Science Fiction space opera space fiction novel excerpt

Excerpt from Araña

By Jennifer R. Povey
Jan 23, 2020 · 1,989 words · 8 minutes


Here's an excerpt from my space opera Araña.

Chapter Four

Epsilon Eridani.

It was not to have been their destination. It was the Atlantis’. It was likely not where they had been lost.

It was where they had been last heard from. Except for that echoing hint of a distress call, which they could not quite locate. The last vestiges of oddness flowed out of José as they fully settled into normal space.

There was nothing he could do directly in the search, nothing he could do but finish the probe modifications Dr. Jordan had asked for. She was their primary specialist on alien life.

Hopefully there would be work for her to do.

But it meant he was in his workshop, not seeing what was going on outside, not even feeling it any more. He was nothing more than part of the web, not even its center right now. Fly, not spider.

The ship shuddered.

“Take hold.” No litany, just those two words.

What was going on? He thought he heard running feet as he took hold, and then he felt the ship lurch. He reached to grab the wrench on the bench before the artificial gravity failed.

It did. Spectacularly. The far wall became the floor, then they were in microgravity, then the floor was the floor again. Bile rose into José’s mouth. He was not prone to spacesickness, but that…

That was an evasive action. He’d been on a ship which had zigged like that before, and one perhaps better designed for it than the Endeavour.

It wasn’t an asteroid.

He wanted to be on the bridge. Or at least somewhere he could see something, not the bowels of the ship.

He had external view cameras for monitoring hull repair. He turned them on.

Space.

Stars.

And a dark shape amongst the stars, unmistakably a ship.

Unmistakably.

The enemy was here. No, that thought was the web, the web telling him everything not a friend was an enemy.

Everything not in uniform, the right uniform. That wasn’t an Earth ship.

That wasn’t a human ship.

He envisioned, imagined, the Atlantis coming under fire. They would have taken evasive action. They would have run. This wasn’t a warship, by design, although he did feel the shudder that was them returning fire.

Or had that first shudder been them starting the fight? Why would they do that? Maybe it had been a near collision.

Torpedoes had been launched. He saw them streak towards the enemy ship, saw it evade with the speed that spoke of a skilled, webbed pilot at the helm.

Saw the spread that started to return.

The Endeavour lurched again.

And fell into hyperspace. Fell away from him, the entire universe before him again, laid out like a tapestry and panoply of stars.

Tumbling.

He felt the ship tumble, the shifts in the artgrav, the fact that this wasn’t an instant transfer. There had been no warning.

Madre de Dios, he thought, despite not being a religious man. Were trapped in hyperspace!

He felt it.

He felt the world flow around him, the tumble, time looping around him. Knew he was going to die.

No atheists in foxholes.

The panoply of stars. He felt them, and he was tumbling, he was falling through space. He was reaching out, desperate, for any handhold. He was a man falling from a tree, the forest floor below.

He was an ape.

He grabbed one of them.

Grabbed.

Pulled.

And then fell into darkness.

 

Blackness faded out into light. Too much light, right in his face.

He was lying on his back, on a surface rather softer than…where had he been? That was right. In the workshop chair.

This was more comfortable.

He was strapped down.

He was, he slowly realized, in sickbay, secured to a bed.

“Uh…”

“Oh, you’re awake.”

“What happened?” he asked, rather lamely.

“We’re not sure. Your web overloaded, but it was minor and it seems to be back to normal now.”

Falling. Tumbling. “No. What happened to the ship?” He realized right away that he had no right to be asking that question. No right to be knowing or feeling…he could still feel that tumble.

The starlight was inside him.

“We got shot at. By aliens. Jumped out too fast and…we’re not even sure at that point.”

José tried to sit up, and was reminded he was strapped down. “Can I…”

The medic, a white man in his forties, unfastened the straps. “Sorry, but we weren’t sure there wouldn’t be any more sudden maneuvers.”

That was better than them thinking he needed to be restrained. And likely accurate. He wouldn’t have wanted to be thrown from the bed. He sat up slowly and felt a bit of dizziness.

Good job he’d been strapped in.

And then the door opened. Captain Chang strode in with a younger woman behind her. One of the bridge crew.

She looked right at him, her eyes narrowed into something close to a glare. But there was no anger in her tone, only concern.

“Dr. Warren,” she said to the medical officer. “What happened to this man?”

“Some kind of web malfunction during the jump. I’m running tests, but I haven’t seen anything like this.”

The younger woman abruptly stepped forward. Before José could react, she reached to put her hand on his. She was webbed, he could see the glint even on her fair skin. She was lighter skinned, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. The kind of appearance that was often called conventionally attractive, but she fell short of that to him.

“Some kind of web thing?” she asked José, looking right at him.

Static jumped between them, not sexual, not biological. A resonance.

“I…” A pause.

“Captain, may I?” the woman asked. She was in her twenties, her accent spoke of French…no, French Canadian.

To José’s surprise, Captain Chang shepherded the doctor out of the room.

His heart beat slowed down a little. He hadn’t realized how nervous the CO was making him.

“Better?”

He nodded, swinging his legs off the side of the bed. Still a little dizzy.

“The starlight is in the web,” she said to him.

The exact thought he had had, like telepathy. “What the…”

“You,” she said, finally. “You managed to grab control of the ship after I lost it. Without being hooked in physically. You saved the ship, Mr. Marin.”

“I don’t understand.”

She released his hand. “You were briefed on the fact that the starship pilots are webbed, right?”

“Yes. But most pilots are. For reflexes.”

Spiders.

Different varieties. Maybe the pilots were more like spiders, the ship an extension of the web.

The stars an extension of the web.

“Right. Exactly. It was only after we started testing the drive that we realized that hyperspace has an electromagnetic resonance.”

“That means anyone who is webbed is going to pick up on it.” He should have asked Obadiah.

“Anyone who is webbed will feel the jump a little. You should have been told that.”

“I think it was in the briefing packet somewhere.” José had read it. He had…okay. He had skimmed it.

“But you…somehow you felt all of it.” She looked, for a moment, like she wanted to kiss him.

It wasn’t sexual. It was something else, a peculiar need for intimacy and understanding. A shared experience. “I don’t get it.” He didn’t. He had felt…there was something wrong with his web.

“Neither do I, but…the captain wants me to run you through some simulations, when you’re up to it. See what you can do.”

“Are you suggesting…” He tailed off. “I failed the pilot aptitude tests.”

“I know.” She smiled. “Lieutenant Cecilie Lauxon,” she introduced. “Chief pilot.”

“So, what makes you think…”

“Like I said. You saved the ship. Think about it.” Then she added, “And hyperspace is not normal space.”

He knew he would have no choice. He watched her as she left the room, knowing the sexual fantasy he had felt the edge of was part of the starlight, not any real connection between them.

Did they really understand hyperspace?

He thought not.

 

The Endeavour had a fairly large mess, aft above the shuttle bay. Right next to his workshop, in fact.

This mess was for the crew, not the officers, but Obadiah had deigned to come down from “upstairs.”

On a ship this small there wasn’t so much of a divide. “So, what happened?”

“I don’t know,” José admitted. “You feel the jumps.”

“Just a bit of a twist.”

“I feel all of it. And I don’t think anyone knows why. It’s like it’s some kind of magic. Or ESP.”

“Ever been tested?” Obadiah asked.

José shook his head. “No. I always thought it was crap.”

“Some people do have some sensitivity, although I dunno. It’s about…”

“Hyperspace has electromagnetic resonance. The theory is that if you could jump into an atmosphere, you would make an electrical storm when you came out.” José half-smiled. “I read up on that.” The ship’s library was comprehensive, if all digital. The entire knowledge of mankind, easily copied and stored.

“Right. So, either something weird is with your web, or you are the one with the electromagnetic sensitivity.”

José thought back. He remembered Mars. He remembered the emptiness of the desert. Then he thought back further, to the beach. “Hrm. But…I don’t know. I think it has to be the web. But now they want me to learn to fly this thing, and I told them I failed all the aptitude tests.”

“But the scuttlebutt is that you got us out. Even if we still haven’t worked out quite where we are.”

It was going to be hard to find the Atlantis if they didn’t know where they were. Hard to find home too. José swallowed. It hadn’t occurred to him until now that they might be hopelessly lost.

And what if it had been an alien weapon that did this and the Atlantis was still in hyperspace? A distress call sent before they jumped.

“Which means you have the aptitude for this,” Obadiah continued.

“People do unexpected things under stress. You know that. You remember that embedded journalist?”

“Oh boy. The Canadian chick who was trapped with us.”

“She swore up and down she couldn’t shoot the broad side of a barn, you pushed a gun into her hand anyway…”

“And she did what she needed to do. Poor woman must have needed even more therapy afterwards than we did.”

“Must have.” José let out a breath. “Point is that it has to have been a fluke. Has to have been.”

“Don’t you want to know where we are?”

It was a blatant attempt to change the subject. “We don’t know.”

“Oh, we don’t know our coordinates, but we’re in a rather interesting binary system.”

José nodded. “Anyone living here?”

“That’s what we’re going to find out. Might as well do science while the navigators work out where we are.”

José laughed weakly. “The scientists can do science. I…”

Can fly the ship.

But no. He’d failed the aptitude tests. He had the wrong type of web, made for strength.

Made to turn him into a fighting monster, not a pilot.

He couldn’t fly the ship. He couldn’t navigate the dive through hyperspace. It had been a fluke.

“Come on. We’re both off duty. Let’s go to the bubble and look.”

José let Obadiah lead him upstairs. The lieutenant was right. This was the first alien system they were getting a proper look at. The one they had to flee barely counted. While he couldn’t do science, he could at least look at it.

Could at least see the light of an alien sun.

To find out where they are and what really happened, read Araña, available any place ebooks are sold and in paperback.

Copies will be available at Farpoint Convention in February.


Arana
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Araña

The Mars War is years over. Earth lost. And Earth's first starship has gone out into the black. José Marin is crew on the second, a war veteran seeking a place to belong away from a world which has not welcomed him home. But when the Atlantis sends a distress call, the Endeavour must go to their aid, and discover a tangled web that Marin will be drawn into the very heart of. Now he must help find a way to save a world while his own crumbles...

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Jennifer R. Povey

Everything from epic fantasy to stories for Analog.