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Fallen from Grace

One of the things I'm getting back into working on now are the revisions for Lifeboat, the book I wrote last year with Amy Griswold. (I posted the beginning of it here.) I'm trying to find all the characters again after time away to add about 25,000 words and revise what's there, so it's on my mind right now. I thought I'd share the second scene, as hearing what you guys think is always a shot in the arm!

This is actually Amy's scene, not mine, and I love it. By the end of this scene we've met all five major characters, though we saw them all in the opening scene -- Macarius the magistrate, the Marine, the healer, the wounded man, and the foreign traveler.

So where we've left our story -- the lifeboat has launched from the ISS Grace, but the Concordance warship is closing....

Fortunato gritted his teeth, willing the lifeboat to find a course in any one direction. It was still rolling wildly, the autopilot correcting course again and again as it detected drifting debris. The Grace was coming apart, its hull splintering under the strain of its own gravity and unequal pressures, and two of the lifeboats were tumbling free as well, either never manned or, worse, manned but unpiloted.

He thought about switching the controls to manual, and then thought better of it. His enhanced reflexes wouldn't help without the experience to react correctly, and one unwise twitch of his fingers might kill them all. He took deep breaths, his head still clearing, the black that had been encroaching on the edges of his vision receding. There was nothing to do but wait, and he did so, increasingly impatiently, clenching his fists to keep his hands off the controls.

He could hear the sound of raised voices in the passenger compartment, and then Macarius's voice carrying over them, reassuring. He looked back down at the console. They were finally moving in a more or less straight line, arrowing away from the dying Grace. More warning signals were sounding, pointing out the Concordance warship that was bearing down on one of the other lifeboats.

The other lifeboat pilot rolled and dodged, trying to stay free of the Concordance ship's gravity well. It was a doomed effort, but it might buy the rest of them time; the rest of the lifeboats were scattering, and Fortunato followed suit, arrowing in a direction no one else was taking. The warship couldn't pursue them all, and running them down one by one might well be more trouble than they were worth. One by one the other lifeboats dropped off the screen as they moved out of proximity.

Running silent, he thought, and then moved to slap off their own emergency transmitter, his hand moving before he'd completely finished the thought. They had to run silent or they might as well hail the Concordance ship and announce their course. He switched navigation over to manual and brought up a chart of the local systems, trying to figure out where in the hell they were.

They'd only made the first jump, to a navigation point at the very edge of the colonial frontier. There was no hope of making the next scheduled navigation point; it was far outside the lifeboat's range. That left them ... what? A handful of local systems, none marked as having full spaceport facilities.

He could feel the lifeboat's jump engine preparing to make a microjump. He started to cancel it, still unsure of their best direction. He glanced at the proximity sensors, the warship closing on the lifeboat it had been pursuing, caught now by the warship's gravity and unable to maneuver. The warship wasn't bringing the trapped lifeboat fully alongside, though, maintaining distance—

Fortunato understood just in time. The warship opened fire on the other lifeboat at the same moment that the microjump kicked in, putting distance between them and the other ships. The sensors barely registered the radiation spike of the lifeboat's destruction. He switched the sensors to passive mode, and the other ships dropped entirely off the screen.

They'd jumped away from the navigation point, in a direction that limited their options even further. There was one name he recognized as Barzani, but the world was marked no port facilities. They would have some kind of landing field, though, and he suspected at least occasional private traffic. The First Class passengers would scream if they had to wait for rescue for weeks or months in an unwired backwater town, but it wouldn't kill them.

He checked over the figures. They could just do it, though they'd drain the lifeboat's power and be frighteningly close on oxygen, but —

His blood froze as he saw that the misbegotten computer was still assuming 40 passengers. Macarius came in from the passenger compartment, and saw something in Fortunato's expression that made him close the bridge door behind him. "What?"

"I count 50 aboard," Fortunato said, in the clipped tones he would have used to make an official report. Facts only, all emotions surplus. "Is that correct?"

"Fifty-one," Macarius said immediately. "Ten are children, though. Most of them babies."

He found the override for maximum occupancy and typed in 45. If the computer thought they could make it with 45—

Destination out of range, it displayed unapologetically. He stared bleakly at the other options. All of them were into interdicted space, disputed territory with the Concordance that had been abandoned by both sides as not worth fighting over. There were four inhabitable worlds they could reach with 45 passengers. All were stretches, at the very end of the lifeboat's newly projected range.

All four had survey designations only, not names. No hope of a landing field and a sympathetic welcome; if he could get them down, they'd be camping in the wilderness. If he could get them down. He wished just this once for the luck his father had hoped his name would bring him.

"We don't have enough air to reach an inhabited world," he said, bracing himself for an argument. Servicers liked to think they could win any argument through brilliant reasoning and the force of authority — he knew that very well — but you couldn't argue with the limitations of physics.

"Then we can't," Macarius said instead, after only a moment's pause. "Where can we set down?"

"111023," Fortunato said. "And now you know as much about it as I do, except that it's guaranteed habitable by the surveyors." He punched in the course, and dismissed the error message that warned that the destination was under interdict.

"Or our money back?" Macarius said dryly.

"Something like that. It'll be close, with the power. I wish I could promise ... it'll be very close."

"Do we have another choice?"

"Sit here and hope to be rescued before we run out of air."

"I'd rather take our chances," Macarius said. "How about you?"

"I'm with you," Fortunato said.

The ship's jump engine kicked in again, the first of several microjumps. Fortunato checked their projected oxygen consumption again, even though there wasn't much he could do about it at this point short of throw people out the airlock. He'd come close enough to that already, he thought, his stomach turning abruptly at the memory of using his pain baton to drive back the panicked crowd.

He left the lifeboat on autopilot and followed Macarius back to the passenger compartments. The little Guild Healer was determinedly rigging a plasma drip for her patient out of the lifeboat's emergency supplies, and Fortunato went to one knee to help her, wedging himself against the forward door to do it. Macarius went on back, touching shoulders and stopping for a quiet word with various passengers as he went.

"Thank you," the Healer said without looking up, her fingers quick and clever. He shook his head, acknowledging the inadequacy of what he could do. "He needs to go straight into surgery when we land. He has compound fractures of both tibias, and significant muscle damage." She looked up, her lips pressed together tightly, looking close to the edge of panic. "I don't usually treat catastrophic trauma."

"Guild Healer—"


He waited until she looked up again. "We're not going to be landing anywhere with a trauma facility. I'm sure you'll do your best."

She swallowed hard, and then raised her chin, accepting. "How long until we land?"

"A number of hours."

"I'm going to need to set the fractures before we land, then, and seal some of the lacerations. If I leave the pressure blanket on that long without any way to repair the damage it'll cause, he'll probably lose both legs." She hesitated, glancing up quickly at the passengers huddled in the nearest seats. "It's going to be bloody. Can we bring him forward into the bridge?"

"Not on the gurney."

"There's a backboard that comes off," she said. They managed, with some effort; Fortunato could have easily lifted the man by himself, but the backboard was hard to maneuver without tilting the man to either side. He folded down the pilot's bunk, and strapped the backboard onto it.

"There," Leandra murmured, smoothing back the man's sweat-soaked black hair. He had the classically handsome features of the scholar's caste, but his mouth was a grim gray. She looked back at Fortunato. "This won't distract you too much to fly, will it?"

"I've seen enough men bleed," Fortunato said. It was affecting him, although not the way he suspected she meant, his internal hardware's subroutines pouring adrenaline and euphorics into his system. It felt good.

"I'm going to need help."

Fortunato went back to the passenger compartment and picked out the first passenger who wasn't watching children, a Barzani man who had watched curiously every time someone emerged from the bridge. "You, there, come forward," he said. He'd picked up enough Barzni from friends in the service to manage simple commands.

The man looked up at him sharply, drawing himself up to his unimpressive height. "I speak Imperial Standard," he said, enunciating very carefully. "And I'm not a soldier."

"Come, sir, don't argue," Macarius said, coming forward from the rear passenger compartment. "Surely you'll help if you can."

"Well, yes, of course," the man said, somewhat mollified. "But I'm a civil engineer. I'm not sure that's useful at the moment."

"Help the lady," Fortunato said as the bridge door closed behind them. The bridge smelled strongly of blood.

"Just hold his ankle, here," Leandra said. "This is a traction splint. It wraps around the thigh — like that, see — and then around the ankle." She talked as if explaining what she was doing was expected, which seemed odd. But then she was only a Guild Healer, not a high-caste physician.

"Oh, my," the man said, a little weakly.

"Please don't faint."

"I'm not going to faint."

Fortunato ignored them. After a while they'd finished, and the Barzani man — Per-Aven, his name was — retreated into the passenger compartment, gratefully, Fortunato thought.

The lifeboat made the last of the microjumps, and then flashed an insistent warning message. Territory under interdict. Fortunato overrode the warning. It flashed another, even more insistent message. Power levels critical. Wonderful.

He flipped on the ship's audio. "We're about to start our descent. Please be seated with safety harnesses on. Someone hold onto the babies."

The planet was filling the forward screen, mottled blue and green. They were into the atmosphere before the computer could finish building a map of the major land masses, filling the display with the small area it had managed to scan as the lifeboat shuddered hard against the sudden turbulence of re-entry. A few people shrieked, and Macarius's voice rose stern and steady.

Fortunato aimed them toward the edge of what seemed to be a land mass, near a coastline and a river. The computer was warning him that there was insufficient power for another takeoff. He dismissed the messages with a muttered oath, only interested in the moment in whether there was sufficient power for a landing.

The main engines cut out at an appallingly high altitude, but the thrusters were still responding, and he managed to ease the lifeboat down toward the coast. He fired the forward thrusters to dump speed, letting the autopilot stabilize the lifeboat.

"It's all right," Leandra said, whether to her patient or to him, or possibly to herself, he wasn't sure.

It was, though, he realized with a sudden surge of relief. He'd slowed them enough that even with minimum power, the grav generator kicked in as they sped over the beach, cushioning their descent. The ship kicked upwards twice as the grav generator's power fluctuated, like a stone skipping off of water, and then regained its full weight and rushed downwards toward the sand. He couldn't get any more lift out of it, but this seemed a likely spot as any.

"Everyone hold on," he said over the audio, and sand and water sprayed as they plowed into the beach, skating wildly across it until the lifeboat finally buried its undercarriage in the sand and came to rest.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 16th, 2013 01:05 pm (UTC)
I cannot tell you how long I've been waiting to see something from this story... :D <--- Iz pleased.

If I might offer an opinion, I think it could do with a bit more padding. It's great, don't get me wrong, but it felt like the piece could do with depth - I couldn't grab hold of Fortunato properly and he seemed too mechanical. The tone was a bit staccato, as well, which is fine if you want that effect, of course. Ummm... am wondering if this has had an edit???

*creeps away and hides behind sofa with tail between legs* :S
Jan. 16th, 2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you're interested! Fortunato is very clipped, compared with Macarius. He's a Marine, and at this point he's very precise and unyielding. So that's very intentional at this point in the story!
Jan. 16th, 2013 03:38 pm (UTC)
That's quite good. How do I get the book?
Jan. 16th, 2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! First, we have to finish the revisions. Then we try to sell it! So keep your fingers crossed for us.
Jan. 16th, 2013 06:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the preview, I love it. I'm looking forward to its appearing on the market.
Jan. 17th, 2013 11:19 am (UTC)
Believe me, so am I! :) I'd love to sell Lifeboat. I'm glad you liked it.
Jan. 16th, 2013 09:04 pm (UTC)
I love this! I love what a view of personalities we get already, how practical Fortunato and Leandra and Macarius are, and how everyone is trying so hard under the circumstances.
Jan. 17th, 2013 11:20 am (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! (You know there's a little bit of you in Leandra, don't you?)
Jan. 17th, 2013 01:39 pm (UTC)
I love the way the whole thread spins out. It isn't just Character A does this, and then this, and then that which can leave the scene feeling kind of like a procedure manual (and I've read books like that!). I get a good feeling of the potentially life-threatening situation and that it's going in amidst all these other concerns - injured people, for one :). It also gives me a good beginning idea of who these people are.

(Sorry if this is too analytical. I've started trying to revise my paper for publication and I think I'm stuck in that mode!)
Jan. 18th, 2013 03:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is the introduction of most of the major characters, Macarius and Leandra and Janus and Fortunato and Per-Aven, as well as the story of how they got there. So there's a lot to put into a very small space!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )