The fiction writing has gone fairly well these past two months. I added over 10,000 words to The Sun Runners, and the story now sits at 97,500 words. Frustratingly, it remains unfinished, though I am closing in. It's the way it goes, though. Back in February, the end looked to be in sight, but there were still so many scenes that needed doing, gaps that needed closing, and on and on. At least I can say that the number of open gaps has been significantly reduced. The story could still top 100,000 words.
And it's going to be a mess. I know it. But you know what they say about the sh*tty first draft. I do believe there is a lot of good in this story, and now that it's all down on the page, redrafting will help make it a lot better.
And I also did a fair amount of work on the stand-alone sequel, entitled The Cloud Riders. Dangerously so. As this book is still in its infancy, it's at a spot where it's more fun to write. It would be easy to get swept away, and focus on The Cloud Riders, leaving The Sun Runners unfinished. That hasn't happened, fortunately, but The Cloud Riders has passed 10,000 words, and now has an opening chapter. Three opening chapters, actually. You saw the first part, really a prologue, over here. In it, Samuel Dekker is introduced as a twelve-year-old Venusian writing to a Martian pen pal, who turns out to be named Pandora. The following is the first half of chapter two, and is set six years later. Samuel Dekker, now eighteen, ruminates on his life as he prepares to enter cadet school for the Venusian Police and Rescue Forces. He wants his life to be interesting, and it will be. He just should be careful what he wishes for...
Chris Jones HAVOC, Venus
July 3, 2322
It was an early breakfast at the cadet school's Mess Hall. Through the windows, I could see the beauty of Venus below me as the Sun rose.
The sulphuric clouds kilometres below mounded black and orange, while the sky turned red, tinging to blue. Soon, the Sun would...
"Hey, where's the Sun?"
"There was a CME last night." Zia ate a spoonful of yoghurt, and swallowed. She licked the spoon. "Daylight's cancelled until it passes."
Coronal Mass Ejection. It would be dusk for hours. "Darn it!"
...Eventually, the Sun would rise turning everything white on white. I stared out, smiling as I felt the HAVOC's engines purr beneath my feet.
The Mess Hall was full of people, who'd divided themselves up by year. I could tell who they were by how they sat. The first year cadets clustered around our tables, nervous, excited, chattering like flocks the starlings on Old Earth. The second and third years sit and relax. Like ducks. Maybe not ducks. Swans, perhaps? Either way, they smile benignly and not-so-benignly at the younger students, wondering if they were ever that uncool.
"Sammy?" Xavier's voice almost breaks my concentration.
Watching over them all are the seniors, who have been given their first taste of authority, and like it too much. If they were allowed to preen, they'd do so like peacocks. Instead, they stand like flamingoes around the edge of the room.
"Sammy?" Xavier called. "You with us?"
Zia sighed. "He's caught up in his diary, again."
I ignore the distractions. I am a first year, and I know the next four years will be hard work. I'm ready, though. I'll make Dad proud. I'll graduate strong, get a placement aboard a large cloud-miner, maybe even the capital--
"Samuel Dekker" Zia shouted.
I flinched. "What?"
She held out a cup. "You want the last yoghurt?"
Did I look like I wanted the last yoghurt? Did police detectives ever let themselves be caught dead with yoghurt? Did--
"You sure?" Xavier chimed in. "It's blueberry!"
Blueberries! They were in season at last!
"Thanks!" I snatched the cup. Zia smirked at me. She knew police detectives didn't let themselves get caught dead with yoghurt, but she knew how much I liked blueberries. I respected that.
And I liked that smirk.
These were my friends, Xavier Moodley and Zia Naidoo. I'd known them since elementary school. We've become kind of inseparable.
Xavier likes a good joke. He's always hunting for one. He's the youngest of us -- still seventeen, just a couple of weeks from turning eighteen. He preens. He admits it. He dresses up. He puts himself out there. He was the first on the floor to dance. The first to dance with someone. The first to have somebody ask him to dance. As elementary school became vocational school, he'd had several dates, with people liking his dark eyes, hair like chestnuts, and his cheeky grin. He preferred the girls -- young women -- of our grade, but nobody left disappointed.
"You aren't writing about us are you, Sammy?" Xavier laughed.
As for Zia, she'd glommed onto our group at that awkward age where boys and girls weren't supposed to hang out together -- in spite of all our teachers' best efforts to break us out of our gender roles. Well, she didn't care what the other girls thought. Or boys, for that matter. It made the teachers happy, and Xavier too, I think. But, she was cool. She could hit a target better than anybody, and helped me with my math studies.
Zia was tall early on. Taller than me for a couple of years, which Xander teased me about mercilessly, until she hit him. She didn't dance. I'm not sure if it was because people didn't ask her, or if she wouldn't let herself be asked. Her black hair was twisted up behind her. She had smooth dark skin. Her high cheekbones emphasized her dark eyes.
Those eyes were glaring at me now. "You'd better not be writing about me, Samuel."
And she called me Samuel. When everybody else called me Sammy, and I wanted to be called Sam. But that was her way, and I'd long given up trying to correct her.
"Seriously," said Zia, "I'm going to take that thing and toss it in the recycling."
She looked out at the world with a wry smile. It made you want to smile back.
"Right, give that here!"
The bell rang as she lunged at me. I scurried back. Xavier shoved back his seat and picked up his plate, and Zia's, while I struggled to hold my book out of Zia's grasp. "Come on, you two!" he called. "Class time."
"Kind of occupied!" I grunted as Zia grabbed my shoulder and tried to climb me to get at my book.
Just then, we heard a cough that, though we hadn't really met anybody yet, still told us to stop what we were doing right now.
We turned, and I saw a man built just like my father, but older, white haired, and with a rounder face. The face didn't look angry -- it couldn't look angry, but it looked like it had seen a lot, and what it was seeing right now disappointed it greatly.
You can also tell a lot about a person by how he changes the room around him. Every student in their seats within a four chair radius were now staring at their plates, even if some of them had their hands discretely over or near their mouths, stifling their laughter. At us.
It was Captain Nevis. The school commander, and our first teacher for the day.
"Ah." Nevins nodded, like we had lived down to his expectations. "Cadets Dekker and Naidoo. Nice to see you energized and ready to start the day. I look forward to you applying that enthusiasm to your studies." Then he turned and marched off.
Zia let go and backed away from me. And once Professor Nevis was out the Mess door, she slugged me in the forearm.
"Thanks for getting us into trouble, Samuel!"
"You were the one who tried to climb me!" I snapped.
"Shut it!" Zia and I said to him, in unison.
He just grinned. "Come on. We'll be late."
Everybody else was filing out. Zia and I looked at each other. Then I tucked my book under the arm and put my tray away. We headed off to our first class.
So, there we were, just out of vocational school, now in our apprenticeship phase -- or, for our field, cadet school -- learning the ropes to become a member of the Venusian Police and Rescue Force.
At our first class, Xavier, Zia and I found three seats together by a table in the middle of the room. Twenty of us, all fresh-faced cadets, faced the front whiteboards of that small auditorium in nervous anticipation.
The door by the front of the hall burst open and two upperclass students marched in; a young man and woman, both seniors. They faced us beside the lectern.
"Greetings cadets," said the young man, emphasizing the second word in a way that made us instantly hate him.
"I am Corporal Susan Callister," said the young woman. "And my colleague is Corporal Philip Mode. We are here to help Captain Nevis, your professor, teach you what you need to know about aerial work."
"So, listen up!" Philip smacked a desk with a ruler. "What you hear from us will probably save your lives."
"So, respect your betters, pay attention to your lessons, and you might not wash out," Susan added.
"The first thing you need to know about aerial work for the Venusian Police and Rescue Force is how to fall," said Philip.
"Yeah!" Susan chuckled. "Don't."
"Because if you fall, you will die," said Philip.
"I know you think you'll be wearing aerial suits, and you will, but aerial suits don't help you fly," said Susan.
"They help you glide," said Peter.
"Which is just like falling, only slower," said Susan, relishing every word.
"But you'll still be falling faster than anybody could ever hope to catch you," said Peter. "So aerial suit or no, falling beyond your last handhold on a Uber-Zeppelin is death. Eventually."
Susan nodded. "Eventually. One good thing about falling from Venus is that you don't die from the impact."
"Yup," said Peter. "You're dead before you hit the ground."
"Long before you hit the ground," laughed Susan.
"With every meter you descend, the temperature goes up and up," said Peter.
"Along with the pressure," said Susan, bringing her hands together like she was squeezing water from a balloon. "Until it's like there's rocks on your chest."
"Then you pass into the cloud level," said Philip.
Susan laughed. "Boiling masses of sulphuric acid."
"Not to mention, perpetual lightning," added Philip.
"Zap!" cried Susan.
"By this point, the temperature around you is above boiling," said Philip.
"Above the combustion point of paper, in fact," Susan added.
"But it's not like you'd spontaneously combust," said Philip.
Susan chortled. "Yeah. You'd need oxygen for that."
"That's true," said Philip. "Instead you'd just kind of... melt."
"By the time you reach the surface, the pressure is enough to compress you into your oxygen mask," said Susan.
"Which at least makes you a conveniently-sized package to bring back up from the surface," said Philip.
Susan cackled again. "Not that we will. We don't have the resources for that."
I'll say this for them: they had our full attention.
Just then, the door opened, and Philip and Susan snapped to attention. Captain Nevis strolled past them. "Cadets," he said. "Welcome to your first week of immersive training for the Venusian Police and Rescue Force. I see that you've met my teaching assistants, Corporal Mode, and Corporal Callister. They will be giving you instruction when my duties require me elsewhere."
Well, that's just great, I thought. I looked over at Zia, and caught her glance and eye-roll.
Nevins turned to face us, taking us all in for the first time. He looked just as he had in the Mess Hall. He wasn't built like a drill sergeant, and he wasn't carrying any weapons. His eyes were bright in a face that closed every other emotion off. He exuded professionalism, duty, and an understanding of all the laws that could get you into trouble if you dared cross him, and how to go around said laws if the laws didn't work to his liking. I decided not to cross him.
Nevins began slow-stepping up the aisles between us. "Now, before I begin instruction, there are a few things I want to make clear. I am here to teach, and I expect you to learn, because if you don't learn well enough in this job, you will die, and I won't have that." He walked past our desk, heading towards the back of the class before turning. By some instinct, or some ancient knowledge that we must have gleaned through osmosis, we kept our ears open, and our eyes facing front.
"You may not think it to look at me," he went on, "but I am not adverse to a little fun now and then. So as long as any comic relief or letting off of steam doesn't threaten anybody's health and safety or their job performance, I am all right with that, but if I see you losing focus when lives may be on the line, you will know your mistake and take steps to fix it, or else."
He stepped closer. "Finally, I would like to bring to your attention that we have a bit of a celebrity here."
Suddenly, Captain Nevins was beside the desk I shared with Xavier and Zia, hands clasped behind him, and looking straight at me. His face betrayed nothing, but he towered over us cadets who were sitting down. "Am I right in deducing that you are Samuel Dekker, the son of our famed retired commissioner Blake Dekker?"
Science tells me that people's eyes do not exert a noticeable physical force on the things they gaze at. I have my doubts. I felt every one in the room staring at me, even though my back was to most of them. I could feel the blush rising up my neck, but I kept my gaze level with Captain Nevins. What could I say but the truth? "Yes, sir."
Nevins turned to address the class. "Commissioner Dekker, I must add, was commissioner during the Troubles that occurred after the Earth government collapsed and all communication with the planet ceased. You may remember, or you will have read in your histories, that he held this colony together. Those histories are correct. I served alongside him. He was brave, dedicated, honourable, loyal, and above all, ambitious."
And he became commissioner, I thought, while you're older and still a captain. Is that why you put the emphasis on the word 'ambitious'?
"I didn't expect him to retire so soon, frankly," he added.
Nevins might not have known -- I think he didn't know -- but that stung, and it was an effort for me not to show it.
Nevins turned to face me, and I couldn't decide whether the slight twitch of his lips was a genuine smile, or a smirk. "Can we expect similar great things from his son?"
Again, the eyes of the classroom were on me, and I realized that the next thing I said would mark me for the rest of cadet school. I couldn't help but be irked. I hadn't asked for this. But what could I say?
Perhaps it wasn't what I said, but how I said it?
I stayed calm. I took a steadying breath and opened my mouth. I heard myself say, "I'll do my best, sir. Thank you, sir."
Nevins grunted. I couldn't tell if it was a disappointed grunt, or an impressed one. He held the stare a moment longer, and I returned it. Then he turned away.
"I expect nothing less from you, Cadet Dekker, and from all of you," he thundered to the classroom, snatching up a marker and approaching the whiteboard like a tank on a trench, "So, let us begin."