Read an Excerpt From Victor Manibo’s Escape Velocity

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Escape Velocity, a new science fiction thriller by Victor Manibo, publishing with Erewhon Books on May 21st.

Space Habitat Altaire is the premier luxury resort in low Earth orbit, playground of the privileged and the perfect location to host reunions for the Rochford Institute. Rochford boasts only the best: the wealthiest, most promising students with the most impressive pedigrees. Complete with space walks, these lavish reunions are a prime opportunity for alumni to jockey for power with old friends and rivals—and crucially, to advance their applications to live in an exclusive Mars settlement. Earth is dying, and only the best deserve to save themselves.

Aboard the Altaire for their 25th reunion, finance magnate Ava pursues the truth about her brother’s murder during their senior year, which cast a dark shadow over their time at Rochford. Laz, ambassador and political scion, hopes to finally win Ava’s heart. Sloane, collecting secrets to conceal his family’s decline, angles for a key client. And Henry, heir to a healthcare empire, creates an unorthodox opportunity to get to Mars in a last-ditch effort to outrun a childhood secret.

While these erstwhile friends settle scores and rack up points, they fail to notice that other agendas are afoot at the Space Habitat Altaire, and their own futures aren’t the only ones at stake—“the best” will soon regret underestimating those they would leave behind on Earth.

Aboard the Space Habitat Altaire, old friends see each other again, years after graduating from the elite Rochford Institute and reuniting amongst the stars. Each with separate agendas, Ava, Henry, Sloane, and Laz speak all together for the first time in decades as outside, the stars shine bright against the dark of space…

Ava looked at the three of them and smiled. Back at Rochford, she could always count on her friends for interference, in case a snide remark came her way, or if someone picked a fight. Henry did most of the heavy lifting, acting both as a protector and PR manager, using his influence to rehabilitate her reputation. Sloane did his part too, in his own, more personal way. He held her hand, sat with her, helped her process her trauma, as she did his. They commiserated in their common pain and gave refuge to each other in a way their other friends could not provide. But if she were asked, the one who helped the most was Laz. Like the other two, he also cared for her and fought the charm offensive on her behalf, but most of all, he loved her. He loved her even when everyone was saying that she murdered her own twin. She had never been able to return it, and she grew weary of the unrelenting way Laz expressed it, but that love sustained her. 

That’s why they did it, Ava tried to convince herself. Out of loyalty and an instinct to protect, out of a duty that they’ve taken upon themselves. Out of love. In the public eye, she was equally guilty as Daniela for Ashwin’s death. Her friends lied, kept things from her and from everyone else, in order to save her. Yet as her trip to Altaire drew closer, the more she delved into the details she’d recently unearthed, she saw the truth of her friends’ motives: they didn’t lie to protect her. They lied to protect themselves. 

Suddenly, a series of beeps issued from high above the observation lounge. One tinny beep followed by two longer blares, repeated twice, then a long pause before the pattern began its loop. The din in the viewing area lowed to an expectant hush.  

“Which one is that again?” Sloane asked. Naturally he’d already forgotten the safety protocols. 

“That’ll be a station-wide announcement,” Henry replied. Ava smiled uneasily. 

The beeping abated, replaced by Captain Williams’ calming voice. “Good evening, Space Habitat Altaire. This is your captain speaking,” she began.  

“It appears that two sizeable pieces of debris are headed toward the station’s orbit. Impact is expected within the hour, and evasive maneuvers might need to be taken. This, however, is no cause for alarm. As you might know from your pre-departure safety training, collisions with space debris are common, and Altaire has a full suite of defenses against damage to the station and harm to its guests.” 

A tense uproar issued from one of the corners of the viewing platform. Two light vessels ejected from the station’s shuttle bay and coasted away. Henry slipped on his visor for a closer look.  

“It’s far enough,” Henry said. “We should be fine.” 

Buy the Book

Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity

Victor Manibo

“Are you sure?” Laz asked. “‘Far’ means nothing out here, especially if we’re dealing with a big enough cascade. One thing crashes into another, then another, and before you know it and entire barrage of space junk is hurtling toward us like a hail of bullets.” 

“That’s what the shuttles are for,” Ava explained. “Their shields and laser capabilities that can deflect material away from the station or obliterate it completely.”  

“See, I expected that depth of knowledge from the nerd over here,” Sloane replied, cocking his head at Henry. “But you? This wasn’t covered in our safety training, was it?” 

Ava shrugged. “Khan-Powell has a stake in the Altaire, which means we get a first look at the station specs, including all of its shuttles.” 

“Well then, tell me more about the Altaire’s secrets,” he replied, intrigued. “Is it true the greenhouse plants are fed with—” 

“Why would the shuttles have laser capabilities?” Henry interrupted. 

Sloane snorted, suppressing laughter. “Is station security worried about… pew-pew space pirates?” 

“Only for debris maintenance,” Ava replied. “They’re only powerful enough to deflect the average low-orbit projectile.” 

“If you have a view of the front of the station—that’s the side facing away from Earth,” the captain’s announcement continued, “You’ll see that I’ve deployed our shuttles Castor and Pollux to impede the oncoming debris. I will give you all another update soon, but for now, sit back, relax, and if you’re so inclined, watch our Safety & Security team in action through our viewing platforms and screens.” 

“That’s a relief,” Laz said. “Looks like they have it handled.” 

“For now,” Henry replied. 

“The things we have to endure for five points. Good thing this trip is free.” 

“God, even your cocktail chatter is repetitive,” Sloane told Laz with a look of torture on his face. “Did you have a speech writer draft this up?” 

“Sloane, be nice,” Henry replied, “Or else I’ll send you back to your room with no supper.” 

At the reminder, Ava did the quick mental math of her MERIT score. She had 77 all told, and a handful more by the time this weekend was over. She wondered how her friends fared. Laz certainly had a lot banked, and despite being unmarried, he was straight. Despite the happy marriage, Henry wasn’t as fortunate, though given his careerist ways, not to mention his husband’s, they no doubt more than made up for it. Sloane surely had a substantial deficit. He lacked any sort of fixed and gainful employment and might even have disqualifiers that Ava didn’t know about. 

“Look, the only reason this is trip free is so Lonsdale Aerospace can get its hands on big-fish investors,” he replied, to Ava’s agreement. “You think they’d shuttle every Rochford class up here every goddamn year out of the goodness of their hearts? Everyone has an agenda.” 

“And what is yours,” Henry asked in a jovial tone. “Besides where your next drink is coming from?” 

“It’s not Mars, I’ll tell you that much. Fuck the points.” 

“Oh, if only they were transferable! I’d love to unburden you of yours,” Laz replied with a laugh.  

“Christ, it’s not a resource to be traded, Laz. It’s a made-up metric for a made-up system of fucked-up rules.” 

“It’s an interesting concept though. A marketplace for points,” Henry mused. “Let’s admit it, billions of people don’t stand a chance of scoring high enough to qualify anyway. Their points languish unused.” 

“They could revive that proposal. Didn’t your dad propose an exchange program a while ago?” 

Ava flushed. Laz should know better than to bring up her father. “I don’t concern myself with his work, you know that.” 

“That must be difficult,” Henry said with sympathy. “I can’t imagine myself not wanting to know what goes on at the MSA, especially from the man who gets to decide these things.” 

“Well, he doesn’t really decide anything,” Laz countered. “He’s a country delegate, and they all get an equal vote. Trust me, us diplomats have very little sway.” 

“The Mars Settlement Agency is quite different though, isn’t it?” Henry said. “It’s not some state department position serving at the pleasure of the President. The people on the MSA directly decide the future of humanity.”  

The reminder cast a darker pall on Ava’s mood. It had always been a sore spot for her, one of many from that period of her life. In the abstract, she understood a father’s grief. And so she shouldn’t have been surprised at what Ashwin’s death had driven her father to do. He’d been a lawmaker all his life. Of course, he’d want to make sure that criminals would never get a second chance on a new planet. In time, with her father’s efforts, and the myriad means of persuasion he had at his disposal, the dream of a new beginning on Mars became one reserved only for “the best of us.” 

Ava scanned the observation lounge, watched her friends and the rest of her high school cohort. If it weren’t for her father and the people who believed as he did, no one in that starlit hall would be as close to setting foot on Mars as they were. Everyone there—herself, the people she loved and those who loathed her—they all reaped the benefits of a system that was built out of her brother’s murder and the innocent woman made to take the fall for it. 

“Laz went ahead and booked us a table at the Altesse,” Ava cut in, tiring of the talk of Mars. “Shall we continue this over dinner?” 

“I’m afraid I can’t,” Henry replied. “Nick managed to get us invited to the Captain’s Table.” 

“Fancy,” Sloane said with an eye roll. 

“Same restaurant, just different company, is all. I promise to make it up to all of you. Also, this way, you get to talk about me behind me back.” 

Sloane feigned insult. “Us? Never.” 

“You’re joining, right?” Laz asked him. “We’ll aim to meet your alcohol requirement well before we get to the digestifs.” 

“I think I’ll have to pass too. I need to make my rounds, rub elbows… you know how it is.” 

“Are you sure? At least give me a chance to make up for earlier.” 

“I’m sure you’d like that,” Sloane replied, his tone softer. He leaned over for a hug goodbye, the episode at the casino evidently forgiven. “I will see you all at the Moon Pools though, right?” 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Laz said sheepishly. “Who’s coming? Or should I say, who got the invite?” 

“The right people. But most importantly, me.” 

“Nick and I will be there,” Henry said. “I know the Lonsdales are too.” 

“And how about you, love?” Sloane asked Ava.  

“Let me think about it,” she replied. She had received the invite that had been covertly delivered to her suite, but Ava knew she wasn’t going. She never attended these sorts of parties. The boys knew that too, but they always ask and she always hedged for their benefit anyway. 

“It’ll be fuuun,” Sloane said in a sing-song way. “Might not feel like it at first, but by the end of it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy yourself.” 

Right then, the viewing platforms erupt in a commotion. The four friends made their way closer to the panorama, nervous conversations overlapping as they approached the crowd. Something about the shuttles, an explosion. Ava rushed to the edge of the glass that separated them from the dead of space.  

“The shuttles—they’re coming back,” shouted one of the guests. Smatterings of applause followed. “There were flashes of light and thought something bad happened,” another told Ava. “But it seems like we’re fine now.” 

Ava squinted to see where the woman pointed, and sighed in relief as she spotted the Castor and Pollux. Their thrusters were fully engaged and speeding toward the Altaire. Ava realized then that the crowd’s relief may have been premature. 

“They’re coming in too fast,” Henry said, stealing the words from Ava’s mouth. 

“Is that a bad thing?” Sloane asked soberly. 

“Only because they’re rushing out of there,” he replied. “They’re trying to evade something.” 

“And they used the lasers,” Ava added. Not the nets, or the shields, or the magnetic arms, but their last, most extreme means of debris management, which meant that whatever they failed to intercept was either too big or too fast to contain. 

“Alright, there’s no need to panic. We don’t have the full picture yet,” Laz said. He seemed as blissfully unaware as the rest of the guests, some of whom still clapped as the shuttles came closer into view. Didn’t all these people graduate from a space training program? Ava mused, annoyed. Did they forget how many things could go wrong out there? 

Three loud blares rang from the speaker system, looping in a pattern louder and more urgent than the last. The lights that encircled the ceiling’s perimeter changed into a bright red. Nobody needed to be reminded that the signal meant distress.  

“Fuck. I need to find my husband.” Henry scanned the room and broke off from the group. As soon as he did, Nick cut through the crowd, panting. “We might need to follow the evacuation plan.” 

“But they haven’t announced anything yet,” Sloane said. 

“It’s better to be ahead of these things,” Henry replied. Laz nodded in agreement. He wrapped an arm around Ava and led the way out the observation lounge. The others followed. Everyone beelined for the exits but then stopped in their tracks when the Captain’s voice came on again. 

“Honored guests, we apologize for the inconvenience. The Altaire needs to make a minor evasive maneuver following our attempts at containing foreign debris. The maneuver will require us to engage thrusters and turn,” she said amid gasps from the guests. “This should only feel like a gentle rocking motion underfoot and should be over in a matter of seconds. In any event, everyone should recall their safety briefing in the event of minor impacts. If you are in your cabin, please remain there for the time being. If you are not in your cabin, please situate yourselves wherever you are able to brace…” 

“Looks like we’re staying put,” Sloane said through the announcement. Captain Williams reiterated the instructions from their pre-flight training, reminding everyone of the essentials and announcing specific, coded instructions for the crew.  

The group retreated into one of the lounge’s VIP booths, one hidden away underneath a mezzanine balcony. Laz sidled closer to Ava, holding her hand tighter in reassurance. “This is nothing,” he said. “It’s just like airplane turbulence.”  

“Except instead of rough air, we’re dodging a hailstorm of debris,” Sloane snapped.  

“Worse still, it’s a large enough maneuver large that the entire station has to be put on alert,” Henry said. “Things went wrong on several levels here, and it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.” 

Though Henry directed his complaint at the Altaire crew, Ava felt a pang of censure. Only minutes ago had she explained her firm’s stake in the station, her insider knowledge into the station’s inner workings. She now felt a sense of ownership over the Altaire, one that had been rightly rebuked by her friend. 

A hush settled as the alarm system died down, though the lights remained a distressing red. Everyone huddled into corners, waiting for their world to shift. The thrusters came to life with a a low, constant rumble beneath their feet. The distress signal went off again, sending the hall into panic. Ava knew what it meant, and merely leaned back into her seat, feeling the slow and steady pull of a backward recline. Soon, everyone felt it. Yelps and shrieks came as the floor beneath them shifted, joined in cacophony by the sliding of tables, the clinking and occasional breaking of fallen glasses. The creaks and turns of the Altaire’s guts and limbs provided a dull bass line to the syncopation. This didn’t feel like airplane turbulence, this was a magnitude-six earthquake. 

Ava closed her eyes, ignoring all the noise to focus on her breathing. Four counts inhale, four counts exhale. Her breath was all there was. That, and the gradual sense of sinking. 

The hall erupted into screaming as the whole station swiftly jolted, its rotational gravity engines catching up with its momentum. Ava lurched forward, her chest hitting the table before she had a chance to brace herself. A searing pain overwhelmed her. Laz mumbled some words that she couldn’t hear over the commotion. She felt another rumble and quickly clutched the edge of the table. Head down and eyes closed, Ava felt Laz wrap an arm around her as she braced herself for another jolt. 

It never came. Instead, the rumbling finally stopped, and so did the station’s motion. The distress alarm quieted.  

“I think that’s that,” Laz whispered. “How are you feeling?” 

Ava raised her head, disoriented. The hall’s lights had shifted back into an ambient shade of dull gold, bathing the harried guests in a warm and dreamy glow. The Rochfordians emerged from chaos shaken but relieved, jubilant even, reaffirmed of their invincibility. As she rose to her feet unsteadily, Ava saw herself apart from everyone else. She drew no sense of relief from having averted one disaster. All she felt was pain, and the dread of further misfortunes that this incident portended. 

Excerpted from Escape Velocity, copyright © 2024 by Victor Manibo.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top