Novel update…preview of early chapter
So, the novel is coming along. Will have it done by September, then off to the editor…cover design, formatting…copyediting back and forth…then shoot to have it out by Christmas on a Kindle near you. That’s the plan, anyway!
Since people are awesome enough to regularly ask how it’s going, I wanted to share a preview of what’s down on paper in the first portion of the book.
It’s sci-fi, so there’s that. I wanted to see if the opening chapters could explain what the heck is going on without a lot of prologue, so let’s see if it works here by not giving any intro. You’re welcome!
It’s raw at this point. And you might find a couple of typos or poorly written sentences. We’ll consider those proof of your genius if you can catch ’em all!
All rights reserved and all that lot.
Eve laced up her boots and sat on the table in her assigned examination room of the infirmary. After a few hours of tests, questionnaires and waiting, she was running thin on patience. However, the leisurely chatting of the civilian attendants in the hall told her she’d have a little while longer to sit.
Eve looked around the room for the ninth time, looking over the posters warning service members about the dangers of STDs, the upcoming flu season and being watchful for signs of suicidal thoughts.
Three young corpsmen slowed their walk as they passed her room’s open door. They looked up at the sign that said ‘Pre-Deployment’, then to Eve.
“Afternoon, chief,” one of them said, smiling.
Eve forced a smile and wave. They continued on, watching her as they passed. She couldn’t tell the rank—couldn’t tell if the men outranked her. She didn’t care. Neither did the medical types, usually. They seemed pretty casual around each other, a welcome break from the more hard-nosed components.
A nurse came in with a data pad. Eve sat up. The nurse walked straight over to the room’s terminal, entered in some commands and walked out again. Eve breathed deep and sighed. The air was freezing and odorless—almost unnaturally so.
The rooms were bright with dingy light from the fixtures. The whole infirmary seemed old and worn out. Floors seemed musty. Shelves looked a bit dull and worn. Eve remembered when the clinic first opened, it was after her third deployment—maybe fourth. She wasn’t sure.
“Afternoon, Chief Technician…Roel? Is that how you pronounce it?” a woman said as she entered the room, her eyes fixed on a data pad of her own. She wore the uniform of a doctor and Eve was able to spot rank, thankfully.
“Yes. Afternoon, ma’am,” Eve said, sitting up.
The doctor walked over, sat at the terminal and faced away from Eve as she scrolled through the data.
“I’m sorry things have been taking so long this morning,” she said vacantly. Eve was sure she wouldn’t hear any response. “Looks like we’ve been putting you through all the paces this morning,” she continued.
“Pre-deployment screens, yes,” Eve said.
“Exciting, yes?” the doctor turned around and smiled wide-eyed. “The reason we’re here and all, right?”
“Sure,” Eve said.
“No no, I’m serious,” the doctor got up and closed the door, then returned to her terminal chair and looked Eve in the eyes. “We are honored every day for our part in service to our dronemasters.”
“Dronemasters?” Eve asked with a slight laugh. “Command is back to calling techs dronemasters again?”
“Look,” the doctor leaned in. “I spend most of my days dealing with people trying to get on light duty or out of muster or recovering from something they picked up from a one-night stand. It’s good to have a real reason to come in to work. People notice when we send a technician off to the fight. There’s a buzz in the air. People go out to see the carriers launch. Reminds them why we’re all these billions of miles from home.”
The doctor slapped Eve’s knees and spun back around toward her terminal. “So live it up a little. Soak in the hero worship. You’re the only one of us who will ever get close to actual combat.”
Eve had heard this speech before nearly every deployment of her career, each from different doctors saying it as though it was the first time. There had been other adoring stares and curious onlookers then too, whispering about deployment and all. But it was more for them than for her—this feeling like they were doing something that mattered. To Eve, it was another deployment. One closer to the end of her conscription. Nothing more.
“It looks as though your brain scans came in…” the doctor said, her voice drew out in to a strange echoing. “Who ordered those?”
Eve caught a shiver and noticed the cold again. She was always cold these days. She wondered why? And the echoing? Sounds often seemed to echo into nothingness. Eve looked at her hands. The scene faded in and out slightly as if she was about to faint.
Was something wrong? She seemed to feel fine apart from the cold. Was she sick? She looked to the doctor, but the scene had slowed, like a vid playback on half speed.
Was this cryo? It might be. Yes, yes it was. Eve remembered it now. She was in cryosleep, on the way to another deployment. Moreover, she was dreaming in cryosleep—something that was not supposed to happen—something the doctors always said was impossible because of the temperatures—about processes and brain waves. But Eve had been dreaming in cryo for several deployments.
She had tried to talk about it during checkups and pre/post deployment tests, but no one seemed to take it seriously.
“…I’m sorry?” Eve said, back in the dream, noticing the doctor had turned as if waiting for an answer.
“Yes, I see you do drift off. Does that happen often?” the doctor asked, eyes back on the screen.
“Does what happen?” Eve asked.
“Daydreaming, your mind going somewhere else, does it happen to you a lot?”
“Sometimes yes,” Eve said.
The doctor started typing something. “How often?”
“What did the brain scans say?” Eve asked. “Is there a problem?”
The doctor kept looking at the screen away from Eve.
“Is there a problem?” Eve repeated the question.
“What?—Oh, nothing you need worry about. Nothing that will stop the mission,” the doctor said.
“It’s the Gloom isn’t it?” Eve asked.
“What?” the doctor seemed surprised. She turned around from the terminal and looked at Eve.
“I’ve been in service what—21 years? About nine or 10 of it awake. I’ve heard the rumors about the old techs—how the Gloom erodes our brains, slowly burning us out.”
“What rumors?” the doctor laughed, “Who here have you talked with?”
Eve sighed and stretched her legs a bit. “No one here. Techs don’t see much of each other. But I’ve talked about the it before—“
“—Yes, it’s been noted in your records that you’ve brought it up—a preoccupation about this ‘Gloominess’ or whatever the fear mongers are calling it. There’s nothing to it. Quantum interfacing is harmless with the right equipment and medications.”
“But I dream.”
“What?” again, the doctor was surprised. She looked a little shocked, like Eve had mentioned something off limits.
“I dream in cryosleep, and it reminds me of the Gloom. There has to be a connection,” Eve said.
“Nonsense. It’s impossible. Nobody dreams in cryosleep. The brain can’t achieve the levels of—“
“—Enough!” Eve raised her voice. “I don’t see the damn point of all this talking, all these questions, if no one ever listens to what I have to say! I go through this before every damned mission. I answer them the same, I answer them differently and nothing changes. All I get is looks from you people and the same pills.”
The doctor’s eyes narrowed a little. “You have been taking your pills, right? Because that might explain why—”
Eve put her hand to her forehead, the headache was back. “—Yes, yes, blue pills for the implants, yellow pills for my synapses. Yes. But they don’t stop these damned headaches.”
Silence. Eve took a second and calmed down. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to get angry.”
“It’s alright,” the doctor said. “Nervous about the deployment, I bet. Well, and ready to get out of the infirmary too. Ha!”
The doctor didn’t seem phased at her outburst. Eve sat quietly while the doctor worked, then asked, “About the headaches…the headaches are worse too.”
“You find a boyfriend during this in between time at the expedition station?” the doctor asked, ignoring Eve’s comment.
“What? No,” Eve said, annoyed. “Techs don’t mingle much with the troops. You know that.”
“No. Some do. And it would be good for you to find a good lay while you’re here. Plenty of guys would be putty in your hands after some war stories.”
Sex? The doctor was pushing Eve to have sex? She frowned and shook her head.
“Or women, if that’s your thing,” the doctor continued.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Every body needs some body, as they say.”
“I’m fine,” Eve said.
“Look, the scans say there’s nothing wrong with you…,” the doctor paused. “Headaches happen. Just keep taking your anti-rejection pills for the implants and the synapse invigorating medication for the best data throughput.” She paused, then said, “…But I do think it would do you good to find some companionship. Being on deployment out there alone with naught but drones would be taxing for anyone—even just once—let alone for however many deployments you’ve been on.”
“Seventeen,” Eve said. “I’ve been on 17.”
“Quite right,” the doctor smiled.
The scene seemed to fade out slowly. Eve remembered this happening many times before. Much of dreaming in cryo was slow and plodding. Dreams seemed to build themselves up in parts so that the light then colors then shapes then voices all arrived separately, as if thawing out from her mind.
Eve wasn’t quite sure how long she had been in cryo. Transit times to and from deployments could be anywhere from several weeks to nearly a year. While in the dreaming scenes, time seemed to move along normally, the interim periods of darkness and muffled light and sounds could very well have been days or weeks for all Eve knew. In fact, it’s how Eve supposed those first few years of her non-dreaming cryosleep passed. But somehow, her mind grew around this long slumber and adapted to expressing itself while in cryo—like her implants allowed her mind to adapt to perceive the Gloom, the workspace of the quantum technicians.
This dream space was very similar to the Gloom, dark and cold. Perhaps it was the similarity that made dreaming possible.
The Gloom was unofficial nickname for the never used official yet unwieldy term: Mentally Constructed Visual Representation of the Quantum Space. It was where quantum technicians went to perform their repair duties on the intricate and evolving data centers of modern combat drones—a sort of trance-like state where technicians would use their implants and visors to peer into the circuits and hardware of drones to “see” the pathways of electricity and information as patterns and structures of light and color held aloft in an infinite cold black world.
It was where techs like Eve spent much of their time during deployment, repairing and pruning down the reasoning functions of the always-evolving intelligences of modern drones. Where machines could repair many aspects of themselves—replace limbs, weapon systems, armor plates, they could not, by design (and thankfully by the limits of their nature) fix or alter their programming.
Interfacing with the quantum space to fix the drones’ quantum algorithms required a human mind. Machine programming would break down and scramble when brought into the data stream of the quantum space.
As if by accident, the human mind, when properly implanted with processing nodes, could not only make sense of the raw chaos of data of the quantum space, but also rendered it with poetic simplicity. Light and color in patterns against blackness. Order, and chaos. Data and information, flowing in streams and structures, like blood through veins and organs. Technicians would “see” a program in the Gloom—see its structures and its components, and with the help of attendant drones and tools in the real world to aid the tech’s sluggish physical responsiveness while in the trance, could perform feats of unparalleled technical panache.
Quantum technicians were the only reason any human was required near the front lines of the Former United States’ galactic holdings at all. The need for repairs in the Gloom was the only thing that kept humans in the game.
Where most of the FUS citizenry didn’t care where its drone militaries gained their victories, so long as it kept their domination of space intact, those who paid attention knew that quantum technicians were the key.
Some considered this human inclusion in this advanced technological process providential—nearly divine. Techs were a sorts of shamans of technology—highly trained, undergoing years of painful training and implantation, to become amongst the most celebrated professions of the new age.
Techs were responsible for crafting the programs and data structures that kept the FUS world-dominating AI-managed economic organizations running. Techs shaped and molded the very natures of the algorithms of these entities. They tended to do very well for themselves—at least the ones heralded as war heroes did.
But Eve was a conscript, forced into service along with thousands of others too poor or convicted of too many crimes to be of any use to the emergent FUS corporate and national governments.
Eve’s crowning achievement was in her long fight to gain acceptance into the quantum technician program. The price was a much-extended term of service and constant disdain from her more nationalistic superiors. But she was confident in a more comfortable life at the end of it all—if it ever ended.
She seemed to drift for a while more in the blackness. Perhaps for days…weeks. Some dim steams of blue shimmered in the distance. It might be the beginnings of the next scene. She put her grasp of seconds and minutes out of her mind, pushed out the constant cold and just was. She’d become very practiced at being at peace here. She smiled, the frozen air biting at her teeth as she breathed deeply.
Another scene never came. After a period she opened her eyes in the dream again, some flashes of light came through in the distance.
But something was different. She could feel herself being slowly pulled toward the flashes.
She was waking up.