= CHAPTER 1 =

512 years in the future.
A Thursday morning.

5:45 AM

In the Milky Way galaxy, somewhere in the Orion-Cygnus Arm, the endless vista of stars, stars, stars and more stars in every direction suddenly found itself interrupted.
An enormous, stately luxury liner cruised majestically through the vacuum, its spotless white hull contrasting violently with the inky blackness of its surrounds. This was the flagship of the FrontierLine Corporation’s fleet. This was The Symphony of the Stars. It was almost ludicrously grand. Everything about the Symphony’s appearance told you it was expensive. But it told you in that arrogant, bored way, that made you feel a bit guilty about bothering it in the first place. This was a ship that was designed, decorated and detailed to be seen, to elicit gasps of admiration from every passing onlooker. There were no passing onlookers right now, of course – the ship was traversing deep space. Any gasps generated here wouldn’t be from admiration; more from asphyxiation.

This is not to say, however, that the ship wasn’t currently being observed. And observed rather intently….

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On board the Symphony, in the sanctuary of her quarters, Captain Diana Singh was exhausted. She’d never allowed for anything like this, when she agreed to command one of the most luxurious cruise ships in space. She had slept fitfully last night, the recent events refusing to leave her alone, refusing to allow her to escape – however briefly – into blissfully ignorant slumber. She had been pacing her quarters for the past ten minutes, wrestling with the problem while drinking rather excellent coffee, courtesy of the replicator in her kitchen.

Now, as she sat on the edge of her bed, rubbing her eyes, the floor-to-ceiling viewscreen (although she still preferred to call it a porthole) behind her continued to display the glorious, infinite expanses of space, as they slowly slid past. Space had always enthralled her. Well, for the past fifty years, at least. Rather than a cold, lifeless vacuum, she’d always viewed space as a never-ending showground, to be endlessly explored – the ultimate collection of infinite possibilities, a profound and irresistible invitation. “This one’s a born star farer,” her mother had said, and she was right. A thousand years ago, back on earth, it was said that true seafarers were called by the North Star. Diana Singh wasn’t just called by one star – she was called by all of them.

But right now, her mind was on other matters. Right now, Captain Diana Singh was poring over her ship’s promotional brochure, wearily scanning it for clues. For anything that might spark a connection, an association, a memory. It was all she could think of. She had run out of other ideas, and was desperately trying to find anything that could get her closer, anything that would deliver some glimmer of understanding….

You’ve worked hard for your wealth, and you appreciate The Finer Things. So do we. Welcome to luxury space cruising at its most sophisticated and opulent.
Welcome aboard THE SYMPHONY OF THE STARS.

You’ve earned the elegant indulgence of a lavish, all inclusive Symphony of the Stars world-hopping experience. Design your own Symphony cruising adventure, by choosing from our 4-planet, 8-planet and 12-planet cruises.

There’s simply no better way to experience all the wonders of this solar system.

Our ‘shore leave’ planet-fall excursions are exciting, informative and fun, with the most knowledgeable guides in the industry. They’re all native to the planets you’ll be visiting, so you’ll visit all those exotic, out-of-the-way destinations that most tourists can only dream about!

On your Symphony of the Stars holiday, you can do as much – or as little – as you like.

“Pfft!” she failed to stifle a derisive snort. The glorification of indulgent laziness, that’s all this was. Although Diana Singh had been captain of this space-going monument to hedonism for five years now, she’d never truly made her peace with the role. Command of this ship was a cushy, repetitive, by-the-numbers affair; chugging along the same route at the same speed, with the same crew, year in and year out. The same destinations, the same empty entertainments, the same pointless fripperies – masked balls, cocktail receptions and dinners at the Captain’s table with the same arrogant, bloated, entitled, soft types, time and time again. She tolerated them… but only just.

Take in a live show in our 1,000 seat theatre!
Experience the very finest cuisine in our three award-winning restaurants, all featuring sumptuous, locally sourced delicacies from each of the worlds we visit.
Join our team of sommeliers for an indulgent wine-tasting from our extensive cellar, home to over 12,000 bottles of the finest and rarest and most exotic wines, spirits and liqueurs ever assembled in this – or any other – system.
Or simply relax with a drink in the elegant Shifting Sands lounge, and watch the worlds go by…

Her harsh, almost puritanical, disdain was a hangover from her days in the Third Offworld Navy.
Or her decades in the Third Offworld Navy, to be more accurate.
At first, as an aimless raw recruit in her early twenties, she found the rigid routine of naval life constraining and restrictive. But eight years after she joined, when her personal life all went to hell, that same structure proved to be her only comfort – the one thing she could depend upon. She clung to its hierarchies, its parameters, its protocols. She made them her own, and over the years, she rose through the ranks – the classic, steady upward arc of a textbook naval career.

If it’s relaxation and serenity you’re craving, the Symphony is made just for you.
We have all the latest, most immersive VR therapeutic experiences, or for a more hands-on approach, pamper yourself in our indulgent and inviting wellness spa, where our team of the very best massage therapists will ensure that all your cares simply float away.
And don’t forget the Symphony’s Tranquillity Forest® on C Deck – home to over 10,000 trees, shrubs and plants, from Earth and elsewhere, expertly curated by our team of on-board horticulturists.
And you’ll love getting lost in the Grand Library, with its expertly curated collection of 20,000 books. Actual books, printed on paper!

And don’t think we’ve forgotten the thrill seekers!
There are dozens of VR suites and anti-grav playrooms, four rock climbing walls, three swimming pools, and the Mad Maelstrom® water-slide,
dropping you a heart-pounding 150 metres!
And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can even suit up, step out of the airlock and take your very own Symphony Spacewalk® OUTSIDE THE SHIP!

As she read the florid descriptions of the areas of the ship she knew so well, Diana Singh tried to ignore her own experience of them. She tried to see each of these places from a different perspective, to see them through a different pair of eyes. She tried to imagine walking these well-trodden paths while inside the mind of someone else…

If shopping’s your thing, the Symphony is home to 22 of the biggest names in fashion, jewellery and the most elegant gifts created by the finest artisans in the entire system.

Your on-board accommodation is simply second to none.
Choose from 8 levels of exclusive, spacious, luxuriously appointed staterooms, all featuring fully customizable floor-to-ceiling ViewWalls.
On the Symphony of the Stars, the splendour of the stars is all yours, all the time.

Your every whim is taken care of 24 hours a day, with award-winning personalised service from an army of discreet and caring butlers, maids, concierges and valets, all in your choice of human or Synthetic Human (latest models only).

You’re someone who has arrived. And yet, your journey is just beginning.
This is the Symphony of the Stars – sophisticated, elegant cruising, for the discerning traveler.

As The Bard says… “Rich people are just like you and me – only much, much happier”.

Here on The Symphony, that’s not just our belief, it’s our promise to you.

“Our promise to you.” She was surprised to hear herself saying the words aloud. She was on the verge of making a connection, of seeing a link she hadn’t seen before. It was so close, she could almost feel it. She squinted, thinking hard; something was about to fall into place…

Her coms call alert sounded, instantly shattering any semblance of concentration. “Argh!”, she grunted, exasperated. She was sure she’d been on the verge of something. The call alert sounded again.

“Yes?” she barked. Her First Officer’s voice came through the room’s ambient speakers.

“I’m so sorry to disturb you, Captain”.

‘You should be,’ she thought. “Mr Sinclair, you do know I’m not on duty for another 45 minutes?”

“Yes Captain, but this is important. You’re urgently required on the bridge.”

She sighed “Why?”

“Pirates.”

The word took a moment to register, as her mind shifted gear. Then –

“On my way”. She hurriedly dressed and dashed out of her quarters, down the corridor, and up three levels of stairs. She jogged the last 50 meters of corridor to the bridge, deftly hopping over a football-sized maitbot that was busily repairing a hole in the carpet.

Arriving on the bridge and nodding perfunctory greetings to Second Officer Aku and Third Officer Serrano, she addressed a general enquiry to the room.

“Any other crew up yet?”

Checking his console, the Third Officer replied. “No, Captain. All crew members currently in their quarters, all Synthetic Humans powered down”.

“Thank you, Mr Serrano. Let’s keep this to ourselves for the moment, shall we? No need to alarm anyone else – they’re jittery enough already.”

Fastening the top button of her uniform – she had dressed in unusual haste – Captain Singh strode towards her right hand man, her First Officer. He wasn’t much of a right hand man, admittedly – his various weaknesses would never have passed muster in the navy – but she was stuck with him.

“Mr Sinclair, what can you tell me?”

 

Author’s note: I’ve recorded a short video diary entry about the writing of this chapter, and if you’re interested, you can watch it right here

4 thoughts on “= CHAPTER 1 =”

    1. Thanks for your interest – there’ll be a new chapter right here every Friday at 12 noon, Melbourne time!

  1. Hi Stephen: Just read the first chapters of your novel. It sucked me in right away. The set up is great with intrigue liberally sprinkled across all chapters. I liked your choice of Diana and her nemesis Salazar and And the cargo of gold, the serial killer etc hint at a bigger story yet to unfold. I also loved the deft touches of humour (I’m very glad the Tranquillity Garden is trademarked) and the inter-planetary setting is terrific – can’t wait to see what life is like on some of those planets.
    Well done, putting yourself on the line with weekly bite size targets – an excellent way to keep your creative Geiger counter dialled up to max, I’m sure. I’m sure you’ll have good and bad weeks but I look forward to seeing where Symphony and her crew go over the coming months.
    Best of luck! JP

    1. Wow! Thank you SO MUCH, JP, for your detailed thoughts and feedback. You’ve absolutely MADE MY DAY! I really hope you enjoy Chapter 13 tomorrow – it’s one that I’m ever so slightly excited about….

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