My entry for The Domestic Fringe’s Fiction Friday. I figured I’d post the first chapter of Highsong.
The Trellia had a song all its own. Harp heard it.
The science-vessel’s twin engines cutting through light years of space sent an imperceptible hum through the structure. Sometimes he rested his hands against metal just to feel it. It was comforting, like the ship was alive, and protective. But that was the sort of stupid thing everyone on the ship would expect from a thirteen-year-old boy. So he kept his mouth shut, especially when he was in the intern’s bay listening to the jokes and conversations of xenobiology and xenogenology students ten years his senior.
He lifted his hands away from the Trellia’s soothing cadence.
Lightning pain flashed up his skull. He winced and ran a careful hand over the back of his head, feeling the restraining bolts there. The smooth plates hid long needles, anchored by a halo of metal that ran to his forehead, which fed a steady stream of paralyzing sedatives into his lower brain. The needles stung if he moved his head too fast, and sometimes his heartbeat made them throb.
He sighed, straightened the Braille generators on his wrists, and tried to get back to work. The generators picked up the digital readouts of the displays and created somatosensory signals. Running his hands over the smooth display panels felt like touching small bumps of Braille.
Thoughts from the other interns began to rise and fade in his mind. His restraining halo beeped a warning of a change in brainwave activity. He knew why the Risen called the sensation “mindsong”. The outside thoughts leapt, wild and dissonant, threatening to catch Harp up in rhythms of thought that weren’t his. His head ached with every chord.
He pressed his hands against the metal edge of the table. The Trellia’s own song enveloped him, driving away the chaos. He needed rhythm, constant cadence, be it psychically or chemically induced. His headache eased. His restraining bolt gave a two-note beep, indicating a return to stable patterns.
“Hey, kid, move, will you? We need this panel for our calculations.”
Harp turned his face, frowning. He recognized intern Ress’s voice; he heard him direct that cold arrogance towards his peers all the time.
“Ress!” Another voice, female and shocked. Maya had a nervous tremor that came out when she presented a finding or confronted someone. “Be nice to him!” She dropped her voice to a whisper she thought Harp couldn’t hear. “He’s blind.”
Harp twisted his lips and swiveled his chair to face them. “The Captain sent me here to help you, you know.”
Ress snorted. “Really? Because it’s so helpful of you to sulk over here, hogging a panel we need, and working on … oh! Trajectory calculations for cargo ships.” His voice turned mocking. “With all this complicated math, I can see why you couldn’t be doing this in your personal quarters.”
Harp bit down on a flash of irritation. His mother, Captain Cait Hess, had urged him to go among the others instead of hiding in his room. If he didn’t behave, it would mean an extra lecture from Lieutenant Locuxu. “You haven’t told me what you’re working on, but—”
“We’re attempting to simulate a stable planet as a control group, so that when we arrive on the rim world Ptaal our comparative readings will be accurate,” Maya said gently.
Harp bristled at her. “I know what a comparative simulation is!”
Ress snorted. “Look, can you just get out of the way? You can’t do what we can do; it takes years to learn the kind of stuff we know, all right?”
“I can do whatever you can,” Harp said with molten calm.
His heart pounded. He hated it when people thought being blind meant he was stupid. Before Ress could answer, Harp swung back to the readout panels and opened his mind to Ress’s mindsong.
The knowledge wasn’t much. Harp’s mathematics outstripped Ress’s; it was the specifics of the simulation Harp lacked. But he knew it now, as his fingers blurred over the readouts.
Maya gasped. “What’s he doing? Ress! He’s building it!”
Ress’s could only sputter in reply. Harp knew the simulated planet was rising out of the holographic displays in the center of the room. He spun the data built by the interns into the final build, correcting a few equations here and patching an algorithm there. His mind roared, blazing with the energy of two minds. His head, normally so heavy with the weight of the metal halo, sang light and free.
The other interns exclaimed in astonishment.
“Look, the magnetic core of the planet is stable now! How’d he do that?”
“Our weather patterns are fixed!”
“I bet that threw off all sorts of things.”
Harp finished, sending a copy of the file to his personal log to review later. He couldn’t even smirk in triumph before pain exploded behind his eyes.
“It’s beautiful.” Maya sounded surprised.
“Wh-what did you do?” Ress said. “Download me?”
Harp choked, feeling a warm trickle of blood from his nose before his spine spasmed. His halo emitted a shrill note of alarm. Panic seized Harp. He couldn’t hear anything but the roaring in his ears, or feel anything but pain. He fell, or was falling.
No real thoughts anymore. Just bursts.