Aloha – I finished a new YA novel manuscript and am now working on clean up. I like to write free style, then go back and polish the manuscript, then have a third party proofread. So I’m up to stage two. Your feedback is welcome :o) Chapter 1 follows:
Chapter 1 Cloud Dragons
Eric Brice was a firstling. He was not unique. All 27 members of his class were firstlings. They were the first born after the Transition, and provided evidence that the planet-wide initiative had worked.
Eric often wondered what his mother had thought. Had she been afraid? Did she think she would die? He realized that his mother must have been the bravest person in the world. Correction, all the mothers of his generation must have been the bravest people in the world. Trying to imagine the fear they must have endured for nine months terrorized him even now at sixteen years of age.
“Beautiful, isn’t it,” a voice startled him.
“Huh?” Eric turned to see the smiling face of his friend Kviiiy as she slide in facing him on the padded bench seating.
“I just noticed that you were looking out the window, and assumed you were taking in the rolling hills of Iowa,” Kviiiy responded smiling. “Or were you just meditating again?”
Kviiiy was the same age as Eric and had been his best friend since they were both six years old. She was a bit shorter than Eric and had recently filled out with a solid, curvy build. She had red curly hair that she was always fighting, and a face full of freckles. When they were eight, she asked Eric to count the freckles on her face, but he lost count at a hundred.
Turning back to the window, Eric replied reflectively, “Yes it is pretty; a lot nicer than the brown weeds of home.”
The bullet train they were riding sank back to the surface after zipping across a bridge spanning the North Skunk River.
“Haven’t we crossed this river already?” Kviiiy asked, leaning across Eric to get a closer look.
“You smell good today,” Eric grinned. “Making another play for Tony?”
“He’ll come around,” Kviiiy smiled knowingly.
“To your question,” Eric turned back to the window. “We’ve crossed the North Skunk River four times and will cross it twice more according to the maps. It writhes back and forth like a snake. The train line is moving southwest, so we intersect it six times before we cross into Illinois.”
Kviiiy plunked down beside Eric. She was dressed in a denim shirt and jeans, and wore a white head band holding back her rebellious red hair. “How fast are we going now?”
“You know that as well as I do,” Eric scowled, “200 miles per hour with the mag-lev system. You know all this; don’t play dumb with me. What gives?”
“I’m bored,” Kviiiy replied.
“So Tony blew you off?” Eric grinned.
“No… yes… sort of,” Kviiiy sulked. “Chanel is all over him.”
“Okay, how about a game of cards?” Eric exhaled slowly. He reached under his seat to pull a deck of cards from his backpack when the lights inside the car flashed to warn that the train was slowing down. Even so, he toppled over onto Kviiiy as the train quickly decelerated. As he recovered he noticed her blue eyes staring into his. “Sorry,” he blushed as he stood back up.
Eric was stocky but tall compared to his peers. His ink black hair contrasted his pale face, which exacerbated the redness in his face when he blushed. He preferred slacks to jeans and wore a blue, button down collared shirt, which was his signature look. “I wonder why we’re stopping. We’re still in Iowa. We shouldn’t get to Springfield Central for another forty-five minutes.
As the train came to a rest, the lights flashed again, and a neutral computer voice came over the PA ordering everyone to stay in their seats.
Eric and Kviiiy joined their classmates, ignoring the announcement, and stood and staring out the window trying to figure out what was going on. It was a lightly wooded area with green rolling hills. The area immediately surrounding the train was covered with some sort of thorny wild berry plant. The berries and formed, but they were still green.
“I’m going outside to see what the problem is,” a voice that Eric recognized as belonging to Anthony Dennett rose above the din. Tony was the class president. He was also captain of the junior class basketball team.
“I’m going with you,” came another voice.
Female. Chanel Savage obviously, Eric thought.
Kviiiy moved to stand, but Eric dragged her back into her seat. “This is not the time nor place to be wandering outside,” he whispered.
“But…” Kviiiy began.
“No buts,” Eric cut her off. “We wait and see.”
Several minutes passed before the chatter of classmates started again as Tony returned. Standing at the doorway he announced, “Looks like a broken tree limb blocking the track. They’re unloading the lasers to cut it away.”
“Come on out,” Chanel called. It’s a beautiful day out here; just a bit muggy.”
The call to enjoy a sunny day in Iowa was too much for Eric’s classmates, as they rose from their seats and started to disembark. “Don’t you want to go outside?” Kviiiy asked as she got out of her seat.
“I’m thinking about it,” Eric stalled. “It would be interesting to watch the lasers at work.” He had a sudden urge to scratch at the scars on his back. “I think I’ll stay here,” he replied indecisively.
“Come on,” Kviiiy encouraged. “I’ll protect you.”
“Even Tony can’t protect us,” Eric growled. Nonetheless, he rose to follow Kviiiy.
Just as they reached the doorway to the train he heard screams and backed away from the door; a too familiar screech followed.
As students shoved to get back to the safety of the train Eric heard someone outside yell, “Cloud Dragons.”
“Great!” Eric exhaled. The engineers weren’t dumb enough to remove all the defensive lasers were they? He wondered.
One screech was followed by another and another. Eric finally got up the nerve to approach a window. Three, four… no five. I don’t recognize this variety.
Kviiiy joined him, “Looks like kites,” she stood mouth agape.
“Did everyone make it back inside?” Eric asked as he spotted a stream of light from the front of the train hit one of the kites that released something or someone.
A second laser beam from the top of the center car drew Eric’s attention away from the fallen bundle. The green light seared the right wing of the cloud dragon causing it to squeal as it took flight. Two more beams were creating a light show from the front of the train now. The predators were dancing and screeching trying to avoid the burning light.
Eric saw movement out of the corner of his eye to the left. The bundle that had fallen earlier was crawling slowly, toward the train. “No,” Eric cried out. “Stay still you fool.” He realized as he spoke that it was a waste as his voice did not even carry to the next set of seats.
Eric jumped out of his seat and raced to the egress. Without pausing he jumped to the ground and bounded to the fallen man, jumping on top of him. “Lie still you idiot,” he whispered angrily. As if illustrating what he meant, he lay perfectly still on top of the man who responded in kind.
One of the creatures stood less than a wingspan away from Eric staring at him with a hungry look in its red eyes. Eric closed his eyes expecting to feel the sharp talons digging into his flesh. His muscles flexed involuntarily expecting the pain that did not come.
Two laser beams angled into the kite from different directions. The screech was deafening, but Eric did not move.
The creature took flight, being the last of the five predators to leave the scene.
Eric lay still on top of the man for what seemed forever, but could not have been more than a minute when he heard running footsteps. “Come on, get up. Let’s get back inside,” he heard the familiar voice of his friend Kviiiy.
Eric rose, then tried to help the man up he had been lying on top of. The man struggled, but could not rise.
“Afraid my right leg is broken,” the man apologized.
“Dr. Lambert? Joseph Lambert?” Eric’s jaw dropped.
“One and the same lad,” the man waved Tony and others back. “Right now I could use some help, but it is going to have to be a medic, he laughed hoarsely.
“But what are you doing here?” Eric looked dumbfounded.
“On my way to Springfield,” the man started to shiver.
“I’ll get a blanket,” Kviiiy yelled and ran back toward the train. “I think he’s going into shock,” she called over her shoulder.
A man wearing a red polo shirt, designating him as security, approached from the front of the train. “Why did you get out of the train? Get back aboard immediately!” he began shouting at the group of students and handful of adults that had emerged around Dr. Lambert. “Looks like we’re going to need a medical team,” he spoke formally into the communicator attached to his shirt.
Kviiiy reappeared with several blankets, tripping into Tony Dennett. “Sorry,” she spoke half an octave higher than her normal voice Eric noticed.
“The blankets Kviiiy,” Eric called, unusually irritated.
The security officer took over, with his focus darting back and forth between Dr. Lambert and the sky. “You kids! Get back on the train.”
Back at his seat, Eric watched as a Med Tech rushed up the aisle from a rear car and hesitated at the egress from the train. With a deep breath, he moved away from the protection of the train and quick stepped over to where Dr. Lambert and the security officer waited. A two-person team soon arrived from the front of the train with a mounted laser unit. They scanned the sky continually, while the medic worked on Dr. Lambert.
“Nice job out there,” a warm voice distracted Eric from the scene; turning he saw Tony Dennett and his entourage standing behind him.
“It was nothing,” Eric blushed. Still he accepted Tony’s outstretch hand.
“It was something,” Tony grinned a toothy smile. “I didn’t even think to do what you did. I’m not sure if I would have had the nerve if I had thought of it.”
“Yeah, we were impressed,” Coul GoCool, agreed as he stood next to Chanel with both of their heads nodding.
Eric did not care for Coul GoCool. In some ways he felt sorry for the guy as he had such a stupid name. But Eric could feel his skin crawl whenever he was around him. He decided that Coul was a Clinger. He hung around the most popular guy in the class, whoever it happened to be. Eric thought Coul was his best friend in second grade, but by third grade Coul was to be found with the boy who rescued the cat out of a tree. Now it was the class president or basketball star; Eric wasn’t sure which of Tony’s roles had captured the attention of Coul.
Eric laughed to himself as he took in the trio. Coul was as pale as Tony was black. Coul was the shortest kid in the class, Tony was the tallest. Tony was cool while Coul was not.
Coul always wore a hat. This year, his choice of haberdashery was a grey beret. The beret covered short sandy hair that looked like Coul had cut it himself. His teeth were yellowish, and he sometimes smelled like he needed a shower.
Chanel was as short as Coul, but there the similarities ended. She had shoulder length brunette hair, and dark brown eyes accentuated by her eyebrows and lashes that drew observers in. She was petite and athletic. She was attentive to whomever she was focused on that week, and laughed easily. Half the boys in Eric’s class had a crush on her. Today she was drawing attention to herself with a bright floral print sundress.
Eric didn’t care much for Chanel. She acted like an airhead, but he knew she was near the top of the class academically. She had captured the hearts of four boys in their class, dating since she was thirteen. But Eric noticed that she tended to break up with the boys as soon as she knew they were totally focused on her and not someone else in the class. He was beginning to think relationships were just a game for her, like basketball was for Tony.
“Hey, they have a patrol copter coming in,” Kviiiy called out drawing Eric’s attention back out the window. The copter was huge with four sets of rotors surrounding a substantial round carriage. They could have placed half the train in the space that the main deck of the copter occupied. It was designed after the drones of the early twenty-first century. The oversized construction had been necessary to ward off the cloud dragons that had mangled hundreds of standard size helicopters the first several years after the Transition.
Dr. Lambert waved in their direction as he was carefully lifted onto a gurney, and carried to the copter.
“Where do you think they’re taking him?” Tony asked no one in particular.
“Probably the hospital in Springfield Four,” Kviiiy volunteered. “But we’ll get to Springfield as fast, or faster, than the copter,” Chanel looked up to Tony looking for confirmation.
“But they’d still have to get him from the station to the hospital,” Tony replied seriously.
Chanel actually fluttered her eyelashes, “I hadn’t thought of that. You’re so smart.”
On the side, Kviiiy provided a gag reflex with her fingers that made Eric laugh abruptly. He transitioned the laugh to a cough. “Well we better take our seats. I think they’re packing up to get moving again.”
Kviiiy kept her seat by Eric and started talking as soon as Tony and his companions returned to their seats, “She makes me sick.”
“Chanel?” Eric asked, although he knew the answer.
“Yes, little miss prissy pants,” Kviiiy spat out.
“She’s wearing a dress today if you hadn’t noticed,” Eric smiled.
Kviiiy slapped his arm, “You know what I mean. All lovely dovey, and pretentious.”
“Seems you’ve been taking lessons,” Eric teased.
“What?” Kviiiy yelped, drawing attention from the students nearby. Then in a lower voice, “What do you mean by that?” she snarled.
“I saw that fake trip into Tony you pulled,” Eric whispered back, leaning in without looking directly at Kviiiy. “Oops, look at me… classic Chanel move, if not as polished.”
Kviiiy folded her arms tightly and sat silently as the bells chimed and the train began moving forward again. She didn’t speak the rest of the way to Springfield Central.