Myra is based on an idea I had when I finished my debut novel Freefall. That story left a few questions in people’s minds and I was asked to explain them by several readers.
To save me repeating myself, (and possibly telling everyone something different) I have been writing a ‘prequel’ which will set up the events of Freefall as well as being a stand-alone novel. Although it will be better to read Freefall first I won’t hold it against you and it won’t spoil the enjoyment. Here’s what one reviewer said about Freefall,
By Helen Hollick on 23 Oct. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
And here’s the first look at Myra, a short glimpse at the first few pages,
Chapter 1, Now
I could see the feet sticking out from under the auxiliary generator; they were small and very pink, the nails painted with rainbow glitter. They looked incongruous against the machinery, delicate and unprotected.
There was a muffled hammering noise from the bowels of the machine, and a few choice words punctuated the clanging as some part of the workings was persuaded to behave. The sounds echoed in the confined space. It sounded wrong to hear the crude curses uttered with a soft feminine voice. Hearing the Navy slang took me back to a time before the madness of the last month. I was poised to shout a response when I felt a hand on my sleeve.
“Come on, boy, keep up,” my mentor boomed, his hand on my shoulder dragging me away. “There’s plenty of time to meet the engineer later, right now the captain wants to see you.” He ducked his head under a low pipe and walked off. Shrugging, I followed.
The engine casing was spotless and well maintained, as was everywhere that I had been shown so far. The equipment was all painted in the familiar light green that the Navy used; apparently, the colour made spotting oil leaks and overheating easier in dim lighting. Apart from the feet, and the swearing, the compartment was deserted. After the bustle of the Moth, it felt wrong somehow, like part of the ship’s heart was missing. I stopped for a second and closed my eyes, I could still see the faces of my old shipmates, I could feel them brushing past me.
We moved deeper into the ship, an old decommissioned Atlon class cruiser, but as we progressed I could see that it had been severely modified from the one I had spent the best part of the last two years serving on. From a distance my new home hadn’t looked pretty, the hull was worn and battered, but close up I could see that the exhausts were clean and all the fittings on the stern ramp looked new and were well greased. The armament appeared to have been kept, so there was firepower to spare if it was needed.
Of course, I was the new boy here and was being given the full tour, despite the fact that I probably knew the basics of the ship as well as my guide. But I was constantly surprised by the differences; mainly in the automation required to compensate for reduced manning. Money had clearly been no object in the conversion, and in the long run was cheaper, after all, the Navy used lots of men because it didn’t have to make a profit, out in the real world wages needed to be paid on a regular basis and machines didn’t need pay checks.
Oh yes, things were going to be different and I was going to have to adjust. Fast.
We left the engine room and climbed up the stairway on the side of the hull, arriving on the catwalk. This open walkway ran athwart the ship and gave us a bird’s-eye view of the cargo hold.
This Atlon had a much larger cargo space than that on the Moth; of course the conversion had removed all the troop accommodation and military stores. As we walked to the central passageway I could see a hive of activity below us, crates and trailers were being unloaded by a fleet of stevedores on lift trucks. The addition of a bigger stern ramp had made for easier access and had turned the warship into a versatile cargo vessel. The bulges of the four boat stations were visible, distorting the hold’s shape and if they were all filled, that would add to the ship’s flexibility.
All the familiar plans and safety gear were in place as we left the hold behind us and walked down the crew alleyway, our boots ringing on the painted steel deck. In the Navy, there would be people hurrying round, speaker messages and an air of industry. I wasn’t used to the quiet; it felt weird and reinforced my feeling that the heart of the ship was missing.
The outward look may have been of a slightly worn, innocuous craft, but inside all was clean and tidy, maybe not up to Navy standards, but well cared for and capable of more than it appeared to be. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
We passed the mess room and communal spaces and went up a deck; this was the officers’ accommodation. I recognised my cabin. “You’ll be in there,” said my guide as we passed it. Another flight of stairs and we were in the senior officers’ sanctum, at the end of the alleyway was the wheelhouse door, to starboard the captain’s cabin. A haze of tobacco smoke drifted through the doorway, and I could hear the chink of glass and party noises from inside. My guide pushed his head around the doorway, after pulling the beaded curtain to one side.
“Hey, Rixon, I got the new navigator here to say hello.”
“Well, Griff, wheel him in.” The voice of my new boss, it didn’t sound much older than mine, Griff turned to me, “Good luck, boy, off you go,” he stepped aside to let me pass, then gave me a slap on the back. I tripped over the coaming and sprawled on the carpeted deck of the suite. “Send us a card from your next trip!” he shouted over his shoulder as he departed, the last thing I heard from him was his roar of laughter as he walked away. To him it was probably just a friendly pat on the back, thanks to my nervousness and the steel coaming it had become an embarrassment.
“Get up, lad, pay no attention,” Rixon was grinning, and his companions, an assortment of tough looking men and attractive young ladies, regarded me with laughing eyes. “Griff doesn’t know his strength, one day he’s gonna find someone his own size.”
Since Griff was about two metres of solid muscle, I suspected that there would be a few more victims before that day. How had I got myself into this?
As my eyes adjusted to the subdued main lighting, I saw comfortable leather covered seats, the deep piled carpet which I had already inspected and dark curtains covering the ports along one bulkhead. The spotlights along the bulkheads were dimmed and were shining in red and blue shades, giving the room the feel of a cellar or cheap club. Conversation stopped. In the silence I looked around at all the faces, trying to spot my new shipmates.
There were two distinct groups spread out on the seats, the first had three members, shaved heads and worn but clean jeans and shirts. Their look screamed soldiers, and they held cans of beer as they all faced the door. The other group was a lot larger and were more interesting to look at. All female, they had hair in various styles and amounts and more outlandish clothes. A lot of toned flesh was on display and my day got brighter. It felt like everyone in the room was poised, waiting to see if I would be interesting, hopefully, I wouldn’t disappoint them.
Rixon was still talking. “Hey everyone, welcome our latest defector. Meet the new Nav; Dave Travise.” The name still sounded strange to me, I had to remember that I was being addressed as everyone muttered ‘welcome Dave’ and ‘good to see you’.
Dave Travise, Rixon had chosen the name and his tame forger on Basilan had set up the fake ID. It looked just the same as my old one, now languishing somewhere in electronic limbo. And it certainly worked; all my credits and accounts were still there in my new name, less the loan that I had been having trouble paying off, which was a bonus. So I was now Dave Travise, whatever my brain told me. And I probably didn’t want to enquire too deeply about the original holder of the name. I would get used to it, in the end. That was the least of my worries, until a month ago; I had never considered that my life could turn out this way.
At least the change of name should keep me out of prison, or worse, the theoretical punishment for desertion from the Navy was still death. And depending on your point of view, I was at best a deserter; it would certainly be difficult to prove otherwise.
My father would have nodded wisely and considered that he had been right all along; at least he wasn’t here to say ‘I told you so’, although I could hear it in my head as I stood there. I hadn’t thought about him for a long while, now I felt his gaze.
He used to despair of me ever making a success of my life; he was at the top of his game, trading in cargo space on the freighters our family business owned. He had done military service during the Holy Wars, although I never knew exactly what.
I had been a late arrival in his life; his other sons, my brothers, were grown adults when I appeared, they were too old to be interested in me and all sickeningly successful in their own right. I idolised them and their stories and they ignored me. And I never knew my mother, I suspect my father suffered from referred guilt and that made him treat me the way he did. I had a sister, but again she was older and too preoccupied with her own life to take much interest in the new arrival. The impression she gave was of disapproval of my father, siring me when he should have been old enough to know better. And with someone who she told me was not much older than she was.
So he was a respected ex-Navy man and ship’s Captain; large in both body and attitude, he dominated any gathering, his pointed beard forcing its way into the centre of things, his self-confidence and volume making everyone listen. To make matters worse, he lavished praise on my siblings, whilst telling me that I needed to try harder to gain his approval. It made me determined to show him that I was a worthy son, but somehow he kept the approval dangling, just out of my grasp.
In a last attempt to gain it, and prove it to myself as much as to him, I enlisted in the Navy on my sixteenth birthday, just as fast as I could get away. His response was to tell me that it wouldn’t last and if or more likely when I failed, not to bother coming back to him.
I had stuck three years of training, all the casual brutality and the unflattering comparisons to my father’s achievements, thinking that every day was one day closer to proving him wrong. I got through it all; then I was qualified and could start working my way up the slippery ladder to a command of my own.
When I made Navigator, just short of my twenty-first birthday and one of the youngest in the service, I sent him a message, but he never replied. Neither did any of my siblings, all contact having been severed; sometimes I wondered if it had been on his instructions.
When this all started I was three years out from the Navy Academy on Bleese. I was a Second Class Navigator in the Colonial Support Corps, assigned to the Atlon class cruiser, Moth. We were patrolling the edge of Federation influence, keeping an eye on miners and planetary surveyors and colonists. Generally protecting the honest settlers of the Rim against the assorted criminals, scavengers and other lowlifes that lived and preyed on the edge of civilisation. With that and the threats posed by space and by nature itself, we were kept pretty busy. We were a kind of cross between the police, a lifeboat and about a hundred other things. But it made for an interesting life; one day we could be setting up a colony, the next rescuing the crew from a drifting ship. We stopped a few fights but had never fired a shot in anger.
The Moth was commanded by Captain Hermann Dror, a relic from the old days, and a man with a reputation. In his youth he had been one of the rebel captains involved in the uprising that had led to the Holy Wars, and he should have been retired years ago. His knowledge of the old religious government was probably part of the reason he was still around. And maybe he knew enough secrets to be kept where he could be controlled. The mess deck version was that no one was brave enough to tell him to quit. He was a hard taskmaster with a withering tongue, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. And it was just nice to be out of the classroom and doing something. I could put up with a cantankerous old man, my father had been one. He must have known my father, but he never let on, and my treatment was no different to any other junior officer, so in some ways that was a good thing. I never knew if they kept in touch and wasn’t likely to find out.
The Moth wasn’t the biggest or newest ship in the fleet, but the Atlon class were still quite impressive. Just over a hundred metres long, with twin engines aft and stub wings forward, they carried a crew of around fifty, plus a detachment of twenty marines in two groups, each with a drop ship in its own hanger. They had two shuttle runabouts as well and with their manoeuvring thrusters they were handy craft for the role, and big enough to carry the equipment needed to make a difference. They had reasonable armament and defences, although it was rarely used in anger. Test firing was about as exciting as it had got.
Of course, the people of the Rim viewed us in slightly different ways; depending on their activities we were saints or sinners, the welcome face when all is collapsing around you, or the nuisance who always appears when least wanted.
Rixon coughed, and I realised that I had been stood there lost in thought when I should have been talking. I snapped back to the present.
“I wouldn’t say defector,” I answered, looking him straight in the eye. “I like to think that they left me, if you don’t mind.”
I might have been the new boy here, but I was going to start as I meant to go on. I looked away from Rixon, and could see sympathetic nods from the group I had decided were crew; the rest just watched me and carried on drinking.
“Sure, no offence meant.” He stood and put out his hand, still grinning. “I’m Rixon, just Rixon. It’s good to have you aboard, various people speak highly of you and that’s enough for me. And I understand your change of heart regarding the Federation; most of us have been there. Do you want to tell us all about it?”
He was a big man, just slightly taller than me, with a tanned, honest face and blond stubble on his scalp. Wide shouldered with a fluid agility as he moved, he exuded calm confidence and honesty through clear blue eyes. I instantly liked him.
“Not just at the moment,” I answered, “if that’s alright with you. I’m still reeling from the turn of events; let me get it straight in my head first.”
“Sure,” he replied, he waved his arm around the room, “I’ll introduce you to the crew, over there is Tan. She’s the mate and those are some of her cronies,” a striking woman in the group of striking women raised her glass and nodded. They were the ones I had dismissed as ‘others’.
“You’ve met Griff, he’s got no official title, just think of him as the fixer, he’s worth his weight in gold, he knows everyone and everything. Myra the engineer is around here somewhere, and those three,” he pointed to the shaven denim-clad group, two men and a woman, “are the crew. They love to think of themselves as guns for hire, Stu, Mitch and Ardullah. They sit watching the door. Anyone else is just here for the party.”
They all nodded at me, and raised cans and glasses, then went back to their conversations and drinking. I realised that Mitch was very female, but unlike Tan she had shaved her head. I knew that it made it a lot more comfortable to wear the helmets of pressure suits for long periods, although not everyone bothered, preferring looks to comfort.
Rixon was still talking as I scanned my new shipmates. Now I had spoken, they had lost interest in me, but I supposed that was only to be expected.
“It must be a shock to find out that we’re human.” Again there was the mocking grin.
“It’s true that the Federation don’t see you as anything more than a nuisance,” I told him, “but they aren’t so perfect themselves.” I had learnt that the hard way and after all it was the biggest bit of the reason for my being here in the first place. The events that had led me here still gave me sleepless nights, and whatever Rixon and his bunch got up to, it could hardly be worse.
Rixon was looking past me, over my shoulder at the doorway. I heard the swish as the curtains parted. “Well our engineer has chosen to join us,” he said. Again his tone was one of gently mocking affection, it seemed to be his default setting, but it was so warm and without obvious malice that it would be difficult to get upset at his comments.
“Hey, Myra, I thought that would get you away from the engine room, have you come to check out the new Nav?”
I turned, and even though I didn’t immediately realise it, it was then that I fell in love.
She was about a head shorter than me, well curved with delicate features. Even though it was a patronising assumption, I couldn’t imagine how she had the strength for the manual work that went with the engineer’s job. She thrust out a hand, the motion strangely masculine, her grip was strong, very strong, and I banished that thought from my mind.
She was dressed in a faded brown boiler suit, which looked like it had been altered to show her shape. She had kept her hair, which was brown and piled on top of her head, where it was fixed with a metal pin. Wisps of hair had escaped and floated around her face. Her eyes were easily her best feature; sparkling in the reflected lights they were large and very blue, the sort of eyes you could get lost in. The painted toes now peeked through leather sandals.
Overall, she had a quiet air about her, as if deep in thought about the secrets of the universe. She looked at me and blushed, as if she could read my mind, and then her face cracked into the broadest grin you could imagine. Her teeth were white and even, and a small pink tongue waggled furiously as words came out in a rush.
“Hello, you must be Dave, I’m Myra, the engineer on this bucket, don’t take notice of Rixon, well I suppose you must as he’s the boss, but just ignore his sarcasm, and you’ll be alright.” She stopped for breath and I saw Rixon grin.
“Myra, you’re gabbling again,” he said, in that gently mocking tone, “you always do that when you get a man in front of you.”
“Well it never happens with you, does it, Skipper?” She raised an eyebrow. “Now where’s the beer, I’ve had my head stuck in the Inverter for half a day and I need hydrating. And why is Dave not drinking?”
Rixon leant over behind his desk and produced two cans of beer; Myra took them and led me to a vacant seat. I sat and she wriggled herself in beside me and passed me a can; I clicked the bottom, hearing the hiss of the chemical reaction that instantly frosted the metal. We opened the tabs and knocked our cans together in a toast and I took a long drink, it hit the spot straight away.
“So, Dave Travise,” she said, sounding genuinely interested, “tell me all about how you ended up here.”
Myra was touching me as we sat, wedged into a space really only big enough for one of us, and I realised that she was leaning into me as she spoke.
And the warmth of her body, the tone of her voice, and her huge eyes gazing at me, made me open up and give her the full story.
I hope you liked that, you can get Myra HERE
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