CategoryShort Fiction

The Cave

Note: This is a piece of fiction I wrote during NaNoWriMo in addition to my actually NaNo project. Essentially, it was just a series of sentences to help break writer’s block on my main book. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to doing anything with this; it’s not my normal style, and I didn’t outline like I usually do. Aside from a quick copy editing pass and formatting for WordPress, it’s been untouched since November. 

Ivona tried to control her breathing, control the pounding in her chest, the tremble in her hands. It was cold in the cavern. She had backed herself into a small crack in the stone, barely wide enough for her to slip through sideways. She couldn’t do it with the pack on, or with the sword on her belt. She unshouldered the pack, squeezing it through the crack one handed. The other hand rested on the hilt of the sword. Her eyes, now accustomed to the flickering lights in the cavern, scanned for any movement coming through the tunnel, her ears straining to hear a foot scrape against stone. Once the pack was through she took off her belt and slid it, the scabbard and the sword behind her, then slipped through herself.

She dropped to the ground, and inched backwards, eyes focused on the small opening. Ivona knew what hunted her through the caves, what had killed Jofen and Pel. She knew it wasn’t far behind her. Wasted too much time already. She could have stood her ground. She could have killed the thing in single combat. But there was never just one. A pack was here, they had the bad luck of running into a scout, foolish children playing at guards. They might find this crack, but it went deeper, further into the hillside. She needed to run, now. She needed to get as far away as possible, hoping these caves doubled back or came out the hill near the creek. She should been moving. She stayed very still, watching.

Her heart pounded in her ears. I’m afraid I’m afraid I’m afraid It wasn’t fear keeping her, watching for any signs in the cavern beyond. Pel Jofen Pel Jofen Pel Jofen The town needed to know how big a group was in the caves, whether to expect a small raid on the fields, a larger raid on the town. A sacking. A bloodbath. If they needed to run, if they could hide behind the walls safely. If they could stand and fight.

She was about to rise to a crouch, to turn and head further into the cave when she heard the sounds in the cavern. The sounds. Little mistaking the scraping, the labored, ragged breathing. She crept as close to the opening as she dared, watching the entrance to the cavern, counting numbers.

The first was already in the cavern, no torch, using the ambient light reflected down the cave walls to see. It could see in twilight as well as daylight, perhaps better. That’s what Ivona had heard, in the stories. Large splayed-toed feet, a leathery quality like a boot. Backwards canted legs, like the rear legs of her cat. Long body, pitched forwards, flesh like chalk, like death. Long head, snout, fangs protruding upwards. Segmented, dull eyes, wide spaced. It wore Pel’s bloodied mail shirt – scavengers – and held a long knife in one of its hands. The other was stretched out before it, straining, feeling the stone floor. Feeling for heat, where she had been, stood, ran.

Goblin.

Another entered the cave. He carried a wicked looking sword, something wet on the blade reflecting the soft light. Then another. Three, five; she stopped counting at thirteen. A good sized raiding party, and more besides. It won’t do any good to be killed here, or trapped, and not get back to Dunned. The first goblin, the one with Pel’s mail, was stalking around the cavern, stumbling in a circle. Fire! That’s how I stumbled in here! Turn around, look up, run to the fall side; the goblin was matching every move she had taken, its hand still stretched before it, low to the ground. She had to move out of her hiding spot, crawl further down into the caves, try to double back somehow.

It was dark behind her, the reflected light didn’t carry any further down. She stretched a hand, groping blindly behind her, turning her head and slowing scooting backwards.

The stench caught her throat. She whipped her head back to the small opening in time to see the goblin’s head, screeching, a hand clawing through the hole. The smell of it make her retch. On instinct, she drew her sword, a short draw, just halfway out of the scabbard due to the low ceiling and her crouching position. She turned fully toward the goblin, and as hard as she could slammed the pommel of the sword at the eye of the creature. The hand pawed at her glove, scratching the leather. She fell the eye give way, the howl of the beast as she blinded it. Then she was scrambling backwards, kicking out with her legs, trying to get as much distance between herself and the goblin. She knew the cavern floor was sloping down, she could feel it, then she felt nothing under her hand. Twisting, but before she could catch herself, Ivona was sliding, falling, and then into the cold water.

She hit the water hard, back first, the air driven out of her lungs.The water rushed over her, pulled her down, drug at her coat. Ivona couldn’t breath, had no breath, the cold drawing the strength from her arms. She lost grip on her sword, Father’s sword, Gran’s sword. She clawed at the water. Her lungs burned. She couldn’t see, just trusting she was moving towards the surface, against the pull.

Then her head broke the surface, and she sucked in air, cold air. She felt a current. This must flow out into the creek. How long, I don’t know. She struggled to remember anywhere along the creek there was a stream, some tributary of mountain water.

There was a splash, a thrashing noise,  churning in the water. Gods, it followed me. Half-blind it followed me down here!

From Nanowrimo – On Jump Travel

Note: The section below was written for NaNoWriMo 2018, giving some background on the jump drive technology being used in-universe. I started with the effects I wanted (jump points, jump drive used as radiator, purpose for having smaller ships, efficiency breakdowns at larger sizes) and then worked backwards from there. Just like I learned at Atomic Rockets!

Jump Rails

The jump rail has to be cold to initiate a jump. Smaller ships have correspondingly smaller rails, which cannot accept as much heat, and therefore can make only shorter jumps. The rail size has more to do with volume than mass; jumping a blimp, for example, would require a larger rail than a teaspoon of lead. There is an upper limit, based on current technology. A rail over a certain size creates so much background heat as to make it useless for a jump, while adding two rails to a ship cannot correctly synchronize and generally produces a ship whose halves jump separately.

Enterprising technicians discovered the rail could be used as a giant heat sump when not being used for transition to jump space, or in jump space. This gives larger ships an advantage in combat, allowing them to have a larger throw weight of beam weapons, coilguns or rail-launched missiles. However, if used as a heat sump, the ship cannot perform a jump until that heat has dissipated. This also means that ships who have just emerged from jump are at a disadvantage, as the rail has yet to cool from the trip to jump space. Ways of rapidly cooling a jump rail are expensive, and thus used only by military vessels, well-off mercs, and specialty courier ships. A handful of merchant ships have used these “cool shots” to gain comparative advantage against competitors, but unless the route is particularly lucrative, or the route can only be assigned to one company, this is an extravagant waste of money.

The smaller the jump rail, the shorter the jump taken, unless the commander and crew want to risk jump failure. Generally speaking, it’s controlled by the length of the rail, which is set by the volume of the ship. A 2 meter rail, the shortest possible under current technological conditions, allows for a 6 light year jump. The jump will take 12 hours, a ratio of 2 light years: 1 hour. A 64 meter rail, the largest ever constructed (currently undergoing trials in the Remus system) only allows for a jump of 36 light years, and a 1:3 ratio for light-year/hour. Both would cool down for another jump in 72 hours, excepting for combat or using an active coolant system. The larger rail still holds an advantage if one needed to go 36 light years, but breaks down near the 24 light year mark.
Custom dictates ships enter at a point perpendicular to the plane of the system, and pass through zenith to nadir or vice versa, allowing their rails to cool. An extremely talented astrogator, or a thrill seeker, might jump into the plane, having calculated the position of whatever planet or station pre-jump. The issue here is that the emerging ship appears in a given volume of space but where inside that volume is not up to the astrogator or pilot, strictly speaking.

Courier ships use both active cooling and flushing the rail compartment with coolant. This is a hazardous material that, after cooling the rail, can be stored, cooled and reused. An average courier could jump, cool and jump again in a matter of hours. The record is held by Zig “Stardust” Jant, having jump and rejumped in 38.3 minutes. However, as her ship, the “Odessa” was a victim of jump failure on the second jump, some sources dispute the record. The record without jump failure is held by the courier Malediction, at 44.8 minutes and a total of 24 light years in 48.8 hours.

Familial Obligations

“I’d have thought the crew would be bigger,” she said. They were coming up to the galley. “Normally, spacers travel with their families aboard.” Bix’s tone made it clear this wasn’t just a conjecture or question on her part. This was a matter-of-fact statement.

Li laughed. “Hell, that’s merchies. Ain’t us, boss.” He keyed open the galley latch, stepped through and went to the coffee maker. “We’re mercs. No place for a family on a warship.”

Selina handed Bix a cup of coffee before dropping four sugar cubes into her own. “It’s rare to find the right mix of specialties without any family ties, given how well you all work together,” Bix said. She cradled the cup in both hands, She always felt cold when shipboard.

“No, the crew all have families.” Selina sipped her coffee. “Big Chance has a wife and other kid back on Washukanni, and Little Chance sends his money home too. Lissa’s got a wife and…twins? I think,” she looked at Li, who shook his head. “Quads. Punching uni tickets, last I asked. Big costs.”

Selina nodded. “Right, quads. Grey’s single still, but it’s a big culture thing on Beralen to tithe back into your local fire temple, so there’s his tie back. And Li here,” she said, punching his arm with a slight bit more force than what would be playful. “He’s supporting an ex-wife and ex-husband on some gods-awful freecan in the Ur El-Fi.”

Li grimaced. “Former, not ex. Just back pay on 36 month contracts, you know that. You don’t call our former clients ex-clients, do you?”

Selina grinned, cockeyed. “Only if they sell us out. ”

Bix set her cup down, masking her annoyance with mechanical action. being corrected not once but twice; why should it bother her so much that she didn’t know the ends and outs of some spacer – no, merc – crew’s private lives? Was she really expected to glean all this from brief encounters and snippets of conversation?

Of course she was. She knew that. Caldonian training let her analysis scraps of data at lightspeed. Her own natural ability saw to her extrapolations being correct with 95% certainty. But these bloody…sophonts! She did a quick read of Selina, still laughing with Li.

“But not you, Commander.” Again, no question in her tone. Certainty. “All your family is onboard.” She looked into Selina’s narrowed eyes, her soul. “This crew is your family, no one planet or station side to connect with.”

Selina replied, tight lipped. “Just the crew, and the rats,” her voice just above a whisper.

“Well, and you now, boss,” Li said, clinking his mug against Bix’s cup. “You on board now, we take care of you like family.” He laughed, “at least, until you’re ‘former’, eh?”

Even if I wanted one, this is not my family. Bix kept her eyes on Selina. I am Caldonian. I have no family.

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