A deleted scene from The Daedalus Incident

TDI-bigcoverThe Daedalus Incident went through a fair number of drafts and permutations before it became the novel that’s on bookshelves now. Whole strands of plot were upended, characters changed substantially, you name it. And there were a few scenes that simply didn’t make the cut, like this one.

I was bummed to drop this scene because it was a cool bonding moment between the protagonist, Shaila Jain, and her boss, Maria Diaz. It showed their growing chemistry and gave a peek into their characters. It foreshadowed a bit more about Jain’s first mission, the ill-fated Atlantis, and how it might affect her reactions while it was hitting the fan at McAuliffe Base. And there were some nice Martian setting elements there.

And yet…ultimately, the scene didn’t carry enough water to move the plot forward, which is pretty much a cardinal sin of storytelling. It felt like it arrested the momentum of the story, and there were other ways of building character and relationships and backstory without that kind of pause in plot. Plus, the point-of-view here is that of Diaz, and this was the only time that happened in the entire book. (I basically stuck with Shaila’s POV in the future sections and Weatherby’s in the past.)

Looking back on this section, I do think it holds up decently, and could probably be inserted into the book without a major hiccup if you can forgive the shifting POV. Of course, reading this again more than three years after writing it, I can see how I’ve improved since and how that affected my approach to The Enceladus Crisis. (While Enceladus was revised thoroughly, I don’t have any full scenes that I tossed in their entirety. Progress? I’d like to think so.)

So here you are, a deleted scene, just like in a DVD. Except it’s a book. Enjoy.

July 26, 2132

Maria Diaz stepped out of her sleep capsule and nodded greetings to the other JSC astronauts who “took a spin” on the centrifuge last night, an unusual morning ritual at McAuliffe that she never quite got used to. Diaz just wasn’t a morning person.

As she padded down the hallway to her day room, Diaz pulled out her datapad and looked over her e-mail. As expected, she got a message from Houston wondering about the events of last night. It looked like Jain had sent a preliminary reply, in her capacity as acting executive officer, stating that it was merely an unscheduled drill, and all was well. Diaz also saw a full draft of Shaila’s report in her inbox. It looked like Lt. Jain didn’t make it to the centrifuge at all last night.

Girl’s going to feel like shit today, Diaz thought. Good for building character.

Twenty minutes later, Diaz was in her office, showered, dressed and coffee in hand, reading a report from Yuna Hiyashi. It looked like Yuna was up burning the midnight oil as well, but that wasn’t surprising. The old bird didn’t sleep in the centrifuge anymore, and it wasn’t like anyone was giving her any orders worth following.

Yuna had followed up on Cherenkov radiation, pointing out a number of papers that linked it to quantum mechanics and some highly theoretical stuff. Naturally, Diaz couldn’t make heads or tails of it. She was a fighter jockey, not a scientist, even if she had piloted half a dozen spacecraft to twenty different planets and moons over the years.

To Yuna’s credit, she seemed quite dismissive of these theories. Odd, since Yuna didn’t meet a crazy idea she didn’t like. Word had it that, five years ago, before Diaz took command of the base, Yuna had thought she had found evidence of microbiological life on Mars – the Holy Grail of exploration that had eluded JSC, and NASA before it, for nearly a century. No dice. It was merely a methane pocket mixed up with some odd carbon deposits. But she managed to turn the base upside down for a good three weeks.

A crackpot, a newbie and a hard case get a Martian mystery. This is going to turn out great. She was grateful that Stephane, at least, seemed to have his head about him, newbie that he was, and seemed to be tackling things with both enthusiasm and a level head. And Yuna didn’t seem to be wandering too far off the rez. As for Shaila….

Diaz opened Shaila Jain’s personnel record with a few taps of her datapad. Good marks at the Royal Naval Academy, a few years in an F-335 Lightning VII, then a request for transfer to JSC, where she apparently wanted to go all along. After the standard two years’ training and a routine lunar posting, she was assigned as pilot of the Atlantis for its second Jovian expedition.

Atlantis. Never in the history of space exploration had a ship and a mission failed so spectacularly due to nothing more than bad luck. Once Shaila came back, she was debriefed for nearly a year, then shoved into the ops posting on McAuliffe – a job usually given to newbies fresh out of training. McAuliffe was the ass-end of assignments in the JSC, and even Diaz knew it was likely her final command before retirement, which would leave her just short of general’s rank.

Shaila nonetheless did her job well – by all accounts, she was almost too exacting. But Diaz knew her heart wasn’t in it, not when she had been considered one of the top pilots in her JSC class. Diaz had studiously avoided asking Shaila about Atlantis, and most of her overtures of friendship were met with polite resistance. The one time she really tried to bond with Shaila, all she had to show for it was a hangover.

So how would Shaila Jain handle another crisis? It wasn’t like anyone was super-challenged on McAuliffe Base – at least, not until now. And Shaila had inexplicably screwed up a simple database search, which turned the base upside down.

The girl had some bad luck, for sure. Diaz had to wonder whether she’d rise to the occasion or fold like a bad hand.

She hit a button on her workstation. “Diaz to Jain.”

“Jain here,” Shaila responded, sounding slightly groggy.

“Good report. Thanks for that. I’ll be sending it off to Houston in a few.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Shaila said in her best that’s-not-why-you-called voice.

“You get in your exercise yesterday?” Diaz asked.

“No, ma’am.” The lieutenant was sounding a bit put-upon now.

“It’s all right, I didn’t either. You and me, oh-nine-thirty. I’ve been meaning to find a sparring partner.”

There was a pause at the end of the line. Diaz knew Shaila was weighing whether this was a friendly invitation or a direct order. “What are we sparring at, exactly?” Shaila finally asked.

“Whatever you got, bring it,” Diaz said. “Diaz out.”

Ninety minutes later, Diaz was stretching when Shaila Jain entered the base gymnasium. Of course, gymnasium was a generous term for a Spartan two-room affair. The workout room featured a dozen exercise machines and a few sets of free-standing weights – including a set of barbells that would’ve been impossible to lift in Earth gravity. Given that most JSC personnel were on duty at this hour – and most miners didn’t bother with exercise off-hours – the room was vacant.

The other room was bare, except for the padded floor. It served as a yoga studio, classroom or, in this case, the room in which Diaz wanted to see if she could still kick the ass of someone twenty-five years her junior.

“Reporting as ordered, colonel,” Shaila said.

Diaz turned and smiled. “It wasn’t an order, Jain. Call it a friendly suggestion.”

Shaila smiled back wryly as she started doing her own warm-up routine. “From my commanding officer. First thing in the morning. The day after I properly sent the base into a tailspin.”

“Exactly,” Diaz said. “That’s how I can tell you’re a pilot. Great situational awareness. So what’s your training?”

“Hand-to-hand? I did the officer’s course, the same one they give to Royal Marines during basic, and I did some jujitsu as well,” Shaila said.

Diaz nodded. “Same basic course for me, too. I ended up training with special ops for a bit, though. Picked up some Krav Maga there.”

“All right,” Shaila said, looking glum. Krav Maga, developed for the Israeli Army nearly two centuries ago, was a brutally efficient discipline that raised dirty fighting to an art form. “Shall we get on with my beating, then?”

Diaz laughed and tossed her some pads – head, chest and hands – to make the anticipated beat-down less damaging. Strapped in, they then stepped apart on either end of the mat. Neither adopted a particular stance right away, preferring to gauge each other beforehand. Both were relatively short in stature, but Diaz was happy to see that she was the more muscular of the two. She opted for a straightforward approach, coming in low and fast while watching to see just how Shaila would react.

Shaila easily sidestepped the incoming jab and, putting a grab-lock on Diaz’ arm, used her momentum to carry her around and fling her away. Diaz went face first into the wall.

The colonel turned around and smiled, mentally kicking herself. “Damn it,” she said. “Gravity.”

“Zero-point-three-eight of Earth,” Shaila said, a bit more confidence showing as she slipped into a defensive posture.

Diaz shook her head and walked toward Shaila again, preparing for another strike. “You’re going to be hopping around here like a goddamn rabbit, aren’t you.”

“Absolutely.”

Diaz charged forward, moving her arms in feints and jabs to throw Shaila off. It worked. Diaz landed a massive punch squarely in Shaila’s face. The padding on both the fist and the head prevented any visible damage, but the blow sent Shaila tumbling backward – so much so that the stunned younger woman flipped head over heels in the low gravity toward the opposite wall.

Luckily for Shaila, her feet were the first things to hit that wall, about a meter off the ground. To Diaz’ surprise, Shaila had enough of her wits about her to push off the wall and come hurtling through the air back toward her opponent.

Diaz took a defensive stance, expecting a fist or kick out of her opponent. Instead, Shaila took a bounce off the floor and jumped higher, right over the colonel and, in the process, grabbed her by her head padding. The chin strap held, and Shaila somersaulted back onto her feet – lifting Diaz off the ground by her head and slamming all 24 kilograms of her to the mat in one sweeping arc. Shaila then grabbed an outstretched arm and twisted it just so, flopping down on her C.O. and pinning her.

“OK,” Diaz huffed beneath her. “That was a sweet-ass move.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Shaila said primly, getting up and offering her opponent a hand. Diaz kipped up to her feet on her own, however.

“Go again, Lieutenant?”

“So long as my boss doesn’t mind me being late for duty,” she quipped.

They spent the next half hour bouncing each other off the floors, wall and ceiling of the studio. Diaz might have overlooked the potentials of low-G combat at first, but she was a quick study. Only Shaila’s relative youth and the defensive nature of her jujitsu training kept it from being a total rout.

“That was fun,” Diaz said afterward as she threw Shaila a towel and a bottle of water. “I haven’t had a session like that since I came out here. You threw in a few things I didn’t expect.”

“Total desperation,” Shaila said. “Whatever gets the job done.”

Diaz paused. “You know, I was going to go in with a big old pep talk right about now – about yesterday, about you getting your career back on track after Atlantis. All of it.”

Shaila had suspected as much. “But you’re not going to?”

“Nah.”

“Giving up on me that fast, are you?”

Diaz just smiled. “You don’t give up easy. So I figure best thing to do is just let you be.”

“Really.”

“Yep. And hold you acutely accountable for whatever happens,” she added.

Shaila smiled. “Pin me to the floor until I get desperate enough to get out of it?”

“Exactly.” Diaz stood up and grabbed her towel. “You’ve got two smart people working on this thing, but one’s nuts and one’s new. You might not be a scientist, but you’re an officer and a leader, and you’re in charge of this investigation.

“First off, stay focused. I know this duty sucks sometimes, but this has the potential to be big. So keep your head in the game. And make sure Durand and Hiyashi stay on track. Listen to what they have to say and make good decisions on next steps. And don’t let them go on wild goose chases.” Diaz turned to go, but remembered something. “Oh, I almost forgot about Greene.”

Shaila had as well, but her worries came flooding back quickly. “Yes, ma’am, I’d been meaning to ask you about that.”

Diaz was genuinely sympathetic. “Look, he had me in a corner. I didn’t want our fake reactor emergency ending up in the next episode of SpaceScience. So in exchange for his help, and for keeping his mouth shut, you’re going to escort him out to Old Faithful.”

Old Faithful was one of the geysers on the slopes of a nearby mountain range. Yes, Mars has geysers. While the vast majority of water on the planet was found in the ice caps, there were still underground reservoirs of liquid water. Now and then, enough water pressure below the ground built up and created a geyser, spewing muddy water dozens of meters up in the air for a few brief seconds before it evaporated into the atmosphere. The most reliable geyser, which had quickly earned the name of its Earthbound cousin, was just 50 clicks from the base.

“But what if he asks me about Atlantis?” Shaila said. “There’s no way in hell I’m talking about that.”

“You won’t have to,” Diaz assured her. “I told him that’s off-limits, and if he so much as mentions it, you’re free to turn the rover around and come back to base. He even agreed not to put you on camera.”

Shaila scowled, but seemed to weigh her options – of which there were few. “All right,” she finally said. “I’ll try to keep it civil.”

“Good,” Diaz said. “It’s only a couple of hours.” With a little smile, she padded off for the showers. She liked the look in Shaila’s eyes just then. She looked determined. Good.

#SFWApro

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Writing

2 responses to “A deleted scene from The Daedalus Incident

  1. Thanks, Michael.

    Breaking point of view has to be for a good reason–and I am not sure this scene, as you say, carries enough water to mandate its inclusion.

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