Saturday, November 17, 2012

'Sweeny Among Nightingales' excerpt


“Naomi Marie Harris.” He stares at the file. He’s not reading it; his washed-out green eyes, behind the glasses, are not scanning. Why he’s even got a hard copy in front of him is a mystery.

“Naomi Marie Harris. Born London, 2167. Educated New Pembroke College, Cambridge Orbital. Single mother. Accredited Astrogator, licensed orbital pilot, most recently contracted with JurongCorp Initiatives.”

I sit in the uncomfortable plastic chair across the desk from him, waiting for a point to be made. I’d been a bit surprised to be interviewed by the Chief Operations Officer. I’d even allowed myself to get my hopes up. But they were fading now.

His office is chilly, and spartan. Has a nice view of the port, though. I have to keep myself from watching the shuttles come and go. Despite everything, there was some longing, some envy. It was pointless to deny it.

“Top grades. Stellar evaluations from every employer, every captain and XO you’ve ever worked with, and letters of recommendation to go with them.”

Finally he puts down the file and looks at me.

“I can’t hire you.”

I nod. Reach down to collect my purse. He was the last one on my list. Maris-Stella was the last company that might conceivably give me a job. I guess that’s what happens when you break contract less than twelve hours before a three year mission. JCI didn’t even need to blacklist me. They just had to make the facts known.

Of course, If I hadn’t broken contract, I’d have been on Hugo when Starnberger mutinied. Will mutiny. Time travel plays hell with tenses.

“Thank you for your time, Mister Cohn.” I stand up and put out my hand. He doesn’t take it.

“You were assigned to the JCI ship Hugo, correct? Three year contract to Barnard’s Star?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Please forgive me for asking, but why did you break your contract with JCI, Miss Harris? You had to know it would be a career killer, and nothing in your file indicates you’re a particularly impulsive person.”

Because that ship is doomed. Because I got a second chance to be with my daughter. Of course I couldn’t tell him that.

“Personal reasons, Mister Cohn. A set of circumstances that couldn’t possibly be repeated.”

“Have you seen the feed this morning, Miss Harris?”

“No. Why?”

He waves at the wall to his right, my left, and a flickerscreen appears, turned to the news feed. Hundreds of images competing for attention- burning houses, congressional hearing, commercials, morning talk shows, more labor strikes in the Netherlands- but many, and growing, are focussing on a single low-rez live feed from somewhere in space. Even with the poor quality image, though, I can see enough of the starfield to know the view has to be from Titan Orbital.

The flickerscreen picks up on Cohn’s visual attention and the images not related to it dwindle, disappear, leaving two channels, both broadcasting the same feed.

Two ships, locked down. No active drives, no extended arrays, no superluminal shrouds deployed. They’re just sitting there, within about a kilometre of each other. Much too close to each other.
They’re both Hugo.

“…sources on site tell me that the JCI ship Hugo made superluminal transition six hours ago. Final contact with Titan Orbital indicated all systems nominal. These same anonymous sources tell me…”

Cohn flicks his attention to the other channel.

“JCI spokesperson Desmond Tan says the company is investigating. He indicated that JCI ships are built on a bespoke basis, and that the company has not duplicated a ship to the level of specs we’re seeing here in more than fifty years. Meanwhile, neither ship has answered any hail. It is unclear which authority’s jurisdiction— ”

Cohn turns his attention back to me, and the flickerscreen falls silent, though the visuals don’t fade.

“I can’t hire you, Miss Harris. I think it’s safe to say that you’re going to be very busy answering a lot of questions, both from the press and more serious entities for a good long while.”

2 comments:

expat@large said...

Oh, goodness, do I have to reread TS Eliot? Again.

Michael McClung said...

It's good for you. Like fiber. And anyway 'sweeny' is quite short.