Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Mindship called Shiva...

One of the things I most love about science fiction is space-ships. Having grown up during the space race, I naturally wanted to be an astronaut. I go to Washington DC every year or so, and when I get the chance, I dip into the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and take a look at the early Mercury and Apollo capsules, and see how unbelievably cramped they were.

My first dalliance with scifi ships was via the film 2001 a Space Odyssey, where I was mesmerized both by the space station twirling to the sounds of Strauss, and the longer ship heading out to Jupiter. And of course there was the malevolent computer, HAL (you probably know this, but HAL is one letter backwards from IBM, the computer giant at the time).

In Scifi I was less interested in ships that were simply hardware, like Star Trek, and more interested in ships that had intelligence, and a personality of their own. Iain Banks had mindships in a number of his books, and Peter F Hamilton had ships that were born in space or gas giants, echoed in the Farscape scifi TV series.

So, when it came to writing the finale of my Eden Paradox series, I wanted a mindship, one that kicked ass. At the end of the third book, Eden's Revenge, the protagonist Micah is introduced to Shiva:

Blake and Micah gazed at the Scintarelli Scythe-ship hovering silently a foot off the ground like a massive, dark crescent, while they waited for Jen to arrive. There were no windows, protuberances or even ridges or exhaust holes anywhere on the smooth, matt black exterior. Where they stood, near one of the two ‘blunt ends’ as Blake had put it, the ship stretched upwards about four decks in human terms. Earlier, they had walked to the middle of the curved vessel, to the ‘sharp end’ that was about one deck high, where Micah presumed the bridge to be. The ship’s entire leading edge tapered to a razor’s width that he didn’t want to put to the test with his finger. The vessel looked powerful enough to slice through another ship and remain intact. Jen had told him that the Scintarelli, legendary master ship-builders, hated all other ship designs so much they ensured their own could reap them like wheat. Evidently the Scintarelli wanted their ships to live up to their names.
Blake patted him on the shoulder, and almost grinned. “Looks mean, Micah.”
Standing at the rear end of the ship, Micah wanted to touch its dark hull, but Ukrull had been very clear on that matter, and so he and the gathered crowd stood away from the ship.
There were no visible signs of thrusters, engines, or gun ports, though he knew it had formidable weapons. When asked, Jen had confirmed that it had no teleportation – only Kalarash ships and Ukrull’s Ice Pick had such capability, as well as Ngank surgeons whose physiology was extraordinary even by galactic standards. But there were two heavily-armed Rapier shuttle-craft in the aft sections, which they could use to descend to Savange. Also, the Scythe’s shields were coated with a specific form of strange matter, impervious to anti-matter and most other weapons; something Hellera had added, apparently.

Jen carved her way through the throng, making a bee-line towards him. “Touch the craft, Micah,” she said in a business-like fashion. He stared at her a moment then walked toward the closest rear-end of the ship, the crowd stilling as he raised his hand and then pressed his right palm to the metal. It was cool, but quickly warmed to his body temperature. He felt something, almost heard something calling as if from far away, like the distant shriek of an eagle. His resident blurred into action, numbers and strange alphabets whirring through his mind’s eye. Images from the recent past flashed by in subliminal fashion for several minutes, before settling on Louise’s face when he’d last seen her, Antonia and Sandy, and the location of Savange on the holomap Jen had shown them three weeks earlier. He withdrew his hand, understanding – it was an intelligent ship, now attuned to his way of thinking, his goals, even his values and ethics. It would anticipate his needs, and never disappoint.

That was the introduction, but in Eden's Endgame, the final book in the series, Micah and Shiva get to know each other. But Shiva, above all, is a warship, and relishes battle. Below is the section I sent to legendary scifi artist John Harris, who then conjured up the artwork for Shiva that became the front cover. What you see here is the first sketch, in pastels, and lower down, the final cover design from a painting in oils.

Shiva burst through the cloud layer, and raced down towards the purple savannah studded with green pines that led to Savange City. Micah found himself edging backwards into his chair as the tree-line rushed upwards.
“Er… Shiva?”
            At the last millisecond, Shiva pulled up and cleaved a furrow between fir trees, bolting forwards at an altitude of twenty metres and a speed of five hundred kilometres an hour. The aft screen showed pine trees ablaze.
            “Was that necessary?”
            “I needed to verify certain subsystems were functioning optimally.”
            “Sure,” Micah said, trying to breathe normally. 
To the East, the orbital tether continued to fall from orbit, coiling giant loops that pummelled into the ground, flattening trees, sparking fires, and shattering boulders into plumes of dust. The city was to the South, so the natural spin of the planet meant the tether fell away from the inhabitants; Micah presumed they’d planned it that way, just in case. 
            “Kat,” Micah said. “Are you in position?”
            “Almost,” she said, panting.
            He looked at the timer. Ninety seconds. “You have –”
            “I know!”
            He leant back, tried to slow his heart rate, which his resident was inconveniently displaying in the corner of his right eye. “Vashta, you have all their life signs and locations? 
A display next to Micah opened up: the terrain ahead, the city, and beneath, where all except Kat were. 
They flashed over a lake, and Shiva dipped lower, sending a fountain of water up into the sky behind them.
Micah cleared his throat. “We’re not going for subtlety then, Shiva?”
“They are tracking us Micah. In fact they are firing at us.”
“Let’s see what they’ve got against a Level Fifteen Mind-ship.”
The display blazed white, then red, then white again. Then the screen readjusted, filtering out the high energy plasma fire so he could see the tracer lines coming from two towers at the edge of the city. At first they reminded him of battleship towers, as if some giant vessel had been buried just below ground level. Each tower had an array of weapons turrets and cannons, almost all of which were firing simultaneously. The intensity of the energy bearing down on them was igniting everything between Shiva and the towers, creating a tunnel of fire. He wondered how they protected the city from the heat and backwash radiation, then he saw it; a shield, similar to the one around the orbital city.
“Take down their shield.”
A mauve circle spat out ahead of them, unperturbed by enemy beams, and grew in size, then narrowed into a cone that sped off and disappeared. A second later, the shield fizzed and died, and the enemy beams cut off; an intelligent protection system, since there was no point having a defence grid that killed most of Savange’s population.
Shiva slowed so fast that thunder roared around them, then she slewed lazily between the two towers. “Drop-zone,” Shiva said.
“Okay, bore the hole.” Micah turned to Vashta. “The Bridge is yours.” He ran to the aft of the ship, knowing that Shiva was tilting to a vertical position, from whence she would core a deep shaft.                 
“Kat, tell me you’re ready.”
Micah leapt aboard the sled as the aft door opened. Steam flushed in, then cleared, revealing a smoking hole, five metres in diameter. He engaged the sled engine and dropped out of Shiva, circling once, scanning the rim of the hole. “Kat, where the hell –”
She slammed into his back, and locked her arms around his waist, just as Shiva roared off to combat another weapons-tower.
“Go,” she said.
He let the sled drop like a stone, no lights, his resident projecting an image of the polished cylinder around him, and the floor a kilometre below to the fiftieth level; where Sandy, Antonia and the other captives were, and where Louise would be waiting. 

Shiva plays a pivotal role at the end of the book, in the climactic battle at Hell's End, but I don't want to give too much away about that.

By the way, a ship is always female. If you read the series, you find out why. 

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