Karissa Laurel’s “The Reboot of Jennis Viatorem” tells the story of a freighter pilot who retires from service to rescue her widowed son, a single father and chef on an entertainment vessel, accused of murder. A murder that may in fact be covering up an even bigger conspiracy, and revealing secrets that have torn their family apart for decades.
Here’s an early look:
The Reboot of Jennis Viatorem
By Karissa Laurel
What had first appeared as a distant prick of light on Jennis Viatorem’s view screen had grown into the oblong, riflebullet shape of the Fête. Light from a nearby star reflected off the cruise ship’s sleek surface, giving it a blue, spectral glow.
According to the transmission Jennis received as she initiated docking protocols, more than 5,000 guests and several hundred staff members currently resided aboard the luxury cruiser. Jennis drew in a deep breath and held it as she approached the docking bay. Compared to the open expanse of deep space she’d been roaming for nearly two years, she suspected joining the crowds aboard the Fête would make her feel like a particle of dust jammed in the nucleus of a comet.
A small photograph sat in the corner of the instrument panel in her cockpit. The edges had gone soft and yellow with age. Few people invested in printed pictures anymore, but she had wanted an image to carry with her always, regardless of battery power or communication signals. The photo of the little grinning boy, his brown cheeks dusted with flour and powdered sugar, had reminded her for decades of the reasons she couldn’t drift into the abyss and never return as she was sometimes tempted to do. His name was Charli, and he was her tether, her anchor, her son, and the source of her greatest guilt—a sentiment she had struggled to ignore for nearly thirty years. Presently, that tether was drawing her back to him, and remorse weighed heavy in her heart.
Gritting her teeth against a groan, Jennis rose from her cockpit and shuffled down the steps leading to the interior of her empty cargo-bay. She stroked the walls of the Humuli, her beloved ship.
With it, she had recently delivered a load of rations to a pioneer outpost on a terraformed planet in the Grable system. It was there that she had received the transmission from Charli that reeled her back in: Amerie was dead. Murdered. Poisoned by the soup on her supper tray.
A supper tray Charli had prepared himself in his five-star kitchen aboard the Fête where he lived and worked. Amerie had been the cruise ship’s chief mate in charge of cargo. She had also been his beloved wife of four years and the mother of their only child, Celestine. Although Charli had delivered that fatal meal, he was not the true culprit. The man who had framed Charli had been found, arrested, and was presently awaiting trial.
The moment the Humuli had settled inside the Fête’s massive hangar, Jennis’s crew made hasty farewells and disappeared into the cruse ship’s interior. The temptation of casinos, fresh food, and time away from each other had lured them like a siren enticing
those sailors of ancient legends. Jennis paused at the edge of Humuli’s lowered cargo ramp and watched the cruise staff scurry back and forth, escorting new arrivals and sending off departing guests.
The Fête regularly orbited exotic ports of call: planets terraformed to resemble tropical locales that had gone extinct on Earth. According to Charli’s last transmission, the Fête was currently en route to New Rio, where shuttles would cart tourists to a surface coated in sugar-sand beaches, palm trees, and crystalline blue waters.
“Mom?” From the crowded concourse emerged a young man wearing a distinctive double-breasted jacket—the kind chefs had adopted centuries ago and never abandoned despite decades of sartorial evolution.
Jennis painted on a smile and ignored the sharp pang that lanced her heart whenever she first saw her son after an extended absence. In her mind, she always pictured him as the chubbycheeked boy in the photograph, but in reality he had grown three feet, aged twenty years, and shed the roundness of early adolescence.
He looks so much like his damned father . . . Inherited his worst traits, too, it would seem.
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