Chapter 1 – “The Beginning and End” – Scene 1 (First Draft)

I’ve been working on this story for a while, playing with different ideas, researching, and trying to decide where to start. This is where I think I will begin, the day Keh-tee loses nearly everything. Obviously, this scene doesn’t show all of her losses. That comes (or goes rather) in the next scene.

***

An escape pod jolts from one side to the other, bounces, rattles, flips, until Keh-tee can no longer see straight. She grips the bottom of her seat with such strength that she begins to lose feeling in her hands. The tiny window to the outside is bright blue with streaks of white as flames hiss against the outside. Inside—even though this escape pod is insulated against extreme heat—the temperature rise at a suffocating rate. The roar of atmosphere pushing against them, air screaming around them, fills her ears. She can no longer hear the constant beeps and ticks of the onboard systems.

“This…” Prinz’s voice rattles out of him. “Is by far…the worst idea I’ve ever…had.”

Keh-tee’s teeth clatter in her head—a sound that reminds her of a baby’s rattler. “I…would have to agree! Gods damn it!” She tastes the rust-tinged flavor of blood. “I bit…my tongue!”

The pod takes one more whiplash-inducing bounce as it breaks the final layer of Andro VI’s atmosphere. Keh-tee’s inertia shoves her forward against the strained straps of her safety harness then flings her back, causing her head to slam against a hard, titanium wall. All goes black.

She wakes to the sound of Lyra’s voice. The audio receiver buzzes with a concerned line of questions. Her eyes open; everything around her spins. The back of her head throbs, a dull constant pain. Her tongue feels like it’s swollen to twice its size.

“Ket! Answer me! Are you okay? Did you make it? Please answer me. Keh-tee Hyra!”

“I…” She swallows. “I think…so.” Slowly, as though she was riding a carousel, the spinning stops.

“Where’s Prinz? Is he okay?” Lyra’s voice is shrill, high-pitched over the receiver.

“Stop panicking, Ly. You’re squealing again.”

Keh-tee’s arms and legs feel like lead, hanging down in front of her. She dangles from the safety harness like a piñata. Prinz is nowhere in sight.

“I don’t see him.”

“Ket, you need to find him. I’m seeing movement in your vicinity. Looks like a few sentries.”

“Great.” Keh-tee reaches for the clasp of her harness. “This is gonna hurt.” She presses the release button and braces herself for impact.

The sound of her body hitting the wall of the escape pod is more painful than the landing. She winces, pushes herself up on hands and knees, and reaches for the hatch release. Standing is a battle all its own. She still wobbles, not quite in control of her limbs. Her feet are like to cinderblocks strapped to her legs, hands sore and weak from holding onto her seat so tightly. The hatch release clicks. Hydraulic springs hiss and moan. The acrid stink of smoke fills the small cabin. Keh-tee coughs, almost gags on the harsh taste as it fills her throat.

“Hurry, Ket. They’re moving fast. They probably heard your entry.”

“No kidding, genius. Do you have the communications scanner up yet?” She grasps the ledge of the opened hatch and grunts as she pulls herself upward.

“Not yet, but I’m close. These firewalls are some of the most complex I’ve ever encountered.”

Keh-tee’s head is just over the edge of the hatch when she spots Prinz. He stands a few yards away, studying his surroundings. His small frame is barely visible through the clouds of smoke. He looks back, his child’s face plain—though intense in its plainness—blonde hair disheveled. A gash across his forehead is already healing. The six-year-old body of a two-hundred-year old man is never more fascinating than when fresh wounds heal in an instant. He walks toward the pod, a frown forming.

“We landed about two miles off target. We’ve got a long walk ahead of us.” Prinz shakes his head. “Why did I think an escape pod would be able to handle this?”

Keh-tee shakes her head as she pulls herself free of the pod. “Don’t know, but at least we’re alive.”

“This is true.”

Lyra’s voice pipes in. “You found him? Why didn’t he answer me?”

“Ly wants to know why you didn’t answer her.” Keh-tee slides down off the top of the pod and lands in a thick puddle of mud. “Oh, that’s just great.”

Prinz shrugs. “Guess my audio receiver was damaged in the landing. What’s our situation?”

“We’ve got sentries closing in on us. She’s still working on the communications.”

“I’m in…actually. I have access to the sentries’ protocols. I can shut them down from here.”

Keh-tee breathes deep. “Thank you, beautiful. I am in no condition for a fight.” She finishes wiping black-green mud from her boots.

“You’re quite welcome, gorgeous. Now go kick some android ass and stay alive. The alive part is the most important.”

“Yes, love.” Keh-tee smiles.

“And for extra incentive, I’ve got a surprise for you later.” Lyra uses her best sexy tone, and Keh-tee can just picture her you-know-what-I-mean face—eyebrows bouncing, sly grin, eyes half-squinting.

Prinz shakes his head. “Let’s keep it PG, ladies.” He sighs and mumbles, “Receiver picked a great time to start working.”

Lyra’s musical laughter chimes in their ears. “Aww. We’ll find someone for you too, Prinz. Maybe one of those cute little dancers on Spyria you like so much.”

“Can we just get back to the mission?”

“Yes sir!”

Keh-tee snorts. “For being two-hundred, you sure are bashful.” A belly laugh rumbles out of her as Prinz’s face turns bright red.

He marches off, fists clenched and back straight.

Copyright © 2015 Sophie Giroir

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