Author Topic: SF Novel: "The Dream of Aveire"  (Read 86 times)

Snow

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on: June 19, 2020, 11:45:20 PM
I have a new science fiction novel out!
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08BHLL49H

It's about an optimistic future in which people explore and colonize new stars. The heroine lives on a high-biotech ship that terraforms planets for fun. Here's a preview...


Hani lay back amid purple grass she'd helped design, and stared up at a city like stars hanging overhead. She felt she was in a vast hammock since the land at her head and feet curved gently upward. Though she looked relaxed, she was busy thinking. The senior gardeners had asked her: how well did the meadow fit in with the flame-hued forest of humming lizards that surrounded it? She had no idea. She couldn't tell whether her teachers were trying to make a subtle point about art, or pranking her, because she felt like she should be doing more.

A rustle of branches caught her ears, and she sat up. A trio of green-robed figures emerged from the woods. The three together were a work of art. They'd designed themselves to have long pointed ears and flowing hair in intricate emerald shades. The male among them had antlers, the others unicorn horns. The antlered one said, "You're the gardener in charge of this field?"

"Just an apprentice."

"Then tell your superiors it needs to go, by judgment of the Pruners."

The Pruners had no real authority, but they were critics. "What's wrong with it?" She ran one hand through the violet blades that each coiled at the tip.

"Purple was the theme last decade. We're doing classic green now. You call yourself a gardener and you're not keeping up?"

One of the other Pruners said, "She wouldn't know. She's just a child. Rookie mistake."

Hani stood up and glared. "I'm almost twenty-five."

"Then you have an excuse for wearing that outdated body, too. What is that, pangolin? And nobody who got to choose their shape yet would stray so close to human!"

She'd been created with a mostly human body, but had decorative brown, scaly plating on her arms and back and long tail. "It's pretty, thank you very much. Now have you got any other complaints, or are you looking to beat me up like some gnoll thug?"

The taller woman peered down at Hani to look for something else about her to mock, but settled for picking a few blades of grass and sniffing at them. "The scent is pleasant. I suggest you cut all this up and use it for brewing or bedding. You'll need to get rid of it promptly so something can be put in that matches the antipode."

"The what, now?"

"You don't even know that? This is grid zone J-35. Look straight up. There's a pond directly above here." She took out a datapad and looked into its screen while pointing into the sky.

The world was the inside of a vast cylinder, so someone might well be swimming in a pond straight overhead. Not that Hani could tell, since the view was mostly blocked by the sun, a long line that ran through the world's center. Near the sun were hills and fields and a city that was in currently in the night side of the world.

The Pruner lectured, "Do you see how ridiculous it'd be if someone looked carefully and saw a ridiculous purple meadow here instead of a matching terrain?"

Hani said, "There's certainly something ridiculous here. Excuse me." She turned and walked away from the Pruners.

Like a bored teacher, one of them told her, "Tell your supervisors they need to get their act together. Unlike you, they have no excuse to be so sloppy."

#

Hani stomped out of sight, then turned and made a rude gesture toward the busybodies. "Why do you care?" she said. As a designer of living things, Hani might have to deal with the likes of them for...

Well, how long would it be until the stars burned out?

Her comm pinged. Like most people, she had minimal implants, and instead wore her computer as jewelry. In her case she'd crafted hers into a bracelet of smooth bone. She waved the hand wearing it and a holographic interface appeared, showing Darok. He was just twenty-three, part of what all the old people called the New Canvas Generation. "Are you coming for the concert, Hani?"

"Oh, stars, I forgot."

"Thought so." Darok was classic elf: designed by his parents to be tall and wispy with cloven hooves and with leaves for hair. He'd been talking about changing into something totally different when he reached twenty-five, but for now he was focused on the band. "Can you be here in an hour?"

Hani was facing north toward the world's bow, the front of the great cylinder. She turned to face west, against the direction that the world spun. Here at the forest's edge she spotted a road of springy moss. It curved upward to a little stone maze, farther up past a lake, and still farther until it was vertical from where Hani stood. There, the town of Borlaug glittered.

She stretched her legs. "Yes. It'll be a fun challenge." She hung up and started running. Running a quarter-circle wasn't that hard. She was in broad daylight too. Since the sun shined onto half the world at a time, as long as Hani kept running west she'd never be in darkness.

She hardly saw anybody else, just a pair of Herd beasts eating grass without critiquing it and a bird-man chatting with them. She waved in passing. Then she reached the stone maze, artfully built to look like ruins. Maybe it was the ruin of something built last decade or century and left in pieces for style's sake. Amid the broken walls a pennant stood out, drawing her attention to a shrine of Aveire. Ah-vee-AIR, the Gardener of Worlds.

Hani wasn't technically obligated to stop, but it was bad form to pass a shrine without acknowledging it. She crept through rubble and knelt beside a tablet of pearl and circuitry, to bow her head.

"We thank you for this day. For the Void is dark, but there are bright gardens."

The shrine only chimed in the way it usually did. Hani stood, backed away, then began running again.

She reached Lake Mendel, and something splashed her legs. Hani looked down at a grinning dolphin peeking out of the water. It said, "Hi, Hani! Recognize me?"

"Um..."

It razzed her. "Yeah, I just changed last week. I was the tiger guy in class."

"Oh, with the neon tail? That was neat."

The dolphin showed off that he'd kept bioluminescent rings on his new body's tail. "Thanks. I'm getting into aqua-engineering for the new canvas. Thought about doing that too?"

"I haven't, but the plant project I'm doing is getting annoying. I just had a run-in with the Pruners."

Her classmate made a rude noise. "They don't like anything. Void take 'em."

"Yeah. I've got to run to band practice, but send me info on your project, all right?"

"See you!"

Hani still had time. She checked her sandals, left the dolphin behind and dashed onward, chasing the dawn. The humid lakeside air streamed around her and made trails of mist in a lowland. She passed an especially deep section where the water ran right down to the glassy Hull, a thought that made her shudder. Nothing but the diamondoid Hull plating between the depths and the Void. How did her dolphin friend stand being that far down?

She'd rounded nearly a quarter of the world's circle, into a forest. But then a wooden dart whipped through the air and struck her legs. Hani staggered and veered around one of the blue-leafed trees. "You people too?"

Hoots and whistles came from northward. She zigzagged, listening for footfalls and rustling branches. The dart hadn't hurt much. It was just blunt cork that dusted the impact point with powder. She didn't have time to be hunted today.

She kept close to her original path and dodged a pair of darts, jumped over a tripping vine, and ran right into another ambush. This time a gnoll dropped from the blue-leafed trees and tagged her with the blunt, padded end of a spear. "That's three hits! You lose."

The creature slouching in front of her was half hyena, half human, with toothy jaws and lolling tongue. She wore only a loincloth on her fur of brown and black. The pointed end of her spear was stained with real blood; they must've been hunting in earnest recently.

"Two!" Hani protested, backing away.

Behind her, another spear rapped her left shoulder and a hidden voice said, "Three."

The one in front said, "What should we do with her, boys? Sacrifice her to the Slayer, or make her fight that spiky beast we caught?"

Hani snorted. The first time she'd been captured by a gnoll tribe she'd really been scared, what with their talk about making her the main course at their feast, but they didn't mean it much. They always gave you the chance at a dramatic escape before being "used for dark rituals" or "ravished", unless you were into that. She'd never understood their weird games. "Guys, I'm busy now. There's a concert."

"Scowling Crom! The Slayer doesn't care about your appointments." More gnolls dropped from the branches to cackle at Hani. The line of dawn got farther and farther ahead of her; she was behind schedule.

She'd almost rather fool with this tribe. After two years of learning to play the tri-harp and sing, she was nowhere near as skilled as people who'd been at it for a century or more. Arguably she didn't even have the right arrangement of limbs. But her band was opening for a famous avian trio, Big Buteo, and there'd be a big audience... for the real band. And there to humor the amateur kids playing first. Hani grimaced.

But there was a way to get out of here and surprise the people who expected to be bored by her. "What if your tribe raided the concert instead?"

The gnoll leader tilted her head. "Where?"

"The city. Opening act is in about two hours."

"We haven't attacked a city in years! People will be gathered, distracted?" One of the other tribesmen started laughing, and that set them all off. The chief said, "Sure! It'll be fun. Run along."

Hani dashed out of her captors' circle, feeling like she'd done a wicked thing. But she had promised to hurry up and arrive, and now she'd be bringing more fans to the concert!

#

She'd run a quarter-circle around the world, which put the field of unfashionable grass behind her as though hanging on a vertical wall. Now the huge city of Borlaug -- over two thousand people! -- shined ahead. The buildings were living wood set with windows of golden amber. The few roads gleamed with a mosaic of multicolored wood lined with planters full of pawnflowers and violet amaranth. Hani pouted. "Purple is too an okay color this year."

The stadium had trees around it, several of which were people. She bowed by instinct to the tallest, Old Greenie, said to have been born human on distant Earth. The place had been set up for music today with a stage and curtains. Behind these, her bandmates were warming up. Hardly anyone but the trees was watching yet.

"Where were you?" said Darok the elf.

"I kept running into people, and there was a shrine and the Pruners, and..." She decided not to mention the last encounter. "I'm here."

She joined in on the tri-harp for practice. They were performing one of the old, old classics, the hymn composed by the first astronauts on Mars, but that would only take up the first hour and they'd wanted to do something new, too. So the others had written a song about the new canvas, the star system up ahead.

Soon it was time to go on stage. She looked out at a terrifyingly large crowd, thousands of people. Besides the trees and a pair of Herd beasts (who'd spread out so the Herd would hear in stereo) a good part of the city's population had turned out. So had people from faraway Watson-Crick and Galen, judging from their fancy ribbons and capes. Then Hani's bracelet chirped and she winced. She had a message from her parents, saying they were in the crowd too. She spotted the flame-hued bird fidgeting beside the quiet, fuzzy woman with flower garlands, and started to regret what was coming. A little. They'd be fine.

She strummed the strings, Darok did vocals and dance moves, and the others handled drums and synth and clarinet. Hani didn't envy her friend having to strut and pose for an hour while belting out lyrics about an ancient god in a land of rust. He was sweating, moving with grace, hair trailing behind him as he danced, so that she had to look away and make herself focus on her own playing. The audience listened politely even when she missed a note or the drummer's timing was off. A few people in the stands had animated scales that glowed different colors with the music, but otherwise no one reacted much. When the song ended they all stood up and took a bow and got some nice applause. The musicians retreated to rest before starting their second piece, the new one.

Backstage, the real band was warming up. Big Buteo's three bird-people had brilliant feathers of ruby and emerald and sapphire like living gemstones. They wore ornaments representing the three previous star systems they'd seen, watery Everblue and Vanaheim of the endless quests and then Draconis, of which people spoke little. The trio sang and played their cellos so that every note seemed meaningful. Hani felt she had too little experience to understand. She pictured a tall, beautiful castle that was shut against her.

Why do I even bother? she thought, glancing backward at the curtain. It was time to do her band's new song.

She stepped out to the stage, and then dozens of gnolls attacked. The raiders weren't many, but they made up for it in the noise and chaos of their yipping laughter. They leaped into the audience and grabbed people. Since this was happening without warning people fought back in a panicked flurry of punches and claws and the battering of wings and hooves and tails. The raiders used nets and ropes to kidnap people at random, dragging them away.

Hani and her bandmates stood there stupidly, with Darok asking, "Should we go fight?"

"Nah," said the drummer.

It was over in a minute. The gnolls retreated with a few captives, melting back into the nearby forest to do whatever it was they felt like this time. Several of them limped or had shed what they called honorable blood. Hani winced, looking out at the chaos in the stands. People were starting to settle down again. But an indignant and very tall green man stood up to say, "The concert will be delayed one hour while we get this problem settled."

Hani and her bandmates groaned, along with some of the audience. He had no right to stop the music, yet people were wandering off to go fight the gnolls or something. "Who's that guy anyway?" Hani asked.

The drummer said, "It's his arena."

"You can't own an arena. Let's start playing."

Darok sighed and ran his hands through his sweaty hair. "Forget it. We barely had enough time to do the whole song anyway, and we won't get people settled back in their seats in time. Let's just go. Damn gnolls. They even marked up the stage throwing their spears around."

The drummer looked at the white powder-marks from where enthusiastic tribesmen had missed people. "But none of them came anywhere near us..." He was staring now at the very similar mark on Hani's leg. "How'd that happen?"

"Uh? Lucky hit, I guess."

Darok said, "There's a good cafe nearby. Let's rest and eat."

They slinked away from the stadium, but the little restaurant was packed. "Maybe we can do the first half of the song?" Hani asked.

So they went back and performed with what time was available, but their hearts weren't in it and everybody who'd returned was there to see the real band. Hani stuck around to hear the bird trio afterward and came away thinking she'd never equal that.

#

After the concert, Hani hiked a few miles toward her home. The route spiraled up and southward, plunging her into night. Glowing flowers bloomed around her and bats crept in to browse them and eat the swarms of dancing firebugs. She found the road, a smooth-melted glassy lane of amber that was warm underfoot, and walked alone. Occasionally she made way for one of the scooters carrying people who didn't want to bother walking, or a Herd-drawn wagon with something heavy like the latest batch of potting soil. One of these unnerved her; it was full of obvious hard-tech machinery. "What's that?" she asked the twin beasts pulling it. The wagon bed held a spidery machine in glossy black speckled with bright points.

The Herd beasts mooed. The words "Maint droid," came from their implants, worn like collars. Or like rings on the fingers of one hand. What any one of the Herd thought, the rest knew.

Hani said, "I've never seen one like that before." She'd seen Aveire's drones before, reshaping the hills or maintaining the sun, but normally they were wreathed in vines or coral to hide the metal bones beneath. She thought of the field she'd once seen where all the dirt had been scraped away down to the hard, dead Hull, and of a bad gash she'd once had on her arm.

The beasts said, "It's for Engine work."

Now Hani shivered. Engines were huge machines that roared and burned with endless fury, and were safely tucked away where no one had to hear them. She thanked the beasts and they plodded onward.

Her three-story tower stood near the amber road, hidden by trees, with a field of shrubs she'd designed as part of her training. She picked a spicy-sweet orange fruit and walked inside. It was a modest home with few neighbors except a family that'd been together for ages, and the burrow of an eccentric artist with a very long-term project.

Hani's lower floor held an ugly ivory sculpture she ought to trash, a still with which she'd brewed mediocre beer, some plastic-sculpting equipment gathering dust, and other toys. She climbed the ladder up from the workshop to reach her bedroom. In here she had mementos visible from her bed of seashell and silk: a diamond crown, and a globe showing the red and green world of Mars that she'd never get to see. Hani bathed, making sure to get that white spot off her leg.

While she was sprawled in bed afterward, Darok called. She threw on a shirt and answered. The elven singer said, "So, today didn't go well."

"Yeah. There's always next concert though. When do you want to meet for practice again?"

Darok grimaced. "About that. Today you really weren't thinking about the band. And then... were there any other problems?"

Hani suppressed a wince. "Darok, I... ran into some gnolls. They caught me, and I would've missed the show unless I distracted them by suggesting another target."

"Stars! So it really was your fault. Hani, we missed our big chance to be springtime! Fans of Big Buteo were paying attention to the best new band in centuries --"

"We're not better than Gimcrack." That five-species band had peaked eighty years ago.

"But we could've been, and now we're just the opening act that got upstaged by a bunch of savages."

"I'm sorry, all right?" Though really, Hani didn't think much of her band's chances of becoming really famous, a group that'd be talked about for ages. But Darok cared, and that was enough to make her contrite. "Let's practice. When?"

"No. Just skip the next one, Hani. We'll let you know if we want to keep you on. I was thinking already about swapping out tri-harp for a cello player."

"What, you're ditching me? Let's meet up and talk about this in person. That cafe is probably quiet now."

Darok shook his head, saying "Some other time, maybe," in a tone that meant "never". He hung up.

Hani flopped backwards onto her pillow. "What next; is a glider going to fall on me?"

While she sulked, something tapped at the upper balcony door. Hani climbed up there and saw Blaze pecking the glass. She slid the door open for him.

Her father was a phoenix, standing only up to her chest level. His feathers were brilliant flame colors tinged blue at the tips and his long beak was coal-black as though singed. He dipped his head in greeting and said, "They caught you, and you sicced them on the concert because you were bored, didn't you?"

Hani groaned. "Did Darok tell you that?"

"I guessed it. When you were seventeen --"

"Yes, yes, the thing with the plague of crabs. Maia deserved every pincer-snap she got."

"Well, your lack of regret hasn't changed. May I come in?"

She left the balcony door open to the night. Blaze hopped onto the perch she kept for him, while she poured him juice from the fruit in her garden. "Darok and the others are kicking me out of the band."

Blaze squawked. "He's young and he's a fool to throw you away. Give him time to cool off. Stick with your music."

"Dad, I don't want to play in a band. I want to be a bio-engineer! Or something useful, anyway!"

"Art is useful, Hani. It keeps us sane out here."

"Out here?"

Blaze's caw of laughter was loud in the tower's lounge. "That's right; you've never seen a planet. Sometimes your mother and I forget."

"I've seen plenty of worlds in the sims."

"It's not the same. To have a planet in your talons..." Blaze shook his head. "But your rightful place is here. I earned that for you and I want you to enjoy it for a very long time." He hopped down from his perch and walked outside, beckoning Hani.

They stood on the balcony of Hani's tower, looking sternward at the long cylinder of the world. Its fields and forests and lakes and towns stretched around the sun, with so much free space that they could wander for miles and see a hundred places, then come back and help to redesign it all in some new style.

It was the world. It was the great starship, The Dream of Aveire.

My new novel "Thousand Tales" on Amazon: AI, transhumanism, transformation, and griffins.