Google+ The Bluestocking Firefly: March 2011
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring!

The sun has started to peep out from behind the clouds, and the crocuses (croci? surely it must be crocuses) and snowdrops and daffodils are blooming. In true spring fashion, of course, it continues to rain every few days, and the wind is absolutely appalling, but when it does come out the sun is absolutely glorious, and the temperature has definitely started to rise.

So what else could I do but wander out to take some pictures? These aren't the best, I'm afraid; just a few shots from around the English buildings behind my residence, but they're pretty all the same. :)

Outside St Salvatore's Hall

Path of crocuses behind Castle House

Daffodils behind Kennedy Hall

It's a sea of crocuses!

Sunlit crocuses

Follow the crocus-flower road...

Flower in the Castle House garden

Castle House ladybug!

Daffodils!

More daffodils!

Snowdrops

Snowdrops always make me think of books like Redwall

Or movies like Stardust

If only Gannochy weren't in the background...

Crocuses make me think of Easter ^.^

Such happy flowers

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Return of the sci-fi

So I tried to work on my sci-fi story again tonight, but got caught up in the little details, like: my captain had a last name, but no first name, and nothing I tried seemed right. I went through Ryan, Adrian, Riley, Brandon, Jack, Chase, Colton, Bryan... And then there was the ship. The last sci-fi story I wrote, although part of it took place on a ship, didn't focus the main action on a ship. The main action took place on a planet, and so the bits on the ship focused on the inside. The outside was just sort of vaguely boxy. The last time I had to envision what a ship looked like was about the seventh or eighth grade, and I think I probably envisioned someone else's ship. Concept designing spaceships is hard. So I give great thanks to Alison Mutton for her help, yet again, as she very kindly took my very terrible sketches and a couple of pictures of different ships I sent her of the kind of ship I thought it might be like, and sketched me a rough idea of what my ship might be like. Hurray! I now have an actual image off of which to work. :D And then I had to name my ship, which was another little detail. And then I had to deal with figuring out surnames for Kate and Benji. It's always the little things that trip me up and slow me down forever. I can fritter away hours working out one tiny thing, or trying to decide on a name for something. And then afterward I feel like I've really not accomplished anything - especially if I'm not convinced it's really the name. Grr. So annoying.

Anyway. I was planning on going to bed about two hours ago, but then I sat down and started to write, and...well...it's now a couple thousand words later. I couldn't work out what to listen to while I was writing - none of my soundtracks really seemed to be doing it for me - so I wound up listening to classical music. Which is probably why Grayson ends up listening to Bruch. That may go away later. I haven't edited any of this yet. For the moment, he likes classical music. That's okay. I don't think this section is as good as the last, but it's hard to keep up quality when you suddenly introduce a slew of new characters all at once. Oh well. This is what revision is for!

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.

Music: 'Prelude, Allegro moderato', Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26, Bruch


Docking port C2 housed a small, battered ship; her oversized engines, tucked tight against her belly, looked disproportionately powerful and out of place attached to a ship of her size. The letters
S-O and A were visible on the side of the hull; the rest of the letters and the registration were obscured by a combination of years of accumulated space dust and what looked suspiciously like weapons residue. Two grappling arms, currently resting in their retracted position, dominated the front of the ship like the protruding elbows of a praying mantis.

Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor echoed through the ship, the static of the less-than-pristine comm system disrupting the smooth distribution of the sound. Deep in the bowels of the ship, cradled between the twin engines, a big man lay on his back beneath a stripped piece of machinery and hummed to himself, earplugs rendering him happily oblivious to the music around him. A deck above him, a man with short, spiky hair moved cargo with more force than necessary, singing both parts to a Lorathian love-duet at the top of his lungs. And in the middle of the ship, Ramina de Sara stood with her hands clasped behind her back and watched the man seated in the centre of the flight deck, his legs draped over the arm of his chair and his chin propped in his hand.

“It isn’t that I dislike Bruch,” de Sara said at last. “He is no more or less objectionable than any other old Earth composers. My objection is to your unfortunate tendency to play Bruch ad nauseum when you are worried.”

“I like it,” offered the third occupant of the flight deck, a lavender-haired young woman sitting with her feet up on the pilot’s console. “You should play it more often when we’re flying, Captain.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” The captain rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his head sideways to look up at de Sara. “She’s not coming, Ramina.”

“Perhaps if we just wait — ”

He sat up and swung his legs around until his boots hit the deck. “We don’t have the credit to sit in dock any longer. Dammit, Ramina, you should have just brought her aboard.”

de Sara raised her eyebrows. “I doubt kidnapping a respected historian would slide beneath the Commission’s radar, Morgan.”

“Wishful thinking,” he said, and then suddenly leant forward. “Is that her?” He stabbed his finger at the crackling vidscreen in front of the pilot’s seat, which showed a figure moving down the corridor leading to the airlock. de Sara narrowed her eyes at the fuzzy image, and then said,

“Yes, I believe it is."

“Thank god,” the captain said, and then frowned as Amy stopped in front of the airlock, looking lost. “What the hell took her so long? Never mind, get down there and collect her.” As de Sara nodded and departed, he slouched back in his chair and flicked a switch. “Taz, Benji, flight deck, now. Our guest has arrived.”

Amy stood nervously outside the airlock and repositioned the strap on her shoulder. She could see the ship through the viewport — although it wasn’t a particularly reassuring sight — but de Sara had neglected to mention how she was meant to get aboard. Without the ship’s codes she couldn’t open the airlock herself - and even if she could, it was illegal. She was just starting to wonder if perhaps she should go back and find one of the docking officials to contact the ship when there was a hiss and the airlock cycled open. Ramina de Sara was standing on the other side, her face unreadable.

“Welcome to the
Sophia Zero-Five-Niner,” de Sara said.

“Permission to come aboard?”

de Sara motioned for Amy to follow her. “Come along."

Amy followed her along a narrow corridor and down a ladder, nearly hitting de Sara in the head with her bag in the process. She knew from the outside that the ship was roughly rectangular in shape and was not large, by the Commission's standards or anyone else's, but she hadn’t expected that the corridors on such a small ship would twist and turn and loop about as much as they did. Five minutes away from the airlock, she was already lost.

“This place is like a rabbit warren,” Amy said as they climbed up what felt like the fifth or sixth ladder in a row. As her head emerged into open space, level with several pairs of boots, her mouth shut abruptly in surprise and she flushed.

“Oh good, someone shares my opinion,” said a man perched on a console across the room. He leant back on his hands and grinned at her as she hoisted herself up onto the flight deck, his eyes sparkling with laughter. Amy smiled back hesitantly and glanced around at the others.

“Doctor Amy Jones, welcome aboard the
Sophia.” The speaker was lounging against the chair in the middle of the room, unabashedly studying her from head to toe. “I’m Morgan Grayson. You can call me Morgan. I’m the captain of the Sophia, which on any given day means trying to keep this rickety old barge - lovely as she is - from falling to bits mid-flight.”

Amy shifted her bag to her other shoulder and held out her hand. “Nice to meet you,” she said. "Can't say you've sold me on your boat, but I'm sure she's got some selling points."

Grayson laughed and shook her hand. "You'll grow to love her as much as the rest of us. Speaking of which - " He motioned to the rest of the crew. “As you can see, not a lot of us. The lovely lady with the lavender hair is Kate Killigrew, our pilot.” Kate waved shyly at Amy. “The short man on her control panel is Benji Harris, salvage and cargo.”

“You know, just because you and Taz are tall — ” Benji grumbled.

Ignoring him, Grayson nodded at the third man in the room and continued, “And
that is Theodore Dekker, our engineer, resident god with machines.”

Dekker was taller than Grayson, who was not particularly short himself, and his captain’s words seemed to embarrass him; a faint blush spread across his cheeks, and he gave Grayson an annoyed look. “Call me Taz,” he said. Despite his powerful appearance, his voice was soft when he spoke. “Please. No one calls me Theodore except my mother.”

Amy stifled a laugh and nodded.

“And you’ve already met Ramina, my first officer and resident medic,” Grayson finished. “That rounds out our little crew.”

Amy’s smile vanished. “Wait — this is everyone? You run a salvage crew of five?”

“Six, if we count you. Is that a problem?”

“If this is the crew you're planning to use to salvage that Empire ship, yeah, you bet it's a problem.”

Grayson eyed her for a moment, and then pointed at de Sara without taking his eyes off Amy. "Ramina, contact Peleteth and request permission to depart. Kate, Taz, do your thing — I want us on our way towards the Elderan asteroid belt as soon as we’re clear to leave.” He gestured at the hatch in the deck. “As for you, Doctor Jones: you’re with me.”

Amy trailed after him, back down the ladder and through the maze of winding corridors. “You can call me Amy,” she offered to his back as he turned off into a side room. She followed.

“Doctor Jones,” he began.

“Really,” she said, cutting him off. “Just — call me Amy. You and your crew clearly operate on a first name basis, and I’m going to feel very silly if you go around calling me Doctor Jones all the time.”

He raised his eyebrows at her. “Ramina said you were
very insistent on the use of your title. I only wanted to give you the respect you deserve.”

Amy could feel her cheeks burning, but she lifted her chin and met Grayson’s eyes. “I worked hard for many years earning that title,
Captain,” she said. “Most of the time when people look at me all they see is a little girl who doesn’t know anything useful, or practical, and who couldn’t pilot a ship or tell a — an injector from a circuit if her life depended on it. And that’s true. I'm not much use on a ship like this. But I’m clever, and I have worked hard, and I like for that work to be acknowledged. But I’m gonna feel like a real ass if you’re constantly slamming it in my face, you know.” She bit her lip.

Grayson looked rueful. “I apologise,” he said. “Shall we try again?” He held out his hand. “Morgan Grayson. Captain of the
Sophia.”

“Just a minute,” Amy said. She dropped her bag to the deck and stretched. “There,” she said. “Amy Jones,” she said, shaking Grayson’s hand. "Historian. Empire-era ships of the line."

“Pleased to meet you, Amy,” Grayson said, the corners of his mouth twitching with amusement.

“And you,” she said, and then added, “But don’t ever leave your ship in my hands. Because really — I'm of no practical use on a ship, and I might accidentally destroy it.”

Grayson sat down and stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankle. “So. Do you want to explain to me why having such a small salvage team is a problem? I've never had any problems before.”

Amy frowned and sat down on the deck. “Let’s start somewhere else.”

He spread his hands. “You’re the expert. Start wherever you want.”


Previous: Sci-fi strikes again 
Next: Sci-fi, again

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sci-fi strikes again

Once upon a time, way back in middle school, I wrote a series of very bad science fiction stories. I mean, for a twelve-year-old, they were pretty good. Each story had a plot, a set of characters, a beginning, a middle, and an end. All things considered, not bad, right? (The fact that they were heavily influenced by Star Trek is another matter altogether.)

Having abandoned those stories in...uh...eighth grade, when I moved on to the project that then occupied me for the next year and a half (my masterpiece novel, which, while it admittedly was very extensive and very creative, never got finished, although I still know how it's meant to end), I really never went back to science-fiction. Oh, I dabbled in it here and there from time to time; there's a short story I must have written in eighth grade involving a pair of twins, and there's an unfinished piece that I think must be from about ninth grade (possibly tenth, but I'm guessing it would have to be early, judging from the writing style) about genetically engineered people, although that one's rather more fantasy than sci-fi. Most of my writing in high school revolved around fantasy, with the occasional dab at fiction thrown in for good measure.

About...two years ago (possibly closer to three, the draft unfortunately isn't dated) I began a story called 'Heart of Gold' that was meant to eventually be a science-fiction Beauty and the Beast. It never got there, but when last year I decided I wanted to submit something to my uni's sci-fi/fantasy/speculative genre magazine and discovered I didn't actually have anything that really fit the bill (and the deadline was about 3 days away - I'd been working on my dissertation and hadn't had time to work on anything before then), I picked up the 'Heart of Gold' story and revised it into what became 'The Ferryman' - a piece, if I have to be honest, I'm actually very fond of. It was my first serious foray back into the world of science-fiction, and I was exceptionally pleased with how it turned out. It made me want to turn my hand back to science-fiction again, because now I think I have a better idea of what I'm doing. At the very least, I'm a long way from the science fiction I was trying to write in middle school.

Long story short, I'm trying to write science fiction again. Not really sure how well I'm doing; this story has been banging around in my head for a couple of weeks now, and it keeps morphing the longer it's up there. I wrote out the first scene in a notebook, but since I did that the vision I had of the story changed, and most of what I originally wrote out no longer works. So I sat down today, since I wasn't feeling very well, and wrote out what I'm about to post, which keeps smashing around in my head as I'm trying to go to sleep at night. Hopefully it will stick a bit better. Amy, Ramina, and the Empire-class of ships haven't gone anywhere; neither has the Commission or the view in my mind I have of this world. So that's something. It's just the details that keep changing.

So, anyway. Sci-fi makes a comeback in the as-of-yet unnamed following story.

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


Peleteth Spaceport, located in the Nerat system, was one of the most trafficked ports in the sector, and the main hub for ships coming in from the outliers towards the centre of the Commissioned planets, and vice versa. Level Five, reserved primarily for government and larger ships, was one of the busiest docking rings on the spaceport, but no matter where you disembarked, it was easy to disappear on Peleteth — it was one of the reasons it was such a popular port. Step off a transport, and the crowds swallowed you in an instant. No one wanted to know who you were or where you were going; no one asked too many questions. For the most part everyone was too busy with their own lives to worry about anyone else’s. As long as people kept their heads down and stayed out of the Commission’s way, no one ever noticed one more inconspicuous, unremarkable passenger moving across the galaxy.

The smell of hot oil and old engine grease permeated the main promenade on Level Five, seeping through the ventilation grates and lingering on clothes for weeks after departure. Commissioner patrols walked the promenade in pairs, poking the ends of their rifles into stacks of cargo and watching passengers debark from the incoming ships, their faces unreadable behind tinted visors. Smoke from food stalls and malfunctioning equipment drifted across the ring, settling in a faint haze near the top of the promenade. The buzz of voices provided a steady backdrop of sound, out of which an occasional word or phrase would sometimes emerge; the deck plates rumbled periodically as another ship started up and disengaged from its dock, departing for destinations unknown. A steady stream of new arrivals poured through the promenade and made their way to one of any number of food vendors lining the walls, mindful of the constant eye of the Commissioner patrols.

A young woman, recently disembarked off a transport from Idylla, stood for a moment surveying the promenade before approaching a stall operated by a man whose hand and facial tattoos identified him as from one of the Eratal moons. He served her a plate, but she couldn’t help noticing that his eyes were on the pair of guards across the way; once she paid him, he shook his head at the next customer and pulled a grate down over the front of his shop before disappearing out the back.

The young woman carried her tray to an empty table in the middle of the promenade and plunked it down, dropping her bag on the deck beside her. Glancing around, she slid into the chair and tore off a piece of spiced flatbread, noticing as she did that two guards had been dispatched in the direction of the vendor from whom she had just received her meal. She ignored it and concentrated on her food. It was none of her concern. Two children darted behind her, laughing; one of them tripped on the leg of her chair and fell across her bag. Mumbling apologies, he got to his feet and started after his friend, but froze as the woman’s hand caught his upper arm.

“Not so fast,” she said, her voice low. “What say you return my credits?”

“What credits?”

The woman smiled. “You see those two Commissioner guards behind me?” she said. The boy nodded. “I would really hate to have to call them over.” She looked him over and sighed. “You’re so young. It’d be such a pity.”

His eyes wide, the boy slid a wallet from inside his sleeve and handed it to her. “Please don’t turn me in,” he squeaked.

She ruffled his hair. “Next time you swipe something, kiddo, make sure you don’t get caught. Scoot.”

She watched him run off and glanced inside the wallet before tucking it inside her jacket.

“Would you really have called for the Commies?”

Her back stiffening, the woman turned back to her food. A tall woman stood on the other side of the table, her hands clasped behind her back.

“Do you make a habit of eavesdropping?”

“Manners dictate that one should not, if it can be avoided,” the other woman replied. “But I have good hearing. Are you Amy Jones?”

Her head came up and she took a better look at the other woman. “Braids, tribal tattoos, intricate beadwork — you’re a Kitara tribeswoman. From Ternia Prime. What does a Tern tribeswoman want with me?”

The other woman swung a chair around and straddled it. “You are Amy Jones, then?” she repeated, resting her arms on the back of the chair.

“Actually,” Amy said, carefully tearing off another piece of flatbread and dipping it in the sauce, “it’s Doctor.”

“Doctor Jones, my name is Ramina de Sara.”

Amy popped the bread into her mouth. “Nice to meet you," she said around the mouthful, "but you haven’t answered my question. What do you want with me?”

“I’m the first officer on a small salvage ship,” de Sara said. The deck plates reverberated beneath their boots, and they both glanced to the side in time to see a freighter sail past the observation windows. “My captain wishes to hire you for your expertise.”

Frowning, Amy leant back and folded her arms. “No offence, Ms. de Sara — or is it Commander?”

“Ms. de Sara is acceptable.”

“Ms. de Sara, really, no offence, but I don’t do flick jobs. There’s a lot of crews running bit salvage operations, and quite frankly, I have no interest in signing on — ”

“Your expertise is in pre-Commission, Empire-era ships of the line, is it not?”

Caught off guard, Amy sat with her mouth open for a moment before saying, “Well — yeah. But I don’t see — ”

de Sara lowered her voice. “Doctor Jones, we believe we have discovered a Venus-class cruiser in the Elderan asteroid belt, but we wish to have you present during the salvage operation, as your expertise on the ships of the era would be invaluable.”

Amy spluttered, and finally managed, “Okay, look. First of all, it’s been over a decade since the last Empire-era ship was discovered; I know, because I was writing my dissertation when they found it. Second, it is
extremely unlikely that you’ve found a Venus-class, not in that area of space. Do you have any idea how unusual it would be for it to be in that region? During the Empire — ”

“No,” de Sara said, cutting her off. “I have no idea. I don’t know anything about the Empire, and to be very honest with you, Doctor, I do not care, either. But my captain does care. None of us know very much about the time period or the ships at all. The fact that you think the captain is wrong about the sort of ship we have found will interest him very much.” She slid a data rod across the table. “Read that. It contains everything we have discovered so far, which, admittedly, is not much, but hopefully you will agree that this is an operation which could use your expertise.”

“If you really have found an Empire-era ship,” Amy said slowly, “there’s a lot of channels you’re going to need to go through.”

“We can discuss that later,” de Sara said. “Once you’ve decided to come aboard.”

“Tell me about your crew,” Amy said. “What are they like?”

de Sara stood. “You will meet them when you come aboard. The information is on the data rod. Level Three, docking port C2.”

As she turned to leave, Amy called, “de Sara!”

The tribeswoman turned, the beads on her tunic clicking. “Yes?”

“How did you find me?”

de Sara smiled slightly and didn’t answer. Amy watched her walk away, and then curled her fingers around the data rod. She stood and picked up her bag, a frown on her face. Slinging the strap over her shoulder, she headed off the promenade, and within moments was lost in the swirl of the crowd.

Next: Return of the sci-fi