Today we’ve got an excerpt of Rockets by Liam Dynes. Rockets is an Inkshares project, which means that authors pitch a book, readers pre-order, then once the preorder threshold is met, Inkshares offers a full service publishing experience. You can read more about Inkshares at their website.
Rockets is one of the top five books in Inkshares’ Sword and Laser Collection contest, and every week throughout the contest, Inkshares will post chapters from the works that catch their eye. Enjoy this excerpt of Rockets, and be sure to support the project if you like what you read!
Here’s what Rockets is about (via Inkshares): “A young girl searches for a long-lost family secret in a world that has lost its capacity for wonder.”
Read on for the excerpt!
Towering ranges of sharp peaks and sheer vertical drops began to grow in the distance along both sides of the rover. They continued further south until they reached more lush, green territory bordering the Rio Grande. They were close now. The Juarez interchange – the closest main loop transfer station linking the American Southwest with Mexico – sat just south of the former Cuidad Juarez. Behind the sierra that backed the abandoned city to the south, the loop’s main solar farm was built into the south face of the mountains.
They crossed what used to be one of the most contentiously guarded borders in the hemisphere without incident. The rover drove through a nearly half-mile gash torn in the 20 foot concrete wall that stretched as far as the eye could see in either direction.
The loop rail became visible as they passed over a rolling hill about ten miles past the border. It ran perpendicular to their path southwards, and the twenty story interchange structure loomed straight ahead. The tower was an awe-inspiring piece of engineering, standing alone in the desert sun. Huge, gleaming cloverleafs soared off the main structure in parabolas meant to redirect thousands of tons of platinum and graphite moving in the ballpark of the speed of sound.
Caladan began to slow the rover as they approached, redirecting their course slightly to maneuver through a service gate entrance at the base of the interchange.
Theirs was the only visible ground vehicle in the area.
“Are we early?” Mas asked.
“Not especially,” Caladan said as he stopped the rover outside two huge doors at the base of the tower. He punched a code into a keypad next to the door, which began to rise slowly upwards. A fluorescent-lit loading area the size of a small warehouse before them. Cargo pod arms hung from the ceiling, unpowered, like disjointed legs of an enormous steel insect perched on the ceiling above.
Caladan drove them inside and all the way up to a platform where Mas could unload her things. She hopped out and found a cargo slip that could hold all of her bags three times over, powered it on and loaded it up. Caladan silently helped out this time. The look on his face no doubt intended to be impassive, but instead radiated worry.
“Well,” Mas said, once they had finished loading her things onto the slip. “I guess I’m good.”
“Fuck that you are,” Caladan said, tension seeping into his normally breezy and laconic voice. “I’m not leaving until I’m convinced he’s not going to plug you in the back of the head, take your bags and leave you for the coyotes under the loop rail.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Mas quipped.
“And besides,” Caladan continued, ignoring her sass, “there’s no car outside. If he’s really arranging this to get you to the spaceport, I’m curious how he plans to get back to New Mexico.”
He gestured upwards, towards the loop complex. “This thing doesn’t exactly do detours.”
The elevator chimed and opened. Mas moved the slip inside and looked at the imposing panel of buttons in front of her.
Caladan leaned over and pressed the button labeled with a capital ‘T’. The elevator shook once and started upwards, picking up speed rapidly.
The doors opened onto a large, spartan but stylish transit hub. Rows of long disused leather chairs, many faded from the sun, faced the twisting visage of loop rails and sierras in the distance. The hub was lit up and climate controlled, and three people were arranged around a chest high bar counter nearby. Two sat on stools in front – a large woman and a short man, who turned upon hearing the elevator open across the hallway. The other man was behind the bar, facing away, appraising the long-abandoned and dust-covered liquor shelf on the mirrored wall behind the bar.
Caladan tried to mute the hiss of air that he sucked in through his teeth, but didn’t fully succeed. Instinctually his arm went across the front of Mas’ shoulders. She rested a hand on top of his arm, and he lowered it, calming.
“Caladan,” said the man behind the bar, still facing away, reaching up to take down a bottle three-quarters full of a clear liquid. “My friend, how are you?”
“Gerstmann,” Caladan said, taciturn and short.
“And you, my dear,” Gerstmann said, finally turning to face the pair and blowing off the dust from the bottle in his hand, “must be Mas. Delightful to meet you.”
“Thanks?” Mas said, not able to keep the upward lilt from what wasn’t meant to be a question. Nerves.
“No need for anxiety, Mas, I’m just here as a simple businessman to fulfill my part in our transaction,” Gerstmann said, smiling a smile that was all teeth, no eyes. “I believe you have a brain for me.”
Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955, after a previous surgical repair of an aneurysm in his aorta failed. He bled out internally, choosing not to prolong his life with additional medical intervention. The pathologist on duty at the time, Thomas Stoltz Harvey, first performed a standard autopsy. He also, however – believing the matter one of scientific import to the entire medical community – removed Einstein’s brain for preservation, without the initial knowledge or permission of Einstein’s family.
Harvey thought there was much to be learned by studying the brain of arguably the greatest genius who had ever lived, and saw it as his responsibility to prevent such an anomalous organ from being cremated with the rest of the body. He also removed Einstein’s eyes and later gave them to the man’s eye doctor, but this is not a story about a little girl carrying Einstein’s eyes around in a suitcase nearly 300 years after he died.
For the remaining 52 years of his life, Harvey served as self-appointed gatekeeper for the brain. The exact details of how, where and – maybe most importantly – why remain fuzzy. Harvey was certainly eccentric in his reasoning, selective – near paranoid, some would say – in guarding the brain’s mere existence, and mercurial in offering access.
Journalists eventually caught wind of the brain’s journeys, and its unusual caretaker. More than twenty years after its removal, some would write of meeting an evasive, odd, but ultimately accommodating man in Harvey. He would deny that he knew anything, until he was pulling out mason jars filled with squared, thumb-sized pieces of brain floating in alcohol and collodion. He once brought a journalist on a road trip with the brain in containers in the trunk of a Buick Skylark. For a time, his next door neighbour was William Burroughs, who liked to brag that he could get a piece of Einstein’s brain whenever he wanted.
The most entertaining piece of what was most likely apocrypha Mas came across involved Burroughs. The story was that Burroughs’ most urgent desire regarding Harvey and the brain was to beg, barter or steal a piece mounted on a microscope slide, which he wanted to drop like a hit of acid. He wanted to see what new story would unlock in him while writing under the influence of pickled genius and formaldehyde.
Later, pieces would be parceled out in small batches to neuroscientists and anatomists Harvey chose seemingly without rhyme or reason. In his 80s, he dumped the remainder at Princeton. It came as quite a surprise to attendant researchers, not unlike dropping an infant at the door of an abbey with a basket and note.
Academics and researchers sliced and scanned, debated and detailed, for decades. One year, it was a perfectly average brain that happened to belong to the man who discovered relativity. The next, minute structural anomalies were being touted as possible keystones to understanding the man’s immense creative scientific prowess.
As biotech advanced, various enterprising govcorps began to look back at this and similar research for potential useful custom genetic upgrades. But with specimen such as Einstein’s lost to abandoned research archives, data on the more remarkable samples was often second hand, or worse.
When Mas first laid eyes on this particular treasure, she and her mother first considered turning it over to the proper authorities. They could have negotiated comfortable lives for themselves with a legitimate govcorp – bargained their way into Tier 2, at least, if not the inner core. But they eventually settled on trying for a bigger score, even if it meant entering some unseemly circles.
Those same govcorp vultures who put Mas through the wringer at age seven would have stepped over their own grandmothers to acquire the lump of flesh she was currently peddling. The research that could be done with it, and the possible monetary value in genetic enhancements were practically incalculable. Mas had made peace with the idea that she was sacrificing the possible greater good for her own wild goose chase.
And so it came to this – a meeting at a deserted train station in the Mexican desert, trying to barter the brain of one of humanity’s greatest geniuses for a ride to the moon.