One of the elements I like to include in my science fiction romances is a strong feeling of the richness of the myth and mystery of the planet where the action is occurs. My most recent science fiction romance MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR is no exception.
I make sure to have science fiction and advanced technology in my novels but I also work in an element of “otherness” to raise questions and open up possibilities. My heroes are Special Forces personnel from the Sectors (the universe where my stories take place). They’ve learned the hard way on missions all over the galaxy not to be skeptical of powers stemming from sources other than the technology they rely on. Blasters don’t necessarily solve every problem!
For the planet Mahjundar, I envisioned a world where the older beliefs are fading, under assault from new gods favored by the local Empress. The heroine, Princess Shalira, has the knack for channeling the power of the legacy gods, but this ability is no longer respected or needed in the current political situation. The fact that she’s blind further reduces her status in society, to the point where she’s left facing a less-than-desirable arranged marriage.
Over the course of the novel, she and the hero, Major Mike Varone, face a number of challenges, some of which can be resolved by his high tech weapons and gadgets, others which only yield to her connection to the mysteries of Mahjundar’s past.
I always ask myself, What would be really cool to have happen on this planet?
Here’s an excerpt from MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR, illustrating my approach. Shalira has requested a brief stop at an abandoned temple, and asks Mike to escort her to the shrine.
He led her to the round mosaic in the middle of the platform, colors still bright. As they stepped onto the slightly upraised pattern, there was a sudden trill of musical notes and a brightly colored creature fluttered around his head. Automatically he recoiled, free hand going to his gun.
No doubt feeling him tense, Shalira crowded closer. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Are we likely to be in any danger from a bird-butterfly kind of thing?” Focusing on the tiny, brilliantly-hued creature as it fluttered around him, Mike felt a little silly. But there were deadly predators on other worlds that seemed just as harmless at first glance and it wasn’t his nature to take chances.
“I’m sorry, a what?” Her forehead wrinkled as she puzzled over the term he’d used in Basic.
“I don’t know what to call it in your language. They weren’t mentioned in our briefing. Some kind of flying warbler?” The creature set down on his shoulder for an instant, fuzzy antennae vibrating, and then launched itself into the air with another trill of bell-like notes that seemed too loud to be coming from such a tiny being.
“A myrdima of Pavmiraia! Do you really see such a marvel?” She turned her head left to right. “I thought I heard music.”
“It’s flown off now, to the trees. It was pink and purple and red, with furry white antenna. About the size of your fist.”
“We’d be blessed indeed, to be serenaded by Pavmiraia’s songbird. None has been seen in this area of Mahjundar for centuries. They withdraw, as the old gods withdraw, because the people’s faith wanes.” She shook her hand free of his, not rudely. Arms outstretched, she twirled, dancing, humming under her breath. She made graceful hand movements in time to her tune as she swirled. Pausing for a moment, she said, “I feel so free here, momentary though the sensation may be. I haven’t felt so unencumbered since I was ten and my world fell apart.”
Not knowing what to say to her personal revelation, but feeling pleased she was happy, Mike leaned on the nearest pillar, scanning the ground for snakes or any other menace. He hoped Vreely would let Shalira enjoy her brief excursion for a bit longer. The man had been impatience personified since they’d left the capital city.
“Uh oh, look out, the whatever-you-called-it is back, with a friend,” he said. “Stand still and maybe it’ll land on your hand.”
She closed her eyes and extended one hand, giggling a moment later as the little creature settled on her outstretched fingertips. “That tickles.”
“They have tiny, fuzzy feet,” he told her. “Gave me goosebumps.”
A green-and-blue companion followed suit, touching down on her other hand. Shalira began to sing in a lovely, high soprano and after a moment the myrdima joined in with their crystalline three notes. Mike thought he’d never heard anything so beautiful, on any world. As Shalira continued to sing, in a language he didn’t understand, more of the tiny warblers arrived, in a rainbow of colors, each adding its own three notes to the performance. They placed themselves on the princess’s hair like jeweled ornaments, and more hovered around her in a cloud. Entranced, Mike thought there must be several hundred in all. A few even floated over to where he stood, although none landed on him. The colors ornamenting the wings shone in the sunshine, particularly vibrant against the drab, dusty landscape.
If they’re waiting for me to sing, they’ve got nothing but disappointment coming. He bit his lip, not wanting to make a sound that might interfere with Shalira’s serenade. He wished there was a way to record the scene, or to somehow share it with the princess, who would never know what a beautiful picture she and the magical creatures made. He locked the vision away in his own memory, as one of the most special moments of his life, an unexpected grace note in the midst of a tense and frustrating mission.