Aphelion excerpt #1

When Hal awakes, a woman is sitting beside him. It takes him a moment to realise it is not the woman from his nightmare, but Miranda, another technician from his team. She looks up from the tablet she’s reading when she notices his weak movements.

“Hal,” she says. “I’m glad you’re awake.”

How long was I out? Hal wants to ask. “But it’s meaningless,” he mumbles, groggily. “I don’t remember…”

“I’m not surprised,” Miranda tells him. “Mild concussion from the crash couch. It could have been a lot worse. You probably saw what was left of Argento.”

Hal remembers the dark room he was trapped in, and the bloodstain around the wrecked pod. He shudders, feeling nauseous again.

“Try not to move too much. You’ve got some recovering to do.”

He nods, numbly.

“First things first. Do you remember your name?”

“Hal,” he replies. “You… called me by it less than a minute ago.”

“Excellent. Either your short term or long term memory is functioning fine. I’m slightly worried by the sarcasm deficit in your response, but we’ll chalk that up to having survived an interstellar starship crash.”

“Try not to give me too much credit,” Hal groans, his voice sounding weak to his own ears. “I might not have figured that one out.”

“There we go. Much better.”

Hal shuffles his arms, making to try and sit up, but his limbs feel weak and he quickly gives up. “So… what the hell happened, Mir?”

“Great, you remember me. I wasn’t sure if you were just being rude. So we carved you out of that room with cutting torches. One of our spidermechs – we lost more than a few, but enough are still functional – carried you through the ship. Now you’re here, in the infirmary, with all the other wounded we’ve recovered so far.”

Hal looks around. The pallet he’s lying on is surrounded by towering high shelves stacked with metal and plastic crates of uniform dimensions, each with neatly printed labels. Miranda shrugs.

“Infirmary, cargo bay, whatever. We’re making do here, Hal.”

“How bad was the crash?”

“Bad enough. The Gaia came down hard. It’s a real big ship, and it’s not designed to so much as kiss atmosphere.”

“Skip the obvious stuff, Mir. My brain isn’t leaking out my ears, is it?”

She shrugs again. “No more than usual, chief. Look, we don’t really know how hard she hit. The primary network is offline. We don’t even know how many people are online. The rescue parties are literally making lists as they find people.” She looks down at her tablet and frowns. “There’s the good list, and the bad list. You’re on the good one. The other one makes depressing reading.”

“How… many?”

“About six hundred alive so far. About half of us are injured, maybe fifty incapacitated.”

“Six hundred?” said Hal. “Jesus Christ.”

“Yeah,” replied Mir. They were silent for time. The Gaia’s Disquiet had a crew complement of more than six hundred, and had been carrying thousands more passengers.

“It’s slow going,” she continued, eventually. “There’s a lot of structural damage. A lot of doors auto-sealed during the crash, and pretty much every single one needs cutting through. We’re trying to get the primary network back online, but whatever got fucked up is sufficiently fucked up that we need to take a look at the actual hardware.”

“And we’re at the wrong end of the ship for that?” guessed Hal.

“We’re at the wrong end of the ship for that.”

“So what’s our plan of action?” said Hal. “Rescuing survivors… sure. What about after that? Where are we? I don’t even remember where we were when… well, I don’t remember much. Working. Then the orders to get my arse into a crash couch.”

“Yeah… a plan. About that.” Miranda put a hand on his shoulder. “How are you feeling? Up for a short walk?”

[This is an early scene from a novel I am (slowly) working on. The setting is actually shared with several vignettes I’ve posted here in the past.]

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