We’re blasting off from Earth today and heading into space with an extract from In Exchange, the debut novel by Steven M. Caddy. We hope that you enjoy it and if you’re curious about the world of Michael Morgan, you can find out more here!
In Exchange: An extract
A flash of light tore through a scene of ecstasy. Michael pictured himself standing on a stage with a nameless band, plucking the strings of a bass guitar as a throng of screaming, sweating teenage girls surged towards forwards. He grimaced as he fought to hold on to the image in his mind, but it was no good. He was awake. He opened his eyes to reveal his darkened surroundings.
Damned cosmic radiation, Michael thought. He often saw little dashes of light skipping across his vision, caused by high energy particles that raced through outer space. Unfortunately, this usually happened when he was having his best dreams.
Michael’s life was something of an experiment because he was the first person born in space. He often fantasised about what he called “Earth life”. Daedalus, the space station that he called home, was very unlike Earth. Everything floated about to start with, and obtaining supplies was time consuming and expensive.
Michael pushed himself over towards a control panel, and adjusted the lighting. He turned and reached out to open a window blind. The window revealed the Earth’s continents speeding by at a furious pace. He pressed his nose to the window and looked at the planet. “Southern Australia, with the sun setting,” he said out loud, his breath fogging the window.
“I thought I could hear you moving about.”
“Max!” Michael exclaimed with a start. “I didn’t hear you open the hatch.”
“You’re awake early,” Max said in a casual voice. “Much more awake now that you’ve tried to jump out of your skin like that.”
“Yeah, very funny. A cosmic ray got me.”
“Lucky you. We don’t get many of those in low Earth orbit.”
“They always wake me up when I get to a good bit.”
“You remember your dream?”
“Yeah, I was playing bass in a band. We were on stage, in front of lots of good-looking girls.”
“Wow. I don’t dream at all when I’m in orbit.”
Michael thought he knew Max well. The astronauts lived together in extremely close quarters, and didn’t usually keep many secrets from each other. However, Max hadn’t talked about his sleep problems in this much detail before.
“I know you’ve been issued with sleeping tablets. Maybe they make you sleep extra deep or something,” Michael said.
“Maybe. Anyway, the sleep problems are why mission control won’t let me do the normal six month tours up here. Not without taking a break for a couple of weeks in the middle.”
“But isn’t that better?” Michael asked. “You get to bring more fresh food with you. You can also see your friends and family more often.”
Max didn’t say anything. Michael’s words apparently hit a nerve.
Max pulled himself next to Michael, and recovered from his reverie. “So what have you got scheduled for today?”
“I haven’t checked the schedule yet, but I guess it’ll be more physical exercises as usual.”
“And it’s Friday, so there’ll be a conference call with the nerds at mission control.”
“You don’t like the mission scientists, do you?”
“Not while they treat me like some sort of orbiting lab rat,” Michael furrowed his brow, and turned to look at Max. “At least you seem to understand me a bit.”
“Chocolate nut bar for breakfast?”
Michael’s sour expression melted into a wide smile. “I keep telling you that you’re the best. Mind if I remove the taste of last night’s curry first?”
Max nodded, and grabbed a hand rail to pull himself back into the core of the space station.
Michael rushed to brush his teeth, and threw his tooth-brush into a locker. With elegance learnt from years of living in micro-gravity, he pushed himself away into a forward roll, and headed over to the hatch to follow Max.
“I’d close the hatch after you,” Max called down the space station.
“Following all the safety rules today?”
“No, it’s just a mess in there, and I’d rather commander Yvetts didn’t see it first thing this morning.”
“Her lab is just as bad.”
“Not really. She keeps her lab tidy.”
“But all those rabbit posters?”
“Okay. Yeah. I prefer to see rabbits in a stew, not on posters.”
Michael considered Max’s comment about rabbit stew for a moment.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had rabbit on the station menu,” Michael said.
“Maybe I should suggest having it added?”
Michael shrugged. Max reached into a locker, pulled out a silver wrapped package, and sent it tumbling down the space station towards Michael who gave Max a quizzical look.
“Chocolate nut bar,” Max confirmed.
“Any of those bananas left that Jameson smuggled aboard?”
“Nope. He could only hide four in his baggage.”
“Pity. It was one of your better ideas, asking him to bring them with him.”
“If Dr Kleets found out that you’d been taking on extra calories, he’d be mincing me for lunch.”
“Boring British bumbling-”
“He’s still your mission doctor. He’s not someone you should ignore.”
Michael ripped open the package, and shoved the nut bar into his mouth.
“When is everyone else due to wake up?” Michael asked, still chewing.
“Another hour. You woke up very early this morning.”
Michael looked at his watch. 06:07.
“I guess I can get started on my exercises, before everyone else gets up,” Michael said.
“I would. Get them in before your conference call.”
Max pulled himself over to a window to admire the view while nothing else was going on.
“Max, do you think it matters that I’ve been pushing myself a bit harder with my exercise schedule?” Michael asked after a few minutes.
“That sounds a bit unlike you,” Max raised one of his bushy eyebrows.
“Maybe, but I can’t see what harm it would do to build myself up a bit.”
“It’d help burn off the extra calories.”
Michael nodded, and pulled the exercise rack into place. He located the securing bolts, and strapped himself down for a quick thirty minute march.
“Hey, could you fetch my mp3 player from my lab? It’s hanging next to the sleeping rack,” Michael asked Max.
“I suppose. And then I could try to get a bit more sleep, since you’re on top of things.”
“Yeah, I’ve done this a few thousand times now. You don’t need to watch me.”
“Watching you exercise is like watching paint dry. Although sometimes the paint moves quicker.”
Max pulled himself along the space station’s core towards lab four to recover Michael’s small, battered mp3 player.
“What are you listening to at the moment?” Max enquired as he clambered his way back to Michael.
“Dented Armour – the best bass lines I can find.”
Max had never heard of ‘Dented Armour’ and decided now wasn’t the time to find out. He left Michael to his exercises, and dragged himself off to his laboratory to try to get some sleep.
As Michael exercised, he listened to his music, which wasn’t quite loud enough to block out the snores emanating from laboratory four. From this, Michael could deduce that Commander Alexandra Yvetts was still asleep. He gazed along the familiar layout of the space station’s central core. From the galley area at the rear of Daedalus, he could see the hatches to all the laboratories, airlocks, and return or resupply modules docked to ports on the four faces of the core.
Two loud tones from the station’s intercom startled Michael. He flinched, and ripped his earphones out of his ears. Alarms always made Michael rather nervous.