SPECIAL NOTE: Fantastic Books, publishers of Chuck Rothman’s Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate, has made two copies of Staroamer’s Fate available and we’re going to give them away. Leave a comment here (related to the excerpt, please!) and we’ll have a random draw from among those members who commented at the end of the week. One copy will go to members in the US, the other to members from outside the US.
Staroamer’s Fate is a space opera about Quarnian Dow, who is a Syron — a person with the psychic ability to anticipate the future without ever knowing it. It was a concept I had tried for several failed short stories until I realized it would work well for a novel. The excerpt is the first chapter of the novel.
And so it begins…
New Wichatah City is laid out in a neat, logical pattern, alphabetically from east to west, numerically from north to south, all in little neat squares a hundred meters on a side. Its inhabitants reflected the design—there wasn’t a decent bar open after the twentieth hour.
Quarnian had found out the hard way. Her current stop was a dingy little box, ill-lit, smelling of stale native beer, and filled with failed farmers and congenital alcoholics. Its patrons all wore a standard two days’ growth of heard, as a mark of recognition, a uniform, unchanged since the dark ages on Earth.
Quarnian took another sip of the greenish liquid from the glass in front of her. It was beginning to taste almost tolerable, so she figured that she must be pretty far gone. If this was real tola wine, she was on the planetary council. It was probably just green watercolors mixed with turpentine. She’d probably go blind if she had another glass.
She asked for another glass.
The bartender frowned. “You’ve been having a lot of those, my lady.”
“I’m not your. . .” Quarnian stopped. There was no reason to be antagonistic; the title was customary here. “I don’t want to talk,” she muttered. “Just give me another.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t. We’ll be closing soon.”
Quarnian studied his face. He was lying. It was just a polite way of shutting her off.
She shrugged. There were other bars.
Quarnian tripped as she got off the stool, grabbing the mulchwood edge of the bar to keep from grinding her clothes into the damp and muddy floor. She pulled herself upright and, moving carefully, made a sine curve for the door.
Two men began to follow.
The fresh air of the street revived her a little, and she knew she could walk as far as the next watering place. She turned her sharp indigo-blue eyes upward as though trying to get her bearings from the stars. New Wichatah’s three tiny moons made an equilateral triangle above her head; local astrologers considered this a good-luck sign. She tried to trace out the constellations. She picked out Sirius, as bright in the sky as Venus is from Earth. The Wichatans called its constellation “The Coathanger.” Accurate, but also indicative of their imagination.
She started down the street, thinking there had to be someplace open nearby. Her long brown hair, thin as cobwebs, had fallen into her face. She should get it cut someday, maybe have her head shaved (that was the style on Radis). It might be an improvement.
But, she then reflected, she never really was happy with the way she looked. People had called her attractive, but she always found it hard to believe. Her face teemed nothing special — oval shaped, with a small nose and mouth. Nothing to be ashamed of, but certainly not stunning. She was slender enough, she supposed, and she kept herself in good physical condition. Someone had even called her graceful once.
She noticed the sound of a pair of footsteps behind her.
They were speeding up, tap-tapping on the stone pavement, and they were obviously going to overtake her. Someone had chosen her to be a victim. Her spacer’s clothes probably made them think she had money. She idly wondered what they had in mind.
“Excuse me, lady.” The voice was like a ratchet. Quarnian decided she wanted to know what the face attached to it looked like. She turned.
It was a disappointment. Some people’s faces didn’t match their voices; it was never more true than now.
This man was just slightly taller than she, with a gentle-looking face and a smooth cheek that looked as if it had never been touched by a razor. He wore a battered brown overcoat, showing its age by a few half-hidden frayed spots. His companion was barely more than a meter and a half tall. His face was a disaster area: a round moon, with craters to match, topped off by a bulbous nose decorated with a wart. A screaming red scar puckered along his right cheek. He hid in the shadows, tiny eyes glittering in the streetlights.
“Yes?” Quarnian asked.
“We heard what you said. We thought you were looking for another place.”
And they knew of one; Quarnian was sure of that. Her drink would be delicious — and laced with a sedative. Then, who knew—robbery, rape. She had heard Borna was interested in human women for slaves. She’d soon disappear like the legendary Staroamer.
It sounded like fun, but not tonight. Instinctively, she reached for her neck to draw out her pendant. She only touched skin.
Quarnian giggled. She was drinking to forget and she had forgotten. “I’ll be glad to go with you, Mr. . . .”
“Smith,” the ratchet-voiced man said.
Quarnian smiled. “Of course. I’ll be glad to go with you and Hugo.”
“Name’s Bruce,” the short man mumbled.
“Mine’s Quarnian.” She tried to curtsy, but only fell to the pavement.
“Let me help you.” Smith reached out to grab her arm.
She pulled away from him, studying his face, trying to read it through the haze of alcohol. Smith wasn’t going to resort to violence just yet; he’d wait until the proper time came. She was safe for the moment.
She let them bring her to her feet.
The two of them led her through the streets. Quarnian began to feel a bit more lucid, she gave Bruce a quick read.
She was surprised at what she saw: a curious mixture of childishness and suppressed violence, of fear and mistrust. He only worked with Smith because be had to. She felt sorry for him and she decided not to kill him.
The roadway slowly darkened; if Quarnian had had any sense, she would have turned back. But she didn’t care. The drinks had emboldened her and, besides, she was used to trusting her luck.
“Here we are,” Smith said.
The doorway was mulchwood, discolored by grime and there was a darkened spot where years of oily hands had pressed. As she looked, the door jerked open. Quarnian saw a few dingy tables visible in the murky room and a man leading a woman up a flight of stairs in the back.
Quarnian felt indignant. If they were going to sell her into prostitution, they should at least have the decency to take her to a classier place than this.
“Quarnian! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Smith turned to see who had spoken. Quarnian didn’t have to; she knew Rex Carlssen’s voice.
“You’re coming with me,” Rex said.
“The lady’s with us,” Smith said, ungentlemanly, as he glared at the newcomer.
Bruce stepped out of the way of the other two men.
Quarnian thought they looked like the griffs on Odin, huffing and puffing in ritual battle. But with griffs, one would back down, and it wasn’t likely that was going to happen here.
“I don’t want to fight,” Rex said, his tone denying the words. “Quarnian’s my partner.”
“She was alone,” Smith said, his band moving slowly into his pocket. Quarnian could tell he was reaching for a beamgun, but he wasn’t going to fire it just yet.
“You know who that is? That’s Quarnian Dow. She’s a syron.”
Smith’s face showed a hint of fear as he glanced at her. Brice moved even further away.
“You’re lying.” Smith said. “Where’s her necklace?”
“Yes, Rex,” Quarnian said, her tongue flagging loose from alcohol. “Where is it?”
Rex flinched at her tone. “Are you sure you want. . . ?”
“Sure. What the frast. Go ahead.”
Rex studied her for a moment, then shrugged. “I sold it.”
Smith didn’t believe him, Quarnian realized. He was going to use his weapon.
She had determined his weak spot while they had walked here. Her finger reached just below his right rib and pressed in a precisely-timed pattern.
Smith shrieked and tried to whirl away. His right knee buckled under him. It was only a matter of time. He realized it and tried to speak, but only saliva came from his mouth, saliva mixed with dull gurgles.
Quarnian waited; Smith’s eyes closed.
“For star’s sake. you didn’t have to…”
She ignored Rex and turned lo Bruce. “You.”
He cowered farther from her, as though even her words could kill. “Don’t.. .”
“Want a job?”
Bruce could only cringe.
“Want a job?”
Bruce had some control over himself now. He nodded warily, as though the wrong answer would be his last.
“Fine. Come to the spaceport tomorrow at the fifteenth hour. The Wreckless.”
“Wreckless,” he repeated.
“Let’s go. Rex.” The alcohol was wearing off; she never could stay drunk for long, and without looking back to see if he was following, she set off.
He huffed to get near her. “Why’d you kill him?”
“For star’s sake, I didn’t. He wasn’t worth the effort. He should wake up in a few hours; bell just have a limp for a few weeks.”
He studied her silently for a few minutes as they walked.
You didn’t have to be a syron to know what he was thinking. It annoyed her.
“Look, Rex. I don’t like killing. You think it’s scary that I can know everything about you? That I can kill with a touch? Well, it’s scary for me, too.”
She could tell he didn’t understand, and she gave up trying to talk about it.
“Are you serious about that other one?”
They had reached one of the more hospitable sections of the city. “Bruce? Very.”
“But why? You can never tell if—”
“I can.” Quarnian felt the need to change the subject. “How much did you get for the pendant?”
“Only a hundred trents.” He sounded apologetic. “There isn’t much demand for—”
“I know that.” She felt annoyed. So little! And giving it up had been one of the hardest things she had done since she had completed her Training.
“We’ll need a lot more.”
They had reached the edge of the spaceport, and Quarnian was tired of conversation. “You let me worry about that,” she said. She’d explain later.
Chuck Rothman writes science fiction and fantasy and is the author of two published novels, Staroamer’s Fate and Syron’s Fate. He has sold numerous short stories to magazines and anthologies. Chuck also blogs about film on the Great but Forgotten blog. You can learn more about Chuck and where to find his short stories on his website and on his Facebook page.
Chuck’s novels are available from Fantastic Books.