Songs of Thalassa: Chapter 1

This is a preview of the initial chapters of my new book which will be available for pre-order in March and softcover/Kindle on April 28 on Amazon.com. To learn more about the book visit SongsofThalassa.com.


Chapter 1. Sage

Procyon System, March 2090

Pitch black, silent. After seven months in deep space, Sage focused on the waves in her head to stay sane. Swimming in the dark with her long, sun-streaked black hair streaming behind her, she relived the waves of her past as her throbbing heart kept the pace. A roiling green behemoth appeared in the black, shimmering in the light, keeling over in mountainous cascades of white foam. As hands of malevolentturbulence reached to grab her, she swam beneath them. Evading the chaos, she emerged victorious on the other side only to see another giant wave cresting before her. Such are my dreams these days, she thought. Endless fear.

Looking through the fish-eye portal, Procyon lit up dark space, a yellow-white star surrounded by bright lines. Byron said the streaks were comets, common in young binary star systems. It didn’t help that Procyon’s white dwarf was a red giant a billion years ago that flamed out, scattering its asteroids and comets to hell. The scorching stellar winds and rain of debris probably killed everything in the system, so chances of finding life here are zilch. Fine by me, more time for surfing.

Drying off, she switched to the paddling machine, and in her mind, she was scratching out at Jaws, a terrifying big-wave surf break on Maui. Seeing dark swells on the horizon, she barely made it past a set of giant waves that caught everyone inside and cleared the lineup. Now she was alone. Fear spiked through her body as a mountain of water crested before her. Paddling fast, she remembered what Dina had taught her: no hesitation. As the swell steepened, she dug deep and pain shot through the healed breaks in her arms—remnants of past beatings on the reef at the mercy of mother ocean. She flipped around, and with long strokes and deep gasps, she was lifted into the air by the cresting lip of the wave. Moment of truth: commit or die. Just the slightest hesitation and she’d be pitched down the massive wave. With a lump deep in her throat, her courage overcame her fear as she began the vertical drop. Without warning, the wires broke on the paddling machine, and her arms flailed loose, her body wracked with spasms as she jolted back into the present and cursed in the darkness, “Fuck!”

Exhausted and numb—this was her second workout today—she got on the bike and pedaled hard as the star view outside shifted. Byron’s making a course change, probably evading another asteroid field. The system was full of primordial debris. She remembered Georgia’s lecture: just one small planet here, no gas giants to suck them up, only a tiny moon. Plus, the planet they targeted was young, half the age of Earth. Probably gets hit all the time. Great. I hope the surf’s worth it.

New stars came into view as she pedaled, picking up the pace until adrenaline pushed away the pain. She recognized one of the constellations, just like Earth. There’s Orion, the belt, with Betelgeuse on the shoulder. But others were askew; the space was warped, confusing. Where’s the rest of the Winter Triangle? Ah, Sirius is over there. She heard her tutu’s voice booming in her head, ʻAʻā not Sirius! Tutu—her grandmother—ingrained in her the Hawaiian names of the stars. ʻAʻā, from legend, was the zenith star and the source of the Polynesian people. And according to her, the Koholā—the whales—were a link to our ancestors in the stars. The whales are almost extinct. Who cares? Ah, old superstitious nonsense. But Tutu believed!

Her heart skipped a beat as a small blue dot swung into view. Thalassa. She had traveled 70 trillion miles to surf its oceans. Her first glimpse of the mysterious world caused her to shudder. Seeing the deep blue of an ocean world recalled her carefree days frolicking in the ocean with her father. I can’t think about him! For the millionth time, she pushed thoughts of him out of her head. Twelve light years from Earth but only seven months in space. Thank god for the instant-jump worm portal. Visions of Thalassa’s waves materialized in her mind. Giant, slow-moving monsters are what Milo had promised, the largest rideable waves in the stellar neighborhood due to the low gravity of the Mars-sized ocean planet. Pedaling furiously, she imagined sliding down a mountain-sized swell with two suns in the sky. Staring intensely at the planet, she heard an ethereal sound—faint, high-pitched notes—as warm waves of emotion washed through her. Music? Am I going crazy?

An image of her father popped unbidden into her head from when she was a child. She held his hand as he patiently guided her into the surf. Then, a flash, and she’s a teenager, sobbing as he left for the mission to Thalassa. He was a crew member of the doomed Proteus IX mission. God, I miss him so much. But it was 12 years ago. Get a grip, Sage. Move on! I’ve got to be ready. She pedaled faster.

But his memory continued pressing into her head. I’d give anything to go back to those days, to live in the warmth of my ‘ohana. She pictured wrinkled toes in warm sand, swimming gracefully with her tutu across the reef, her father pushing her on his surfboard. But no, that’s impossible. I’ve made too many mistakes. I can’t go home. And Dad is dead. But maybe now, on the giant waves of Thalassa, I can reclaim my big-wave record and the love of my fans and followers. I need them. First, though, I have to beat Milo.

Her body trembled at the consequences of traveling so far only to lose. Surfing was her life, her refuge, and there was no back-up plan. The immersive world of the holoscreen was her home, and the cheering of her fans the sweetest music. Watching big waves on the holoscreen was so immersive it was hard to separate from reality. But her disastrous wipeout at Nazaré taught her the fragility of virtual love. As she disappeared from the holoscreen and lost her followers, she fell into a black hole of depression. Drifting in the infinite cold, she lived in a sea of despair so deep she couldn’t reach the surface. But on Thalassa, she had a chance to reclaim it all. Tears ran down her face as her legs became a blur, and she grunted with the effort. This is my last chance! She shook her fear off. Focus on the waves. No mistakes this time.

The darkness vanished as the bright glare of lights blinked on, and the silence was replaced by throbbing rock ’n roll as Milo walked in, jumped into the pool, and began swimming at a leisurely pace. She stopped pedaling and wiped the tears from her face as he surfaced and grinned.

Sage glared back. “What the hell do you want? You ruined my workout.”

He chuckled, pointing at Thalassa. “I’m going to surf the biggest wave of all time on that planet. I’ll be in the history books.”

Incredulous, she tried to appear uninterested in his arrogance but gave in, as she always did. “Goddammit, Milo, you already hold the world record, and nobody’s been able to break it for years. Isn’t that enough?”

Milo shrugged. “There’s always more. Bigger waves. More money. Why should I settle for a mere world record, when the rest of the universe is still out there for the taking? Besides, despite your—how should I say it?—fall from grace, everyone is waiting for a comeback. I mean, come on: you’re young, Hawaiian, and what, five feet high? Of course, every wave looks huge when you ride it.”

She got off the bike and stared fiercely into his eyes, holding back her anger. “That’s why we’re going to Thalassa, right? So you can surf the biggest wave in the galaxy. Then you can broadcast it to your millions of adoring followers. Isn’t that your goal?”

The room shifted, throwing them both to the floor as water sloshed out of the pool. Several sharp thuds reverberated through the ship’s hull. “Shit!” Milo exclaimed. “More damn asteroids.” They bolted to their feet and stormed into the main cabin of Milo’s spaceship, the Duke.

Byron calmly stared at a 3-D holoscreen projection of a moving asteroid field. He spoke without looking up. “I know, I know. I’m doing my best, but the AI only maneuvers around the large ones. We can’t detect the small ones until we’re close, and I can’t avoid them all.” He pointed to the instrument panel. “No hull breaches, and the shields are holding.”

“Yeah, OK,” Milo replied. “Just remember, she’s brand new.”

“Roger that,” Byron said.

Sage knew that Byron enjoyed every minute as he worked his sharp astrophysicist’s mind, and the ship, through the endless minefields of the Procyon system. Byron Kurosawa was the Duke’s principal pilot, although Milo was the mission leader. Heck, Sage thought, anyone could run it. The AI does all the work, and she had piloted the ship in the simulator. Piece of cake! Just plug in the coordinates then boom, you’re there. Except that Procyon’s system was largely uncharted and so full of debris that the AI had overloaded several times.

As she watched Milo speak to Byron, she recalled how she got involved in the first place. The mission started because he wanted to be a modern-day Duke Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian surfer who spread surfing to the world. Milo had poured his considerable fortune into building a state-of-the-art interstellar ship to spread surfing to the galaxy or, more accurately, to broadcast a holovision of him riding giant waves. He hoped his investments would result in continued fame and glory in extreme sports, not to mention the commercial profits from harvesting the planets he surfed.

Milo turned to Sage and continued his rant. “By the way, I have a billion followers, not millions. Don’t you follow the news? But I’ll get even more followers if—” he broke off with a quick chuckle “—I mean, when I beat you. That’s the real reason you’re here.”

She shook her head. “A billion? How is that even possible?” She flinched at the idea that she and Dina were a sideshow, present only to be beaten. After all, they were the former but still popular big-wave women champions. And because Sage’s career was on the ropes, she wasn’t on board just for the surfing but also as a microbiologist working for Cutten Enterprises, the commercial sponsor of the mission. With luck, they’d find microbial life worth something to the biotech industries. But I’m only here for the waves. Fuck my job.

As Milo ranted about his fame and followers, she smiled to herself, remembering how she always used to be the center of attention. In her prime, surfers would leave the water to watch her surf. She was that good—was being the operational word. Now at the age of 26, she hadn’t surfed competitively in years, and her fame was a fading memory. In the fast-paced virtual world, she was quickly becoming a myth. I’ve got to get back on top!

Sage countered his verbal attack. “You’re not a real surfer. You use your fancy wave model to predict where to catch waves. For Christ’s sake, on your record-breaking wave at Cortes Bank, you had Georgia in a helicopter telling you where to sit. That’s cheating!”

“Not technically.” Milo glanced at Georgia for support.

Georgia Alvarez, the planetary oceanographer on the team, reluctantly tore her eyes away from a display of code and shrugged at Sage’s tirade. “Hey, it’s my latest model, and it can predict exactly how the waves will behave and where they will break. I’ve spent years developing it and it’s super cool. Everyone will be using it soon, so why not get out in front? That’s what Milo does—he’s a surf-tech pioneer and has the slickest, fastest motoboards of anyone. So join the party, Sage, or get out of the way.”

Sage and Georgia constantly fought during the journey; the PhD oceanographer wasn’t enthralled with the team’s BS-degree biologist’s credentials and lack of enthusiasm for lab work. Georgia watched with displeasure as she spent all of her time in the gym and on the simulator surfing and piloting the ship’s vessels instead of talking science. Now, after seven months together, they had developed a stiff adversarial relationship. Georgia was always refining her wave models and created one for Mars’s oceans, although they disappeared four billion years ago. Her main role was to guide the surf team to Thalassa’s biggest and best waves and keep them safe while she studied its oceans.

Milo was adamant. “Nobody cares how I get the wave, only how big it is. That’s what makes the biggest splash in the media and makes it to the holoscreen.”

“See, that’s your problem,” Sage replied. “All you care about are your followers and the news.”

“As do you, my dear,” Milo said with a smug grin. “We all know that’s why you’re here, to get your fame back after your accident at Nazaré.”

Sage looked down and shook her head. “Yes, but I’m not—”

Byron cut her off. “Can’t you guys ever stop talking about surfing? Sheesh, Cortes, Nazaré, give it a rest. We’re on a scientific mission, not just a surf trip. I’m trying to get us through these erratic asteroids, and you’re ruining my concentration.”

“Yes,” Georgia agreed, “I’m tired of these arguments too. But we’re not here for surfing, we’re here for big-wave surfing, the apex of extreme sports. And those surf breaks are the holy grail of big-wave riding. They’re like the highest peaks of the Himalayas and just as dangerous: Jaws, Killers, Waimea Bay, Cortes Bank, Mavericks, Nazaré; each year dozens die from getting slammed on the bottom, drowned, or crushed by mountains of water for the slightest mistake. Everyone’s trying to beat Milo’s record by pushing the physical limits. It’s extremely dangerous, and the world is watching to see who will set the next record. It’s a sport where you can make a career out of a single giant wave.”

Milo lifted his arms in the air. “See, she gets it! It’s all about conquering the peaks, pushing the limits when everyone thinks it’s impossible. You tried and failed. Just like your father.”

Sage took a step toward Milo. “Goddammit, leave my father out of it.”

Byron cursed under his breath as the ship lurched, forcing her to grab the counter. A loud thud followed.

Milo ignored it. “But isn’t that why you’re here?” he replied. “Trying to prove your worthiness to dear old Dad.”

Sage’s face turned red as she took another step toward Milo and slammed her fist on the desk. “Fuck! That has nothing to do with—”

Sage stopped and backed off as Moshe took a step out of the shadows. Moshe Geller was Milo’s lifelong assistant and bodyguard. She barely knew him, as he didn’t often speak—but given his size and demeanor, he didn’t need to. Moshe was ex-Mossad, a combat medic, and dedicated to Milo’s protection. He was hired by Milo’s parents at birth to be his shadow. They were inseparable. Moshe was tall and built like an oak tree with thick arms to match his blank, unreadable stare. With a squarish, weathered, leather-like face, dark penetrating eyes, and short salt-and-pepper hair, he was an imposing figure. Despite his tough demeanor, Sage detected a softness inside, but how to get there was a mystery she didn’t care to ponder.

As everyone watched Sage for her next move, Dina ran in from the kitchen. “What the hell’s going on here?” Dina looked around at everyone with a sharp eye, reading their faces. “Whatever, we don’t have time to screw around.” Pointing to a porthole showing Thalassa, she said, “We’re approaching that planet, and we’ll be facing some seriously big waves. We need to be ready!”

Milo let out a gratified sigh. “You’re right, you both need to get ready, and I look forward to the competition. But I plan to leave this planet with the ultimate big-wave record. Maybe 200 feet!”

“Yeah right, Milo,” Dina said. “That’s a mountain of water.”

“But that’s exactly why we’re here,” he replied. “The waves on a low-g planet will be bigger and slower. With my new ultrafast boards and Georgia’s models, I’ll be invincible.”

Dina laughed. “Ha, yeah. I’ve heard that before, and it usually ends in the ER. It’s good we have Moshe here for that. But I still don’t completely understand why I’m here.”

“I need your water skills, Dina. It’s that simple. I trust the tech, but I also want an experienced waterwoman in the line-up, and you’re the best,” Milo said. “And Sage is still somewhat famous, so beating her will make the news. I’ll take both of you down, which is even better.”

“But,” Dina said, “we’re also your toughest competitors and have all the past records.”

He snickered. “You said it, past records. You’re getting close to what—40, Dina? And we all saw Sage’s epic wipeout. It was on the holoscreen for weeks. I’m the one everyone looks to now. I’m in all the e-mags, tweets, posts, insta-whatevers, and the holoscreen broadcasts. I’m the future of big-wave surfing. They will always remember the first person to surf the largest wave on an unexplored planet because no one will ever beat it. It will be epic!”

Sage shrugged, then walked over to the fish-eye portal and looked at the blue dot of Thalassa, almost lost against the endless star fields, comets, asteroids, and dark space.

Milo smirked at his verbal victory. “I’m going to inspect the ship. Daily briefing in 20 minutes.” Then he walked out of the main cabin.

Sage dropped her eyes as Dina walked slowly back to the kitchen. She knew Milo’s goal in life was to be remembered forever, no matter what. And he wanted both of them on the mission because he needed their legitimacy. They were key to his legacy because if he could catch a bigger wave than either of them, the record holders for many years, then he was truly in a league by himself, and no one could argue otherwise. Let him think whatever he wants, I’ll still beat him.

Despite Dina’s support, Milo’s assault increased Sage’s despair. Her life was hanging by a thread, and she knew he’d stop at nothing to beat her. And Georgia and Moshe gave him a huge edge. With a triumph, I can prove that I’m the world’s ultimate big-wave surfer. If not, well…

Looking at Thalassa, she recalled flashes of her father, memories of her tutu, and the strange ethereal sounds. What was that? Despite living in the surfing world, she couldn’t forget her traditional Hawaiian upbringing. Her early teachings had instilled a unique blend of ethics, traditions, and spiritual views, and a belief that she had a bigger role to play in life. And I’ve done that with surfing, right? But as she approached the planet, the beckoning sounds and flashes of her past evoked a faint call to another purpose, as her tutu had foretold. Huh, she thought, is there something here for me here beyond surfing? Then, vigorously shaking her head. No, forget that. I must beat Milo.

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