When Cindy invited me to be a guest on her blog, I wished I had a steampunk subject to talk about. I keep my “George the Dog” magnet front and center on my refrigerator, right next to my grandson’s rendering of a fierce blue shark! But alas, I write mostly paranormal romance set in ancient Egypt and science fiction romance set in the far future.
(LOL. Doesn't she know Cindy loves paranormal romance? and SF romance? Grin. It's all good.)
Ah ha, wait a minute, I thought – my science fiction novel WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM is loosely based on the sinking of the Titanic, maybe there’s an interesting steampunk tie in there. But a moment or two of research was enough to tell me Titanic, steam powered though she was, comes too late in the day for steam punk. The closest I came to anything Titanic-related crossed with steampunk was a watch made for last year’s 100th anniversary of the sinking, made to look steampunk (it was cool, each one contained a tiny rusted piece from the ship), a blog about airships and a 1920’s costume on eBay someone was trying to sell by attaching the surefire tags “steampunk” and “Titanic”. I spent an interesting hour going down research rabbit holes on details about the Titanic’s engines, which were HUGE, and some related stuff…we writers are notorious for disappearing into the thickets of fascinating research, only to emerge hours later, in proud possession of facts that have nothing to do with what we were first looking for.
The Nebula Dream starship in my novel is equipped with the newest engines and related technology available but also designed by her builders to have many retro elements, including an Observation Deck with charming benches. As my main character Nick notes at one point, “SMT's decorators had obviously not anticipated any passengers wanting to stay too long, gazing up at the marvels of the Observatory. A self-fulfilling prophecy, because the damn benches were totally uncomfortable for prolonged sitting.” A certain amount of the action during the Nebula Dream’s hours of crisis takes place in this area but Nick’s been there before, in a more peaceful moment, which I’ll share in this excerpt:
…Intrigued, Nick decided to explore, following a narrow corridor, then up a winding staircase, all metal and wood anachronism. Wherever else SMT might have cut corners or scrimped on costs, they certainly have been lavish with the elements of the retro decor, at least on this level of the ship. As he climbed the last risers of the staircase, Nick stopped short. He was rarely astonished by anything after all his years in the service, but the builders of the Nebula Dream had created a breathtaking illusion that on this wooden deck, one was standing completely exposed to the starry heavens.
Slowly, Nick came up the final five stairs and walked away from the elaborate wrought iron guardrail, staring at blazing constellations of stars.
"Amazing, is it not?" came a woman's voice from the far side of the Observatory. The tone was husky, faintly amused.
Surprised at himself, Nick wheeled reflexively. How did I fail to notice I wasn’t alone? Inattention could get a man killed in his line of work. Lucky for him, attack and assassination were not too probable on this luxury liner.
Despite her alluring voice, his anonymous companion proved to be elderly, her pale white skin translucent. Huge blue eyes glowed in the semi dark, like a Terran feline's would. Dressed completely in black, she wore layer upon layer of elegant, expensive black lace to the floor, subtly patterned with tiny diamonds and other gemstones he didn’t recognize. Her left hand was curled tightly around a massive carved ebony walking stick, inlaid with silver runes. At its top was an enameled knob, some kind of picture painted in delicate tones on ivory. Her hand obscured the details of the artwork. She was seated on a bench, a shawl lying carelessly draped beside her.
And she was unmistakably a native of the planet Mellure.
Realizing he was staring rudely, Nick belatedly saluted her.
"Very proper, indeed," she said, with only a simple nod, as befitted her far superior rank in the galactic order of things. "You’ve been to my home world?"
"No, my lady, I was raised from the age of nine at the Star Guard Orphanage, which is visited from time to time by Mellurean consultants." Nick hesitated. Entranced though he was with the Observatory, he didn't wish to intrude on her. It was folly to intrude on a Mellurean. "I’ll leave you to your contemplations, madame. Unless you’d like me to stand guard while you’re here? Ensure your privacy?"
"Outstandingly proper," she complimented him again, her voice warmer. "No, stay and enjoy the scene with me." Patting the empty area of the bench beside her, she moved the shawl aside. It fell to the deck in a shimmering cascade of ebony silk. "You may sit, if you would like."
Nick walked to her but declined the invitation to sit. Picking up the shawl, he carefully set it on the bench. Standing with his head thrown back, staring up at the astounding array of stars, he chuckled. "Either this ship is wildly off course, or else you’ve been influencing the AI ganglion in charge of this chamber."
"And why would you make such an accusation?" She tilted her head with the coyness of a woman two thirds her age and gave him a half smile.
"Because that star is Mellure," he said, pointing at the brightest light pulsing directly above them, "and her attendant twelve planets. And as they are firmly located in Sector Seven, while we’re cruising through Sector Sixteen, this is not a possibility."
She laughed outright now, her amusement rich and genuine. "I doubt anyone else would have caught the change. I am Lady Damais Niklaeson.” She introduced herself as if it were a reward for his cleverness. “Yes, I’ve tweaked the stellar display of which SMT is so proud."
"Captain Nicholas Jameson, Sectors Special Forces, at your service,” he said. “Since there’s nothing to actually see in hyperspace, I don’t think anyone could be much offended by your superior choice of stars and planets for their faux observatory." Being careful not to exert too much force, Nick took the slender, warm hand she extended to him and shook it. She seemed fragile, not well. Something in the lines of her face hinted at pain held at bay with great deliberation and effort. "Mellure is certainly a beautiful star. Its lavender flares are so rare, indeed, unequalled in the galaxy, as far as I know."
But when he would have released her hand promptly, as etiquette demanded, her fingers curled around his and she stared up at him. "Nicholas, you say? And I am of the House of Niklaeson."
"An odd coincidence,” he agreed with a smile.
"Perhaps." Now she did relinquish his hand, without further comment on their names. "I have a feeling most of the passengers on board this great, racing vessel could care less about the stars we pass on our journey. The AI tells me SMT is already talking of converting this space for the next run, either to expand the casino, or cabins. Something revenue producing, at any rate. Pity." She stared wistfully at the representation of her home sun, blazing fiercely above them, as if she could bask in its warmth. Nick saw her shiver slightly, but nevertheless, the elderly woman refused the shawl when he would have draped it over her thin shoulders against the drafts.
"I don't think SMT quite knows what to do with this ship," Nick said. He told a fascinated Lady Damais about the half finished gym on the Fourth Level, and the advertised, but missing, amenities on Level Five. "A bit rushed at completion, I guess. They must have prioritized some things and hoped to satisfy the majority of their passengers."
"Neither of us is exactly their target demographic, I’m sure." Damais agreed with his underlying assumption. "Nor are they my choice of companions, either. I venture to assume you feel the same?"
The face of Mara Lyrae flashed through his mind briefly. She’d be on my short list, my very short list, if I was choosing companions. Then Nick shook his head ruefully, recognizing the improbability of any further encounters with the elusive Ms. Lyrae. “I’m more used to traveling on a military ship, among my own kind."
"And I with my own people, when I have to travel at all."
WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM, a 2013 SFR Galaxy Award winner, is available from Smashwords , Amazon for the kindle and Barnes & Noble for the Nook
Also available from Amazon a as trade paperback $5.99 here
Audiobook, narrated by Actor Michael Riffle – Available Now at Amazon and iTunes
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