I want to try my hand at writing a novel I’ve had outlined for years. I don’t know that I am ready for it yet, but I wanted to share a snippet to see if it’s something that piques the interest of my readers. The following is the first scene of the novel.
On the night before the scheduled altercast to Madis, while most of his crew was out boozing and throwing money at strippers, an ancient priest came to visit Captain Kyle Rivera at his spartan apartment in Killeen’s outer sector.
As Kyle opened the door, the oppressive heat and lip-cracking dryness nearly overwhelmed him, and he motioned the old priest inside quickly. Even in Killeen’s spring season, the climate was near to intolerable. It would be a relief, he thought, to escape back into space for a few months.
Kyle sized up the priest. He was about the same height as Kyle’s own five foot eleven, though much thinner, without the burgeoning beer gut, and with hair so gray it was almost white. His eyes were green, generally a sign of Nova Roman ancestry, and were quite exotic compared to Kyle’s own far more common brown. Nova Romans rarely traveled to the fringe worlds unless they had no other choice in the matter.
“You said it was urgent in your comm, father.” Kyle slid a few empty beer bottles off the rarely used guest chair. “I apologize for the accommodations. I’m not exactly a man of higher means, you know?” Even on backwater Killeen, the only city worth the title on the planet of the same name, the sanctity of the collar was respected, even by a man who hadn’t seen the inside of a confessional in well over a decade. Kyle was quite genuinely embarrassed, but there had been no time to prepare for the priest’s arrival.
The priest shrugged, though there was a little hesitation as he sat in the proffered chair. “I won’t be long. You are the captain of the Santiago.” It wasn’t really a question.
Kyle nodded. “Yeah. But, I don’t see why the Church is interested in a standard gate build out on the galactic fringe worlds. Especially since it’s a corporate job. We do it all the time…”
The priest’s eyes narrowed slightly. “It’s not what you’re doing, it’s where. Are you familiar with the extra-galactic origin theory?”
“Vaguely. Being honest, father… I don’t pay much attention to that shit – pardon me. Somebody calls me, offers my outfit an altercasting job to build a gate in some dump, and if the money is good, I go. Not a whole lot of theorizing and such.” Kyle cracked open a beer and offered one to the priest, who politely declined.
Do priests even drink? Kyle wondered briefly, taking a sip. Their loss if they don’t.
“Humans aren’t native to this sector,” the priest gestured to the only window in the shoddy apartment. The lights of Killeen’s pitiful skyline dominated an otherwise dark, featureless desert void. “Nor are they native to Nova Roma – the very name suggests as much. Most think we arrived from elsewhere in our galaxy, and though the Church takes no official position on the subject, that is the position we… encourage.”
“I take it you’re not a believer,” Kyle said, his curiosity piqued despite himself.
“The Church’s records on the subject are extremely fragmentary,” the old man continued. “Forensic data archaeologists haven’t been able to piece together much from before the third century post-landing, and even that is quite scattered and messy. But, and this is why I’m here tonight, one of the oldest records we’ve been able to reconstruct mentions Madis, specifically. The coordinates, adjusted for a spatial drift, are a perfect match.”
“So?” Kyle mused, taking another pull from his beer. He frowned as, somehow, the beer was already half-gone. “The Church knew where it was for a long time. We know where a lot of empty planets are. I don’t get the significance.” Gate-building business had been slowing a little in recent years, Kyle reflected, but there were still plenty of known, unsettled worlds without gates. The trouble was justifying the enormous expense to build a gate, not any lack of known worlds to explore.
“Those of us who believe in the extra-galactic origin theory think it might be the first world visited by our ancestors, or at least the closest one we know of.” The priest pulled a tablet out of his bag and pointed to a flashing red indicator in Church Latin. “The ancestors also warned us not to return there in very emphatic terms.”
Kyle almost spit out his beer. “Look, and this is with all due respect, but if you’re here, telling me this shit, I’m guessing you took this to WorldCorp and they told you to go to… er… well, they said they’re doing it anyway. Right?”
A flash of annoyance crossed the priest’s features, and Kyle knew he had struck gold.
“If you’re trying to tell me to say no to two million credits then I’m going to have to decline your not-so-generous offer. And it won’t do you any good anyway, WorldCorp will just give the job to another crew. They want those mining rights pretty damned bad, father.”
“Two million, you said,” the priest asked, reaching into his bag again. He produced an e-paper certificate with the blockchain code flashing on the upper right. “I have a bond here drawn on the Church’s estates for five-hundred thousand credits. It’s yours if you call WorldCorp and cancel the contract right now.” Estate certificates drawn on the Church were better than gold in most places.
The mostly-empty beer bottle clattered to the floor. Five-hundred thousand credits, for doing nothing at all? Kyle was floored. Whatever he expected from the priest, it certainly wasn’t this.
“I… don’t understand. I mean, even if I said no, another altercasting crew will surely take the contract and then…”
“You’re the last one, Captain Rivera. WorldCorp will find there are no other crews willing to take the job.”
“You bought them all?” Kyle tried not to think of the enormous expense that represented. WorldCorp must really want the mining rights to that system, because surely the Church would have tried to bribe them directly before going to every altercasting crew in the Churchlands. Sure, it’s specialty work, but there are least a dozen other crews and… Well never mind that. Do I want five-hundred thousand credits for free, without months of my life getting flushed down the shitter? We can take another job, maybe that gig in Ravenna, and pocket the money as a bonus. Of course, if the Church is this desperate…
“One million.” Kyle demanded, trying not to betray his own anxiety.
“If you call WorldCorp right now, and cancel the contract with me as a witness, the Church will agree to one million.” He reached into his bag and produced a second certificate.
“Jesus… you’re serious. Okay, no problem…”
Mercifully, the priest declined to call him out on his casual blasphemy. Kyle stood and faced the wall comm, pinging the local WorldCorp headquarters. It was exceedingly late on board the orbital habitat, but if he knew his man…
Sure enough, Paul’s groggy, stubble-covered face filled the screen. His eyes were slanted in a fashion common in the Eastlands. The systems in the galactic east had been settled by a slightly different genetic mix than the galactic west. “Captain Kyle. This is unexpected. And… fuck. Not again.” He caught sight of the priest. “Whatever this man is telling you is bullshit.”
Kyle nodded his firm agreement. “Yes sir, it’s probably horseshit and then some. But his money is good. And I can exercise my opt-out clause.”
“You don’t want to do that. You do that, and you’ll never get a job from us again.” Paul frowned.
“Now who is full of shit? If every other altercasting crew in the Churchlands is out, then that means we were last on your list anyway. And you told me you called me first. Shame on you for lying.” He chuckled. Kyle had never believed that little lie. After that job on Cordova III, the whole crew had been on the WorldCorp shit list. Come to think of it, Kyle wondered, it was really suspicious that they’d even bother with us after all that. Maybe there’s something to this priest’s claims.
“What’s he offering you?” Paul sidestepped the question entirely.
“One million. And that’s for doing nothing at all. And me? I like doing nothing. Been wanting to do nothing for years, in fact. I got a whole lot of plans for doing nothing.”
“We’ll do four.” Paul said simply.
Well, he doesn’t waste time. Kyle smiled, this was going very well for him indeed. His crew would be elated, he could finally offer full-bonus for the first time in almost ten standard years. With that kind of money, he could retire if he really wanted to do it. But there was almost certainly more room on the table.
“Six million or I walk.”
“Don’t do this.” The priest’s strained voice came from behind him.
“Unless you can beat his offer, I’m definitely doing this.” The priest’s silence confirmed that he either could not, or would not.
On the viewer, Paul stroked his chin nervously. There was a dangerous look in his eyes. “Fine. Six million. I’ll have the papers drawn up in the morning. Don’t be late, this does not alter our timetable, understand?”
Kyle nodded, and Paul cut the transmission. He turned to the priest, wondering what he could even say. It was awkward enough having a man of the cloth in his apartment, and now…
“I’m sorry, father but… I’m a businessman. Still, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without your assistance. So, you want a cut, maybe? Maybe I could donate half a mill to the Church or something. Call it a tithe.”
The priest angrily collected his things and headed for the door. Just before he slammed it, the priest cursed loudly in an unpriestlike manner. “Fucking idiot redneck.”
For a moment, Kyle was consumed with the thought that he had just made a terrifying mistake. But six million credits was six million credits, right?
It was only then that he realized the priest had never even offered his name.