing each other with a table for meals or conferences in between. One berth had been where the explosion had occurred, vaporizing the sleeper inside. Each of the other six berths appeared to have malfunctioned in exactly the same way, killing the occupants.

Despite the bizarre damages to the ship, the berths should have run on emergency power for several weeks. Whatever the malfunction, the units all broke down. The faceplate of each berth was blackened from the explosion, partially obscuring the faces underneath. From what little they could see as they peered into each one, the dead occupants all looked the same: mouths slightly parted as if in merely breathing slack-jawed in their sleep.

All dead.

“Damn it,” said Leonardo, his stomach in knots despite his best efforts to remain calm. It brought up those memories he did his best to suppress. “Dwi8, any idea what happened?” The walky-talky stepped forward and looked about the room.

“I believe it is related to the explosion as XO Chalouri stated. I do not have a sequence of events, but whenever the explosion occurred, the systems inside here were obviously affected. The ship crashed and this explosion occurred shortly sometime afterward.”

“Alright.” Leonardo peered into one of the berths, doing his best to keep from showing his deep repulsion. He saw frost on the interior of the glass. The sleep process should have left no moisture inside the berths. “Look. Condensation's formed on the windows. What’s that from?”

“I believe it’s from the malfunction that afflicted all the machines, sir. Somehow the seal in each of the berths was broken. Probably a malfunction of the emergency release mechanism. There was a period of time where there was atmosphere inside. That may mean the berths broke down before this explosion occurred.” Dwi8 pointed to the gaping hole in the hull. “Whatever happened, the units all warmed up for a moment, then when the atmosphere was breached – “

“The breach.” Leonardo repeated and turned towards Dwi8. The walky-talky’s blank eyes regarded the captain without emotion. “What about that breach?”

“When I arrived, the door was open. Perhaps Wal8 opened the compartment to check on the survey team.”

“Unlikely,” said Leonardo. “With an atmospheric breach, Wal8 would know not to open the compartment door.”

Dwi8 nodded and pointed to the door to the cargo bay. “The ship lost its atmosphere due to the larger hole torn into the hull just aft of here. This led to the atmosphere of the planet rushing in. Thus, an atmospheric breach.”

“I see.” Leonardo surveyed the berths turned coffins around him. His head was still foggy from the deep sleep. Things weren’t making sense. “But this explosion here in the compartment. It’s like something blew out of the wall. Perhaps the larger explosion triggered the smaller one? Or vice versa.”

“I have no clue. Look, Leo,” Baz said, “The bodies are fine for now, but when we get power back on with these units all damaged, they are going to begin to decompose pretty quick.”

“You’re right, Baz.” Leonardo turned away from Dwi8 and Baz, walking through the rows and looking at each berth in turn.

“Dwi8, continue an exam of the ship. I want that report on damages ASAP. When the time comes we’ll remove the bodies. Put them in the snow and cover them in something. Leave a marker of some kind so we can find them later.”

“Yes, sir.” The walky-talky left the compartment and walked into the bay towards the stern of the ship.

“Let’s get out of here,” Leonardo said to Baz. “I‘ve seen enough of this for now.”

“Agreed.” The captain and XO stepped into the doorway of the modular unit. “Hang on a second, Baz.” Leonardo turned left and right and looked for Dwi8. He caught a glimpse of it on his right walking towards the rear entry of the cargo bay.

“Dwi8, where is Wal8?” The walky-talky turned and raised an arm to point.

“Wal8 is near the utility lockers, sir.” Dwi8 pointed behind them.

Leonardo and Baz left the modular unit’s blown open door and entered into the vast bay. The enormous cargo hold, kept pristine by The Resurgam’s crew and walky-talky’s, was torn apart during the crash. One of the large containers used by the survey team to store the artifacts they brought back from Baaklum Cha’am was thrown loose from its moorings on the floor and smashed into the forward wall. Deep gouges in the floor of the cargo bay indicated it had slid off its moorings to where it currently rested. The container appeared to have blown open in the abrupt atmospheric pressure change, its contents spilled out onto the floor of the bay.

It was here they came upon what was left of the Wal8 unit, pinned between the wall and the modular container. From its appearance, Leonardo surmised that the walky-talky must have been moving about when the crash occurred. Normally during travel, the walky-talky’s stayed in their charging berths. But the Wal8 unit was wedged in tight with its waist crushed. Its legs were splayed at odd angles even for a walky-talky not constricted to human anatomy. The head was smashed apart and the thorax had been blown out as well. The arms looked to have been pulled from the body.

“Damn. We could have used Wal8. What the hell happened?” Leonardo asked Baz.

“I don’t know,” answered Baz, looking about the cavernous bay. “I’d say it was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Baz knelt down closer to the walky-talky, delicately poking at its innards with a gloved finger. “God, Wal8 looks blasted to hell. I wondered how he got so knocked around. I’m sure we’ll find a few Wal8 sized dents elsewhere in the bay.” Baz looked around as if hoping to see some scrapes of the walky-talky’s metal upon the walls and ceiling like bloodstains.

“Yeah, seems right. Look, see if you can cannibalize anything from it. I’m sure it has more useful data from the crash than Dwi8. Let me know if you turn anything up.”

“Got it.” Baz knelt down next to the walky-talky and pulled some tools from his belt. “What’re you gonna go do?”

“Check on the crew.” There was a moment in their eye contact when both knew what the other was thinking: OFW sailors and soldiers, corpses in their berths. Miners and their families thinking they were going home only to die in space. Baz broke the tension by nodding curtly.

“Okay. Let me know if you need any help, sir.”

“Will do.” Leonardo left the bay and Baz began his dissection of the walky-talky.

Leonardo walked the long wide corridor back towards the bow of The Resurgam. The ship was almost half cargo bay. The engines aft of the cargo bay took up more than a quarter of the ship and the rest was living areas for the crew and a small number of passengers. The cargo bays reconfigurable design made it suitable for many types of missions. Since taking command, Leonardo had led a variety of missions from diplomatic, humanitarian aid, emergency supply runs and even other archaeological missions. Most had been simple supply runs to various support ships and non-essential missions. He’d been in command of the ship only a few years. His previous command of The Wellstone had been for almost twenty years until the incident at Newell 15.

He thought that perhaps his short time as captain of The Resurgam might have made the scene in the crew room somewhat easier to bear. Leonardo had not gotten to know the new crew very well. Baz gave up a chance to command his own vessel to serve under Leonardo as he had on The Wellstone. The new crew had been wary of Leonardo from the beginning and he knew it. They kept to themselves and no doubt heard and perpetuated the rumors that followed him across the reach of OFW space. There was little love lost between the captain and his crew. They kept to themselves, followed orders and were at least civil.

So to come upon the entire crew dead in their berths did not fill Leonardo with any sense of schadenfreude in the least. Neither was he as saddened as he’d been on Newell 15. He would see they received the proper burial when the time came. He would speak of their bravery in various missions, both humanitarian and military. The crewmen he saw could speak no more about him in whispers on deck or behind closed doors. Nor could they help him now when he needed them most. They lay dead in their berths just like the survey team members.

Leonardo stepped closer to the nearest berth. He peered into it at the face of Guacharo Himanako, the engineer. Himanako had been one of the more likable ones, as eager to show off his capoeira skills as keeping the ship running. He’d be missed for his intimate knowledge of Choudhury drives and loving care of The Resurgam’s engines. He might know how to right the ship and get them back to space. Now if they were lucky, they might get the ships AI functional and be shown how to repair the ship’s engines.

Leonardo peered closer into Himanako’s berth. He focused even more closely at the man’s head. The temples were distended, his skull bloated and misshapen. Frozen blood ran from his ears, nose, mouth and even the closed eyes. The limbs were flung out and the body contorted as if it died in pain; completely unlike the restful forms of the dead back in the modular container.

The captain went to each of the ten berths of his dead crew and looked in. Every one was the same: the crewmembers heads misshapen as if swollen, their faces and bodies contorted painfully with blood coming from the orifices on the head. He hoped they hadn’t suffered too long. But he wondered what could have caused such a horrific death.

He lingered over the last berth near the door, that of Lt. Regina Badawi. Her black hair was flung about the pillow of her berth as if in tormented sleep. One hand was pressed against the glass of the berth, palm flattened so the print of her skin had frozen when the atmosphere and warmth was drained from the ship. Leonardo put his gloved hand over hers, not daring to look to closely at the rest of her inside.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He drowned out the words of their last conversation in his mind before they could take hold remind him of the present situation's urgency. The past with Regina was gone now.

“Baz?” Leonardo called out, the com channel opening with a low hiss of static. After a second there was a beep in his left ear.

“Yeah, Leo?”

“Something’s weird about the crew. Something happened.”

“How do you mean? I mean, beyond being dead, sir.” Leonardo noted Baz’ delicacy. He knew Leonardo would be thinking about Regina.

“I mean, they died in their berths, but… it doesn’t look like it was from the crash. Something else happened to them.” Leonardo stepped away from Regina’s berth and walked back into the hall.

“I’ll be there in a second. For what it’s worth, Wal8 looks odd, too.”

“How so?”

“I’d swear its damages aren’t from getting crushed by the container during the crash. Honestly? It’s as if it got beaten up or something.”

“Huh.” Leonardo paused for a moment. “Okay, we’ll have to keep these two things in mind for later. First order of business is to join up with Dwi8 and find out what the status of the whole ship is. And I think we need to go out and fully survey the land at some point.”

“Agreed. Looks like Dwi8’s in…” Baz trailed off as he was checking the same display as Leonardo. Both would be seeing a map of the ship, and a red blink with “DWI8” hovering near it.

“ - Rear Bay 7,” Leonardo continued. “See you there.”

“Roger that.” Leonardo left the crew quarters without looking back and walked aft. He was already growing tired of running back and forth inside the ship, missing the ease of the interior lifts that would have carried him through the ship. There was the temptation to let his thoughts darken as more concerns swirled about him, recounting the myriad ways they could have prevented the known damages to the ship. But there was only futility in following those thoughts. He straightened up a bit as he made his way back down the corridor and through the cargo bay. He passed through the aft doors of the cargo bay and made his way to Rear Bay 7.

Rear Bay 7 held an array of small craft for various use. A half dozen repair vehicles waited in their bays, ready to be rolled out in a zero g environment but completely useless on a planet with even this little gravity. Extra suits hung in stalls, names of their owners stenciled over each door. Various pieces of EVA gear were stowed in their containers as well. There he found Baz in consultation with Dwi8.

Baz and Dwi8 stood near The Resurgam’s short-range vehicle, Hopper. Hopper was fifty meters long, fourteen high and a squat, fat twenty feet wide. The Hopper was a light shuttle vehicle capable of planetary landing and takeoff and well as short interplanetary runs. The door to the cockpit had been opened to the darkness inside. Baz had taken off the rear panel of the Hopper’s starboard engine housing and was poking inside it. Dwi8 turned to look at the captain.

“Any luck with that, Baz?” asked Leonardo.

“No. The bay doors are locked tight for hi-space flight, for one thing. It just plain old doesn’t work. Just like every other damn thing here on the ship. Nothing works and nothing’ll get it started. I’d frigging kick Dwi8 if I thought it’d do any good.”

“Sir?” asked the walky-talky.

“Never mind that. Let’s keep moving along. I want to see what’s up with the rest of the ship.” They left the Hopper and moved further aft through the ships corridors. Darkness greeted them whenever they entered a new area and shone their light upon the obscured interiors of the ship. Nothing seemed to have escaped the deactivation of the ships electrical systems. Each room was as empty and devoid of the normal hum of activity of a ship like The Resurgam.

They stopped when they came to the broken corridor. It was the main corridor leading to the engine rooms that they came upon, ceiling torn open to reveal weak blue daylight above and crumpled, torn up walls and hull to the sides. They could see through to the planet outside, whose dim light shone into the jagged space and illuminated about four or five yards ahead to the other side of the corridor. The floor fell away in a ragged tear of metal, broken conduits and ripped wires of the disemboweled ship. Pipes spilled their liquid contents, which had frozen instantly.

"The engines are broken off," said Leonardo.

"We'll never get off this planet," answered Baz.

kelson.philo's picture

Very intriguing! I love a

Very intriguing! I love a good space mystery. The only suggestions i have would be to tone down the exposition. Starting off with a dream sequence is cool, but since our focus is on Leo getting his head on straight and getting around in an emergency situation, we don't need a lot of extra details yet.

For instance Deep sleep during hi-space travel was not meant to be broken quickly. It was a tedious process begun days or in some cases weeks before arrival at ones destination. His body would be slow to come around under normal circumstances. That he had to take in a massive crash as well was not helpful. could be toned down to "he was recovering from Deep Sleep being broken too early", or something similar. The extra details can be added in a bit at a time, to lure the reader into more and more of the universe you've created.

Also, if Regina really is that important to Leo, we shouldn't be hearing that from Baz's statement. That should be playing out in Leo's mind somewhere. An inner conflict between duty and personal preference. We don't need to know that the crew didn't like their captain yet, either. Or what exactly the Wellstone looks like. Those details can be introduced in more bite-sized pieces, dig? It enhances the reader's desire for discovery. Mention the Wellstone, but don't show it yet. You've done a great job showing the damage wrecked by the Unknown, and that's great.

98k words is fantastic! Why not shoot for 110k, no?

1 Seems I have an exposition

1

Seems I have an exposition problem. Better than an exhibition problem!

I'll poke around there in the first chapter tomorrow when I bring it and a pen to the beach. Seems I could do some more work to it. FUnnily enough, this is the most heavily edited part of the book.

I hit 98,000 and seemed like I was done. I am trying to bring it down to about 92K, though. Seems like a good length to me. We'll see.

- C R T
---------------------------------------------------------------
http://www.crtdot.com - music//yoga//blather///and more on a blog no one reads!
http://www.chang3002.livejournal.com/ for more of the same.

Well. Damn. Things aren't

Well. Damn.

Things aren't looking too good!

Lots of interesting detail here. Really have a good sense of what the Resurgam is all about, even just in this first chapter. It almost feels like a bit too much exposition up front, but the ship's crisis is so serious it keeps the story moving.

Feels like a good, complex mystery at work here too. You definitely have me intrigued about what really happened.

I was confused about one thing, though. From the description of the Wellstone's 'monstrous' Choudhury engines by comparison with the 'tiny' Resurgam's, it sounds like the Resurgam doesn't have Choudhury engines. I wasn't sure if this was an inconsistency or do Choudhurys come in different sizes?

Reminds me of a song...

9

Heh.. TO quote Morissey, "Some girls mother's are bigger than other girls mothers."

The bigger the ship, the bigger the engine. The Wellstone is (you'll find out later) about 4 miles long. The Resurgam is one mile long. Thus it doesn't need as much to push it around becasue there's less to push around!

Glad you like it. I am revising right now and yes, we do seem to have an exposition problem. I am working on that. :)

Thanks for reading! More in the future!

- C R T
---------------------------------------------------------------
http://www.crtdot.com - music//yoga//blather///and more on a blog no one reads!
http://www.chang3002.livejournal.com/ for more of the same.