Oranje free sample – Chapter Three

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This is the 4th free sample of Oranje, I’ll be posting up to the end of Chapter Ten for free. You can buy it here, or if you’re interested in getting a review copy of the book, you can contact me via email or on twitter (links to both on my website).

Links to the previous free samples:

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The sound of cellos and violins filled the air, bouncing back and forth between the walls of Isi’s workshop. She moved one hand along to the music as her eyes focused on the monitor. The wireframe of her latest design was laid out on it, a new prototype engine. Her gaze took in every detail as her other hand rotated it around to show the engine from every angle. With a happy nod and a smile, she swept it off the screen, sending it to the 3-D printer sitting next to the monitor. It jumped to life, tracing back and forth as it assembled her test model layer by layer.

The sound of the door buzzer caught her attention. She moved towards the door, both hands now moving with the music. Grease stains were just visible on both against her brown skin. They were even covering the tattoos that worked their way up both her arms. The one on her left was an image of her DNA, the one on the right the first engine she’d ever designed. She picked a cloth off a work bench to wipe her hands before pulling the door open. Her eyes took a second to adjust before she recognised the familiar face before her.

“Representative Melo.” She stood staring at him. “This is a surprise.”

He smiled at her. “Hello, Isi. May I come in?” His clothes had changed since the debate, now just a simple tan robe, again with matching makeup. A badge pinned to his chest was the only sign of his rank.

She glanced around at the workshop, half-finished prototypes strewn across the tables and walls hung with half-finished paintings.

“Sure, just give me a second.” She hurried off to try to tidy things up. She bundled much of the mess into a corner and hid the rest under strategically placed blankets before she waved him inside.

His gaze took in the whole room, lingering on her various prototypes hanging from the ceiling and on the worktops. Chairs, radiator panels, engines, and many other objects hung there. His eyes came to rest on the paintings. “I didn’t know you painted.”

“It’s just a little hobby of mine.” She settled down on the stool next to the printer, one hand brushing back her dark blue hair.

“It’s good work.” He paced around the room.

“Thanks.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s a big surprise to see you out here.”

“Mmm.” His focus shifted to her prototypes. “I see you have been making good use of your extra space.”

“I waited almost two years to get it. Would be one hell of a waste not to make the most of it.” She pulled another stool out from under a bench and offered it to him, but he declined and stood still, looking around him.

“I have a feeling everyone will be grateful when the new expansion is approved,” he said.

“I thought that was still stuck in committee.”

“It was, but not for much longer. Everyone is almost agreed; just a few minor details left to work out.”

“Feels like it’s been stuck on a few minor details for a long time. We take a long time making decisions.”

The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs made them both turn. Lucie emerged, the jacket of the suit she wore at the debate over her arm and a relaxed expression on her face. She paused only briefly when she spotted Melo before resuming her walk. “Representative,” she said to him before turning to Isi, who placed an arm around her waist and kissed her on the lips. “Busy?”

Isi glanced at Melo, who stood with his arms behind his back, his foot tapping away, and his gaze turned elsewhere. “I think so,” she said.

“I’ll leave you two alone, then.” Lucie gave her a kiss on the cheek. “See you around, Isidora.” With a wink and a smile, she turned and left with the door clicking into place behind her, Isi’s eyes following her as she went.

“A night of celebration?” said Melo.

She grinned before looking him straight in the face.

“Forgive the bluntness, but why are you here, Representative?”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Don’t you know? The vote passed almost an hour ago.”

Her face broke into a wide smile. “I’ve not had a chance to look at the Net yet. I’ve been a bit pre-occupied”—she waved her arm at the door that Lucie had just left through—“but that’s fantastic to hear.” She looked at the 3-D printer as it worked back and forth over its growing creation. “What was the margin?”

“Sixty-four to thirty-six. Rumour has it almost all the pseudos backed you in the vote. It’s a bigger margin than I expected.”

“Smaller than I did.” She winked. “So, for the first time in centuries, the Three will be sent out.”

“It would appear so.” His foot tap-tapped away on the floor.

“You don’t seem as disappointed as yesterday.”

“Events have proved you right.” He sat down on the stool. “Do you know the planet Oranje?”

“The name rings a bell but nothing more.”

“It’s an independent world near the Union—relatively small population. Yesterday, it disappeared from the Net.”

“What do you mean ‘disappeared’? How does a planet just disappear from the Net?”

“I don’t know, but it did. The pseudos are baffled as well.” He didn’t look at her, keeping his eyes focused on the desk and the incomplete sculpture he had picked up before.

“That’s not good.” She picked up her cup to take a drink.

“It gets worse. The planet reappeared on the Net a few hours later, as suddenly as it had disappeared. Except now, there was no traffic on its Net satellites.”

She sat up, cup halfway to her mouth but forgotten. “That means…”

“That means there were no longer any devices on the planet capable of communicating with the Net.”

They looked at each other, Isi’s mouth agape and Melo’s eyes showing his tiredness.

“Oranje was attacked,” she said.

“Nuked, most likely. The first in this region.” He sighed. “Or at least the first we know about.”

“That steps up the pressure a bit.” She placed the cup back on the worktop then ran a hand through her hair. “How is so much being hidden from the pseudos?”

“That is a very good question, and the answer so far is ‘We don’t know.’ You were right to push for the Three,” said Melo.

“Well, I knew that already.” Her grin was replaced with a look of confusion. “Why are you telling me all this?”

His eyes brightened. “Do you know how the Three are appointed? They’re picked by the members of the Council.”

“They’re then put to a public vote to be ratified, and if it passes, there’s the ceremony, and they depart on their mission,” said Isi. “I did do my research on the Three before I suggested we send them out.”

He stood up, resuming his careful pose with hands neat and tidy behind his back. He even had a grin on his face. “Isidora Jain, as a representative of this station, I am offering you the chance to be part of the Three. Do you accept?”

It took a few seconds for her brain to kick back in and for her to realise her mouth was open. She closed it and rubbed her chin. “Why me?”

“Do you really need to ask after how you performed in the debate? You are young, passionate, and you believe in the mission the Three will be given. I cannot think of a better choice than you.”

“What about someone like Lucie? She has loads more experience than me?”

“There will be plenty of that from the other members of the Three.” He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You’ll bring a passion and drive that will be needed to make sure this vital task is done right. Experience is not everything.”

She looked at the hand on her shoulder, and he quickly removed it and stepped back a pace. “I want you as part of the Three. I think that will boost the chance of success immeasurably.”

She tried to think of something useful to say and then gave up. “This is a lot to think about.”

“In normal circumstances, I would give you time to think this matter over. However, as you’re aware, there’s not much of that available to us right now. Do you accept?”

She looked around her workshop, at the many projects she had poured time and love into. Oranje had been attacked; what would these outsiders do to this station if they ever managed to find it? What would happen to any of the other worlds of September?

“Alright.” She stood up. “I’ll do it.” She extended a hand, which he took in a firm handshake.

“Fantastic.” He pulled out his mobile. “I will get the ratification vote started as soon as I can. There are a few formalities to deal with, but I think it should begin tomorrow morning at the latest.”

“So I have at least three days then, until we will know the results.” She sat down again. “When will the others be approached?”

He did not look up from his mobile as he walked away. “They already have. You’ll get to meet them tomorrow.”

“That’s sooner than I would have expected. Where will that be?”

“The White Building.”

“White Building?” Isi was puzzled before realisation dawned. “Oh, you mean the White Elephant.”

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, I believe that is the colloquial name for it.”

“I didn’t know that was used for anything.”

“It’s the residence of those waiting to be confirmed as the Three and will be where you train and prepare for your journey.” He raised an eyebrow. “I thought you had researched all of this.”

“Legal stuff, sure—less so the practicalities of what happened next. I didn’t think I would ever need to know about that.” She blew out her breath. “Looks like I was wrong.”

He grinned. “I get the impression that does not happen very often.”

“I may be used to getting my way, but I’m not a sore loser and I can admit I’m wrong from time to time.” Her brow furrowed as she spoke.

“You should start to pack some personal items. It’s unlikely, but you could be in the White Building for over a week. Everything else will be ready on the spacecraft you’ll travel in.”

The engineer part of her brain kicked in. “Is there one that will be ready in time?”

“That is under control. There’s no need to worry about that.” He had that knowing grin on his face again. “I should leave you to get ready.”

She stood up and shook his hand again. “I didn’t expect this when I woke up this morning.”

“When do days ever go as we planned?” He looked around the room again. “I will let you know when the others arrive at the White Building.” He turned to leave, but as he crossed the threshold, he stopped and turned back to look at her. “Wasn’t your hair red yesterday?”

“Yeah, I decided to change it.”

“Weren’t you a bit busy?”

“It didn’t take that long to do.”

He seemed to consider this information. “No dyed hair is allowed as part of the Three. You’ll have to go natural, I’m afraid.”

She managed a smile. “Don’t worry; that won’t be a problem.”

With another nod, he left, and one thought fought its way to the front of her brain.

The vote had passed, the Three would be sent out, and she was going to be one of them. She punched a fist into the air and turned her music up. She half walked and half danced up the stairs as a mental list formed of what needed to be packed.

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