A Solid Core of Alpha

Copyright

Published by

Dreamspinner Press

4760 Preston Road

Suite 244-149

Frisco, TX 75034

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

A Solid Core of Alpha

Copyright © 2011 by Amy Lane

 

Cover Art by Catt Ford

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Dreamspinner Press, 4760 Preston Road, Suite 244-149, Frisco, TX 75034

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/

 

ISBN: 978-1-61372-142-1

 

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition

August 2011

 

eBook edition available

eBook ISBN: 978-1-61372-143-8

Acknowledgments

 

 

I
T

S
not easy living with a writer. We’re flaky people. We forget about vet appointments or functions at our children’s school or doctor’s appointments or cleaning the kitchen—and we’re
always
running late.

My family knows this, and they love me anyway, and they accept that I will always love them more than the people in my head, even if sometimes the people in my head shout louder than they do.

As always, this is for Mate and my children. I will
always
love you more than the people in my head. I promise.

 

 

 

 

“My strange and self-abuse

Is the initiate fear, that wants hard use.”

—Shakespeare,
Macbeth
, 3.4. 141-142.

 

 

“Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.

For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?”

—Khalil Gibran,
The Prophet
.

 

 

“‘You’re still alive,’ she said.

Oh, and do I deserve to be?”

—Eddie Vedder, “Alive.”

 

 

“If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance,

and I’ll be dancing by myself.”

—Billy Idol, “Dancing With Myself.”

 

 

“The world around me changes…

The streets are full of strangers.”

—Herbert Kretzmer, “On My Own,”
Les Misérables
.

 

Part 1: Anderson

Chapter 1

Darkness

 

 

T
HE
meteor shower that destroyed the tiny mining colony that existed right outside of the Crab Nebula was so thorough that it left only one survivor, and for ten years, not a soul knew about him.

All Anderson Rawn knew was that about three minutes before the alarms sounded, indicating something large crashing through the atmospheric shields on their tiny planetoid, Anderson and his older sister Melody were exploring one of the many escape shuttles that the mining colony possessed. They watched in horror as the destruction began to rain down, and then Melody started shouting at Anderson, and Anderson, for once in his life, listened.

“I’m going to go get our family!” Melody said, her voice so certain that it left no room for doubt. “Stay here. I’ll be back, okay?”

“Mel, don’t leave me!”

 “I’m going to get Jen and Mandy and Mom and Dad if I can! Stay here!” she shouted as debris crashed around their ears. Anderson, who was five years Mel’s junior, followed her directions because that was what Mom and Dad had taught him, and he was afraid, so that was what you did when you were afraid, right? You followed what your family taught you. You sat in the ship while your sister took off running, expecting your family to show up at any moment. You belted in when the vast shuttle, as big as a soccer field, remote started and fired up around you, and you hoped that Melody was putting the family in one of the other ships while your own ship began the pass down the runway that would take it up.

If you didn’t know how to set coordinates to the closest space station, you trusted that you’d be able to make it to the station the coordinates
were
set for. Anderson had faith in his fellow colonists—they were hardy. Self-sufficient.

And completely unprepared for the car-sized shrapnel of meteor annihilation. The colony exploded into a vaporized wheel of mercury gas less than ten minutes after the alarms began to ring.

Anderson watched the explosion as the shuttle reached the smaller asteroids that surrounded the larger one that made up the mining colony. The ship was preprogrammed to avoid them, so he had nothing to distract him from the gigantic ball of black-orange destruction that signaled the end of his family, his friends, of every soul he’d ever talked to, ever seen, or who had ever known of his existence.

He sat there, his face pressed up against the tiny rear window of the shuttle, and searched the blackness around the ship for another, a sister ship, a friend, a fellow colonist, his mother, his father, his three sisters, the boy who used to help him remember to charge his electronic tablet for school… anybody.
Please, God? Anybody?

Anybody?

The explosion of his world was still pouring into the vacuum of space to be extinguished when it disappeared from the tiny foot-thick window.

Anderson kept his face pressed up against it until his eyes were wept dry, until his screams faded in the compartment of a ship meant for thirty people, until he fell asleep and he slid, boneless and unconscious, into his seat.

He awoke when the ship’s automated voice told him to make sure he was buckled in and to get ready for the jump to light speed. The automation was very thorough—it told him that there were fluids and vitamin supplements in the compartment in the seat in front of him. It told him that these were the only things he would be able to keep down for the first few days in hyperspace. It told him that there were barf bags in the same compartment, and that his headrest was set to play music or a book or a vid or whatever entertainment most suited his needs.

It told him that he would be in hyperspace for ten years, unless the current heading was changed within the next ten minutes.

Even if he had known how to reprogram the ship’s course at that point, he wouldn’t have had a clue where to go. He looked around the empty shuttle and at all of the empty seats. There was a small holodeck to his left, and the bulk of the mass of the shuttle was food, which could be accessed through ports underneath his feet. For a moment he struggled with the math. Enough food for thirty people for one year—that was the specification for the K-3-458, right? That meant that one person would still have food after ten years.

He had food. He probably had clothing. He had entertainment.

He looked outside his window and realized he hadn’t moved from his seat in sixteen hours, not even to go to the bathroom.

He really had to go to the bathroom. He would have a hard time walking for the next three to five days, as he accustomed himself to the hallucinogenic oddness of hyperspace. It would suck if he had to pee an hour after that started.

That was what he told himself repeatedly as he stood up and ran helter-skelter toward the multi-unit head, the kind with the tiny bathing recycler and enough hand sanitizer and soap and a small body drier so the thirty passengers with the small holodeck for exercise wouldn’t all stink before their one year was up. So he peed like it was a holo-sport, and finished and cleaned up and ran back to his seat, buckled in, and plastered his face up against that window again.

What if he’d missed them? What if he’d missed them while he was taking a leak? Oh God. His mother, Caitlin; his sisters, Melody, Jennifer, little baby Mandy… how could Melody have just thrown him in this shuttle and sent him off to space? Wouldn’t someone else have needed a ride? Why couldn’t she have come with him?

It wasn’t until the sudden magnetic space-warp of hyperdrive swamped the cabin of the shuttle that the truth—the entire truth—hit him.

Melody had gone to find their family on the off chance that they’d still been alive. But the destruction was so fast—she’d seen it. He’d seen it. They’d seen part of their planetoid cleaved off even as she threw him into the shuttle. She’d remote activated the shuttle for a reason. Probably because she had known she’d be dead before the shuttle had cleared the atmosphere. Their sisters, who had been waiting for the two of them to walk by and take them home, had probably died when the first of the projectiles had hit.

Melody had the heart of a steady soldier, and she would not have deserted her family. But she would have made sure one of them survived if she had the chance.

Oh, Melody, why didn’t you come with me? We could have talked or fought or sang or quoted vids or played games or… or something.

He fell asleep in that first hallucinatory hour and dreamt that his sisters had all boarded the shuttle with him, and his mom and dad too. He woke up and wondered why little Mandy wasn’t sitting on his lap, and where Mel’s comforting arm had gone, and why Jen wasn’t scolding him for drooling all over himself. He squinted at the seats in front of him for Mom’s golden braid with that smattering of grey and Dad’s sandy-silver-brown head. They were always together when he saw them. Always.

But none of them were there.

Anderson blinked hard at the seats in front of him and then looked around the shuttle, at the closed door to the holodeck and the clear glass into the biosphere. Even the fact that they took up over half the shuttle space couldn’t erase the total emptiness of the twenty-nine other seats/cots in the shuttle or the empty swiveling seats at the bridge console. From there, he looked outside of the shuttle, the billions of stars holding steady in the light-years’ worth of distance, and felt the emptiness in his arms again.

He didn’t cry this time. He screamed until his throat was raw, until he was too exhausted to move, and then he passed out.

When he woke up, he looked out at the banks of empty seats humming whitely in the beige space of the shuttle and wondered if he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat in the silence.

 

 

B
Y
THE
time the oddness of hyperspace began to feel normal, the initial shock of Anderson’s grieving set itself aside and the normal inquisitiveness of a twelve-year-old boy asserted itself.

Anderson had never
been
on a shuttle before. He’d never left the surface of his tiny mining planetoid, actually.

He started with the biosphere and set the controls to start the cycle—to use the water reclamation to keep the food plants growing and to convert his waste into plant food. The biosphere served two purposes. It kept the air fresh without putting too much strain on the recycler, and even if the plants didn’t thrive or Anderson didn’t like the food, the organic matter could be easily converted in the food synthesizers into something tastier. Anderson’s mining colony was small and self-contained, and Anderson had learned early on the importance and function of the biosphere.

After that, he focused on the entertainment package, and as he matured, this focus became the root of an ongoing project. He didn’t consciously decide to become the cultural repository of the mining colony—it simply happened. He listened to the music (and the library was as huge as anything on one of the home planets—Regulus, Rigel, Earth), read all the books (often while listening to the music), and watched all the vids. He raided the entertainment supplies and used the vids to teach himself how to knit, how to crochet, crochet Tunisian style, tat, embroider, and crewel. Before the journey ended, he knew every story ever penned by a member of his colony, every design ever stitched, every song ever sung, every picture every sketched.

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