DANDELION by Philip R. Johnson and Justin C. Louis – EXCERPT
Today I’m super excited to share with you an excerpt from Dandelion by Philip R. Johnson and Justin C. Louis.
You may know Johnson and Louis from their on-going collaboration on their Sci-Fi web series The Deathworlders, but Dandelion is the first book in a new series, The Newhome Rangers. Check out the official blurb here:
Amber Houston was born light-years from Earth, aboard the enormous colony starship Dandelion. By the age of fourteen, she has spent her entire life training as a “Ranger,” ready for the day when she will be among the first humans ever to set foot on an alien world & build a new civilization.
When Dandelion suffers an emergency toward the end of its journey, Amber & her fellow young rangers are evacuated & land on the planet Newhome years ahead of schedule. While the adults left behind on Dandelion slow the ship & turn it around to come back—in eight years—Amber & her friends must build lives for themselves amid revelations that will change Humankind’s destiny forever.
Meanwhile, aboard the ship, secrets that were buried over three hundred years ago finally come to light…
Excerpt from DANDELION by Philip R. Johnson and Justin C. Louis
Generation Ship Dandelion
Turnover Day, July 28th, Mission year 284
Time to Newhome: 1 year
Climbing Mount Messier could be challenging. It was tall, of course, and its gravelly flanks were filled with opportunities to lose one’s footing. Probably the hardest part about it, though, was the way the gravity got gentler toward the top.
Not many spaceships had mountains in them.
Dandelion wasn’t most spaceships. It was a proportionally narrow cigar-shaped thing, fifty kilometers long, with twenty of that being taken up entirely by engines, reactors, manufacturing systems, a colossal supercomputer, and all the other things that made it a ship. Those features were interesting in a mechanical way, but as far as Amber Houston was concerned, it was the ship’s biodeck that truly fascinated.
The biodeck was where the crew lived, on the inner surface of the ship’s cavernous hollow interior. Where other spaceships might have had a claustrophobic warren of halls, decks and metal bays, Dandelion had forests, lakes, rivers, a sprawling city surrounded by dozens of smaller towns, and a patchwork quilt of farms to support the million souls who called the ship home. As the ship flew, it spun leisurely around its long axis and generated a kind of locally variable gravity, so that the force Amber felt at Mount Messier’s summit was noticeably weaker than at the base.
It all made for a breathtaking view. When Amber looked up, she could watch the shuttle trains on the delicate silver web of the monorail network or see the little sailing boats floating upside-down on Lake Dyson’s clear blue waters, far overhead on the far side of the hull. Down the very middle of it all, a cluster of blazing hot lamps crawled slowly along a rail from “sunrise” at the front of the ship to “sunset” at the back, simulating perfect sunny weather.
Summer days were the best for hiking.
Amber was a Ranger. Everybody went through Ranger training when they were young, and at fourteen years old she was more than halfway through hers. In theory she knew how to survive in the wilderness, how to light a fire, pitch a tent, purify water, and dozens of other practical skills. In a year’s time when Dandelion arrived in orbit around the alien planet Newhome, Amber and her friends would be ready to descend to the surface alongside the adults and start building a colony on an untouched, untamed world that had never known human life.
She was looking forward to it. Life on Dandelion was pleasant, but with nothing occupying her thoughts except the business of putting one foot in front of the other and walking up the mountain, Amber’s mind wandered away. She daydreamed of looking up and seeing nothing overhead but sky.
Which was why she didn’t notice the rock in her path until she tripped over it.
The downside to lower gravity was that all her instincts were wrong. Rather than just stumbling, she completely lost her balance, staggered forward several paces, then threw herself sideways to avoid crashing into a bramble thicket, and grazed her knee as she wound up sprawling in the dirt.
She rolled over and hissed at the scratchy pain in her knee. She’d had plenty of worse falls, but they never got less embarrassing, especially not when a couple of the other nearby Rangers helped her stand up.
“Are you okay? You’re bleeding!”
Amber sighed and looked down as she dusted herself off. She could feel her knee throbbing under her tough hiking shorts, and sure enough there was a little blood tickling its way down her shin. She knew that Walker, the troop’s Rangermaster, was right when he blamed her clumsinesses on the fact that she never watched where she was going, but that didn’t take any of the sting out at all.
“I’m fine,” she promised.
Walker jogged back down the line wearing his trademark huge smile. He wasn’t a tall man, but he more than made up for it with a sturdy gorilla-like build and all the strength that came with it. His wide barrel chest and long thick arms were knotted heavily with muscle like gnarled old wood. He had a perpetually young quality too, despite that he was something like fifty years old; his energy and goofy enthusiasm made it easy to overlook the flecks of white in his hair and beard, or the lines in his deeply tanned skin.
He grinned that charming grin of his as he bounced to a halt. “You okay?”
“I grazed my knee,” Amber confessed.
Walker nodded, then turned and raised his voice. “Okay, Rangers, listen up! We’re taking a break for ten minutes!” he called. “Drink some water, sit down, go behind a bush if you need to, but stay with the group!”
As the rest of the troop took advantage of the unexpected stop, Amber sat down on the rock that had tripped her so he could inspect the damage.
Walker glanced at her scrape. “Yup, another Houston Hiccup,” he confirmed. “Taking in the view again, huh?”
“Yeah,” Amber admitted.
Walker chuckled, reached for the holster at his hip, and pulled out a Universal Tool. “I don’t blame you. I never get tired of it, either.”
Amber nodded and looked around again. Even though she’d grown up on Dandelion and saw the same view every day, it never quite stopped amazing her that people had built it. Okay, so Mount Messier was a weird saddle shape, but it still behaved like a mountain. Rivers still trickled down its flanks, pine trees still haunted its sides, and there were even snow cannons dotted up and down its slopes. The ship’s weather systems couldn’t produce precipitation like rain or snow, but the Rangers still went skiing and cold-weather hiking in the “winter.”
Now, though, was the middle of “summer.” The sun lamps were at maximum output, the ambient temperature hot enough to make the air shimmer, and even the crickets sounded drowsy in the mid-day heat.
Walker slotted a medical cartridge into his U-Tool and used it to spray something cold and clear onto the graze. Amber hissed, but the stinging and bleeding stopped instantly. With a grin, Walker twirled the useful device around his finger and vanished it back into its holster on his hip, then helped her stand up.
Amber nodded. “Okay.”
“Eyes on the path, Ranger,” he reminded her jovially, and bounced off to deal with another minor crisis. Feeling a little better, Amber unclipped her pack and set it down next to her best friends, the McKay twins.
Roy McKay gave her his most infuriating grin. “Holding up the group again…”
Amber couldn’t help but smile. Somehow, she didn’t mind being teased by Roy.
“Witty,” Roy’s twin sister Nikki commented. She shuffled aside to make room for Amber to sit down while wearing a grin to mirror her brother’s. Amber didn’t much mind being teased by her, either. As far as she was concerned, Roy and Nikki were effectively her brother and sister, and she knew they felt the same.
Despite that, they couldn’t have been more physically opposite. Where Amber was tall and ungainly, with bony limbs and a light frame, the twins were dense, punchy athletic specimens. Where they were all cold shades of black hair, blue eyes and pale skin, Amber was a study in warm, healthy dark browns.
Some of the other Rangers found the twins intimidating, and for good reason. At fifteen years old, they were the most senior Rangers in the troop, and they’d been taking outerdeck engineering apprenticeships since they were thirteen. They were growing dense and stocky on it, which wasn’t surprising; the “gravity” of the ship’s spin strengthened oppressively the further down one got into the system decks, where Dandelion was made of metal and machines, a maze of corridors, pipes, and conduits. Not many could hack it. Even fewer made it their careers.
Compared to Amber, who was made of skinny limbs and bony joints, Nikki was a sporty, broad-shouldered study in feminine muscularity, and Roy was…
Well, Roy was Roy. He was the most boy creature Amber had ever known and a bottomless pit for food, especially meat and cheese. He was never happier than when he was doing something strenuously physical, especially if he was the best at it. He usually was. Roy had excelled at practically every single sport he’d ever tried, and he had at one point or another tried them all. Which really wasn’t surprising, since he was a hyperactive bear-like wall of muscle and built like a figurative brick outhouse. For a young man he wasn’t more than averagely tall, but like Walker, he was tough-bodied and rock-solid like petrified hardwood.
For the sake of his mum’s nerves, he’d given up riskier activities like kayaking and downhill biking, but in return he’d devoted himself to his true loves: rugby, lifting, and combat sports. He was an unstoppable wing forward, previously the ship’s teen champion overall and super-heavyweight wrestler and judoka, currently ranked among the Big Eight in the adult classes for the same, and had lately turned his eye toward the ship’s long-standing powerlifting records. Amber doubted it would take long for them to fall before his aggressive, relentlessly cheery ambition.
Nikki was no less impressive. She wasn’t a super-jock like her brother—the repetition of practice didn’t suit her, and in any case, she was so far ahead of her peers that competition just didn’t capture her attention—but she was incredibly strong herself, and had earned her share of gold medals for track and target shooting. More importantly, at least to Amber’s mind, Nikki had both a creative flair and a deft grace to her movements that Roy sometimes lacked. She could make or repair almost anything, vanish into dense foliage with nary a rustle, and flow through an obstacle course like a ferret. Together, they made for a heck of a team.
In fact, Amber wondered if the twins were unstoppable.
“She’ll have a great comeback in ten minutes,” Roy joked, and handed Amber his water bottle. He was gruff when he teased but always did so with a warm smile.
“Like you never fell over…” Amber retorted and took a sip.
“I don’t!” Roy boasted cheerily. “You’re like the all-time world champion at tripping over stuff! We should start awarding you points. You know, like diving!”
“Shut up!” Amber repeated, trying not to laugh.
Nikki grinned, “He’s just jealous you’re so good at the one sport he’s useless at!”
“I mean, she’s not wrong,” Amber pointed out. “The one time you tried diving, the splash hit people in the third row!”
“He sinks like a rock, too,” Nikki added. “Can’t even tread water.”
It was Roy’s turn to be indignant. “Oh, that is bull—!”
“Save your energy for tonight, Roy!” Walker’s voice cut in before the usual back-and-forth could devolve into an affectionate physical scuffle like it usually did with the twins. “Prove them wrong! If you can…”
“We’re stopping at the lake?”
“We’re camping there. And I’ll let you pick the challenge this time, just you and me! Rock shuttle, or swim across the lake?”
Amber traded a knowing look with Nikki and Walker. That was a genuinely devious little challenge he’d offered. There weren’t many people who could beat Walker’s strength…but Roy could, and they both knew it. He’d also just been called out on his questionable aquatic skills, and if there was anything Roy couldn’t stand…
“Yeah, I’m gonna prove I can swim just fine!” he asserted, predictably.
“Sure you are.” Nikki smirked and hoisted her pack as she stood up. It was twice the size of Amber’s, burdened as it was with their tent, but she swung it up onto her shoulders and settled it easily. “Time to head out?”
“Time to head out,” Walker agreed. That earned him three eager smiles. He flashed his own lopsided grin at the three of them in reply and spun away back toward the head of the party. “Everybody up! Time to move!” he called.
Amber hoisted her own pack, patted off some of the dirt from her clothes, and forgot about her grazed knee entirely. She had a hike to look forward to, camping at the end of it, and in the evening would be The Story.
Today was going to be fun.