“The Chronicles of Henry Harper” – Excerpt 1

Greetings everyone! In the final run up to next Friday’s release of “The Chronicles of Henry Harper,” I’m putting up a few teaser excerpts here on my blog. You can also look forward to at least two, hopefully three, tie-in short stories featuring various background characters from the novel. You can still pre-order the book via the Amazon link on the right of the main page, or via Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, as well as a number of more esoteric places.

This first excerpt is from near the end of Chapter 1. Enjoy!

The day of the first run at the light speed barrier dawned with a chaotic cacophony of sound, little different from that heard a dozen times already during the lesser shakedown runs taken by the ship over the past two months. Among the most startling overall differences was the high presence of military and police cruisers working hard to keep the ships of the general public at a safe observational distance. Noon, the official test time, rolled around and rolled right on past as last minute details were ironed out and every system was checked and triple checked.

Finally, at 13:37, Jack Amaril’s voice came over the comm as the ship crept into position, giving a simple speech that would become legend. “As we creep ever closer to the final throw of the switch, I find the rare need to say a few words for posterity. Every one of you has come to know me, in some capacity, over the past three years, as my dream, or perhaps delusion, has come into being from a great nothingness. Prior to my grand declaration of disbelief in all the ‘cannots’ of science that had come before, no one had but the barest pipe dreams of what we now hope to make reality. For if this test succeeds, and I have no doubt that it will succeed, then we will have accomplished the supposed impossible and enabled humanity to explore the great vastness of an unimaginable frontier. Never, in all the days of humanity, has such a vast promise of new things, of grand new horizons and limitless dreams been so close. Today, we seize that promise in both hands, and truly open up a universe of possibilities.”

As Jack’s speech terminated, the weight of his dream, forgotten by the crew in the day-to-day of the project, settled on the shoulders of all aboard. Some people laughed, some people prayed, but most merely took a deep breath and bent to their tasks. The countdown came and went, and at exactly 13:42:57, ESV Exploration began its final acceleration.

As light speed rapidly approached, and travel speed began exceeding any human reaction time, everyone onboard sat back from their consoles as the ship’s computer took over their functions. All eyes were on the nearest telemetry readouts. Absolute silence descended as the Exploration passed the speed record for manned flight, and then for unmanned flight. Whispered prayer became the common sound as the light speed barrier approached, and stunned silence reigned as it passed by without so much as a whimper. Tension ratcheted as the engines continued pushing onward to the half-power they had been programmed for, and deafening cheers broke out as the ship’s deceleration back to sub-light speeds saw us all still pleasantly alive and Einstein, as promised, made a fool.

Then it all went wrong.

The first localized alarm was nearly lost in the cheering, but the second ship-wide alarm stopped everyone like a punch to the gut. Panic and confusion suddenly became the order of the day as everyone aboard recognized the terrible sound of every sailor’s, whether on the sea or in space, worst nightmare. The alarm spoke that nightmare aloud, in a terrible and universal pitch.

Fire. The ship was on fire.

Everyone scrambled to abandoned consoles, desperate to find the problem, to aid the automated systems in ending the nightmare. Blood ran cold as readout after readout told that the fire had already spread into the bulkheads, igniting wiring that couldn’t be cut at speed to seal the compartments. Panels were ripped open, extinguishers brought to bear, and in all the ship only Henry stood frozen, utterly unable to move.

Henry was frozen, not in panic, but in the deepest horror. For he saw what no other did. The fire had already spread to the cabins surrounding the inertial compensators. The compensators which were all that stood between them and being flattened like so many bugs on a windshield before the universal power of inertia. The compensators that his own patchwork fix had opened up to the fire by running unsecured, nonstandard wiring into. Ernie’s yell shook Henry from his state of frozen horror. Grabbing one of the few untouched hand extinguishers, Henry bolted right up to the line of fire and, with a grimace, charged past the line of crew and into a raging inferno.

A hand grabbed his shoulder and Ernie’s voice screamed in his ear, “What the hell are you doing? Hold the damn fire line!”

Henry’s angry retort froze Ernie’s blood so cold he shivered in spite of the inferno raging around them. “It’s reached the compensators. If it catches our wiring patch, we’re all dead!” Roughly shoving Ernie away, he charged into the next room, which was all but a wall of flame, desperately spraying suppression foam in front of himself to open a narrow path.

Stalled by the wall of fire that was blistering his skin, Henry’s heart sank as his extinguisher ran low short of the next hatch.

Then he heard Ernie’s voice scream over the crackle of flames. “Concentrate on Henry! Open him a path, damn it!”

Barely an instant passed before he was covered in foam and a tossed extinguisher landed at his feet. As he snatched it up, the wall of flame retreated from the hatch. Burning himself on the hot half-melted metal of the emergency override, Henry threw open the hatch and sprinted into an as yet untouched room, stumbling as an explosion somewhere above him rocked the ship. Gaining his balance, he passed through the room to a flame-engulfed hallway whose bulkhead he knew concealed the wiring he sought. Ignoring the flame all around him, he popped a panel, saw the flames licking at the bundle of wires and sprayed it without hesitation. Relief flooded him as the flames retreated from the foam coating and, as he collapsed from the pain of his burns, he heard the footsteps of more crew bursting in behind him. Hope filled Henry as his world faded to black.

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