Thursday, September 15, 2011

Houses of Common excerpt. Brought to you by Turtle Wax: that sexy shine ain't just for cars.

I finished some editing for DWD. Not interested in promoting his work, I just wanted everyone to see what I have to put up with. With what I have to put up? With up what I have to put? Also, so you could admire my fantastic editing. The awe of which that last sentence just destroyed. Here it is, a sample selected for it's lack of mammals.

Sckiik was disappointed the courier drone had no viewport, but it would be a giveaway it held a pilot. Unable to see out, she was missing the light-hearted excitement of the launch; the Earth rocketing away beneath her, the familiar Washington, D.C. landmarks collapsing into a point too small to see, the atmosphere darkening to black, and the winking of the stars in an accelerated twilight.

Her courier drone jolted violently as the reactor detonated a small volume of helium-3, the hull creaking as the explosion was contained and directed. Being so small, there had been no room for inertial dampers in the vessel, one of the reasons no human could undertake this mission. Sckiik felt her internal fluids rush from her head and thorax, but flexing the diaphragmatic muscles at her joints and bending the flexible portions of her exoskeleton to reduce volume, she rode comfortably through what would be nearly fatal to the best of human pilots. Achieving a typical drone speed, she took a course close enough to a usual northerly route away from Earth, but cheating toward the moon as much as she dared. Several hundred other courier drones appeared on sensors, all heading far enough out of Earth’s gravity to Bend, delivering messages to some exotic location, or more likely, a homely homestead colony.

Now, she thought, several hours of nothing at all. An assassin won’t try anything until we’re at least halfway to the moon – then is the smallest chance of being seen by orbital surveillance. But why bother with a powerless Ambassador? I’ve sensed no anti-Rildj sentiment in Congress or business or industry. We have no technological or military superiority that would threaten anyone.

So flowed Sckiik’s thoughts for several hours, but she could not come to any satisfying conclusions. Then she saw the speck on her sensors, angling from lunar orbit on a direct course to the Ambassador’s vessel. Zooming in visual display, she could see the new ship was a bulky affair, constructed around a clustered-sphere arrangement of compartments, not of recent design, but one she recognized.

The Kashmir Liberation Front? she wondered. What do they care about Rildj? At least I’m dealing with small-time terrorists instead of a state-sponsored act of war.

Venting nose thrusters, she changed course to come at the vessel from the side, hoping their attention was so riveted on the Ambassador she’d go unnoticed. The grapple claw and hull-welding charges were set, she’d slide up next to the ship, punch a hole in, and do her job before the assassins could do theirs. She checked her pistol, making sure the airtight rounds were loaded, each holding oxygen with the powder so she could still fire when the assassin ship depressurized.

Sckiik closed on the assassin ship long before it could reach the Ambassador’s vessel. The mass of a drone being insignificant compared to the power of the helium reactors, no ship could outrun them in standard flight.

I’ll get there in plenty of time, she decided. As long as they don’t see me.

A metallic clang and then a detonation vibrated the drone, Sckiik’s harness cutting into her from the jolt. Warnings blared as systems reset and diagnostic readouts flashed. Internal temperature rose significantly, and Sckiik tried to get more speed from another reactor detonation.

I only needed nine more seconds!

She was considering the masterful targeting needed to hit such a small object as the drone while moving at an oblique angle at enormous speed, when a second missile scored right on the nose of Sckiik’s craft. She braced for the worst, but was pleasantly surprised.

Sensors still online, she realized, and I’m not being sucked out a gaping hole! Charlotte, you are a hull construction genius!

The braking thrusters on the other hand, were vaporized.

Sckiik tried to flip the drone around and re-ignite the reactor to decelerate, but the guidance thrusters had been disintegrated also.

One more hit like that and I’m dust.

A few moments were hers as a third missile approached. She tried venting some of the compressed cockpit oxygen to alter her course, but the valve wouldn't respond. She hit the emergency fire suppression system in the instrument panel, hoping the argon foam might leak out the damaged nosecone and push her out of the way. Instead, the panel shorted out right in her face with a flash of sparks and smoke. With two seconds to spare, Sckiik set off one more reactor burn to increase speed. Then she punched out, the ejection charge blowing her clear of the drone-turned-missile. The assassins’ shot was on course, but Charlotte’s energy plating held again despite the missile's detonation.

Sckiik had a spectacular view of the collision between her drone and the assassin's ship. The ejection had started the drone in a slow end-over-end rotation. It was perpendicular to the ship when they met, and Sckiik watched as it neatly bisected the assassins’ entire vessel, atmosphere pouring and crystallizing out the halves that now spun in opposite directions. The drone was reduced to metal droplets, melted or vaporized on impact and creating a cone of sparkles along what would have been its path.

“Beautiful. This is my art. Wish I had a brush to sign it.”

Sckiik looked as long as she could before the destructive beauty of high-speed collision shrank into the distance. Her victory would have to be fully celebrated later. Her next concern was traveling bodily through space at nearly a hundred kilometers per second, with only a thin vacsuit and her exoskeleton protecting her. Glancing to the equipment at her belt, she grabbed for her vectoring gun, but realized its uselessness. Its emission of compressed air could alter her direction or double as an emergency respiration supply, but it would not be enough to stop her. A few silent blue explosions erupted from the assassin’s vessel, but it all shrank into the distance before she could find the Ambassador's ship. Glancing over her shoulder, she was grateful for the initial heading she’d taken, as she would be more likely to orbit the moon than to collide with it or shoot past.

Has anyone ever made a lunar orbit in a vacsuit? she wondered. I’m making history. Except that this is a classified mission and I was never here.

The novelty of her accomplishment wore off as the seriousness of her predicament sunk in. If the Ambassador's ship didn't come for her, her only hope was to be detected in lunar orbit. That wasn't likely. She was in a higher orbit than the satellites, and their sensors would be pointed at the surface. The few facing out to track incoming ships were probably not calibrated for an object as small and cold and non-metallic as a female Rildj flailing through the void.

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