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Ennead, draft 1: Prologue

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Ennead, draft 1: Prologue

Postby AveKender » Tue May 06, 2014 7:26 am

Hello, SV! This is my first post. Below is the (take a deep breath) first draft of the first chapter of the first book set in a dystopian space opera universe of my own creation. I'm open to any and all constructive criticism. Let me know what you think!


Ennead
by Ave Kender


Prologue


A neatly-arranged row of medicine vials lay bare on the fold-out desk in front of Corpsman Second Class Harmon Lee. Each vessel contained a tiny sip of soporific compound, quieting elixirs with ingredients such as morphine and prochlorperazine. Keeping his ears open for the sound of booted footsteps on the other side of the door behind him, he unhooked both of the injection guns dangling from the straps of his medical vest and set them down near the vials. Harmon set both hands on corners of the tabletop and blew out a deep sigh. I never should have enlisted.

He inspected the gas cartridge connected to the breech of either device, ensuring that, at his command, the desired jets of chemicals would wedge themselves into the human bloodstream. Two available doses, gas pressure optimal. Harmon loaded phenothiazine tranqs into the injectors, sliding them and the unused vials off the table and into one of his uniform’s belt pouches. He stepped out of the utility closet and into the hallway.

Harmon crept warily through the sterile, cramped corridors of Argus Orbital Command Center. Several times he encountered an illogically-placed dead end or a pole trailing from the ceiling through a hole in the floor. These were clear giveaways that the station was built before the discovery of artificial gravity. The half-dozen largest orbital construction companies on Terra could not come up with an elegant way to adapt the Command Center to this advance. The “solution” was to apply agravity to the station regardless, then place ladders and poles throughout so that the interior remained navigable, albeit time-consuming to traverse.

The layout of the station also gave rise to counter-intuitive acoustics. Harmon heard the whirring fans of a hoverdrone in some distant corner of the station, accompanied by comments from its watch officer, as if the two were right behind him. The voice was unmistakably that of Lieutenant Driscoll. I better steer clear of her; red-haired types need a higher dose to be put down. Harmon would have tried to evade her in any case. A few weeks previously Driscoll returned to Argus with an intense headache and a crusty green cyst on her cheek. Under orders to return her to mission-capability as soon as possible, Harmon ‘jected her face with a shot of cortisone. She fought off the infection but afterwards broke into an irrational rage whenever she saw Harmon.

Harmon corrected his posture before he turned the corner. He came upon a circular doorway protected by a guardsman, identified by his nametag as “OCHI”. The sentinel’s reflective black visor and Japanese-built automatic shotgun were, ironically, good news. They told Harmon that Ochi was a contractor for KawaKorp Defenses. He was just doing guard duty on this space station to get his next pay stick.

“State your business, doc,” Ochi said.

“Eames needs another check-up,” Harmon said.

Ochi took a step to one side and waved his hand near a wall-mounted keypad. The red light above the doorway went dim, then resurged as a shade of green. “Is it that business with the CO2 scrubbers again?” he asked.

Harmon nodded and raised his eyebrows with rehearsed precision. “Same *beep*, different day. You know how it is,” the Corpsman said as the door slid open to permit his entry into the neighboring module.

Ochi said, “Well If he turns blue and passes out again, Major Phoben has to be the first one to know.”

“Duly noted, Ochi.”

Harmon passed through the entryway into a rotunda. The doorway guarded by the KKD closed behind him. Computer displays blanketed the rotunda’s walls, attended to by precisely no-one. Right on time for the shift change. Routine tasks kept these machines busy, such as maintaining the station’s agravity at close to Terran standard. Lines of code flashed across the displays and blinked out of sight faster than Harmon could read them. At the center of the rotunda stood a metallic pillar, the glow of text bouncing off of its mirror-like surface. Harmon walked towards his own reflection and pulled up on a small latch, the only external indication that the pillar was hollow. A doorway, flush with the pillar’s surface, lifted to reveal a brightly-lit interior consisting of a rotating chair surrounded by dozens of consoles and monitors, different sectors of the space station visible on separate displays.

The crewman sitting in the chair spun around to face Harmon. “You’re here early, Corpsman Lee-,” Eames said before a gloved hand smothered his mouth. Harmon dug his knee into Eames’ gut, pinning him to the chair as his limbs thrashed around helplessly. With the other hand Harmon unhooked an injector gun from his vest and pressed the nozzle against a jugular vein. He delivered the shot and Eames’ muffled cries of resistance shrank into silence.

Harmon stood back to examine the slumped form in the chair. He reached towards Eames’ belt and un-holstered a pistol. The fingerprint reader extending a couple of millimeters off of the grip told Harmon that the action mechanism was electronically locked. He could not fire the gun unless he dragged Eames along the floor everywhere he went, pressing the unconscious man’s thumb against the fingerprint reader the entire time. Harmon slid the magazine out of the grip and stuffed it into his breast pocket, tossing away the rest of the gun as he would an expired pay stick.

One of the displays showed an overhead view of Airlock Zone B2. A few motorized track lines ran along the floor of a large and cavernous room. It was impossible to determine the ceiling height from the video feed; the only light in AZ B2 shone from the floor lamps at either side of the airlock bays. Vacuum-sealed conduits to the rest of the universe. Harmon pulled out the sticks in the console below the monitors. The displays showing overhead views of AZ B2 went dark. In their place flashed the text “VIDEO FEED DISABLED”.

Harmon proceeded out of the rotunda and into the station’s main truss, the pressurized corridor that was the Command Center’s main traffic artery. He passed a few barracks flanked with KKDs, the monotonous hum of life support machinery tuned out by their helmets’ selective noise-canceling capability. Those did wonders for long shifts on a space station, but the delicate electronics involved precluded their use in ground ops. Harmon called a cargo lift from “above” the main truss.

The metallic wire mesh in front of him split apart and Harmon stepped into the elevator, where he was met with a squad of Peacekeepers. Their carbines were strapped onto their backs with the barrels facing down, the blue and yellow insignia of the Compact of Terra sewn into the shoulders of their fatigues. Harmon moved to one side of their group. The wire mesh sealed shut behind him. The room and its occupants jittered slightly as the lift unclamped itself from the space station’s main truss.

“Like I was saying, Diego, that greenskin with the *beep* up face, he didn’t count,” a golden-haired corporal rasped to one of his comrades.

Another Peacekeeper, apparently named Diego, chortled the response, “A kill is a kill is a kill. You saw the mark my gat made on his face. He’ll chew his own food in a couple of months...but I don’t think he’s getting that far. Let the crematory deal with what comes after.”

The Peacekeepers shared a haughty laugh. The blonde corporal said, “If we’re talking patrol stories, you have to hear about what happened in my first tour on this iceball.”

A tall, thickset Peacekeeper at the center of the group croaked like a toad, “Another poon score?” Unlike the other troopers, he held his weapon in his hands, a “light” machine gun that looked far too heavy for anyone else in the squad to wield effectively.

“No, man. I don’t go down on greenskin girls. So about five months ago, my unit was stationed ten klicks south of Mount Coatl-.”

Diego said, “That far out? I think your High Command wanted you bitches to get lost and freeze out there.”

“Yeah, we were thinking that too. We got a call from one of our recon agents, some bearded guy driving a roller with a flock of drones in the backseat. He let a couple of them loose near a mountain pass and they buzzed back infrared signatures at the mouth of one of the caves. This happened at about 1400 hours. The recon guy called our station, we cleared him to engage, and then we never heard from him again. We had to wait for a while because there was a blizzard underway and the only mech we had at the time was tied up in the repair shack. Our High Command had us up since zero stupid thirty hammering out the dings on that beast; a lot of coffee passed through us that day. We finally reached Mount Coatl at 1540 hours and you know what we found?”

Harmon clenched his fists behind his back, his contempt for the Peacekeepers boiling under a mask of placidity.

“The guy’s head sticking out of some snow and rocks. We pulled him out of there frozen stiff, and he had no hands. They were just gone, as in stumps. Sawed off. And all of his gear was gone, which was the real shame.”

Diego said, “That crosses a lot of lines, man. Then what did you guys do?”

“SOP for clearing out these cave-squatting skik-worshippers: sarin gas!” At this the Peacekeepers cheered in excitement, some exchanging high-fives.

“I was ordered to go in with a squad of grunts, gas masks and full battle rattle on everyone. The sprouts killed all the lights before we went in, so it was dark as *beep* in there; we lit a path with flares wherever our jar lights didn’t do the job. Turns out we weren’t alone. One of the sprouts wore our guy’s mask and fell back to a shrine deep in the caves. He was waiting for us with a fletcher gun. Our pointman got diced into giblets, but then I gatted that greenskin and he fell on the ground. I could see he was still breathing, so I ran to him and pulled his mask off. Choked on his own bile in fifteen seconds flat.”

The big toadlike Peacekeeper said, “Pulling off a mask...that’s over the edge, Klein.”

Diego said, “Really. I hope for your sake the Major doesn’t hear about that.”

Klein said, “I don’t mean to tell him.”

The room shook again as the lift module halted its descent. The doors parted and the Peacekeepers filed out in precise formation. Harmon waited until those men were out of sight before making a beeline for AZ B2.

He recognized the scene from Eames’ display, passing a set of immense hydraulic gates to enter the cavernous expanse. Intermittent points of bright light flashed from within an engineering alcove, a morass of pipes and circuit boxes trailing out of a shadowy nexus. A few hard-hatted men in fluorescent orange jumpsuits coordinated their efforts in near-darkness, their oxy-torches briefly illuminating small patches of the messy jungle of conduits.

Farther down the airy expanse of AZ B2, past rows of cargo cranes swinging around payloads in wide arcs, Harmon swiped a set of keys out of a locker and unlocked a door marked “SUIT STORAGE”.

Inside Harmon was met with re-entry suits hanging by hooks bolted onto the walls. Each one looked like a chunky, rubber-skinned ragdoll with a convex glass faceplate and boxy backpack sticking out several centimeters beyond the shoulders. Not the most dignified way to traverse the blackness of space. Harmon unhooked one of the suits, cracked it open at the airtight belly seal, and slipped his legs into the lower half of the baggy suit. What he did not expect to see was his commanding officer, Major Carl Phoben, stepping through the door that separated the room from AZ B2.

The Major asked, "What exactly are you doing, Corpsman Lee?"

Harmon's blood froze. The question sounded rhetorical. Does he know about Eames? Harmon believed he could not salvage any sort of inconspicuous pretense with half of his body shoved into a re-entry suit, the rubbery arms trailing limply behind him like banana peels. And yet, he had to say something. He turned his gaze towards the Major. He was met with a pair of intense, predatory eyes, the pallid skin around them contrasting starkly with the subdued blue hues of the Terran Navy officer’s uniform.

"Sir, I am undertaking an inspection of the anti-radiation filters in these suits. I think the incident that occurred during yesterday's EVA sortie may have been due to gamma ray exposure," Harmon said, hoping against hope that the Major's inquisitive thirst had been sated.

“Radiation checks? Since when was that your job? You’re supposed to be on medical duty,” the Major asked. He walked around Harmon in an arc, hands folded behind his back. His steps emitted a crisp, official tip-tap, tip-tap sound.

“Sir, it is my duty to maintain the health of everyone aboard this station. Preventative measures form a part of that occupation,” Harmon said. Top right chest strap. 54% ketamine, 40% diazepam, 6% morphine. Aim for the neck.

“I see. Carry on, Corpsman,” the Major said. He turned to face one of the re-entry suits, still hanging on the wall, and smiled ever so slightly. This looked out of place on the Major’s face; his mouth seemed to have been lifted at either end by marionette strings. “These suits are marvels of engineering. When I was a young ensign, fresh out of the Academy, anyone could bail out of a starship in low orbit...once. We had to...improvise ways to go planetside in case the situation got ugly out in the void. Most Terran naval detachments set aside a cargo shuttle for such contingencies, but those could be easily tracked and shot down by slaysats or dronecraft. Not the case with these suits; they present too small a target for a missile to lock-on. Quite an interesting design.”

Harmon had nearly encased himself in the re-entry suit, the helmet resting in his grip. Inside the helmet, Harmon stashed his one remaining injector gun. The Major faced the Corpsman. “With that UV faceplate, you can win a staring contest against the Sun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t protect against….kinetic impacts,” he said as he un-holstered his pistol.

Harmon batted aside the Major’s weapon arm with the re-entry suit helmet. A gunshot rang in both men’s ears, a subsonic caseless round bouncing off of cold metal, and the weapon flew from the Major’s grip. Harmon pulled the injector gun out of the helmet. The Major, seeing the medical device in Harmon’s hand, tackled the Corpsman’s legs. The top-heavy suit caused Harmon to fall on his back.

The Major trapped Harmon in a ground lock. His fists rained down on the Corpsman’s face, a furious hailstorm of muscle and bone. Harmon’s entire world was made of pain. The copper-tasting flows running from his nose and mouth formed crimson puddles on the floor. Unable to aim with precision, Harmon flailed the injector gun in the general direction of his opponent. He felt the nozzle press against the polyester weave of Major Phoben’s pant leg and pulled the trigger. The punishing blows stopped and Phoben let out an agonized snarl, allowing Harmon to stand up and drive a heavily-encased foot at the officer’s torso.

Harmon scooped up the helmet as he rushed out of the room, his pulse throbbing in his temples. The Major pushed himself off the floor with a concerted effort, but his prey had already escaped. Outside, Harmon hurriedly walked along one edge of AZ B2’s hollow expanse. The re-entry suit was not forgiving for someone in a hurry. The stiff leg joints resisted his attempts to elude one very angry Major.

He stopped behind a stack of crates, laid down by an overhead crane, and brought the suit’s helmet down on the neck seal. A few hissing, clicking sounds later and its sub-systems powered on. The bubble of inert silicates came alive with a heads-up display. External temperature and pressure readouts flickered in and out of Harmon’s vision; a small dialog box at one edge of the HUD prompted Harmon to activate his backpack-mounted descent module, an inflatable unit consisting of a mylar-coated heat shield, a pair of miniature rocket engines, and several liters of insulating polyurethane foam. Harmon ambled forth as quickly as his blood loss and the re-entry suit would allow. After what seemed like an eternity, he arrived at the sliding door to one of AZ B2’s cargo airlocks. Harmon manipulated its controls and the big fiberglass pane translated to one side, just long enough to allow Harmon to squeeze his bulk into the airlock. He shut the glass door behind him as soon as he entered.

Outside, alarms started blaring and the jumpsuited technicians filed out towards the main truss elevator. From the suit storage room emerged Major Carl Phoben, half-walking and half-stumbling, somehow keeping his weapon trained on Harmon despite the effects of the tranquilizer. Dozens of KKDs marched into AZ B2 to inspect the security breach. They took up positions in front of Harmon’s fiberglass protection and opened fire with their automatic weapons. A hundred impact craters popped up where he stood only a few seconds before. Harmon began to doubt the glass’s resilience in the face of an entire munition dump’s worth of gunfire, so he walked towards the outer lock and held his gloved hand over the release switch.

At this, Major Phoben ordered the KKDs to cease fire. The officer walked up to the glass and mouthed the words, We will find you. Harmon activated the outer lock, sirens went off above, and he was swiftly tugged into the dark void of space.

Argus Orbital Command Center shrank until it was nothing more than a glistening dot in the distance. All was quiet around Harmon, the human meteoroid. Safe from any military actions, he had little to do until the re-entry procedure kicked in. The Corpsman felt like a goldfish drifting about in an infinitely large fishbowl. He wondered how the doings of such small creatures as himself could create waves in a Universe as big as this one.

Harmon’s HUD chimed his proximity to a nearby gravity well. He rolled himself 180 degrees and beheld with the majestic white and green world of Ennead. With thick, icy tendrils the planet’s arctic regions stretched out towards the equator. Around this imaginary centerline there existed a latitudinal band of oases against the unforgiving cold: vast and verdant forests, an intricate web of rift valleys and steam fissures, and a sea shaped like an eagle’s beak.

He spoke the voice command, “Deploy for re-entry,” and his suit became animated with a life of its own. The backpack unfurled its heat shield, curving behind Harmon like a hammock. The pressurized dispensers of polyurethane foam filled the recesses between Harmon’s body and the heat shield behind him. He leaned his head back against the cushioning substance and allowed the retainer plate to drop down in front of him. He guided the plate down with his hands until it met up with the heat shield’s lower end underneath his feet.

Safe inside a cocoon, Harmon Lee descended upon the planet Ennead.
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Re: Ennead, draft 1: Prologue

Postby Bmat » Wed May 07, 2014 8:35 am

Welcome to SV!

Nicely done! I can actually see this as a movie.

One of my favorite parts was describing the ship as being built before artificial gravity and the adjustments needed. Nicely done!

But back to the writing, my personal preference would be for more of a hook at the beginning- something to grab the reader and make them want to know what is going on. You have a mild hook, the vials. I do understand that this is a prologue, and it stands up well in this function. But for me, it dragged a bit.

By the end of the prologue I had a sense of the universe that you are creating, and I would continue on to read the next chapter. You write cleanly and describe well. Your excerpt is effective. Intriguing.
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Re: Ennead, draft 1: Prologue

Postby AveKender » Thu May 15, 2014 8:32 am

Thanks for the feedback! There are a couple of points I would like to make about this prologue...

This is the only chapter of the novel I intend to make publicly available before the book's release. I don't wish to spoil any of the new characters, locations, plot threads, or reveals that are shown in later chapters. However, I am willing to publicly elaborate on aspects of this universe that do not directly touch upon those subjects.

Subsequent drafts of the prologue will probably look very different from this one, but I think the basic concept of Harmon Lee escaping from a Terran military installation should stay the same.
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