Excerpt from The Cassini Division

A few months ago, Zombie Pirate Publishing launched The Ringed Giant, a sci-fi/fantasy collection of novelettes centered around Saturn; the planet and the god. The Cassini Division, written by myself (J.A. Dowsett) and Murandy Damodred is one of those novelettes. You can order the book on amazon if you would like to read the entire thing, but I thought I would share the first scene with you. Here goes:

Debris floated around Lexie’s habitation pod like flotsam bobbing along a river’s current. Glowing faintly orange and yellow, Saturn loomed large in her field of vision, but she ignored it in favour of connecting the final wires within her newest project, while she dangled her space suit-covered legs out the mouth of the airlock. She’d saved up a long time for what she needed to trade for the spare solar sail, but as she unfurled her masterpiece and felt it hum to life through the gloves of her suit, she knew it would prove to be a worthwhile investment. 

Lexie grinned and got to her feet, while being careful not to let go of her creation now that it was powered up. A solar raft? She considered what to call it. Solar Sailor? Is that too lame? She took in the sleek metal platform and the welded joint where the sail connected with pride. It may be lame, but it’s mine. It’s not like anyone else is going to care what I call it, anyways. 

There was just one last thing to do before the Solar Sailor was complete: test it. And it was for that very reason Lexie had travelled all the way out to the edge of the Black. Here, there would be no one around to see her fumble about with her experiment, and more importantly, no one to steal her habitation pod while she was away from it.

She eyed the Black warily, even though she was more than a safe enough distance from it. Back when her parents had both still been alive, they’d taken her here and her father had explained to her what happens when something powered by the sun went beyond the place where all light was blocked by Saturn’s bulk. In the Black, an object will drift along the Rings, but it will lose all power. A battery will last a little while, but without the sun to recharge it… 

Lexie shuddered just thinking of being without power. Everything in her pod was solar-powered, as was her suit, to a point. She had a back-up air tank for emergencies, though she’d never had to use it, but her lights, heat, gravity, propulsion, and most importantly, air, were granted to her by the technology they used to harness the faint light of a distant sun.

Getting to her feet, she stretched out the kinks that had formed while hunched over her project. Then, one hand gripping the sail part of the Solar Sailor and the other still braced against the outer hull of her pod, she stepped onto the metal base. The platform beneath her feet wobbled for a moment, but her magboots latched on to it without a problem, and when she angled the sail so it caught the light reflected off the debris that made up Saturn’s rings, the contraption surged to life beneath her and she was off!

Exhilaration filled Lexie’s soul as she raced away from the habitation pod where she’d spent the larger part of the last fifteen years of her life. The oblong-shaped metal tube was her home and for that it was her greatest treasure, but it was a rare treat to be able to step outside of it, which she usually only did while out scavenging at the end of a lengthy tether.

She picked up speed by angling her solar sail to and fro to maximize the amount of light she could gather. It worked just as she envisioned it would, but it felt even better. This is what freedom feels like. She leaned harder on the sail to test its ability to turn, looping easily around a frozen lump of rock and ice, one of the countless such that filled the horizon as far as the eye could see. With this I can move about freely and scavenge whatever I find, without having to move the pod up right alongside it or relying on a tether. She grinned. Not to mention the fact that I can just come out here and do this. 

Using the momentum she’d built up, she flipped the solar sailor upside down, loving the feeling of being in zero-g while still having full control over where she went. With the simple action of angling her sail, she was able to right herself and head in any direction she wanted to go; up, down, or otherwise. Leaning back on the sail a moment, Lexie looked out over the Rings. Behind her, Saturn was a magnificent sight, but the one she’d always preferred was the blue outer ring that was the primary source of light for the colonists of the Cassini Division. Her mother had taught her that unlike the rest of Saturn’s Rings, which were made up of debris and frozen vapors from the planet and the other moons, the outer ring was formed by the passage of a single moon, Enceladus, which spewed pure water as vapor and ice from its still-active cryo-volcanoes. Beyond Enceladus and its ring lay Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and the place the colony had originally set out for all those years ago.

       Too bad things don’t always go as planned, Lexie mused, trying to peer past the band of blue light to see if she could make out the moon that should have been her home. Nope, instead I’m stuck with you. She glanced back at her habitation pod, still bobbing amongst the chunks of ice and rock and who-knew-what-else. Her pod was standard issue as far as they came, but after some more than fifteen years out navigating the space between Saturn’s A-Ring and B-Ring, or the Cassini Division as it was called, it was covered in bumps and scrapes, and generally looked worse for wear. Not to mention its battered and slightly bent solar sail that she’d repaired dozens of times, as had her father before her. I could try to save up again to trade for it, but no one seems to want to part with a solar sail these days. We’ve all been preying on each other for so long, there’s not much left in the way of usable resources. She pursed her lips, thinking how like a derelict her ship looked from the outside, but then she shrugged. Just means there’s less of a chance anyone’s going to try and take it from me, not unless they’re desperate, so there’s a silver lining. 

With one last longing look at Enceladus’ Ring, Lexie turned to head for home when, like an eclipse, something blotted out a section of the pale blue light. Something very much shaped like another habitation pod. 

Lexie’s heart thundered in her chest. She stared at the pod in disbelief as it was joined by another pod, this one looking to be the size of three pods strung together. She’d heard of fleets like this. Typically, they belonged to pirates. No! she shouted in the silence of her mind. I was supposed to be safe here! No one comes out this close to the Black. She frowned. Well, maybe pirates do…

Lexie turned herself around and started back for her pod, hoping against hope she could make it there before she was spotted, or worse, captured. She frowned, realizing just how long she’d been out here and consequently how far her pod had drifted along the gravitational current of the Rings. Dammit, she swore and urged the Solar Sailor forward, putting on as much speed as she dared, weaving around any debris that got in her way. 

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