My NaNoWriMo Novel: Heartsong (The First Chapter)
My third National Novel Writing Month has finally ended, and it’s been an exciting experience! I’ve braved the 4:30 alarm clock almost every weekday morning, gained motivation and focus from word wars and sprints with other authors online, and squeezed writing into almost every spare moment I’ve had in the month of November. And now that it’s over, I have just over 97,000 words under my belt, plus a completed rough draft of my new young adult science fiction novel, Heartsong. I’ve enjoyed every step of this journey with my characters, especially when new characters not in the original outline decided to jump in and join the adventure. 

I can hardly wait to dive back into the story from the beginning and start editing and touching things up, but alas, that will have to wait. The Gladiator and the Guard (the novel I drafted for last year’s NaNoWriMo and the sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach) is next in line, since I’m hoping to publish it in the spring. The fourth book of my Annals of Alasia series, tentatively titled King of Malorn, is next. 

But in the meantime, for anyone who’s curious, below is the first chapter of Heartsong. (Please bear in mind that it’s still a pretty rough draft – just a sneak preview for those who are interested, and not the final polished version.) Many thanks to my many Facebook friends who have already contributed with helpful hints about the science involved – I’m sure I’ll have lots more questions in a few months when I get back to working on it, since this is my first foray into science fiction!

Screenshot of my Word Count Page on the NaNoWriMo Site

Heartsong
Chapter 1

My love of reading started the whole thing.

The best place to read on the Laika was on the lifeboats. I had discovered that on the first part of the trip, during the flight from Earth to the jump point by Phoebe. I mean, what else is there to do when you’re not close enough to any planet or moon to see much through the viewports? The view is exciting when there is one, but when you’re far away from anything, space all looks the same.

The hyperspace jump had been quick, of course, so no time to get bored there. And after we came out of it at the jump point by Somav, the flight toward Soma I was pretty exciting, too. I couldn’t stop staring as we passed Somavia, the blue and gray and white planet none of us would probably ever see that close again. It was awesome to think of the aliens who lived there and wonder what they were really like. The few decent pictures taken by the Forerunner left everyone asking more questions than they answered. And what about the planet itself? Of course we knew it was cold, being further from Somav than Earth is from our Sun. But it did have a thin but breathable atmosphere. If it hadn’t been for the alien race who already lived there — and the tirtellium that we were going to mine on Soma I — The Corporation might have decide to set up the Colony on Somavia instead of on its moon.

But we had passed Somavia three days ago, and we had been in orbit around Soma I ever since. Which was also exciting at first. I couldn’t wait to get to my new home — my permanent home. A home I would never have to leave again, never be taken away from just when I was starting to settle in. A home that I would get to help put together, along with the scientists and the miners and the rest of the Young Colonists.

The moon was prettier to look at than the planet, though not by an awful lot. It was brown and gray, with little splotches of green and blue here and there where the lakes were. There wasn’t much water, no actual oceans, but enough to support a little plant and animal life. Nothing too dangerous, at least as far as we could tell from the Forerunner’s pictures. Some fish and crustaceans that might or might not turn out to be edible to humans. Some amphibian or maybe reptilian creatures that lived in and around the lakes. Insects and a handful of different mammals, all tiny, that lived on the plains. Nothing likely to bother two hundred human colonists setting up a new home on their world.

Of course, there were the Somavian miners. We knew the Somavians had developed a limited form of space travel; we knew they had mines on Soma I too. But whatever they were mining for, it wasn’t tirtellium, and it was only in a few little spots relatively close together. We planned to set up our colony hundreds of miles away, where with any luck, they wouldn’t even know we were around. Forerunner’s sensors had not detected any other artificial satellites in orbit around either Somavia or Soma I, and as far as we knew, they had no way of knowing Forerunner was there or that we were coming.

The adults all said that hopefully we would never even have to see any Somavians, but every kid in the group hoped we would. I mean, why would anyone not want to see aliens? Anyway, from the Forerunner’s pictures, they sure seemed to be a peaceful culture, with no evidence of any wars going on down on their home world. If they did find out about us being on their moon, hopefully they wouldn’t get mad. We wouldn’t bother them, and hopefully they wouldn’t bother us. If they did get mad, well, the Laika did have some weapons. Not a lot, but enough to defend ourselves if we absolutely had to.

Of course the two hundred of us on board could hardly wait to get down there and get started with our new life. But here we were stuck in orbit, as we had been for the last three days. Three painfully long and boring days. Earth days, that is; it had been nearly five Soman days.

Atmospheric storms and solar flares. No one had anticipated that they would go on this long. At first, I was glad of the opportunity to orbit the moon and see what it was like. I had an aisle seat, though, and it was a pain to lean past three people just to see out the window. And after a while, when everyone’s excitement faded, most of them turned grouchy as they got more and more bored and impatient. The movies and games preloaded on our tablets just weren’t good enough to keep everyone happy for that long when the adventure we’d waited over a year to start was being put on hold, and I’d never been a big fan of video games and movies anyway.

So I did what I usually do when real people get too annoying. I pulled out my Kindle and turned to my true friends, the ones who would always be there for me, who I never had to say goodbye to. And I went to the one place I had found on board where nobody would bother me or interrupt my adventures to ask what I was reading or exclaim over their new high score in who-cares-what-virtual-adventure.

The Laika was designed to be taken apart when we arrived. Its decking and bulkheads would be used to help create the buildings in the colony until we could create more permanent buildings from local rock, and that was one of the reasons it was so large. But big though it was, it had no extra empty space. Every compartment was full of freeze-dried food items, mining equipment, packages of seeds for genetically modified crops designed to grow well in the moon’s dry soil, or educational resources for the youth, because even on an interstellar adventure, there was no escaping school in some form. 

So I had discovered in between Earth and Phoebe that the lifeboats were the best place to read. I’m not sure if I was really supposed to be in them, but there was no lock, because after all, what would be the point of locking a place that people would have to get to in a hurry in an emergency?

And so I sat curled up on a seat in one of the lifeboats, alternating reading and looking out the viewport to see if there was anything interesting to see down below. But the lifeboat’s position was such that the window mostly looked out on space, with just a tiny sliver of Soma I visible from one edge. I could have turned on the screen, but that might trigger some sort of alert, and I didn’t want anyone coming to tell me I wasn’t supposed to be in here.

So I traveled with Caz and her friends across the Granbo system, caught up in an imaginary space adventure, since my own real space adventure had been put on hold. It would be at least another two hours until they served lunch, so I might as well get comfy and enjoy myself.

And I did — until the ship vibrated and the fasten seat belts sign flicked on.

For a moment I wondered if I should return to my seat. But what would be the point? I would be just as safe here in the lifeboat, and if the turbulence got bad, it would be a better idea not to walk around the ship with it lurching under me.

I fastened my seatbelt and kept reading. We had encountered turbulence lots of times in the last few days, thanks to the solar flares. It was no big deal.

But the vibrations got stronger, and in a moment the ship really was lurching under me. I set down my Kindle and looked around, not that there was anything to see in the little lifeboat. No clues as to what was going on. But the stars were jumping and jerking outside the window, and if it hadn’t been for my seatbelt, I knew I would have been thrown around and probably injured already. Now I wished I had returned to my seat while I could. Whatever was happening, I would rather face it with the others in the main cabin, where I could hear any announcements from Captain Tyler over the intercom and know what was going on. 

Without warning, the lights in the lifeboat flickered and then went out. At the same moment a blaring alarm started screeching on and off. Now that was a first. I gasped, really worried for the first time since we had left Earth. The stars swirled and zigzagged outside the window, sending faint but frightening shadows thrashing through the escape pod around me like alien spirits trying to take over the ship. For a second I wondered if that could actually be what was happening. Maybe the Somavians had powers we didn’t know about. Maybe they were trying to drive us out of their system.

But then the emergency lights embedded in the deck by my feet glowed to life, and I let out my breath in relief. The navigational computer two rows ahead of me came on automatically, its screen lighting up green. 

My relief was short-lived, though. The alarm was still blaring its warning: Screech! Silence. Screech! Silence. Screech! The turbulence was worse than ever, and now it felt like the Laika was a wild horse, bucking and leaping and trying to throw its rider off. The rider being me, gripping the edge of my seat all alone there in the lifeboat, wondering what in the universe was happening.

Suddenly the stars were gone and Soma I swung into view, filling the viewport ahead of me, a blur of gray-brown-blue-green-brown-gray. I barely had time to stare before it was gone, and the streaking stars were back. Then there was the moon again. My stomach was spinning as fast as the ship. Thank goodness I had inherited the Smith Stomach of Steel, or my breakfast probably would have ended up all around me. I could only imagine what a nasty experience that would be with the ship thrashing all around like this.

A new noise caught my attention. A mechanical noise, a series of clicks and clinks and the sliding of metal against metal. I had only ever heard it before in simulations, but I knew right away what it was. My heart caught in my throat. “No!” Not that there was anyone around to hear me yell.

Words flashed across the computer screen, big enough to read from where I sat. Lifeboat launching.

My heart hammered in terror. “No! I yelled again. I fumbled for the seatbelt clasp and flung myself across the tiny cabin the moment I was free, lunging for the manual override button beside the door. Not a smart move, I have to admit, considering how wildly everything was moving around me, but I was panicking. None of our training, none of the simulations, had dealt with what to do if the lifeboat you were sitting in alone accidentally detached from the ship. 

I knew what to do if a lifeboat didn’t detach when it was supposed to. I knew which lifeboat everyone in my seating section was supposed to board in an emergency. It wasn’t this one, though they were all the same. I knew who my lifeboat buddies would be — a fairly even cross-section of the ship’s crew in terms of age and skills, so everyone would have the best possible chance of survival on the surface in case not every lifeboat made it. I knew how to steer the lifeboat and bring it down for a controlled landing, even though I wasn’t the assigned helmsperson in my group. We had all learned all those things, just in case. 

But what I didn’t know was how to survive on the surface on my own, if the rest of the ship didn’t land close by or shortly after I did. There were emergency rations and survival gear stashed in every lifeboat, of course, but not enough to live off of indefinitely. Of course the lifeboat would emit a signal that the ship’s sensors would pick up — it was picking it up already, I knew, as of the moment the lifeboat had started to detach — but what if they couldn’t come and get me right away? What if they weren’t able to land for days or even weeks? What if I ended up on the opposite side of the moon from where our colony was supposed to be? Our little 4-wheel-drive trucks were designed for carrying tirtellium back from the mining site, and harvested crops from the fields to the settlement. Not for making cross-country trips across rough terrain to the opposite side of the moon to rescue a stranded kid who shouldn’t have been reading in an escape pod in the first place.

And what if the Somavians found me before my own people did?

All that went swirling through my brain in a moment as I slammed my fist into the manual override button again and again. But nothing happened. That is, the hatch didn’t open to let me out into the ship’s corridor. But a second later, the incessant alarm went silent, and the frantic jerking and thrashing stopped, replaced by a slow, gentle twirl. As my feet drifted up off the floor, the dizzy feeling in my tummy told me that the ship’s artificial gravity had stopped working.

No, that wasn’t it. The lifeboat was no longer connected to the ship.

Too horrified even to yell again, I watched the Laika drift across the viewport like a big white bird against the blackness of space, still spinning and dancing as the solar flares played havoc with its electrical systems. And then I saw only stars again, and then the gray-brown of the moon, then more stars. And then there was the Laika once more, further away this time.

I pushed off from the bulkhead, thankful for the zero-gravity training. I had to get to the controls. I had to steer myself back to the ship. But as I grabbed the back of the helmsman’s chair and maneuvered my body into it, I realized I had no idea how to reattach the lifeboat to its port on the side of the ship. They had never taught us that. Were lifeboats even designed to reattach once they were separated?

I grabbed the seatbelt, twisting my ankles around the legs of the chair so I wouldn’t float off it before I could strap myself in. The controls in front of me looked just like the ones in the simulator. I could do this. It would be just the same as I had practiced. 

Except this was no game, where I struggled to beat my classmates, to be the first to land my virtual lifeboat safely. This was a real emergency. 

This was my life at stake.

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One Reply to “My NaNoWriMo Novel: Heartsong (The First Chapter)”

😀 Glad Caz could keep her company!

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