Meant to fight to the death, Naya betrays her people and is forced to go on the run with the boy she was supposed to kill. #pitprom
Naya Tambor trained her whole life to navigate the sentient landscape of her Indoor city. She works harder than any of her fellow cadets to earn her place within NSDE, the militarized agency that governs her city, but she’s still the last in her class to complete her courses. Naya’s willing to do anything to finally find a place where she belongs. Unfortunately, her final test is a fight to the death, gladiator style, against Zayn – a boy whose only crime is being born another species of human and getting caught. Naya not only fails to follow through, she ends up breaking the city’s most sacred law.
Knowing she’ll be punished for treason, Naya allies with Zayn and together they manage to escape. When Zayn reveals to her his people’s home – a hidden pocket of ‘Outside,’ unseen, in the middle of the city – Naya’s act of ultimate betrayal ends up being her saving grace. She finds herself warming to Zayn and the others despite her inherited prejudices but when she unintentionally reveals their location, NSDE is quick to attack. It is up to Naya to save her new friends and decide, once and for all, just how much she is willing to give to belong.
iNSiDE is a YA, dystopian novel that combines elements of V.E. Schwab’s, THIS SAVAGE SONG, with Michelle Kenney’s, THE BOOK OF FIRE. Complete at 78,000 words, iNSiDE is a standalone novel with series potential.
An architect turned writer, I exchanged Florida’s constant sunshine for Scotland’s more temperamental clouds in order to pursue my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. I have an essay published by Gilded Dirt and won third prize for the Mountaineering Scotland Short Story Competition.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Sally A Gales
FIRST TEN PAGES:
I didn’t really look at them anymore – I doubted anyone in Ipsam did - but with a giant, blinding screen on every corner it was hard not to see them.
TOUCH is forbidden.
If required, visit the LICENSING OFFICE in W.Q. for an application.
All applicants will be processed in the order in which they are received.
As always, crowds thronged the Main Corridor. Mothers herded children; workers rushed, late to work; NSDE officers patrolled the hall. The make-up of the crowds varied depending on the time of day but the volume of bodies was a constant. There’s only so much space in an Indoor city. Ipsam’s overcrowding prompted the first law to be put into place – that and it helped control the spread of disease that ran rampant when the city was first enclosed.
The Mainc cut straight through Ipsam from one end to another. In a city of constantly shifting spaces and winding corridors, the its stable, straightforwardness made it the most convenient and popular means of travel. Despite the fact that everyone in the hall managed to keep a one-foot radius of air around their body at all times, my throat tightened. There were too many people. I normally avoided the Mainc - I didn’t do well in confined spaces – ironic growing up Indoors, I know.
From a screen on my left, General Gunn smiled at me reassuringly.
Report any and all sightings of the OLD GREEN.
Do not TOUCH suspected growths.
Suggested contact with specimens will result in immediate quarantine.
I shuffled along with the crowd – willing them to move faster, knowing it was physically impossible – and tilted my head back slightly for a fraction of air. Thank chib, I was taller than most. I scanned either side of the relentless white walls for a break to no avail. Perfect, solid surface lined the corridor, rising high over our heads. The occasional seam of a door or the even rarer window provided temporary relief from the assault of blankness but even the windows always looked into more white walls. The tops of the buildings seemed to disappear into the brightness of the skeiling as the walls themselves seemed just about to topple inward. My vision swam.
I tried to think of something else – distract myself – but that moment of weakness allowed what I’d truly been dreading to jump to the forefront of my mind – tonight’s Final Bleeding. Panic took over my body. I turned to the screens, refusing to blink despite the tears lining my eyes, and forced myself to recall everything I learned about the Old Green.
Supposedly they’d been insidious. With the ability to grow just about anywhere and the number of mutations they manifested, it was a wonder the EMAS virus had been able to overpower it at all. No images survived pre-EMAS so I still had no idea what one looked like, but the Academy forced us to memorize the descriptions of all varieties on file – just in case. A part of me still wished I could see one, nothing threatening, mind you, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. There hadn’t been a sighting in decades.
The Mainc banked left and I followed the surge, passing a window to nowhere and a rectangular depression, a few inches deep. In the distance, the glossy white exterior of the Academy winked at me. The tallest building in Ipsam – the place I grew up in – it remained visible from every public space and corridor. Today, especially, it seemed like I couldn’t get away. The Final Bleeding would be held there tonight.
My feet tripped over themselves and I lurched forward. All around me, people gasped, trying to escape my flailing arms. Directly in front, though, a woman’s wide eyes stared at our impending collision. Just as I convinced myself I’d violate Ipsam’s number one law on the same day as my final exam, my training kicked in. With a quick thrust of my knees, I lunged forward to catch my momentum and locked my core to come to a halt. An inch from the woman’s face, I watched surprise flow into anger but not before transitioning through fear. It took two to touch. NSDE would have charged both of us equally if…
“You…” she sputtered at me before looking to the crowds. “Sh-she…”
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” I mumbled, carefully backing away.
No one stopped. The flow of traffic continued, glaring at us for standing still, taking up valuable commuting space. The woman shot me one last scathing glance and then continued on her way. I waited until she was well out of sight before moving forward again.
Keep to NSDE APPROVED corridors, sectors and spaces.
All APPROVED spaces will be marked by the NSDE Seal.
If in doubt, contact the NSDE Officer assigned to your sector.
My face burned – worsening my claustrophobia. I needed to get out. Just then, an opening appeared in the wall to my left. I scanned the threshold for an NSDE seal; the white wall was unmarked. I knew the rules dictated I should keep walking but I needed an escape.
Trusting the flow of traffic to avoid me, I turned straight towards the hall. One goal in mind, I didn’t bother to slow down or hide my intentions. I knew from previous experience, no one would care what I did. If I wanted to risk breaking the rules, no one would risk their neck to stop me. As I tore away from the Mainc and slipped into the new corridor, the screens behind me flipped to the final law.
SPIRAVITS are to be avoided at all cost.
Keep your distance. Stay alert.
Refusal to comply will result in swift action.
At first glance, the new corridor resembled every other space in Ipsam, a combination of smooth, grey floors, untextured, white walls, and the ever present, backlit skeiling. Spaces in the city were so similar, mistaking one for another remained a constant, annoying occurrence. This hallway, however, differed from every other space by the fact that not a single person occupied it. Overcrowding was a way of life in Ipsam. It happened in the halls, classrooms, shops, schools – even living quarters, where people shared their homes with other families. Being completely alone anywhere in Ipsam was an unheard-of rarity. I chanced entering the unsanctioned corridors – NSDE did not take kindly to rulebreakers – but for one minute of solitude, I didn’t mind taking the risk. Filling my lungs with air, I loosened the vise I’d kept on my muscles.
Random bits of metal were scattered along the floor and odd marks marred the walls’ surface - EMAS’s detritus. The only sign of the space’s youth, every stray mark and bit would be wiped clean as soon as NSDE got their hands on it. It was their job to transform this hall into yet another nondescript place in the city. Kicking a metal cylinder, I wondered if that task would fall to me, assuming I graduated in the first place.
I knew I could probably do it. I didn’t know if I would enjoy it – there was something about these spaces that intrigued me - but it wouldn’t matter. It would be worth it to finally find somewhere where I belonged. There had to be at least one job within NSDE that I was qualified for – just one.
I wandered, unseeing, down the corridor. I enjoyed these spaces, where for a few seconds I could let my guard down and just move. Normally, thoughtless rambling calmed my mind; it was the closest I’d ever gotten to a meditative state. That day, though, as much as I tried, my thoughts would not be ignored. I sighed.
It didn’t matter that I probably had more experience with unsanctioned corridors than my classmates combined. Or that I worked harder than all of them to earn and keep my spot in the class. No one cared that I grew up in the Academy. I wasn’t immune from protocol. Tonight, was my final exam. Let’s call it for what it was - it was my last chance. Pass or fail tonight my entire future would be determined. It was just one task – just one kill…
My toe caught on a bit in the floor and I stumbled. Bending over grabbing my knees, I struggled to control my erratic breathing. I counted backwards from a hundred. I visualized happy thoughts. I tried…but my mind always came back to the Final Bleeding. Red consumed my vision and my hands shook.
Oh chib, I had to get a hold of myself. This could not happen tonight – not in front of everyone. Digging my fingers into my thighs I focused on the pain, ignoring the bruises that would be there in the morning. I’d trained for this moment for ten years. Everyone in my class had already done it.
I took a breath to calm my nerves and my muscles went taught. The air brightened, turning slightly sweet. Scraping my tongue along my teeth, I curled it into the roof of my mouth. The air within Ipsam was filtered and released through strategically placed vents in the skeiling. It didn’t have an aroma or flavor. I took another breath. Fainter this time, the flavor was definitely still there. Cautiously, I straightened and surveyed the space.
Untamed and unsanctioned, new corridors could change at any second or worse – they could pop out of existence as quickly as they appeared. When EMAS first hit, those wild spaces claimed at least half the population. Entry was forbidden for a reason.
Edging my toe along the floor, I kept my senses alert. I was in too deep. My only chance was to move forward and hope I didn’t hit a dead end. Keeping my steps silent, I barely breathed, hoping in vain that the corridor wouldn’t notice me, spook and disappear. I winced at a sudden scratching noise.
The floor around me flickered like the screens before switching to a new image. As I watched, small, loose, irregular orbs filled in the empty space around my feet. I ran a hand across my face, but the image remained the same. Every now and then, a blink would bring my floor – solid, grey resin – back to the forefront but even then, I could still see a faint ghost of the spheres beyond. I took a step back, cringing at the noise of the orbs rubbing against one another, despite the fact that my foot landed on Ipsam flooring.
I didn’t understand. Then I saw him.
The Spiravit materialized in the corridor behind me. A bit taller than me, his blind eyes seemed to search the air for something as he took a step forward. His shoes kicked the spheres haunting my vision, scattering them in my direction. I skipped out of the way and turned to retreat when I froze. It was exactly as the Academy had described.
Encased in a pilaster, the Old Green barely stood a few inches tall. This specimen had a slender, green stalk supporting, four oval-shaped protrusions but it lacked the colorful topper we’d been told about – I think a Corporal had called them fowers. Similar to the floor, it faded in and out of my sight.
I backed away, forgetting the Spiravit behind me. I never thought I’d actually see an Old Green – no one really did - and for the life of me I couldn’t recall how far their danger extended. I retreated until my foot slipped and a noise sounded behind me – directly behind me. I didn’t want to look back; I couldn’t avoid it. Slowly rounding on my heel, I found myself staring directly into the Spiravit’s blank, white eyes.
I quickly jumped out of reach and cleared my throat before calling out. “I am Cadet Tambor of the NDSE. Show me your identification, immediately.” My hands trembled at my side but thank chib my voice was steady.
Everyone knew Spiravits were blind, so I knew he couldn’t see my Academy uniform. He should have instantly cowered at the mention of NDSE. My plan should have worked – but it didn’t. The Spiravit took a step towards me.
“Stop. Show me your identification.”
He shuffled forward.
“Spiravit!” My voice cracked and the rest of the words died in my throat.
Scrambling back, I tripped over my feet despite years of agility training. The Spiravit floated towards me faster than I could run. He slowly lifted his hand towards me. The cuff of his sleeve pulled back, revealing a series of constellations of freckles across the back of his hand and forearm. They stopped abruptly at the first knuckle of his hands – then I noticed the tips of his fingers. Pale green stained his skin.
I stared at his fingertips, not sure what would actually happen if they touched me. Sure, as kids, we would tell ghost stories in the bunks but none of us actually knew.
I retreated further slamming against something solid – a wall.
My heart dropped.
I had reached a dead end.
The Spiravit stopped two paces in front of me, hand outstretched. A halo of blue ringed his white eyes, and a mop of dirty, uneven, auburn hair fell over half his face. He seemed to look right at me, despite his handicap. Opening his mouth, I watched words flicker across his face before his mouth turned into a surprised ‘o’ and he collapsed into a heap of gangly limbs at my feet.
“We have the threat contained. Suspect in custody.”
NSDE officers burst into the corridor and understanding took hold. Circling the Spiravit, they placed a thin, gold band around his neck. I knew it would stop the suspect from dematerializing but as it locked in place, a spasm wracked his body. I frowned.
“Is that hurting him?”
I found myself staring down the barrels of five stun guns and froze with my hands up. A voice spoke up through one of the helmets. “Anything else to report, Alpha?”
The team’s alpha sighed. “There’s an unauthorized cadet.” Lifting his hands, I knew his identity before he finished unlatching his helmet. Kaven stared at me with disappointment as he finished, “We’re bringing her in with the suspect.”
Quiet blanketed the Compound with the exception of a few younger cadets scurrying between buildings. Usually teeming with bodies running to and from training, the sudden lack of people unsettled me. I had to swallow twice to release the lump in my throat. I hadn’t realized the passage of time. The absence of people could only mean one thing – they were all gathering, preparing to watch the show.
Our escort split into two without a word or signal. The squadron dragged the Spiravit away down a narrow corridor. I knew that particular hall led towards a cluster of angular buildings off limit to Academy students, but I had no idea what went on in them. I paused for a second, wondering what might to happen to him. More importantly, why did I care?
Kaven cleared his throat. Starting, I followed him along the other hall.
“What were you thinking, Naya?”
I’d been wondering when he would finally crack. Then again, Kaven always was the master of self-control. I looked up at the blank helmet staring straight ahead, searching for any sign of the boy who used to sit with me at meals. The smooth expanse of white covering his skull sat on his shoulders, revealing nothing. Was it heavy?
“You know cadets aren’t allowed in unsanctioned corridors. And you know better than to let yourself be cornered by a Spiravit. What if the space had vanished? What if it had been a trap? What if…”
I flushed. We hadn’t spoken so bluntly with one another since he’d graduated last year. I opened my mouth to try to explain but it hung open with answers he’d never understand. He didn’t have to participate in the program’s last chance protocol. He’d always been first in his class - the youngest Alpha in the history of the organization.
No, Kaven wouldn’t understand the choking nerves. He wouldn’t get the desperate need to get away – to think – to try to figure out how to survive. Kaven only understood one thing: rules. He never questioned a rule or command; it was the secret to his success. It was a wonder he’d ever been my friend.
“Maybe I’d been thinking that if I was caught by the savages, I would be excused from tonight…”
The joke slipped out of me before I could reel it back in. Kaven’s helmet whipped in my direction and I could almost see the shock and disgust distorting his features.
“This isn’t a joke. When are you going to grow up and start taking things seriously, for once in your life, Nay? What do you think they would do to you if it’d actually touched you? Are you really trying to get kicked out? Now? When you’re so close? Don’t you want to graduate…”
Of course, I wanted to graduate.
We passed the youngest recruits’ barracks, squat, rounded buildings with low windows. Like the Mainc, the Compound was another static area of the city. One of the first places hit by EMAS virus, it had settled with time – as all spaces eventually did. Of course, every now and then a new recruit would be surprised by a missing door or a lengthening hallway – always at the most inconvenient times – but for the most part it remained stagnant and reliable.
I leaned forward slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the rooms where I’d spent the first few years of my life. Unlike the rest of my class – the rest of the recruits – I’d literally grown up here. Recruits are volunteered at five; my Corporal found me as baby left on the front steps.
You’d think being raised by Corporals, rules, and regimen, I’d have all the advantages a recruit could ask for and you’d be right. I looked up at Kaven and couldn’t help but think - that should have been me.