Saturday, May 16, 2015

Brand new world

Brand New World is the first novella in my series Embarkment 2577. The books follow Alex, who wakes up with amnesia - in a spaceship, in the future. She remembers who she is, but the last year or so is gone from her mind.

There are currently three Embarkments novellas, but I've been working on a prequel as well as a sequel, and hopefully they'll be ready in not too long. I've been going through the already published novellas as well, doing some tweaks.

Curious yet? Here is chapter one. If you want to read more, the book is available on Amazon. If you already have the Embarkment books for Kindle, you can contact Amazon and ask to get the updates sent to your device.

Chapter One

The world was a bank of fog that came and went like waves on the sea, interrupted occasionally by the blackness of night, or maybe death. My confused mind couldn’t determine which. At times the fog was thinner, and revealed a world so surreal it must be feverish dreams or visions in a coma. Soon, these brief images appeared real, and life as it had been resembled a dream.

Consciousness returned with a punch and I gasped for air. Too many impressions battered my senses at once, sounds and smells I didn’t recognize, and I couldn’t tell the difference between reality and the world in my dreams.

A light shone from above, much too bright for my eyes, and I squinted, trying to make out anything besides abstract shapes. My limbs were too heavy, and I couldn’t even turn my head.

“Look who’s awake. Welcome back.”

The female voice sounded cheerful and vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it, and I couldn’t see her.

My eyes adjusted to the light, but it didn’t do me any good. Nothing looked familiar.

Bright cones hung from the ceiling. They must be the source of the dazzling light, but didn’t look anything like a normal lamp with self-respect. The walls were slightly curved, and the shapes of shadows from objects outside my view stood much too tall and distorted.

Was I in a hospital?

Maybe I’d been in an accident.

The thought was logical, and much more appealing than the alternatives presented by my imagination.

Another voice spoke. “Doctor Ima to the Captain, our time traveller is conscious.”

That comment didn’t make any sense at all. I hadn’t been on a boat, so why would there be a Captain? Time-traveller? Maybe I was still unconscious after all, trapped in a weird dream.

I groaned, “I guess I’m not dead after all.”

What a dumb comment. Why would I say such a thing? I had no reason to think I was dead, did I?

The voice sparkled with held back laughter.

“No, you most certainly aren’t dead anymore.”

Being alive might be a thing to celebrate, but I failed to see what was so funny. If anything, her words clutched my heart. If I wasn’t dead anymore, had I been? Was this the afterlife? Purgatory?

I squeezed my eyes shut to tune out all the strangeness around me.

Thinking back was nearly impossible. I had been on the beach. The sound of the waves and the smell of the ocean were clear in my mind. What happened after that? Besides a screeching seagull, I had nothing.

The connection between beach and boat comforted me. Maybe I’d wandered too far into the water or something. That would explain the presence of a captain.

Turning my head in the direction of the voices, I saw the back of a woman. A mass of short, blonde, and curly hair bounced over the collar of a long and white doctor’s coat.

The person turned around, as if she sensed me watching, and now I knew I was still down in whatever abyss held my mind. If this was Doctor Ima, her skin had a warm amber tint, and it was covered with a pattern reminding me of a leopard’s spots. Her face was almost human, but had some cat-like qualities in its shape, and from this marvel a couple of perfectly human, bright blue eyes looked out at me.

She took her coat off and hooked it over a chair, revealing a tall and slender body dressed in a crispy white tank top and skirt. The spots on her face continued over her neck and down her arms. Her hands were almost human, but had claws instead of nails.

I opened my mouth to scream; the bushy tail that wagged behind her was too much to take. Not a sound came out. The only parts of my body able to move were my heart beating much too hard, and my eyes, wide with fright.

As much as I willed the apparition to go away, she came closer to the bed and looked into my eyes. A syringe came into view, seemingly fit for a horse, and disappeared again. I felt the needle brush against my skin and held my breath, awaiting death.

 “Please, don’t be afraid of me. I look alien to you, but I am your friend.”

At least she didn’t sound about to fall on the floor laughing anymore.

The unusual face smiled, showing very white fangs, and the needle pinched me.

“This is just to help you wake up properly. We’ve had to keep you sedated for quite some time.”

She was beautiful, but I still wanted to crawl backwards to get away. My treacherous arms and legs didn’t obey. I had no option but to stay put.

Whatever she gave me cleared the mists in my head. I still couldn’t remember anything after that annoying seagull, but thinking came easier. My toes and fingers tingled slightly, promising they might be willing to move in the not too distant future.

Doctor Ima pressed a paw against my forehead. Her palm was soft and lined with fine hairs.

 “Please don’t be angry with Adam, he saw no other way than to bring you along. You were quite dead you know.”

Who? What?

I didn’t have time to voice any questions; the first voice I heard sounded again from further into the room. “She’s not angry with Adam. I detect quite fond feelings for him.”

This time my mouth moved when I wanted to speak, and my voice came out much stronger and steadier than I expected. 

“How can I have fond feelings for someone I don’t know? Where am I? What is this place? What do you mean I was dead?” 

When this woman came into view, I was certain I hallucinated. Her cool blue eyes, scrutinizing me from a beautiful face surrounded by long dark hair, were much too familiar. It was the face of a well-known rock star, and I had seen her in concert just a few months earlier.

I managed to sound accusing. “You’re Amy Lee. What are you and cat woman doing in my dream?”

The face smiled and answered in a voice just like the one on the CDs I used to play in my car.

“I’m not Amy Lee. I’m Doctor Anya Benton, ship’s counselor. How do you feel?”

It seemed like a superfluous question from someone who claimed to read my emotions, but maybe it was just an attempt to be polite.

I felt like passing out and I tried to, but no matter how hard I squeezed my eyes shut and struggled not to think, it wouldn’t work for me.

With that route closed, screaming hysterically seemed like a good idea, but I didn’t do that either. The vision of the singer was trying to get my attention, clearly wanting to explain something. I should probably listen.

“I’m a hologram. The ship’s computer contains my artificial intelligence. My creator admired the music of the early 21st century and modeled me after one of his favorites. I’ve heard the likeness is remarkable.”

This was just too bizarre. She made it sound like I was in the future, discussing the body of a rock-star with a holographic psychiatrist.

No way.

I was probably experiencing it all in my head, while my body rested comfortably in a padded cell somewhere, dressed in one of those shirts with very long sleeves.

The alleged hologram patted a gadget attached to the chest pocket of her shirt. “This is a mobile holo-emitter. It allows me to walk around and interact with people.”

Her hand on my arm felt real enough, but I supposed it would if this was all just a figment of my imagination.

“You’re not real.”

She laughed. “I’m very well suited for the position of counselor. I’m programmed to be both telepathic and empathic.”

If she were real, that statement would be deeply disturbing.

Both the hologram and the cat-like doctor turned away from me, chatting merrily between them. For the moment, they seemed to have forgotten all about me, and I struggled to sit up.

Anya glanced over her shoulder.

“No, no, silly girl, you’re too weak to do that.”

Ima filled in, “Your system is filled to the brim with medications. You’ll feel stronger soon, but for now just take it easy and wait until Adam gets here. He’ll help you.”

Anya took over again. “He’ll be delighted to. He has spent so much time here waiting for you to wake up.”

For being figments of my imagination, they could sure finish each other’s sentences seamlessly.

Sighing, I laid my head down on the pillow. I always considered my mind pretty well organized, but if these people were a creation of it, couldn’t I have invented someone that made just a little more sense?

“Great. Just great. And who the hell is he?”

Ima met my eyes. “You really don’t remember, do you?”

She didn’t sound overly concerned. A real doctor should have better bedside manners. I felt pretty sorry for myself, but there wasn’t much sympathy in her voice when she added, “Well, you’ve been through a lot, and it’s a quite normal reaction. It’ll probably come back to you soon, and if it doesn’t, we’ll help you bring the memories to the surface.”

Anya filled in, “The Captain will want to see you too, and he should be here soon. He’ll answer all your questions.”

If the doctor was a cat and the psychiatrist a rock star, the Captain would probably be a big, pink, furry bunny.

I regretted the bunny thought as soon as it crossed my mind. What if Anya was real, and picked it up?

There wasn’t much time to fret; I heard a whooshing sound behind me from doors opening, and the nattering women settled down. They seemed to be great friends, and I wished some of my friends had been there.

If this was really real and I was in some form of a hospital, someone I knew would have come for me, wouldn’t they?

Above me, Anya’s face nodded. “Captain.”

A friendly male voice answered, “Ladies.”

The man stepped into my field of view and I sighed with relief. He looked perfectly normal, perfectly human, and I was sure I’d never seen him before. The presence of a perfect stranger who acted and looked normal signified I wasn’t crazy, whether he was a figment of my imagination or not.

He was very tall and had broad shoulders, sparkling blue eyes, and a wild mop of auburn hair.

Once again, I began my struggle to sit up. This new person actually helped me, and made sure I could support myself. Then, he sat down next to me, so close our shoulders almost touched, and smiled.

“I’m Captain Blake Jones. I’ve heard so much about you, Alex. You are a courageous young woman, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

His words made me lift an eyebrow. I always aimed to do what I considered right, but I never thought of myself as particularly courageous.

Heard so much about me?

From whom?

I didn’t say anything, and a small frown formed on his forehead. He finally turned his attention away from me. “Ima dear, would you get us some tea?”

The cat woman surprised me with bending forward to kiss the friendly giant on the cheek.

“Of course, love.”

Both she and Anya disappeared off into an adjacent room, and a smile tugged at Blake’s mouth.

“I hope they’re not giving you a hard time. I do understand both my crew and this ship must seem… unusual to you.”

It was my cue to speak, but I didn’t have anything to say, so I just nodded.

“I’m quite interested in history, and there’s so much I’d like to know about your time. So much about it has been lost. Maybe you can tell me some when you feel stronger.”

There it was again: my time. I wanted to ask about it, but didn’t get around to it.

“The transition will be difficult for you I’m sure, but everyone on this ship will do their best to help you. We all owe you for what you did for Adam.”

Adam... Wasn’t this enough to drive a woman crazy?

My mouth finally moved. “What ship? What crew? What time? And who is this Adam everyone keeps talking about? Where the hell am I?”

At that moment, Ima came back into the room, holding two mugs with steaming tea, and she and Captain Jones exchanged a glance.

She shrugged. “It appears our new friend here has a little bout of amnesia. I expect her memories will return with time.”

If I had been the Captain, I would wonder why she didn’t tell him this at once, but he seemed used to the way things were. “I see.”

His blue eyes weren’t laughing any longer; they seemed to look right through me, evaluating me. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was passing the test. Up until now, I’d been dying to know what was going on. Now, when the information appeared within reach, it frightened me.

I cleared my throat, but my voice still revealed more of my anxieties than I cared for.

“Please, I really need to know.”

Blake looked at his mug, and Ima made a soothing gesture, “Have some tea, dear.”

I didn’t want tea. I wanted to know where I was and what happened to me, but I obeyed anyway. The little sip I intended to take turned into a gulp. The tea was good, and I was thirsty.

“Adam is a valued part of my crew. He’s third in command on this ship, and he is an artificial life form. An android. I suppose you would be familiar with the concept from the movies of your time?”

I’d seen Star Trek and I Robot. The concept of an artificial man made of metal or plastic was much 
less disturbing than the expression “my time.”

Blake misinterpreted my frown.

“He was investigating a space anomaly, and somehow got pulled into it. I’m sure he can tell you the story much better than I can, but in short, you saved him. You gave your life for him, in your world, in your time, and he decided to bring you back here so you could live. You were dead when you arrived. He put you in a cryochamber in the shuttle. Ima reconstructed many of your organs, and brought you back to life.”

There it was again. My time.

The words made me want to scream.

Androids and cryochambers… My first thought had been right; this was complete nonsense, and he was clearly just a figment of my imagination.

Androids, pffft.

He could just as well have told me there were flying pigs.

Why couldn’t I dream up something friendlier? Something easier to relate to? A day on the beach would be nice, or why not a nice restaurant?

I took another gulp of tea, and then the mug was mysteriously empty. I couldn’t remember drinking it all.

“By your way of counting, it is the year 2577. The ship has a crew of 1017 people including you, and we are all sorts of life forms from all over the galaxy. The Earth is still out there, but now it’s part of a confederacy of systems. The human race is one of 88 member species.”

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