#SampleSunday – Delphinus

My latest novelette, Delphinus, is now live on Amazon and Smashwords.  It will be distributed to all the Smashwords distribution channels (B&N, Apple, et al) over the next couple weeks.  Like Passing in the Night, it’s a Science Fiction story.  But Delphinus is also a tale of survival.

Piter’s honeymoon was off to a splendid start. He and his bride had a fancy bridal suite on a luxury spaceliner, and had their own private view of the most beautiful aurora in the known galaxy. Then it all went to hell. Narrowly escaping the spaceliner’s destruction in a cargo shuttle, he, his bride, and five others crash onto an un-colonized moon, where they have to figure out how to survive until the rescue comes. Assuming it ever does.

Delphinus is a 9,700 word (about 39 printed pages) novelette.  Here are the first 900 words:

Wind rushed past, ruffling his hair and roaring in his ears, as Piter banked right.  The instruments on the control console showed what he already knew: altitude was decreasing rapidly, and there were no landing strip beacons within reception range.  Not that he expected there to be any.  As far as he knew, this particular world had never been colonized.  He, and the huddled passengers behind him in the cargo compartment, was damned lucky the place even had a breathable atmosphere, so he wasn’t about to complain.  Except about the fact that the cussed cloud cover refused to break.  Two thousand meters to the ground, and still there was nothing to see but pea soup in front of him, or to either side.

A fine mess they were in.  Just a couple hours ago, the cruise was everything he could have wanted for his honeymoon: a veritable paradise of spectacular stellar phenomena as the SS Hilderand assumed orbit at the Lagrange point between Gamma Delphinus 6 and its third moon.  The aurora there were legendary, among the most beautiful ever encountered, and the Hilderand’s bridal suites had specially designed observation bubbles just for such an event.  Making love with his new bride beneath the awesome display was everything they’d both dreamed it would be.

And then it all went to hell.

What happened to cripple the Hilderand, Piter couldn’t say.  But once the alarms started sounding, there had been a mad rush for the escape pods.  The gravity field became erratic, making the stampede all the more chaotic, and he found himself, along with his bride and five others, watching helplessly as the last pod launched away from the ship.  The pod was nowhere near full, but the panicked people onboard had been unwilling to wait even the minute longer it would have taken Piter and the others to get there.

Alone except for those others on a deserted vessel that was moving faster and faster into a death spiral around that third moon, Piter forced himself to bite back tears of frustration and despair, if only as a comfort to Shaunee.  Then one of the other men suggested they try the cargo bays, and the group hurried further aft.  In the third bay, they found a small loading shuttle and crammed in.  The only one with any flight experience, Piter was the logical choice to fly the thing.

But twenty-five hours of flight training in a sub-orbital wingjet does not translate well into space flight.  Once Piter got the shuttle out of the cargo bay and away from the Hilderand, it was almost as though he had no control whatsoever.  He knew roll, pitch, and yaw, not orbital mechanics.  After several moments fighting with the controls, he finally discovered a computer autopilot feature and activated it.  Things became much easier then.

He found the controls to the sensor suite and keyed in a scan, then was unable to bite back a curse as the results came back.  The third and fourth moons had atmospheres, but while the fourth’s atmosphere was breathable, the third was little more than methane.  The shuttle had just enough fuel to make it to the fourth moon, but that wasn’t what evoked his curse.  The escape pods from the HIlderand, programmed only to head for the nearest landing area, were all descending onto the third moon and its deadly fumes.

“My God, can’t they override the programming?” asked one of the other refugees, a plump older lady with a kind smile, when Piter announced his discovery.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, a lump in his throat as he watched helplessly.

One by one the escape pods vanished into the moon’s cloudy atmosphere, and Piter found himself thanking his lucky stars that they’d been delayed by the gravity distortions.  He at once felt a twinge of guilt at the thought, but suppressed it.  What else should he be thinking?  What else could he think?  Shaunee was sitting in the copilot’s seat next to him.  Tears in her eyes, she took his hand and squeezed it tight.

Then a large explosion aboard the Hilderand split the great ship into thirds, reminding Piter that there was still work to do.  Refusing to think of the thousands of people who had just plunged to their doom onboard devices that were supposed to save their lives, he turned his attention to the controls and keyed in what he hoped would be a course to the fourth moon.  Taking a deep breath, he hit the execute button, then settled back to wait.  To his amazed relief, over the next several minutes the fourth moon got larger in the windshield.

The computer beeped.  Piter tapped the controls and a dialogue window opened.  “Three minutes to re-entry,” he announced after reading the data on the display screen.

Immediately, the tension within the shuttle rose.  They’d all been through re-entry before, but always on larger spacejets piloted by professionals.  This was an altogether totally different experience.  As the timer ticked down, Piter could feel the fear emanating from the others.  As the one who was more or less in command at the moment, he tried his best to look calm.  Glancing to his right, he could tell from the concern on her face that Shaunee wasn’t fooled.  He gave her hand another squeeze and she managed a thin, tense grin.

“Here we go,” Piter murmured under his breath as the countdown timer reached zero.