Derelict Paradise Chapter 1
Hello! As Derelict Paradise is getting closer and closer to finished, I'm giving you access to the first chapter of the upcoming book. I was a bit sick last week, which is why you didn't get a blog post, and this Wednesday I'll be going in for a medical appointment, so I'm just gonna give you this post early. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to give it a read!
(Small aside, posting this in a blog reminds me of the weird fanfictions I wrote as a kid. Not too much of a fan of that feeling resurging. Those of you who know what I'm talking about may be happy all of this isn't italicized and put as an, "Author's Note:" at the beginning or end.)
The ancient, gargantuan colony twisted and groaned as it floated, aimless, through the galaxy. Without an atmosphere, its pain was silent for decades, but an expedition team, complete with manufactured gravity and breathable air, gave it a voice once more.
Gaping holes on the side of the outermost ring led to unshielded hangers and, over the years, bits of shuttles, as well as the metal lined walls, were pulled from their places by the forces acted upon them. This made for a debris-heavy space where landing proved difficult. The crew of The Relentless, an unlicensed junker ship, utilized tracking beams to clear their way enough for a safe docking point.
Not long after they landed, the crew assembled an atmosphere bubble in the clear area. The bubble’s glass hadn’t been cleaned in years and it was layered with grime, but it would protect them from the void outside. And, once the machines were set up, the crew could relax and rest for the night.
Soon, most of the team lay, pleasantly asleep, in their commandeered cots, lined up in the hanger, but Vhivi stared at the ceiling, her ocular implants trying to focus on something, anything, far above her.Older colonies had hangers with enough room for seed ships carrying a new generation of colonists, fresh blood to refresh the gene pool. This meant the ceiling should’ve been a shadowy mess of struts and metal, but Vhivi’s new implants had increased range and she hadn’t gotten the hang of them before the crew left the moon they called home. If she had a chance to do it all over again, she’d wait until after a mission in rarely visited space to get new eyes. Not that it was entirely her choice. After all, Riggs set the implant appointment for her and paid, in full, for the cybernetics.
However, it was because of her implants Vhivi couldn’t sleep. They focused and refocused, trying to make sense of the ceiling through the filthy glass. Her head pounded and, when she closed her eyes, the cybernetics activated other visual spectra, trying to see through her eyelids. Even when she groaned and buried her face in her pillow, her eyes were cycling through their modes. Finally, she gave up, laying on her back and letting her implants do as they wished. It was times like these she missed sightlessness.
It didn’t take too long before one of the others got up, pacing away from the bed cluster. From the cadence of the footsteps, it was the dust-sucker they brought along. Lora and Riggs claimed the woman was useful, but Vhivi saw none of it so far. Strange that a teenager was the harshest critic. Maybe she was too judgmental, but she had reason.
Before the dust-sucker joined, they already had a complete crew. Riggs was the captain, he owned the ship, junker though it was, and served on many different vessels, so his understanding of ship protocol and the vessel itself was integral. Nel, the navigator, had an impressive background, including some time in the planetary military force. She’d trained for years for her position. Lora, the engineer, had a decade of experience, even though her status as Riggs’s newest girl definitely helped her get the job. Haytham was an amazing pilot with years of experience behind him. Jak had expertise in security, though he was a bit trigger happy. And Vhivi was Jak’s apprentice. So who was the dust-sucker supposed to be?
Vhivi listened to woman’s footsteps, wishing her eyelids cut out all the spectra her new eyes could pick up. By far, the thermal imaging was the most disconcerting. If she had a choice, she would’ve picked the cheapest option, the ones with only the normally visible light, but Riggs shelled out good iri to get her top of line equipment. He said she’d get used to it and she’d thank him later, but she couldn’t see how. Besides, now her default line of humour was useless to her! All that time coming up with quality blind jokes, lost.
Eventually Riggs got up, lighting his usual morning cigar, and walked over to the makeshift kitchen. There were no chairs and the crew had brought over a few boxes, upturned a barrel or two, and made a seating area. As was tradition for the first breakfast of a mission, Riggs started cooking up what would, likely, be their last meal that didn’t come out of a ration pack until they were headed back to their home planet of Eveliv. Once the scent of cooking food spread through the base camp, the others were up, though barely conscious. Vhivi joined them, finally getting out of her bed and making her way over to the seating area. The dust-sucker joined the rest of the crew shortly, though the expression on her face said she wasn’t particularly interested in socializing.
“You sleep well, Vhiv?” Jak asked with a yawn, sitting down beside her.
“Nah, still not used to seeing through my eyelids,” she said.
“C’mon, you couldn’t see at all before.”
“Yeah, so seeing through my eyelids is a whole new level of nope.”
Jak smirked. “You’ll get used to it.” He patted her on the shoulder.
“I don’t think I will. Do you see even when your eyes’re closed?”
“Nah, but mine aren’t as fancy. I’ll load up the user manual when I got down time later. There has to be a way to turn that off.”
“Soon he’ll be funding all our cybernetics,” Haytham chimed in. “Won’cha, Riggs? You said something about wanting to replace my hands when we get back.”
Riggs grunted. “Ain’t worth talkin’ about ’til I got the iri for it, but yeah. You need faster hands, Nel’s gotta have a new neural hook up, and I gotta upgrade Jak’s eyes.”
“We are individuals, you know,” Nel said, a hint of disdain in her voice. “We aren’t assets on the ship or extensions of it.”
“You’re a fool if you think that’s how I see ya.”
“But you are talking about replacing parts of our bodies with cybernetics,” Haytham pointed out.
“It’s a group effort and you know it. I’m gettin’ my legs replaced, how’s it fair if none of you get an upgrade?”
Lora patted Riggs’s shoulder and sat by the dust-sucker. “It’s a bit early to be arguing, don’t you think?”
“I dunno, I kinda get it for Vhiv and Jak. They didn’t have eyes before, y’know? But I kinda like my hands,” Haytham said. “My neural link gets the job done just as fast and without cutting off my hands.”
“Eh, we won’t have to worry about that for a few weeks,” Jak said. “We got a mission to get to now.”
Vhivi groaned. Perhaps talking about body modifications first thing in the morning was a bad idea.
Riggs dished out the food and conversation died as everyone set to eating. After all, the task that lay ahead of them wasn’t simple or easy. Over the past several months, many people from the lower rungs of Eveliv society disappeared under strange circumstances. Every one of them was missing someone, some member of their family or a close friend. No one charged them with this mission, this attempt to find and rescue these people, but they’d taken it upon themselves.
Nel put together the clues that led them to the colony, clues Vhivi didn’t entirely understand nor care about. All Vhivi really cared about was getting people home safely. Then again, if everyone was alive it’d probably take them multiple trips in the junker ship to get them back. There was hardly enough room for fifteen to travel comfortably and there were fifty missing.
Eventually, Riggs finished and set his mess kit aside. Vhivi glanced up at him, setting her mostly untouched foot aside, much too nervous to eat.
“Listen up,” Riggs growled, the husk in his voice more from years of smoking than any frustration he might feel. His bulk and girth were, perhaps, less intimidating in low gravity environments, but his wild, graying hair, scarred visage, and the dark circles beneath his eyes left an impression. “We have a base camp, so it’s time to go lookin’. Lora, you’ll stay at base camp with me. I need you to keep these generators runnin’. Nel, Haytham, you’re ship crew. I want you floating outside, keep it so we have a quick escape if we need.”
“Leave a craft here?” Haytham clarified.
“Leave an escape craft here.”
“Jak, Vhivi, Mira, you’re scouts. I want you to split up, go three ways, keep on comms, let us know what you find. We sync up our watches and I want you back here at 1600. If you meet anyone, don’t interact. Take surveillance pictures, videos, but don’t approach. Make a report of what you find. At night, if it’s safe, we’ll rest at this camp. Otherwise, we go back to the ship to sleep.”
“Yes, sir!” Nel said.
Nel and Haytham started for the ship and Lora gathered the abandoned mess kits for cleaning. Riggs stared at the remaining three.
“I don’t care what way you go, decide on your own. Get your suits on, get your gear, get out of here,” Riggs said.
“You want a blind kid to go off on her own,” Vhivi said, a frown on her lips.
“You ain’t a kid. One year out from legal drinkin’ ain’t a kid. B’sides, we got you new optics. They give you more than the rest of us got. If anythin’, you got an advantage.”
She pouted, squinting at him to accentuate her displeasure.
“Get out of here.” Riggs gestured for them to leave and Vhivi stuck her tongue out at him before heading off to suit up.
Vhivi waited until the dust-sucker left, heading to the west. It irked her that Riggs sent them in different directions. She worked best with Jak. Riggs knew that. But orders were orders and there would be time to complain later.
As Jak headed off, going to an eastern door, Vhivi checked her suit and headed for a north door. She switched on her shoulder mounted camera, intending to get as much footage as she could. She’d be useful to Riggs, prove her worth. But, really, they should’ve all gone together. Most likely, these branching paths all led to a central area, so, provided they used their time wisely, the three of them would meet up before they were supposed to return.
A blip of heat caught her attention ahead and she froze, catching her breath as the ship roared to life behind her. It was nothing, probably some errant wave of gas. Even in space, heat did exist. Well, she thought, anyway. She had no formal science training, not her field. So she headed toward the opening and hoped she met no one in her exploration.
In the research into the colony, it seemed extremely ordinary. Nothing stuck out as dangerous with it, no strange experiments, no dangerous AI attachments. It was a primarily edian settlement and seemed centered around their religious beliefs, something about the sun or reincarnation. Vhivi didn’t understand it and she wasn’t too keen on learning, more worried about her brother than the religious beliefs of another culture. As many of the records were not in galactic common, Vhivi didn’t know the full details, but the colony’s systems lost power over a century ago and it was thought the citizens did not survive the catastrophe. Though a few scientific expeditions were made, nothing was conclusively found and the colony was allowed to float, unmolested, since.
“Comms check,” Jak’s voice came over the line.
“Mira checking in,” the dust-sucker replied.
Vhivi froze, startled by the sudden noise. She’d never gotten used to long range comms. “Don’t talk if you don’t need anything!” she exclaimed. “Give me a fuckin’ heart attack.” Her heart thundered in her chest and she put her hand to it, hoping to steady herself.
Jak chuckled. “Hey, we don’t know this tech. Just wanted to make sure we’d be heard.”
“Clear the line,” Riggs cut in. “This is for mission only, not for your social pleasures.”
“Thought you said to keep in contact,” Vhivi grumbled, though she chose not to broadcast her thoughts.
Once she recovered from the shock, she continued deeper into the colony. The further she drifted from their camp the darker it got and she eventually switched on her helmet light as she entered the corridor connecting the hanger bay to the rest of the colony, preferring that to switching to night vision. One day, she’d get used to all the settings she now had, but that would come with time.
The connecting corridor was painted with alien words accompanied by arrows. Fortunately for her, the helmet contained a display that translated the words. She was headed into a decontamination chamber, and then an outer engineering ring. Most likely, both Jak and the dust-sucker would run into the same thing on their routes as it was a common design on the older colonies.
As she entered the decontamination, she activated her magnetic boots, allowing her to walk somewhat normally. None of the usual processes triggered, not that Vhivi visited the floating colonies often enough to know what those were. Technology came a long way in a century. However, once she got through to the other side she found the floors clean, undamaged. All of the panels she could see appeared undamaged but, more perplexingly, there were no corpses.
While she wasn’t an expert on decomposition rates in the void, she imagined there’d at least be skeletal remains, even this far along. Or maybe they were all sucked out into space early on. Who was to say? Thinking on it too long would worry her and she had the distinct desire not to have a panic attack while on limited oxygen.
So she stepped into the engineering ring, quieting her anxiety and following an arrow that, supposedly, led toward the main city. She still had a few rings of engineering and maintenance to get through, along with a long hallway between the outer ring and the main colony. She checked her camera to make sure she was recording and ventured on. But, somewhere up ahead, she saw something moving. Something in the shadows, or some debris floating in the lack of atmosphere.
Vhivi shifted through her various settings, trying to understand what she was seeing. Several of the spectra showed her something, but the shapes didn’t make sense. She squinted, but that didn’t help her brain process anything. It shifted and twisted and she stepped closer, trying to see it fully.
Then the radio crackled to life, startling her from this vague sense of enchantment she felt at this strange vision.
“Vhiv, Jak, Mira, get back here,” Riggs growled.
“What’s wrong?” Vhivi asked, shaking her head before averting her gaze from the shifting thing. Probably just a gas.
“Comms ain’t safe. Get back here.”
Maybe it was for the best. Slowly, she backed out of the hallway, picking up the pace once she reached decontamination again, turning off her magnetization and propelling herself forward with her arms. Her paranoia was mostly based on the silence, she reasoned, and the loneliness of the scouting mission. Whatever she saw, it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. Just some sort of drifting fumes, something gassing off deep within the colony.
“If I get home alive, I’mma try alcohol, illegal or not,” she grumbled as she sped toward the base camp.