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.

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