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Lifeboat preview

gilraen2 asked for a preview of Lifeboat, the space opera that I wrote with Amy Griswold a couple of years ago. We don't have a publisher yet, but we're still trying! So keep your fingers crossed that an editor will love Lifeboat.

This is the third section, when the passengers of the ISS Grace have found themselves on a strange new world....

The sparks from the bonfire swirled upward toward the unfamiliar stars. They had lit a fire of driftwood on the beach, more for comfort than for warmth, as the weather was clear and comfortable, though Leandra suspected that it would get chilly later in the night. They were just past the vernal equinox here, the big Marine had said, somewhere in the temperate zone of a planet nobody had ever bothered to name.

Spring, then. Spring, and the shores of a new ocean. Or maybe it was an inland sea. Leandra didn't know, but she could smell the salt in the air. There was a broad sandy beach beneath pocked and pitted sea cliffs, scrubby bushes and grasses growing wherever they could get a hold. No one had tried climbing to the top yet, though she thought it looked possible enough. The cliffs weren't sheer. There were outcrops and falls of stone, pockets of green and growing things that swayed in the incessant wind. There had been no birds at first, startled by the sonic boom of their arrival, no doubt, but they had returned at sunset, a great flock of blue-gray divers the length of her hand, hundreds of them going to roost on the cliffs.

She sat some little distance from the fire, her patient stretched silent on her backboard beside her. They had evacuated the lifeboat when they landed for fear of leakage from the main drive, and though the Marine and a woman in coveralls had checked over it since and determined the drive was safe, they hadn't moved her patient back inside yet. It seemed so claustrophobic. Better out here in the clean air. Better out here, where one could see distance and not feel that one was trapped.

"No! No, no, no, no, no." The toddler in her lap pushed the spoon away again, nearly upsetting the opened packet of emergency rations. "No!' His small face screwed up in threatened tears again.

"Little one, you'll feel better if you eat," Leandra said winningly, waving the spoon around in what she hoped was an interesting manner. "Come on, little boy."

He looked at her with round brown eyes and then his face screwed up again. He threw his head back. "Mama!"

"Your mama can't come right now," Leandra said. Her voice nearly choked, but she mastered it. The very young understood more than one thought. "But she would want you to have some dinner. Come on, sweetheart. Just a few bites for Leandra."

"No, no, no, no! Mama!" The last came out in a piteous wail.

Leandra put the packet of food down carefully on the sand and held him against her, his little fists pounding against her back. None of which seemed to disturb her patient, who slept the sleep of the deeply drugged.

Sabina, the vita tucked in her shirt had said. Consulting Professor of Ecology, a Scholar of the first order.

The little boy's wails were turning into whimpers. "There, little one," Leandra said, rubbing his back with one hand. "It will be all right. Leandra has you."

It wouldn't be all right, of course. They were on a barely identified world deep in the disputed territories, where a ship calling might as likely be Concordance as Empire. Even the Barzani had no official claims this far, though some said that these worlds were traditionally part of their homeland in some distant time. The Barzani themselves couldn't agree on what their homeland was or why. She'd learned that much in her year on Hydara before the Concordance attacked.

Over by the fire there were voices raised, one of the First Class passengers shouting at the Marine. "If you hadn't taken us out into the middle of nowhere…."

"If he hadn't, we'd have been blown up by a Concordance warship," the little man called Macarius countered. "This is the best we've got, my friend. We need to make the best of it. So let's inventory our stores and see where we are."

The other man glared at him, his hands clenching. "And who made you governor? I don't see that you have the right to tell us anything."

Macarius put his hands in the pockets of his robe casually. "I'm an Imperial Counselor, an Itinerant Magistrate, and I hold the Emperor's commission. In the absence of anyone with similar or greater credentials, I think that does make me governor."

"A Magistrate for Domestic Contracts!" the man shouted. "If I need someone to mediate a marriage annulment I'll know who to go to! You're no more qualified to tell us what to do than that sergeant there!"

"Then who is?" An older woman, also one of the First Class passengers put in. "You? You're a historian. I'm a seismologist." She looked around the faces about the fire. "We are lawful people, subjects of the Empire. Let's behave like people of True Caste. Macarius holds legitimate authority under the circumstances, so unless we have reason to doubt his sanity or motives, we owe him our obedience."

There was a general murmur of agreement. Macarius stood in the wash of firelight, his hands in his pockets. "Well, then," he said in a conversational tone. "We've all got to work together then. To each his own place. We're going to need everybody's skills, both on the vita and off. Let's sit down and think this through."

On her shoulder, the boy's sobs had turned into sleepy hiccoughs. "There now, sweetheart. There now." Awkwardly, she spread her jacket on the sand beside her patient and settled the boy on it. He closed his eyes, chewing contemplatively on one of his sleeves as though nursing once again. Leandra smoothed the hair back from his brow. "There, little boy," she whispered. "Sleep now. Sleep."

One of the figures left the fire and came toward her, shaking his head with disgust. It was the Barzani, Per-Aven, who had played no part in the discussions. Leandra looked up and he crouched down beside her, lean and disheveled. "I do not understand your people," he said in a low voice. "It doesn't matter to them whether what they're being told makes sense or not, only that the orders are legitimately given."

"Macarius makes sense," Leandra said.

"He does. But that's not why they'll follow."

"Probably not. But they'll follow." Leandra gestured to the sleeping child. "He's finally gone to sleep. I couldn't get him to eat but he did drink a little." She picked up the opened ration pack, some kind of cold stew of grain and pulses. "I don't blame him. It's strange food and not very good." She held it out to Per-Aven. "Are you hungry? It shouldn't go to waste."

He looked as though he were going to refuse, but then he shrugged and sat down, a vaguely rueful expression on his face. "I suppose I am."

"Then eat."

He took a tentative bite, and then three more wolfishly. "Hungrier than I thought," he said apologetically.

"Needs must," Leandra said.

He dug in again with the spoon. "Why aren't you over there fighting it out?" he asked.

Leandra put her hands about her knees, looking up at the stars, so close and so far away. "There isn't any point," she said. "I know how it will come out. And I don't need to argue about what my job categorization will be. I know what it is. I'm the only Healer, and so that's what I'll be doing, until we're rescued and after."

"Until we're rescued," Per-Aven said. He looked a little brighter at that.

"The Navy will send ships to look for survivors of the Grace," Leandra said. "It may take them a little while to find us here, so we should prepare to be here for days or weeks, but they will come. The Empire never abandons its people."

"Or its territory?" Per-Aven raised an eyebrow.

"Or that," Leandra said. She couldn't help looking at him with a Healer's eye. Older than she, or perhaps it was that he was Barzani and hadn't been bred for generations to long life and perfect health. Handsome enough, dark hair showing the faintest touch of premature gray, blue eyes and a lean, mobile face, fairer than most people of the Empire. His color was good, his appetite vigorous. They were all in shock, of course, but he was handling it better than most.

He finished the rest of the packet without speaking, then looked down at her patient. "Will she live?"

Leandra dropped her voice for all that the woman was deeply unconscious. "I don't know," she said. "She would in a trauma center. But here…." She looked around at beach and ocean and sea cliffs, the lifeboat's long shape lying in the sand some distance away. "We'll have to see."

Per-Aven nodded, taking that at face value. He raised his face to the sky. "No moon," he said. "So we shouldn't see much tidal action."

"Are you a scientist?" Leandra asked.

"A civil engineer," he replied, giving her a sideways smile at the considerable reduction in status that implied. "I build power plants and bridges and roads. I built the power plant on Hydara." He lifted his face to the stars again, as though he could somehow see it across the distance. "And you? You're a Guild Healer?"

"Entertainers Guild," she said. "People come to me for minor ailments. Sore throats. Lacerations. Minor burns. Headaches, sexual dysfunction, backache, contraception. I worked in the clinic on Hydara under the supervision of a physician." She glanced over at her patient. "I'm not a surgeon."

"You sound like you came from the heart of the Empire," Per-Aven said. "Your speech…."

"Is very high caste, yes." Leandra smiled at him. "Entertainers can sound like anything, you know. It's in the blood. But yes, I was raised in the center."

Per-Aven put his head to the side. "So what in the world were you doing on Hydara?"

Leandra clasped her hands around her knees, bare arms prickling with goosebumps in the wind off the sea, but the baby was sleeping on her jacket. "Would you believe I wanted an adventure?"

Per-Aven looked at her a moment and then snorted. "It looks like you found one."

"I suppose I did," Leandra said.

So what do you guys think?

And as an aside, since I often have an actor in mind for a character, someone to imagine in the role as it were, my Per-Aven is Jonathon Young.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2013 01:50 am (UTC)
oh, yes, thank you! i so want to read the rest of this story.
Nov. 18th, 2013 11:06 am (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! I'm hoping to find a publisher still!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )