I am working as hard as I can to get this first novel out. I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember and I have an embarrassingly large collection of half-filled notebooks of story ideas and character descriptions, but this one has been my favorite and was always meant to be the first. I wanted to post the first raw chapter of this novel to try and get some feedback on the progress so far. Keep in mind that this is raw and has not been professionally edited yet (but I promise to polish it and make it nice and shiny before publishing it). I hope you enjoy and please tell me what you think! *Note – there is some foul language in here, so if that’s not your thing, you’ve been properly warned.
I stared down at the dead piece of equipment in my hand. This was the third one in two weeks and Dr. Nakamura was going to ban me from his lab if he found out about it. He had a hefty grant budget, but that didn’t mean he could go around replacing material scanners every couple days.
“Did you kill another one?”
“It wasn’t me, Jackson. I don’t know what’s happening to these things.” My guard pushed himself away from the wall he had been perched against and walked over to my station. He took the handheld machine and stretched the two ends apart to expose the delicate display filaments that up until about a minute ago had been working fine. Jackson tapped on the right hand options panel, but nothing happened. Sighing, he sat down and pulled out the tiny tool set he kept in his utility pants. He was getting used to this, too, unfortunately.
“If you’re not doing this, we’re going to have to talk to engineering about checking the external shielding around this lab. The only thing that can be frying the processors on these things is some kind of electrical burst. Of course, if it were coming from outside we’d expect there to be a lot of equipment fucking up at once.”
I bit my nails and paced the lab while Jackson pulled the internal wiring out of the scanner and laid each piece carefully on my workspace. I leaned against the pano window and wrapped my arms around my chest. Jackson was very good at a lot of things and fixing electronics happened to be one of them. As I noticed the muscles move and flex in his back through his shirt, I was momentarily distracted by the thoughts of all the other things he was good at.
Minutes ticked by and I had to turn around and stare out the window into the inky black void that knocked on every exterior surface of the station in its inexorable desire to come in and play with us. Growing up out here, you know the risks that exist beyond the several-inch-thick walls but you eventually grow immune to the instinctual fear of it. Absently, I pinched a section and spread my fingers to zoom in on a quadrant that I knew to hold a particularly beautiful gaseous nebula. The enlarged view filled the pano window and I wondered what it would be like to actually leave the station and see first-hand what existed in this universe. These daydreams were guaranteed to calm me down when the panic threatened to suck the breath from my lungs just like the vacuum outside threatened to.
“Got it!” I jumped a little as Jackson’s baritone voice pulled me away from my thoughts. He held the scanner triumphantly over his head in both hands and I could see the boot panel flashing across the filament. I sighed and shook the tension from my arms.
“Bless you, Jackson. You’re my hero.”
“What else is new?” His smile was warm and genuine and filled me with love. Just not the kind of love we both pretended to have for each other. I wrapped my arms around his neck and gave him a little kiss on his temple. Just in time for Dr. Nakamura to walk through the door.
“What’s this? Have I employed a mercenary as a lab assistant?”
I stood ramrod straight and dropped my arms at my sides. Jackson casually slid out of my chair and walked back to his position by the window. Years of knowing him allowed me to notice the tightness of his muscles when he walked. He didn’t like being called a mercenary and Dr. Nakamura knew that.
“Of course not, sir. Jackson was just helping me figure something out with this material scanner.”
“I didn’t know guards even knew how to turn equipment like that on, much less assist someone with extensive training that should know her job by now.” He said “guards” with about the same tone one might refer to rodents or week-old garbage. I was very thankful at that moment that one of the other things Jackson was good at was holding his temper. A regular Renaissance Man, he was.
“Did you at least finish the work that I expected to be completed this morning?”
I rushed around to grab the report that I had finished typing up about two hours before I was supposed to get out of bed for the day. He adjusted his glasses as I handed it to him. They were completely useless after he’d had the optical surgery to repair his vision, but Dr. Nakamura had a strange bit of nostalgia and thought they made him look more intellectual. He glanced over the pages, flipping each one with a snap, and then shoved it back in my general direction without looking at me.
“Very well. You may go. I have work to do and the presence of our mandatory guest is distracting.” He waved his hand in our direction and I bowed (he also liked to keep the traditions of his ancestors) before grabbing my things and heading toward the door.
I froze. Did he notice? “Yes, sir?”
“Clear that ridiculousness from the pano.” I exhaled, crossed the room, and quickly wiped the glass. The door made a soft hiss as it sealed behind us and I was finally able to breathe normally.
“Why do you let him get to you like that?” Jackson glared down at me.
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Jackson’s mouth twitched. “He’s a sorry weed.”
I giggled at the euphemism from his home world. “I suppose so, but he’s also a brilliant man and if I want to do anything but work for my father, I’ll need his recommendation. People can still respect you if they don’t like you.”
I shrugged. “I would think so. He still wins awards and has many friends in the field.”
“He has sycophants. There’s a big difference.”
I was not going to win this argument so I just let out a little laugh and kept walking. Apparently, other classes were letting out and I had to sidestep to let several people pass. Jackson huffed and grabbed my arm, pulling me next to him.
“Stop doing that. You have every right to walk through this hallway too. Let them move.”
“I’m being polite.”
“You’re being a pushover. That’s why no one takes you seriously.” Ouch. He noticed when I winced. “Well, you know they don’t. How long have you been telling your father you don’t want to work for his company?”
“He just wants me to follow in his footsteps. I’m his only child.”
“No, he just knows he can get you to do it and he won’t have to pay you anything since he pays all your expenses anyway.” Double ouch. “You know what I mean. You can’t help that you’re worth more than this whole station.”
I sighed. Deep down I knew Jackson was right. He had been with me since we were children and knew me as well as a brother would – which made our occasional trysts in my quarters weird if I thought about it too hard.
I heard a commotion coming from way down the corridor and saw people diving to each side and screaming. Jackson pushed me against the wall and drew his weapon, using his own body as a shield. I looked around him to see a huge wheeled apparatus plowing down the hallway. It bounced between the interior wall and the glass panels, hitting people occasionally, but continuing on its path. It wasn’t slowing down, either. Jackson grabbed my arm and ran the other way.
“Come on, get inside.” He threw open the door to a maintenance closet and shoved me inside. He was about to jump in too, when we heard a tiny piercing scream. Our eyes met as we recognized the voice. We both stuck our heads out and looked to the right to see Charlie standing, frozen, in the center of the hall. I yelled at her to come to me, but the five-year-old was cemented to the floor in terror. I had just enough time to glance at the machine barreling towards us and Charlie when Jackson gave me a hard shove back into the closet and dove out. I heard an oomf from Charlie and a thump about a half second before I heard Jackson’s scream and a gurgled cough.
I rushed along behind the gurney with Charlie perched on my hip. She was still crying and her head was oozing a little under the piece of my shirt that I was holding against it, but my biggest concern was still Jackson. His breathing was ragged and was causing him obvious pain even though the medics that had arrived had given him a substantial dose of some kind of painkiller. I’d only seen injuries like his once before when a transport blew up as it was preparing to leave the bay. Those people didn’t make it and in that moment, remembering their deaths, I was struck by an overwhelming fear that I was going to lose Jackson.
A doctor took Charlie from my arms while another demanded to know what happened. I told him all I knew, but honestly I wasn’t entirely sure. Jackson had shoved me into the closet hard and it was all over before I could see how the apparatus hit him. A man sitting on a cot behind me spoke up.
“I don’t know how he got to her so fast. He dove for her – the child – and I knew that he wasn’t going to make it, but in a second she was flying to the other side of the hall. She hit her head on the glass and the rig ran right over him. I was a good three metrics away from him and I heard the crunch when the wheels went over.” The man’s face was pale and he looked like he was going to throw up. “I didn’t expect to find him alive.”
“What hit him?” The doctor grabbed his body scanner from his pocket and I inadvertently took a step back just to be safe.
“I don’t know what it was. I was a huge piece of wheeled machinery.” I wrapped my arms around me and squeezed.
“It was a heavy skid. They were trying to transport it to the hangar bay and it got away from them.” A female security officer rushed by me with two men clinging to her shoulders. Both had injuries that looked painful but not too serious. “Ran over a few feet, got one guy in a shoulder. Stopped when it came to a junction. Unfortunately there was also a woman there who didn’t get out of the way in time.”
“Did she…” I couldn’t finish.
“Yeah, she didn’t make it. There really wasn’t much to tell she was a woman except for the people that saw her standing there before it hit. Damn shame.” The officer shook her head gently as she shined a flashlight in one guy’s eyes. “This one hit his head pretty hard on the glass so you might wanna keep him overnight. The other one might have a broken leg. I gotta run back and make sure everything is handled and get my report out. The President is already on her way down to assess.”
“Thanks, Gemina. We’ve got everything under control.” The doctor had already transferred his scan data to the projector on the wall. The officer stopped as she passed.
“Is this the one that saved that girl?”
“Yeah.” The doctor rubbed his chin as he stared at the display.
“I heard he got ran over by it.”
“Considering what happened to that other woman, I’m surprised he made it.” Now the officer was examining his scans. She must have had emergency responder training given her demeanor.
“You and me both, Gemina. He’s got a cracked rib which punctured his lung, but I’m not sure how it didn’t crush him completely. Those heavy skids weight what, nine hundred kilos?”
Gemina nodded. “Roughly.” They both turned and stared at Jackson for a minute before Gemina shrugged and said, “Looks like your boyfriend here is one lucky guy.” She patted my shoulder and tipped her head to the doctor who was now filling a syringe with some medicine and hurried out the door.
I brushed some carpet fuzz off Jackson’s head and said a thank you to whoever might be listening for sparing his life so far. I didn’t know how easy it was to overcome a broken rib and a punctured lung, but it was sure better than being crushed into an unrecognizable mess. He moaned softly and then coughed.
“Ssh, she’s fine. Just a little bump on the head.” He grimaced and wheezed. “She’s alive thanks to you. Now just worry about getting better. You got hurt and the doctors are going to take care of you now, so you need to try and rest.”
“Anais, I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
He tried to take a breath, but it was an obvious struggle. “I shouldn’t have left you.”
“You had to get Charlie, it’s okay. I’m fine. Now rest and don’t try to talk.” He nodded and whatever the doctor had put in his IV line was starting to take effect and he was drifting off.
“He’ll be okay here. Why don’t you go get cleaned up? I’ll send word if his status changes either way. Until then, we’re going to keep him sedated.”
“Okay, I’m in room – “
“I know how to reach you, Miss Bishom.”
Oh, of course. Everyone knows the daughter of Carden Bishom. Which reminded me that I really needed to call my father and let him know what happened before he sent a detachment from the surface to check on me. I thanked the doctor and cast Jackson a worried look before hurrying to my quarters to send out a communication before someone else did.
“No, I’m absolutely fine daddy. You do not need to send any guards up here. Jackson will be better soon and he can get back to duty.” Whether or not that was true, I hoped it would serve to appease my father. I didn’t have high hopes.
“Speaking of which, what gave him the right to leave his duty to protect you for some kid?”
“Daddy! It was a five-year-old girl! She would have been killed!”
“You could have been too! I am not paying him what I’m paying him to have him run off to play hero for any common person.”
“I can’t believe you said that. He made sure I was safe before going to Charlie. He did the right thing and almost got killed for it. You should be grateful to him, not questioning his actions.”
My father was quiet for a few seconds before sighing loudly. “You’re right, dear. I’m sorry. This is all just very upsetting. How could such a thing happen on a station like that? Vespa Prime Academy isn’t a cheap university. It is the best in our system and they are supposed to have rules in place to prevent things like this.”
“I don’t know daddy, but it sounds like it was just a simple accident. I horrible one, yes, but one that could happen anywhere.”
“Well, until Jackson is back on duty, I’m not taking any chances. I’m sending a transport up for you at the first available departure window. The Shareholder’s Ball is in two days and I wanted you to attend that anyway. You need to be introduced to some important people before you take over your duties next summer.”
I couldn’t stop the groan that escaped my lips. “But there’s so much work for me to do up here.”
“I’ve already talked to Nakamura. You aren’t expected back in the lab for a week, especially since turning in your prospectus already.” He read my silence like a book. “I appreciate you calling, dear, but do not think you were the first. While you were playing the doting girlfriend to your hired guard, at least three other employees had already reported on the situation. Do not think that I do not know everything that is going on up there.” I felt a little sick to my stomach. I really hope he didn’t actually know everything.
“I had to make sure he was – “
“Don’t, Anais. I am not sure to what extent this little romance has gone, but it will end or I will replace him with someone much stricter in their code of conduct.” I shivered at the thought. I knew how strict my father’s code of conduct went.
“Be ready in two hours and notify me the second you breech the atmosphere.”
“Yes, daddy.” I sat on my bed for about a minute after the line clicked before getting up to close the connection. My legs felt too heavy for my body and I had the strange sensation of being pinched between two massive fingers. I was so tired of being told where to be, how to dress, and who to spend my time with. I may have been one of the wealthiest people in our system, but that didn’t help much when the poorest had more freedom in their life than I did. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Jackson, but being told I wasn’t even allowed to find out was suddenly more than I could stand. I grabbed the first thing that my hands landed on and threw it against the wall. It was apparently an image viewer and as soon as it crashed against the wall, I realized which one. I ran across the room to pick it up and caught just a glimpse of my mom’s face before the image shorted out. As tears fell on the shattered viewer, I wondered how different things would be for me if that transport hadn’t blown up and taken her away from me.