This is still a work in progress, but I thought it’d be nice to share with you the prologue I have so far for Lord Vayne.
Somewhere, in a seldom-traveled quadrant of a galaxy, a star exploded, sending waves of radiation out and away. The Tengali raced at full thrust, trying to out-run the expanding spheres of radiation.
It didn’t make it.
“We’ve been hit,” said Longtrey, the navigator and eldest daughter of the Donya clan. “Most of the radiation was reflected or absorbed by our hull, but some wavelengths got through.”
“What does that mean?” asked Thorinn, captain and patriarch.
“That means,” said Nurvanya, his wife and medical officer, “that we may have been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation.”
Everyone was silent; fear hung in the air like the smoke of a lynch mob’s many torches. The moment passed and the crew continued their duties and the race — clinging onto what they knew in order not to face what they didn’t.
Another shock wave buffeted the ship and sparks flew off the control panels. There was a metallic groan, as if the ship was moaning in pain.
“We’re losing hull integrity on the port stern,” said Treylar, co-pilot and Longtrey’s twin. He quickly tapped codes into his panel display. “The bulkhead closing off that portion of the ship is jammed. It isn’t responding to commands. If that stowage hold blows before we can get the bulkhead closed, we’re all dead.”
“Take Arian and see if you can fix it manually,” said Thorinn.
Arian felt as if the hallway leading aft was closing in on her. The walls seemed to move and shift like a heat mirage. Her skin crawled with the portent of bad things.
“What a thing to happen on your celebration cruise!” said Treylar, enthusing his usual jovial charm as they rushed down the corridor. “You survive a life-threatening disease only to have your ship fall prey to a random act of celestial mechanics.”
“Treylar, this isn’t funny.” Arian said. “I have a bad feeling about this. I don’t think we’re going to make it.”
“Don’t be silly. We’re a capable crew. Our nanites are in fine physical condition. We may get a touch of radiation poisoning, Tengali may limp back into dock, but we’ll make it through,” he said. “It just won’t be any fun. I’m sorry about that for you, Arian. You’ve had a tough time of it lately, you don’t need anything more to happen.”
He gave her a quick, brotherly squeeze on the arm as they turned into the passageway leading to the stern stowage holds. When they arrived at the malfunctioning bulkhead, they found a titanium storage bin had fallen from its shelf near the ceiling and wedged itself into the bulkhead’s path, bending the bulkhead and frying the automatic lock feature.
“Ugh. This isn’t going to be easy. Once we move the bin, we’ll have to manually close the bulkhead. I guess it’s down to business,” said Treylar. “I’m going to get something and see if I can lever this bin out. As soon as I do, enter the command to manually close.”
Arian took her place by the door and stood there feeling helpless. As the “baby” of the family, she had not been assigned any important task. And after her recent battle with death, her family had been extra lenient on her.
She may have been just a gopher, but now, she felt the weight of responsibility pressing in — she had a bad feeling about this, but didn’t know why.
Tengali was a typical family class magnetic sailing ship. She had an auxiliary hyperspace drive capable of traveling up to two light-years in a jump, but the magsails were it’s primary form of propulsion — perfect for intra-solar system cruises. Re-fillable chemical engines got the ship on and off planets in emergencies, but it was meant for space-only travel, docking from space station to space station. It could comfortably accommodate six people with enough supplies for about a month. The Donyas bought her for their occasional family vacations.
Each member of the family played a role: Thorinn Donya, husband and father, acted as Captain. His wife Nurvanya took care of any medical needs, as well as food preparation. Longtrey, the oldest, took care of navigation and her twin brother Treylar, born only a few minutes later, acted as copilot. And Arian, the youngest child, did whatever else needed doing. This trip, they had decided to visit a newly discovered system a few jumps away.
Treylar came back from the stowage with a bar to lever the storage bin. He tried to work the lever from the hallway side of the bulkhead, but the bin had wedged in such a manner that he had to change strategy and push the bin from the stowage hold. Finding just the right spot, he put his full weight into the task. The bin began to move. The groaning and shrieking of metal on metal was deafening. “I’ve almost got it. Get ready to enter the code.”
“Are you sure you’ll make it through the door in time?”
“Don’t worry about me, just focus on your task. I’ll be just fine.”
Arian gave him a concerned look and Treylar added, “I promise.”
Soon, the bin slipped from under the bulkhead, thudding against the far-side wall, and Arian entered the code. Just then another shock wave hit the ship. Treylar lost his footing and fell back into the stowage hold as he was crossing the threshold. He was on the wrong side of the bulkhead, lying face down.
Horrified, Arian watched the next few seconds pass as if they were minutes. Abort! Abort! she wailed in her mind. But her fingers were too slow, too thick, too unaccustomed to emergency maneuvers.
Treylar scrambled toward the closing hatch. Arian reached out for him, hoping to pull him through before the bulkhead closed down on him. “Hurry!” she screamed.
He was almost through, with only his feet still in the hold, when the ship shuddered again. He slipped back, his weight tugging on her arm and threatening to pull him completely out of her grasp. He was now further in the path of the dropping bulkhead.
Frantically she tried to pull him through as his legs scrambled for purchase, but it was too late. The bulkhead closed down on Treylar’s lower back, cutting off his rear and legs.
Arian started to scream but nothing came out. Blood started dripping out of Treylar’s mouth and seeping out from under the bulkhead and around his waist. Arian, hyperventilating, tried to scream again. She was paralyzed.
“Port stern stabilized,” murmured Treylar, just before the bulkhead locked into place. The ship shook as the room that now held Treylar’s legs lost integrity. His mouth opened as if to scream, but he made no sound. His eyes glazed over.
A pool of blood grew around Treylar like a red oil slick. Arian stared at it as if it was the most fascinating thing she had ever seen; like it was an alien parasite releasing its hold on her brother. Yet at the same time, she saw nothing. Her mind already beginning to block out the horror.
She wanted to cry but only managed to choke. There was so much blood. She had never seen so much blood.
And it was Treylar’s blood.
Again, the ship shuddered, waking her out of a trance. She stood up and ran toward the command center. Moments later, Arian staggered on deck. “The port stern is stabilized. Treylar is dead.”
Nurvanya gasped. The others stared at Arian as if she had spoken gibberish and they were trying to understand. Emotion filled the room like the darkness when a cloud passes in front of the sun. The ship shuddered as if expressing its grief. No one commented on her bloodstained clothes. No one had time to ask her how it happened — they had to continue the race.
For a brief moment, Arian saw in her mind her brother’s legs floating lonely in space amid a fleet of slowly spinning storage bins. And then the image was gone.
Tengali escaped most of the spheres of radiation, at least the full force of them. By the time most of the waves hit her, they were weak and mostly dispersed. But the radiation they infused the ship with were sufficiently lethal when added together.
Twenty-five years ago, Hirth enacted the global “Nanite Light” bill. As part of the world government’s health-care reform, all citizens of the planet were to have a monitor installed just beneath the skin of their wrists and nanites infused into their blood streams. These microscopic protein robots monitored a person’s health, made any minor repairs and triggered the monitor’s light when that person needed to see a doctor.
The program worked better than anyone had expected. The rates of death and disease dropped to almost non-existence. Arian, being a baby when the bill was enacted, had no idea what life was like without a monitor in her wrist.
But this wonderful system did not help the Donyas now. Standard nanites were not equipped to cure the degree of radiation poisoning they were suffering and Tengali was too far away from Hirth to make a difference.
Once the immediate danger was over, the Donyas held a farewell service for Treylar, sending what was left of his remains into space. Everyone was tired and thirsty, except Arian. When Longtrey pushed the button to release Treylar into the void, she noticed a sore on her arm and the red light glowing in her wrist.
Within days, they were gathered again to release Longtrey’s remains into the void. By then Nurvanya’s and Thorinn’s lights were also glowing.
Slowly and irrevocably, the radiation poisoning took Arian’s family away, leaving her unharmed but not unchanged.
As she ejected the last of her family into the cold arms of space, and chanted the last mourning hymn, she realized that she would not be joining them. She showed no symptoms — her wrist light remained dormant. If anything, she seemed healthier than she had ever been in her 26 years of life.
As she continued the last leg of the journey home, she contemplated the past two years. She remembered vividly they day the told her she was going to die.
She sat on the cold examination table, Treylar at her side. Over the past year, this room had come to be a dreaded home-away-from-home. She knew every brushstroke of the painting hanging on the far wall. She could quote her doctor’s credentials verbatim from the diplomas hung above the counter. She practically knew the number of holes that could be found in the artificial ceiling.
The metal was cold beneath her and Treylar’s hand holding hers seemed to be the only warmth in the room.
Dr. Horak stepped in, his face somber and grim. He held a scanpad in his left hand and gestured for Treylar to sit with his right.
“Would you like me to have the orderly call in the rest of your family?”
“That bad, huh?” Arian said.
Dr. Horak just grimaced.
“No. I think I want to hear this with as few family members around me as possible — at first.” Treylar looked at her. “No, please stay Treylar. I do need at least one person to hold my hand.”
Dr. Horak seemed to move languidly towards the computer screen set in the wall. What probably took seconds — Dr. Horak turning on the computer screen, pulling up her latest test results — played out from her memory like images in a book, each page turned slowly and studied.
“We’ve done all that we can traditionally do,” Dr. Horak started. Arian felt Treylar’s grip on her hand tighten. “We have no more standard treatments left to try. Without further intervention, you will be dead in about one month.”
Silence. Arian felt her heart slow down and seem to stop. She sensed Treylar’s breathing catch. The room started to waver at the corners and a lump clutched her throat with tiny invisible hands.
“There is something we could try, though.” Arian could feel Treylar lean forward slightly, as if he was straining against the desire to leap at any hope. “Now, this option is completely experimental — it has not been tested on people yet. But, there is a small possibility it could lengthen your life.”
Yes! Yes! Yes! I’ll try anything! Arian screamed in her mind. I want to live! But, she only said, “Tell me more.”
Dr. Horak cleared his throat. “A colleague of mine has been working on an aggressive form of nanite therapy. She and her staff have engineered nanites that are more powerful and more aggressive than the standard ones issued today. Her tests — in animals, mind you — have shown that they are capable of repairing a greater degree of cellular damage. I’ve discussed your case with her and we believe it may be a viable treatment option for your form of cancer.”
“What are you saying? Can these nanites cure me?”
“Possibly. They could equally well kill you. We just don’t know how they will behave in a person. But I thought I should at least give you the option to try.” Dr. Horak turned off the computer screen. “I’ll let you think about it. You can leave now. Call me when you’ve reached your decision.”
“I’ve reached it.” Arian said.
Treylar’s grip on her hand tightened further. “Don’t you think father and mother would like to have a say in this?”
“Why Treylar? This is my life. Besides, what choice do we have? Certain lingering death and possible salvation with an option of death? What do you think they would have me choose? Dr. Horak, I will try the new therapy. When do we start?”
As Arian played the memory back, she could feel the confidence she felt in that long-ago moment fill her. She had faced death and challenged its right to take her. But that was then. Why wasn’t she dead now? Did her special nanites protect her? She would have to have another talk with Dr. Horak when she got back to Hirth.