Anthology Sample: “Swan Song”

 

Hello all. There’s plenty of things happening on the Anthology front! More authors, more contributions, and more final drafts being produced. As it happens, our good contributor and friend here, Melanie Edmonds, has just finished work on her story “Swan Song”. This is the third installment in Part II of the anthology, which deals with the final mission of the Colony Ships.

The story takes place roughly 100 years after Planetfall is made, when the Avincenna, Taftazani, and Kashani delivered the first wave of colonists to Yuva. Those who crewed them have lived a comparatively empty existence ever since, being unable to live planetside due to the intense gravity and finding little else of value to do since.

Edmonds take us into the world of these people and inside the ships as they perform their final duty to the colony and embrace their destiny. Here is the first section of the story, fresh from the digital press!

They say there is a swan that is silent for its whole life. It grows and loves and does all the swan-like things, but it does not utter a sound. Then, the moment before it dies, it opens its throat, and not even the vacuum of space can swallow the beauty of its song.

*          *          *          *

[The image broadcast across the Yuva networks is dominated by the great globe of her sun, Gliese 581. Nearing the glow, three shapes track slowly and majestically. Their silhouettes are familiar, for they are the great colony ships.]

[Transmission Voiceover]

“It has been ten years since we arrived here. Ten years since we slowed our ships and woke our children. Ten years since we put a stake in this planet and said, ‘this is our new home’. This is Yuva.”

*          *          *          *

Avicenna, Bridge
Gliese 581 – 20 minutes

“Final corrections made. We’re on approach vector.” Pilot Gnana Tanaq slid her hands off the controls. This is the last time I’ll do this, she thought. “Inertia will carry us in, now.”

The first time she touched the console, her hands were smooth and soft, barely out of puberty. Now, sixty-four years later, they were wrinkled and worn, though they still curled around the grips easily. Just as she had worn shiny spots into the plastic, so the grips had worn her hands into control-friendly curves. Pilots’ claws, some people called them. She bore hers proudly.

Behind her, she felt Jackson sigh and loosen his grip on his console. “So, that’s it, then.”

“Yup.”

“How long?”

Gnana glanced down at the readouts scrolling before her. “Not long. Twenty minutes, maybe, depending on how quickly the gravity pulls us in.” She turned her chair so she could see him. “You’re the navigator, though.”

Jackson didn’t even bother to check his readings. He shrugged. “Sounds right.”

She smiled at him, dark skin crinkling around her eyes. “I know, I know: it goes against everything you believe in to navigate purposefully into something.”

He wrinkled his nose and his moustache twitched. “I keep wanting to tell you to alter course. Can’t help it.”

Gnana laughed softly, but there was no real humour in it. The forward viewports were unshuttered and Gliese 581 filled the entire window. Its orange glow lit the Bridge as if it was already on fire.

With a sigh, she unclipped the tether that held her to the chair and pushed over to where Jackson floated. She covered his hand with hers and his head dipped slightly in acknowledgement. The sunlight was turning his hair red, like it had been years ago. Gnana used to joke that he was the whitest man she’d ever met, so pale he wasn’t even freckled. Like her, he’d spent his whole life in space behind radiation shielding; his skin had never felt the real touch of a sun. Another twenty minutes would change that.

She turned her attention forward. It was hard to look at the Bridge now; it wasn’t the home she had known anymore. She had expected memories to crowd in here, but instead, all she saw was gaps. The holes where missing stations once were: communications, cryonics, long-range sensors. The stripped-down environmental console and the bare patches of decking where chairs used to be; the only one remaining was hers, because the pilot still needed it for this final journey. Even navigation was stripped down.

This room used to be busy with bodies, full of shifting console displays and the shadows of the crew. Now, it was just her and Jackson.

Gnana glanced sideways and saw Jackson frowning. “Still angry that he chose not to come?” She didn’t have to say who she meant; he knew.

Jackson’s expression scrunched down. “His place is here.”

“It was his choice.” Gnana’s tone was non-committal; in truth, she wasn’t sure what she thought about the captain’s decision.

Three days ago, she had agreed with Jackson: the captain was a coward who refused the honourable path. They had all known this was a likely end to this journey when they signed on, but he had chosen to stay on the orbital platforms, training the colonists in… she wasn’t even sure what.

Then, the night before they departed on their final voyage, she had seen the captain at a bar. It was the only time in her life she had ever seen him drunk, and it wasn’t pretty. He had slurred goodbye to her and hugged her – hugged her – and she had seen it in his eyes. It tore him up to deny his duty but he wasn’t ready to stand on his ship and sail into the sun for the last time; there was still living left for him to do.

She couldn’t begrudge him that. He was younger than the other captains, though his time commanding the Avicenna meant he would never be able to step foot on the planet below. The toll of space on bones and organs meant the gravity would kill him, slowly and painfully. But he could have a life on the orbital platforms, maybe even lead the colonial effort the way he had led the ship.

She had considered staying too, but the only position open for her was as a shuttle pilot. It wasn’t anything like flying the Avicenna, though, and even a short atmospheric stay caused her pain. The last time, she’d had a bone-deep ache for two weeks afterwards, making her hands shake so badly that she couldn’t fly at all.

Besides, she was tired. This was her last flight, and it seemed fitting to her that it was with her baby, her ship, the machine that spoke to her through her hands on its controls.

With a sigh, she lifted her gaze to the sun burning before them.

“Look on the bright side,” she said to Jackson without looking. “Maybe you’ll finally get a tan.”

And that’s from Part II of the novel, so suffice it to say, we’re making headway! Stay tuned for more!

 

4 thoughts on “Anthology Sample: “Swan Song”

    1. Wait til you read the last line:
      “There is no such thing as a silent swan. They hiss all through their lives, and at the end, there is no song to carry them away. They live and they love and they die, just like other swans. Just like all of us.”

      Huh? Isn’t she great?

  1. I loved this. Melanie did such an awesome job. The emotions come through in living color and I love everyone of these characters already. I feel for the captain, knowing a dangerous painful death is imminent and yet hoping for more life. How absolutely heart-rending. I agree with Writerlicious. This does have a poetic quality to it.

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