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1958571 ©

After a starship’s cargo of cloned bodies suddenly rise up against the ship’s crew, a young apprentice learns that some crewmembers may have reasons for having planted a deadly disruptor virus among the cargo – bringing up his own shattered past and empathy for the clones. 

For DHRUV AGARWAL, a young apprentice from a Hindu caste colony, it’s an exciting adventure. GINA HOPKINS, a middle-aged astronomer in the genetically stalled body of a 10-year-old girl, is against wasting time and fuel. SOMALEE BROOKS, astrophysicist, is for it. The entire crew is put in high-density gel for the twenty gee maneuver. The shell left to pilot the ship is the only conscious entity. But it leaves the bridge and murders the captain.


The crew revives to find all systems crashed and the ship magnetically locked orbiting the asteroid. And the current flight path puts them days away from entering the deadly radiation zone of a neutron star.


Somalee is elevated to captain, against her will. She prefers science to relationships, but the crisis quickly escalates when the biologist in charge of the shells is violently slaughtered. Dhruv is first to notice some of the shells acting bizarrely. Next a machinist working on the magnetic lock is ripped limb from limb by a horde of cannibalistic shells. 


The vicious attacks continue as all the active duty shells go berserk. When power goes out, the captain begins to realize it’s a targeted attack. The decks are sealed but a couple members are trapped below. KABIR, Dhruv’s estranged father, is one of the trapped. He is a man who loathes the whole shell/slave culture. 


Although the story is an ensemble piece, three key characters have arcs that define them and highlight the central themes of slavery and free will. Dhruv lost his mother when she volunteered to serve a ruler that she will be telepathically bonded to, an honor higher than family. He blames his father. For Gina, her permanently stalled body is the result of being detained on a war-torn habitat where she will become a forced breeder. Somalee’s lack of human empathy stems from being raised by the stored personalities of her parents in cloned bodies after militaristic shells destroy their remote science outpost. 


A team is sent down into the dark lower decks to save the trapped crew. Havoc ensues as the entire manifest of a hundred shells are brought to life and rampage. Several more of the crew die as they attempt to find their trapped members and free the ship’s magnetic lock. The action is furious, but the implications resounding with many of the issues we face today: rights of immigrants, reparations for a nation built by slaves, and the ethics of colonization.


In the final battle, only Somalee, Gina, Dhruv, and a systems tech are left alive, now isolated in the upper flight deck. They wire a small nuclear device into a life boat, but it must be manually triggered. Gina sneaks aboard and takes it down. She confesses to planting the disruptor virus, knowing the shells are destined to be sexual slaves, a fate she narrowly avoided but for which she is still paying.


The marauding shells break through to the flight deck. Somalee, raised on a station, has to face her biggest fear and walk the outer hull to reroute power before the nuke goes off. Her haunting memories almost derail her, but she makes it. The asteroid is destroyed and the ship breaks away.


Dhruv’s father has been left brain dead. The captain tells him that a scanned copy of his father’s personality can be loaded into a shell, but Dhruv knows his father would never want that. He pulls the plug. 


Franchise moment: the captain knows the disruptor virus was politically motivated and still out there…

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