Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars, Ch. 1


       As relief from the serious tone of the last few posts, I thought I would introduce everybody to my unfinished novel, "The Man Who Found Birds among the Stars."  It's a fictionalized biography of Capt. Robbin Nikalishin, the starship Captain who made the first contact with extraterrestrials in the 28th century (some 2.5 centuries before the time of "The Termite Queen").  I already posted the Prologue to that book, which you can read here. I've had almost 50 pageviews on that post, and I hope some of you enjoyed it.
       You will find that the style of this book is entirely different from any of my previous books.  I attempted to make it much more colloquial and profane.  "The Termite Queen" deals with highly educated characters who speak good English and so the tone is fairly literary (with Shakespearean overtones when the termites are on scene), and in "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" series, my termites tend to be speak with great formality (it's just the way they are).  But MWFB lends itself to a more informal treatment.
I present here the first chapter of the book.  Bear in mind that it's a WIP and I reserve the right to change anything about it if I want to!  Next month I'll post Chapter 2

I decided to risk posting one of my character drawings.
Wonder why I left off his left ear?

Chapter 1: The Captain Eats Crow

(20 July 2766, Old Heathero Flight Port, Islands of Britan)
Minie was heading into the bathroom with an armload of clothes when her companion exclaimed, “Here, you forgot this!”
Something flopped against her back.  Turning around, she surveyed at the man who stood beside the bed, then stooped to pick up her breastie off the floor.  “Gaw, Robbie, you’re such a whizzer.”
Grinning playfully, her companion hitched up his pants and secured the fly.  “Aw, Minie, you ought to know by now what a perfect British gentleman Capt. Nikalishin is.”
She rolled a humorous eye.  “Is that what your consort thought, duck?” 
“Hell, I’ve decided I never really knew what she thought.”
Minie giggled and vanished into the bathroom.  Whisking an undershirt out of a drawer, the Captain pulled it over his head, then moved to the mirror to begin shaving.  With the shaver humming in his ear, he inspected his beardless face with the usual pang of regret.  His beard had been getting grizzled and Fedaylia hadn’t liked that …  Why would a man’s beard begin to turn gray before he was 35, while his hair stayed as black as when he was 20? 
But the truth of the matter was, it was the beard itself, grizzled or not, that Fedaylia hadn’t liked.  Tricking him into shaving it had only been another way to dominate him …
Robbie preferred the mask of a beard because he hated his chin.  It was contoured wrong – too soft, too short – and that damn dimple …  And while his nose had a decent bridge – he had never objected to his nose – it was proportionately too large to fit with that chin …
… although women seemed to like the dimple …  Minie would twist a fingertip in it and make baby noises – and Fedaylia had done something like that, too, although she tended to jab with a fingernail …
Hostel rooms didn’t include direct com links, so after finishing his shave, Robbie rang up the central desk.  “Capt. Nikalishin here, Ellen.  Any messages for me?”
“Just one … ”  For a moment his gut lurched.  Maybe it was Fedaylia – she could certainly find out where he was if she wanted to…
As usual, he was disappointed.  “ … from the Assignment Office.  No orders for you today, Robbie, but you’re to pay a visit to Maj. Nwinn at 1100h tomorrow.”
Annoyed with himself, Robbin Nikalishin thanked the hostel manager and deactivated the com.  Why could he never stop expecting Feddie to contact him?  Dammit, that was over, had been over for almost five months, and he had been forced to find solace with a girl like Minie – not that he wanted to belittle Minie – that wouldn’t be fair.  She had a kind heart and, after all, in his present state of disgrace, he himself was no prize … 
But still no flight orders – that was odd.  He had finally made stand-by shuttle commander a couple of weeks before and he had flown the maximum six missions during that time without any problems, but now for the last three days, nothing.  He couldn’t think of anything he had done to mess up his status again …
Minie emerged from the bathroom, threading the ribbons of her tunic blouse.  Coincidentally reflecting his thoughts, she said, “Are they sending you to the moon today?”
“It seems not – I’ve got orders to report in tomorrow.  Want to get some breakfast, or are you too hung over?”
“Come on, all I had last night was a couple of beers.    It’s hot as a laser today.  Why don’t you just leave your jacket here and go down in your shirtsleeves?”
“Because an officer in Earth Space Command needs to look the part.”
“Clothes won’t turn you back into a hero, Robbie Red-Breast.” 
“No, but they can help a man remember who he is, or who he should be.”
Sloe Hostel’s dining room was crowded with the Provisional Ensigns and non-coms who denned within Old Heathero Flight Port’s transitional residences.  The food was displayed on a counter along the back, dished up by youthful attendants.  Mother-henning them was a plumpish woman about forty years of age.
“Well, there’s my black-eyed Capt. Robbie!” she said as Nikalishin and his companion slapped down their trays.  “I swear, you look good enough to kiss!”
He leaned over to peck the woman on the lips as Minie said, “Don’t you be trying to steal him away from me, Wilda!  He’s mine, at least for a while.”
“Don’t worry, Minie – Capt. Robbie‘s heart is his own, to do with as he will.”
Nikalishin laughed and touched Wilda’s cheek with a fingertip.  Then, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he turned to an open-mouthed attendant.  “Are you just going to stand there gawking at me flirting with your boss, or can I get a scoop of that scramble?  Uh-h-h – looks nastier than usual … ”
Wilda watched the Captain and Minie head for the only available seating, at a table already occupied by a couple of callow-looking Prov-Ens.  At the sight of the pair of gold bars on Nikalishin’s collar, they jumped hastily to their feet.
“At ease, Cadets,” said Robbie.  “This is breakfast, not a dress parade.”
They all sat down, but the youths were staring at the name on the Captain’s pocket flap.  “Uh … uh … ” one of them spluttered, and the other croaked, “Blimey!  Capt. Nikalishin!  I’d heard he – you – was based here at Old Heathero, but … ”
“You better swallow some of that coffee, Mister,” said Robbie.  “You look like you’d seen a ghost, and here I thought I was still alive.  And by the way, it’s Nik-a-LEESH-in, not Ni-KAHL-ish-in.  That way, it sounds like a drunken man trying to say ‘colic.’”
The Cadet had turned as red as the trim on his uniform, then when Robbie said, “What wing are you assigned to, Ensign?” he went white.
“Holy grief, man, don’t faint on me!  You think I’m going to put you on report for pronouncing my name a bit off?  Believe me, there’s nobody on the Board of Discipline who would care!  I only asked about your assignment out of curiosity about why young chaps like you get into the space game these days.  Besides, breakfast goes better with conversation.  Takes the mind off the plasti-scramble.”
Back at the counter, Wilda said, “Watch it, clumsy!” as the gawking attendant let a spoonful of egg drop on the floor. 
“Ms. Murchy, is that really Robbin Nikalishin?  The Capt. Nikalishin?”
“Kinda surprised you, huh?  Earth’s most famous hero …  Yes, he’s lived here in Sloe about three months now.”
“What was it they called those first interstellar flyers?  Starpiercers?”
“No, Starchasers.  The Seven Starchasers.  SkyPiercer was the name of the project.”
”Yeah, that was it …  But why would a famous man like that be living here among all these bottom-feeders?”
“Ravi, I know your family just moved to Britan, but I thought the whole world knew about what happened.  There certainly was enough publicity.”
“Oh, I think I’m remembering – something really scandalous – like, he was drunk on the Bridge of his ship and punched an Admiral in the nose.”
“It was a Commodore.  But there’s a good deal more meat to it than that, of course.”
“How come he kissed you, Ms. Murchy?”
Wilda chuckled.  “Oh, Capt. Robbie and I go way back.  I’ve been working in Food Service here on this Base since he was a Cadet.  We had a bit of a fling once.”  She heaved a humorously exaggerated sigh.  “We’re just really old, good friends now.  That can be nicer than lovers, you know.  But you may be too young to understand that.”
“Well, there’s something else I don’t understand – how come he’s still got his Captain’s bars?  They must have court-martialed him, so was he acquitted?”
“Actually, it never got to the point of a real trial, because he pleaded guilty.”
“Then why wasn’t he demoted or discharged or something?”
“Well, just think who he is, Ravi!  One of the original Seven Starchasers, like I said!  And how many people exist who have ever commanded one of those sausage-casing ships that can fly beyond the solar system?  It’s four, that’s what it is, including Capt. Robbie.  And how many of those understand the technology – all that time/light/pod/fold/quanty gobbledygook – as well as he does?  I think maybe one, and she’s retired!  So that makes him too valuable to just kick back into civilian life.”
“But he must have gotten some kind of punishment.”
“That’s why he’s living in Sloe.  They sentenced him to a year of confinement within the perimeter of Old Heathero, on a Prov-En’s pay, with no officer’s privileges.  He lost his Mars command and was put to serving on Lunar cargo shuttles.  It could have been worse by a long shot, but still it was a pretty deep humiliation …  Ravi, will you pay attention to your job?  Here this P. O.’s waiting, and the scramble pan’s empty, and you’re just standing there!”
“Your fault, Ms. Murchy,” the young Inden dared to say, grinning as he disappeared into the kitchen.

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