Excerpt - WIP, Just For Grins

Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Teacher
With luck my Demon Warrior Princesses and Prince will let me finish some of the work I've got on hold.  Unfortunately the newest is already lifting himself up and trying to roll onto his side at two weeks of age

This excerpt is from a different installment of my "Hell" series, and per normal it's rough-rough draft so anyone reading will be an alpha reader.

Explosions rocked his position as debris driven by shock waves hammered the ship’s hull. His gauntlet-covered hands moved across the control console with the skill honed into muscle memory by long hours of relentless practice, as his fingers manipulated controls with the speed imbued by sphincter-clenching fear; fear induced by a truly overwhelming supply of enemies short on both mercy and charity. Even with the addition of oxygen, the acrid sweat born of extreme fear swamped the filter-scrubbed air supply his armored battle-suit recirculated.

A few Ship-to-Ship missiles, both old-fashioned missiles as well as the newer rail-gun type, made it through the screen of defensive fire thrown out by Matt Singh and the other ‘gunners’ aboard the UAC Corvette Avenger, but Singh concentrated on the ship’s survival as well as his own. Though shock waves alternately jolted and threw his suited body against both his station chair and the straps that held him in place, he focused on his small part in the deadly dance that raged between his ship and its attackers. If and only if the Avenger survived could he and the other gunners turn their attention toward helping defend the other UAC assets in the convoy.

As one last explosion rocked him in his chair, Singh grunted and realized that for the moment his pod’s his screens showed no inbound harbingers of death. The klaxon that signaled general quarters continued its muted background wail while he checked readouts and used his pod’s control board to recharge the generators for the laser batteries and reload depleted rail-gun munition magazines. When he felt he could safely spare a few seconds he looked at the pod’s sensor readings—the radiation level in the pod was a bit high, but not too high for someone wearing an armored battle-suit.

“All hands this is Damage Control; damage reports by section.”

Matt waited while the other weapon’s pods in his group began to report in order, and spoke when his pod’s turn came. “Weapon’s Pod Starboard-10A; no major damage; laser generators holding at sixty percent; standard munitions at fifty percent; Pod Starboard-10A’s internal radiation count stands at six hundred CPM.” Gaps in the starboard pods that reported made it clear some gunners hadn’t been as fortunate.

Singh grabbed for his control board as a physical shudder proceeded through the corvette’s frame and shook the weapon’s pod violently. The announcement over the ship’s reporting channel “All hands brace for impact in”, made him snort for the briefest moment before what felt like a giant fist smashed into his back and the small world inside the pod dissolved into darkness.

Vague pain that nagged and teased the senses pulled Singh up from unconsciousness as it thrust him into delirious agony. He desperately flailed both arms and legs in an attempt to escape the conflagration that scorched through his thighs and upper right arm until a delicious frostiness ran through his veins and the flames receded to dull warmth. He heard a faraway voice yell, “Quick, strap the other stump”, but the words didn’t make much sense as he floated atop a hard surface. Actinic flares stabbed down into his half-lidded eyes then resolved into a bright penlight that moved away after several seconds.

“Poor bastard is still with us—would have been a blessing to die rather than survive that much trauma.” A face materialized as if suspended in thin air. “Ah, Singh, you’re in the sickbay, aboard UAC Frigate Dauntless. We’re prepping you for medical stasis but it’s a rush job, which means there’s a risk involved. If you want to live, blink your right eye.”

He felt disconnected from his body as his right eyelid first twitched, then began to blink spastically.

“He’s aware enough—okay Singh, we’re going to do a full personality recording while we get you ready, just in case you experience a mind-wipe due to the speed of us placing you in emergency medical stasis. The recording will make sure you come out of this as you, even if some of your memories are fuzzy for a while. If you understand, blink your right eye.”
Matt Singh blinked his right eye as quickly and deliberately as he could while a nacreous cloud descended to soothe his fears as it swept away any hint of consciousness.

A fire blossom in space marked failure for a fusion reactor's containment field. But as it died the light of the explosion's afterglow illuminated the retreat of the few ships that had survived, as well as the debris field composed of ships that hadn't survived. Detritus of all sizes and shapes that included partial hulks were either settled into an approximate orbit near a space station in orbit around a gas giant's planet-sized satellite, or by the vagaries of chance trajectory began a suicidal descent. Either way the fiery end for debris that hadn't settled into an orbit was in the satellite's thin atmosphere, or what amounted to a momentary postponement of the end in the gas giant's thicker atmosphere. It didn't matter how or where the detritus and flotsam of battle went, because from the space station to the remnants of ships, the humans who had been left behind were all dead.

 Before the space battle, which devolved into an exercise in futility for a planet originally intended as a brief way-station on the journey to its original destination, the colony ship had been anything but beautiful. Six months after the battle for the planet, the colony ship resembled a grotesque mechanical version of something dead and not quite reanimated by unholy means, yet. A closer inspection would have more clearly resembled a rotting corpse being picked over by scavengers.

The ship’s cargo and personnel landers had survived the conflict mostly intact in their in-flight berths. The ship’s primary bridge and the voyage-hibernation storage areas for both crewmembers and colonists had not been so lucky. With the exception of plant seeds, animal zygotes, and carefully selected human embryos, the colony ship was little more than an insulated tomb for the formerly alive. The various surviving representatives of Terran species once intended to become part of a permanent colony on a new world, had all been stored in shielded stasis containers with the cargo.

A hypothetical observer in close orbital proximity might have seen movement on and around the one-time colony ship’s hull and thought part of the human crew had survived, and such an observer would have been wrong. The activity any hypothetical observer would have seen was due to the actions of the ship’s semi-autonomous repair robots, robots that had been set in motion by the vessel’s fairly rudimentary backup AI brain, meant for disaster recovery. The robots in question were occupied with the task of warping into place the scavenged bits and pieces other starships had lost during the battle that had destroyed them and their crews, regardless of former corporate affiliation.

Since the disputed colonial stellar system was important for resources rather than real-estate (featuring a smaller gas giant with an uninhabited Mars-sized primary satellite and an extensive asteroid belt), robots worked tirelessly to rebuild the vessel and make it ready to depart before more warships could arrive. Space tugboats capable of AI operation (no longer of use to a space station without a crew) tirelessly retrieved partial-hulks, while smaller work robots collected and netted reusable debris for later transport. Fusion reactors that had shut down as the ships that had used them died, reusable Senate-Quirky drives, as well as quantum computers (whole or in pieces) and any associated databanks were given priority and retrieved as quickly as possible.

Repair robots directed by the ship's backup AI began rebuilding the primary computers along with the databanks. When the newly repaired main computer booted the first time, diagnostic tests indicated problem areas. The robots obligingly continued repairs, until after many attempts a reboot occurred that left the main computer issuing orders. More quantum computers and databanks were scavenged from various hulks and added, while the derelict space station's robotic gas-harvesters and asteroid-miners were set to work gathering resources.

Only one group of robotic workers was not occupied with repairing damaged systems required for departure. Instead, those bots were tasked with securing medical stasis containers and records databanks salvaged from the various dead warships that remained in orbit, containers the colony ship’s newly refurbished AI brain knew would be needed once it arrived at its destination. The ship intended to complete its mission to settle its human cargo and chattel in the stellar system that it had been meant to reach, regardless of any fantasies of conquest advanced by warships under orders from their corporate masters back on Terra.


  • I liked it. Opens on some action, which is always good to inspire a reader to keep reading, and I'm left curious about what happens next. Particularly the idea that our only known character this far was basically blown to smithereens.
    I did find the second part to be a little distant. I like I was reading a newspaper report or something similar and not really "there" in the moment. But kept brief and with the preceding action, this didn't slow down my interest.
    Seems like a damn good start to me.
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Teacher
    Ah, the Sit Rep [Situation Report] nature of the second part does read a bit like a news report, but it helps set up the introduction of what will become another character, the ship's AI, which is a bit insane by our standards. The AI has its mission, and it will not be thwarted from fulfilling its purpose.

    Glad you liked it. There are five novels in the "Hell" series.
  • The Sit Rep is necessary exposition, but at the same time could use a bit of thinning... But that's always the balance for getting exposition in front of the reader. I never get it right on the first (or forty-second) draft. The opening made me think of some of Fred Saberhagen's better "Berzerker" stories (the early stuff).

    I would go back through and ask myself if all the words and phrases are necessary. In action scenes especially, I find it necessary to use economy of words to help convey frantic action. "short on both mercy and charity" could become "lacking mercy and charity." The first clause of the next sentence, "Even with the addition of oxygen" could be dropped entirely. We're going to assume that oxygen is being fed back into the system.

    That sort of thing, a bit of a trim, some sanding of some sharp corners, a coat of polish, a bit of buffing, and you've got something. I like it, and it's the sort of science fiction that I've always liked -- man and machine against the unknown and space itself.
  • As an afterthought... some of the exposition could be worked in as dialog between the doctors... "What the hell was this poor SOB even doing there?" "We need the planet..."

    It would take some finesse, but it might help with getting the necessary exposition worked in.
  • Papi_SoñolientoPapi_Soñoliento Southern Escarpment Hill Country Teacher

    I will keep it in mind when I start editing and fine-tuning.

    I like the early "Berserker" stories myself, though I doubt I'm anywhere near being in the same league as Saberhagen.
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