Oh what the heck, I’m feeling generous. I’ve got a few hundred thousand words of writing bouncing around that might never see the greater world of publishing so I’m going to release a little bit of a recent manuscript. This one’s a young adult sci-fi set up in the sky. Here’s the first chapter. If you want more, let me know. To the oddball visitors that just come to the site for a picture of flat-slab structural failure, fine, here it is. For the rest of you, happy reading.
Lira hated how she looked, hated how she felt, stuck between girl and woman like a ship below the Flow and above a thundercloud. She looked at her reflection in a tiny scratched mirror in her cabin, a lamp sputtering out yellow light that danced on her features and painted shadows around her eyes. She braced herself against the wall with one bare leg as the ship bounced through air currents. A few strands of dark brown hair hung like loose lines beneath her skullcap, a knit dome of tan dyed with sweetroot berries. Her face was lengthening and losing the childhood roundness she’d always hated, but she still looked like a girl, which wasn’t fair since she was fourteen already and taller than most of the deckboys on the market ship. But not Cris, she thought with a smile as she rubbed her face with a wet washcloth and wrung it out in a small basin that drained to the outside of the ship through a small vineroot tube. He was taller than her, with blond hair and tan skin and eyes like browned sugar. She looked at the small red dots on her cheeks and forehead. No amount of scrubbing could make them disappear and it was only a few days until trading day. She sighed, brushed her teeth with a small frayed stick of vineroot, and stuck her head out the porthole. The sky was dark and quiet, clouds roiling past in veils of dank grey mist.
She opened her cabin door and stepped into the narrow passageway that connected her cabin with Gran’s and Papa’s. There was a skein of dew on the ground and her bare feet left footprints as she padded over the vinewood plan floor and climbed the ladder up to the middle deck. There was a chill in the air and the portholes were still open, letting in a wash of cool air. It was her favorite time to be up, after everyone else. She climbed the gangway up to the main deck, unlocked the heavy strapped hatch, and carefully let it down on the deck so not to wake anyone. Lira climbed up into the cool night and took a deep breath of the air–cold and damp but reassuring. She stood on the main deck of the Terralion, a farming and water gathering ship with a crew of just three: her, her grandmother, and her father. Between them they handled the ship well but it was a lonely existence and every opportunity to rendezvous with the fleet gave Lira a thrill. Though she’d stopped playing with the younger kids on the other ships once she had real chores to do she still liked the company, and now began to have an eye for the boys of the marketship. They ran lines, climbed rigging, and did errands aboard the massive tubby airship that served as the hub of the fleet.
As she surveyed the clouds around them she thought it was no easy life, living in the sky, but it was a lucky one. They were floating above the thick cloudbank through which nobody ever penetrated. Or at least they never came back to tell about it. Many fell, none returned, that was the saying in the fleet. The sails hung limp and the auto-helm swung in arcs as it searched for a breeze to guide it. She stood with her arms wrapped around her chest to keep warm and thought she heard a faint whistle off in the mist. She angled her head and listened, trying to discern the noise between the creak of the lines and the flap of sails. Nope, she thought, nothing. Then another, far above them now. She looked up through the tails of cloud to a spray of stars above like pinholes in a blanket through which shone celestial light. As she tipped her head back and felt the cool breeze she looked up at the half moon hovering above and wondered what was up that high, a place to which no ship could ever climb. And beyond that moon, those little dots of ice in the sky, were they moons too?
She heard a soft coo and saw Pania, her pet crow, perched on one of the vine outriggers, his body a streamlined spot of inky black, his feathers rustling in the wind. He liked the feeling of movement just like her, she thought with a smile. She walked to the rail and held on, gently swaying as their ship hit a bump of wind and the sails snapped full. If the clouds below were flat, was there an edge? If they were round, would they keep circling forever? Maybe space was…
She jerked her head up hearing a high-pitched whistle much closer. It raised in pitch and volume and by the time she realized what it was, Papa was already running up the gangway two steps at a time. He crossed the deck, not seeing her, and grabbed at the lanyard on the bell clapper, giving it two sharp pulls. The bell sung out twice, its last ring hovering in the air. She heard more whistling noises rushing past them as she ran to her father who jerked back, startled, then held her shoulders with his strong hands and looked upward.
“Droppers. Go down and shut the portholes. All of them.” He pushed her toward the gangway and she slid down in one movement, her palms warming on the worn wood rails. Gran was nowhere to be seen, and there was a whistling noise above them with a flutter. Something close. She looked up to the underside of the buoy fuselage glowing in the moonlight. She shut each porthole and latched it tight, her fingers shaking. Papa had talked about Droppers long ago, telling her of the whistle of their wings, the ferocity of the attack, and they practiced the lockdown drill every lunar cycle. As she got to the porthole by the gallery she saw something race by in the moonlight, a fragment of tan leathery wing, nothing more. She yelped and slammed the porthole just as she heard a thump far above.
“Lira!” Gran called, her head poking up from her cabin hatch, “lock the upper deck!”
“Papa’s up there!”
The whites of Gran’s watery eyes shone in the dim of the ship and Lira felt frozen in place. She couldn’t possibly lock Papa up there with those things.
“Lira!” His voice called out from above, an edge in his deep voice.
She flew up the ladder and up into the breeze of upper deck. The massive buoy fuselage floated overhead and the cool breeze made her hair stand on end.
“Papa, where are you?”
“Up here!” he called out from the larboard fore ladder. He had a long gaff and was thrusting it up over his head at something dark. Something moving.
“Give a roll hard to port and emergency vent dive. Do it now, Lira!”
She jumped up to the helm and grabbed the wheel. It was much harder to turn than when Papa helped her. The ship began to lean, the lines swaying past her but it was too slow. She climbed up on the wheel and began to push the spokes down with her feet while reaching up to the vent levers. She pulled one and a massive hiss was followed by a gentle drop of the ship. She looked up and saw Papa drive his gaff pole up. Then there was a ripping sound and the thing above him began to slide down the fuselage leaving long ragged tears in the fabric envelope. A dropper must’ve stuck knives in the skin to hold on, she thought with a shudder. If he cut through the skin of a buoy…
“Lira, dive harder!”
She yanked down on a second lever and the ship settled down with a sigh and wind whipped her hair against her ears. They were going down fast. The ripping continued then Papa grunted and flung the Dropper out into space. For a moment his body was illuminated, a man in a winged contraption with a gas tube in his mouth and starlight glinting from his goggles. He made no sound as he tumbled down into the clouds below.
It was silent but for the rush of wind in the rigging. Papa climbed down, stowed the pole, and took the helm. Lira climbed down from the wheel and he put his hand on her shoulder.
“Now go below and stoke the kettles,” he said in a low voice, “we’ve got some climbing to make up.”
He flipped several levers, spun the wheel, and worked the foot pedals until they were in a gentle climb again. Lira stood motionless, her hands white-knuckled as she gripped the port-side rail.
“Lira, do as I say. The danger’s over now.”
She nodded and walked over to the main hatch. She began to slide down the rails but her legs were too wobbly, adrenaline surging through her. Best to walk down. Gran was braced in her chair in the galley. She motioned to Lira who came over, dropped to her knees, and began to cry into her lap. Gran smoothed her hair and hushed.
“You done good, girl. They’re gone now.”