So, it turns out that Amazon has their own sci-fi publishing venture, 47North, supported by none other than mega-auther Neil Stephenson. They accept unsolicited manuscripts, so I’ve decided to revisit Reckless Faith and The Tarantula Nebula. I may submit both books as a single volume this time, as I believe the story has a better chance of being accepted in this format. My first effort at a new edit is a rework of the opening scene for Reckless Faith. It’s a flash-forward, snipped from later in the story, meant to bring an element of mystery into the story immediately.
October 6, 2003
It was a beautiful early fall night in Chelsea, and the man in the black trenchcoat wasn’t looking forward to another disaster. He stood on the edge of an ancient wooden pier, looking downward into a dark river. A crisp but gentle breeze passed through his slightly graying hair, and he sighed, hoping fervently for a quick resolution. So far, it didn’t seem likely, and he had a five-alarm headache that seemed immune to aspirin.
Thirty feet away, a looming metal monstrosity, barely recognizable as the ship that it once was, jutted from beneath the calm waters. Behind him, a small army had descended on the pier, ready for anything from a catastrophic accident to a terrorist attack. Already, a small rowboat was on its way back from the wreckage, manned by two Massachusetts State Troopers. They tossed up a line to a few of their colleagues, then carefully handed them what looked like a sheet of metal. The man in black approached them, making sure his ID was visible on the cord around his neck. He located the highest ranking cop within the group and got his attention.
“Trooper, I’m Major Devonai of the Central Intelligence Agency. I hear you’re missing a boat or two.”
The man, who wore the rank of sergeant, looked at him with barely concealed surprise. “The CIA? What’s your interest in this?”
“We have a field office quite near here. We’re authorized to respond to unusual incidents.”
“How come I haven’t heard of it before?” asked the sergeant, scrutinizing Devonai’s ID card.
Devonai cocked his head slightly. “Very unusual incidents.”
“Well, whatever,” he replied. “If you’re local then you should already know what this was. The USS Portland, a Navy cruiser, decommissioned in 1994 and left here in mothballs. There was nothing of value, so they only had one night watchman. He was asleep when it happened.”
“What do think happened?”
“I don’t know. We got a report of an extremely loud crash by nearby residents. When local law enforcement arrived, this was all that was left.”
The trooper handed Devonai the piece of metal. It was far too light for normal steel. Devonai tried to bend the sheet and it broke into several pieces.
“What the hell? It feels like a tortilla shell.”
“We’re planning on putting some divers into the water for a closer look,” the trooper said, pointing to a van parked nearby. “I don’t know about you but this looks like the practical joke of the century.”
“You think somebody made off with the ship and left this stuff behind as a joke? You don’t just turn a key and drive off a two thousand ton ship, you know.”
“I know that,” said the sergeant, annoyed.
“Well, go ahead and put your divers into the water. Be careful. Meanwhile, I need to meet with your field commander.”
“That’s Lieutenant Bradley, over there.”
Devonai walked a few yards to where the austere lieutenant was standing. He displayed his ID to the tall, thin-faced man.
“Lieutenant, I’m Major Devonai with the CIA. I’ve been asked by the DIA to start up a preliminary investigation into the disappearance of the Portland.”
“News travels fast, I see. I’m Lieutenant Bradley. I just got briefed on your new field office last week. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Actually, we’ve been here for a few years now. Anyway, I’d like to set up a command post.” Devonai pointed at a nearby building. “Let’s see if we can gain access to that structure. We’ll work out of the first floor. Until then, my Humvee will be the CP. I also need you to make sure that the local police department understands the sensitivity of this situation. Everyone here is being exposed to information that will without a doubt be classified.”
Bradley nodded. “I understand.”
“Nobody leaves this pier without being debriefed by a member of my staff. My guys are wearing woodland camo. I need to know how many officers are involved and I need a list of their names.”
“Good. Now then, are they any witnesses to what happened?”
“Not that we know of. The security guard was asleep. There aren’t any residences within the line of sight from the pier. Anybody who saw what happened would have had to have been on the river or on the pier. According to the responding officers, the pier was deserted, other than our somnambulistic caretaker.”
“Okay. Send your guys over to the gate now, I don’t want anybody slipping by and leaking information to the press. I want every person and every vehicle accounted for. So far we have what, the Chelsea Police Department and the State Police here?”
“Yeah. There’s also some scientists that showed up just before you did.”
Devonai looked surprised. “Scientists? From where?”
“SETI, I think. They’re over there in that Bronco.”
“What the hell is SETI doing here?”
Bradley shrugged. “I don’t know. Why not ask them?”
“I’ll do that. Are my instructions clear, Lieutenant?”
Devonai nodded. He walked briskly over to the Bronco. There were two occupants, a bearded male and a demure female with light brown hair. They looked anxious at his approach. Devonai walked up to the driver.
“I’m Major Kyrie Devonai. Who are you guys?”
The man spoke, attempting to sound casual. “Hi. I’m Levi Marks, and this is Dana Andrews. We’re with the American Space Transmissions Research Association.”
“ASTRA? I’ve never heard of it.”
The woman chimed in. “It’s like SETI, but without the money.”
Devonai felt like miners were tap-dancing on his head with lead shoes. “What are you doing here?”
“What exactly is going on here, Major?” asked Marks.
“I’ll ask the questions for now, if you don’t mind.”
“Okay. We’ve been tracking a signal of interest. We haven’t been able to identify it, and it’s been moving all over the place over the past couple of days. We finally got a strong hit on these coordinates.”
“What do you mean, a strong hit? What kind of signal are we talking about?”
“A repeating waveform with distinctive patterns,” said Andrews. “The kind of thing ASTRA is looking for all the time. This one originated in lower orbit and ended up here.”
“Are you sure?” asked Devonai.
“Quite sure,” said Marks. “We’ve been crunching the numbers from three different locations. Almost all of our staff is working on this one.”
Devonai put his hands on his hips. “Well, there’s been a major incident here. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You’ll have to do your scientific readings somewhere else.”
Marks smiled. “You’re sure you can’t give us a hint of what’s going on?”
Devonai smiled back wanly. “I’m quite sure.”
“All right. Sorry to bother you. I guess we’ll hear about it on the morning news.”
“Probably.” Devonai keyed his radio. “Richter, this is Devonai. Please inform the gate that we have one vehicle, a Ford Bronco, with permission to exit the site. It’s heading out now, over.”
“Roger out,” said the radio.
“Have a nice day,” said Devonai.
Levi turned on the Bronco, put it in gear, and pulled away. Devonai headed back over to the CP. Richter, the picture of a professional soldier, was waiting for him. The younger man was wearing a camo field jacket devoid of any name tapes or patches, and a black watch cap.
“Divers are in the water, sir,” he said.
Richter gestured toward the gate. “Who were those guys?”
Devonai put his head in his hand and took a deep breath. “Just scientists out for an evening drive. They don’t know anything.”
Ten minutes later, Devonai let loose a string of expletives so vile that he surprised even Richter. The corporal stood up from examining a metal fragment and looked at his boss.
“What the hell, sir?” Richter said.
“Those scientists! Damn it, they knew something about this! They were tracking a signal and they said it led them here.”
Richter looked at his supervisor in astonishment. “And you let them leave? Have you lost your mind?”
Devonai shook his head. “I’m distracted, damn it. This whole mess is really bad timing for me.”
“With all due respect, sir, you’d better get your head out of your ass. Whatever destroyed that ship is probably going to be a serious problem for us.”
“I know,” said Devonai. “We have to track those two down. I got their names, and I’m assuming you got their license plate number.”
“I’m not the one making amateurish mistakes tonight, Bossman,” said Richter, smirking. “I’ll call Brockway.”
“Please do. She’ll be tickled pink on this one, Richter.”
“No doubt. Can I have your office after you’re gone?”