About HOUSES OF COMMON: In the 22nd century, pilgrims leave Earth for the nearby planets that terraformers have crafted to meet their needs. Ranyk is a smart-mouthed alien, the best of the world-builders employed by the US government--and he always completes his risky assignments solo, pushing to the deep recesses of space for the good of colonists and to avoid his growing fame.
Until he's handed an on-planet assignment in Ireland, of all places, as an undercover international student of aquaponics. His real plan? To pull scientists and their families out of a country careening toward civil war--and off earth to a world of their own before marital-law lockdown ends their ground-breaking discoveries.
Risking his life is no novelty for Ranyk. He's been battered by asteroids, nearly incinerated in volcanoes, and has out-piloted pirates. But political espionage on Earth is more dangerous that anything he's encountered before, and he's completely ill-equipped for such delicate matters. Now he must figure out who to trust and who to eliminate, or it will mean his freedom, the safety of forty thousand desperate colonists, and the lives of his friends.
About Derick William Dalton: Mr. Dalton is a professional student who has taken an occasional hiatus for such frivolities as teaching high school science, residential construction, and treating patients as a physician assistant. When not speaking of himself in the third person, he hangs out with his wife and kids and a smart-mouth turtle. He's also planning a mountain biking trip on the moon.
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Hi everyone, I’m Derick William Dalton. I'm one of those people who had “what I want to be when I grow up” all planned out. Problem is, I haven't grown up yet. In the meantime, I've been a high school science teacher and spend my current days as a physician assistant.
Ms. Swinton invited me to post an excerpt of my novel Houses of Common, now available on Amazon and CreateSpace. A sci-fi thriller with a literary twist, I hope you enjoy a glimpse into one of the characters. Sckiik is a female alien, former Virginia State Patrol officer, and current head of security for her species’ embassy to the United States. With intelligence indicating an assassination attempt on the Ambassador, Sckiik blasts into space, tailing the Ambassador's ship for protection.
One more hit like that and I'm dust.
Sckiik’s sensors indicated she only had a few moments as the assassin’s third missile approached. She tried venting compressed cockpit oxygen to alter her course, but the valve wouldn't respond. She hit the emergency fire suppression system in the instrument panel, hoping the argon foam might leak out the damaged nosecone and push her out of the way. Instead, the panel shorted out right in her face with a flash of sparks and smoke. With two seconds to spare, Sckiik tried her last plan.
Sckiik set off one more reactor burn to increase speed. Then she punched out, the ejection charge blowing her clear of the drone-turned-missile. The assassins' missile was on course, but the energy plating held again despite the detonation.
Sckiik had a spectacular view of the collision between her drone and the assassin ship. The ejection had started the drone in an end-over-end tumble, as she had hoped. It was perpendicular to the ship when they met, and Sckiik watched as it neatly bisected the entire assassin vessel, atmosphere pouring and crystallizing out the halves now spinning in opposite directions. The drone was reduced to metal droplets, vaporized on impact and creating a cone of sparkles along what would have been its path.
“That's my art. Wish I had a brush to sign it.”
Sckiik looked as long as she could before the destructive beauty of high-speed collision shrank into the distance. Her victory would have to be fully celebrated later. Her next concern was traveling through space at nearly a hundred kilometers per second, with only a thin vacsuit and her exoskeleton protecting her. Checking the equipment at her belt, she grabbed for her vectoring gun, but realized its uselessness. Its emission of compressed air could alter her direction or double as an emergency respiration supply, but it would not be enough to stop her. A few silent blue explosions erupted from the assassin vessel, but it all vanished into the distance before she could relocate the Ambassador's ship. Glancing over her shoulder, she was grateful for the initial heading she'd taken, as she would be more likely to orbit the moon at least once than to collide with it or shoot past.
Has anyone ever made a lunar orbit in a vacsuit? I'm making history. Except officially I was never here.
The novelty of her accomplishment wore off as the seriousness of her predicament sunk in. If the Ambassador's ship didn't come for her, her only hope was to be detected in lunar orbit. That wasn't likely. She was in a higher orbit than the satellites, and their sensors would be pointed at the surface. The few facing out to track incoming ships were probably not calibrated for an object as small and cold and nonmetallic as a female Rildj flailing through the void.
Flinging out a leg, she started a slow rotation to prevent one side of her vacsuit from taking too much radiation from the sun. The stars circled in front of her, the moon just peeking into the periphery of her sight as it looped about, and she felt like the center of the universe.
Seeing the stars from a ship is one thing, but this is a perspective like no other. Maybe not worth the risk of death, but what a way to go out.
From within sprouted infrequent but familiar memories. Sckiik as a child, gazing from the Kyrnact, trying in her small mind to perceive the universe. The experience often unfolded as an internal battle. But the rising hopelessness and terror at facing the vast void would lose out to the beauty of it, a calm reassurance from some unseen source washing away fear. She remembered wondering if the sensation was the god or gods humans spoke of, something or someone unseen but felt in moments of quiet reflection. Or was the calm a neurochemical effect, a protection from depression or insanity when having one's insignificance contrasted with the infinity of the universe?
Sckiik found truth in them both. It wasn't unusual among Rildj to hold some belief in the supernatural, but even the particularly religious she knew wouldn't be considered so by human standards. “If we have an official religion,” she had once been told, “one worships by living and living well.” But the explanation felt hollow and forced when feeling very small yet very watched in the expanse of the galaxy. Living, living well, and being looked after.
There was another place, too, in which she had that sense. Sckiik was still working out why certain worship rituals felt the same as the Kyrnact viewport of her childhood, and she pondered it weekly.
Surrounded by women in dresses and men in neckties, her calmness was dulled slightly by self-consciousness. Her vacsuit looked very out of place, but Sckiik could only imagine how much more awkward she would appear in similar dress, even if by some miracle none of it caught on her spines. She wondered at first how uncomfortable others might feel due to her presence; a science-fiction monster, perhaps shorter and with fewer appendages than in movies, but still sitting right next to them singing about Jesus.
Each time she had changed jobs and moved, Sckiik was surprised more people didn't hide their children, and only a few times did someone move to a different pew. She had sensed a pattern after seeing a few congregations in action and could usually pick out the players on day one. There was always the careful avoidance of eye contact from a person or two, indignant she would dare by her very existence to contradict their personal interpretation of the first few pages of Genesis. Sometimes she'd hear comments about her species' cultural lack of theism, an ironically arrogant statement of human spiritual superiority. Someone, usually a young man who had interest in the ministry, would take it upon himself to instruct her at length, quoting verses to excess, about the basics of Christianity. She would parry the patronization into awkward silence with a flirtatious comment. Stares from the adolescent kids were followed by whispered conversations with their parents, asking permission to hear about alien physiology parlor tricks and starship piloting adventures. She could usually get away from that mob if she sat in the back close to the door.
Mostly, though, the pattern was pleasant. Without fail, some family would ask Sckiik to dinner, then hesitatingly, sometimes fearfully, ask about her diet. More people made her feel welcome than not. There was discomfort from those experiencing something new, she had sensed that plainly. But underlying it was a friendliness enough to make her feel welcomed.
Last week had been her first time attending church in D.C. Sckiik had arrived as it was starting, and she pulled off the faceplate of her vacsuit as she entered. She felt distanced enough from everyone without two centimeters of polycarbonate between them. Wearing it in front of others also felt like hiding, as if she were covering something up, preventing someone from reading her. Not that humans could. It also made her feel penitent, trusting; exposing herself to discomfort for the sake of worship. That first day she had sat in the back, sharing a hymnal with a boy of about nine. Until Sckiik sat next to him, he had looked penitent and trusting. Now his expression was somewhere between horror and awe, sitting next to someone from another planet.
Afterward, the minister had approached her as the congregation milled around the pews conversing. The nine-year-old still sat with a stunned look on his face, oblivious to anything but Sckiik. She noted the volume of nearby conversations decrease, and some sideways glances from those too shy or disturbed by her presence to initiate a conversation but too curious to go about their business. Sckiik took no offense. Here were people who made efforts with varying success to be there for others, the better part of human nature. If part of that nature included a fascination with the unusual, Sckiik wasn't one to complain. That same fascination had prompted her to remain on Earth to become a police officer fourteen years ago.
“Good morning, I'm Reverend Garrett.” He stuck his hand out in greeting, then hesitated, a hint of worry between his eyebrows. Sckiik had seen it before, the sudden question of her anatomical or cultural ability to shake hands and the sudden realization at such close proximity this was, indeed, an alien from another planet. That centuries of scientific and religious debate about life on other planets were over, the proof staring him in the face. She quickly put him at ease with a quick grip of her gloved, three-fingered hand.
“Sckiik,” she replied. “Nice to meet you. Do you have a moment?”
“I do. Let's talk in my office.”
Sckiik had followed Reverend Garrett through the foyer as eyes followed her.
What had it taken last time, two months? Not a very long time to become accustomed to an interstellar Gentile.
“You'll forgive me if I'm awkward,” Reverend Garrett began, sitting not behind his desk but beside it. “I've never met anyone from Rildj before, much less been their minister. Let me know if I commit a faux pas.” He smiled, the wrinkles around his eyes becoming more visible next to the salt-and-pepper hair of his temples.
“You'd be surprised how hard that is to do. Consider the vacsuit my Sunday best, and I'll try not to poke holes in the seats,” she said, moving her elbow to accentuate the spine there. She noted his effort in maintaining eye contact, his focus wandering to her alien form. Her acknowledgment of differences gave him permission to do the same.
“It seems you have it figured out,” he replied, nodding toward her legs, lower knees tucked under the seat and to the back, the three-toed boots barely protruding from underneath. “What did you want to discuss?” he asked, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. Sckiik could tell he was uncomfortable despite his outward friendliness. She wondered if the cause was her physical presence or what she imagined was the worst part of being in the clergy: worrying what kind of confession was about to come out.
“I'm sure Reverend Holman told you I was coming and probably mentioned our conversations.”
“So you know I've always worked law enforcement and security jobs. They sometimes get violent.”
“You inflicting violence on others, you mean.”
“Yes. To keep it away from the innocent.”
Reverend Garrett was calm, obviously not surprised. “So tell me what makes you uncomfortable about it.”
“You're not uncomfortable with the violence?”
“No. Not at all.”
Now he was not so calm. “Is this why we're talking?”
“I've killed twenty-six people. It's a huge thou-shalt-not, but most people aren't too concerned about military and police service exceptions. Including me. My worry is a lack of remorse. I don't feel it like human cops.”
Garret was silent for a heartbeat. “This is new for me. Is that a typical number?”
She shook her head. “I am good at what I do. I volunteer for assignments where I'm most likely to draw my weapon. I wonder if it's a natural inclination to my strengths. To protect others from dangerous situations. Or if I'm developing an enjoyment.”
Reverend Garrett sat for a moment. “So this is about motivation more than action.”
Sckiik wondered to herself, as she had when meeting other ministers, why she was so open with a stranger, why it was more comforting for her to talk than not. On the first day of meeting this man she was enlisting him in her most personal of struggles. “Yes. Being versus doing.”
“The line between those,” he said with a sigh, “is a centuries-old debate and no small area of contention among scholars and priests. But to be honest, their decisions don't usually translate well into personal life.”
“What does translate well?”
“I've always felt intentions are as important as actions relative to living as we ought.” He leaned forward in his seat. “You wouldn't be talking to me—you wouldn't have talked to others—if the well-being of those around you didn't matter, or if you didn't have at least some belief in the first place.”
“Belief in what? Goodness in general, mine in particular? Or are you speaking more broadly, about belief in the existence of God?”
“It's my understanding there is very little organized religion on your home world.”
“That's true,” Sckiik said, unsure where he was leading.
“Then what happened to you? You feel and act differently. Something made you wonder about your behavior and the motivations behind them. I suspect there is a connection between that event and the answer to your current question.”
Houses of Common is available on the Kindle here.
Amazon also has the paperback version, but use this $4 coupon code (APSQBFT8), and it’s cheaper from CreateSpace.
Feel free to write a review, as I’m always up for feedback. To keep apprised of new projects, visit my turtle’s website, ShellyTheBoxTurtle.blogspot.com.
Thanks, Ms. Swinton. Random on!