This is a treat for me, a Trekkie from way back. Jeff is another member of the wonderfully diverse BacklistEbook group. He writes science fiction, something I’ve always admired…from afar. It’s another one of those genres I love to read but can’t imagine the work that goes into writing, creating a whole new world, new planets, starships. As I said, I’m a Trekkie and have watched all the Star Trek incarnations (New Generations was my favorite) and of COURSE all the movies. When I was younger I devoured science fiction books too, and one of the earliest, creepiest memories was a book about Martians invading earth, disguised as humans. I can’t recall the specific title of the book, but one scene has always lingered vividly in my mind, and I think about it after I’ve had a shower and the mirrors are all steamed up in the bathroom. The scene had the main character going into a washroom after a normal looking gentleman only to look at the fogged up mirror and see a handprint with three fat decidedly non-human fingers showing in the condensation. Deliciously creepy. Anyway, on to my guest blogger…Jeffrey A. Carver, who had my interest at the word “pirates” *G*
****The fact that I write science fiction probably makes me an unusual guest here on Marsha’s blog. That’s okay, because I always like talking to people who read other kinds of stories. I think we have a lot in common, even if it isn’t always obvious at first.
Selecting a sample, though, is a challenge. My novels tend to be big tapestry kinds of things, sprawling across space and time, with at least a few cosmic wow! moments by the time myriad threads come together for the climax. That kind of story can be hard to excerpt. But I’m going to try.
What follows is a scene from Eternity’s End, a novel that I republished myself as an ebook following its print edition from Tor Books. (The print edition was a Nebula Award finalist.) It has a variety of elements: space pirates, a legendary “Flying Dutchman” of the stars luring starships to their doom, interstellar political conspiracies, and some hot cyber-enhanced romance. It takes place in my Star Rigger universe, which sets it against the same backdrop as my most recent ebook release: Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus, a pair of science-fiction novels that explores a realm of dragons among the stars.
(note from Marsha: Fainting twice now…pirates AND dragons…)
In this, I opted for a scene that would show—in case you were wondering—that science fiction is really, first and foremost, about people. Our hero Legroeder is a rigger, a star pilot. Having escaped from captivity among pirates, he has joined a mission with the alien Narseil to infiltrate a major raider stronghold, in hopes of finding a way to break their rule of fear. He was told to look for help from an underground somewhere on the interstellar space station, but he hardly expected to make such a close personal connection, especially with Tracy-Ace/Alfa, one of the Kyber leaders.
Excerpt from Eternity’s End — Joinings
“You probably think I’m trying to trap you,” she said. “I’m not. Really. It’s no coincidence, you know, that you were brought to my attention when you explored that particular thread. And if you are looking to be put in touch with others…” She paused. “I can do that for you.”
He tried to draw a breath, but someone was sitting on his chest. “I—”
“It will have to be set up carefully, of course.”
“Which I will do. But in the meantime—”
For all the speed of their direct connection, he felt as if he could barely keep up here. He hadn’t been expecting anything at all like this. And that expression on her face—he was blinking at her, trying to understand; it looked like something he’d never seen on her face before. Vulnerability. She was taking a risk. She was afraid. But of what?
“You must speak of this to no one outside this room,” she continued. “Not your friends. Not even me, unless I tell you it’s safe.” She rubbed one of her now-darkened implants. Meaning… others might be privy to what her implants heard?
“Do you understand?” she asked, and he nodded slowly.
“Good.” She sighed, her breath a long, slow whisper, and the tension seemed to drain out of her. She glanced at him with a hint of a smile, then looked away, as though embarrassed.
It seemed impossible. Legroeder frowned, caught for an instant between impulses. If she’s another Greta, you are in deep, deep trouble. Without allowing himself another thought, he reached out. She met his hand halfway, took it with surprising strength. His implants came to life, and he felt a shock of surprise at the intensity of the connection. Understanding flowed through the link and blossomed in his mind; and suddenly he realized why she felt vulnerable. Tracy-Ace, the dreaded node-commander, was appalled by the Kyber methods. But any attempt to change the system could backfire at once. For an instant, he glimpsed Tracy-Ace as a troubled young woman, caught in a maelstrom of shifting currents of power. Then the glimpse was gone, replaced by the confidence of Tracy-Ace/Alfa, the node-commander. But he had seen it; it was there.
If he could believe it. If she was telling the truth.
What would she gain by lying? She already had him as a prisoner, if that was what she wanted.
He squeezed her hand; she squeezed back, hard. Then she was up, padding across the room in her bare feet. When had she taken her shoes off? “Are you hungry?” she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she opened a cabinet door and took out bowls and a pair of slender glasses. Legroeder watched silently as she served the noodles; his head was still ringing like a bell from that contact. What had it touched in him?
“Glass of wino?” Tracy-Ace asked.
He barked a laugh. “Glass of what?”
She brandished a semiclear carton of red liquid. “Wino. It’s synthetic, but it’s not too bad. What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” he said, suppressing a chuckle. “Sure, I’d love some.”
She opened the carton and poured. Legroeder accepted a glass and held it up to the light. Clear burgundy color. He sniffed at the liquid. Could it be worse than what he’d drunk at DeNoble? He held his glass up to hers. “Clink them together,” he said. Tracy-Ace looked puzzled, but clinked. It felt satisfying. He took a sip, hoping it would taste as good as the gesture had felt. It didn’t, not even remotely; but somehow that didn’t seem to matter. Tracy-Ace was watching him for a reaction, and when he smiled, it felt genuine.
She handed him a bowl and fork and gestured to the only place for them both to sit. They perched together on the edge of the bed—not too close together, but close enough to make him wonder what he was doing here. What he was doing about his mission. Quite a lot, dammit, he snarled to himself. The Narseil are getting a bath, and we’ve met the underground. That’s not too bad. And it wasn’t, really. But it didn’t answer the question of what he was doing sitting on a bed with Tracy-Ace/Alfa. What did it mean that he liked sitting on the bed with her—liked it quite a lot, now that he thought about it?
He took a quick bite of noodles, then a sip of wino, then stole a glance at Tracy-Ace. It wasn’t as if it had been love, or even lust, at first sight. And yet… he was aware now, almost hungrily aware, of her physical attractiveness: her lanky grace and energy, the almost elfin delicacy of her face. The vulnerability. Funny, that a woman who controlled so many lethal weapons should seem vulnerable.
And then there was the connecting touch they had shared, not just once but several times. As he gazed at her—no longer a stolen glance, but a steady gaze—he had the dizzying feeling that he had known her for years.
She smiled, and the effect was electrifying. Putting her fork down, she stretched out a hand. He watched the gesture in detached silence for a moment, then took her hand in his. He knew at once that this was something more than a handshake. “Pleased to know you, Tracy-Ace/Alfa,” he said in a husky voice.
“Pleased to know you, Renwald Legroeder.”
The tingle this time started not at the juncture of their hands, but at his toes. It moved up his body in a languid wave, more a physical sensation than a joining of minds. He felt a brief flash of fear—but a quick glance inward at his implants showed only a faint sparkling against darkness where he expected to see an active connection. This felt less like an uplink/downlink than like lowering himself into a tub of hot water, the heat flowing up his body. It wasn’t exactly sexual; it was more like a rising awareness on multiple sensory levels. It was as if his connectors were being tuned, enhanced, made ready for a heightened response. But a response to what?
The wave moved up through his loins with a fleeting tingle, then into his torso. He gasped as it passed his diaphragm; Tracy-Ace let out a little sigh at the same time. He blinked and focused on her. She seemed to be staring at nothing, at space, through him or past him. Is she who she seems? She noticed his gaze then—and her eyes sharpened. Her lips turned up, in a smile that took his breath away.
The final rush came quickly, like a vapor filling his skull. He felt a sudden, euphoric clarity, as though he had breathed in a lungful of clear mountain air.
He peered down at their clasped hands and found he wanted to squeeze her hand tighter, to renew the sensation of physical touch. Her eyes brightened as he squeezed, and he felt a second wave pass through him. This time it came from his hand and went straight up his arm. It was accompanied by a strange itch.
It took him a moment to realize that the itch was a tremendous spike of uplink/downlink. They were exchanging knowledge in a great exhilarating rush…
Snippets of his childhood play, on the long rolling beaches of Claire Marie—pleasure darkened by a certain melancholy, and by his unease with the water. Flashes of the joy and release of an unrestrained dash through the streams of the Flux…
Entwined with his flashes were hers—early memories of a farmhouse and grandparents, then coming of age in an utterly alien place, a culture in hiding. Achieving at an early age, mastering the inner life of the intelnet, of the implants and the knowledge systems…
Legroeder was filling like a vessel with her challenges and fears, and also her excursions into hopefulness. And against that, his own joys and friendships blazed into relief—Janofer and Gev and Skan—and hints of bitterly dark times…
Legroeder was teetering on the edge of a complete surrender to the exchange. He felt a sharp pang of fear; this is stupid, I’m going to betray everything! Or his implants would; or hers would somehow find everything he was hiding. But she already knew that he wanted to meet the underground; the only question was whether she was lying to him. His fear was countered by a silent reassurance from his implants: You’re not an open book if you don’t want to be. But his implants had slipped up before.
He was more aware of outward signals now, as he peered at her through half-closed eyes: the body language that he might otherwise have missed, or misread: her eye movements, beckoning, the pressure of her hand, the angling of her legs toward him, a certain openness, a readiness.
I don’t think she’s lying about this.
She wanted him. And he wanted her. He hadn’t been sure before, but now he was. There was not yet a feeling of urgency, but something was happening between them, and quickly. In an extraordinary way, it did not feel rushed at all, but a naturally flowing development. In this strange communion, all of the courtship and wondering and mutual exploration were passing in a blur, a blending of pigments on a living canvas, colors glowing and shifting and fusing. And through it all a slowly rising breath of desire…
“Renwald,” he heard, and wondered for a moment if he had heard the sound through the air, or through the joining. My name is Legroeder, he murmured with mock indignation, the thought slipping out through their joined hands.
“I know,” she whispered, “I know.” But I like Renwald, I like the way it rolls off my tongue, I like the way I feel when I say it, the way I’ll feel when I hold you in my… And suddenly she broke off with an embarrassed inner laugh, as though she had not meant to let all of that slip.
You can call me Renwald, any time you want, he murmured, intending to speak it aloud… but no, it was another thought slipping through the link. There in front of him now was his hand, almost like a separate entity, moving up her arm; it paused, squeezing her shoulder, before sliding back down to clasp her hand with a tingle. Out of the blue, before he could stop it, the thought floated up out of his mind and into the connection: Are you the face of the enemy?
More about Jeff’s ebooks: http://www.starrigger.net/Downloads.htm
Blog: Pushing a Snake Up a Hill http://starrigger.blogspot.com/