Waypoint (Part 1 - 1350 words)

reiver33

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Silence.

That’s what woke me, I suppose. There’s always some degree of background noise aboard a starship, if only the hum of electronics, whisper of ventilation fans, or muted conversation from an adjacent compartment.

But I started awake to – well, nothing, apart from the sound of my own breathing. Darkness, the floating space heater providing little by way of illumination, but that was to be expected. A wiring fault had rendered my quarters uninhabitable until Chief Barnes could effect a repair, but sourcing the required parts would have to wait we reached our next port of call, Magdelene Station. Until then I was having to bunk down in one of the half-empty cargo modules, as nobody – including myself – was willing to ‘hot cot’.

I fumbled for my comms. “Bridge, this is Hanson. Has something happened?”

No reply, not even the ‘Wait one’ tone indicating they were busy.

“Bridge, this is Second Officer Hanson, please respond.”

After a few seconds I switched to channel 2. “Engineering, this is Hanson.”

I let the moment draw out before switching to channel 3, ship-wide, if only because of the desperation that represented. “Attention, attention, any station. This is Second Officer Hanson. Acknowledge.”

Nothing, not even the hiss of an open channel.

I’m not easily spooked, no way. I guess living out here, where just about anything that goes wrong will kill you, tends to blunt your sense of anxiety. But hanging there in the darkness, a start of sweat along my hairline, I felt – I knew – that something was badly wrong.

By my chronometer to find I’d only been asleep five hours, but the sleep-cycle shift should have been summoned to station during an emergency, freeing up more alert crewmen to deal with the matter in hand. Nothing made sense.

Then I noticed comms was running on capacitor, that wireless charging was off-line, indicating a main power failure. So it could be nothing more than a reactor scram, which happened at least once per tour, and I let myself relax.

Still, I would be needed on the bridge, and hurried through the graceless ballet of transferring from sleep web to flight suit in zero-G. I undogged the outer hatch and slid the right-hand door aside.

Jesus it was cold; a frost-slap to the face that made me gasp. From what I could see of the corridor only emergency lighting was operational – but the auxiliary generator should be running, if only to maintain a stable working environment during repairs.

Concern returned, now laced with unease.

I stepped onto the ship proper, already starting to shiver. There was something floating up near the mess hall, although the bulkhead lights only served to emphasise the gloom than provide any real illumination at distance. I called out but received no reply – and it could just have been a drift of cables in the rough outline of a man. I looked aft.

sh*t.

The emergency doors were closed, sealing off Engineering. This was bad, this was way bad. It was one thing to be hanging in the space between stars, pending a main engine restart, another to be dead metal floating in vacuum, crippled beyond repair. Radiation leak, coolant rupture, explosive decompression – there were a laundry list of system failures that spelled a death sentence. Although the blast doors had a manual release and hand-crank, without power the environmental monitors would be blank, giving no warning of what I’d find beyond them. There were no answers in that direction.

I headed forward by handholds a short distance, to the dorsal airlock.

Both ready EVA suits were still in the rack, meaning nobody was outside, effecting repairs, and all four inspections drones were still topside as well. I lifted one of the handsets and launched Bot-3, wanting a camera view of the hull, the big picture. What I got was a shoal of cargo modules drifting free of the ship, heading nowhere in a hurry.

I shivered again, but not down to the cold. If I hadn’t left the inner doors open, which automatically engaged the mechanical safety grabs, my module would be out there as well. The fear in my gut was a solid knot, and my hands trembled as I piloted the bot to the maximum elevation its grav field would support, which let me look down the length of the ship, all the way aft.

Jesus wept.

Engineering, the entire stern of the ship, it was gone.

I sent the bot to inspect the ‘damage’, although even calling it that was simple denial – we were f***ed. The Krasnaya Suka was a classic dumb-bell design; engines and engineering aft, bridge and crew quarters forward, joined by a long, narrow spine to which the cargo modules were attached. The spine had been cleanly severed just ahead of the aft bell, as if by a seriously powerful energy beam. The camera lacked a long-range focus but there was maybe a reflective blip a long way astern. sh*t, if both engineering crewmen had survived they were facing an entirely different kind of hell. They’d have heat, light, gravity, water from the recycling tanks – but no food.

Apart from each other.

I tossed the control unit and donned an EVA suit against the now-numbing cold, giving myself a few moments while the environmental systems kicked in. With the second suit tethered in my wake I hand-pulled myself towards the bridge – only to stop when the ‘bunch of cables’ turned out to be crewman Olivera. He hung there, a frozen corpse with no external signs of injury – just dead.

Not someone I knew well: third shift, part of the poker school, grew carnations in the unused hydroponics bay. I brushed frost from his features but they didn’t register pain, or even surprise. Whatever had happened it had been quick, almost instantaneous. I moved him aside and looked into the mess hall itself, activating the cuff light on my suit. Scanning the compartment revealed several corpses amidst a constellation of food containers, but I didn’t go closer to identify them.

I couldn’t.

You make friends quickly aboard a starship or quit at the next port of call. No intimate relationships though, as adding sexual politics to the hothouse environment of an isolated micro-community was asking for trouble. Some people I would miss, others just faces I could put names to, but I knew they were all gone, every last one.

Sole survivor syndrome?

It could wait.

I moved on, only to halt outside the captain’s quarters. When not on duty he set himself apart, being one of those officers who believed that familiarity erodes authority. Some part of me wanted to pay my final respects – well, that’s what the impulse felt like at the time, and any sense of introspection was definitely way down my list of priorities.

After attaching the second suit to a handhold I operated the manual door release and entered the cabin. Captain Mahler was ‘standing’ behind his desk, one shoe snagged in a circular chair spar. With his arms floating at shoulder level, there was an air of Christ, crucified about him, and I crossed myself before saluting.

Without thinking I moved to his shelf of ‘oddities’, and the antique wooden puzzle box that lay there. It was his latest find and held a strange fascination for me that I was unable to rationalise. The captain had passed it around the bridge crew, but nobody had discovered how to part the interwoven strips of palo santo wood. When asked, he merely laughed and said no sane man would open it, which left us none the wiser.

I pulled the box free of the Velcro shelf and turned it over and over in my hands. It spoke to me, not in a literal sense, but as if it were the key to some unquantifiable yearning, a yearning to be whole. Call it looting if you like, but having it about my person was important, end of story. I stowed my memento of Captain Mahler in a thigh pocket, retrieved the second suit, and kept going.

The bridge was a morgue.
 
Very good, I enjoyed it.

The sleep cycle section near the start is not quite right, it didn't read well.

Near the start I wanted the character to move more and have less info dumping, to keep the tension. I also felt closer first person emotion or internal thoughts were needed. Maybe not fear, but certainly foreboding.

There is a balance between tension/pace and background information and I felt a little less of the info dumps for me. I do accept that the technical details of the ship are needed as you go, but tension was diluted some for me as you went.

If there is something about the box it's pull, or it's power, draw etc. then it needs to be there sooner to justify going to the Captain's cabin. A little more character/emotion for me, but otherwise it was very good. I would have kept on reading.

Laters
 
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Thanks for that @reiver33 , I enjoyed it.

I thought the opening was a cracker, and was in there with all the descriptions and the sudden mysterious calamity. The unanswered comms calls built the tension nicely. So did the stuff about trying to get a good view of the damage -it felt real, like I was trying to get a look myself.

I was distracted during reading so that might have had an impact, but I felt like I was pulled away during the section quoted below:
Not someone I knew well: third shift, part of the poker school, grew carnations in the unused hydroponics bay. I brushed frost from his features but they didn’t register pain, or even surprise. Whatever had happened it had been quick, almost instantaneous. I moved him aside and looked into the mess hall itself, activating the cuff light on my suit. Scanning the compartment revealed several corpses amidst a constellation of food containers, but I didn’t go closer to identify them.

I couldn’t.

You make friends quickly aboard a starship or quit at the next port of call. No intimate relationships though, as adding sexual politics to the hothouse environment of an isolated micro-community was asking for trouble. Some people I would miss, others just faces I could put names to, but I knew they were all gone, every last one.

Sole survivor syndrome?

It could wait.
Even after that it felt like the scene had lost a bit of the mystery. I'm guessing the box thing is crucial to the plot but for me it coulda waited. There was enough going on to keep reading.

I'm new to writing so don't take that as advice, or something that needs to be looked at seriously, it was just my impression -all the technical stuff/ style/ descriptions etc. seem deadly to me.

Fair play, I thought the hook worked well.
 
My two biases
  1. Big hard-SF in space fan, liked the zero-G aspect
  2. Not a big survival horror fan, so not my topic matter
My problem was that within the first two paragraphs I think I know where this is going (lone survivor on derelict ship, perhaps quest will be to find if there are other survivors and if there is an eldritch horror festering) which leads to:

The time between waking up and finding the bridge was a morgue was too long. For me nothing was happening because I knew what was going to happen, and I don't like (what I imagine at this point) is the genre and it prevented me from enjoying what was in the middle.

Most likely, I ain't your target audience so just ignore this post.

I do have one suggestion. That sentence - "a frost-slap in the face" - man that was good. I felt that cold air hitting my face. If you did more of that, I would read it despite knowing what was going to happen.

But I didn't find the rest of the writing so gripping, so I faded out. Sorry.
 
This provides an interesting set up for a space opera story and raises intriguing questions appropriate for a mystery. What happened to the ship? Who did it? Why? The plot line is open to covering how the main character will initially survive? How will he access what he needs? How much time does he have left? I would expect that there will be the eventual arrival of the instigators of the disaster, leading to a one against many battle ala "Die Hard."

The challenges I see are, one, some of the science and engineering, and two, the pacing a lack of tension build. Given that the science challenges seem important in the plot set up, one might choose to ignore them with the warning that hard science fiction fans will likely raise them in objection.

In a vacuum, heat dissipation is the issue, Radiant energy is the only form of cooling. In a five hour time span, I find it unlikely that the temperature would drop to fatal extremes. From an engineering perspective, the remaining power sources seem unusual. I would not expect a cargo transport to require a positive activation to keep containers attached; I would expect them to be more of a solenoid activation where the clamps are flipped open or closed, but then remain in that state once power is removed. Given that the ship is now without power, I question how the main character's container remained attached. Given that the remainder of the ship is fatally cold, I question how much warmth a portable heater would provide. Given the power consumption of heaters, I question whether a heater would have its own power source. I can see, though, that having three power sources available (container, heater, communications), could be used by the protagonist going forward, it might be best to ignore those challenges.

In terms of pacing, I felt the building of tension was interrupted twice. First, with the backstory of the main character sleeping in a cargo container, and, second, with the description of the ship. Perhaps, the first could be pushed to the opening of the story, while the latter could be deferred until after this section is completed. In terms of tension, I would think the peak would be the discovery of the destruction of the back half of the ship. Consider moving this after the discovery of the captain's body.

I think you have provided an interesting opening and raised the right kind of questions to make the reader want to continue onward. If this is kept as an adventurous space opera tale, then I would be willing to look past some of the scientific challenges in order to see how the main character addresses the challenges in front of him.
 
In a vacuum, heat dissipation is the issue, Radiant energy is the only form of cooling. In a five hour time span, I find it unlikely that the temperature would drop to fatal extremes.
This is an excellent point - however, if the atmosphere of the ship has been vented, that can take a lot of the heat with it.
 
My thanks for the feedback and comments! I've just done a cut-and-paste of the above and will get back with my thoughts 'shortly' (I work nights hence the somewhat stilted response).

Cheers!
 
OK then, a revised version, which advances the narrative somewhat within the 1500 word limit for this extract.


Silence.

That’s what woke me, I suppose. There’s always some degree of background noise aboard a starship, if only the hum of electronics, whisper of ventilation fans, or muted conversation from an adjacent compartment.

But I started awake to – well, nothing, apart from the sound of my own breathing. Darkness, the floating space heater providing little by way of illumination, but that was to be expected. Due to a wiring fault in my quarters I was bunking down in one of the half-empty cargo modules, as nobody – including myself – was willing to ‘hot cot’.

I fumbled for my comms. “Bridge, this is Hanson. Has something happened?”

No reply, not even the ‘Wait one’ tone indicating they were busy.

“Bridge, this is Second Officer Hanson, please respond.”

After a few seconds I switched to channel 2. “Engineering, this is Hanson.”

I let the moment draw out before switching to channel 3, ship-wide, if only because of the desperation that represented. “Attention, attention, any station. This is Second Officer Hanson. Acknowledge.”

Nothing, not even the hiss of an open channel.

Then I noticed comms was running on capacitor, that wireless charging was off-line, indicating a main power failure. So it could be nothing more than a reactor scram, which happened at least once per tour, and I let myself relax.

Still, I would be needed on the bridge, and hurried through the graceless ballet of transferring from sleep web to flight suit in zero-G. I undogged the outer hatch and slid the right-hand door aside.

Jesus it was cold; a frost-slap to the face that made me gasp. From what I could see of the corridor only emergency lighting was operational – but the auxiliary generator should be running, if only to maintain a stable working environment during repairs.

Now I started to feel uneasy.

I stepped onto the ship proper, already starting to shiver. There was something floating up near the mess hall, although the bulkhead lights only served to emphasise the gloom than provide any real illumination at distance. I called out but received no reply – and it could just have been a drift of cables in the rough outline of a man. I looked aft.

sh*t.

The emergency doors were closed, sealing off Engineering. This was bad, this was way bad. It was one thing to be hanging in the space between stars, pending a main engine restart, another to be dead metal floating in vacuum, crippled beyond repair. Although the blast doors had a manual release and hand-crank, without power the environmental monitors would be blank, giving no warning of what I’d find beyond. There were no answers in that direction.

I headed forward by handholds a short distance, to the dorsal airlock.

Both ready EVA suits were still in the rack, meaning nobody was outside, effecting repairs, and all four inspections drones were still topside as well. I lifted one of the handsets and launched Bot-3, wanting a camera view of the hull, the big picture. What I got was a shoal of cargo modules drifting free of the ship, heading nowhere in a hurry.

That made no sense as the docking clamps didn’t require power to remain engaged – someone had released them. I shivered again, but not down to the cold. If I hadn’t left the inner module doors open, triggering the safety override, I’d be out there as well. My hands trembled as I piloted the bot to the maximum elevation its grav field would support, which let me look down the length of the ship, all the way aft.

Jesus wept.

The entire stern of the ship, it was just gone.

I sent the bot to inspect the ‘damage’, although even calling it that was simple denial – we were f***ed. The Krasnaya Suka had been cleanly severed just ahead of Engineering, as if by a seriously powerful energy beam. The camera lacked a long-range focus but there was maybe a reflective blip a long way astern. sh*t, if both engineering crewmen had survived they were facing an entirely different kind of hell. They’d have heat, light, gravity, water from the recycling tanks – but no food.

Apart from each other.

I pointed the bot forward, fearing the bridge had been severed as well, but it appeared intact. That meant once auxiliary power was operational we could send a distress signal, or at least some finals words to friends and family. The base of the main antenna looked odd though, asymmetrical, even at distance. I sent the bot for a closer look and found a drone docked with one of the general input ports. It looked like a powerpack, the kind used to maintain conditions while a cargo module was being transferred between ships.

Enough power to release the docking clamps once Engineering had been sliced away?

I tossed the control unit and donned an EVA, giving myself a few moments while the environmental systems kicked in. With the second suit tethered in my wake I hand-pulled myself towards the bridge – only to stop when the ‘bunch of cables’ turned out to be crewman Olivera. He hung there, a frozen corpse with no external signs of injury – just dead.

Brushing frost from his features didn’t reveal register pain, or even surprise. Whatever had happened it had been quick, almost instantaneous. I moved him aside and looked into the mess hall itself, activating the cuff light on my suit. Scanning the compartment revealed several corpses amidst a constellation of food containers, but I didn’t go closer to identify them. Call me indifferent, or numb, or just self-obsessed, but my immediate survival trumped identifying the dead.

I moved on, but only as far Captain Mahler’s quarters. Some part of me wanted to see if he was there, to pay my final respects. Well, that’s what the impulse felt like at the time, and any sense of introspection was definitely way down my list of priorities.

After attaching the second suit to a handhold I operated the manual door release and entered the cabin. The captain was ‘standing’ behind his desk, one shoe snagged in a circular chair spar. With his arms floating at shoulder level, there was an air of Christ, crucified about him, and I crossed myself before saluting.

Without thinking I moved to his shelf of ‘oddities’, and the antique wooden puzzle box that lay there. It was his latest find and held a strange fascination for me I was unable to rationalise. I pulled it free of the Velcro shelf and turned it over and over in my hands. It spoke to me, not in a literal sense, but as if it were the key to some unquantifiable yearning, a yearning to be whole. Call it looting if you like, but having it about my person was important, end of story. I stowed my memento of Captain Mahler in a thigh pocket, retrieved the second suit, and kept going.

#​

The bridge was a morgue.

1st Officer Jenz, helmsman Carlyle, navigator Murasaki; all strapped in, all dead. It looked like we’d been manoeuvring in real space when whatever happened, happened. The ‘where are we?’ question finally got my attention, along with ‘why us?’

Answers. I needed answers.

I unstrapped the trio and shepherded them into the main corridor, setting their bodies on a slow twisting drift to join crewman Olivera. I brought the auxiliary cold-fusion generator on-line but left all systems in ‘standby’ mode while thinking things through.

My best guess was we’d been ambushed at a waypoint; some real-space spec in the interstellar firmament where a short-jump ship like the Suka could pause and plot the next stage of its journey.

But, man, piracy?

At least with this brutalist approach there was no need for our attackers to board. They could just harvest the floating modules as they drifted free of the wreck and be on their way. Against that theory I hadn’t spotted another ship out there, gathering in the spoils, and there was nothing of any singular value on the manifest that would warrant a selective pick, assuming a hit-and-run. And why kill the forward crew – by the looks of it using something like a neutron weapon? Any way I looked at it, it made no sense.

I moved between bridge stations, shutting down anything that would betray my presence when power was restored; main lighting, navigation radar, running lights, heating. Figuring that the glow from our instrument panels wouldn’t be noticeable to an external observer, I returned life to the ship and lowered the micro-meteor shields.

My horizon was the wide blue-green sweep of a gas giant.

Navigation indicated we were at Dogleg; a yellow dwarf with one planet, used as a refuelling stop by those unable to make the long haul between Karini and Magdelene Station in one jump.

At least I had more than distant stars for company.
 
I'm not that religiously into "start at the action" etc. etc. but in this case, I do wonder if you could start at "The bridge was a morgue" because it is a rather good starting line. Then you could drip in the rest here and there as your character thinks their way out of the situation. Would love to read more.
 
I stepped into the ship proper, and then set about using handholds etc. Probably correct, but lost the zero g feel for me.

The section was better, but still info dumping at the cost of tension for me. As an example I found the space priate section a little too long and over explained and/or over thought. The WTF just happened vibe is lost, and that's the bit I'm enjoying.

Why turn lights off, and how would real power be restored when engineering and the ship engines are gone. Explain too much and the reader will find plot holes, real or imagined, so give only what's needed. Of course, only you know what is needed.

You have an excellent idea for a storyline opening, but being forced to stick with one character will be difficult to get right. There won't be opportunities to break away from the tension or use dialogue between characters to keep the flow going as examples. However... you're close and it's good, keep at it.
 
My one complaint is that you keep telling us rather than showing the character's feelings, making both them and the experience somewhat distant. This could be a tense scene building up, but I think some visceral descriptions about sweating and breathing hard - for example - might improve it, as then we're feeling it more than just being told it.
 
My one complaint is that you keep telling us rather than showing the character's feelings,

I had to do a double check on Brian's comment, but he is right, it is nearly all telling, or just the odd flash of feeling from the character through comments. That I had to go back and check means that you have managed to convey feeling through telling and as it is mostly one character's thoughts you have got away with it more or less. It might not be quite your style reiver33, but more use of character emotions might well be the additional lift this section needs.
 
Thanks again for the continued comments, and I'll get back to this when work allows!
 
I liked it. Your work shows the improvement of the first example to the second example.

I understand what others meant with the telling instead of showing, but it didn't interfere with me reading the story.

Some books one has to force themselves to read through it. This one I could easily read, and so far it keeps my interest to continue to read.
 

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