People who have read the trilogy often tell me that Rhea’s sentient spaceship Benny is one of their favourite characters. He certainly was for Dawn Harvey, the voice actor who narrated the three audiobooks of The Splintered Universe Trilogy. She gave Benny a cultured and intelligent but unassuming voice that resonated with a gentle kindness. Just what Rhea needs. And she often needs Benny’s unique abilities to get her out of trouble.
Peering through the door’s window, my gaze swept the hangar, and I spotted what I was looking for. Benny stood at the far end, unscathed but decidedly lonely. My beautiful ship, my brown-green camouflage two-man interstellar craft with his elegant and practical design took my breath away. His long snub-ended snout was flanked on either side by narrow concave triangular fuel-scoops. Foil wings at his stern folded up over his fuel scoops. They’d left the pilot’s canopy shield up to give the inside of the AI-ship some air.
Benny was a rare retro/state-of-the-art Fauche design, which used old-fashioned Earth sleep technology along with a sophisticated Fauche kappa particle fuel system. Two hundred years ago, harvesting dream-time theta waves was considered an innovative use of required hibernation during long space voyages. Now, with new particle-stream travel, hibernation was no longer necessary. But the innovative Fauche had improved the archaic bio-technology for short-time use. The ray was the smallest ship capable of long distance star travel along the ‘stream,’ thanks to the Fauches’ inventive fuel technology. Benny was the first—and almost last—of his kind. There were only four others that I knew of in existence. But Tangent Shipping could find no interested buyers, which was why I got Benny.
In Outer Diverse, Rhea meets a stranger who becomes very curious about her and manages to find a little bit about how she came to name her sentient ship:
“So, why did you become a Guardian? I mean, you’re pretty unconventional for one. Galaxy News described you as a loner who drives a non-regulation ship.”
I looked up sharply. “I didn’t choose the Fauche ship,” I said defensively, glad of the chance to respond to his added comment and avoid the difficult question. “No one else wanted Benny, so I took him.”
“Benny?” He smiled with amused curiosity.
I returned him a wry smile. “After the brother I never had.”
We find early on—particularly in their conversations and actions—that Benny and Rhea resonate with good understanding. Part of it, we realize, is from Rhea’s programming; but given that Benny is sentient and capable of learning, it goes far beyond Rhea’s input. Benny is far more than just a smart spaceship; Benny serves as caretaker, butler, organizer, medic, secretary, and companion for Rhea.
In the first pages of Outer Diverse, Benny must save Rhea’s life after a chase goes south and she gets dusted with a fatal dose of Glitter Dust. Not liked at the Precinct (she’s the only human in an all-Eosian force), Rhea must endure snide ridicule about her and Benny. The day of her return to the Precinct from her near-death encounter with Dust, Rhea walks past several of the old guard loitering by the entrance to the Precinct, as if waiting for her:
“Lucky for the kid, her creon of a ship rescued her—again!”
My lips tightened, hearing the barrage of laughter. I didn’t bother to acknowledge Euaimon by turning my head, but I blew out a casual bubble with my gum then brought it back lazily into my mouth.
“You two belong together, Hawke!” Euaimon jeered. “You jag up and that hunk of junk saves your sorry blenoid ass!”
I passed the mob and tried to hasten my steps without making it obvious.
When Rhea is fired as a Guardian Enforcer—weapons, coat and badge taken and Benny impounded—she wanders the streets of Neon City on Iota Hor-2, ruminating on her short career:
Night shadows crept in and kept me company as I wandered aimlessly. Iota Hor b glowed orange in the night sky, bathing Neon City with its warm light like a harvest moon. I stopped for a moment and let my gaze drift away from the luminescent planet toward the night sky…
My hands dove deep into the pockets of my flight jacket as I recalled the first time I’d seen the Milky Way on Earth. I remembered the night my mother had sat with me on Ambleside Beach and first pointed it out. She’d explained that it was a huge spiral galaxy of billions of stars about fourteen billion years old. Fascinated, I dreamed of travelling to the farthest arms of the Milky Way.
When I’d joined up as an Enforcer, the Guardians gave me my own starship, a rare ray-class retro Earth/alien design that no one else wanted. It didn’t matter to me. Benny was mine. Thanks to Benny’s plasma shields, we’d weathered treacherous ionic storms, gamma-ray bursts, and the high-velocity clouds of the breathing galaxy. We jacked the Magellanic Stream and travelled to the farthest arms of the spiral galaxy, surfing scalar fields into thrilling particle stream shortcuts. We’d even slingshot our way around the black hole in the galactic core using its immense gravitational field and high-energy emissions. I’d witnessed many galactic wonders like the terrifying beauty of nebulas: tangled filaments of dust and ionized gas that poured out in jets and waves from the stellar corpse of a neutron star. Pulsing electromagnetic energy, the shock wave of material flung from the supernova created a spectacular lightshow that shredded anything in its path, drawing me into breathless wonder.
And now the adventure was over, I concluded and dropped my gaze from the stars to the dimly lit street. I was grounded. Benny wasn’t mine anymore. I was only twenty-three and I was already a has-been.
When Rhea finds out that Benny is headed for the scrap yard (no one wants it: it’s too small, old and weird), she steals Benny in a daring rescue with the help of her colleague Bas. Rhea breaks into the hanger where Benny is being held, leaps inside and fires up the engines.
“Rhea? Is that you?” Benny piped up.
“It’s me, Benny,” I said, chewing madly and seizing the controls. “I’ve come to rescue you from the scrap yard.”
“I’m so glad to see you!”
“I missed you too, Benny. But there’s no time to chat now. You have to let me get us out of here.”
I swung Benny around and shot out of the hangar bay as the guard fired on us.
“Yeah, I owe you for that one, Bas,” I murmured with a grateful but sad smile as Benny sailed into the upper atmosphere of Iota Hor-2. “Big time, buddy.”
“I guess we’re both fugitives now,” Benny said as we shot past the Athena, Iota Hor-2’s orbiting defense/research station, without incident.
I blinked. “Yeah,” I agreed solemnly, gazing at the long solar panels that surrounded the station. I didn’t have the heart to tell Benny that no one was likely to be chasing us on his account. Even the scrappers had better metalloid to chase.
In Metaverse, the third and last book of The Splintered Universe Trilogy, Detective Rhea Hawke travels back to Earth, hoping to convince an eccentric mystic to help her defend humanity from an impending Vos attack—only to find herself trapped in a deception that promises to change her and her two worlds forever.
GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY! GIVE AWAY!
Rhea likes to use proverbs as barbs and to unhinge her opponent when she gets nervous or feels trapped. Send me a good proverb for Rhea to use and I will send you a code to obtain a free Audiobook from Audible. Codes are limited, so it will be first come, first serve until we’re out. Send your proverb to Nina Munteanu at: nina.sfgirl[at]gmail.com.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.