Christine Danse has a new MM sci fi book out:
Dr. London Wells, linguist and adventurer, has the unique ability to understand any language in the universe, including the languages left behind by the ancient dead races of the Lost Planets – making him an intergalactic celebrity. But London likes his privacy—and he always works alone. No assistants, no entourage. When he goes on expedition to a Lost Planet, it’s just him, the memory of dead aliens, and the resident man-eating fauna. He’s a self-sufficient sharp shooter whose insatiable curiosity can stand up to any danger.
Until he breaks his head falling from a cliff. That changes everything.
Now, after a long recovery, London is onto the greatest discovery of his life: a language to prove a connection between the Lost Planets. In order to investigate further, he’ll need to travel to an unforgiving alien planet. But he can’t go alone. That’s his dean’s last condition: either he travels with a research assistant, or not at all.
Unfortunately for London, graduate student Chas Chambers is not the only unexpected element on this trip…
London Wells Book One
Guest Post and Deleted Scene
At submission, the Spires of Turris manuscript was 116,000 words. The final manuscript was 102,000 words. That’s a nice chunk of story, a novelette’s worth. Most of that was shaved off in tiny bits. Unnecessary sentences, descriptions that waxed too long, the ends of scenes that stretched on past their prime: those sorts of things ended up on the cutting room floor, and they do pile up.
It was a rare scene that got chucked wholesale (most were either moved or chop, chop, chopped down to size), but there was this one. London and Chas are climbing hell-bent up an alien mountain and share an adrenaline-charged moment. I’m fond of the scene, but the pacing dragged and the perilous climbing started to get repetitive, so the overall book worked better without it. But you know what? I think it makes a fantastic deleted scene to share. It’s a little gritty and a little sweet, and 100% London-and-Chas. Enjoy!
Chas stood at the edge, one hand shielding his eyes from the late afternoon sun. He stood erect and still, arrested by the sight of the world below. Even motionless, he had a vibrancy, a vitality as brisk as his movements, like all the exercise had charged him. He looked in place under the light of a sun.
He glanced back at me, hazel eyes catching the sun and blazing amber. “Dr. Wells—”
“Sorry. London, you should see this. It’s—”
“Incredible. I know.” I sat up, and my head momentarily felt like it would pop as the blood flow rebalanced itself. I blinked at a lingering pressure at the base of my skull that hinted at a headache to come. I snapped open my canteen, took a pull, and swished my parched mouth. Way out there in the deeply blue sky, a wisp of a cloud had formed. A rare and precious creature here, just a brushstroke of white, a breath of moisture in the blue desert of the afternoon sky.
Chas smiled at me.
My gaze dropped down, and for the first time, I took in the view below. For an instant, reality flipped upside down, and I was standing on a ledge of white stone looking out over a canyon and a flat grassland tinted amber by an alien sun. My skin jumped.
Then I was sitting on tan rock looking out at the flat, bleached landscape of Turris. It fairly glowed like alabaster under the bright sun, and I could see the spires, a field of shining white hairs in the distance, furring an otherwise smooth pale landscape. No, not hairs. Filaments of crystal accenting a marble surface, lit up in the sun.
I’d been panting to recover oxygen lost in the climb. Now I stopped breathing.
This. This was the reason I came. The languages, the discovery, the history, the challenge—all of it fell away right then. Just a structure, a scaffold, an excuse, for this moment: taking in a real view no other human being had ever had, earned by the effort of my own muscle.
Chas and I shared a minute taking in that vista.
Chas was the first to look away. He glanced up the mountainside in the direction we’d have to go.
“Now that,” he said, “would be a nice climb.”
He pointed to a vertical cliff face at least 100 feet straight up, shot through with cracks just wide enough for enterprising fingers. He tossed me a grin.
“It looks like there’s a cave up there. It’d save us a long hike up to it.”
I eyed the cliff up and down. “With no climbing gear?” I turned my skeptical gaze to him. “After all we’ve been through, it’s only just now occurred to me you have a death wish.”
The grin widened. He winked.
We took the long hike around.
In retrospect, it wasn’t much safer or easier than the shortcut up the cliff would have been. The thin path clung to the side of the mountain, narrowing to two feet wide in places. At one shoulder was the bald tan rock of the mountain. At the other, empty air and a drop that led straight down into the foothills. I didn’t look that way.
The path led at a steep angle far past our cliff, then took a tricky switchback. It thinned to nothing there, and about five feet up was another ledge. It looked as if at one time there might have been a connecting piece of rock which would have acted as a step up, but if so, the brittle stone had long since sheered away there.
“Not terrible,” Chas said. Ever the optimist.
I pulled away chunks of rock with my hands. I gave him an ironic look.
“So we’ll have to be careful,” he said. “But that looks solid enough up there.” He tested his weight against the ledge above. The very edge crumbled to dust, but the greater part of the stone held.
“Want me to go first?” he asked, brushing rock dust from his hands.
“I’ve got it,” I said. If one of us was going down with a rockslide, let it be me. Chas had the better overall chance of surviving this trip anyway. One of us needed to live to tell the university what had happened. I gripped the edge of the ledge.
“Here,” said Chas, and knelt on the narrow path to cup his hands in front of him. I frowned back at him. I wanted to refuse but it took all my energy just to ignore the empty sky and the expansive vista beyond. I fit my foot on his joined hands.
He hoisted me up. With our combined power, I nearly launched past the ledge and turned the momentum into a tumble that slammed me into the wall of the mountain. The world tumbled with me.
Chas peered up. “You all right?”
The sky spun with unexpected violence. I swallowed. “Yeah.” I pressed the heel of my hand to my forehead and then sat up. “Next time, I do the launching and you can rocket into space.”
“Come on,” I said, and held an arm down for him. He hardly needed it, leaping like a mountain goat and landing lightly beside me.
Our gazes met, his expression amused. Show off, I thought. Then the look in his eyes changed. He began to drop.
My hand darted out. For an instant, I almost launched out into the nothingness with him. I caught a nice wide glimpse of the long drop behind him. But I literally had no time for vertigo. I grabbed Chas by the shirt collar and hauled him into me. I crashed into the wall with him in my arms.
We breathed together raggedly for a moment, his ear pressed to mine. Distantly, I heard the clatter of rocks hitting the mountainside far below. Chas was solid and hot in my arms. Somehow my mouth had landed half-open against his shoulder. I tasted rock dust and male musk in the fabric of his shirt.
The moment passed, and we were still standing on solid ground. I ventured a look beside us. The end of the ledge, where Chas had been standing, was gone. A foot to the left, and we would have both gone plunging. It was too familiar of a sight. I turned my eyes up to the sky, but the dip of vertigo was mitigated by the anchor of Chas. I swallowed down my gorge.
“Fancy a fall like mine?” I said, surprised at how shaky I sounded. “There are less dangerous ways to be like me, I assure you.”
He pulled away, and yes, he was smiling. Our mouths were a breath away, and for one crazy instant—heart pounding and buzzing on adrenaline—
“You’re shaking,” he said.
I scowled. I stepped to the side and we disengaged. “Adrenaline. You’re not?”
He gave me a funny smile—something about it made my stomach dip all over again—then he held up a hand. It quivered finely. “Yeah.”
“We would have been better off taking the cliff,” I admitted, and something bade me to look up. The sky above had darkened to an ominous gray-blue.
The hairs on my arm stood up in a wave.
“Storm,” I said.
Electric storms blew in quickly here. Sometimes it was the work of an instant for one to spin up out of thin air, and they could rattle over the mountain for hours. We had been lucky not to encounter any, although the higher and deeper we climbed, the greater our risk of getting caught in a shower of lightening.
Suddenly, I understood the brittleness of the rocks and the veins of shiny rock shot through them.
“Let’s move,” I said.
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I appeared at the Humanities ballroom at 1800 sharp with everything but literal bells on. The suit fit snugly. A folded piece of vellum was tucked into my vest pocket.
Small knots of people stood scattered around the bright antechamber. The yellow and blue crystals of the chandelier threw geometric patterns of light around the room. A student waved from one of the corners.
I waved back and strolled to the double doors of the ballroom. The sound of chamber music drifted out with the din of voices and a sweet smell, like champagne.
I scanned the drifting mass of bodies but didn’t see Sita. There seemed to be a pretty clear path around the wall; I could make a quick circuit around the room to find her before I collected a glass of bubbly and started the tribal ritual of bumping elbows with students and fellow faculty.
The student waved again, vigorously, from the corner of my vision. I realized she stood next to a research poster. Damn, and she’d already caught my eye. I smiled and approached.
It was Aelia who saved me, three student posters and twenty minutes later.
I glanced back to spot her approaching in a slim red dress, waving at me with a champagne flute already half-emptied.
“Please excuse me,” I said to the undergrad who had been telling me about Tuvan time orientation. I turned and bowed. “Doctora Capra.”
She flushed. “Dr. Wells, you’re looking…dashing.” Her dark eyes traveled up and down the length of me. “Look at your shoulders in that suit.”
“And you look extraordinarily stunning, my lady.” An Italian beauty, with olive skin and a cascade of mahogany curls. I’d’ve been head over heels. If. Her red lips quirked, like she knew it too. I offered her my elbow. She took it, and we walked arm in arm toward the ballroom.
“A top hat and everything,” she said. Her eyes danced at me.
“Do you like it?”
“It is very you. Very…Victorian gentleman.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said, and touched the brim.
We grinned. Then we pressed into the sea of sound and bodies through the ballroom doors. I bent my head to her ear. “Have you seen the dean?”
“Somewhere around here,” she half shouted. “Don’t worry. I’ll vouch that you were here.”
“Very kind of you.” I patted her hand. “Hey, I think that’s her. I hope you will excuse me, my lady.” I raised her fingers, kissed them, exchanged a wink with her.
Sita, if that had been her, had already disappeared into the crowd when I turned. I wove through, hoping to catch sight of where she’d turned. I froze.
I thought perhaps I was just seeing things, the Ghost of Faculty Mixers Past, but then he turned his white smile to someone next to him and I caught an unmistakable look at his profile. The Roman nose and the square chin that, on another person, might have looked like a caricature artist’s joke. He made it imperious.
He began to look up, and I pushed back through the crowd. My heart banged—but not in anger, as it should. Ridiculous. He should have been the one running, not me.
This wasn’t “running,” though. This was tact. If I collided with Mata tonight, I wasn’t sure I could control my expression or my mouth. I was here for Sita.
“Dr. Wells? Would you like a glass?”
I realized I stood next to the champagne bar. An ex-student watched me hopefully and expectantly, waiting to place her own order. Half a dozen other people watched me, too. They probably thought I’d skipped the line. I touched my hat in silent apology and said, “The asti, please.” I could use it.
The student dazzled me a smile and repeated the order to the bartender. A minute later, drink in hand, I was safely ensconced in a group of students with my back to the wall and no Felix in sight. Also, no dean, but I could be patient, especially now that Mata had already shaved the edge of immediacy from my excitement. None of the students asked me about research assistantship, certainly a plus.
I drank, nodded to the conversation, and kept an eye on the crowd. Felix Mata. What would he be doing at a faculty mixer? The first and obvious answer was too distressing to consider. Of course, I might have been mistaken, as I’d only caught a flash of him. But a flash was all I needed to recognize that aristocratic profile and black mane of hair. He still wore it down and unbound. He must be near fifty now. What self-respecting man of fifty wore his hair down like some twenty-year-old Don Juan? There was a shot of gray in it. I wanted to feel smug about that, but the fact was, the color suited him. Everything suited him.
I drained the last of my champagne. I realized the small circle of students had gone silent and stared at me. Someone had asked a question.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Will you be offering another section of Advanced Lost Languages next semester?”
“You’ll have to ask the dean. And tell your friends to ask, too. Courses are offered if enough people show interest in them. If you’ll excuse me.”
I ducked out and skulked for the doors to catch a breath of fresh air and regroup. I was sweating under the suit, and the edges of a headache threatened.
Out in the antechamber, the din of voices dropped back like a curtain. Once there, I knew I’d be calling it a night. I’d made my appearance, and I could show Sita my discovery tomorrow.
“London, there you are.”
And there was the dean now, parting the crowd with her slight form. She looked handsome in a classic black dress, hair twisted into a slick bun. I thought she’d scold me for leaving early, but she smiled with glossy maroon lips.
I’d tucked my top hat under my arm to make myself less of a target in the crowd, an attempt not to be noticed by Felix. As I turned to meet her, I placed it back on with a twirl of my wrist.
She held out her hand. “I’ve been looking for you, London.”
I squeezed her fingers. “Dean Tiwari. Afraid I would bow out?”
“Never, if you know what’s good for you. Look at you. You look like you stepped right out of a Victorian sim.”
I bowed low at the waist and kissed her knuckles. She smelled of sandalwood and cardamom. The piece of vellum in my breast pocket burned a hole there. I straightened, lips parting to ask if we could move somewhere quiet to speak. My gaze rose to the man standing at her elbow and the words died.
Sita’s smile widened. “London, I’d like you to meet someone. Chas Chambers. He’s a master’s student in Language Studies. Chas, this is Dr. Wells.”
Suddenly I felt a fool in my costume, a big kid playing dress up. My hand went to my hat. I removed it.
“Chas,” I said, taking the big hand he proffered me. This time, it was dry and warm. My all-too-helpful gentleman caller from yesterday cleaned up well in a charcoal suit. Its sharp angles accentuated his high cheekbones and trim waist. Almost alarmingly trim, under the broad chest and arms. The suit contained him neatly, but just. He looked powerful but sophisticated. In short: classy. He smiled at me, and a trace of the self-consciousness remained, but there was confidence in his demeanor this time. His other hand was tucked into his pants pocket.
“We had the pleasure of meeting just the other day,” I said with a nod to Sita, as if he hadn’t walked in on me nearly toppling from a ladder. “Language Studies, huh? You’re a new student, then.”
“This is my third semester,” he said.
That would put him nearly halfway through the program. I did the math. He must have begun the program the same semester I set out for Anemoi and had completed nearly half of it since then. It hit me then just how much time had passed. It also hit me, in a strange way, how expendable I was. I was director of Language Studies; in my absence Sita must have admitted him herself. Life went on without me. The wheels continued to turn.
Into my own dumb silence, I said, “Well. And what’s your focus?”
“The Lost languages.” Then, in carefully clipped Oblitian, he said, “This is my favorite of the languages. I fell in love with it while reading Words in the Wilderness.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone else speak a full statement in the language. Sita smiled, not because she understood Chas’ words, but because she understood the expression on my face.
“You know it well,” I responded in the same language.
He nodded. “I admire your work.”
Right. Well. “Thank you.”
Sita looked between the two of us, her smile quizzical.
In Basic, I said, “Good luck with your continuing studies.”
“Thank you. It’s really good to meet you. Properly, this time.”
Now why did I feel like such a chump for turning him down for a research assistantship that had never existed?
“London,” said Sita. “Would you meet me in my office in an hour? There was something I wanted to talk to you about.”
My hand went to my vest pocket. “I wanted to talk to you, too.”
“It’s a date, then.”
Christine lives with her writing partner in the wilds of urban Oregon, where they raise weeds, worms, and eyebrows.
Author Website: http://christinedanse.com/