I’ve released my next story, The Things We Do. Below are the prologue and first chapter from the book for you to read. The Things We Do is a science fiction novella that is set in a far off planet system that is in the throes of civil unrest. It revolves around a young woman Lone Honora, who’s been caught stealing money from her employer to cover her mother’s medical expenses. After being sent to jail, Lone must see out the next two years while her mother’s health declines and the encroaching civil war on a neighbouring planet ramps up.
The Texta Four, a small transport spaceship, rested on an open grassy field adjacent to a series of opulent houses. One house, whose wide back door steps descended gracefully down and seemingly melted into the ground, was just feet from the ship. These grand houses had so far been left untouched by the civil war, but at the current rate of hostilities, it may not survive the year.
A small child with wavy blonde hair, nearing four years, looked about her. Something wasn’t right, but she didn’t know what. She recognised the people around her, but they were acting differently. Nervous, afraid, silent. The woman who was holding her hand squeezed too hard. She looked up to Nanna Lou, her brown hair was streaked with just enough grey to show her age. The fifty something-year-old was staring attentively at the small ship.
Shielding her eyes from the setting sun, the child asked, ‘Where we going?’
Nanna Lou looked down. Her very freckled face was hard. Sharp cheekbones, square jaw, with prominent wrinkles on her forehead. She knelt and said,
‘We’re running away from the monsters Isla.’ Then after a pause said, ‘You’ll be safe with me.’ She stood back up and turned to a woman, younger by fifteen years.
‘Mama,’ Isla reached out with her free hand.
‘You have to go with Nanna Lou now. She’ll be looking after you until you get to your father.’ This woman had a round face and her features were soft from a lifetime of comfort.
‘So, you’re not coming then?’ Nanna Lou ask.
‘No, it’ll just take up a seat meant for another child.’ She placed her hand on her belly. Isla was going to have a baby brother in a few months. ‘Take good care of her.’
Nanna Lou nodded. A child in the crowd started crying. Isla looked around to see who it was, but the bodies of adults and other children blocked her. Then people started to move.
‘Time to go Isla,’ the child’s mother kissed her on the hand. ‘Be good and listen to Lou. She’ll protect you. I’ll be right behind you on the next ship.’
Isla began moving with the crowd, there was a sense of urgency. She looked back and saw that her mother was waving goodbye. Isla waved out of habit. Though she was too young to fully grasp what was going on, she knew that she was going up into space. Then she was inside the small ship, though it was quite large to her. People began to thin out as they made their way along the corridor and off into side rooms.
‘Sit here,’ Lou commanded as they came to a series of seats in a quieter part of the ship. Isla sat and waited with arms raised to be strapped in, but that didn’t happen. She watched as Lou looked around her and then took off her backpack, placing it on the seat beside her. Isla saw her yellow plush toy be taken out and she reached out to receive it.
‘This isn’t for you anymore.’ Lou’s tone was surprisingly harsh as she placed the toy under the chair. She then sat next to the girl. Lou was breathing heavily and as she gripped the hand rests, her veins bulged.
‘Don’t worry Nanna. Those monsters aren’t going to get us here. You said they can’t follow us in space.’
Nanna Lou coughed out a laugh. They jerked in their seats as the ship rose off the ground and after some turbulence, everything became calm. The girl watched Nanna Lou crawl at the armrest and the beads of sweat get bigger. Then she turned and said, ‘Come on time to go.’
Grabbing Isla’s hand and tugging her off her seat, she guided her along the brown wooden panelled corridor heading back towards the entrance. The conversations of the other people mixed into one another. Nanna Lou stopped at a door. The girl looked at the large red letters.
‘What do they say?’ she said looking up at Lou, who now had beads of sweat on her face. She didn’t say anything as she pulled down a lever. The door popped open and a voice over the radio sounded. ‘Emergency door four has been opened.’
‘Get inside,’ Nanna Lou said as she pushed Isla forward, almost knocking her over. The woman followed and closed the door behind them. There was banging behind her and Isla saw Lou looking at two angry men’s faces from the door window. Lou pulled down another lever and after a jolt turned away from them. ‘Buckle yourself in,’ she commanded.
Isla sat on a chair and found that she could do what Nanna Lou wanted. She looked up at saw that there were now more people. They looked so angry, so scary. They must be the monsters trying to hurt her, but Lou was going to save her. They continued to pound on the glass, but she couldn’t hear their thumps anymore. And their faces grew smaller, eventually, she could the ship was surrounded by black.
She turned to look at Lou who was now seated in the pilot’s chair. It looked like they were skirting along the edge of the planet with no destination in mind.
‘Where are we going?’ There was a period of silence before Lou turned around. ‘We’re running away from those monsters Isla.’ She stood up and handed the girl a small rectangular object that had a rounded end. ‘Press it and see what happens.’
The girl pressed a button on the end of it. ‘It isn’t doing anything.’
‘I guess it’s a dud,’ but Lou’s eyes wandered over to the small window. In the distance, a small blip of light ignited on the edge of the mesosphere layer. The Texta Four was no more. Then she returned her gaze to the front and moved the steering wheel left. They turned back towards the planet. The girl saw bare, grey mountains approaching.
The image on the screen was of a small spaceship rocketing down through some clouds, a thick trail of black smoke followed in its wake. It was the sole focus of the news report. The image of the ship was zoomed in on and once pixilation occurred it zoomed out. The image had been captured on a personal video camera from someone on the ground.
‘This is the only visual record we have the of Texta Four’s destruction.’ The female voiceover was serious. A banner at the bottom of the screen had the slow-moving phrases of Anniversary of the Vauban Disaster and Anniversary of the Texta Four Incident.
The image was replaced with a picturesque scene of a lush green leafy crop, but the centre held a burnt out and smouldering crater, the final resting place of the remains of the ship. ‘The only wreckage found was a few chunks that had fallen off prior to its crash. Presumed to be brought down by a suicide bomber the impact and subsequent incineration meant that very few remains of both the ship and its passengers were recovered.’ Another image, this time of the field in the present day saw that it was for the most part still active farmland. Flowers and makeshift shrines had been placed along the fence and there were people holding a remembrance ceremony.
The screen changed to a series of large, white, bulbous spaceships as they sat in space. It was an old stock image, used multiple times to show the strength of the military stationed in the Allicarus Region of space.
‘In the subsequent years following this terrorist attack, the Democratic Alliance’s retaliation, led by Captain Pan of the Vision, who has continuously received criticism at his response, especially considering his personal involvement in the situation. . . .’
Lone looked up from her metal food tray on the table and turned to face the screen. She knew this story intimately. . . and had no sympathy for the man that had been the root cause of all the problems in her life. She slumped in her chair, sliding her tray to the side and rested her head in her arms on the table.
The communal tea room was quiet, but even with her eyes closed, Lone could still see everything. The two-toned walls of dark green and grey-white, the white tiled floor that was occasionally broken up with a green one. The rectangular room was twelve meters by twenty-five and there were no windows except on the east side which gave a bland view of the opposing grey apartment building.
When she had first come to this planet she was in awe of how nice it was to simply see intact buildings. The people here were very lucky to have lockable doors, running water, electricity and most importantly no fear of the dark. Now she wondered how the residents in the buildings around them manage to keep their sanity every time they looked out their windows. Especially since it was her workplace, The Nova Vita Democratic Alliance Military Administrative Headquarters, that they constantly saw. Thankfully she and her family hadn’t been assigned to one of those apartment complexes upon their arrival.
A young man entered the cafeteria and saw Lone hunched over a table in the centre of the room. He had seen that she had been stressed from earlier. He could see that she still was and the closer he approached the sorrier he felt for her.
He sat down opposite her, she didn’t acknowledge his presence and still rested on the table looking at the news on the TV. A fork twirling in her hand. He stared at the part in her hairline. It was perplexing, was she losing hair from stress? He thought he could see more of her pale scalp. Bok knew that saying something about her appearance would prompt a response from her. ‘I didn’t know your hair was wavy.’
Lone twitched and touched her hair, still facing away from him.
‘Yeah, I’ve always straightened it because I don’t like it this way.’
‘Well, I like it natural. You should wear it more like that. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing against not having straightened hair in the regulations.’
She turned to him and he saw her sad face. Her brown eyes were streaked with red veins. Then painfully slow she sat back up and rubbed her face.
‘It’s not the end of the world,’ he said trying to cheer her up.
‘Surprise employee audit. I didn’t have time to prepare. I don’t know what to do now. They’re going to find out very soon.’
‘At least your mother is alive. You said to me at the beginning that if everything goes to hell, at least your mother won’t.’
Lone lowered her eyes in thought. ‘I did, but now it seems . . .’
Bok touched her arm, ‘It won’t be the end of the world. Only a few years maximum, right? Worth it if your mother lives another twenty.’
Jarringly Lone scratched her head. He saw the movement of the hairs and realised that black wasn’t Lone’s natural hair colour. Was it blonde? He knew of practically no one on this planet who had natural blonde hair. Why hadn’t she told him she dyed it? But he didn’t think it was the right time to comment on her looks anymore, especially with the way the conversation was going. ‘Do you have any idea on how to avoid it?’
‘I can send in a resignation letter on his behalf. Make it look like it wasn’t working out and they might let it go. I could rinse and repeat in a few months.’ People always got fired after employee audits. But in all her four almost five years here she had never been through a surprise one before. Everyone had always been given at least two weeks’ notice.
‘Did you know that I froze?’ Lone continued. ‘I just sat there in front of Kim and Mr. Perrin. All I could say that I wasn’t able to write up my report in time because I was helping look after Mum. I think they seemed to understand.’
Lone thought back only half an hour as she sat in front the old and greying advisors. Kim, who was known by her informal name, was Lone’s boss and head of Human Resources. ‘They mentioned that I was making mistakes in payslips. Three people had been in contact with them. I’m the reason why that memo that was sent out about everyone needing to check their payslips.’
Bok frowned. He had read that memo and it was odd to see it because it had been months since human resources had new staff.
‘They’re recommending that I should take some time off, a month or two.’ She pressed and rubbed her eyebrow, her light-coloured eyebrows.
‘I can help you while you’re not here.’
‘Thanks. I’ll go write up the letter and put it in. Keep an eye on things. I can’t afford to . . .’ Lone breathed deeply. Bok had never seen her so distressed before. It seemed like it had been months since he last saw her smile. Then he saw a small one.