Excerpt from ‘Red Planet’ WIP

Red Planet Draft Cover
Red Planet Draft Cover

Disclaimer: this is a novel excerpt from the National Novel Writing Month challenge that happens every November. The goal is to get to 50,000 words in 30 days so that you have a working manuscript. That being said, the goal is to wait for editing until later so please keep in mind that this is a very rough first draft. Enjoy, and thanks so much for giving this a read. – Corissa

Chapter I

When They Came To Kill And Kidnap

Jak tried to remember how to hold his breath the way that Meg had taught him. Life, his life, depended on it as it never had before that moment. He hid, crouched in a fetal position with his knees tucked to his chin. He fit perfectly inside the locker, with just enough room to be uncomfortable after about ten minutes. He had been there for an hour. The tiny metal cage Meg had insisted he climb inside felt cramped, and Jak’s legs were beginning to fall asleep. Everything inside the locker was dark except for the thin lines of yellow light that slipped through three tiny slices in the locker door, covered by gently sloping metal edges on the outside of the door. Jak felt sick, nausea came toward him like a wave. He pushed it away before it broke over him, and held his breath tightly. Fear began to lump in his throat, and he wanted to swallow, but he didn’t. Jak could not let himself breathe just yet. The SiSo were still here.

Jak chased away thoughts of sickness and vomit as he pinched his nose shut tightly with two fingers, and covered his mouth with his palm. He tried to think of something nice, something that didn’t terrify him. A shadow passed by, covering the locker’s three little slivers of hopeful light. The inside of the locker went dark. The lump in Jak’s throat grew, yet he did not breathe. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping the Silver Soldiers would not hear. Jak, on the other hand, could hear everything with a heightened sense of awareness; the volume of minuscule occurrences had grown in the tense silence. There were two of the soldiers just outside the locker. He had heard the click-click, click-click of their mechanical heel-toe approach, the dreaded claw walk of a pair of the large robotic soldiers. The last time Jak heard that tedious click-click approach was the last time he had seen his parents. Jak felt nauseous bile rise to the top of his stomach, but held it back again with the sheer power of survival and fear twisted together inside of the child hidden in the locker. There was a gentle whirring sound, like a camera moving, some mechanical part was moving only a few feet from Jak. In the far, far distance echoes of violent chaos thundered against the walls of the transport vessel. Somewhere on another part of the ship, the colonists were fighting back. There was no one here but Jak and the soldiers.

The near silence deafened the hallway when the SiSo stopped walking to sniff out their prey. Jak knew this total silence was a common hunting trick of the SiSo. Meg had taught him many of the tactics the Silver Soldiers used to employ mechanical search and destroy missions for their masters. One of these tactics was to let the prey show itself before the SiSo pounced. They rooted out their targets with patience, and precision. The SiSo were not human, and did not care about humans. Their strength was not to be challenged by a twelve year old child, nor by an adult, as Jak well knew after what had happened earlier that day.

Meg. The rock in Jak’s throat became a few spare tears that tried to escape his eyes despite their tight closure. The child shoved away the memories and traumatic mental images of her recent demise as they approached him in the dark locker. Jak held his eyes shut so tightly that his lashes burned and the tears stung. Another sound cut through the quiet. Jak knew the high-pitched mechanical whine. The SiSo’s cameras were sweeping the area for thermal signals. A little longer, Jak told himself, but he heard Meg’s voice in his head and felt sick again. Don’t even swallow, he thought. Pretend you’re under water. They’re sweeping beyond your locker, the child told himself, you’re lucky, you’re lucky, you’re lucky. Jak didn’t feel lucky, but thinking about it helped with the overwhelming feelings of fear a tiny bit.

It felt like years of darkness before the whirring stopped. Jak had no idea how long he held his breath. At some point Jak guessed to himself that he had blacked out, for he saw nothing, smelled nothing, breathed nothing even when he felt like hurling right then and there. Even his feet, which had been asleep a moment ago, did not even feel attached to his body any longer. After an eternity of silent suffocation, a sweep of air and a scent of sterile polish pushed through the locker door openings and hit Jak. He felt the gentle movement, and heard the click-click, click-click recede down the hallway. The light sweep of air encouraged Jak to sigh, letting out a huge breath and sucking air back in as quietly as he could.

Let’s play a game, Jaky. Meg used to say. Let’s see who can hold their breath longer. Meg always won, she’d been practicing since she was young. We all have to hide sometimes, Jak. And I won’t always be there to protect you.

Why not? Jak wanted to ask, and the nausea receded and the rock in his throat grew to full blockage size again. The child did not let the tears come, but held them back as he had held back death or worse just now. Jak realized he was shaking, then, his whole person shuddering in utter terror. He hoped the SiSo would never come back. He hoped, somehow, that Meg had lived.

* * * *

Amanda wore brown garden gloves over her hands, and a dress that fell to her ankles and gently hugged her arms in dark turquoise lace. The color of the dress was singular, a rich turquoise hue that drew light to itself and harkened back to Earth’s deep oceans. Her waist was encircled by a brown rope belt that was tied, quite securely, through a circular iron ring. The iron, when polished, glistened and reflected off of any light source. Her black hair was long, held away from her face with a plain green headband.

The woman was potting a small scrub of basil at the gardening table in the solarium when she felt the ship lurch in a very wrong way. She heard the great crunch of metal upon metal, scratching and clawing and coming together suddenly, in a way that spaceships are not meant to do. Licorice the white cat nearly slipped off the garden table, taken aback by the sudden movement of the entire ship. The pot slid off that same table and broke open on the dirt floor of the solarium, its ceramic shards scattering and skidding every which way. Licorice clawed for purchase on the wood. Amanda caught her balance first by stumbling back and forth, basil scrub in hand, and then looked up as if it would give her a clue as to what had happened. Instead it reassured her that the garden was safe, for when she looked up she saw the familiar green branches of the oak tree in the center of the solarium.

‘What was that?’ She said aloud, again as if someone would answer her. Licorice yowled, the sound of a creature inconvenienced and in need of attention. ‘Hush.’ Amanda said, and her voice dropped to a low volume barely audible to most creatures. The white cat looked up, his crystal blue eyes seeking his owner’s gaze. He stood on two feet and gently raised his front paws to stretch upward and find a clawhold in Amanda’s skirts. Licorice leaned into his stretch, eyes expectantly staring at the woman above.

There was another sound of metal thunder, the kind of sound that made Amanda’s heart constrict and her stomach tighten. She felt tiny claws gripping her dress and looked down. ‘Shush, Licky.’ With her right hand, she gently removed Licorice’s claws from her oceanic skirts, and leaned down toward the fluffy white cat. Her long hair, blacker than shadow, fell down her back to the floor in a rippling waterfall of darkness. With her left hand, Amanda still held the basil scrub in its dirt clump, cradling it so as to keep it alive until she could find a place to put it. The cat sat by her knees, and licked his paws, cleaning each toe carefully with the delicate patience of a very busy cat. Amanda stayed there, crouched in the garden, until she heard the sound again; metal tore at metal as the transport ship fought back against whatever had rammed into it minutes before. Then, the sound of the ship’s alarms.

HULL BREACH flashed on the few digital screens that peppered the walls of the large garden room. Soon enough, the ship’s automated voice followed the sound of the high pitched alarms.

‘Proceed to evacuation routes to exit the ship. Follow the blue arrows to safety,’ said the voice, several times in a row. Then the screens all glowed with blue arrows. All of the ones that Amanda could see pointed towards the door, directing her to leave the room. A tiny voice inside her told her that nothing could be more dangerous than listening to the automated system right now. A final siren wail followed the repetitive message, and then the comm system went quiet. The blue arrows continued their flashing directions after the sound had died out and it was nearly silent.

That sound, the wail of the emergency sirens playing through every announcement speaker on the ship, solidified Amanda’s resolve to hide herself and her cat wherever she could find that seemed reasonable. Something felt very wrong about this. The woman could not identify why she felt the way that she did, but something held her back from leaving the garden. There was no one else in the solarium at the moment, and so she felt relatively safe. Whatever was happening, she could wait it out. She could save herself and Licorice from whatever had just happened to the ship. Something told her she should not try to leave the garden.

Amanda stood, and went to the nearest open plot near a thyme bush, and dug a small hole with her hand. She did this quietly, swiftly, listening at every stage for someone in the hallway outside the solarium. The woman placed the fragile plant inside the hole and packed in the dark earth around it. Her hair fell over her shoulder and got in the way; she brushed it aside. She carefully finished planting the basil plant.

‘Grow, little one. Even if something happens to me, I bid you grow.’ Amanda whispered towards the basil scrub, breathing on it gently but purposefully. Licorice rubbed himself against her leg as she crouched. Amanda removed her gloves, took one more look at the basil, and petted Licorice. Then she stood, grabbed her fluffy white cat, and placed the gloves in an empty ceramic pot that still stood near the wooden planting table. She turned off the lights in the solarium not meant for the plants, and withdrew into the darkest corner of the garden, Licorice purring and happy in her arms.

Beyond the bushes they huddled behind together, beyond the doors of the solarium and their wing of the transport ship, the woman and the cat heard distant sounds of screaming, and violence.

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

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Ammona, Part 5 [Short Story]

Bunk Room 942 wasn’t quiet for long.  Ammona scrolled through a media feed on her PTD while she lay on her back, left arm behind her head. She tried hard not to listen to the conversation Hian and Barrett were having, but it wasn’t easy.

“So, where you from?” Barrett inquired, while he attempted to play Tetris with his belongings and the locker he had chosen.

“Not really from anywhere,” said Hian, “My parents were military when I was a kid.”

“Not anymore?” Barrett asked, pushing a dark jacket into his locker.

Ammona scrolled past a news video about the Prime Minister of Celestial Affairs. The caption said there will be more restrictions on civilian spaceflight after a series of passenger craft accidents. They no longer seemed like accidents, said the caption. Of course millions of people were commenting on the video. Ammona kept scrolling.

“Nah, they’re retired now. That’s one thing military gets you: early retirement,” Hian answered Barrett.

you make it to the ship? A message from Drea popped up on the PTD. Ammona closed the media feed and flipped to her messaging app.

totally. stupid dude in my bunk room tho. truly hope i have 0 classes with him. She typed back, and tapped the Send arrow. saw some cool magnorcycles in the cargo hold. She added, and hit Send again.

“That sounds like a good deal.” Barrett was busy replying to Hian. Ammona heard the computer voice outside acknowledge someone else, and moved to sit up on her elbows. As always, she was curious about who the last of their bunk mates was going to be.

“Sometimes,” said Hian, and then fell silent as they also realized someone was coming through the door.

“Hey there folks,” a dark-haired person stepped through the door. He was tall, probably over six feet. He looked like a boy that Ammona had been to high school with, but she didn’t think it was him. This person’s face was narrow, his eyes set back, his nose like a beak. Ammona thought he looked like a very intelligent bird, though the way he stood reminded her of a cat. She shook off her initial judgments and sat up all the way.

“Well, hi!” Barrett greeted him warmly. “What’s your name?”

“Romero,” he replied, pulling his backpack off his right shoulder where it had hung carelessly a moment before. With one fluid motion, he flung it up towards the other top bunk, across from Ammona. The bag landed on the pillow, perfectly cushioning its fall.

Show off. Ammona thought. Her PTD buzzed, and she realized she still had it in her hand. She looked down at the screen to see a reply from Drea.

the journey won’t be long. find stuff to do, you’re good at that. you’ll barely see him. 

She’s right. Ammona admitted to herself.

“I’m Hian, and that’s King,” Ammona heard herself being introduced.

“Hi,” she looked up. “Nice to meet you.” Romero met her eyes, something she wasn’t used to.

“Nice to meet you, too,” he said. “I think we’re about to take off.” Ammona looked down at her PTD. She quickly typed a reply to Drea.

you’re probably right.

Ammona closed her PTD.

“It’s about time,” said Hian, “I got on board way too early.”

“When did you get here?” Asked Barrett, as he shut his locker and returned to his bunk.

“Pretty much first thing this morning,” replied Hian. Romero climbed up to his bunk and sat against the wall.

“I didn’t know I was going until the last minute,” said Romero. “I’m pretty sure they held the ship for me.” There was laughter in his voice, and he chuckled to himself after he spoke, like he had made a joke. Ammona could see something behind his eyes, boldness, and entitlement. For a moment she thought to herself that this was very much like her, when she was younger and she had not yet experienced the crushing weight of adulthood and brokenness. She shook off the feeling and focused on what he had actually said.

“They held the ship for you?” Ammona couldn’t help herself. Who is this dude? She wondered.

When Romero laughed, his whole face became a laugh. The laugh wrinkles near his eyes compacted into a sea of future crow’s feet, high cheekbones raised themselves when he grinned into the full laugh. Hian and Barrett laughed too, seemingly for no reason. There was something catching in it. Ammona was annoyed and intrigued. “I’m just kidding,” said Romero, “Well, half kidding. There was another kid they were shuttling down here, but it was just he and I left when we got on board.”

“I see,” said Ammona, “Lucky you made it.”

“Luck doesn’t have anything to do with it,” said Romero, grinning. Ammona didn’t know what he meant. She looked down at her PTD. No reply from Drea yet. She wondered what her best friend was doing.

The sound of an electronic bell rang on the console attached to the wall, near the door. Ammona looked up, and so did everyone else.

“This vessel will depart in 5 minutes.” Said the panel’s speaker. “Please remain on your bunk or in your bunk room until it is safe to roam about the ship. Do not delay in returning to your bunk.” Another bell played on the console, and the screen flashed red with words in white. Ammona couldn’t read it from her vantage point on the top bunk, so she assumed it said the same thing the panel had just said. The bell played again.

“This vessel will depart in 5 minutes,” the speaker began the recording again.

“Oh, hush,” said Hian, “We all have ears.” Barrett laughed, and Romero grinned.

“…or in your bunk room until it is safe to…” the speaker continued. Hian rose from their bed and went to the panel. Barrett followed and stood behind them. Nosy as always, thought Ammona. They both tapped the red screen in a few different places. Hian tried some gestures.

“Do not delay in returning to your bunk,” the recording insisted.

“I don’t think that’s something you can disable,” Romero began, “I’m pretty sure the security on an Academy transport ship is pretty tight.” The recording faded away after the last bell sound, and Ammona laid back down on her bunk.

“Don’t count on it,” Hian said, and the two of them kept trying.

I hope this thing takes off soon. She thought, and checked her PTD for the time. I should’ve checked what time that recording played. I don’t even know if it’s been five minutes yet.

The other two had still not returned to their bunks, but Ammona said nothing. Romero was also quiet. He had fished out his PTD and was typing on it. Habitually, Ammona pulled out hers and checked it again. Still no message from Drea. Maybe that was her fault.

“What about this button on the side of the panel?” Ammona heard Barrett ask.

“Either non-functional or the functionality’s been shut off,” Hian’s voice replied.

The whole ship moved suddenly, and Hian and Barrett both almost lost their footing.

“Don’t delay in returning to your bunks,” said Barrett, as he lowered himself to his bunk.

The whole world was moving then, as the spacecraft lurched out of the Orb’s docking station. Everything shook uncontrollably, as if the planet gods had turned the craft into a tuning fork and tapped it against a celestial object. Vibrations, that was all Ammona could see. She had to put away her PTD. Her whole body was shuddering. Everything she saw looked a little fuzzy, moving back and forth through a million tiny iterations of itself, quivering like a child in a snowstorm. Yet nothing was cold to Ammona.

Forgot what this was like. She thought, and noticed that all her bunkmates had fallen silent. Something, something about being hurled through a canister into the darkness and hoping it all works out. Ammona thought of Drea, of the funny things she said sometimes. She thought of how she might not see her for years. She thought of how Drea hated space travel. She’s scared of so many things. Ammona thought, and she tried not to be angry with Drea. She knew in a way that Drea felt abandoned, but something in Ammona felt abandoned, too.

Sure, she thought, as she became used to a shuddering world, as the vibration became normal and her physical components chose to accept it. She’s the one who is too scared to go out on adventures. She’s letting her fear trap her. That’s why she feels abandoned. But I feel abandoned by her, because she chose a safe cage over me. We are so weird. Ammona shook off the thought and looked at the ceiling several feet above her.

The world still shook as the spacecraft took off, and Bunk Room 942 was quiet for a moment while its inhabitants waited patiently to travel through a starry void.

Previously, with Ammona:

Ammona, Part 1

Ammona, Part 2

Ammona, Part 3

Ammona, Part 4

Collage and story created by Corissa Haury

Glossary of Acronyms

PTD – Personal Tech Device

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

Continue Reading

Ammona, Part 4 [Short Story]

“State your name. Last name first, please.” A computer voice said. It carried the note of a tenor, and spoke in a British accent.

“King, Ammona.” The young woman watched the screen calculate for a moment to find her in the registry of accepted students. Its background was an image of the Sierra Nevada mountains in western America. The mountains looked so beautiful they might not be real. Ammona wondered briefly if the image had been enhanced or created by someone in any way, as the computer brought up her room assignments for the trip to Pluto Colony.

“Welcome, Miss King. Please make your way to Bunk Room 942.” The screen blipped, and a beautifully rendered map of the space ship appeared. An animated arrow started at a dot that said You Are Here and moved around several corridors towards Bunk Room 942. “Please do not leave Bunk Room 942 until after departure. Your Bunk Room monitor will inform you when you are free to roam about the ship. Enjoy your stay, and please call for any assistance on your Bunk Room monitor.” The cheerful British voice had politely told her to go find her bunk room.

Ammona grabbed her bag, which she had placed on the grated steel floor, and turned around the assignment console, to the right. She smiled to herself in excitement.

Miss King followed a few right and left turns down a series of hallways that looked identical to her. She’d been on a few starships before, but not many. It was expensive to fly unless someone else was paying for you. Ammona slowed her rapid walk, and observed her environment. There were not a lot of other students wandering around the halls. They were, no doubt, faithfully stowed away in their various quarters.

The hallways were covered in steel grates, everywhere. There was no space wasted on the ship. Beneath Ammona there was floor storage. On either side, storage bins covered with the steel grated gates that held the cargo safely intact. There was symmetry to the pattern of storage bins, in many different shapes and sizes. Ammona saw a bicycle storage bin, and another bin that had a motorcycle. Another held three beautiful magnorcycles, shiny and clean. Ammona’s breath caught when she saw one with a royal blue seat, and matching handles.

You’ll have to find out who owns that. She told herself, and tried to reach through the grate to touch the shiny chrome and leather seat. The gate’s bars were too close together. She gave up after a moment, and moved on. More reason to find the owner. Ammona liked giving herself goals, so she wouldn’t be bored.

The rest of the storage bins were full of indiscernible crates, plastic bins, and dark packages wrapped in canvas. The hallways became just as indiscernible, and Ammona looked at some of the numbers by the doorways to indicate where she could find Bunk Room 942.

914. She read the numbers to herself. 926, 928, 930, 932. This is the even side. She followed the even numbers around a left corner and saw the worst person stepping into a doorway. Please, god, let this not be 942. She thought, as she approached the doorway Eric Barrett had entered. Seriously, the last thing I need. Someone tempting me to sock them in the mouth. She stood outside the door for a moment, and saw the comm panel on the outside.

Ammona pressed an access key into the awaiting touch screen on the wall.

“Welcome, Miss King.” Said the British computer man, and Ammona watched the door slide to one side. The bunk room was tiny. She stepped in.

The room was a 12-foot by 12-foot by 12-foot box with a bunkbed on either side. Ammona tried not to let panic engulf her, show on her face, or even change whatever she felt like saying next. She didn’t have time to think about any of that.

“Hey!” Said a friendly voice, and she looked down into the face of an androgynous person with a heart shaped face, clear brown eyes and a shaved head. They sat on the bottom bunk on the right, and their sheets were a purple-blue that appealed to Ammona. They wore a casual green t-shirt that said Lucky Stars and had an interesting illustration of the constellation Sagittarius, the Archer. Their jeans and high top black boots struck Ammona as neopunk, and she liked it. “Nice to meet you. I’m Hian.” Hian extended their hand. “Welcome to BR 942.”

“Nice to meet you, Hian.” Ammona said, trying to smile away her shock at the tiny room she was going to be in for the next several weeks. “I’m King.” Hian laughed, as if it were a joke. When they laughed, their eyes twinkled. It made Ammona smile.

“That’s pretty cool.” Said Hian.

“It’s you!” Said Barrett, who had undoubtedly taken the other lower bunk. He’d had his back turned before, but turned to see Ammona after she announced her name. “How funny that we’ll be in the same bunk!”

“Yes,” Ammona swallowed her irritation. “How funny.” Hian looked at her, and Ammona ignored their gaze. “I’ll take this bunk.” She threw her bag up onto the bed above Hian’s and climbed up the attached ladder.

“Well, it’s going to be nice to get to know some people before classes start.” Said Barrett. “You know, get a crew going. We’ll be best friends before this is over.”

Somehow I doubt that. Ammona thought. Barrett continued to mess up his sheets with his hands.

“Bunk friends aren’t necessarily best friends.” Said Hian.

“Just doesn’t feel like home unless I get the sheets all messy.” He said. “I wonder when our last roommate will get here.”

“Who knows?” Hian shrugged.

We are not roommates. This made her think of her favorite roommate and her real best friend. Ammona took out her PTD* and checked her messages. Still nothing from Drea. She thought. I wonder what’s she doing now. 

The room was quiet for a little while. Ammona was grateful, though from time to time when Barrett shuffled around or moved on his bunk, she felt awkward. Social guilt plagued her, but she would truly rather read a book on her PTD than listen to Barrett gab on. Ammona looked around and saw that there were two lockers on either side of the room, at the foot of the bunk beds. She hadn’t noticed them before because they were on her right and left when she walked in. Cool, at least we have that. She thought. I wonder when we’re taking off.

Previously, with Ammona:

Ammona, Part 1

Ammona, Part 2

Ammona, Part 3

Glossary of Acronyms

* Personal Tech Device

Ridiculous, curious, most likely delirious.

I love a great story, whether it comes in the form of words or visual stimuli. I believe everyone has a story to tell, and I love to share mine.

Please feel free to read along, comment, share your own stories, or send me a message via the contact page. Thanks for your time reading my words.

Continue Reading