By Lisabet Sarai
Micheal Rennie was ill
The day the earth stood still
But he told us were we stand ;
And Flash Gordon was there
In silver underwear
Claude Rains was The Invisible Man...
- "Science Fiction/Double Feature" by Richard O'Brien, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I've always loved science fiction. I started with Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet books when I was in third graden. By high school I'd read most of Heinlein and Asimov. One of the happiest years of my life was in the mid-nineties, when a close friend started a sci fi reading group and I was introduced to Sheri S. Tepper, Octavia Butler, Greg Bear, James Tiptree, and a host of other exciting and talented authors. Every month about a dozen of us would read someone new and then discuss the book over a potluck dinner. The food and wine were usually excellent, but it was the stories that got me high.
Although I've read tons of scifi, I haven't dared to write much of it. I'm just too intimidated by the required combination of exceptional imagination and scientific precision. Yes, I've dabbled a bit - you can find an early effort, recycled as a free read, here - and I have a half-finished M/M scifi novel that's been sitting untouched on my hard drive for the past six months, but "Bodies of Light", in the Total-E-Bound anthology Seeing Stars, is my first published science fiction. I'm definitely nervous as to how it will be received. I comfort myself with the notion that most of the readers will view it as romance first, and only secondarily as scifi, but for me, the speculative aspects are at least as important as the love and the sex.
"Bodies of Light" is set in the relatively near future - near enough that the heroine's grandmother remembered watching Alan Shepard's brief voyage into space. That's actually a memory of my own - sitting in the elementary school cafeteria, watching the black and white TV mounted on the wall, holding my breath as the rocket blasted off into the unknown. After that, I wanted to be an astronaut, at least until someone informed me that my extreme myopia and pronated arches would disqualify me. (Nobody ever told me that wasn't a suitable occupation for a girl!)
In any case, one reason "Bodies of Light" takes place fifty years rather than fifty centuries in the future is that I'm not sure I can convincingly portray a time and place at such an extreme distance from our own. Today's world is vastly different from the world into which I was born, in terms of attitudes and styles as well as technology - and we're talking fewer than half a dozen decades. Furthermore, the rate of change seems to be accelerating. So with this story, I decided to play it safe.
I couldn't avoid including some scientific details, though. I spent hours examining the known properties of star systems, seeking a plausible destination for the Archimedes, reviewing the coordinate system for locating objects in space, and refreshing my knowledge of quantum mechanics. I really didn't want to make some dumb mistake. Even so, when my husband read the first draft, he wrote "No!" in big red letters at a number of points in the text and I had to rework several scenes to correct the errors he pointed out.
Anyway, for better or worse, I can now say that I've published some science fiction. I've included the blurb and an excerpt below. Oh, and I should mention that Alyn and Zed, the two heroes, do wear something like silver underwear - when they're not naked, that is - although I wasn't thinking about the song when I wrote the tale!
Love travels faster than light.
Physicist Dr. Christine Monroe has devoted her lonely life to research on hyper-space travel. Her continued failure leads her to sign on to the Archimedes, a sub-light-speed mission aimed at establishing a colony in the Sirius B system. Waking from suspended animation, she discovers that the ship is wildly off course and the rest of the crew are dead due to equipment failure.
At first she thinks the two handsome strangers who show up on the ship are figments of her imagination - erotic hallucinations created by isolation and stress. However, Alyn and Zed are solid, real, and ready to sacrifice their lives for the strong woman they’ve found stranded in deep space.
As her ship begins to disintegrate, Christine must choose between the planet she was sent to save and the two alien beings she’s come to cherish.
The bridge was as silent as the suspension bay. However, a survey of the blinking panels and rotating 3D displays revealed that the entire ship had power. The pods had been some kind of anomaly. Relieved, Christine settled into the pilot’s chair (Sven Harlsson, gone like all the rest) and searched the cluttered controls until she found the viewport activation button. The curved shields slid open, revealing a hemisphere of blackness. For the first time, Christine gazed out into the emptiness of interstellar space.
Terror tightened her throat. She was falling into the immense void before her, drowning in the utter absence of light or form. She closed her eyes, trying to summon the scientist within her. No one had seen this before, the vast reaches of the universe outside Earth’s solar system. She was the first.
She forced herself to peer into the darkness, pressing against the transparent carbon-crystal of the viewport. As her vision adapted, she found she could see faint glowing clouds that must be galaxies and pinpricks of light that were distant stars. The universe was not totally empty, after all. She swallowed her fear and tried to speak.
"Request interstellar coordinates.” Her long-unused voice came out as a croak, but Archimedes understood her command.
“359˚ 56’ 39.5’’ galactic latitude, -2˚ 42’ 46.3’’ galactic longitude,” the ship replied crisply.
“Request distance from Sirius cluster.”
“Approximately thirty-four-point-seven light years.”
“What?” That was farther away than they’d been when they started! “There must be a mistake! Recheck your calculations.”
The ship’s computer hesitated for a fraction of a second—almost as though it were offended, Christine thought. “There is no error. Current position is 34.68643 light years from Sirius, 41.321966 light years from Terra. Current speed is .917 c. Heading is 22˚ 13’ b by 9˚ 2’ l.”
Forty-one light years from Earth! Had they overshot their goal? Of course, a tiny miscalculation in their initial trajectory would be magnified into an increasingly large discrepancy the farther the ship travelled from its starting point. “How long has it been since departure?”
“Four years, sixty-two days, four hours and twenty-two minutes,” the ship intoned.
Only four years? “That’s not possible,” Christine objected. Given their maximum velocity, they could not have travelled anywhere near this far. Something was very wrong.
“Run full self-diagnostics,” she ordered. “Report any faults.”
The computer was silent for about ten seconds. Christine stared out of the viewport, wondering whether any of the faint, flickering points of brightness might be Sol.
“Self-diagnostics completed,” Archimedes announced. “No faults detected.”
Christine leaned back in the padded chair with a weary sigh. Pain pounded in her temples. Her usually nimble mind felt stiff and rusty. She had to figure this out.
Once again, she saw Ravin’s blank, lifeless face. She had not loved him, but she had respected him, and he had given her pleasure during their pre-launch familiarisation exercises. She found that she missed him. “The crew are all dead,” she murmured to herself. “I’m the only one left, and I’m lost in space, billions of kilometres off course.
“All suspension pod power was terminated,” the ship commented. “A collision with unidentified debris damaged the electrical distribution cables in the hull. Backup systems failed to engage.”
“What? How long ago did this happen?”
“Sixty-two hours and seventeen minutes ago.” Less than three days! If she had awakened a bit sooner, she might have saved them. The impact must have triggered the reactivation sequence in her own pod. Or perhaps the backup had kicked in to handle the life support for her pod alone.
“EVA is recommended to repair the breach,” Archimedes added. “Probability of atmospheric loss over the next twenty-four hours is point-four-six.”
Christine collapsed on to the control panel, her face buried in her hands, squeezing her eyes tight to hold back the tears. The ship wanted her to risk her life, venturing outside to patch the hole before the air escaped. But why should she bother? She was dead one way or the other.
The vastness of space weighed on her, even when she was not looking at it. The unending blackness threatened to smother her. She felt as empty and hollow as the universe stretching into infinity on every side.
For sexier, less scientific excerpts - visit my web site or check out Justine Elyot's blog!