A winner is me: my extremely lumpy, extremely jumbled draftbeast, which lurches along under the title Salvaging Angels, weighed in this afternoon at a robust 55,692 words. A majority of them are the wrong words, or go haring off in strange directions, but that’s all right, that’s what NaNoWriMo is for, and I’m sure they can be coaxed into shape if I decide to make something serious of them. Which I might; I don’t usually write science fiction, and it’s been fun. Though I confess in this very rough draft a liberal arts major’s sad tendency to invent future technologies by tacking the word space as a prefix onto current technologies. (E.g., spacetoaster.)
As Mishell and I have been known to tell one another: “Forget it, Jake; it’s alpha draft.”
I’ve excerpted part of the beginning below, for your enjoyment or chagrin or incredulous mockery.
Most junkers won’t salvage off the Bari Arm, despite the graveyard of scrap that’s been collecting in slow orbit there for a few centuries now. Junkers are a superstitious lot and there’s something wrong, they say, with Bari.
Which has always been fine with me, because it means more scrap for us.
If you’re lucky you can find whole ships and sometimes stations, mining or monitoring, in the junk field. Most of them abandoned, nothing sinister, though once we ran across a B-class Orla transport ghost-floating with quarantine lights still burning on her hull. We left that one alone.
This time it was a station. Asteroid mining. An old model, old enough that we couldn’t even pull up a corporation name when Rami ran her tags. That got him excited; he can’t resist that kind of artifact. We suited up, got the zips, and went over.
The first weird thing was the airlocks. Rami had hardly started on them, while I was still securing the zips, when my com pinged and I heard his voice in my helmet, low and puzzled. “This is still live. Lock systems are live.”
I turned around and he was looking toward me, his head canted. I shrugged at him. “So? Better, right? Just punch in.”
“Yeah, pyari. But why are they still live? Place should be long ghosted.”
I double-checked my gear and shrugged at him again. “We’ll go slow and look sharp. But I don’t know what you’re expecting. Maybe junkers before us hit her and got her seals up again while they worked.”
He muttered something and turned back to the lock. A moment’s fiddling and then he’d punched through the code and the door slid wide obligingly. It doesn’t make a sound in space, but I like to imagine I can hear the hiss. It’s satisfying.
I went in first, stunner at the ready, but the entry bay was vacant, dark and breathless. I was about to summon Rami when the back of my neck prickled and the words shriveled like ricepaper on my tongue. Just for an instant I couldn’t breathe, felt something cold and stifling settle heavy on my chest.
And then it passed, like the shadow of some great winged thing. I dialed up my light and swept the whole bay, breathing like I’d just run a klick.
There was nothing to see. Bari superstition rubbing off on me. I felt clammy inside my suit.
“Clear,” I reported, and Rami came swinging through the hatch and punched the code to hiss it closed. He turned to look at me, but if he’d heard anything in my voice or gotten any spike readings off my suit, he didn’t say; after a moment he just turned back to the wall and made his way along to the master panel. I dialed my light up some more and drifted, scanning the place again.
It was a sizeable bay, big enough to clear maybe a half-dozen people at a time, but that’s standard on a miner. They send out and take on whole work crews, and sometimes have to move them fast. Most of it looked standard op, if clunky and outdated. The light on the hatch we’d just come through burned green and steady, indicating that sure enough it was live, the seal still good.
Then Rami said, “Wait,” puzzled again. I turned back and waited. He was still hanging at the panel. The chilly centipede of nerves ran across the back of my neck again and I twitched it off irritably.
When he didn’t say anything else, I said, “Wait what?” maybe a little snappish.
He glanced back at me. “It’s all still live. The systems. I mean it’s not just airlocks. Power’s live, stabilizers active, air systems are up and atmo readings good.”
We both looked at the green-lit inner hatch.
That was the moment, right there, when I could have called it off. I could have said, No, fuck it, something’s off, let’s leave it alone, and we could’ve picked up something else, a dead satellite, a junked drill, pieces of a broken-up transport. But I didn’t.