The following is a list of the Top 24 final pitches.
Simply click on the title of the manuscript below to view that pitch, or the link to the name of the pitch under the Categories menu!
Agents and Publishers, to vote for your favorites or request a full manuscript, comment on the individual blog with the corresponding title. If you request further materials, please include the email address and a list of materials you would like to see!
Court Sci Fi
By Sir Jared Agard
THE YEAR OF PERFECT SIGHT
By Sir George Anderson
THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS
By Sir Yusuf Baldick
By Sir Myles Christensen
TO KISS THE SKY AGAIN
By Lady Candace Davenport
IDOLS OF PARADISE
By Lady Shianne Edelmayer
THE RED DIVIDE
By Lady Nicole Garcia
By Lady Talynn Lynn
By Sir David Neuner
By Lady Morgan Watchorn
By Sir Trevor Williams
By Lady Diamond Wortham
NO REST FOR THE WICKED
By Lady Phoebe Darqueling
THE GRIMOIRE’S HEIR
By Lady C. Ashwinne
THE HERON KINGS
By Sir Eric Lewis
By Sir Thomas Macolino
PAST STORM AND FIRE
By Lady Christy Nicholas
By Lady Mattea Orr
THE ISLE OF EXILE
By Lady Erin Peters
THE WOLF QUEEN AND THE DRAGON
By Lady Sahar Rahimi
THE BRAVEST OF THEM ALL
By Lady Lorelei Savaryn
THE LILY OF GRACES
By Lady Cristal Thompson
THE DEATH OF CALETTE LANDON
By Lady Bree Wernicke
SHATTER THE SHIELD
By Lady Latrice Willis
Three destroyed outer planets. Two SETI scientists. One question: Can humanity prevent its destruction? #pitprom #sf
Dear Agents and Editors,
What would you do if the world is going to end in ten years? For Jennifer Epstein, a by-the-books senior researcher at SETI, there is only one answer: prevent the apocalypse from happening. Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus have been destroyed by an alien threat. The deck is stacked against humanity.
But Jennifer isn’t alone. She has Samantha Monroe, her excitable but brilliant subordinate. From South Africa, CEO Muzikayise Khulu of Khulu Global supplies his vast resources to the ultimate race for survival. The three find themselves in an unlikely alliance while political brinkmanship, doomsday cults, and untested technologies form ever-growing obstacles.
Will humanity unite to face the greatest challenge of their time, or will it destroy itself before the alien ship arrives?
THE BASKING is a 125,000 word adult hard science fiction novel. Extensive technical and societal research are woven into the narrative and lend authenticity to the story. The book contains an ethnically-diverse cast alongside an evolving LGBT relationship.
Focusing less on the threat to Earth, THE BASKING examines humanity and how they cope with first contact and the existential crisis forced upon them. This will appeal to readers of other science fiction works that explore human nature in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges in the style of Neal Stephenson (SEVENEVES), Ben Winters (THE LAST POLICEMAN), and Allen Steele (ARKWRIGHT).
After more than a decade as a Salesforce consultant, I'm now a full time writer, and proud father. My author Twitter account has over a thousand followers and I'm curating a growing list of newsletter subscribers. My extensive contacts in the technology sector give me insights and opportunities to offer authentic content for readers looking to connect with the concepts of the book.
Thank you for your consideration.
~ Trevor Williams
First Ten Pages:
June 20, 2014
A soft but piercing tone cut through the white noise of the humming computers.
"What the hell?" Samantha Moore, a research scientist, winced as the tone blended with the 90s music streaming from her MP3 player. She yanked the earbuds out of her ears, her eyes wide. She'd worked at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute for six years, but she hadn't heard that particular 400Hz triangle wave tone in years.
Pushing away from her desk, she craned her head around the wall of her cubicle so she had a clear line of sight to the back corner. The tone came from the Very Large Monitor Database—a suite of computers hooked up to four 40-inch monitors which continually fed live data from the Allen Telescope Array. "SIGNAL DETECTED" flashed in the center of the lower-left monitor.
Almost falling out of her seat, she ran to the VLM. Without taking her eyes off the alert window, her mind ran through the possibilities as “Groove Is In The Heart” started to play. She took a deep breath as she sat in front of the four waking monitors, each displaying spectrographic data that should've been impossible.
Okay, okay, okay, is this real? This can't be real, but is it?
"Time to confirm," she said out loud as the tone fell silent upon clearing the alert. Time to see from what area of space the detected signal originated.
As the main riff of the song played, Sam's mind and energy honed on this signal, her fingers typing while scanning local wide-band and narrow-band frequencies. Her first goal was to rule out any Earth-born signals that could've bounced off a satellite and hit the radio dishes at ATA.
"Holy shit," she whispered as the data in front of her confirmed the space-born nature of the signal. Twice. Three times.
No. This can't be real.
Sam chewed on her lip, scrutinizing the formulas on the monitor in front of her that broke down the narrow-band frequency into several distinct sections. She looked for common errors in the software that could've triggered the alert, then looked for modulations in the signal that would indicate a spinning pulsar or a late-type star generating the signal.
The analysis software worked as intended - no stars or pulsars existed in the direction that the signal emanated from.
This just can't.
She glanced at the desk phone to the left of the keyboard. No way I'm calling anyone, she thought. Have to confirm everything. She knew better than to cry wolf when there were false-positives in the past; calling in the entire brigade would result in her being in hot water if it turned out to be anything other than extraterrestrial in origin—something that seemed more and more likely.
She sucked in a large breath of air as she leaned closer to the monitor which displayed the source of the signal: Pluto.
Pluto! At least, all indicators said that approximately seven hours ago the dwarf planet was the source of a possible extraterrestrial beacon.
She typed several commands to process the fresh data even further, triangulating the approximate location on or near Pluto that the frequency originated. After mashing the ENTER key, the displayed dataset made her blink rapidly with a slackened mouth, as if the data was a mirage and blinking would correct it. The signal originated fifteen thousand kilometers over the surface of Pluto and not beyond the planet. With every false-positive in the past, the signals originated from other stars. Detecting one just 7.5 billion kilometers away from Earth was a first. She had to make sure every decibel, every frequency, every number that’s carried forward- that everything was correct. And she checked again. And again.
“Groove Is In The Heart” came to a close. Sam glanced at the date and time in the corner of the monitor. The signal was broadcasting itself for at least seven hours, the amount of time needed for it to reach Earth from Pluto. Everything pointed to this not being a fluke.
"Holy shit," she proclaimed again, her right leg rapidly bobbing under the desk. "I need to call Jennifer. Get more people here now."
She reached for the desk phone and dialed Jennifer Epstein's cell, one of the Senior Research Scientists at SETI and Sam's superior. She rarely called her outside of regular work hours unless it was an emergency or critically important - this signal qualified as both. Her heart pounded in her chest as she kept staring at the spread of information in front of her, the sound of Jennifer's phone ringing from the desk phone speaker.
This is real.
Covered by an open magazine that contained articles on current world events, a smartphone began playing the first six seconds of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, a ringtone selected for all stored SETI contacts. The sound from the phone's speakers was loud enough to cause Jennifer to shift under her cotton bedding. It took three rings before Jennifer flung her hand over to the phone, knocking the magazine and her reading glasses onto the floor from the nightstand. As she mentally ran through the short list of people that had her cell number, Jennifer, now resting on her side, brought the phone to eye level. Though everything was blurry and some of her shoulder-length black hair further obscured her vision, the name on the phone's screen was unmistakable.
Jennifer exhaled as she slid her thumb across the screen, answering the call while she pressed the speaker button, amplifying the excited voice of Sam. "Dr. Epstein! Get here quick!"
"What happened, Sam?" Jennifer queried, her mind still hazy from the abrupt wake-up call.
"I was just, you know, doing my usual graveyard shift, running some algorithms through the latest batch of spectral modulations from Allen - data mining and all that -"
"Please, cut to the chase," Jennifer interrupted, her head now firmly planted back on her pillow and eyes closed.
"Signal detected, doc. Signal detected!"
Ah, this again. Jennifer participated in dozens of events like this, all of which ended with false positives or were new astronomical discoveries that happened to emanate radio waves. One more such event, though exciting, shouldn't get her protégé so frantic.
"Have you run the frequency through normal detection procedures?" Jennifer continued to make herself comfortable in her warm bed, not reacting too much to this news.
"I've triple-checked everything. This is real and coming from Pluto!"
"What?" Jennifer pushed herself into a sitting position against the back of her bed. Her brow raised slightly at the mention of Pluto - a signal coming from one of Earth's own planetary neighbors was a twist.
"We need to bring in the rest of the team pronto, doc," Sam said. "Gordan, Nic, the whole team! Alert the director, too."
Jennifer leaned over the side of her bed to scoop her glasses off the carpeted floor, then opened the drawer to her nightstand and grabbed the thin, black slab that was her SETI-provided smartphone. Unlike her personal phone, this had secured access to SETI's servers which included an app designed to push the same alerts the VRM received. After the screen turned on, she tapped her password.
"Dr. Epstein? Doctor?" Sam impatiently waited for a response as Jennifer swiped down on her phone screen to see the signal notification that was pushed to her phone at 4:39am, along with the signal origin coordinates and frequency: Right Asc: 18h 52m 57.7s Decl: -20° 14' 37.1" ; Freq: 5106.82MHz. The numbers all came into focus as she slid her glasses on. She cocked her head as she scratched the side of her jaw. The frequency presented was far higher than anything they've detected in space before outside of pulsars - except this originated from Pluto.
"Why would there be a signal from Pluto?" Jennifer asked herself.
"That's what I can't wait to find out," Sam said. "Shall I call in the rest?"
Jennifer shook her head, despite Sam not being able to see the gesture. Stay composed. "Once I review the data, we'll decide if having the team on-site at six in the morning will be better than at nine," Jennifer answered. She dropped the smart phone onto her bed and started toward her closet. She eyeballed a button-down shirt and pants that she could quickly throw on for her twenty-minute drive to the office. "However, I'll be there immediately."
Despite it being a weekday, the drive along Route 237 West was uneventful and fast. Jennifer knew the highways around her home well, though she was never a fan of waking up early enough to beat rush-hour traffic. Her work phone, loosely nestled in the cup holder in front of the unused CD player, dinged with text messages from Sam. She picked up her phone and scanned the first message before she placed the phone back down: "Still can't believe it. Nicolas is on the way."
Of course Nic's on the way, Jennifer thought -- he's one of the most obsessed support scientists on her team. Even the slightest variance in a star's brightness would send him into a researcher frenzy to understand everything there was to know about that star. Where his bursts of energy came from, she might never know, but his contributions to the team couldn't be denied.
As she left behind the suburban blocks of Milpitas and looked at the water-starved fields just beyond the Los Esteros Energy Center, thoughts of both the past and future filled her mind. Though she'd been working at SETI for over twenty years, every "signal found" message always found a way to send chills down her spine.
Dried fields gave way to vast corporate parks and the runways behind the NASA Ames Research Center. One thought dogged Jennifer.
If this is really happening, everything will change.
Her personal phone vibrated atop her work phone. The predicted text message from Grace, her mother, arrived on schedule: a verse from the Torah that she likely felt was appropriate for the week.
Hopefully, Jennifer thought as she looked at the message from her mother while hearing her work phone chime once more. Hopefully this signal could bring the change we all need.
Nic's hybrid, a dark blue sedan from 2009 that'd spent way more time in direct sunlight than the paint could handle, was already in the parking lot. Bringing her car to a halt next to his, she went through the motions of turning the car off with one hand while smoothing down her shirt with the other, aiming to keep composure. Nevertheless, her heart raced faster than usual as she took long strides to the front of SETI.
At minimum, she allowed herself a brisk pace from her car to her team's corner of the building where Vern - her pet name for the VLM - churned through data. She passed through the automatic doors as her ID badge reeled itself back against her waist after being swiped. As she got closer, an odd warbling sound filled the air. It was emanating from where she worked. Jennifer swiped her card again and entered the office.
"The amplitude of this section is incredible!" Nic said as he adjusted his glasses. His voice could just be heard over the pitched warbling sound that pulsed every second from Vern’s speakers.
Jennifer started toward Nic and Sam, both of which sat in front of Vern. They were both fixated on the monitors in front of them.
"What is going on..." Jennifer began, but trailed off when she saw the strong spike in the signal on the bottom monitors. On one screen was a live feed of the warbling pulse, each second turning the center of the frequency medium into a jagged spike just past the five-gigahertz level. The screen Nic and Sam were looking over had parts of the signal broken out into static screenshots for analysis. Above them were the remaining two monitors. The right displayed a graphical representation of Earth along with the sea of satellites that orbit it in the form of red, green and blue dots, while the left had a scrolling text-based feed of the signal's location and frequency, with the initial capture of it pinned at the top.
Just seeing and hearing this warbling blast of audio made her skin tingle as blood rushed through her in response.
Sam had one leg extended away from Vern, as if she wanted to run over to her own computer, but was glued to the screen in front of her. "Doc, I've been running this through every spectrum analyzer and pulse reader we have."
"Have you checked all civilian and military sources?" Jennifer asked as she ran to her computer a few desks down on the same wall as Vern, dropping herself into her chair.
"Yes, ma'am," Sam affirmed as she continued swiping through frequency analyzer programs. "So far, AWAC reported back negative. Nic, what's the status on spacecraft activity, NORAD sats?"
"No unusual activity in our neck of the woods," Nic pulled up another window that flashed in the task bar. "Got confirmation on ATA status."
Nic turned toward Jennifer, his eyes beaming through his glasses. "All forty-two dishes reporting green operations, and all are picking up the signal."
As Jennifer's computer awoke from sleep mode, she glanced at her smartphone, which still had the original signal notification on display. "Is there any possibility that our software or hardware is malfunctioning?"
"Looking into that now," Nic stepped back from Vern’s main console and pulled out his sticker-covered laptop to start diagnostics.
"Doc, I have confirmation on sidereal motion for the signal," Sam stated, her leg bouncing on her toes under the desk as she kept her focus on the monitors. "Interferometric positioning still places the signal origin fifteen thousand kilometers over Pluto."
"But that doesn't make sense," Jennifer darted her eyes toward Sam as she brought up astronomical mapping displays on her screen. "Can you confirm when we first received the signal, and confirm again right ascension eighteen hours, fifty-two minutes, fifty-seven-point-seven seconds; declination minus twenty degrees, fourteen minutes?"
"I'll run the numbers again, Doc," Sam said.
Nic's laptop snapped shut as he started for the server room. "So far diagnostics are coming in clean. Gonna directly access the servers."
Jennifer looked at Nic with urgent concern. "Do you think someone could be spoofing this?"
"It wouldn't be the first time," Nic said as he swiped his card on the security panel. The heavy door’s lock opened with a click. "But we now have dozens of safeguards and detection criteria in place that would make such a hack significantly more challenging today. In the past, yes, we had several false-positives thanks to backdoor attacks, but I'm certain this is not one of those events."
Just as the doors to the server room closed, the office door swung open, the wall groaning as the door arched to the fullest extent on its hinges. Jennifer turned to see Gordan Ivanovic, another research scientist who worked alongside Jennifer, marching toward his desk. Like Jennifer and Nic before him, he paused when he saw the signal data on Vern.
"Holy Christ," he said as he ran his fingers through his gray hair. "Where are we with signal confirmation?"
"You're missing the action, Gordan," Sam quipped. "I can use your help analyzing the signal pattern. Did you see the ascension and declination positions?"
"Yes, and I still don't believe it," Gordan regained his composure and threw his messenger bag into his cubicle before walking over to Jennifer. "What are your thoughts, Jennifer?"
"Well, Nic is checking the servers for possible online tampering while Sam could use you over at Vern," Jennifer said as she pointed at one of the spectrum breakout charts on her screen. She allowed herself a quick chuckle. "It would be nice, though, if it weren't another false reading!"
"Agreed," said Gordan as he lightly patted Jennifer on the shoulder before walking to his desk. "Perhaps we can get Kabir on the line to run a check for us."
"Go for it," Jennifer said.
Kabir Reddy worked out of Pune, India, home of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope which was operated by the Tata Institute. Though Tata drove the goals for the radio telescopes - most of which didn't align with SETI's objectives - Kabir, being one of the view people staffed at the GMRT, used his position to redirect some of the dishes to aid in SETI research. It made perfect sense. Pluto rose over India right about now, and Kabir was manning one of the few radio telescope arrays for thousands of miles.
She heard the server room doors unlock, which prompted her to rotate her chair toward the door as Nic exited. "Give me some good news."
"No unauthorized activity or login attempts over the last four weeks." Nic noticed Jennifer's raised eyebrow in response. "I just wanted to be thorough. But yes, the only thing my audits found was a three gigabyte download of music, which I traced back to Sam's laptop."
Sam turned toward Nic and Jennifer, both of which looked over at her. "Hey, if you want this girl to code, she needs her weekly dose of number one, two, and three hits from the greatest decade for the ears!"
"Oh, not that conversation again," Gordan rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry, I think we may have the greatest song singing from Vern's mouth right now," Sam added as she brought her right ear to one of the speakers, letting the warbling sound flow into her body.
Banished to a flooding planet with an enslaved race ready to revolt, she struggles to survive & decide which side she’s on. #PitProm #SF #F
Hykala, after recklessly challenging her higher-ranked flying partner to a maneuver resulting in serious injuries, is banished to her planet’s harsh surface for a year, her wings locked tight. Never having stepped foot on the surface and ill-prepared for its unforgiving challenges of unknown creatures and biannual flooding, she struggles to enmesh herself in the culture of the wingless Dawk, the surface dwellers she’s only known as household servants. She just wants to survive her year and get back to flying, but the Dawk have other plans.
Mothe, (2nd POV) who lost her wings fifty years previously and now lives as a Dawk, becomes Hykala’s friend and mentor. When whispers of a Dawk revolution rumble across the land, Mothe entangles Hykala in the Dawk’s long-term plans for freedom.
At the end of her year’s adventures, Hykala must decide to either stay and help her new friends or return home. If she stays and becomes fully accepted by the Dawk, she must give up flying forever. But if she returns to the skies, she’ll abandon her new friends to the vengeance of her own race.
TO KISS THE SKY AGAIN, complete at 94,000 words, is a dual POV, Sci-Fi/Fantasy story which will attract readers who love the world-building and rich storytelling of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and the adventures of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books.
I honed my writing skills as an attorney, winning my cases by writing clients’ stories to make them come alive for a judge. When I retired, I started a non-fiction publishing company where I published two of my own books along with over twenty-five books from other authors. In my spare time, I capture and band migrating raptors and I still dream of being able to fly.
~ Candace Davenport
First Ten Pages:
Cradled by wind and sunlight, Hykala spun through the sky, a mirror to her partner’s flight. The air whistled through blue feathers, sounding a harmonic note to balance the wind-song created with each stroke of Sarwa’s violet wings. Faint shouts of approval for the beauty of their sky dance echoed from the observers scattered across the pale sky, above the wispy clouds. As the two approached their last maneuver of a full spin and back flip, flashes of color merged, separated, and merged again, ending their Doubles Sky Dance with a flourish.
Wings cupping the air beneath her, Hykala floated on her back and yelled at Sarwa, “What the hell was that? You bumped into me on that final flip.”
Sarwa hovered at her side, his wings brushing air across her face with each slow, steady beat. A small frown creased his brown face. “You cut it too close. But we recovered. I doubt anyone even saw the contact.” With a huge grin he added, “Come on. We were brilliant. No other pair came close.”
She and Sarwa never made mistakes in competitions, and for Hykala, anything less than perfection was not acceptable. Although Sarwa was probably right and no one noticed, it still rankled. She slammed her fist into her palm, wanting to take back the last five minutes and do it again, but instead, she took Sarwa’s hand and they flew to the King’s landing pad.
Despite being visitors to these cliff dwellings, raucous cheers erupted for Aardee’s top Sky Dancers as they lightly set down on the crescent-shaped entrance platform to the huge hall carved into the mountainside high above the surface. With their unusual mix of her blue and his violet wings, for years both Hykala and Sarwa had been the pair to beat in any Doubles Sky Dance event.
After the silence of the dance and the whisper of their wind-song, the inside commotion heightened Hykala’s sense of annoyance as they strode across the stone floor, their shimmering flight suits matching the color of their wings. Observers trailed behind them, awe and amazement reflected in their eyes while others touched them as they passed—a story for their children.
Hykala had to shout amid the noise that ricocheted off the cavern walls. “Let’s hope the judges didn’t see your bump, but I think we’re good.” Wings tucked tight to her back and twitching with excitement, she squeezed Sarwa’s hand as they walked toward the awards podium.
Sarwa frowned as he grabbed Hykala’s long braid wrapped in a blue rawhide tie and flicked her face with the tip. “Hey. I’m not taking any responsibility. You got too close.” But then he smiled and bowed, arms outstretched. “We had an amazing flight. We’ll win… as always.”
A constant stream of observers and competitors approached to congratulate them, but all Hykala wanted was for the five officials, their heads bent over score sheets spread across a table, to acknowledge they’d received another gold. Her stomach growled with the smells wafting throughout the vast cavern from the awards feast set out on tables to celebrate the announcement of the final winners. Never good at waiting, she shifted from foot to foot on the hard rock floor—she wanted her gold so she could go eat.
“Stop fidgeting,” Sarwa said. “Go get our other medals while we’re waiting.”
Hykala cut through the crowd to the corner where they’d cached their winning stash. When she pinned the small stars on her flight suit, they sent reflections of golden light onto the cavern’s rocky walls. She brought back Sarwa’s stars and helped pin them onto the front of his flight suit to become a glittering counterpart. Patting his broad chest, muscles hard from years of flying, she announced with a smile, “Now we’re ready.”
As if Hykala’s words had moved along the officials, the head of the Inhikiod Games stood, his long gray hair unbound and tucked behind his ears. He held up his hands for silence. “Thank you everyone for attending this year’s Inhikiod Games between Hapira and Taimana cliffs. Weren’t these Games exciting?” A roar of approval rocked the room. The official gazed out over the crowd and paused, smiling.
Hykala groaned and whispered, “Come on. Come on.”
“Now for the moment we’ve been waiting for—the results from the last event of this year’s Games.” The official looked down at his notes, “The Doubles Sky Dance!”
Hykala gripped Sarwa’s hand so hard he flinched. The room hushed and held a collective breath.
“This was the closest event of the entire Games and a very tough decision.” The official shuffled his papers. “The gold medals go to… Tanela and Setinne!”
A strange hush settled over the crowd and everyone turned to stare at Hykala and Sarwa. The long silence turned into raucous cheers from the Bora Family as their winning pair of indigo-winged fliers screamed and raised their arms, fists clenched.
With his sleeves dropping to his elbows to reveal indigo wing tattoos circling his forearms, the official again held up his hands for quiet. “Before you cheer for the winners and watch their award ceremony, please accept the Bora Family’s thanks to everyone involved in these Games. The lead switched back and forth several times over the past few days, but with the golds awarded to Tanela and Setinne, I’m happy to announce the winner of this year’s Inhikiod Games is the Bora Family!”
Hykala shook her head, her eyes wide enough to match the chasm of Sarwa’s gaping mouth. Shock and disbelief spasmed across her face in waves. “No. They’ve made a mistake. Noooo.” Impervious to the surrounding cheers, Hykala couldn’t remember the last time they’d lost a Doubles Sky Dance—or even an individual race—let alone an entire Games. “This can’t be. This is wrong.” They were the best Doubles Sky Dance team on Aardee and should have won.
She spun around at a tap on her shoulder. The head official motioned Sarwa and her toward a quieter corner.
“You both were brilliant, as always, and I wanted you to know how difficult the decision was in your Sky Dance. The judges split, and I had to cast the deciding vote. While Tanela and Setinne’s dance may not have been as spectacular as yours, they had no errors. That brief contact in your final flip was my deciding factor. I’m sorry.” He smiled, patted both their shoulders, and left before either Hykala or Sarwa could recover enough to respond.
Hykala looked at the retreating official’s indigo wings tucked to his back and grabbed Sarwa’s arm. “He’s an Indigo, just like Tanela and Setinne!” She shook Sarwa’s arm until he swatted at her hand. “That kusog broke the tie and awarded the gold to his own caste.” Her final words ended in a wail.
“Free skies, Hykala. Calm down,” Sarwa said, prying at her grip.
“We were cheated. They got the gold because they’re Indigos, not because they’re better than us. We shouldn’t have lost.”
It was hard to hear anything through the Bora Family jubilation that reverberated throughout the cavern. Sarwa grabbed both Hykala’s shoulders. Turning her so she faced him, he gave her a shake. “Hykala! Our wings won’t turn color because we lost.” After a quick hug he added, “Come on. We should go pick up our silvers. We don’t want to be considered poor sports.”
“I don’t give a flying kuso what people think of me. I don’t want a silver. It’s our gold. We’re the best.”
“Apparently not, since we didn’t win.”
“Since they cheated us out of a win, you mean—that and your bump.”
“Maybe cheated, but I say again, not my fault.” Sarwa shook his head, his eyes flashing. “But no matter who is responsible, there is nothing we can do about it, no matter how brilliant our routine. Now, come on.” He pulled at Hykala’s arm to move her toward the awards podium.
As they waited to receive their silver, most of Hykala and Sarwa’s own Kipaji Family came up and told them they’d been cheated. Hykala struggled to keep a pleasant face as the officials pinned the gold stars on Tanela and Setinne but, inflamed by others from their home, Hykala’s mood worsened. She never lost at anything.
As they left the awards platform with one silver star marring the perfection of their otherwise golden chests, Sarwa looked down at Hykala. “It’s done. Let’s go eat and drown our sorrows. I’m starving.”
She gave him a disgruntled smile. “I suppose I can accept condolences even with my mouth full.” She took his hand and looked up at him. “But we have to do something about our ending so that bump doesn’t happen again.”
Before she could continue, Sarwa squeezed her hand. “Don’t you dare blame me again. But you’re the dance genius. Do what you need to do but don’t make it even harder than it is already. Those last flips are difficult enough. Come on.”
The air thrummed with Inhikiod of all wing colors mingling and laughing as they passed by the extensive table spreads scattered around the large cavern. Smells of roasted meats permeated the air making Hykala’s mouth water. As they maneuvered to get into line, a Dawk, one of the planet’s indigenous, wingless race, bumped into Hykala.
“Hey, careful,” Hykala snapped.
The Dawk ran her hand through her close-cropped hair sported by all Dawk and lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry, Miss.”
“Yeah, well, no damage done. Go on.” She flipped her hand at the Dawk. After a questioning look from Sarwa, Hykala grimaced. “Shut up. I’m in no mood.”
“You don’t have to take it out on that poor Dawk. It’s a wonder we don’t have more accidents, as crowded as it is in here.”
Before Hykala could respond, Sarwa held up his hands. “And don’t take it out on me either.” He gave Hykala a mock frown which turned into one of the dazzling smiles she loved.
With a disgusted look, Hykala shook her head. “You’d be sorry if I ever did. You’re just lucky I’m so nice to you.”
Sarwa only harrumphed.
As Hykala and Sarwa moved along a line, two Bora Yellows in front of them looked over their shoulders and laughed. Hykala grabbed Sarwa’s arm, whispering. “They’re laughing at me.”
“Let it go. You don’t know what they’re talking about and who cares?”
“I care. I don’t like to lose. In fact, I don’t like others talking about me and losing in the same breath.” She made a rude gesture at the backs of the Yellows who continued to laugh and overfill their plates with food. “I hate these Boras. It’ll be nice to get home where everyone appreciates us.”
Hykala looked sideways at Sarwa and gave him a sly smile. “Lucky for me since I’m a lowly Blue and not such a high-ranking Violet, I only have to race against them and not deal with them officially.” Violets were the next rank below the Magenta of the King and Hykala was glad she was born with blue wings. As the lowest Royal rank, she had the Royal perks but few of the responsibilities that saddled Sarwa. “No matter. I enjoy beating them at any time… which makes this loss even more galling.”
One of the Yellows, with a full glass in one hand and a plate in the other, tripped and would have landed face-first in the food had Sarwa not caught him.
Sarwa steadied the Yellow, smiled, and patted his shoulder. “Careful now, friend. Had too much fermented juice this afternoon?”
The Yellow stammered through slurred words, “Celebrating, but thank you, Violet sir.” The Yellow straightened and showed them his glass. “But I didn’t spill a drop!” Although the Yellow showed the proper deference to one higher-ranked, his tone made Hykala frown.
Sarwa released the swaying Yellow. “Well, you should hold off on any more drinking,”
The Yellow smirked and raised his glass high. “But I’m celebrating our magnificent win.” He stretched for more food from the serving Dawk, stumbled and tipped the overflowing plate onto the floor and his drink down his front.
With his face as red as the spill on his yellow flight suit, he reached across the table and slapped the Dawk across the face. “Clumsy idiot. How stupid can you be? If you can’t do something as uncomplicated as placing food on my plate, then you should work the mines.”
The Dawk jerked and raised his hand. Another Dawk standing next to him grabbed his arm and spoke furiously into his ear.
Hykala made a move toward the Yellow but Sarwa had a firm grip on her shoulder. He whispered, “Not our problem.”
The Yellow stared at the Dawk and took a stance with his hands in front of his face. “Come on, then. You want a fight? Come on.” His friend also raised his hands and, side-by-side, they swayed together as if in their own doubles dance.
The Dawk, his friend still desperately whispering in his ear, bowed his head. He mumbled, his voice a mixture of anger and fear. “No sir. I’m sorry I spilled your plate.”
Her jaw clenched and eyes blazing, Hykala grabbed the Yellow’s arm, spun him around and spoke in her Royal voice. “You, Yellow. Stop it right now.”
“But you saw what happened. That stupid Dawk made me spill my drink.” The Yellow wiped his front with his hand. “He deserved my slap—more, in fact.”
“You shouldn’t hit your Dawk for any reason,” Hykala replied. “We don’t back home. Now, behave yourself.”
The Yellow grumbled an apology to Hykala, glared at the Dawk and grabbed another plate. He glanced back as he continued to wipe juice off his front. “You’re not in your home, Dawk-lover,” he mumbled. He moved off with his friend, leaving the embittered Dawk to clean up his mess.
Hykala sputtered, her frustration over their loss now focused on the Yellow. She made a move to confront him but Sarwa again put his hand on her shoulder. “Forget it. That Yellow’s not worth any more of our time.”
“You heard what he called me.”
“We’re not home so we can’t get involved with how they treat their Dawk. Stop making a fuss and move. You’re holding up the line.”
Resigned, Hykala grabbed a plate. When it was her turn for the Dawk to serve her, she smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your fault.”
The Dawk remained silent and sullen, the fading impression of a handprint on his pale skin a stark reminder of what had happened. Hykala shrugged and followed Sarwa off to the side to eat and receive condolences for their loss.
When the large cavern had emptied and mostly service Dawk remained to clean up after the celebration, Sarwa stood and pulled Hykala to her feet. She tucked a few strands of wayward hair behind her ears and rubbed her face with her hands, a pale face more handsome than pretty. Filled with freckles, a broad forehead, and a strong jaw, she was unremarkable except for her golden red hair. Winning a competition didn’t require beauty, so Hykala had never cared what she looked like. She found her own beauty in her flying.
“I know that look. What’s going on in that red head of yours?” Sarwa asked. “Nothing good, I imagine.”
Hykala grinned at Sarwa. “I’ve an idea about how to make the routine even better, and,” she added, “to make sure you don’t bump into me again.” Before Sarwa could respond, she held up her hands. “I’m already planning an exciting new way to finish our routine. If it works out, it’ll take our dance to another level.” Sarwa was not good with change, so she’d always tweaked their routine and introduced even minor changes slowly. But with the day’s loss, she wanted a major shift with a different ending.
A group of blue-winged fliers came up to Hykala. One asked, “Ready to leave? We’ve a long flight home.”
Hykala waved at them and said, “I’ll be with you in a minute.” She gave Sarwa a long hug then grabbed his hands. “Thanks for everything.” She cleared her throat, eyes darting around before settling on Sarwa. “I know I don’t say this enough, but you’re my best friend and I love you for who you are.”
As she jumped off the ledge to join the other Blues, Hykala yelled over her shoulder at Sarwa, “See you later. Safe flying!”
It was almost a week later, after many long, tedious practice sessions, that Sarwa knocked on Hykala’s front door for yet another attempt at perfecting the recent changes to their routine. After giving Sarwa a quick hug, Hykala announced, “Today’s the day we finally master those final flips.”
Sarwa snorted. “We won’t perfect anything this morning, especially where we’re flying.” But a quick smile took the sting out of his disgruntled response.
“We will. I can feel it.” Hykala slipped out of her house and joined him to make their way to Giant’s Hall, the vast indoor mountain cavern where the Inhikiod learned to fly. Because it was raining, they’d practice inside that day. Inhikiod could fly in the rain but it wasn’t pleasant—wet feathers made for heavy flying. Since they had a choice, they chose to stay dry.
It had taken longer than Hykala expected to polish her envisioned changes in their routine. Happy with the result, she’d shown them to Sarwa and, at first, he had liked the idea, until he’d tried and found them harder than they looked.
After many frustrating days of getting close but never perfecting the final moves, he’d complained to Hykala, “I love your idea, but I’m bigger and stronger than you. I’m not so compact and… flighty, which makes a difference in being able to make those turns.”
She’d scoffed. “Of course you can do them. Try again.” He had tried over and over, but the last part still gave him trouble. Now Hykala wanted to try the maneuvers indoors, thinking maybe a change in space would affect how he approached the troublesome turns.
As they walked together along the stone corridor, the violet wing tattoos circling Sarwa’s forearms reflected the light from the okuu lamps lining the walls. Hykala ran a finger over her own blue tattoos and smiled up at Sarwa. “Have faith. I know you’ll get it today.”
Sarwa only scowled in response.
When Jaylie learns her utopia is a slave pen, she must take down the government trying to control her powers—putting lives at risk. #PitProm
Eighteen-year-old Jaylie Haddox grew up trading memories for the food on her plate.
Indigo Children like her have the power to create natural resources in exchange for sacrificing memories. They’re the only humans left alive, but thanks to these powers, humankind has survived inside artificial ecosystems for the last two hundred years.
Or so she thinks.
When Jaylie’s artificial ecosystem collapsed eight years ago, she gained a frightening new power—one that destroys instead of creates. Only Jaylie’s powers stopped demanding memories, isolating her with the realization that society has become addicted to forgetting the bad ones.
That is, until Shaye Lewis, a childhood friend Jaylie can’t remember, fights his way back into her life. He tells her the utopia she calls home is an elaborate slave pen designed to control the Indigo Children’s powers. She’s one of thousands who were kidnapped and brainwashed, and the government won't need its slaves much longer. If she doesn’t lend her power to Shaye’s group of rebels, the Indigo Children will be exterminated.
But the more Jaylie remembers about the day she and Shaye were separated, the more her moral compass wavers. With memories of her old life beginning to influence her present, Jaylie must sort out the difference between who she is and who the world wants her to be before the war decides for her—and whether memories from her past or her present will shape her future.
THE INTERIM is a YA metaphysical dystopian novel with series potential. My manuscript is complete at 116,000 words and combines elements of THE DARKEST MINDS with FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST.
I’m a freelance Japanese manga/novel translator. One of my short stories was a quarter-finalist in the 2017 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest and ranked #4 on Coverfly’s Red List for the month of January 2018.
Thank you for your consideration.
First Ten Pages:
Two minutes. That’s how long it took to kill a fifth of humankind.
Wheat stalks whipped my face as the flames chased Bria, Gavyn, and I out of the fields. Explosions were ripping apart the honeycomb network of rafters that held up the mile-high dome that protected Julian, my home Sanctuary, from the outside world. Pipes, cables, and light panels as big as trucks plummeted into the farmland below in smoldering streaks, crushing homes and silencing screams. Sparks sent wildfires roaring through the wheat field in seconds and swelled the climate-controlled humidity into blistering heat, transforming our golden playground into a wall of flames that pinned us against the crushed half of Bria’s red brick house.
The ground shook and lurched, dropping us to our hands and knees in the dirt. Mrs. Fournier, Bria’s mom, lay face-up in a garden of blood-spattered white roses and broken bricks. A rafter pierced her stomach. Broken ribs poked through her navy shirt. Blood dripped from her nose, sliding down her cheek in quivering lines as falling debris shook the earth. She stared up at her daughter with half-lidded eyes that should’ve been purple—the mark of an Indigo Child. They weren’t glazed over; they were drained of all color, leaving nothing but white between the thin black lines encircling her pupil. They looked like a fly’s wings.
The smoke thickened, tickling my throat, prickling my eyes. Ash caught in Bria’s red curls and stuck to my teeth, tasting like dirt. A tangle of beams slammed through a monorail track and sent train cars soaring through the smoky air, tumbling into the neighboring orchard, crushing the dozens who worked there. Even when Gavyn started sobbing and crawled over to grab my sweat-slicked arm, I couldn’t tear my stinging gaze away from the fly wing eyes.
No. No. This made no sense. Surely this could all be fixed?
My Nature turned back time. No matter how broken, no matter how many pieces were missing, my power could restore anything to its previous state. Julian was falling apart quickly—the air was thinning, filling my tight lungs with falling ash and rising smoke. It was a lot to fix, but it was doable. Might as well start reviving the dead first and get everyone to help, right? I’d never tried it before, but nothing was impossible with our Natures. Indigo Children made miracles happen every day.
I peeled my trembling hand out of the blood-soaked soil and pinched a thorn out of my wet palm. A rusty scent latched onto my tongue as the ground jerked me forward mid-reach for those fly wing eyes. My balance teetered on my knees, eyes brimming with tears. If I could just fix those eyes… Those wrong, dead eyes…
A deafening crackle resounded through the Sanctuary. The sound crawled like ants under my skin. Gavyn’s ash-caked cheeks turned up at the sound, and my eyes followed. A crack was zigzagging through the rafterless dome of concrete, thick enough to be visible through the rising smoke. It branched out and spiderwebbed, sprinkling concrete chunks into the flames around us. There was a moment of stillness—Gavyn stopped crying, Bria stopped shaking her mom’s shoulders, I stopped reaching for the discolored eyes—then concrete chunks bigger than the house broke off and plummeted down like earth-shattering rain.
It wasn’t my rattled brain that kept me watching with heart-racing awe, even as Gavyn and Bria cowered and screamed. It was the hole in the enclosure that the pieces left behind, a hole that grew and released the smoke into the world beyond. A hole that, for the first time in two-hundred years, exposed humankind to the sky.
The sky was red.
As soon as I saw it, pain knifed my brain. A yelp tore from my throat, and I shivered—the sweat streaming down my neck and back turning cold. I clutched my head with bloody hands, chest heaving, black spots speckling my sight. Silver threads swirled and gleamed around Bria’s hands, the mark of conjuring a Nature. Her tear-streaked face grew flushed and focused in the sweltering firelight, and then Bria’s Nature-fueled palms slammed into her mother’s motionless chest.
In exchange for a memory, Indigo Children can conjure natural forces through their given Nature. Bria’s Nature conjured electricity. She was trying to bring her mom back from the dead, like I planned to do with my time Nature moments before.
That’s why her actions made sense to me, at the time. Life was, after all, no more than an electrical charge.
The limp head rolled to one side from the sudden impact, unseeing eyes slipping past her daughter. Strange. An electrical charge should’ve zapped her chest and restarted her heart, right? But Bria’s threads vanished into thin air without manifesting even a touch of static. Still, Bria waited, hands folded, watching her mom’s face in silence as more of Julian’s enclosure fell and the blood-red sky expanded.
Gavyn’s shoulders slumped, orange flickering in his purple eyes, staring at the bloody soil sticking to his knees. He was so absent, so far removed, he didn’t notice the silver threads that sprung back out of Bria’s mom’s chest in a thrashing flurry. The gleaming silver spooled and wove together, solidifying from the ground up into a statue made of jagged purple crystals: legs, hips, torso, head. Bulging and misshapen. A not-quite-human shape.
Its sharp jaw unhinged with a crack. Bria’s name in its gaping mouth was nails on glass, a spine-chilling echo from a pitch-black well.
“Come with Mommy, Bria,” it whispered in a crackle of Mrs. Fournier’s soothing voice. It dragged a crystallized foot forward, flames flickering red reflections on the gleaming purple surface. “Come to the Interim.”
As Julian fell apart above us and shuddered beneath us, Bria greeted the abomination of her mother with a smile and open arms.
My headache dulled as quick as it came. Heat flooded my skin again. Wiping my sweaty brow with the back of my hand, I blinked away the falling ash. Why did Mrs. Fournier return from the dead like that? Was it because her body was broken? I reached past the crystal ankles, aiming my threads at her body’s eyes. I stared at the red coating my trembling fingers, waiting for threads that never came, dumbfounded by the limit to my Nature I never knew I had: our miracles couldn’t reverse death. This crystal figure wasn’t Mrs. Fournier, nor her soul. It was the memory of her, infused with Bria’s desperation to see her mom again.
Mrs. Fournier was lost to the Interim, and no miracle would bring her back.
Purple shards tinkled down the statue as it leaned over its daughter’s smiling face. The jaw snapped off and shattered like glass on the ground by Bria’s knees, disintegrating into shimmering dust. Jagged fingers chipped away one by one until the hand was whittled into one clawed finger. Its arm shuddered as it stretched to touch Bria’s cheek, like Mrs. Fournier often did in life. Then the sharp point lowered those few frightening inches, to the vein pulsing in Bria’s sweaty neck.
My brain lulled in the heat, shuddered with each impact to the earth. But my hand rose on instinct; it knew what to do.
Power surged up my right arm and tingled in my fingertips. Wild. Impulsive. Nothing like the rhythmic pulses of time. Threads lashed from my hand in a violent flash, a heartbeat’s burst that ripped the torso off the crystal statue in a blast of purple shrapnel. Without a torso to balance it, the legs teetered, stumbled, then crumbled and dissolved in a dusty, shimmery heap.
My mind swam with euphoria, tight lungs coughing up a laugh. My skin buzzed with energy. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. I knew this feeling. I’d experienced it once before. It shouldn’t have been possible, but a second Nature was awakening inside me. This time, it was pure destruction singing through my every nerve, filling me with glee. As if the power to destroy the world around me was only natural. Teeth chattering, I cracked a smile.
The last shimmers of Mrs. Fournier’s failed resurrection dissolved into the sticky blood. Her tears now dried by the fire’s heat, Bria’s horrified gasp withered into a quiet breath. She sank her weight onto her heels and said nothing, as if detached from the destruction around her.
A shadow darkened our faces. Gavyn shrieked—falling concrete was rushing down at us. Snatching my braid and Bria’s sleeve, he cast the silver pulse of his teleportation Nature around us. The flames, the blood, the fly wing eyes blurred and smeared into grainy color.
In his Nature’s aftershimmer, a white tile floor materialized below us and soft ceiling lights shone above us. Cool air soothed our overheated skin. Water splashed a constant rhythm from a spherical stone fountain. Two women spoke into headsets with cheerful voices behind a long front desk. Music soothed this space so gently, I had to hold my breath to convince myself it was real.
Two men in lab coats turned when we tumbled into existence behind them. My hands slipped with mud and sweat and blood but I crawled over to them anyway, smearing the white tile with copper-scented grime. Through my stinging tears, I recognized my brother Ryner’s puzzled face and nearly fainted.
His presence meant one thing: Gavyn had brought us to Compass Headquarters. Outside Julian. Inside Charlotte. The safety of another Sanctuary.
Gavyn’s wails pierced the lobby. Men and women in lab coats stopped to stare, sparing confused looks at the purple crystals scabbing the swollen fingers Gavyn cradled at his chest. The older man with Ryner—who I later learned was Doctor Nellum, the director of Compass—kneeled in front of Gavyn and twisted his wrist for a better look, scratching his chin at the world’s first case of the Pull.
Tears spilled down my cheeks. My hands scrambled for time’s threads, to reverse the damage done to me—I repaired the torn hem of my dress, cleaned the blood off my shoes, lifted the dirt stains from my socks. I begged my time Nature to take away the fire, the blood, the fly wing eyes, to plunge me into ignorant bliss, but no matter how many times I expanded my mind’s reach in search of the Interim’s mental tug—that stream of consciousness beyond my body that would whisk my memory of that horror away, the memory refused to release my mind from its haunting claws.
And then it hit me: Ever since that destructive new power poured out of me, the rule—the mercy—that every Indigo Child must sacrifice a memory to use their Nature no longer applied to me.
I crawled to my pale-faced brother. He stood petrified and wordless as my fingers curled into his lab coat. “Fix me,” I hiccupped in my smoke-scratched voice. The destructive threads of my new, second power seeped from my hands. Ryner tore out of his coat and backed himself into the small crowd forming behind him, letting the coat flutter to the cold floor at my knees. Purple crystal growths seeped from my hands, spreading like bacteria over the sleeves, the hems, and the four-pointed Compass logo on the breast pocket. Frozen and rigid, reduced to solid crystal, the coat cracked, crumbled, and disintegrated in my hands.
I reached for Bria’s arm with shaking fingers as if she could give me relief. Destruction’s silver threads still thrashed in my hands. When they reflected in her curious eyes, an image of her torso crystallizing and crumbling flashed through my mind. Hollow and helpless, I lowered my arm. As I backed away, Bria tugged my sleeve instead. Her mouth moved as she pointed excitedly at the city street beyond the glass front doors, but I couldn’t hear her beyond the pounding in my ears.
Questions balled up in my throat: How are you smiling? Why won’t you move away? Can’t you see the danger? As soon as they came, realization froze my blood. To resurrect her mother’s soul, she’d chosen to forget Julian was collapsing. No trace of it remained in her brain. It didn’t matter that the cause of her mom’s second death spun in my hands. She couldn’t remember what I’d done. She wouldn’t know to stay away.
Fire and blood and death. Fire and blood and death. Julian’s collapse looped in my mind, clawed my brain and disfigured my sanity, taunting me, goading me, demanding I pick apart its every detail in a meager attempt to reason how the enclosure that protected Julian for two hundred years managed to fall in a single day.
It didn’t matter that I couldn’t forget memories, or that every detail would haunt me forever. It couldn’t have been a malfunction of the climate control system, the lighting, or the monorail tracks that brought the entire Sanctuary crashing down on the forty thousand farmers packed inside. The damage was too widespread to pinpoint an origin. Still, I couldn’t shake the thought that it wasn’t an accident. Julian’s destruction was too thorough. Too effective.
Almost as if it was intentional.
The Indigo Memorial’s courtyard would be stunning if factory walls and apartment buildings didn’t loom over the patrons from all sides.
A layer of glass paves the courtyard, separating my shadow from my feet. With the white marble underneath it, it creates the illusion of walking on air. Glass columns encircle the perimeter, each wrapped in metal coils extending to the glass underfoot in a swirling web of silver. Light refracts from the columns with rainbow-tinted clarity, painting the surrounding hedges and cherry blossom trees with the full color spectrum.
The Inter-Sanctuary monorail screeches overhead, and I tense as it echoes off the Sanctuary’s enclosure. It’s been eight years since Julian’s collapse and I still can’t shake the trauma. The supply trains run between Sanctuaries every thirty minutes, and every damn time it passes, there’s a split second where I expect it to come crashing down.
Cursing, I rub the headache budding at my brow. You’re fine, Jaylie. It’s normal. I push through the dozens-thick crowd encircling the Compass representative standing in the courtyard’s center. I try not to look at faces in the crowd—the wilting corners of mouths, the hard lines pressing wrinkles into overworked brows. Some people clench their fingers, shifting weight from leg to leg. Others wipe tears, frowning into wet fingers with confusion. For what most of these people believe is the first time in their life, they’re confronting the problem that is death. The one problem Natures can’t fix.
But that’s what funerals are for: to comfort the living. Not mourn the dead.
And nothing brightens a day like a funeral.
The representative—I’ve stopped memorizing all their names, so I call them the Daves, even the women—clasps his hands in front of his chest as he nods to the funeral guests. His white coat swishes as he paces the crystal-encrusted corpse curled up on ground in the courtyard’s center. Half of the dead woman’s face is jagged with violet crystal clumps. Core material, we now call it—memories in physical form. Judging by how much core material covers the body’s entire left side, it solidified at least one vital organ.
This woman didn’t die naturally. She died from the Pull.
Dave kneels at the body’s side and places a hand on the crystallized shoulder. “Hear us, Mother. Let Vina transcend the limitations of self. Let her memories become one with those who came before her. May the Interim analyze the state of the world she observed and gift your children with the Natures we need to maintain our peace and propel our future.”
What a pretentious load of crap. He makes the Interim sound more understood than it is. It was discovered by accident during the Resource Wars. While the rest of the world was fighting over Earth’s last resources, a handful of physicists invented a passage to explore the multiverse, intending to find a parallel dimension where humans didn’t exhaust them. Instead, they found a conscious dimension they called the Interim: a collective consciousness that’s been recording history since the dawn of time. Like most people, Dave believes the Interim has its own will based on our collective observations, and that it chooses our Natures. But all we know for sure is we can conjure the Interim’s memories of how the world used to be into the present. Memories aligning with our Natures. Nobody’s seen inside the Interim itself. Not even the Daves.
Someone in the crowd hiccups a sob. I frown as Dave approaches individuals who look the most upset, holding their shoulders, purple eyes drilling into theirs as if demanding they match his smile. They force smiles back, but the glisten in their eyes doesn’t leave or spill over; the smile is Dave’s push to hold them over until the end.
The Pull’s silver threads web through the body’s dead skin. In their wake, crystals fester and envelop more of her in a jagged shell. It won’t be long until her body becomes solid core material.
Not all Natures can connect with the dead like Bria’s or mine; in fact, most—terraforming Natures, molecular duplication Natures, for example—can’t. Compass brushed Gavyn and I off when we told them about Bria’s resurrection attempt; just two traumatized kids with hyperactive imaginations. But now, the Daves make these funerals feel designed to prevent resurrections. Have more people attempted resurrections since then? Maybe I’m paranoid. I wouldn’t put it past me. Not after Julian’s collapse.
1944: 17-yo Lucas wants revenge on his abusive father. When his sister turns against him, he must kill her or lose his life. #PitProm
Dear Royal Advisors,
In 1944, 17-year-old Lucas joins the army in hopes of leaving his abusive past behind. When he’s sent back home due to an injury, he decides to finally seek revenge on his eugenics-obsessed scientist father, who forcibly transformed him into an Elite—a genetically-modified person with supernatural powers. But upon his return, he finds that something is amiss.
His sister Eleanor has already murdered their father, and tossed the corpse into a bayou.
Worse, Lucas finds he is no longer the only Elite in the family. After begging to be one of her father’s subjects, Eleanor is now one too, and has adopted her father’s views on genetic superiority. Her plan? Take over the Elite project, then play a sick game of survival of the fittest with unknowing participants. The strongest will earn the privilege of becoming Elites, the weakest get an unmarked grave. Bound by familial ties, Lucas has two choices: kill his sister, or stop her with a carefully-planned lobotomy. The longer he waits to strike, the more people’s lives are at risk, including his own.
THE ELITE is a 66,000-word Young Adult Science Fiction novel with a Southern Gothic twist. It features a racially diverse cast and would appeal to fans of Bioshock: Infinity and Captain America.
I’m currently a part time student at Cal Poly Pomona and work for Los Angeles County as a clerical worker. THE ELITE is my first novel.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Ten Pages:
Chapter One: Normandy
I’m gonna die today.
My heart pounds against my chest, the only thing I hear as the German soldier pushes the cold metal gun deeper into my temple. I kneel before him in the muddied field, my knees sinking into the grass as my hands rattle from nerves.
The only witness to my murder will be the green copses surrounding us.
“Irgendwelche letzten Worte?” he repeats over and over, jamming the rifle’s muzzle harder against my skull every time he says it.
I try conjuring up the fire inside me, in hopes of burning him and breaking free, but it’s no use. My usually heated veins remain as cold as the hail raining from the sky. His finger curls around the trigger, and my addled mind is consumed with regret. I shouldn’t have signed up for this, I’m only seventeen for God’s sake. Now I’ll be coming home in a pine box, and my sister will be left to carry the heavy burden of what needs to be done. My labored breaths are the only thing I can hear now. My vision blurs from the heavy downpour, I close my eyes as I wait for it all to be over.
Gunshots ring out, so loud, that they leave a ringing in my ears. On the third one, the soldier gasps, his grip on the rifle weakening ‘til it falls to the grass. He blankly clasps his hand over the growing splotch of red on his chest. More shots are fired. On the last one, a sharp sensation tears through my gut.
Fear washes over me, and a lump forms in my throat. Searing pain rushes through my torso. I grab my stomach and catch a glimpse of the ground. Droplets of blood stain the grass.
With the little strength I got left, I grab my weapon and spin around, pointing it back toward the trees as I search for the sniper. All I see are a few dead cows in the distance.
While trying to figure out where all the shots came from, I forget about the injured soldier wavering behind me, at least ‘til his legs go out and he falls forward, his heavy weight coming down on me.
We hit the ground so hard the wind’s knocked out of me. My ribs noisily crack on impact, and the bullet lodges even deeper into my stomach. Too weak to push his deadweight off, I lie there gasping for air, digging my nails into the soggy earth. Uncontrollable heat suddenly rushes through my veins, shooting through my fingers, the dampened mud sizzles as my weakened fire meets it.
“Hey!” a man shouts.
Before I can muster up a response, the corpse is dragged off me. I look into his eyes, his boyish, dirt-stained face immediately becomes familiar.
I know him, and I know him well. I’d recognize that gangly figure, and those dark, worried eyes anywhere. He’s my friend, and given his sorry aim, he must’ve been the one that shot me.
The pain hits me all over again, before I can say anything. My stomach—and now my ribs--are throbbing. I bury my face in the grass, cradling my wound, and moaning in agony ‘til he flips me onto my back like a beached whale.
“Lucas?! What the hell are you doin’?” Robert yells.
I sit up, hunched over. He tries to touch me again, but I push him away. “Get the hell away from me.”
“What’s your problem?”
“You shot me, you son of a bitch. And I think I broke a rib. God damn—” The pain shuts me up before I can insult him.
“What’re you talkin’ about? I ain’t shoot you. There’s no way I could’ve.”
“I’m dyin’. I can’t believe it. I’m really dyin’…”
“Take your hand off your stomach and get a good look at it. Ain’t nothin’ there.”
“I can’t, my guts’ll fall out the bullet wound!”
“Stop actin’ like a loon and just do what I tell you,” Robert says. I steady my breathing before hesitantly releasing my hand from the wound. He’s right, there’s nothing there, I stare at my muddied fingers, dumbfounded. “And you said you broke a rib…which side do you think you broke?”
“Both of ‘em,” I utter.
“Both of ‘em? Bullshit, you’re sittin’ up fine.” He picks up my fallen helmet and slaps it on top of my head. “Stop actin’ stupid and get up off the ground.”
My hands violently shake as I buckle my helmet, wincing from both embarrassment and the throbbing pain in my sides. I force myself to stand upright. “Where’d you come from anyhow? Where’s everyone else?” I say.
“I was hidin’ behind ‘em trees.”
“Where’s everyone else?” I repeat.
He hesitates, before finally saying, “‘Member how that bomb went off when we were comin’ off the beach…” He stops himself and swallows hard like he’s not sure how to say it. “I saw ‘im get blown up on impact. Saw ‘im explode. I don’t know how I made it out and he didn’t, we were standin’ side by side.”
“Lieutenant Warner you mean?”
“Shit,” I mutter. “And Thompson was shot, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah… right through the eyeball.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see ‘im go down. But everyone else… they’re gone.” Gunshots ring out in the far distance, we look over in their direction before returning our glances to one another. He’s gone stark pale now.
A nervous queasiness settles into my stomach. “Well if everyone’s gone, what the hell are we supposed to do?”
Before he can answer, a bomb goes off nearby, violently shaking the ground beneath us. Screams of nearby troops that’ve been spotted fills my ears. The smell of sweet gunpowder fills the muggy air, followed by the strong stench of charred flesh. We look at each other, eyes big as saucers, before sprinting toward the trees. Once covered by the abundance of brush, we crawl, eventually stumbling upon an abandoned trench of about five feet and climbing into it.
We kneel in ankle-deep, muddied rainwater. Robert squints as he tries to keep the rain from going in his eyes and points his gun toward the opposite side of the forest. I copy his stance, ‘til sudden debilitating pain consumes my reddened, aching fingers. I swallow hard. It’s happening again. Judging by how painful it is, the fire’s gonna be much worse.
Robert suddenly opens fire, and four men fall from the branches. The world goes deathly silent.
Sharp pain rushes through the tips of my fingers. I grimace, clumsily dropping my weapon as I suffer in silent agony. I pick it up and put it back in its holster. A stronger ache nearly forces a whimper from my throat. It’s only a matter of time. The electric-like sparks inside me aren’t letting up. I’m not gonna be able to stop it.
I ball my hands up so tight, the heat threatens to burn my palms. Desperation sets in as I search for a place to hide, my sights immediately setting on the woods far off from us. “Hey, I’ll be back. I-I got business to take care of,” I say.
“You shouldn’t go too far. And you ought to not stand up, it ain’t safe down here. Ain’t safe nowhere,” he says, never lifting his gaze.
I nod, before ignoring his warning and racing toward the groves behind us. The throbbing in my fingers grows worse as fire threatens to shoot from them. My hands uncontrollably quiver, as I dive over the top of the ditch and race for the trees.
I rush over to a tree, grabbing its weighty, low hanging branch. It stubbornly cracks as I try yanking it from its copse.
Suddenly, a hellish inferno escapes my fingertips. I jerk back, the branch comes with me, snapping in my grasp. I toss it and watch as the fire eats away at it, fighting to stay alive. Eventually, my flames are killed off by the heavy rain. My heart starts racing all over again.
I don’t know if I’m going to make it back home...she’ll probably be there at the dock waiting on me and I’ll never turn up. The whole thing was stupid, me leaving Louisiana cockily thinking that I’d fight through a war and head back home without so much as a scratch. Now I’m gonna pay for this decision with my life. My heart twists in my chest as my vision blurs, from imminent tears. I’m gonna die.
Chapter Two: Falling
At first I have no idea where I am. Then the smell of fresh coffee and burnt toast takes me back home. Back to the diner, where we started planning Pa’s murder two years ago.
We’re sitting in the same booth as last time. Two measly years has changed her a lot. Eleanor looks less like a girl, and more like the woman in the photographs she sent me. Her light hair and stern facial expression is reminiscent of Pa’s, but her blue eyes and delicate features remind me so much of our dear Ma. She glances up from the menu and briefly smiles at me, I do the same before taking a smoke out and discreetly lighting it with my finger underneath the table.
My addled mind is full of so many things, yet nothing at all. The normalcy of it all makes it worse. The laughing people, the bell ringing when another order’s up, that radio playing near the front of the shop. It all feels too perfect.
Then I notice it.
There’s a receipt on the table. I pick it up to read it, but the more I stare, the more the words blur together.
Eleanor takes my free hand, and interlocks her fingers with mine. Her hand is so soft and delicate looking up against mine; with grime under my fingernails, a busted knuckle that still hurts like hell, and a healing cut going across it. This was all her idea, but it seems like I’m the only one paying the price.
“You’re still thinking about it, aren’t you?” she says.
I swallow hard, “I—”
“Just put the receipt down and forget about it.”
I shake my head.
“Lucas, you made the right decision. Bothering ‘em wouldn’t help a thing.”
I stay quiet.
She pulls away from me—that’s when I realize I had a grip on her so tight, she probably lost all feeling in her hand. She clears her throat and smiles. “Anyhow, enough about that. I wanted to show you something.” She pulls a folded-up newspaper from her purse and slaps it on the table. “Look at this.”
I glance over at the newspaper she’s just flung my way and see her on the front page. Standing there in a light-colored dress with a bouquet of flowers, her hair’s in one of those fancy pin-up hairstyles, and her face is all done up―as usual. And she’s got the biggest grin on her face. “Miss New Orleans of 1944… and that’s you.” I mutter, unamused. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks, but it wasn’t too hard to win, I mean, I was the prettiest one there. They all said I look almost just like Betty Grable. Pa was so proud.”
Confused by her gleeful mention of Pa, I eye her suspiciously before defeatedly nodding. Distracted by an unimaginable sadness.
She bites her lip, before sighing and shaking her head. “Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we’re doing the right thing. But then I remember all the lives he’s ruined, including yours. All the awful things he’s done to you...”
I don’t answer.
She looks at me, all the playfulness in her voice is gone. “When you do it…how were you planning to get it done?”
The phone near the front of the restaurant rings… my stomach twists, and nausea hits me like a ton of bricks. My heart races. I swallow hard as I watch the heavyset store owner pick up the receiver.
The air grows stifled, I’m sweating bullets now. Every breath feels like my last.
Someone grabs my shoulder and I’m suddenly back in Normandy, laying on the concrete floor of what I’m sure is the lobby of an abandoned church. The once fancy carvings on the baseboards have been marred with blood and dirt. And among the rubble, there’s a shattered statue of who I think is the Virgin Mary on the ground.
Robert’s staring at me like I’ve gone off the deep end, and everything blurs together. I momentarily close my eyes. I don’t remember coming here, and I sure as hell don’t recall us agreeing to stop so we could sleep.
“Lucas, you all right?” Robert says.
“What time is it? What happened?”
“I don’t know what time it is. We were supposed to be takin’ a quick rest but you ended up fallin’ asleep. I didn’t wanna wake you. You all right?”
“Yeah I’m fine.” I sit up, putting my fallen helmet back on.
“Seemed like you were havin’ trouble breathin’.”
“No, I’m all right.” I sigh. “You ever have a dream… and you know it’s supposed to mean somethin’… but you don’t know what?”
“No.” he says. It grows silent ‘til he adds. “Why?”
My voice quivers with every word, as I tell him about the month-long nightmare I’ve been having. I skim over the parts about killing Pa, and go straight to the ending, where I’m all nerves about a ringing phone.
“Then what?” Robert asks.
“I don’t know. Nothin’ I guess. Every time it gets to that point I wake up.”
“Your sister… you mean the pretty one that kept sendin’ you pictures of herself with every letter, ‘til you told her to knock it off?”
“Yeah.” I laugh. “She swore up and down that I’d come back and not recognize her if she didn’t. The little nutcase,” I take a smoke out and light it with a match.
“She may be a nutcase, but she sure is a doll. When this is all over I’d love to meet her.”
“Oh yeah. Well I’d like to meet your sister. The one a little older than you, kinda busty, real pretty face. Man, she’s a hot little dish. What’s her name, Rose?”
“It’d be a cold day in hell.” He pauses. “And for the love of God. Don’t ever talk about my sister like that again.”
The churches bell interrupts our laughter, and the gun shots that follow leave us staring at each other, wide-eyed. We snatch our weapons from their holsters. Robert gets up and motions for me to follow, so I rise and we race to the other room, I trail behind him as he starts climbing the concrete stairs, leading to the bell tower.
Soon as we get to the top, I have my rifle pointed right at the figure hankering over the tower’s edge. When I realize who it is, I hesitantly lower it. I know this blonde bastard. He’s one of us… one I don’t like.
“Carver,” I mutter.
Robert walks over to him, giving him a welcoming slap on the shoulder. “What’re you doin’ up here all by your lonesome, soldier?”
“Shooting some Krauts, that’s what,” Carver says, while still looking out from behind one of the three large bells. “I got them all real good. You hear that? Sweet silence.” He finally turns around, and when he notices me, he laughs. “Man do you look happy to see me.”
“Sure am. I’m thrilled to see the idiot that tried to use me as a human shield.” I grimace as I think about it all again. Gunfire had rang out as we were coming off that beach, and Carver yanked me by my collar, shielding himself with my body, nearly getting me killed. I can still feel the heat of the gunfire, as it narrowly missed me.
“Well, it’s survival of the fittest… you know, I thought you would get that. But after all this time out here, you’re obviously still an over-sensitive pussy.” He turned to Robert. “You found him curled up in a ball crying for his mama didn’t you?”
“Knock it off,” Robert said.
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” Carver turns to me. “Look, it’s really not my fault that you’re a piece of shit. How ‘bout we call a truce?” He holds out his hand, and I don’t take it. “Come on, it’ll only be for a day or two, seeing that someone’ll probably off you by tomorrow.”
I glance over at the window, my grip on the gun tightens.
In 2042, Wesley must escape digital slavery, find his real memories, & take down the Book, a sentient web interface in his vision. #PitProm
Moste Excellent Lordes & Ladyes of PitProm,
THE YEAR OF PERFECT SIGHT is adult science fiction, complete at 96,000 words, roughly Black Mirror in the vein of William Gibson.
In 2040s Manhattan, Wesley lives in constant fear of losing his memory. Like everyone who’s anyone, he depends on the Book—a sentient web interface in his vision—for video recordings of everything he’s ever done. But the Book crashes almost daily, leaving him with terrifying amnesia until it boots up again.
The rebel “nobookers” living in the tunnels under New York can help. Beyond the range of the Book’s signal, these radicals have their own memories. Turns out Wesley’s dependence on vids has caused his weak memory. With enough time off the Book, Wesley’s recollection may strengthen. The nobookers are working to kill the Book, which could end Wesley’s reliance on Book vids and bring back his real memories. Trouble is, the death of the Book will catapult him into his longest, most terrifying amnesia episode yet.
Still, a life off the Book might be worth the pain. Natalie, one of the rebel leaders, feels like a lost love, but she’s missing from Wesley’s vids. The Book is hiding something, and Wesley wants the truth, even if it’s devastating. To recover his past, he’ll have to help the nobookers hack the Book. But the Book is always listening, and it wants him to stay on—even if it means shattering Wesley’s reality.
My fiction has appeared in PANK and other venues. As a marketing writer at a software firm, I work with algorithms and content automation every day. I drew on this experience in writing the novel.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Ten Pages:
NEW YORK, 2042
Chapter 1 | Wesley
“Memory aid—Take a Year of Perfect Sight!”
The words leapt off the filthy tiles of the subway station. Wesley bent and scooped up the flyer, a scrap of red paper and shouting black letters. Just the thing he was looking for, but the crowd was coming and he couldn’t stop to read. The drone taxis were down, and so far, he was beating the rush to the train. He stuffed the paper in his pocket and set off.
His eyesight crackled with the interface of the Book. His whole life was there, pulsing in the graphics that floated in his vision. Notifications blinked over real life, calling him to things that mattered. The Book held it all and served him a personalized version, his own Book, through chips in his brain. Without it, he was nothing. The world’s conversations happened on Social. Everything lived there. His news, his money, his cat memes.
And his past. Without the infinite scroll of memory vids in his Daylog app, he would have no identity.
Trouble was, the random Book outages were happening more and more. When the interface went down for a few seconds, he was fine. When the outages stretched to two minutes, five, sometimes ten, he sank in a formless sea of amnesia.
Hence the flyer and his itching desire to read it.
He stepped out of the crowd into a little corner, a nowhere space beyond the flow of pedestrian traffic. Heart thrumming hard, he unfolded the paper.
Memory aid—Take a Year of Perfect Sight!(*)
Escape your Book videos. Find true memories, true self.
Q line into Brooklyn, Av H stop, follow signs.
(*Not for everyone!)
ThinkTank, his advisory app, circled the text in his sight and commented. <Escape your Book videos? Sounds a little extreme.>
He swiped the app into his sidebar with a flick of his eyes.
The drone taxis were down, another common occurrence, forcing him to take the train home. He was making for the L platform, third level underground. He checked Navigator—confirmed, he could catch the Q in this station as well.
He had sought a memory aid for some time now, ever since he’d first noticed the draining away of recollection whenever he had an outage. The pitch was tantalizing: Find true memories, true self. He almost changed his mind, almost asked Navigator to take him to the Q, but he didn’t. Most likely, the flyer was a bust, like every black-market memory pill he had tried at dubious Chinatown stalls. Besides, he was tired.
He stepped into the crowd again and followed Navigator’s blinking L icon, the trip still running in the app.
Shit—Navigator led him to another descending staircase. He had already gone down two levels underground and lost two bars on his signal. He’d heard of the horror in the deepest pits of the subway, the dead spots where the Book died in every eye. Fights broke out there. Murders happened there, all of it beyond the personal surveillance of his Daylog.
The arrow blinked over the staircase. <L Platform – This way. Next train in 3 minutes.>
All because the drone taxis were down. No choice, he had to get home. He took the stairs, his signal faltering from three bars to two.
Halfway down, his Book died.
His chest tightened. He saw nothing but real life, the grimy walls of the station, the other commuters ashen-faced with their mouths set against anxiety. Electric terror hung in the air, Books dead in every eye. He wasn’t alone in that regard, but without the interface, the strangers around him receded to an infinite distance, another kind of loneliness. The blood went thrum-thrum in his head and his hands shook.
Any moment now, the memories would start to slip.
He could still imagine his profile picture. Less than halfway handsome, messy hair, a guy totally unremarkable on the street. “Wesley Bennett,” he said to himself. His name, his image.
Where was he? The deepest pit of Union Square station, waiting for a train.
Where was he going? Home. Via the goddammned L, because the drone taxis were down.
What did he do for a living? He owned Vidbrander, the marketing software that tweaked people’s Book vids for subtle marketing messages.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
A woman and a man came down the stairs, brushed past him, found a spot on the platform. He knew them—Ann Hayden and Mory Gaspar, two old friends he hadn’t seen in years. Ann was his age, dressed like a young professional, her dark hair cropped close. Mory was older, looking grubby now, thrift store clothes nearly falling off him.
They hadn’t seen him, but he watched them, rehearsing their names. He couldn’t bear to lose it all again, even though his knowledge would come back whenever the L train climbed out of the bowels of New York. Then his Book would turn on and he would get his memory vids again.
Rehearse, rehearse. Ann Hayden and Mory Gaspar. Two old friends. Ann Hayden…
The train came, clattering slowing.
What train? Navigator was dead with the rest of his Book, and the name wasn’t blinking over the tracks. It certainly wasn’t printed on the cars anymore.
What station? Anywhere in New York. He never took the train. At least he knew the city where he lived. Checking—still knew himself, Wesley Bennett, though he couldn’t imagine his profile pic anymore.
And he’d lost their names. Now they were just a woman and her companion, two old friends whom he couldn’t place. Any moment, that knowledge would die, too. He would call them total strangers, never seen ’em before.
He couldn’t get on that train, not with the waters of amnesia rising around him and two old friends standing right there.
He whipped out the flyer, tore it open.
Memory aid—take a Year of Perfect Sight!(*)
Escape your Book videos. Find true memories, true self.
Q line into Brooklyn, Av H stop, follow signs.
(*Not for everyone!)
The doors to the train opened. The crowd pushed past him and found their way in. His old friends boarded in the rush. <Stand clear of the closing doors!> blinked softly in his vision.
The woman turned back, caught his eye, stared in shock.
The man glanced after her, recognized him, turned away. Something terrible hung between them, something unspeakable.
The doors closed. The woman watched Wesley through the glass while the man looked elsewhere. The train began to move, faster and faster. The woman’s eyes tracked Wesley, the last glance, the unspeakable linking of two souls, until the tunnel swallowed her up forever.
He glanced down at the flyer. “Q line into Brooklyn.” The only way out was up the stairs. His Book would turn on and Navigator would lead him to the right train. That, at least, he remembered—his mind always faded in pieces, each fragment snuffed out in its own time.
“Find true memories, true self,” the flyer said.
He bounded up the stairs and pushed off the top step. Like magic, his vision bloomed and his Book resurrected, a sleepless interface filling his sight. He was living again, live again. Social loaded with 57 notifications. His apps loaded, banking, health, stocks. The SocialWear of the moving crowds lit up like Christmas. Their jackets scrolled with comments, pics, heart emojis. Ads flowered on all the station walls, rendered in his sight alone, part of his personal interface. The false graffiti on the walls loaded, too, great looping scrawls of FUCK NOBOOKER TRASH. On top of actual, on top of real life, the Book surpassed reality with itself.
<You’re lucky nothing happened while you were offline,> his ThinkTank advisory app messaged him. <You lost 4 minutes and 4 seconds, but you’re on the Book again.>
He crossed the terminal and caught the Q. Whether it was stupid or smart, he was following the flyer, going to Brooklyn. He needed help.
The stops blinked in Navigator, even under minimize, but he hadn’t set a destination, as the app reminded him with a pulsing warning. He was doing this himself, trusting a piece of red paper.
Foolish. He would fail.
Before he could stop himself, his eyes jittered and he pulled up Social for a quick buzz. He let the content wash over him, let it whisper love to him. His chest released and he stopped holding his breath. Dopamine kicked in. Here it was, the noise, the symphony of everyone he’d ever known babbling in vids and chats and memes. He couldn’t live without this. He swiped farther and farther and let infinite scroll reach up from below to swallow him.
Then he saw the Navigator notification.
<This is Av H. The next stop is Av J.>
<Stand clear of the closing doors, please!>
He vaulted through the doors onto the empty elevated platform. ThinkTank gave him an idiot warning.
<Don’t do that! Not only is it dangerous, but it slows down the train for everyone else.>
He grabbed the action box and thought words into it.
Dusk was falling and the low brick buildings throbbed with mapped ads on his Book. But for a woman smiling into a hand mirror and heading for the stairs, he was alone, lost in Brooklyn on a fool’s errand. He opened the flyer again.
Av H stop, follow signs.
No address, nothing he could load into Navigator. He’d been duped. The hunt was hopeless.
Then he saw the rag of red paper fluttering by the stairs, taped to the wall under weary lamps, letters printed in the same heavy black type.
Memory aid, this way ↓↓↓
He took the stairs under a sickly greenish light and stumbled through the turnstiles into the quiet street. He was getting closer, though the neighborhood was dicey, the tang of garbage creeping through the night. He was so exhausted, he could barely walk.
That was another problem: day after day, he couldn’t stop scrolling but lay in his recliner for twenty-four hours or more, swiping deeper and deeper into memory vids on Social. Those were the bad days, when his body went numb, his eyes achy and twitchy, his breathing compressed to shallow huffs. He was a wreck physically, flat out of calories tonight, as his healthcare app from NHI, Inc. informed him. The search for the memory aid was fast turning into a bust. Unless he missed them in the dark, there were no more signs. Any moment, he would faint.
He stopped in front of a corner bodega. As he turned to head back to the station, he spotted a full sheet of red paper taped to the filthy glass door.
TAKE A YEAR OF PERFECT SIGHT
Memory Aid / Escape Yr Book Vids*
*Not for everyone!!!
He couldn’t catch his breath. ThinkTank spat out all kinds of flashing text. Something about the type of establishment—print your photos here, buy liquor, open twenty-four hours, cash only, frequented by dangerous nobookers.
Don’t do this, Wesley.
Last robbery at gunpoint—ten days ago.
But his memory vids were a crutch. The outages were happening more and more, and he needed new strength to stave off the amnesia in those moments. One day, if he didn’t get help, he would do himself real harm while the Book scrambled to restore itself.
He pushed the grinding door open.
The clerk stared at him with a sad, steady gaze, his body emaciated under a stained polo. That face showed no twitching of the eyes, no veiling or self-absorption, just two holes falling straight into the abyss. Only nobookers revealed their souls like that. Swipe, swipe, swipe, Wesley covered the man’s eyes with apps and windows.
Social circled the clerk’s face. No use trying to connect—he’s not on the Book. Social loaded some nobooker trash memes, but Wesley swiped them away in shame. Never should’ve given those a laugh emoji—the memes had never stopped loading after his foolish click.
Now he met the man’s gaze but couldn’t hold it. His eyes narrowed, eyelids fluttering like wings as he clicked notifications, pulled up Social comments. Anything to keep the man out, to kill the contact.
No. The road to a better self started now. He minimized all windows and met the man’s eyes. “Here for the… memory aid?”
The man pointed toward a black door in the wall. Red letters, white board, EMPLOYEES ONLY.
“No, no… memory aid, see…” He held out the leaflet, gesturing.
“Hey buddy, I speak English.” No accent except a little Queens color. “You narcies.”
“Come on, you’re a narcie. You know, a narcissist? Stuck in yourself, in your eyes.”
“I’m not stuck in my—”
“Hey, buddy. Just go through that door and up the stairs.”
How shameful, his long fall from relatability. He heaved the door open and snagged his foot on a step.
“Don’t trip, ya damn fluttereyes.”
The nobooker slur had never hurt before, but it sure did now. Tears came, clouding the distant horizon of real life.
Swaying and spinning, he climbed the stairs to a narrow hall, badly lit, with doors on either side. The first one on the right was ajar, shapeless under years of black paint. A white plaque with red letters hung there.
He grasped the knob but leaned on the doorpost to catch his breath. A memory vid loaded, footage of seven years ago, 2035, shot within his sight.
The same door, the same lettering spelling out THE DARK. He had come to the bodega before.
Still holding the knob, he played the old vid. In the archival footage, his hand pushed the door open to reveal a room with no light. The darkness filled the frame as he stepped inside. The audio gave him nothing until he slammed the door, when the vid ended in a blast of static.
Alyssa returns to Earth to find humans endangered, infertile + desperate. She protects the only answer. THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS #YA #PitProm
Dear Royal Advisors,
This is the way the world ends. Not with a whimper but with a bang.
THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS is a YA Sci-fi, complete at 94,000 words. The dark themes and morality choices will appeal to fans of THE 100 while the societal themes and character-driven plot will attract those who enjoyed CHILDREN OF MEN.
Alyssa was born aboard a spaceship leaving Earth, part of a contingency plan when the world faced nuclear war, and she’s been trained to deal with anything she’ll find on her return. She expects a desolate world and the task of rebuilding humanity from the ground up.
From orbit, Dubai stands alone as Earth’s last city, a beacon of hope for the future. However, once there, Alyssa discovers a world where human infertility has left a society beyond recognition, grief-stricken and desperate.
Out of love for her adopted daughter, Alyssa contends with suspect allies and powerful enemies. As a newly appointed journalist for Dubai’s newspaper, she must seek answers for how the war began. As a fighter, she must outsmart Dubai’s leader, scheming politician Breslin. And, as a mother, she must conceal her biggest secret: Gabriela is Earth’s last child.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Politics and International Relations, fields from which I draw in my writing. I was inspired to write this story by a simple thought: the future will have more nuclear weapons, held by more agents. I currently work as a web developer in Oxford, England. When I'm not writing, I'm reading everything under the sun and making absurdly spicy samosas.
My sincerest thanks in advance for your time and consideration.
Sir Yusuf Baldick
First ten pages:
We have a minute of silence for my mother every year. I don’t know why. She didn’t die silent. She died screaming. Silence didn’t commemorate her – it marked the days afterward, staring at the ceiling, trying to forget.
When I was five years old, a large chunk of asteroid debris struck our medical bay. Our parents tried desperately to put out the fires. The ship’s automated system prevented the fire from spreading. The bay hatch slammed shut, with her inside.
Earth stretched out before us, through the observation window of the bridge. It was a beautiful sight, but the reflection in the window wasn’t me, standing with the others. It was my mother, hand pressed against the glass, leaving an ashen imprint as she was engulfed. I couldn’t blink away the vision. I watched her burn, the flames casting shadows on her face. She mouthed my name as she died.
All of our parents died during the sixteen-year trip aboard this ship. None of them died well. Fires. Suicide. Broken tethers during spacewalks.
A head full of messy brown curls pressed closer to my thigh. Gabriela. My little troublemaker wrapped around my leg, another orphan on our deathtrap of a spaceship. But she had me, her makeshift mommy. She’d be better off than I was. She already was. Four years old and already all smiles. I didn’t remember smiling as a child.
Earth was gorgeous. Like it had never been touched by a bullet, let alone a nuke. We wouldn’t be able to tell if a nuke had hit from here. The misty white clouds flitted amongst the seas and landmasses, never stopping. The ocean covered thirty different shades of blue and became alluringly light as it reached the shores. I dug my fingernails into my palm.
This was where I should have been born. This is where my entire race was born. And we’d spent our whole lives being taught that our purpose might just be to repopulate this vast planet. We were only hours away from finding out. I wanted to cry.
“I don't want to do it either. I'm just saying, we might not have a choice.” Yumei argued, stepping in front of me, blocking my view of the planet in the window.
It still shone behind her, illuminating the particles floating in the command room and making her white hairband look like a halo. The hairband tucked black locks behind reddening ears, anger making her less angelic.
“How can we not have a choice? There would literally be no one around to force us.”
“Do you want to be alone forever? Has this life been so much fun?”
“I won’t be alone. I have Gabi.” Yumei grimaced. Gabi was her sister, but she’d never wanted much to do with her. Yumei watched her mother die giving birth to Gabi, and she’d never been able to forget it. She had more nightmares than I did.
“Besides,” I added. “If we’re needed, then we’re already alone forever. More children won’t make up for the lack of literally everyone else.”
“There’s a big difference between it being just the eight of us and restarting the human race. We need to breed.”
“Can we stop using the word breed?”
“Isn’t that we’re discussing?” Yumei let a smirk roll across her lips. The lips were a bold ruby red; she was wearing her mother’s old makeup. Clearly, not all of her mother’s things were as off-putting as Gabi. “Breeding Earth back to population.”
“It would take generations.” I waved her away.
“Depends on how fertile you are, I guess.”
“You’re naive. This is why we were sent in this stupid ship. This is why our parents were forced. This is why we spent every hour of every day in lessons.”
“I know that.”
“I’m not ignoring it,” I snapped. “I’m not spending my life popping out babies.”
“The human race goes extinct because you can’t stand the thought of spreading-”
“Don’t be gross.”
Yumei took a deep breath. “This isn’t gross. This is biology. Don’t you remember what we got taught? Don’t you see our responsibility? Gabi, the four of us and the boys. We’re going to be the last nine people left on Earth.”
“You don’t know that yet.”
Yumei’s eyes spoke the words she wouldn’t. Time would prove one of us right. About an hour’s time.
I rolled my neck, trying to get the tension to dissipate. I couldn’t let myself worry about something I had no control over. Earth was in our future whether we wanted it or not.
It had been a long time coming. Now that it was here, it felt too soon. It had taken eight years to get to the edge of the galaxy and then eight years back. A sixteen-year-long contingency plan in case humanity was wiped out. Our ship was the most expensive boomerang in history.
Gabi was beginning to doze against my thigh. I gave her a little shake.
“Moooom! I’m tired!” Gabi whined, jerking to attention. She’d exhausted herself playing with Leo this morning while I showered.
“Sorry, sweetheart, but you won’t sleep tonight if you sleep now.”
“I’ll sleep now until tomorrow,” she declared, hands covering her face.
“You’ll miss us going into Earth’s orbit. It’s only an hour now.”
“We’ve been into orbit tons of times, Mom.”
I tweaked her nose. “Never Earth’s orbit.”
“I want to sleep!” she demanded. Time to bring out the big guns.
“Even though Leo promised to watch a movie with us tonight?”
Gabi bounced up to her feet, eyes widening. “Leo’s coming? But, but...” Her face turned with confusion. “He said that he was gonna be at the firing range today.” Leo was always at the firing range.
I shrugged. “Guess he changed his mind.” He probably realized that tonight may be the last time we would ever do movie night.
Gabi brightened. “But what are we going to watch?” she asked, straightening her yellowing dress, lined with stencils of tree trunks and leafy branches. The design had been bland on the curtains. As a dress, it was cute, ignoring my sloppy stitches and loose threads.
“Maybe one of your movies. I know you and Leo like to sing along together,” I teased, rumpling her hair.
She shook her head to remove my hand and shot me the cutest glare. “You sing, too!”
I poked her tummy. “Not like you two. The other girls will need their earplugs.”
“You don’t like my falsetto?” Leonardo stepped in, sweaty hair sticking to his forehead, his VR headset hanging around his neck.
Gabi’s squeal was the only warning Leo got before she barrelled into him. Leo lifted her easily over his head and onto his shoulders. I wished I could pick Gabi up that easily. She got heavier each day.
“Chiquita!” Leo hollered. He shot me a quick wink and raised his brow questioningly. The brow meant ‘has she been okay?’
I nodded my head a little, and he smiled back. This was how we communicated around Gabi. All eight of us did our fair share of looking after Gabi, none of us wanting her to feel as neglected as we’d felt growing up, but Leo and I were the main parents. His little sister. My little monster.
“Leo, over there!” Gabi clutched her fingers into Leo’s dark bedhead and pointed around the bridge, directing her horse with imperious abandon. They had different mothers, but they were so alike. Leo’s hair continually threatened to break into the curls Gabi’s had, though he never let it grow that long. Gabi’s jawline was thankfully softer. Leo had a stupidly defined jawline, like a caricature of a handsome man. Best of all, they had the same South American dark bushy eyebrows. I adored them. But that was my little secret.
“Mommy, look!” She tugged excitedly at my hair from atop Leo’s shoulders.
“Leo’s been teaching me countries. That’s Spain! And look, Mommy, that’s the shoe shape! That’s, that’s, umm, that’s…”
“Italy,” I finished.
“Mommy! Don’t tell me!” She wrinkled her button nose.
“Sorry, sweetie.” Leo grinned, out of her sight.
The landmarks in front of us were as new to me as they were to her. I found them as jaw dropping as she did. I wanted to identify every landmass. Turkey. Egypt. China. Was that the Great Wall? I couldn’t be sure.
I examined Earth through the window, searching for something new, something that differed from the image I knew from textbooks, from videos. Something to prove that maybe people were still down there. Still building monuments. Still making mistakes, fighting, making up. Still alive.
I’d do anything to know we weren’t needed. Four girls and four boys, or The Rebirth: the name of our ship and the solution for the expected end of the arms race where everybody lost. A shiver ran down my spine. They probably weren’t expecting all of our parents to fail to make it back. If Yumei was right, there wouldn’t be anyone left to disappoint.
The hatch to the command room hissed and creaked open. Will zipped up as he entered. His head was bristle short, like a worn-down hairbrush.
“Did you at least wash your hands, Willy?” Yumei asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, clearly unconcerned. “Had to take a leak now. Don’t want to miss this.” Will collapsed into his chair. “We’re moving into orbit in the next thirty. I want to keep an eye on the radiation counter. It might tell us whether Earth was nuked.”
“It might tell us who didn’t wash their hands,” Yumei said, airily, not looking away from her tablet.
Will flicked a toggle on the panel. “Everyone to the bridge.” His voice emanated throughout the ship. We didn’t need the intercom, really.
The ship wasn’t huge, but the kitchen was on the other side. If it hadn’t always been my home, perhaps I might find it creepy. The lights flickered continuously, and the low glare of the LEDs didn’t help the Rebirth escape its shadows. The ship was long and thin, shaped like a pencil, making the command room the point.
I leaned across him and added into the intercom. “Bails, can you bring me some food?”
Will gave me a withering look.
“What? It’s my favorite,” I quipped. It was beans and rice. It was always beans and rice. Our supplies and rations had mostly gone. Now we relied on what we’d grown. Some vegetables and a little fruit. Rice, beans, potatoes. I was hungry for something different.
Will had similar thoughts. “Just wait. Pizza. Curry. Noodles.”
“And ice cream.” I added.
Yumei pursed her lips but said nothing.
Bailey clambered through the hatch. “Bailey!” Gabi squirmed out of Leo’s grasp and bounded over to her. I couldn’t help but smile at my little girl. She greeted everyone she saw like she hadn’t seen them in years.
“Spoiled brat,” Leo said, amusedly, watching Gabi settle down in Bailey’s lap and immediately help herself to Bailey’s meal. Rohan crouched through the hatch. His beard was patchy, like he’d been interrupted halfway through shaving, showing hints of a baby face. He claimed his beard grew so fast he had to shave it every week. I thought he did it to irritate Will, who’d never developed anything beyond a peach fuzz. Sameera and Michael followed, both looking tired. Sam played nervously with her mauve headscarf. Michael had his hands clasped behind his back, solemn.
“Whose funeral did I miss?” Leo jibed. “Come on, guys, we’ve been waiting for this day since forever.”
“Just nervous,” Rohan bit out. “Lot of things could go wrong.”
“We’ll be fine,” I said with confidence I didn’t feel.
Leo looked carefully from Rohan to me. “Well, when we get down there, what’re you going to do?”
“There’s not going to be anything to do,” Yumei huffed.
Leo bounced on his toes, ignoring her. “I’m going to look for my mom. Dad told me she was in the military too. There’ll be records of her. I might be able to find where she lives.”
I had to keep my face still. It wasn’t often any of us brought up our childhood and Leo never brought up his dad, Gustavo, our arms and fighting trainer. Our parents had been unorthodox teachers, strict and demanding out of the fear of losing humanity’s accumulated knowledge. Gustavo was something else entirely. He thought that a lesson wasn’t learned unless you were bloodied and battered, barely standing and barely conscious. The next lesson couldn’t come unless you had physically proved something to him.
Eventually, we’d proven something to ourselves.
“Same.” Will fiddled with the stress ball on the desk. His father’s. “Mother was part of NASA too. You know they flipped a coin to decide who’d come.”
We did know. He told us all the time. I shoved down the envy that rose up. Mom refused to talk about my Dad. Refused to acknowledge his existence. My earliest memory was walking in on Mom crying in her bed, her whole frame heaving as she sobbed. Black eyeliner ran down her face. When she noticed me, she hurriedly wiped her face and ushered me out. Mom cried a lot in the earlier years, clutching photos of a family that became further away with every second.
I’d never found those photos.
I doubted I’d be able to find out who Dad was, let alone find him.
“I should like to find a library,” Michael said, as if to himself. I hid my smile. He was settled in his favorite chair, one hand over the other and eyes closed in contentment. Bailey had been using him to practice her hair cutting again, the sides of his shaped-up fro were shaved almost to the skin. Michael was the only one of the boys who didn’t complain when she got her scissors out.
“I’m going to find a map, get a fire started and find some food. Then I’ll try very hard not to tell you ‘I told you so’ when you find the planet empty.” Yumei scowled at me.
“Well.” Will flipped a switch on his panel. “We’re about to find out.”
The ship hummed and whirred along, the result of a dozen different modules and electronics working at once. I’d become used to the ambient noise. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard true silence. Certainly not since Gabi was born.
“What is that?” Will muttered to himself, eyebrows knitted together. He put his hand up to stop the questions.
He bit his lip. “Our scanners are picking up a huge ship on the far side of the planet, roughly above Saudi Arabia.”
“What? Like a rocket taking off?”
He shook his head. “No, like a ship. Hovering above Earth,” he said, flatly.
Rohan’s eyes widened. I knew what he was thinking. Technology must have progressed rapidly since we’d left, if they were capable of such a thing. Was it a sign that the planet was occupied?
He clenched his fist. “Life on Earth?”
“I knew it!” Leo said.
“Are you serious?!” Sameera covered her mouth with both hands.
“Not necessarily,” I added, seeing Leo about to pump his fist. “It could have been there for years.”
“But, still,” Sam said. “We had no records of it when we left!”
Yumei sniffed. She spent a long part of her day communicating only in contemptuous sniffs. This time, she wasn’t wrong. This didn’t feel right. My stomach quivered.
Sam gave her a cross look. “I’m just saying.”
“An old ship with that kind of technology?” Rohan scanned the globe through the large viewing pane. “Where is it?”
“It hasn’t come into view yet. It will once we get pulled into Earth’s low orbit. Then we’ll be orbiting Earth once every ninety minutes. We’ll see it easily then, and they’ll see us, too, probably, if there is anyone in there.”
“How close will we pass?” I asked.
“Not very. They’re not in orbit, as far as I can tell.”
“What?” Rohan said. “Stop being so cryptic, Will.”
Will glared back at him but conceded. “The sensors say they’re still in the Earth’s atmosphere, so technically not even in outer space. Around sixty miles above ground level, just breaching the thermosphere, but almost perfectly still.”
“Almost perfectly still?” I echoed.
“Yeah, doesn’t make any sense. Nothing should be able to have that little movement. It’s like the thing is anchored.”
Rohan snorted. “Anchored to Earth, sixty miles below?”
Will gave him a dark look. “I’m only saying what I’m seeing.” Something flashed up on the screen in front of him. “Alright. We’re going into low orbit.”
The comms panel crackled. It hadn’t made a sound for years. Always on, always broadcasting. We never got a single response.
The crackling stopped.
For a moment, nothing.
And then, a rapid onrush of clicking noises, like a drill on helium. A squeal. A high-pitched whistle.
Static followed. I didn’t move a muscle. Goosebumps tingled on my skin. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Gabi bristled in my lap.
Rohan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “What was that?”
I cleared my throat. “I have absolutely no idea.”
“Aliens?” Leo clapped his hands together.
“Don’t even joke,” Bailey said. She didn’t look all that certain.
“Is the frequency just picking up anomalies?”
“Could be. But it’s pretty consistent,” I countered.
Rohan implored me with widened eyes. The others never really voted me and Rohan as leaders of our little group, but they accepted it anyway. I shook my head slightly at him. This wasn’t good. And Leo genuinely did think it was aliens. Rohan nodded, playing absently with the kalava tied around his wrist. He was lucky to have even one memento of his mother. I knew what to do.
Will ignored us all. “Alright, okay, alright,” he murmured to himself, before clearing his throat. “Almost in orbit now.”
“Wait.” I cleared my throat. “Stop. Everyone silent, don’t say a single word. Turn off everything but the thrusters.”
“What the hell are you talk-?” Will started.
“Turn it all off. Lights, the electronics, the heating, everything.” I growled. “Quickly.”
He stared at me, nonplussed.
That moved him into action, and he started flipping every switch on the panel. Leo’s cautioning hand on my shoulder got shrugged off. Gabi whimpered in my arms.
“Mom?” she whispered.
“Shh, it’s okay.” I shifted her weight in my arms, rocking slowly from side to side. She wasn’t so light anymore. Even on beans and rice.
The humming and whirring of the ship’s systems dissipated, until we were left with the smallest buzzing noise, the ship’s artificial gravity device, and the familiar thrum of the ship’s thrusters. The lights flickered once, twice, and off, leaving us dark, bathed only in the glow of the Earth. Gabi’s whimpers grew more pronounced. A shiver ran through me. I held my hand up to stop the others from muttering, before nodding at Will’s unasked question.
The thrum got louder as he used some of our last remaining fuel to fire the engine the opposite direction, decelerating us enough to drop into the Earth’s orbital field. It was a delicate task; too much and you came to a standstill or started going backwards, too little and you didn’t catch in the capture trajectory and went straight through, potentially burning up in the atmosphere.
The ship slowed, creaked and rumbled. I looked to Will for guidance. He had his own hand up to stop the comments, distractedly scanning the ship’s sensors. A full minute later, he nodded. We were in orbit.
I sighed in relief and sank to the floor, resting against the bridge electronics. Silent, we watched, entranced, as the night crept across the planet as the landmasses and seas and clouds below darkened slowly until they were almost pitch black. The clouds flashed and sparked blue with lightning, like electrified spiderwebs.
“No, no, no.” Leo moaned.
“What, what’s wrong?” I asked.
He sighed and smacked his head against the panel behind him. “No lights, Lyssa. There are no lights.”
It took me a second to realize what he meant. I’d seen pictures of Earth from space in our textbooks. I’d seen videos from the International Space Station of Earth at night. And there are always, always, bright yellow lights, from great glowing balls in dense cities to the smallest dots for the towns. No lights meant no people. A whole side of the Earth with no people.
Sam let out a keeling wail before jamming her hand to her mouth.
I felt cold, ice enveloping me feet first, crawling up my toes until it made my heart shiver and skip a beat. I squeezed Gabi tighter to me.
My mind rebooted. A dozen thoughts, hastily discarded. Maybe they were underground? Maybe they were hiding? Maybe they lived on the other side of the Earth.
Gabi, playing with kids her own age, rolling around and dirtying her dress in the grass, in a dress I hadn’t fashioned out of curtains. Finally, exhausted, she’d drop down, staring at the blue skies above. An idle fantasy, idyllic and now destroyed.
I blinked the sting of tears away and raised my head to stop them trailing down my cheeks. Not in front of Gabi. I didn’t want her to know she’d just lost her chance at a normal life.
Above the observation window, messily written in blue crayon, our ship’s name. The Rebirth. Bailey had put it up there on my sixth birthday, standing on my shoulders. Back then, it was a small but thrilling act of rebellion, before we knew what rebellion was, chafing against the strict structure our parents set for us.
Now it was a constant and literal reminder of our purpose.
Would we fulfil it? Could we do what we’d brought up for?
Build a home among the corpses.
Restart the human race.
Pass on all we’d learned.
I imagined myself years from now. In front of a blackboard, teaching a dozen kids, pregnant once more. Outside the window, the sun was dim, weeds cracking through the concrete, not a sound for miles.
Perhaps that was a future that wouldn’t come to pass. Perhaps we’d find answers on Earth. Perhaps we’d learn that billions hadn’t died for nothing.
One thing was for sure.
They didn’t die silent either.
A teenage girl crosses a deadly red desert to face death on her own terms before the desert swallows her whole #PitProm #YA #SF
Dear Royal Advisors,
In the forest, there is one rule when it comes to the red fever. The strongest live and the weakest die. When a suspicious rash snakes up the arm of seventeen-year-old Tova, she knows her only chance of being cured lies in an elusive city of glass, located across a bloodstained desert that swallows people whole.
Together, with her friend Kreed, she steps out from behind the wall that has protected her from the dust for her whole life, and into the infamous red. While Tova’s will to live is driven by hope, Kreed is determined to not let the girl he loves die alone. Braving the deadly terrain, the two must fight illness, war birds, a sandstorm, wolves, earthquakes, unrelenting heat, and limited water. If Tova can survive long enough to make it across the red desert divide, she’ll learn the truth about the world she lives in, and have to choose which side she stands on, before the desert swallows them all.
THE RED DIVIDE, complete at 68,000 words, is a young adult science fiction that explores themes of man vs. man and man vs. nature, that would appeal to readers of The Road, Under the Never Sky, and In a Handful of Dust, where a girl’s desire to overcome an untimely death shifts into something to fight for instead.
I am a member of SCBWI and a graduate of numerous advanced writing workshops. I am currently working on my next novel. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
First Ten Pages:
One day the Red Desert would swallow them whole, and when it did, there would be no climbing out.
The first step of a free climb usually excited Tova. The danger. The anticipation. The sensation of something inside of her warning her to stop. Tova scanned the rock for the most logical place to start. She looked up and heard her father’s voice in the back of her head. Climb and you’ll find me. It was the last thing he said to her before he trekked out into the Red.
“Rope or no rope?” Kreed reached toward Tova, offering her a section of his cord. Translated as, did she want him to lead?
The last thing Tova wanted to do was climb tandem, attached to Kreed, and tempted to depend on his strength instead of her own. “No rope,” she said.
“Come on, Tova. Clip in.”
“No.” She wiped her sweaty palms against her pants. “I’m only using my rope for backup.”
The instant Tova’s feet left the ground, her mind cleared. Free of everything but this. Her focus narrowed. Where should she put her hands next? She reached up and curled her fingers around a knob and bent her knee up to her chest, jamming her shoe into a foothold. She spider-monkeyed her way up the mountain. Edging and smearing. Wedging her body into cracks.
An hour passed before she entered the most challenging part of the route, an area of protruding sharp rock. She twisted and lodged her body into awkward positions, her forearms shaky and weak. She tightened her grip and glanced up to the shelf above, where her father’s name was carved forever with hers, Dagen and Tova, etched inside a triangle, underneath the overhung ledge of black rock. If only she could burrow her way into the mountain, in this spot where she felt closest to him. But she sensed herself slipping, her sweaty palms making it difficult to hang on. She had to keep moving. Around the brim she stretched, gripping onto an old metal hold bolted into the rock, and she tiptoed gingerly across a thin ledge, until the route above her opened. She climbed and climbed, all the way up, where she gripped the lip of the peak and pulled herself up over the top.
Kreed lugged himself over the rim shortly after her. He unclipped the rope attached to his harness, dropped it next to Tova’s, and stood beside her. “Feel that?” he said, slightly out of breath, staring out at the view.
“What?” she said.
“Static.” Kreed held his forearm out for Tova to see the hairs on his arm rise.
Tova scratched at her wrist and stepped away from him. “Earthquake weather,” she said.
She moved toward the edge of the cliff, rising over the rugged foothills, merging with the speckled grass below. She looked out across the canopy of ancient redwoods, past the river, beyond the mouth of the ravine bordering the stream. Her gaze took her all the way to the wall dividing the forest and sand, where she searched for any sign of her father. Climb and you’ll find me. She always looked to find him up here. She closed her eyes and imagined him emerging from the desert, covered in a filth of red dust. And in her mind’s eye she ran to him, and said all of the things she couldn’t say each time he left. I love you. I need you. I’ll never let you go. But what she should have said was goodbye. And that was her biggest regret.
A slight breeze nipped at the back of her neck. She took in a deep breath and invited the crisp air and pine to flood through her.
“How often have you been coming up here?” Kreed said from behind her.
Here it comes. She squeezed her eyes shut even tighter. “Every day this month.”
“Do you think that’s healthy, Tova?”
The stain of the red sand horizon bled through the image unfolding inside her head. “Shhhh…” she said. “I can almost see the whole desert from up here.”
“Is that why you come up here?” Kreed said. “To see the desert?”
Each time Tova’s father left Sequoia to survey the desert cracks, a piece of her went with him, and climbing to the top of this cliff was about the only peace she had left. “No,” she said. “That’s not why I come up here.” And he knew it.
Kreed released a heavy sigh.
He didn’t get it.
Tova’s body tensed. She opened her eyes and spun around to face him. Loose rock scratched beneath the soles of her climbing shoes. “I know you think it’s pointless.” She looked up at him. “But he’s coming back. I know it. Any day now. I don’t care what you think. The desert can’t have him.”
At this point,” Kreed said, “even you have to admit the odds are against him.”
“I know that better than anyone,” she snapped back. “He’s trekked out there like a hundred times. Why is this time any different?”
“He was supposed to be back weeks ago.”
“I don’t expect you to understand.” Kreed thought of himself as a realist, but even a realist could comprehend hope, and she didn’t understand the point of him trying to take it from her. “What has the desert ever taken from you?”
Kreed pressed his eyebrows together. “You’re not the only one who’s ever lost someone.”
“He’s not lost!” she said.
“You know what I mean.”
Kreed lost his mother to the red fever, just like Tova had. The only difference being, Kreed’s mother died in the comfort of her own bed. He said goodbye, even if he was too young to remember. Tova’s mother died of the red fever, barely five years ago, somewhere out in the red, and Tova didn’t get to say anything. Tova needed closure. She needed permission to move on.
“This is different,” she said.
“Is it?” Kreed said. “Getting sick has the same outcome as being swallowed by sand. It’s why no one goes out there in the first place.”
“It’s not even close to being the same thing. But thanks for that image, Kreed.”
All I’m saying is, Dagen’s never been out that far.”
“Except he has,” Tova said.
“You can’t really believe that story?”
“Why would he lie about something like that?”
Her father knew of a place located on the opposite side of the desert, located somewhere south of the San Andreas Channel. He described it as a coastal city made of glass; a utopian place built that promised a cleaner way of life. He called it Viridian.
“I’m not calling him a liar,” Kreed said. “But maybe what he saw was a mirage? Have you ever considered that? If Viridian exists, why hasn’t anyone else seen it?”
“Like you said, everyone’s too afraid to go out into the red.”
For a long moment, they didn’t say anything. They played a match of who would break first. Something they had done since they were kids. It had always been this way between them, both of them digging their heels into the ground. At nineteen, Kreed was only two years older than Tova, but in this moment it felt like so much more. A familiar silence divided the air between them, and Tova wasn’t sure how to break down the wall.
Kreed reached for Tova.
She shrugged him off. “No. I refuse to become a cynic like you. Don’t you believe in anything?”
“I don’t know what I believe.” He said, keeping a wary eye on the wisps of red dust feathering the desert horizon.
Tova didn’t know how to respond to a comment like that. Kreed used to believe in all sorts of things. He used to indulge in things like magic, and fairies, and the possibility that the forest that sheltered them from the dust wasn’t the only one that existed in the world. Over the years he seemed to have grown jaded in regards to their childhood fantasies. It was the shift in their relationship that Tova had tried to ignore. Kreed had become practical, and cautious, depending on his rope more and more.
“You weren’t there when my mom got sick, so you don’t know. He loved her too much. My dad wouldn’t lie to her. Not about that.”
“Stop. You said if you came today, you wouldn’t do this.”
Kreed flashed his empty palms. “Do what?”
“This!” she said.
“One of us has to be willing to face the truth.” He picked up a rock, tossed it between his hands, cocked his arm back, and threw it off the cliff. “I just think you should consider the possibility that your dad isn’t coming back.”
“He always comes back!” She stood her ground.
“I didn’t come up here to fight with you.”
“Why did you come?”
“I’m just—I don’t know how to put this…” Kreed paused, then opened his mouth to say something else.
Tova cut him off mid-breath. “I’m fine. You know. You don’t have to worry so much.”
He nodded slightly, but narrowed his eyes. “I’m not worried.”
The way Kreed studied her pulled her in, making her hyper aware of the reddish-brown bands circling his pupils, like the inner growth rings of an ancient redwood. What did he see in her hazel eyes? The life he saved, or the life he almost lost?
Then the outside corner of his eye twitched.
He was lying.
Kreed worried too much. He always had.
Tova turned away from him, picked up the marked center of her climbing rope, and began to butterfly coil it around her forearm and palm. The rope ran easily through her fingers. She’d done this very thing a thousand times. The task usually absorbed all of her attention, but as she inspected the rope’s woven shell for signs that the core had been compromised, Kreed continued to watch her.
His gaze hot against her skin.
Tova shifted her weight onto her back leg. It was impossible to concentrate on anything with him looking at her like that. She hated when he did this and he knew it. She gave into him and stole a look over her shoulder. His brown eyes locked with the irritation in hers, so intense it was like he was searching her core for signs of compromise. She scratched at her wrist again.
Tova turned away and stared into the haze streaked sky.
If only she could cry, maybe she’d feel better.
Tova couldn’t remember the last time she cried. There was a numbness that seemed to grow inside of her each time her father left. With each of his treks stretching over greater amounts of time, detachment had become her new normal. A defense mechanism to survive.
Kreed picked up the rope flaked at his feet. He fidgeted with it as if he wasn’t sure what to do with it. Tova couldn’t stop watching his hands. The way he twisted his fingers with the cord reminded her of the way he used to loop his index finger around her pinky when they were young. That felt like a lifetime ago. His hands were different now. They were larger and stronger. Not the hands of a boy, but not quite the hands of a man.
Tova’s attention fixated on the silvery scar lining his index finger. The twin scar to hers.
“So what do you do when you come up here?” he said, with slight caution in his tone.
The gravity in his voice broke her stare. “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Think. Not think.” She gazed out into the distance. Her eyes snaked north along the river.
“It’s breathtaking,” he said.
Could he tell that she held her breath right now? And not just any breath. But that last breath she took before she sank into the river five years ago. She couldn’t let go of it. Not even up here. No matter how hard she tried to exhale, it was always there, weighted and heavy, as if that one pocket of air had grown roots and attached itself deep inside her lungs.
She returned to watching Kreed’s hands.
The more he tried to untangle his rope, the more knotted it got. His restless hands made Tova anxious. However, something in his guarded stance told her he needed a little space, so she resisted the urge to reach over and fix it for him.
Instead she asked, “Is something on your mind?”
“Yeah…” Kreed stopped fidgeting with his rope. “Us.”
Their eyes met.
Kreed clustered the rope into one hand. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said.
Tova knew what he wanted to say. Her heart stopped, suddenly afraid of the affection she had for him. Her insides twisted and knotted like the rope bunched inside Kreed’s hand. “Okay.”
“Promise you won’t get all weird on me,” he said.
She couldn’t promise that, and he knew better than to ask. Every major muscle in her body tensed. Everything was about to change between them. Maybe she shouldn’t let him speak at all. She squeezed the rope tighter as she wrapped it around her forearm; the friction of the braided cord burned the flesh across her palm. She reached the end of the rope and instinctively tied a knot.
“What is it?” she said, aware that her response came out a bit too forced.
She inched closer to the edge of the cliff, in an attempt to untangle the mess inside of her. She dragged her feet against the ground. Rocks tumbled over the rim. A sheet of her black hair swept past her cheek.
It was over five hundred feet to the base.
Her lungs seized.
Her stomach dropped.
Her adrenaline kick started.
Her brain urged her to take a step back, but she held herself there, staring down, until she overcame the visceral fear of falling, but the feeling came in waves, tumbling inside of her. Tova’s wrist burned, and Tova wondered if this is how her mother felt when her mother first realized the Red Fever could kill her.
Kreed placed his hand on Tova’s shoulder, and gently pulled her back, away from the ledge. Instinct urged Tova to run away from him, but Kreed wrapped his arm around her, the weight of what he wanted to say, grounding her in one spot.
He took her right hand inside his and turned her, so that they were face to face. Tova reached across her body to apply pressure against her burning wrist, but he stopped her. He looked down, turned her arm over, and dragged his fingertips over her irritated skin.
He stopped abruptly and widened his eyes. “Tova–what’s going on with your wrist?”
Tova looked down to see the rash on her wrist, red, raw, almost bleeding. She didn’t even realize she had been scratching so much. It had gotten worse since this morning.
Tova pulled her arm away from Kreed. “It’s a spider bite or something,” she said. “I can’t stop scratching it.”
That’s no spider bite.” Kreed placed the back of his hand against Tova’s forehead.
“See. Nothing,” Tova said. “I feel perfectly fine.”
Just then a shot echoed through the air, like a faint hum of hope screeching through the atmosphere. It was the sign she’d been waiting for.
Tova spun around and saw a smoke flare soaring into the sky from the middle of the desert. After her mother’s death, to help ease Tova’s anxiety about his desert treks, her father came up with a code. One flare meant he was on his way back to the forest, and two flares meant he wasn’t coming home.
She paused for a moment, keeping her attention fixed on the desert. If she didn’t move, it was like at any moment she might lose herself. Float right off the mountain and never come back.
“Race you down.” Tova hooked her rope into her rappel device. She dropped one end of her rope off of the cliff and secured the other end around a tree.
“Wait! We’re rapping?” I thought we were hiking down the back?” Kreed tugged at his rope and scrambled to untangle it. “Just wait, would you? Is this why you come up here? Slow down.”
“I want to be there when he reaches the gate.”
"It’s called a distress flare for a reason.”
Tova gave Kreed one of those looks like, really, then tugged on her rope to take off the slack, sat in her harness, and pushed off of the cliff before he could say anything else.
When Sarah joins a fear-response VR TV show, she must overcome her past failures to keep the contestants--and herself--alive. #PitProm #A #T
Most people run from their fears, but Sarah MacGowan is willing to fly across the country to face hers. Despite being an accomplished medical student, she is struggling to close the emotional wounds inflicted by her failures during a demoralizing experience abroad that earned her the moniker Dr. Death. Desperate to move on, Sarah agrees to participate in Fear Factory, a new virtual reality television show that pits contestants against their worst fears, where she hopes to win back her confidence in addition to the coveted prize money.
When Sarah’s prescription medicine numbs the arena’s response to her fears, she is relegated to the role of spectator where she watches her fellow contestants suffer unimaginable horrors inside the virtual world. Sarah believes that the opportunity to restore her confidence is lost, until one of the competitors is critically injured inside the arena and she is the only one around who is able to administer the required medical treatment.
Sarah blames herself when the contestant succumbs to her injuries. As the virtual simulation nears completion, she believes that the nightmare will finally be over. But the arena is just getting warmed up and its true purpose is about to be revealed. The game show is a cover for a clandestine operation to develop a fear-response simulation for the government. What’s worse, it requires a human host to control the artificial intelligence from inside the arena. Now Sarah must overcome her fears and act before the blood of another contestant is on her hands.
FEAR FACTORY is a standalone Adult Sci-Fi/Thriller with series potential. It’s complete at 99,000 words and was shortlisted for the 2017 Cygnus Award. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
First Ten Pages:
“Most people run from their fears, but we’re gonna fly you across the country to face yours. Congratulations Sarah, you’re going to be a contestant on Fear Factory, where virtual meets reality.”
The phone slipped from my hand and bounced on the threadbare carpet. Dr. Anders’ muffled voice beckoned to me from the floor. “Are you still there?”
I slid off the bed and fumbled to align the receiver with my ear. “Sorry. Yes, I’m still here. Thank you so much, Dr. Anders. I don’t know what to say.”
“Thanks is plenty. I’m relieved that you’ll be joining us for the inaugural taping. I was beginning to worry you might decline.”
For a moment, doubt tried to gain a foothold in my mind. Everything was moving so fast. It was like spontaneity had sucked down a Red Bull. I didn’t have time to consider the enormity of the invitation. The television show, the prize money, an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas. As if that wasn’t enough, a check for $10,000 was waiting for me when I arrived at the studio. All I had to do was show up.
“Is there any reason I should decline?”
“No. And you have no idea how glad I am that you didn’t. From what you just told me, you’ve been through a lot recently.”
I nodded before realizing that he could not see me. Silently, I beat myself up for droning on about my experiences at Projects Abroad. I couldn’t help it. It still dominated my every waking thought.
“Yes. That’s true. But I am ready to move on.”
I’ll never truly be ready to move on, but I needed to move somewhere. If that somewhere was Las Vegas, then that’s where I needed to go.
“Good. I hope you’re right. We need you at your very best.”
My best was the one thing I couldn’t give. Not after all I had been through. Medical School had prepared me for everything. Almost everything. Ghana was a different story. “I always give my best. But sometimes my best isn’t enough.”
“Yes, of course. I don’t suppose any schooling could have prepared you for the horrors of the real world. And I do sympathize with your plight. It must have been hard to lose so many children. You are a very brave woman.”
“The children, they were the brave ones.” There was little more I could say. The young faces were branded in my mind. Fearless children who deserved a chance. A chance I couldn’t provide in a land where one in ten die before reaching five years of age.
After Ghana, I no longer trusted my instincts. Finishing near the top of my class meant nothing if I couldn’t convert knowledge into results. Doctors don’t save lives with pens and paper.
Ghana was supposed to provide the experience I needed to be a successful pediatrician. Instead, all I learned was failure. It didn’t matter that most of my patients were beyond saving. They were children. Children who deserved a chance. For the first time in my life, I doubted myself. I desperately needed a win before beginning my residency.
“What is your worst fear, Sarah?”
With more time to prepare, I would have anticipated this very question. Fear Factory was advertised to be a television show predicated on fear response. Like other game shows, I presumed that strategy was the key to winning. Unfortunately, this was a new show with no history to draw upon. A show rooted in the virtual world where anything was possible. The only limiting factor was imagination.
The silence quickly turned awkward. “Spiders.” It was the first thing that came to mind. A lie. I hated spiders, that part was true. But I certainly wasn’t afraid of them. After all, they formed interesting shapes when I stepped on them, like ink blots or snowflakes. No two were alike.
Dr. Anders didn’t hesitate to call my bluff. “I can’t imagine being in Ghana for five months would have been a pleasant experience if you were afraid of spiders.” He paused long enough for his words to gnaw at my fragile confidence.
“That’s okay, Sarah. You don’t have to tell me your greatest fear. Our technology will ensure that it will be revealed with or without your consent. There are other fears buried deep in your subconscious, waiting to be exhumed. We’ll uncover those as well. Then we’ll see just how afraid of spiders you really are.”
I gasped at the thought. The arrogance in his voice was unmistakable. But he unwittingly offered a clue about the virtual arena.
“How does the arena determine our worst fears?”
I immediately wanted to retract the question. I honestly didn’t want to know. More aptly, I didn’t want to know what I would have to face. The real world was bad enough, but at least it had limits.
His hearty laugh stabbed at my ear. “I’m sorry, Doctor MacGowan, but that information is proprietary. Besides, I honestly don’t know how it works. All I can tell you is that the technology will pinpoint your worst fears and bring you face-to-face with them.” Again, the timing of his pause was impeccable. “Are you confident that you’re up for the challenge?”
I answered before considering the ramifications of my decision. So many months had passed since I completed the extensive online application and psychological profile. It made the application to Columbia Medical School look like a permission slip for a third grade trip to the museum. A significant undertaking for a wafer-thin chance to be on television, but I filled it out anyway.
Now my flight was set to depart JFK in less than ten hours. The timing was perfectly awful and awfully perfect. I had nothing better to do. The daily consumption of Netflix and Shiraz was taking its toll on my mind and body. I needed this.
I would have been happy to pass the time with Brad. But he had found other things to do while I was halfway around the world. Actually, he had just one thing to do and I didn’t even know her name. Some flexible brunette he picked up at the gym. Our gym. He didn’t even like yoga. Now his Facebook account was loaded with pictures of them. It was like I no longer existed. I wish I could say the same about him.
Dr. Anders excused himself and hung up the phone. I tapped the receiver against my forehead, frustrated that I didn’t ask more questions. It didn’t matter. As the host of the show, he wasn’t about to divulge anything of significance. He would have deflected my questions or outright declined to answer.
Soon, I would find myself face to face with my greatest fear. Failure. It was the only fear I openly acknowledged. I knew I wouldn’t face it directly. Failure is indirect, always pointed away from your goal. It isn’t real. No more real than virtual reality itself. Yet, I knew I would have to overcome it. Or fail trying.
Christine strutted onto the plane bound for Vegas and sighed. This was her last chance to turn things around and she wasn’t about to let anyone stand in her way. She already had the inside edge, the competition was hers to lose. Her protracted path to the competition was unlike that of the other contestants. Or so she had been told.
She offered a half-hearted wave to the cheerful flight crew. One of the flight attendants flashed a blinding smile.
“We hope you enjoy your flight!”
You should aim higher than hoping I enjoy the flight.
She snapped her ponytail over her shoulder and strode down the aisle. A rotund, balding man occupied the seat adjacent to hers. His tired pinstripe suit spilled over the armrest. Sweat beaded on his forehead, which he wiped away with a crusty handkerchief.
The disheveled businessman retrieved his portfolio from her seat. “Sorry.” He returned to his iPhone where he struggled to type with his sausage fingers.
Christine slid her purse under the seat before turning to sit down. She gripped the bottom of her dress to keep it from riding up her slender hips before easing into the seat. The businessman made no effort to avert his wandering eyes.
The phone slipped from his sweaty hands and disappeared between the seats. He labored to unclip the seat buckle that was buried in his midsection. The cheap suit crunched beneath him with each movement.
Christine held her hand up. “Oh please, allow me.” She delicately reached between the seat, her head inches from his groin. She pinched the phone between her fingers like a dirty napkin and dropped it in his lap. “Here ya go.”
A gasp escaped her voluminous lips as the plane jerked away from the terminal. She despised flying. More so, she hated giving up control. People make mistakes. Pilots are people. Leaving her fate in the hands of another was utterly terrifying.
A tone chimed throughout the cabin. The flight attendant stepped into the aisle and held up a mock seat belt before eagerly demonstrating how to insert the shiny metal clasp into the buckle.
People who don’t know how to do that shouldn’t be allowed in public unsupervised.
While the flight attendant continued miming the recorded safety instructions, Christine turned her attention to the airline catalogue. A firm finger poked at her shoulder. “You’re going to want to listen to this part, Christine.”
Christine forcibly grabbed the flight attendant by the arm. “Hey. How did you know my name?”
Without retracting her smile, the young woman plucked the trifold card from the seat pocket and handed it to her. “I noticed you weren’t paying attention. I strongly advise that you review these instructions.” She handed Christine the card. “You never know when you might need them.”
The flight attendant’s hips swayed as she walked to the front of the plane and disappeared around a partition. Christine glanced at the safety instruction card. Every cartoon image featured a dark-haired, slender woman in a black dress. Even the watch on the woman’s hand bore a striking resemblance to her silver Bulgari.
She crammed the card in the pocket as the plane rounded a bend and raced up the runway. Christine let out a deep breath and gripped the armrests. The front of the plane lifted effortlessly from the tarmac. Her stomach dropped, gravitational forces pulling her back towards the ground.
The plane banked to the left and continued its rapid ascent into the pillowy clouds. A shallow breath escaped her lips. The first since the plane left the ground. Four and a half hours to go.
Fumbling through her bag, she dug out a paperback novel and stared at the cover. Disturbing imagery. A pudgy little toddler with golden locks of hair falling gently across her brow. Both of her eyes were covered with strips of black electrical tape forming a letter “X”. The picture gave her the creeps.
The plane shook abruptly. Panicked, she flung the book over her head and braced herself. She reached diagonally behind her to the man who caught the book with his face. “Sorry.”
Christine ironed out the pages that had creased during its brief, maiden flight across the cabin. The plane shook again and she dug her fingers into her neighbor’s arm by mistake. The businessman patted the back of her hand with a sweaty palm.
“Don’t worry sweetie. This is nothing. I’ve flown more than 50,000 miles without any issues.”
Christine kept her eyes fixed on the seat in front of her and gripped the armrest even tighter. “You must have been relieved when you finally landed.” A wry smile curled her lips.
Before he could clarify his previous statement, the plane dropped like a rock, promptly wiping the smirk clean off her face. It must have been a hundred feet. Or ten. It didn’t matter. Every muscle in her body tensed.
Christine glanced up the aisle towards the front of the plane. The flight attendant smirked at her from behind the drink cart. Before she looked away, Christine emphatically mouthed words that weren’t appropriate for the minors onboard.
Several minutes ticked by before the clouds gave way to bright, blue skies. Ready for a distraction, Christine snagged the book and flipped past the title page and heartfelt tribute from the author.
Before reaching the opening chapter, a caption piqued her attention. She flipped back to the front and turned the pages one at a time. And there it was. Two lines that leapt off the page and seized her by the throat. She snapped the book closed, using her finger as a bookmark.
Around her, the passengers were either asleep or quietly passing the time. The businessman sat with his laptop open fussing with the font on a spreadsheet. All was calm. Everything was normal.
Christine slowly cracked open the book. The pages flapped in her trembling hands. It was still there. She didn’t know how or why, but there it was. The air locked in her throat. Two sentences stood alone on an otherwise blank page:
The plane is going to crash
You are going to die
Beyond the foreboding words, the remainder of the book was empty. Every single page was blank. A terrifying thought crept into her mind as she tossed the book onto the floor.
Are those words somehow meant for me?
If this was a joke, it wasn’t funny. Everyone knew that she despised flying. Normally, there would be a small collection of empty Jack Daniel’s bottles stuffed in the seatback pocket by this point in the flight. To think that someone she knew, someone she trusted would have the audacity to exploit her fear was unforgivable.
Christine looked out the window. The blue sky was gone as blackness now swallowed the plane. She glanced at her watch. It was the middle of the day. Without warning, the plane shook violently and started into a shallow dive. Christine planted both of her feet flat on the floor and stared at the rough spun fabric on the seat in front of her. The flight attendant leaned into the drink cart to keep it from rolling towards the front of the plane.
Above her head, the fasten seatbelt light blinked in rhythm with the warning tone. Beep. Beep. Beep. Christine rocked back and forth, covering her ears and closing her eyes.
No, no, no. This isn’t happening.
The plane dipped further. The seatbelt cut into her waist as she lurched forward. Unable to hold back the drink cart any longer, the flight attendant dove across the laps of unsuspecting passengers. The cart raced to the front of the plane and smashed into the cockpit door. Glasses shattered. Panicked screams filled the cabin. Christine’s scream was drowned out by the commotion.
Christine’s short breaths became less and less productive. Her lungs burned from the lack of oxygen. It wouldn’t be long before she passed out. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad thing under the circumstances.
The plane continued its rapid descent. Luggage rained from the overhead compartments. Coats, garments, briefcases. A roller suitcase struck the woman across the aisle. Blood spilled from her fractured nose.
The lights flickered. Christine clutched the lap belt, unsure whether to unbuckle it or yank the strap tighter. Gravitational forces forced her back against the seat. The pressure in her ears built to an intolerable level. Piercing alarms shrieked throughout the cabin and drowned the pilot’s instructions.
The lights cut out. Only the faint glow from the panel above her head stood out in the darkness. A symbol appeared in place of the non-smoking sign. It was strange, unrecognizable. Two counterpoised letter F’s in a circle. Only one word beginning with an “F” came to mind and it accurately described the current situation.
The emergency lights slowly illuminated along the floor. Masks dangled overhead and swung wildly. Christine quickly placed it over her mouth and tugged the straps on either side until the plastic dug into her cheeks. The slow flow of oxygen offered little relief as the plane continued its steep descent.
Lightning erupted around the plane. Each flash was followed by an instantaneous clap of thunder. The plane bounced around like a wet sock in a dryer. Violent motions. Side to side. Up and down. Twisting and turning. The pilot instructed passengers to assume crash position. Robotically, the passengers around her calmly placed their heads between their legs. Tears formed in Christine’s eyes. The end was near.
Rummaging through her purse, she retrieved her phone and pressed the power button. The home screen logo hung there. She tapped her finger impatiently on the phone screen, her hands jerking with each erratic movement of the plane.
She pressed the phone icon and called home. No answer. The machine picked up. It was her mother’s corny greeting, sung to the tune of an old country western song.
Jesus, Mom, no wonder you’re still single.
Christine shook the phone as if that would somehow bypass the recording.
“Mom? Mom? My plane is crashing.” Christine sobbed uncontrollably. “Mom. I love you! I love you! I’m sorry. I love you!” Not bothering to hang up, she tossed the phone onto the floor.
A deluge of emotions washed over her. Images flooded into her mind. Scattered memories, out of sequence. Images of a life about to be cut short. Fantasies of life events that hadn’t happened yet. All of it scrolled past her tear-filled eyes like an old film.
Flashes of lightning illuminated the ground. It was near. Her ears bled from the rapid change in altitude. Unable to process the situation, she laid her head in her lap and accepted her fate. A faint blue glow emanated from her watch, but she was too distracted to look, too distraught to care. A reassuring calm washed over her as the plane plummeted towards the ground. Then she felt the impact.
Europa's fate hangs in the balance as Max races to solve the mystery of dead astronauts, stolen super-chemicals, and girls. #PitProm #mg #sf
Dear Royal Advisors,
I am honored to have been selected for the PitProm court. Based on your interest in science-fiction stories, I hope you enjoy my recently completed novel, EUROPA ACADEMY.
In a time when space travel is as common as a trip to the Bahamas, 13-year-old Max Parker’s biggest dream is to follow in the footsteps of his father’s space adventures. Unfortunately, his family doesn’t go to space anymore, not since his father’s disastrous final mission. When his parents suddenly change their minds and accept an invitation to move the family to the newly constructed city on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, it seems like all of Max’s dreams are about to come true. Unfortunately, Max can’t seem to stay out of trouble. As far as Max is concerned, trouble is just a code-word boring people use when they mean exciting adventure. And he has yet to meet an adventure he could resist. But when Max’s exciting adventures intersect with a real-world cold case of interplanetary proportions, he’ll have to decide whether his fondness for adventure and the possibility of saving the entire solar system are worth his life.
EUROPA ACADEMY is complete at 87,000 words. It’s a near-future science-fiction novel meant for an upper middle-grade audience. Imagine Andy Weir’s ARTEMIS (minus the profanity and sexual innuendo) mixed with Alexandra Monir’s THE FINAL SIX (plus actually reaching Europa), and you’d get pretty close to EUROPA ACADEMY.
Utilizing my background in mechanical engineering and extensive research of orbital dynamics, the book is a solid blend of accurate science and poignant family-centric storytelling. Through close contacts in teen blogs, local libraries, and school systems; I'm poised to reach my target audience at a grassroots level. This is the first in a five book series, though EUROPA ACADEMY has a self-contained story and can function equally well as a standalone novel. The other four books will continue the story of the struggle against the power-crazed Xenon League with four of Max's friends each having a book. Book 2 features an Asian protagaonist, Mei Li, as she and Max partner for Europa's version of the Iditarod.
I've included the first ten pages with this query. The full manuscript is available upon request.
First Ten Pages:
“Any last words?”
Max tore his gaze away from the towering heights of the old rocket hangar to look at his best friend, Jonathan.
“What kind of question is that?” Max shot back.
“You’re strapped to an antique jetpack!—That we rebuilt!” Jonathan pointed out. “The fuel lines might leak, the combustion chamber might explode, the nozzles might shear off—”
“I’ll be fine,” Max said, cutting him off. “Besides, we’ve got the safety line, right?” He tugged on the long rope snaking through the gantry railing high above him. “You’ll catch me if something goes wrong.”
Jonathan shrugged. “Maybe.”
Max smiled at his pessimistic friend and looked up at the cavernous space above him. Rays of late morning sunlight streamed in through the tall windows.
He had anticipated this moment for the last five months—ever since they had found the pieces of the jetpack and started reassembling it. He wasn’t about to let some minor details ruin his dreams of flying.
Jonathan’s voice brought him back. “It’s great that you want to take time to think about your craziness, but if we get caught in here, we’ll be grounded for the entire summer.”
“Pssh. I’ll show you craziness.” Max pulled his flight goggles down over his eyes and seized the control handgrips. “Let’s do this.” He squeezed the throttle, and the jetpack roared to life.
Max’s stomach dropped as he rocketed upward. The nozzles’ deafening blast drowned out his triumphant scream.
Take that, gravity.
Thirty meters up, he eased off the throttle to hover, but the jetpack lurched and bucked, fighting him for control.
Jonathan quickly pulled in the slack from the safety line.
“We need to fix the throttle,” Max yelled. “It’s way too sensitive.”
Jonathan nodded and shouted something in reply.
Max tightened his grip on the control-stick in his left hand and nudged it slightly. The jetpack tilted sideways as the vectored nozzles shoved him around the massive, empty expanse.
He felt like a bird! A strange metallic hummingbird that shot flames out its backside—but a bird all the same.
The jetpack’s exhaust swirled through the musty morning air with the pungent smell of a billion tiki torches.
Max maneuvered back and forth inside the huge hanger, testing his abilities.
The jetpack had freed him from the confines of Earth’s surface—from the curse of spending his entire life on the ground.
His heart and mind soared as he imagined streaking over the rooftops of his neighborhood. He would make a grand entrance on the first day of school, buzzing the front office and doing a low loop around the classroom windows before gently touching down on the front commons. Even the popular kids would know his name.
This jetpack would change everything.
He was now flying level with the bottom windows on the hangar door. Haltingly, he maneuvered over for a better look outside. The skyscrapers of downtown Houston dwarfed everything else on the horizon. Max squeezed the throttle, hoping to catch a glimpse of his neighborhood, when he felt a sudden lurch. Glancing down at the fuel indicator, he saw that the needle hovered above the large letter “E”.
This can’t be right.
“We should also double check the fuel gauge,” he yelled down to Jonathan. “It says I’m about to run out of—”
One of the side access doors clanged open. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood silhouetted in the doorway.
The man gaped at Jonathan then squinted up at Max, clearly trying to make sense of the bizarre scene.
They would have a hard time explaining their way out of this one.
Max instinctively squeezed the throttle, and the jetpack thundered, launching several meters higher. Then suddenly the pack sputtered—gulping its last drops of fuel—and Max’s stomach rose in his throat. The harness felt oppressive, like it wanted to drag him down with the dying rocket.
He was falling.
Sinking dread coursed through Max’s body.
The ground was so far down.
His brain had barely registered the idea that he was about to die, when the safety line brought his free-fall to an abrupt end.
Max looked down to see how close he had come to certain death. Jonathan dangled a meter off the floor, clinging to the opposite end of the line. He kicked and thrashed as he fought the combined weight of Max and the jetpack.
“See, I knew you’d save me,” Max said with a laugh. His body sagged with relief.
The jetpack belched one last fireball and fell silent. Max sunk even faster.
“Max. Do something.” Jonathan’s voice rose in unison with his body—several meters off the ground and still rising.
“Don’t let go!” Max yelled back as he grasped in vain for Jonathan’s side of the line.
“Gee, thanks. That’s a huge help.” Jonathan could be so sarcastic sometimes.
They both picked up speed—Jonathan up and Max down.
“Help us!” Max cried out to the stranger below them. At this point, he didn’t care if they got in trouble. He would gladly trade future trouble for immediate rescue.
The lean figure standing in the doorway shook off his bewilderment and rushed across the hangar floor. Rapidly covering the distance, he lunged and caught the free end of the rope.
Max jerked to a stop, grateful again that he had let Jonathan convince him to use the safety line.
Max and the jetpack swung lazily back and forth, like the pendulum in an old-fashioned clock. The two boys hung eye-to-eye, twenty meters off the ground.
Jonathan clung to his end of the rope glaring at Max as he swung past. “I blame you for this. Why can’t you ever think things through?”
Max shrugged. “Life’s too short for that.”
“Funny you should mention a short life.” Jonathan’s look shot daggers.
“You know, it would serve you right if I just left you two hanging there,” their rescuer called up to them, shaking his head in exasperation.
After an extended silence, the man chuckled then tugged hard on the rope. Max lurched slowly upward as his friend was pulled back down by the kind stranger. With Jonathan back on solid ground, the man fed the rope out, hand-over-hand, and slowly lowered Max and the jetpack back to the floor.
“Thanks,” Max said with a sheepish smile. The man would probably drag them to the nearest police station for trespassing. At least, that’s what the scowl on his face said.
“You two are in big trouble,” he panted. “Space agency facilities are still government property.”
Max looked around nervously, not knowing what to say. He glanced at his friend, who managed a feeble, “Sorry.”
The man was built like an Olympic sprinter and looked to be in his twenties. He had dark brown skin, short-cropped hair, and wore the gray-green uniform of a fighter pilot. The name above the pocket said Tucker.
“Where’d you get this jetpack, anyway?” their rescuer demanded.
The boys glanced at each other, reluctant to confess their secret project.
“Uh, we found it, sir,” Jonathan offered.
“You found a jetpack. Lying around?” He clearly didn’t believe them.
“Actually, we found the pieces, and we put it together,” Max chimed in.
The man raised an eyebrow. He looked more closely at the boys. “You’re what . . . twelve years old?” he asked.
Max puffed out his chest. “Actually, I’m thirteen now.”
“Not that it’s improved your decision-making skills,” Jonathan muttered.
Max glared at his friend.
“You two . . . built a jetpack?” The man thought it was a joke.
“Well, it took us a long time,” Jonathan added.
“No kidding?” The stranger’s expression of disbelief melted into a smile. “Let’s take a look at it.”
He helped Max wriggle out of the harness, and then he turned the jetpack over for closer inspection.
“This is a JB-19.” The man sounded like a kid on Christmas morning. “I didn’t think any of these survived decommissioning.”
“We found it in some old boxes in an abandoned shop,” Jonathan explained.
“Wow. This would be so much fun to fly.” He seemed to have forgotten Max and Jonathan were even there.
Max still wasn’t sure if they were in trouble or not.
Finally, the man set the pack down at his feet and straightened up.
“I’ll need your names so that I can report you to the proper authorities.” His voice was all business.
Jonathan sighed. “Jonathan Perez,” he said pointing dejectedly to himself, “and Max Parker.”
“Wait, we’re actually in trouble?” Max exclaimed.
“If you’re sons of Perez and Parker, the astronauts, then you’re definitely in trouble.” The man gave them a stern look, though Max could see a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. “What would your father say about your horrible piloting skills?” he asked Max.
“Uh . . .” Max wasn’t sure what to say.
A huge smile broke out on the stranger’s face, and he started to laugh.
Max and Jonathan cautiously laughed with him.
“He would say Max’s little sister could fly better,” Jonathan said with a wicked grin.
Max shot his friend a dirty look, but that only made the other two laugh harder.
“Ha ha. Very funny.” Max couldn’t help smiling.
“Jake Tucker,” the man said, shaking hands with the boys. “You are one lucky kid, Max,” Mr. Tucker continued, “and not just because we got you down in one piece. If anyone else had caught you in here, you’d be in deep trouble.”
“You mean . . . we’re not in trouble?” Max asked.
“Oh, you’re in trouble, just not deep trouble,” Mr. Tucker said.
Max’s slowly lifting hopes came crashing back down.
“I’ll need to talk to your fathers about this when I see them,” Mr. Tucker continued. “Luckily for you, I just got back from flying a long mission, otherwise we’d go tell them right now.”
“Flying a mission, like in space?” Jonathan said.
“You’re a pilot?” Max asked in awe.
“Yep,” Mr. Tucker replied. “I fly one of the new Catarium-drive shuttles.”
“Wow!” Max exclaimed. “Can you take us up for a ride sometime?”
Mr. Tucker chuckled. “Another time. OK?” He glanced at his watch. “Hey guys, I’ve got to be somewhere in a few hours, and I’m hoping to get some rest first. You boys better get out of here.”
“Right,” Max said.
He and Jonathan hefted the jetpack and lugged it toward the door. “And thanks again for saving us, Mr. Tucker.”
“Hold on a sec.” Mr. Tucker jogged over to them.
Max tensed, wondering if they were in trouble again.
“First off, you don’t have to call me Mr. Tucker. My friends call me Jake.”
Jonathan laughed. “We can’t call you—” Jake gave him a stern look, and Jonathan caved. “—OK, OK, Jake it is.”
Jake smiled at the boys, then looked down at the jetpack. His expression turned guilty. Max tightened his grip. “I’m sorry to say this, boys, but I need to take that . . . for safekeeping.”
Max protested. “But Mr. Tucker . . . Jake . . .”
Jake held up his hands. “I know, I know. You boys have worked real hard on this, but I gotta be the adult here.” He reached for the harness and pulled the pack away.
Max’s arms weren’t the only part of him that felt empty.
Jake considered them for a moment. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. If I can make sure the pack is safe, and if it’s OK with your parents, then we’ll figure out a way you can fly it without killing yourselves.”
Max felt a little better. They weren’t in trouble, and maybe they would fly the jetpack again.
As they headed to the door, Jonathan asked Jake, “So are you keeping it for our safety or for the jetpack’s safety?”
Jake looked down at the gleaming, rocket-shaped pack, then flashed the boys a broad smile.
“Maxwell Scott Parker! Why didn’t you answer any of my messages?”
Max let the front door swing shut behind him. His mother stood in the doorway to the kitchen with her hands on her hips.
“Oops,” Max said sheepishly.
“Oops is right, young man. We’ll talk about this later. Go get ready. We’re going to be late.”
Just then, Max’s older sister, Kelli, rushed past, her long brown hair—normally in a ponytail—cascaded behind her. She looked ready to go to church. Then Max noticed that his mom wore her Sunday best as well.
“Where’re we going?” he asked as he headed for his room.
“The funeral. Hurry.”
Twenty minutes—and one high-speed car ride—later, Max was sitting quietly at the back of a graveside service. They really had been late. His parents almost never used the Rush setting on the car’s guidance system.
A dozen rows of white folding chairs stretched out in front of him under a large tent awning. Unfortunately, the last row of seats didn’t quite fit under the tent, and the hot Texas sun beat down on the back of his neck. There was no breeze to speak of, and the thick, humid air smelled of fresh cut grass.
Jonathan sat with his family in the row in front of them, but not close enough that they could talk. Max contented himself with sending Jonathan messages reliving their morning’s adventure and asking whether Jonathan had gotten in trouble for making his family late to the funeral. Max smiled at Jonathan’s description of being forced to change his clothes in the car on the way to the funeral—luckily he only had brothers.
Max was about to swipe a response when Kelli elbowed him.
“You’re being rude,” she whispered.
“C’mon, what am I supposed to do?” he whispered back. “This is so boring. We didn’t even know this girl.”
She pointed to the printed program. It was on actual paper, which Max thought was weird. “Her name was Mindy Baker. She joined the space program at twenty-one, and she was twenty-three when she went on the Europa exploration mission.” She put the program down. “And it’s still rude, even if we didn’t know her.”
Max stuffed the phone back in his pocket. “You can’t tell me this is how you wanted to spend your first day of summer vacation.” Max kept his voice low. “I mean, the least they could do is have the casket open. What’s the point of coming to the funeral of someone who died in space if we can’t even see the body?”
Kelli gave him a warning look.
“Now you’re being rude and insensitive. Besides, I doubt the body would be suitable for a viewing after fourteen years in space,” she said in a barely audible whisper.
“Humph.” Max folded his arms and slouched down in his chair.
There were so many other places he’d rather be at this moment. He gazed out across the cemetery. The first-quarter moon rose over the tree line. He’d much rather be there on the moon than sitting here, dressed in a shirt and tie, baking in the afternoon sun.
His dad had been to the moon about a dozen times during his career as an astronaut. His parents had even gone to the Lunara Bay Resort on their honeymoon—sort of what you get when you marry an astronaut.
But ever since his dad retired from the space agency after returning from Europa, no one in their family had so much as left the atmosphere. He had classmates who had been to space—mostly to the SpaceDisney station. Yet Max Parker, son of a famous astronaut, had never flown higher than a regular supersonic transcontinental. It was embarrassing.
Each mirror Emery enters feeds her addiction to alt realities. To save her sister, she must conquer more than her own demons #PitProm #YA #SF
Seventeen-year-old Emery Glass is a Mirror Maker. She can create a mirror and walk through the reflection into an alternate reality. To return, she simply breaks the mirror, and the reflection world ceases to exist.
Then classmates start disappearing. Including Emery’s sister. To find her, Emery will do anything: break the rules, create her own mirrors, even fail the Trials and get exiled from the Academy.
After her first broken mirror, Emery is instantly addicted to the thrill of leaving reality.
After the second broken mirror, she finds her sister’s journal and learns the truth behind her disappearance.
Mirror number three generates a reflection Emery plans to use to rescue her sister. Perfect camouflage.
The fourth broken mirror puts Emery face-to-face with her sister’s abductor.
But when the fifth mirror shatters, Emery finds herself on the wrong side, trapped in a maze of mirrors. With the abductor after her, Emery must break the bonds of her addiction, or she’ll lose herself and her sister, forever.
MIRROR BREAKER is a 70,000-word YA science fiction novel, appealing to fans of Marie Lu and Leigh Bardugo.
I am a stay-at-home mom and own my own business. I’ve interned for three small, independent publishers and four literary agents. I got my start writing professionally as a ghostwriter for a celebrity who writes children’s books.
First Ten Pages:
My little brother, Gates, lied about me dying.
Of course, it’s best everyone thinks I’m dead. He’s smart enough to know that. What he doesn’t know is tonight, a thousand mirrors will shatter. The real me lost in the glistening shards, swirling like snowflakes during a winter storm.
I stare into the compact, fingers curled around its jagged edges. My face bleeds across the mirror, fracturing at the broken slice of glass. I study the cracked line, barely the size of a hair strand. It glows the color of the ocean before a storm, black and gray rolling across the icy blue water to conceal its beauty, its mysteries, its dangers. I slide my finger along the splintered glass, challenging the weak spot. It branches out like a drunken spider web, accelerating until it reaches the edge. When there’s no place left to run, the veins blacken and seep over the edge of the glass.
The mirror requires magic to manipulate images. I try to imagine what I’ll see once the magic works properly. I have yet to make it work the way it’s supposed to, but when I master the technique, I know it’ll be a deceptively ordinary reality. I press my finger through the crevice, feeling for the line of symmetry on the other side of the reflection. It’s there, if you have the ability to find it, projecting a carbon copy of everything in line with the mirror. I imagine myself casting back, dragging the fibers of this world into the reflection.
Like every time before, instead of the syrupy sensation I’m supposed to encounter, I get a sting. When I pull my finger from the breach, it’s sliced along the tip. I wipe the blood on my leg and swallow the thrill of the magic working inside me.
Broken glass, broken mirror: I am both.
I clasp the compact and trace the crease where it closes, twirling it between my thumb and forefinger, as I try to separate the interior fog clouding my thoughts.
Every day, the First City airs my story on WatchBank. I didn’t cause the fire that killed Princess Chevon. They still charged me with treason. The entire story is ludicrous. I’ve never been to the First City where she lives. They forced me into hiding until I can clear my name.
Sometimes the wanted poster flashes four or five times a day on the com-screens distributed around The Shadows. Many of the sector’s worst criminals live there. I suppose they think I’m famous amongst the villains.
In the nicer areas of the ward, such as Glass Hill, it’s broadcast only once a day on the cyber kiosks. It looks out of place mixed in with the stories that spotlight first-class citizens. Or the celebrity webcasts. The telecast that features my made-up criminal story doesn’t belong in the glitz and glam of the iridescent-blooded nobles.
Other than high society gossip, the kiosks run government propaganda. Hype pieces about magic and the evil it brings. Abolition. Revolution. Segregation. Anti-succession. With elections coming soon, the political ads can drive even the kindest people over the edge.
Now that I’m a fugitive, I have to work on a new disguise. I hope I can come out of hiding soon and live life again. Being the most-hated girl in what feels like the entire universe isn’t easy.
The sun glistens off the river. Early morning is my favorite time of day. This part of the ward, named The Shadows, is packed with street urchins, criminals, and homeless, their clothes tattered and faces unwashed. But this early in the day, most are still sleeping off the late night rumblings. Gates will be here with whatever food he’d scavenged from the table without notice. Sometimes I’m able to stretch the bread and cheese over several days. Sometimes I share it with an orphan girl who camps out in the empty warehouse across from the culvert I call home. Temporary home.
Footsteps approach and I crouch behind a rusted drain pipe. The sun has already heated the metal. It scorches my fingers and I jerk away, tumbling backward. The mirror compact in my pocket rattles. By the alchemy spirits, if it cracked more, it may be destroyed.
“Emery? It’s me,” Gates whispers. “You okay?”
I kiss my burn and rub my bad ankle, and then check my mirror. There’s no further damage so I stuff it back into my pocket and pull Gates around the drain pipe and into the hidden safety of my culvert. We’re invisible, but I can see a straight path to the broken and useless gates that are supposed to shut the entrance off from the main road.
“I’m hungry. What’d you bring me?” I shield my eyes from the glare. Gates cast a shadow over my body. “Did you to stay away from open places? It’s important no one finds me.”
He kicks the crumbling wall. “I couldn’t find you. Why’d ya move out here? I liked the warehouse better.”
“It got too crowded in there. You sure no one followed you?” I scan the area for soldiers. I can’t risk getting caught. Not before I change my appearance.
“I’m not five years old.” He fidgets with the knot on the bundle of food he brought me.
“I know. Sorry I’m jumpy.”
A helmet conceals his face. He seems on edge. As he pulls the helmet from his head, his gaze is fixed on the ground. Gates is the only person I can trust. I feel the muscles in my shoulders tighten, my heartbeat quickens.
“It’s okay. But everything’s not good at home,” he says.
I don’t know what to say, if I should soothe him, or panic. I hug him, because I know how sensitive he can be. Since our father has been sick, he’s been the man of the house. Such a huge responsibility for an eleven-year-old boy. But I can tell he’s worried about something. I watch over him as much as I can, without making him feel insecure or babied, but I’m useless while hiding. The grief I feel when he’s hurting, or afraid, threatens my very being.
I forget about my rumbling stomach and throbbing ankle. “Just tell me. No need to sugarcoat it. I’ll fix whatever the problem is.” I keep my words calm and my pitch level. Swallowing hard, I steel myself for whatever he’s about to tell me.
Gates takes both my hands and draws in a deep breath. “It’s Finley. She’s gone missing.”
It’s so quiet, you can hear a pin drop on a cotton pillow. My stomach rolls, nauseous.
I’m desperately hoping I heard him wrong, that he’s mistaken or been misinformed. When our mother was chosen to serve Master Colbalt, Finley was furious. She’d talk to her friends at school about the dangers of Ward segregation and magic being used for good. She mocked and publicly criticized the Chief Masters of the First City. Saying such things could lead to an arrest.
They chose Mother to serve in the First City because of her alabaster skin and hair. That way, she doesn’t blend in with the multi-colored hair and skin tones of the nobles. When they took her, Finley got really vocal. Stop the segregation. Remove the ban on magic. Abolish the Defenders. Then one day, my father fell ill. Friends of Finley started disappearing. Stopped coming to school. The doors on their houses barricaded with quarantine signs posted in their front yards.
As I step closer to Gates, I glance at his eyes, still smoldering underneath his forced and mature expression. His push into adulthood hurts me. He should be playing in the woods, catching tadpoles and building tree forts, not trying to manage a house and take care of Father.
“Are you sure?” I’m trying to convince myself he understands the difference between missing and away from home. Of course he does, I’m positive. I rephrase my question before he can go on the defense. “What happened?”
His face is masked, expressionless. But his eyes are brimming with tears. “She never came home last night after classes. Her Trial results were bad.”
It’s not unusual for Finley to stay out all night. But getting low Trail rates? Her score always ranks high, sometimes even higher than mine. Even when competing with classmates who can afford to buy good grades, or fake their Trial results with blackmarket magic, Finley has always done well.
Students who fail the Trials are exiled. As if the testing wasn’t stressful enough, family and peers are allowed to watch. The top finalists are thrown into in a fierce battle of wits. The winning Ward is showered with gifts. The losers banished to places like The Shadows, a mark engraved on their body. If you have a mark, you are exiled from everything and everyone you love.
Maybe Gates is thinking the same thing I am because his eyes darken, replacing the tears that threaten to fall. He turns away, looking over his shoulder. I want to tell him everything is going to be okay, but in the distance, I hear marching footsteps and the drum beat of the Defenders.
They found me.
They must have followed Gates, and he led them straight to my hiding place. He turns to me and I see him pale, as the blood drains from his face, his neck, even his arms. His helmet falls to the ground, hands clenched into fists, body stiff.
“I’m sorry, Emery! I didn’t mean to. Please forgive me,” he whimpers.
A smothered cry escapes my throat. “No, this can’t happen. Not like this. Not now. Gates, run! Get out of here,” I say through clamped teeth, hoping the Defenders are far enough away they’ll never catch him.
But it’s too late. Soldiers surround the culvert. One drags me though the opening, binding my wrists and forcing me to my knees. Gates is crying hysterically. He’s on his knees in front of me, his arms around my neck like an unbreakable lock.
“Stop it, Gates. This isn’t your fault,” I say forcefully, because it’s killing me inside to see him in such agony. I will not let my little brother see me cry. His last vision of me must be strong. It’ll be him and father left to muddle through the Trials, alone. It’s hard enough to watch a family member who attends the Academy go through their yearly trial when you have the support of other family with you. I have to set a good example of courage.
One of the soldiers pulls him to his feet. His helmet rolls away and stops against my knee. Inside, I see words sketched in wobbly handwriting. They read, “To Gates. There is no escape without courage.”
A gift from Finley. Why had she written that? Did she know this day would come when she gave it to him for his birthday last year?
The Lead Defender, in his bold purple sash and plume of feathers atop his helmet, reads me the Punishment According to Betrayal treaty and motions for me to start walking toward Glass Hill. Defender Two drags Gates in front of me. I’m forced to watch him stumble and trip as his skinny legs and short stature can’t keep up with the soldier’s rigorous pace.
As soon as we reach the Glass Tower, in the center of the Ward, they march me into the Retribution Room and Gates is taken to the Rehabilitation Building. Maybe he won’t have to watch my Trial, but it’s usual for family members to sit in the front row. They call it the family box, but it’s not really a box. It’s an extra-long cushioned couch with high armrests on each end. They’re so tall, your arms can’t reach them, but you can lean your shoulders against them.
The room is empty and I stand in the waiting area until I receive further instructions. I thought they would arrest me. I don’t know why they brought me to the Academy. I walk toward the window and glass crunches under my shoes like a million shards are underfoot. When I look down, nothing is there. The floor is clean, shiny. I see my reflection staring back at me, as if daring me to do anything to change what is about to happen.
I rest my forehead on the window and stare at the glass garden. The colored orbs and crystal stalks do their best to add a cheery countenance to the day. The sound of ripping glass swishes in my ears. There’s a tiny split in the glass window. I trace the line with my finger.
An army of footsteps echoes in the hallway. Friends I’ve known my whole life will now be my jury. If I fail, I’ll soon be nothing but a memory to them. My heart sinks. It’s time.
I push away from the window and wipe the foggy ring left by own breath. I’m standing in the foyer of the glass tower. The tallest building on this side of campus, it cuts through the skyline like a jagged glass sword. Designed as a bulwark of protection, there’s no stopping what is to come.
My friends and classmates enter the foyer, chattering around me like I’m not even there. It grates against my brain like sandpaper on concrete. To them, I’m invisible, their peer on trial. Rules are you’re not allowed to talk to a person on Trial. But one day, I’ll leave a mark they can never erase.
Then something unexpected happens. We take the window-box elevator to the top floor. The world outside blurs past. The shiny, metallic panels around each building hang in rigid rows like tin soldiers lined up for war.
The elevator stops and we step into the most-hated place on campus. The Watching Room. A glass partition separates this area from the Numbing Room.
I don’t know why they bring me here instead of court. It’s mandatory that every student at the Academy watch a student who has failed the Trails get their Turning. When you are turned, you have your magic, your talent, your gift, and sometimes your intelligence taken from you. Then you are sent away, never allowed into the Ward again, unless by some miracle you get another Trial and pass it with a perfect score.
For a brief moment, I feel a tiny flicker of hope that this has all be a mistake and I’m simply being forced to watch some poor schlep have his dignity taken from him before he’s exiled.
When I look through the one-way mirror, the other side of the room is empty. My fingers press against the glass, trying to block the glare, but I see only sterile, white walls and sterling silver machines. I cup my hands around my eyes. There’s enough luminosity in the other room I can read the flashes on the flatscreen of the machine closest to me, but no name is displayed yet.
I prop my foot against the floor guard and slip my hand inside my jacket pocket. The glass beads of my bracelet jingle, a cheerful sound out of place. The glass beards were made from the most exquisite ebony, painstakingly crafted and colored by the Master Artesian himself. A gift from my father on my sixteenth birthday last year, right before he fell ill.
I stand in front of the one-way mirror of the watching room as close to the loudspeaker as possible. The only sound I hear is shuffling feet as a nurse enters the room, her patient following behind her, though a tad bit groggily. I press my forehead against the glass and squint for a better view of who it is, led by two Defenders toward the numbing device.
My stomach is churning again and my palms are sweaty and shaking. I’m hoping, pleading with the alchemy spirits that it’s not Gates, that it’s not Finley.
The nurse shuffles over to the machine and presses several buttons. The Defenders finally move from in front of the person strapped to the chair.
I try and process the cruelty of the Trials, but there’s not time to catch my breath. The loud speaker crackles and the voice of Mayor Ronan Silverwater across the airwaves. His picture lights up the WatchBank.
“Hello citizens of Glass Hill, students of the Academy, and welcome today, to even the poor class of The Shadows. The Trial of Emery Glass has begun. As you see, the Trials from this day forward will be aired live for all to see. We encourage all students to work diligently to avoid the humiliation to your family and friends. Even the world, as we all watch.
“In an effort to abolish lies and deceit and as a measure to find the hidden magic still slipping into our beautiful wards and cities, the rules for our Trials have changed as well. What are the rules? Let the Trial begin, and you shall see.”
This can’t be real. Why is my Trial the first one to air over WatchBank? New rules and hidden magic? I swallow hard and tighten my shoulders. I can’t show weakness. For all I know, the WatchBank has me displayed live right now.
The loudspeaker in the corner crackles again, this time coming from the other side of the two-way mirror. “Will this hurt a lot?” Her voice squeaks, but she clears her throat and tries again. “I mean, how long will it take?”
Someone behind me snickers. “Seriously? She already knows the answer. Why would she ask that?”
Another kid laughs. “How many of these has Finley attended? What a wimp.”
My throat stings and my eyes burn. I want to say something, but I’m angry and I don’t want to cry. I won’t give them the satisfaction. I will not stand Trial with blotchy eyes and a snotty, red nose. Tears are not an option.
Another voice behind me pipes up. “I bet five ebonies she breaks down in tears. Who’s in?”
People file into the glass box on the other side of the watching room. More students file in and it’s so crowded I can’t breathe. I don’t know what they expect from me during my supposed Trial. Are they watching how I’ll react to seeing my sister turned? Is that my test? Do they plan to bring Gates here, too? He’s not old enough for Trials yet, but with the secretive new rules, I don’t know what to expect.
From behind me, I can hear ebonies getting tossed in the betting bowl. Sounds like falling rain on a tin roof. Every student in the room must be placing bets, guessing if she’ll try and run, break out in tears, or go willing. I know Finley. She’ll stay put. And then she’ll find a way to beat the Trial in no time. She takes after mother, that’s for sure.
The nurse takes a large syringe from a tray and stick it into an IV hooked to Finley’s arm.
“What are they giving her?” I blurt out. I clamp my hand over my mouth. Finley thrashes in the chair and her painful cries blare through the partition.
The loud speaker comes to life again, with Mayor Ronan’s voice. “You will know soon enough, Miss Glass. There’s going to be a competition. A competition of magic between you and your sister. You both enjoy spreading propaganda on the good in magic. Prove its worth. The winner will be given extraordinary gifts. The loser will be put to death. May the best sister win.”
140 Character Pitch:
11yo Epson has an alien in his backpack. If he and his three classmates fail the alien’s deadly tests, the world ends. No pressure. #PitProm
Dear PitProm Royal Advisors,
Test anxiety is intense, especially when the fate of the world is at stake.
My middle grade science fiction novel, Intergalactic Backpack, pits a socially anxious sixth grader against a series of alien constructed death-tests. It’s a combination of the awkward developing friendships in The Sandlot and the epic nerd vs. alien battles of William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig. The book is complete at 47,000 words.
Eleven-year-old Epson Dean has never liked exams. Or stress. Or people.
But when an evil alien shows up in his backpack, Epson must confront his fears and pass three deadly challenges to prove humankind deserves to exist.
The diabolical tests force Epson and three of his classmates to face extreme heights, boy bands, pool parties, fast food restaurant mascots, and deadly alien creatures from all around the galaxy.
One F means meant the end of all humankind, but, no pressure, right?
I’m currently a middle and high school art/film teacher and the voices of my students are infused into this story. Previously, I spent ten years as a Special Education Teacher where I learned how hard it is to turn reluctant readers into repeat-readers. I want to be a part of that movement. I believe this novel has the characters, humor, and action that will get kids hooked. Intergalactic Backpack is my fourth middle grade novel.
Thank you for your time.
Sir Jared Agard
First Ten Pages:
Chapter One - When Epson Met Proctor
Something bad was gonna happen. It always did.
I laid on my bed in the fetal position, planning all the ways I would embarrass myself on my first day of sixth grade.
A button would pop off the dorky shirt my mom told me I had to wear. Or maybe someone would talk to me and my whole head would turn bright red like an overripe tomato. My underwear would pop out of the top of my pants. I’d laugh and a booger would come shooting out of my nose.
There was no escaping it. I was a disaster. My life was over, and I was only eleven.
“Epson. Can I come in?”
“Uh, yeah.” I sat up on my bed, adjusted my headphones, and plastered a smile on my face. Mom and Dad couldn’t see me freaking out. They were already worried enough. Last year they’d talked to a school counselor because I didn’t have any friends. The counselor had called it “social anxiety.” I called it survival. I kept to myself to avoid humiliation. Unfortunately, humiliation always found me, no matter how well I hid.
Mom cracked the door open and peeked in.
“All ready for tomorrow?”
I pointed to the stacks of supplies on the floor. “Almost. Did you find a backpack?”
I tried to see it but I couldn’t. She held it by the strap, just outside of my doorframe.
“I’ve got it right here.” She fake-smiled and walked into my room, still keeping the new pack hidden behind her. “I lucked out. There were only three backpacks left and this one was on clearance.”
Clearance. The word sent shivers down my spine. My mom was great. Maybe even a candidate for Mother of the Year, but she did have one solid weakness. She couldn’t resist a deal, even if it would mess her kids up for life.
“What’s wrong with it?” I tried to see around her.
She leaned to the right to block my view. “Oh, come on! Be open-minded. It’s not my fault you guys set your backpacks on fire when summer started.”
“That was Julius! That wasn’t my fault, either.” My older brother always did crazy stuff that ended up making my life worse.
“Well, you should’ve at least told me about needing new ones before yesterday.”
She had a point, but speaking up isn’t really my thing. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the worst. She swung the backpack in my lap and headed for the door like a coward.
“No way, Mom!” My voice cracked.
She stopped and turned around, her eyes darting to the left and then the right. “Don’t be so dramatic, Epson. It’s a backpack. It’s for carrying books and binders. Who cares what’s on the front?”
I stared at the pack in horror, the nylon straps crinkling in my clenched fists.
Safari Sally stared back at me.
Sally, of course, looked overjoyed to be on the backpack of a boy whose head was doomed to the insides of toilets and trashcans. She held her magical butterfly net high above her white safari hat and proclaimed her tagline in massive pink letters:
Today is your greatest adventure!
Sure, Sally. If getting my butt kicked was the definition of adventure. I glared at my mom. This had to be a sick joke.
Mom backed closer to my door.
“Please, tell me this is for Teddy.”
“Of course not. Teddy wanted blue. This one’s black.” She nodded as if that settled the case. Her hand gripped my doorknob.
“I can’t take this to school.” I nudged it with one finger, like it was made of something toxic. It fell off my bed and flopped to the floor. The stress burning in my stomach raged into a forest fire.
“Oh, don’t look so glum. No one will even notice. They’ll be too distracted by your sparkly personality.”
Yeah, right. No Mother of the Year Award for her. She stepped into the hall.
“Pack it up. Make it yours. It just has to get you through sixth grade. Now, get some sleep. You need to get used to having a bed time again.” She closed the door behind her.
No need to be worried about embarrassing myself at school. My mom had literally slapped a target on my back. I reached down and picked the backpack up off the floor. Maybe I could steal a roll of Dad’s duct tape and transform Safari Sally into a gray silver blob.
“Epson Dean. Alone at last.”
I jumped. Where had that voice come from? My fingers traced the cord of my humungous headphones. There was no music playing. And even if there was, why would some random singer say my name?
“Epson Dean? I know you can hear me.” The voice sounded fancy like some rich British guy. The backpack in my lap inflated like a bag of microwave popcorn. I tossed it off me and bolted for the door.
“Oh, my. Far stupider than I had imagined.”
I wriggled the doorknob. It held fast, like it had been super-glued. I used both hands. No luck.
“Have a seat, Epson. Let’s talk.” The backpack stood up, its strap gesturing to me.
“MOM! MOOOOOOOOM!” I shouted, pounding my fists against my flimsy door. But the door was no longer flimsy. It felt like it was made of cement. My voice absorbed into it, no echo of sound from the hallway. I’d officially lost my mind.
“You wouldn’t want to break the rules before you even learned what they are.”
I glanced over my shoulder. The backpack waved its strap at me. Yeah, this was not happening.
“HELP! MOM! DAD! HELP!”
“Ah. Yelling for help. Good plan except it’s not. Would you like to know why?”
“Reason number one: If you tell anyone about me, you fail the test.”
“Reason number two: I can control light and sound waves. I’m absorbing yours right now.”
“HEEEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPP!” I continued my useless door pounding.
“Reason number three: Simply put, you look pathetic. Please stop before I lose all respect for you.”
My fists throbbed but still no sound came. It was like watching TV with the volume muted. I turned and faced the possessed backpack.
“What are you?” I asked, still panting from my attack on the door.
“I am your test administrator. A Norell-Floggersaff. My name is unpronounceable by your kind, so you can call me Proctor.”
“Proctor?” My whole body shook.
“That is what you call someone who gives a test, isn’t it? You would correct me if I was wrong, wouldn’t you? I’ve only been speaking English for a few hours.”
I took a step closer, curiosity overpowering my fear. “W–what are you?”
“Open the backpack and have a look.”
And then fear overpowered my curiosity. I backed away.
“Come on, Epson Dean. We have work to do. Let’s get to know one another and then I can properly introduce you to your tests.”
I crept forward, my eyes locked on the backpack. It had to be a trick. Or maybe a dream. I grabbed on to the zipper, holding it tightly in my sweaty hand.
And there he was: A glowing head made completely of light, floating in the darkness of my backpack. No body or neck or anything. Just a bald head. Blue sparks crackled around him as he opened his blank white eyes. His forehead wrinkled when he saw me, and a sly smirk stretched across his face.
“Whoa.” I leaned closer.
“Well,” said Proctor, “You’re rather plain, and a bit fat, but you’ll do.”
I barely heard him. “W–what are you?”
“You’ve already asked that. Three times. Not too bright, are you? Oh well. The choice has been made. No way around it.”
“It’s like you’re made out of light,” I whispered. He looked cool. Jagged forks of lightning licked the darkness around him like electric snake tongues.
“Very good. I am made out of light. Pure light. A Norell-Floggersaff, remember? It is my job to test your planet’s dominant species. And you, my lucky human, have been randomly selected to represent humankind.”
“You’re my test subject now.” He smiled at me like a game show host awarding a prize.
“Tests? What tests?” My mind raced. Out of all the people in the world I was the one who ended up with a Safari Sally backpack full of alien. I’d always thought I had the worst luck on the planet. Now I had proof.
“So, a quick overview of the rules: You can’t tell anyone else about me or the tests. You can’t throw me in the garbage or leave me on a bus or give me to someone else. Most importantly, you can’t die. There’s no dying allowed. Do you understand, Epson?”
My mind was blank. I couldn’t think. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.
Proctor smiled at me again. “Don’t you want to know what happens if you fail?”
I couldn’t respond. My lips had stopped working. I made my head to nod.
Proctor glowed bright, spinning like he was on an axis. His head smoothed out and became round like a ball. Little continents and cloud accumulations appeared over the face of the globe. It was Earth.
Lightning struck in a bazillion places all at once, raking the surface of the planet. My jaw opened even wider. Proctor’s face reappeared on the planet as it spun to a halt.
“W-what…what was that?” I forced my quivering lips to move.
“That’s what happens if you fail the tests, kiddo.” The smile returned to his lips. “I wipe humans out of existence.”
Chapter Two - First Day
My stomach was in a knot, all twisted. Everyone was stressed. The kid on my left nibbled at his fingernail while bouncing his knee up and down like a jackhammer. The girl sitting in front of him ran her fingers through her hair, over and over, as if one strand out of place would mean the end of the world.
And then there was me, more freaked out than any of them, because if I screwed up on Proctor’s tests it would be the end of the world.
I jumped in my seat.
Oh no. Not here. Not now.
Proctor’s ramblings and the threat of the destruction of all human beings had kept me up most of the night, so I wasn’t in the best mood. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about my classmates listening in on Proctor’s insults. He spoke by aiming sound waves right into my eardrum, so no one else could hear him. Just me.
“Maybe odor and intellect are related in humans, hmmm? Your tiny brain would need to expend more energy to conjure even the weakest thought, thus expelling copious amounts of burn-off in the form of sweat and pungent gases.”
It should’ve been easy to ignore him. I didn’t even understand half the words he said. His smug voice was so annoying, though, like a mosquito buzzing in my ear.
I shifted in my plastic chair, trying to listen to my teacher and just relax. But there was nothing relaxing about Mr. Mattock or his classroom. Sixth grade was nothing like elementary school. No warm-and-fuzzy stuff all over the walls, just four straight rows of desks, ten deep. It smelled like a hospital and felt like a prison. And Mr. Mattock was the warden.
“There will be no tomfoolery in my class,” he said as he marched down the first row, dropping a worksheet on each desk he passed. “And no monkey business!”
“The fumes are centralized in your armpits,” Proctor continued. “You slopped on gallons of that antiperspirant and it’s not working at all. Fun fact: You smell so bad because you’re issuing an apocrine sweat, easily categorized due to its location and foul odor.”
“That is a fun fact. Now shut it.” I muttered back through gritted teeth.
“I can calculate the moisture level in your armpits if you’d like.”
“Oh, who wouldn’t like that?”
He went silent, probably completely focused on collecting my sweat-data.
I scanned the room. Mr. Mattock pivoted and continued up the next row. With his back to me, the coast was clear. Other students were busy chatting or doodling so I snatched up my backpack. I was careful to hug it to my chest so no one would see the embarrassment printed on the front. Attempting to cover Safari Sally with duct tape didn’t feel like much of a priority after hearing about the tests.
I hoped beyond hope that he wouldn’t be inside, that all I’d see was books and a binder like the rest of the normal kids.
Ha. Yeah, right.
Proctor’s head floated in a black cloud just above my supplies. I waited for him to say something but his mouth was too busy chomping on the last orange crumbs of my Cheetos.
Great. He’d already eaten my entire lunch, and it was only first period.
Stranded in a Martian desert, a cybernetic soldier teams up with her friend-turned-enemy in a desperate attempt to survive. #pitprom #SFF
Dear Royal Advisors,
Separated from her unit after a brutal accident, Nadema finds herself in the middle of an inhospitable Martian desert unable to call for help. As a half-organic robot and the former commander of a Nobu armada, Nadema has always been treated like a walking warhead. Her limbs can be replaced as easily as car parts, and the idea of vulnerability is laughable. Now, with her systems fragmented and her memory failing, she thinks she’s doomed to die. But when she runs into an old friend-turned-enemy – the recalcitrant, traumatized Hara – she realizes that she must utilize every resource that she has at her disposal, including her unwilling companion, in order to make it back to her family alive. If she doesn’t, she risks not only her death but the annihilation of Hara’s people at the hands of her vengeful brother.
Complete at 136,000 words, IDOLS OF PARADISE is a character-driven adult space opera where PITCH BLACK meets AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. IDOLS OF PARADISE has series potential.
I have a Minor in Creative Writing from OCAD University, and have created educational scripts for Make A Change Canada. I’ve also worked as a content writer for BBTV, and have written a byline for Film Daily as a freelance contributor. Additionally, I’m one of the co-hosts for the podcast Metamashina, where we discuss genre fiction from the feminine gaze. This is my first novel.
Thank you for your time and your consideration of my query.
First Ten Pages:
Chapter I: The Silence
When Nadema began to remember her accident in bits and pieces, the most important thing she recalled was that she was very good at adapting.
Like all toddlers taking their first steps, her initial attempts at moving were a series of accidents that involved running into a succession of objects. Heartfelt efforts at walking were met with bumps to the head and bruising limbs, and no one came to pick her up. Nadema wasn’t young, but she felt like it in that moment, a newborn in an adult’s skin barely bigger than a child and just as frail.
WARNING, a small, tinny voice declared from the side of her head as she fell to her knees, then staggered upwards. Not a man nor a woman, but familiar perhaps. Scrawling numbers tracked across her vision from right to left, and it took Nadema a moment to place them. WARNING, CRITICAL SYSTEMS MALFUNCTION, the person said. RESYNC IN PROGRESS.
Processor, she realized. I’m speaking to my processor, but all the came back was static.
Around her the world was stained a hazy shade of orange, the same color as the sand-choked sky. The light of a nearby star blazed downwards, turning the hue of her skin a warmer shade of ivory. ‘You aren’t supposed to be here,’ someone had told her when she’d first woken up in the grasslands, hours ago, and those words were the ones that Nadema remembered the most when she thought back through all the white noise. It was in the shudder of goosebumps running up her arms. The twitch of a finger. A sluggish stream of black fluid had slowly dripped its way past her lips. She’d been thinking of something else before this, only it had been of a different time and a different place. A pocket of dark matter, with the singular memory of a planet shattering before a streak of white light. Why was she in a field of poppies?
RESYNC IN PROGRESS, her processor continued. BOOT CONFIGURATION AT 36%.
“I know,” Nadema said. She felt like crying. Her processor hadn’t stopped glitching since she’d woken up. “I know. Be quiet.” It couldn’t.
A breeze wound through the sand-choked poppy field that surrounded her, stirring up dust and making the flowers undulate. Nadema clenched her fists and looked down, dipping to the right as she fought to stay up. Her armor—tarnished, scuffed, and falling off her in pieces—had once been bright red. Now it was mostly missing from her arms and bottom left leg. Beneath the gaps in the metal, hundreds of scars ran across her arms in a sprawling network of aging lacerations. She didn’t remember why she had them—the wounds were healed—so she tentatively slid her palm along the ridges, watching as the marks pulsed white beneath her fingertips. The she looked up again, coughing on the black fluid that still stained her lips. Oh, that star was bright. Had it been this big before her accident?
BOOT CONFIGURATION AT 74%.
“Shut up,” she begged. “Please.” Her heads-up system ignored her.
Nadema stared at the star until she should have gone blind from its light, but didn’t. She should have gained energy from its heat—absorbed through her skin in a grid—but that failed to happen. When she’d first woken up amongst the poppies, she’d tried to absorb the elements around her in an effort to increase her energy—running her hands over the too-hot sand to soak in its heat, her fingers vibrating against the flowers with a metallic hum until the petals wilted. Unfortunately she couldn’t repurpose the matter. Her skin remained dull, splotched with purple bruising. Now she could taste dust on her tongue and dust down her throat, and when she ground her teeth sand scraped between her molars. Nadema’s lungs burned as they searched for oxygen, the grit beneath her fingernails irritated her too-sensitive skin. She knew she’d been in an accident, but she had no recollection of what the accident was or how she’d ended up here. What was her mission, before this?
Right, she thought. Remember your training. You know how to deal with this.
Run local_triangulation.exe, she told her processor, fighting the escalating panic as she took her first steps. Which way to go? Towards the star? Nothing came back from the data stream, but her legs almost gave out. Run communications.exe, she tried next. Run backup_gen.exe. Neither worked.
‘Little One, why did you run?’ that voice asked her, rattling around inside her head. Nadema couldn’t stop sweating, and her hands shook like she had some sort of nerve damage. Something cold and hard dug into her spine.
RESYNC IN PROGRESS, her systems trilled. BOOT CONFIGURATION AT 74%. WARNING, MULTIPLE EXTERNAL ERRORS DETECTED. IONIC EXPOSURE EXCEEDS RECOMMENDED SAFETY LIMITS. CRITICAL SYSTEMS MALFUNCTION IN PROGRESS. PLEASE RETURN TO THE NEAREST DREADNOUGHT FOR IMMEDIATE REPAIRS.
Nadema gagged, coughing so violently she spat out blood. It was black, too.
“Okay,” she told herself. Her words echoed in on themselves, like her voice box was broken. Nadema’s gaze darted back and forth, from the blood flecking the grass to the sun above. “Okay, you can do this. Find a dreadnought.” Mission first. Family second. Self last. The directive was hard-coded from birth.
‘Why did you run?’ the voice asked again.
“I don’t know,” she replied, swallowing thickly against the sand. She put a hand to the front of her throat, where the armor was still mostly intact, but beneath its carapace-styled shell her skin felt bruised, too. The wind moaned and the poppies danced.
No one answered her.
Once the resync was complete, Nadema hit execute on her systems check with a fervor, cataloguing outside information at unsafe speeds as she attempted to sift through the synesthetic overload that ricocheted around her brain. Something was definitely wrong.
INTERIOR SPINE INTACT, the report came back. She kept on walking. IRREGULARITIES WITH EXTERIOR SPINE DETECTED. HEAD OPERATIONAL. LIMBS ATTACHED. IONIC SHIELDING NON-OPERATIONAL. MULTIPLE ARMOR BREACHES DETECTED. MULTIPLE CRITICAL MALFUNCTIONS DETECTED. CONTUSIONS TO THE LEFT PARIETAL BONE, SQUAMOUS SUTURE, OPTIC CANAL, ATLAS AND AXIS. RIGHT FALSE RIBS EIGHT-TO-TEN FRACTURED.
The list went on and on, until Nadema shut it off.
The accident must have been bad, she decided, trying to dampen her anxiety. She’d been in accidents before and she’d always made it out okay. Seeing double—and tripping over her own feet—she ticked off her list of objectives. She needed help, but out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by poppies she was vulnerable. A queasy feeling in her gut told her that no one thought she was coming back.
You work best as a team, she reminded herself, and she continued to march through the poppies. Teams have food, and water, and communications terminals. Find yourself a new one. They’ll be at a dreadnought. She had no problems asking for help when she needed it, nor was she picky with the source.
The numbers trekking across her vision were mostly junk, filled with urgent warnings about failing organs and ionic contamination. One of them—THIS UNIT IS SUFFERING FROM ADVANCED MULTI-SYSTEM FAILURE, PLEASE RETURN TO THE NEAREST DREADNOUGHT FOR IMMEDIATE REPAIRS—repeated more frequently than the rest, but she ignored it. So long as her spine was intact and her head was attached to her body, her nanites would try to fix the damage. She just had to make it to a repair station before the damage got worse, or—Father forbid—decay set in. If she did that she would survive, Nadema was sure. Her protigenitor had always said she was good at adapting.
Some of the other data was still good.
Nadema knew that the external temperature was three hundred and twenty-two degrees Kelvin. Her internal barometer told her that her body temperature was five degrees lower than normal. The wind travelled at ten knots, threading in from the northeast. She also knew that the nearby star’s name was Gogam from the charts stored in her datahive, and that it would set in sixteen hours. The rest of her memories were scattered and discombobulated, bleeding into each other in a catastrophic tangle. Her instincts told her that if she followed the edge of the field she might find an escape. Escape was a new word of hers, and like all data she found relevant Nadema hoarded it. She clung to information about herself, too.
The crimson armor that covered her body from chin to toe was severely damaged, bordering on useless. A memory warned her that it’s distinctive color would give her away. No one had found her after her accident, so she was probably in hostile territory and would have been better off ditching it in an effort to blend in, but Nadema had spent her entire life in metal. She felt naked without it, so she kept it on.
‘Be careful who you talk to,’ the voice warned. ‘They’ll kill you.’
“I know,” she said. It made her feel a little less lonely, to talk to the emptiness. Her tremors and the sweats were getting worse.
The giant star remained steady. Nadema smelled dirt and dust and the perfume of poppies. She saw no signs to indicate any sort of civilization. No sounds of life other than the whir of the flies. She walked west for a time, because west was home and when in doubt it was the direction they were trained to follow. When west brought her nothing but grass and more grass Nadema decided there was nothing to be gained by following that particular rule and changed her course to march east instead. She trudged for hours, but when east yielded nothing she grit her teeth against the pain in her legs and went northwest, towards the day-wards trajectory of the star. Gogam was huge and its core was decaying, but its path was slow and predictable. The days are always like this, even though the star’s a bit closer, she told herself. Your internal navigation is fried.
The internal warning signals from her HUD went off again. THIS UNIT IS SUFFERING FROM ADVANCED MULTI-SYSTEM FAILURE, it trumpeted. PLEASE RETURN TO THE NEAREST DREADNOUGHT FOR IMMEDIATE REPAIRS.
Nadema swatted at her head. It can’t be that bad, she thought. Advanced multi-system failure was something that happened to other people. Weaker people who were not her, or people who were not her father’s favorite.
‘My beautiful girl,’ someone whispered from her memories.
The warning persisted. Nadema reached up, ripping open the skin behind her ear and removing a soft white wire to sever it between her nails. After that, there was perfect silence. The visual glitches were still there, but the noise was not.
“Complete the mission,” she chanted. A half-remembered song came back to her in the newfound silence: a lullaby. Nadema began humming it as she stayed along an unerringly straight path, following the pre-planned trajectory in her head. Eventually her marching led her to another edge of the field. She didn’t realize it was there at first, so wrapped up she was in studying a star map that she’d recovered from her local datahive.
This system has one star, she mused, looking over the chart in her head with her second set of pupils. She had three in either eye, and could focus on multiple data points at once—reports were easy enough to run in the background on minimal power. She took another step. This system has three planets, but it used to have nine. Where did the others go?
A sudden drop-off into open air greeted her internal question. She’d reached the edge. Nadema cursed, scrabbling backwards to keep herself from tumbling over the side.
Ahead of her the land sheared off into an abyss. The air crackled with static behind a storm front that was as opaque as a vat of aging soup. Nadema looked down at the expanse of open air, and a crushing whiteness flashed through her memory, leaving her stricken. Her breath clutched in her throat and she swayed to the side as her mind curled in on itself. It reminded her of the pale light that had come before. Of falling.
WARNING, ARMOR BREACH.
In her mind’s eye she saw it: exploding ships, planets shattering into a sea of dust. A monolithic tenor spoke to her through the silence of the Void, but the memories were not her own. She couldn’t control the input. These aren’t my memories, she reminded herself, breathing too hard, but it didn’t work. They’re someone else’s. Not yours, never yours, don’t panic, it’s just a virus. They’re not yours, abort, abort, run abort.exe--
‘But these are your memories,’ the voice said. ‘Or did you forget that too?’
The world around her flickered into blackness, oscillating like the light between the blades in an exhaust fan. Nadema stumbled and her left ankle gave out. She vomited. I can’t be sick, she thought as she sunk to the ground. I’m never sick. She passed out then, limbs akimbo and bile on her lips.
When Nadema woke up it was still midday and the star was at its zenith. She was sprawled on her stomach, her left arm and leg dangling over the side of the cliff.
RESYNC IN PROGRESS, her HUD warned. BOOT CONFIGURATION AT 13%.
Nadema bit down on her tongue, clenching her fingers against the grass. The skin along her back burned beneath the star’s relentless glare.
Remember your training, she told herself as the resync completed, fighting back tears. Find yourself a new unit. Go home and get repairs. You’ll feel better soon.
What training? something inside her screamed. What repairs?! You’re decaying!
I’m not. I can’t be. People like her didn’t decay.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,