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As some of you know, I'm working on a PhD thesis at the moment - hence my relative lack of activity lately.

On Friday, I submitted my first draft; after five years, the thesis is coming to an end.  I'm not there just yet, but I'm already thinking about what's ahead.

One certainty is that I'm going to plough a lot more time and effort into getting my sci-fi project off the ground.  The first two novels have been coming along very well prior to being paused for me to finish the thesis.  Now that's going to be increasingly out of the way, I'm hoping to get them finished before too long.  And then... we'll see.  I have other projects lined up for the sci-fi which I'm looking forward to pursuing as well.  One of these is an episodic serial.

What's clear to me is that this sci-fi project is going to be... rather large.  The setting has turned out to be much bigger than I anticipated when I started work on it.  It's going to take time to explore properly.  And if nothing else, it's going to need a name.

So as of right now, it's the Diaspora Series.

I'm looking forward to seeing what people make of it. :)
  • Mood: Optimism
  • Listening to: "Among the Stars" - Louis Viallet
  • Reading: The January Dancer - Michael Flynn
  • Playing: Dragon Age: Inquisition (again)

Activity


Sci-Fi: Nicora System by Leovinas
Sci-Fi: Nicora System
This is a chart of Nicora System, the principal setting for Book One of the Diaspora Series, and for Alessa's short story.  As should be obvious, the inner system is located to the top, with the outer planets below and information about its main planet, Casperia, in between.

Let me know what you think! :)

Background:
Nicora System, or 111 Tauri to use its catalogue name, is one of approximately a thousand settled systems in the Diaspora Humanarum, and one of about a hundred to sport a terraformed or otherwise temperate planet - in this case, Casperia, the system capital.  The system - and Casperia - was colonised early on in Diasporal history by a short-range arkship, the ISV Nova Nadiya, carrying sixty thousand Italian, Ukrainian and Kenyan colonists under the leadership of Chiaretta d'Ancona Nicora.  Nicora's popularity led the colonists to name the system after her.  While the super-earth planet of Malindi and the outlying planet of Chervona were both considered for colonisation, Casperia was far easier to terraform, requiring little more than atmospheric engineering and the melting of permafrost.  The system's bright F-spectrum sun is about a third again as bright from the Casperian surface as Sol is from Earth's, and most Casperian life is adapted to the stronger light, including its human populace.

Located in the highly-contested Armward Fringe, the System Republic of Nicora has thus far remained independent of the major Diasporal powers.  With both of its closest neighbours - Himalaya in Midway System and Greenway in Talos - having recently joined the United Earth Alliance, pressure is mounting on the Nicoran government to choose a side between the United Earth Alliance and Union of Aligned Worlds.  However, the System Republic is deeply divided between pro-Alliance, pro-Alignment and pro-independence camps, and until the political impasse is resolved, the status quo will continue.  It is only the hope of the System Republic's leaders that the tensions between Old Earth and Olympus do not break down completely beforehand - in the event of war, Nicora would be a primary target for both sides.  While its native industry and economy are strong compared to the rest of the Armward Fringe, the System Republic is a long way behind Dawn's Reach, the most important independent world in the region, and even farther behind the Alliance and Aligned Worlds.  Its status as a free port in the Fringe makes it an important shipping hub, however, and Casperia's orbital infrastructure is the most developed of any world in the Armward Fringe, Dawn's Reach included.

(Stellar background stock by Smattila; everything else is my own)
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Nyatu Street

Corsofondo district, Giona, on Casperia, Nicora System


Rain seethed down – great, plump drops broke into mist against the old flagstones and misted Alessa’s bare arms and legs.  The occasional droplet even found her face as she looked out from the awning of Nana Simovna’s stall at the afternoon downpour.

“You’ve never seen rain like this before?” Nana Simovna asked, a chuckle colouring her already richly-accented voice.

Alessa shook her head.  “Not this hard.”  She was on the point of remarking on the rain back home – but this was home.  Back there wasn’t home.  Not now.

“Svanirà,” Nana Simovna said, with a shrug.  It will pass.  “All things pass.  We see stars tonight, mark my words.”

Alessa kept her response to herself.  She had seen Giona’s excuse for a starry night – the light of the metropolis drowned out everything but the brightest stars and the unending procession of High Stations arcing from horizon to horizon.  Even Capella seemed a ghost of its former self from back h—from back there.

A breeze elicited a jingle from the trinkets hanging beneath the stall’s deep red canvas, laden with the scents of the rain, the district and the sea.  It was was a blessedly cool breath in the stifling, humid afternoon.

“Will it rain in the afternoon every day?” Alessa asked, watching the wizened old woman work behind her makeshift counter.

“Now we’re in ’high season, yes, always.  One thing ’Prashchury got right,” she added, with a firm nod.

Alessa frowned.  “Who?”

Nana Simovna’s expression mirrored hers.  “Prashchury.  Mababu?  No?  Hmph.  …Gli’Antenati,” she said, complementing her terrible Italian with a dismissive gesture.  Alessa’s frown cleared as she understood.  The Antenati.  The Ancestors.

“’Weather is more changeable in ’north, I suppose?” Nana Simovna prompted, with a humph.  Alessa nodded silently and Nana Simovna grunted.  “Here, ’weather is ’force of her own, but at least she is regular.  Oh, yes.  ’Prashchury knew…”

Alessa waited for her to reach the end of her train of thought before asking.  “Can you give me something to help Mama?”

Nana Simovna’s blue eyes lifted to meet her own dark brown ones.  “You know I’ve done what I can, child.  She had ’water I left for her?”

“Yes…”

“And she takes ’preparation, like I showed you?”

“Yes…”

“Well, then.  Unless you want to bring ’Medicals down too, is as much as I can –”

“It’s not that!” Alessa pressed, louder than she had intended.  “She’s hungry; she says she’s so hungry…  I got her some white-meat this morning, from Ino’s stall, all hot and dark and sticky, but…”

“Dear Alessa, listen to me.  Her pangs are her affliction talking; not her.  Is she wasting?  No.  Is she losing weight?  No.  She is lighter than she should be, yes, too thin, sure, but is she worsening?  No.  Too much will complicate things; dilute ’preparations we give to speed her health; overwhelm her stomach with things too rich.  You follow?”

Blue eyes met dark brown again.  Alessa felt the heat in her cheeks exchange its flush of anger for a blush of embarrassment.  She nodded.

“Your mother will say she is hungry, yes.  You did well to get her food in ’morning; you must be sure she eats at normal times.  But never too much, nor too fast.  Her neduha still has hold, and while it does…”

Alessa nodded again.

Neduha.  Her affliction, Nana Simovna called it.  Alessa supposed it was, though she had heard what the others called it, when they thought she couldn’t hear – or when they thought a mere girl was beneath their notice.  The pangs; the cold-hungers; the cravings; the famina; the njaaNeduha.

She had seen others with it; beggars on heaps of polymer rags, sweaty bodies in stifling lodgings barely deserving of the name, calling out for food.  Or more.  They never said what of.  Just more.

At least her mother had stopped calling for that.

Alessa shuddered.

“’Is good that she is hungry,” Nana Simovna said, after what Alessa realised had been a silence of some minutes.  “She is progressing.  Soon she will feel restored, although it will take time for her to return to herself.”

Alessa nodded.

She frowned – something had changed outside.  The hissing had abated; the play of droplets on the awning fringe had ceased.

She poked her head outside.

No rain.  The river of sky above was cloudy, but clearing – pregnant dark clouds had given way to the strange yellowish tint the sky always seemed to have after a downpour.  And there, over one of the city’s great towers, the white disk of the sun burned through even this thick layer of cloud.  Even now, Alessa could feel something of its heat on her skin; even with the cloud, she snatched her eyes away after the barest instant, only dimly aware that that stolen glimpse would have irreparably damaged the eyes of someone not native to Casperia.

In another direction, a great stump rose from the city.  She had heard its name – one day, it would be Giona’s tallest tower, until it too was overtaken.  But for now it was a promise, a pedestal for something more.  The Torre Montasola, they called it.  Alessa wondered what it would look like when it was finished.

“I told you ’rain would stop,” Nana Simovna’s voice said, behind her.  “Here, girl; come and help me with this.”

Even her weeks of familiarity had not yet filed away all of Alessa’s hesitancy as she stepped over to where the old woman was working.

Since she and Mama had first arrived here from the north, Alessa had tried to work out exactly what Nana Simovna was.  She was an old woman, that much was obvious – a strange creature who remembered a time before the seasonal rains, and whose colouration was yet un-darkened by Casperia’s over-bright sun.

She knew things too, that was for certain.  She might keep a cramped stall down in the choking guts of the Corsofondo, but she knew so much.  Alessa looked around as she followed the old woman’s fingers, grinding bark into dust, working it into paste and spreading it on cool glass disks in a hot pool of shattered sunlight cast through the awning above.

The stall was draped over with age-darkened awnings of old neo-polymers and false-silk the colour of last month’s blood.  Beneath, it was hung with a thousand and one things – cava fruit, herbs and spices, things drying on strings in bunches, clusters and clumps, phials of glinting seeds and little spun-cloth sacks pregnant with corns and pips and roots of things either brought here by the Ancestors or made by them here, in their wisdom.  There were boxes too – sterile containers darkened with repeated firings, sets of tools of clear vitrimer and even old-fashioned glass, of plastic and polymer and a thousand other things.

The old woman even owned a pair of little black data folios probably half as old as she was herself.  They gurgled as they worked, chittering and casting wan projections into the air above in different characters, Cyrillic as well as European.

The herbs, spices, plants and more, Nana Simovna could have picked up anywhere.  But the knowledge of cultures, of sterilisation and physiology and more, went far beyond that.  Alessa was too young to put them all together and make a guess as to Nana Simovna’s past career, but she was too old not to recognise that Nana Simovna was more than just a regular street healer.

Back home – no, Alessa reminded herself, back there – Mama would at least have been given cursory attention by the Medicals.  They might not have strictly approved, but she would at least have been dealt with by someone who knew her face and her name; who would have treated her with perhaps a stern word and a caring question to her daughter.  Here, though, no-one knew her.  No-one knew Alessa, aside from the few faces who had become familiar in the weeks since her arrival.  If she had gone to Giona’s Medicals for help, particularly those here in the Corsofondo, they would have taken Mama away to be rehabilitated, and her surrender would have been complete.

Alessa might hate what her mother had done before, but she hated even more the idea of letting it consume them both.

Nana Simovna saw her gazing at one of her instruments – a device of worked metals and polymers at odds with the bearing of the rest of the stall.

“What’s that, Nana?” Alessa asked, giving it a nod without shame.

“That?  Oh, is ’wim-wam for winding smoke,” the old woman said, easily.

Alessa frowned and bit her tongue.

Whatever it was, it didn’t belong in the Corsofondo.

In the extended family of Giona’s milliard districts, the Corsofondo was the drunken uncle no-one mentioned except in a conspiratorial hush.  Crammed into the great valley between two of Giona’s marching lines of towers, it spilled and staggered into the space beneath its sliver of sky.  Buildings and roofs tumbled down from the greater towers, ending in a tangle of awnings, pillars and alleyways lit fitfully from above by the lurid colours of holograms and light-boards, and from below by cheap diode lights and chemical lanterns with archaic flames of the kind hanging from Nana Simovna’s stall.

When the Ancestors had planned the city centuries ago, the Corsofondo had been open; the tip of its wedge had been a great plaza, the wider expanse a park whose name was now lost.

The plaza still existed, albeit choked with huts and stalls and lean-tos, its edges ragged with snickets and alleyways and winding lanes leading nowhere.  The park beyond, once choked with weeds in turn, was now a morass of structures of varying degrees of impermanence, all miraculously unperturbed by both the remaining trees and the otherwise gleaming metropolis around.

Alessa worked with Nana Simovna for perhaps another ten minutes, before the nagging feeling in the back of her mind became too much.

“I should get back to Mama,” she said eventually, looking up at the stall’s entrance instinctively.

Nana Simovna bowed her wrinkled forehead.  “She is safe, yes?”

Alessa nodded.  Old Nbamba might be strict, but he kept as clean a lodging as he could.  If he said he’d allow no-one in, Alessa believed him.

“You trust Inouye Nbamba; good.  Be careful, though.  His sons…” Nana Simovna frowned down at her.  “You understand?  Nbamba’s sons are wicked boys.  ’Girl like you must be careful.”

Alessa nodded again, more fervently than before.  She shared a building with Old Nbamba’s family; she had heard the arguments.

“The Nbamba boys should be grateful,” she muttered.

“What?”

She faltered – and then decided that she did not want to be the kind of girl who hesitated.  She met the blue gaze as levelly as she could.

“I said they should be grateful.  Their father loves them.”  She left the remainder of the thought – its obvious continuation – unsaid, though something of it registered in Nana Simovna’s eyes.

“Yes, he does.  You see a lot, Alessa.”

Alessa shook her head, indicating her ears.  “I hear.  He loves them, but they don’t care, so shouting is the only way he can show it.”

“’Truth of youth,” Nana Simovna said, nodding.  “Run on then; if your mother is awake, tell her Nana Simovna is watching her.  I pray for her, I do.”

The phrase sounded odd coming from her.  Alessa had been in her stall more than most these past few weeks, and she had seen no sign of a cross – no rosary or votary or icon to be seen.  “To God?” she asked, frowning.

Nana Simovna spat to one side, leavening the gesture with a twinkle in her eye as she shook her head.  “To the Ancestors, girl.  Away, then.”

 What had been an intense downpour some minutes ago was still dripping and trickling its way to the bottom of the Corsofondo down a watershed of roofs and awnings, balconies, decking, walkways, ramparts and supports with no names at all.  The runoff from the living valley came together here in the alleyway, where it tumbled into the drains and steamed where it ran over the paving, tendrils thickening anew an air that had lately been thick with raindrops.

And in the steam, the alley was long and full of heat, and light, and colour, and shadow.

As Alessa walked, she heard voices all around – muffled, clear, shouting, murmuring – singing, even – as well as music here and there.  There was a voice strangely filtered – a relay of some kind, although whether it was in conversation or merely a receiver, Alessa couldn’t tell.

A trio of younger children jostled past her, laughing and chasing their leader.  A pair of adults forged past in the opposite direction, hoods pulled up against the struggling sun and deep in conversation in the accented patois Alessa had begun to learn.

I thought you said the Federation would hold off?

Yes, but the Alliance is already onto them.  They’ll be here tonight, and then on to–

There was an argument going on somewhere; voices were raised, although the Ukrainian they argued in was all but unintelligible to Alessa.  She wondered if Nana Simovna would know why they were shouting.  Somewhere else, people were grunting – moving something heavy in unison, she thought at first, although she was old enough to wonder if that was actually what they were doing.

Around the corner, across the gulley – now laughing and gurgling with water – left at the statue of the Mother of the World with her bulky environment suit and flag with its rayed sun and superimposed lion and ring of stars – and up the slope to the towering mass of polymers, wood and sheet metal that was adorned on one side by a great long banner with Old Nbamba’s name on it.

When she and Mama had first arrived in the city, Mama had taken her to the park at Giona’s heart.  Unlike the one which had grown the Corsofondo, this one had been verdant.  Mama had taken her to the flagstoned square at its centre, surrounded on all sides by standing stones and overlooked by a pedestal on a small hillock.

Alessa had been tired, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds and smells of the largest settlement for untold billions of kilometres in every direction, but beneath all that she had registered something of the significance of the place.

A single footprint had been scored into the flagstone beneath the pedestal on its little mount.  And on the pedestal itself, words, in the three languages of Casperia – Italian, Ukrainian and Swahili, with English as an afterthought – commemorating the moment that Chiaretta d’Ancona Nicora took her first steps on the planet she named for the village of her birth.  The moment she became la Madre del MondoMaty SvituMama Wadunia – the Mother of the World.

Alessa had wondered then what she would make of Giona; whether she would have been as awed as Alessa by its vast, glittering towers and the stump of the new one being built by the park; by Giona’s incredible lights and streams of sighing drone and helidyne traffic.  Now, as she walked through the Corsofondo, Alessa wondered what the Mother of the World would have thought of Giona as Alessa saw it now.

The boys were in.  Old Nbamba was not in evidence, so Alessa bowed her head and rushed lightly past the open door to the private side, where the boys leered over some hologram or other that Alessa glimpsed for an instant as she passed and could have sworn was the colour of pale skin.

Mama was asleep.  Alessa shut the door as carefully as she could and came over to her bedside.  Long brown hair framed her shoulders in curls Alessa had always envied.  Her chest rose and fell beneath her chemise, her eyes sunken, but closed and peaceful.  True, her mother had a squarer jaw than most, but she was beautiful, of that Alessa was certain.

Alessa stroked her hair for a moment, checking her over as she did so.  Nothing amiss.  She sighed.  Mama had taken some of the water she had left her.  Good.  The age-yellowed old white-band Aunt Tama had given them for the journey sat at an angle within arm’s reach.  She had been listening to something, then.  That was good.

Alessa waved a hand over its inert surface, and the ident of the channel appeared – one of any number of easy listening bands – music, chatter, what passed for news on the hour.  She nodded to herself.

There was a crash from downstairs.  Footsteps thundered on the stairs outside and Alessa’s heart skipped as Mama’s eyelids fluttered.

She did not wake.

It was hot in here.  It was hot everywhere, to be sure, but the room felt airless.  Alessa untangled her fingers from her mother’s hair and padded over to the window.

The view was so much red-washed cement; the window looked into a nook of the building opposite.  But the nook channelled the breeze when it came, and Alessa slid the pane of old, cloud-webbed vitrimer to one side.

More footsteps thundered; laughter, now, male and raucous.  Alessa willed them to return to their hologram downstairs.  They quietened after a while, and she closed her eyes.

At some point, she fell asleep.

She was partway through a dream when a hand stroked her cheek, bringing her awake and leaving her with the unsettling conviction that she had dreamt, but without the faintest idea what she had dreamt about.

“Mama?”

“You were sleeping, mia cara.  There’s something I want you to see.”

Alessa frowned.  Mama had propped herself up on an elbow.  “How are you feeling?”

“Alive,” Mama said, with a cracked grin.  “It’s better than the alternative.”

“What do you want me to see?  What is it?”

“Hush, dear.  It’s not here; it’s on the roof.”

Alessa’s frown deepened.  “The roof?  But you can’t…”

“I know, dear.  Trust me.  Trust your Mama.”

“But you’re not well, Mama, there’s no way you could–”

“I know, Alessa.  It’s not something I’ve put there.  It’s something I know about.  I want to see it too; but you will have to see it for me.”

“What is it?”

Mama lay back on her bed with a smile.  “The power of Terra Vecchia.  The Ancestors’ Ancestors, returning to our sky for a moment.”

Was she delirious?  Alessa reached out a hand for her forehead.  It felt normal.

“Oh come on, dear, I’m trying to be ill and mysterious; the least you can do is indulge your mother for five minutes!”

“But… the roof?”

“Oh, pshaw.  I know you go up there; the Nbamba boys talk loud enough, and I’m here all the time, remember?  Even if I’m not all here the whole time, I hear enough.”

Alessa blushed again.  “What’s happening, Mama?”

“Something we have never seen before will be passing by tonight, and if my guess is right, they’ll be doing it in a few minutes.  So go on; head up there and look up, towards Perun.  You know Perun, yes?  Just promise me you’ll stay away from the Nbamba boys.”

“Of course I will!”

Mama gave her what was probably the clearest look she had given her in a long time.  “Good girl.  Remember to tell me what you see when you come back.  Look towards Perun, remember.”

 

*           *           *

 

To Alessa’s surprise, the roof was far from its normal empty self when she clambered up the last few steps.  A knot of people – adults, she realised, with a sinking feeling – were already there.  Not wanting to draw attention to herself, she lingered back near the stairwell.

“I think I can see something – there, look,” a voice was saying.

“No, can’t be – that’s just Perun, surely,” another one scoffed.

“No, below it, look!” a third voice urged.

Alessa craned her neck, but all she could see was people, all craning their necks towards the horizon in turn.  Here and there was a snatch of starry sky.

A familiar rumble over to one side reached her ears – Old Nbamba murmuring to someone with him.  One of his sons.  Alessa made to move away, but reconsidered when she recognised the boy – that was Joshua, the youngest.

She moved to one side, where she could see most of the sky; everyone else was focusing on Perun – over here, the rest of the sky was much more visible.

It was an almost clear night, a high ripple of mottled cirrus here and there like a discarded veil.  All Alessa could see beyond were the High Stations: the regular procession of lights and shapes marching inexorably from west to east.  If she looked for long enough, or out of the corner of her eye, should could make out the wandering stars between them too – the unquiet ones.  The ships.

She had been told the High Stations’ names, but forgot which was which.  They were strange names, some pretty, some not.  San Spiridon, Lingala-Marube, Yeremenko A, Giona Alta, San Isacco, Kerenskayapol’, High Zanzibar.  Some she remembered from nursery rhymes and bed-time songs; others from stories that adults told about floating paradises where you could stand under clear plate vitrimer and encircle all Casperia in your outstretched arms or buy your heart’s desire.  That one there was shaped like a turning wheel; that one like the petals of a flower adrift on a languid stream; that one like a snowflake she had seen in a holograph.  They were familiar, tiny shapes in endless procession.

The big moon, Enkai, mottled and yellow, loomed over the city in the direction of the ocean, and one of the smaller ones – was that Olapa? shone over to the left, resolutely stationary amid the river of soaring High Stations.

Back – back there, Alessa had been able to stand on a rooftop or in an open space and gaze up at a night sky only slightly perturbed by spilt light from the surround.  But here, the city had no need for stars or planets or the Via Lattea; Giona was its own galaxy, spilling light from a million sources to scatter in the sky above and drown all but the brightest members of the firmament and the High Stations that had so enchanted Alessa as a younger child.

Alessa recognised two of the few visible non-moving stars over the ocean as golden Malindi, next planet in from Casperia, and blood-red Chervona, the next one out, currently farther along in its orbit.  She squinted and wondered if she could see each planet’s pair of moons, wondering if it was just her imagination.

“They’re definitely closer now; look,” one of the adults was saying.

“I can see.  There must be dozens of them!”

Alessa craned her neck – there was something – something bright – up there, just below the ruddy star which she recognised as Perun, the system’s largest planet a few hand-spans above the southern horizon.  But she only saw a glimpse between raised heads.  It was like another High Station.  Or something.

She edged her way between legs, unnoticed and uncared-after, in the direction of Old Nbamba.

“…and they are all carrying brave men and women, like our Astronautica ships,” he was saying to his son.  He looked to one side as Alessa approached and grinned a white grin all the brighter for his dark skin in the night.  “Come, Alessa,” he said, extending an arm.

Alessa approached; he shifted to one side as she did so.  As she moved, someone in the crowd drew out a slate folio.  Ghostly light shone briefly amid the thicket of adult legs, and a woman’s voice joined them on the roof, tinny and burbling through the white-band receiver.  It took Alessa a moment to realise she was speaking in English in an odd flowing accent, and struggled to call it to mind.

“…–tend our thanks to the citizens of this great System Republic, on behalf of my officers and men, and the entire Alliance, as we sail to uphold the Parliament’s peace.  Your friendship is a beacon of hope in a Diaspora Humanarum dark with adversity and subterfuge…”

“What is it?” Alessa asked, ignoring the voice as it continued.

“Come, stand here,” Old Nbamba said, steering her around him.  “Look; can you see?”

Alessa followed his outstretched hand, and her eyes widened.

Mama had told her to find the ruddy star of Perun – it was lost amid something vast and new in the sky.

A constellation of shooting stars had appeared – pinprick-comets with iridescent shimmering tails.  They moved even as Alessa watched; the tiny leading members little more than motes of dust on single hairs in the night sky.  Larger and brighter pinpricks followed, their tails foreshortened at first, before stretching impossibly into neck-craning arcs of intangible colour as they streaked overhead.

Unbidden, Alessa heard the voice on the white-band receiver as she watched.  The unknown woman.  Whoever she was, Alessa thought, wonderingly, she was surely a god.

“…it is my hope in the long night to come that the people of Nicora System and the people of the Alliance and her members find comfort in the bonds which tie us together, just as similar bonds bind the members of the Alliance’s own great family of worlds.  Just as the citizens of the System Republic know your strength, so shall the galaxy be in no doubt that from Alphecca to the Seven Suns, we are one people, we are one civilisation, and we are one United Earth Alliance.”

Her voice was replaced by another, male, burbling something in indistinct Italian about a statement, before rousing music played, stirring the adults to stand up straighter, and even Old Nbamba to stand up gingerly behind Alessa.

“What’s happening?” Alessa asked, transfixed, as some of the adults began to sing Italian words under their breaths, in time to the music.

“That’s the Alliance Grand Fleet,” Old Nbamba whispered, “the ships from Van Maanen’s Star sailing to save the Seven Suns.”

Alessa only half heard him; she understood less, but she supposed that meant that she was looking at so many starships-of-war.  As she watched, for one dizzying moment, she appreciated a hint of the distances involved as one of the brightest streaking ships passed first behind a High Station and then in front of the moon, Olapa.  A gasp shimmered around the cluster of standing adults.

“What do they mean, Papa?” the Nbamba boy beside Alessa asked.

“They’re showing us their respect, but reminding us of their power,” the older Nbamba said, kneeling once more as the rousing music came to an end.

“There’s one of ours!” one of the adults shouted, looking up from their viewing device and pointing at a shooting star on the edge of the vast formation.  Alessa followed his arm and saw it; a yellowish pinprick with a shorter tail of shimmering blue.  There were more, she realised, in a line.  A thin line of golden pinpoints beside a river of bluish white.

There was a cheer, unaccountably half-hearted, from the watching adults.

“It’s the Valoroso.  And the Vittoria,” the first voice said.

“The honour guard,” someone quipped.  A chuckle ran through the group.

“Why is it funny?” Alessa asked, confused.

Old Nbamba snorted.  “That’s almost our entire Astronautica Republicana, compared to the pride of the Grand Fleet,” he said.  “The Alliance has seven more fleets like this.  We’ve only got that thin gold line.”

Alessa swallowed.  The first of the brightest ships were way overhead, now, shimmering towards the ocean horizon behind her and out of sight.

“Why do they have long tails, Papa?” the Nbamba boy asked.

“They’re acceleration plumes,” his father said.  “They’ve lit their engines.”

“What are they sailing for?”

Old Nbamba closed a hand on his son’s slender shoulder.  “War,” he said.

“Are they going to win?”

Alessa glanced back at her landlord kneeling behind her; the acceleration plumes were reflected in his liquid eyes.  He quirked a smile.  “How can they possibly lose?”

 

*           *           *

 

Alessa took the stairs two at a time as she ran back to find Mama.  There was a tell-tale burst of raucous laughter below as she descended – the other Nbamba boys, no doubt.  Their footsteps thundered far below Alessa’s own as they fled the oncoming tide of adults.  She paid them no heed.  She was bursting to tell Mama what she had seen.  Maybe if Mama was strong enough, Alessa could take her to the window; perhaps she could see the last ones before they vanished overhead.

The door came open easily at her touch; she rushed into the first bedroom to find… to find…

“Mama?” she croaked, her throat suddenly dry.

“Hnnnh.”  The sound was a wordless expression of utter contentment that chilled Alessa to the bone.

“Mama, what..?”

She found the light and palmed it; her mother, sprawled spread-eagled and naked across the bed, screwed herself up in defence against the light.

A smell of sweet almonds wafted to her across the room.

“Mama, no…!”

There was a wrapper on the floor, crumpled but glittering in the shadow of the bed.  There was a glass, knocked over on a saucer, a spoon too with a frosting of something white.

Hot tears prickled; Alessa blinked them away as she felt her mother’s forehead.

“Ah… less…h’” Mama’s unfocused eyes slid across her own; a hand pawed the air in front of her face before finding her shoulder and patting it awkwardly.

Alessa choked.  The room blurred; the forgotten glass went flying across the room to ring and skitter against the far wall.

“Don’… s’a good girl…”

The hand came towards her again; it was all Alessa could do to hold it tight as she slumped back onto the floor, resting against the bed and holding her stupefied mother’s hand to her chest as she sobbed.

The effort of the last few weeks came bubbling to the fore; the endless waiting, all that effort – hers, all the work of Alessa and Nana Simovna, Mama’s determination to see it through – all came surging up, and out.

There might have been a creak on the stair outside; Alessa was beyond caring.  She had worked so hard – why had Mama gone and done this now?

She sniffled as she considered that last point.  Mama had been all but bedridden for days – more than two weeks, really.  It had been all Alessa could do, with the brusque ministrations of Nana Simovna and the occasional – awkward and grudging – help of Old Nbamba to help Mama move around when she needed to.  She hadn’t even been able to join them on the roof, though that was only a few flights of (admittedly steep and narrow) stairs.

It was almost the same distance to the street below, and however decrepit Old Nbamba’s place might be, the man felt safe enough in this street to raise his boys.

There was no way Mama could have gotten more of the stuff.  Not on her own.  Scrubbing away tears now, Alessa reached under the bed for the glimmering wrapper.

It stank of sickly sweet; she felt her gorge rising at the thought of it.  Mark-less, of course, but for a single symbol – was it a curled crocodile? – to indicate the strength.  She frowned.  She had never seen a crocodile before.  When Mama had had it before, it had always had a picture of a horse.

The hand twitched and patted her chest again.

“Mama..?” Alessa ventured.

“Hmmhmm?  Less’…”

“Who got this for you, Mama?  Where did you get it?”

“I’n’o.  …’e came by w’th’it.  Shared…”

Alessa stood up.  “Someone shared it with you?”

“Mmm.  Nice boys.  Nb.   Nbm…”

The hand went limp.

“Mama?”

Alessa felt her mother’s chest – it was rising and falling.

The last of the tears had gone now.  The room was sharp.  Clear.  As was her mind.

Unlike Mama’s.  Alessa very carefully set the wrapper down and grimaced at her hand – she wiped it on the end of the bed and stepped around it to where Mama’s head had slumped over the side.

It felt as if someone was beating a drum inside her chest.  Very steadily.  Inexorably.  Tap-tap.  Tap-tap.

She was shaking.

Very deliberately, she cradled her mother’s head like Nana Simovna had shown her and moved her so she could sleep safely, head tilted to one side, airway clear.

She stepped back to consider her handiwork with a clinical eye, and then very deliberately turned her back on her mother, to go and show Old Nbamba what his boys had done while they were on the roof.

The old man was terrifying in his rage. 

Sci-Fi: Alessa (short story)
Feedback welcome!

A short story set in the Diaspora Humanarum, the setting of my Diaspora Series.  It's set on Casperia, a planet in Nicora System in the Armward Fringe, to the left of centre on the chart, and takes place before the short story Before the Storm - so, fifty-three years prior to Chapter One of Book One.

As ever, I'm keen to hear what people think.  Let me know. :)
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Leovinas

Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United Kingdom
I'm a young novelist living in the south of Britain, not too far from London. I write fantasy and sci-fi, and who knows, I may even put the occasional extract or image up on here. :) I also think a lot of people on DeviantArt do fantastic work; you guys rock!

I've been writing my fantasy since 2001 and my sci-fi since 2002.

Current Residence: Reading, United Kingdom
Favourite genre of music: Classical, Soundtracks, Symphonic Metal
Operating System: Windows 7
MP3 player of choice: iPod touch
Wallpaper of choice: Horizon by ~hameed
Favourite cartoon character: Danger Mouse
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:icongalidor:
galidor Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
thank you for the :+fav: :)
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Leovinas Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Sure :)
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Mad-Ga-L Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much for the fav ^.^ ♥!
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Leovinas Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Sure :)
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Johnson-jsf Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Tnx for the +fav ))
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Leovinas Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
My pleasure :)
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Thank you for the fave :P
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Leovinas Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Of course :)
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Genkkis Featured By Owner May 24, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you very much for the favourite on my new Honorverse' cover :)
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Leovinas Featured By Owner May 24, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Sure :)
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