NaNoWriMo 2015 — Preparation and Chapter One

Only a few more days until NaNo starts. Exciting, ey?

I’ve already talked about what I’m planing on doing and how I see this happening. The first major step for this is to take my piece of flash fiction and update it to fit the narrative I have in mind.

I have done that.

And, because I’m a nice guy, I’ll let you read it.

This is most likely the first chapter of my NaNo Novel. It introduces us to two major characters, Cade Stern and Kenneth Renner (who’s last name keeps changing for the simple reason that I’m bad at picking good names), gives us a glimpse into the state of the world, and throws in some narrative flavour to top of it.

I will not write anything else before November 1. The only reason I worked on this beforehand is that it’s already mostly written anyways, and that I don’t want to waste time rewriting during November. And I promise the ~1800 words of chapter one won’t make it into my November count unless I fall short. Ha ha.

So. Here it is. Chapter 1.

Hope you enjoy.


TERRA ZERO

PART ONE: THE DROP

CHAPTER 1

He drops his skinny ass on the co-polite’s seat next to Cade.

“Nice of you to finally show, Renner,” she says, trying to sound to overly annoyed.

“Nil sweat. My pleasure.” Renner’s smirking, and it just ruined her day for good. “All set back there.” He points over his shoulder with his rustic, exposed cyberarm. “Everyone’s tugged and ready to rumble.”

“Who are we dropping?” Cade runs the diagnostic tools one more time to make sure all is well. Drops to the old earth are always a high-risk operation.

“Private client,” says Renner. “Older guy, doesn’t talk much. Has a personal guard with him, young female with some impressive augs.”

“Impressive augs?

“Cybernetic eyes, obvious extremities enhancements. Cyberware scanner picked up artificial limbs besides several internal implants.”

“Any weapons?” Renner pauses for a second. Suddenly, Cade’s stomach turns sour.

“Yeah,” he finally says through his teeth. “And registration for them. Didn’t feel like pocking around, though. Papers seem legit, and she gave me the impression that she don’t like questions.”

“You’re scared, Renner?” Cade chuckles, despite her bad feeling.

“Be my guest and go talk to her ’bout that. They’re paying—paying well. What more do you want?”

Cade sighs. “Actually enjoy my only day off instead of dropping shady people to the old earth. Just don’t understand what anyone would still want with that place.” She flips the switches and disengages the docking clamps. The thrusters fire a short burst, shaking the shuttle. Then it’s smooth sailing away from the station, and towards the gray, old earth.

That place,” says Renner all serious-like and with smacking lips, “used to be home to our people. You know that, right? I’m sure you do. We should think of that place as more than just a rock . It’s a look into our past, our own destructive nature.”

“Sure it is.” Cade swipes wisps of hair from the right side of her head, exposing the shaved skull beneath it together with a metallic plate and two data-jacks. Finding the socket thanks to magnetic connectors, she plugs in the fiberoptic cable from the control console. Through this direct neural interface, the ships controls and sensor connect directly to her mind. Yet, Cade keeps her hand wrapped around the physical controls in case her neural connection fails.

She shuttle tilts and turns to their left. Now, for a brief moment, the shuttle is caught in the nothingness between the Terra Zero space station and the old earth. Zero gravity takes away all burden from her shoulders. Makes her feel free and untouched. The gray planet is above them, showing no signs of precious water or healthy atmosphere. Only raging storms disturbing a heavy blanked of gray clouds. It’s lifeless, near motionless. Just hanging their outside their cockpit window, it seems as though it hit stalemate, forever to orbit its star as not much more than a huge asteroid.

“I don’t know.” Cade marvels at the sight. “Sure looks like just a rock to me.” From up here it’s easy to forget that the planet is very much still alive on the surface. It’s a toxic wasteland, filled with violence and natural disasters. Humans—savages,  more likely—live in tribes, thrown back to a primitive time before mankind conquered the dark skies above them. There are rumors of strange rituals, of men eating men to survive, and stranger stories of mutations and anomalies. Not the kind of thing she wants to think about now.

Cade brings the shuttle into entry position. Without paying much attention, she calibrates the systems and sets the autopilot to begin the descent into the old earth’s atmosphere.

She opens up a one-way communication with the back of the shuttle. “Name’s Cade Stern, captain of this floating can of space-tin. We’ll be hitting the atmosphere in a few minutes. Buckle up. Hold on tight. It’ll be a rough one. It always is.” Then she cuts the channel.

“You’re such a chipper person, know that, Stern?”

“Just be glad I had breakfast.” As much as she’d like to pretend it’s not like it, Renner’s alright. Too old for this shit, too young to retire. A sense of humor different enough from her own to talk smack, but close similar enough to laugh it off later. Cade knows little about the old man. Both came to the station from Terra Nova, mankind’s new home. And that’s about all she ever cared learn about Kenneth Renner. His cyberarm appears several generations out of date already, showing obvious hydraulics and looking a lot less human than robot—unlike more modern models which are near perfectly mimicking their biological counterparts.

Heavy, black visors slide up from the bottom of the shuttle, covering the cockpit into darkness, save for blinking instruments and hovering holograms. From this point on, it’s all about the autopilot. If it does well, the heat-shields will come down, and all Cade has to do is land this damned deathtrap.

The shuttle starts to shake and rumble. Temperature rises fast, heat’s filling the small cockpit, pushing into her lungs, making it hard to breath.

Several minutes pass while the shuttle descents, turning the cockpit into a steam cooker of hot metal and human sweat. Cade holds on tight to the controls, as little as that might actually do anything. Her neural interface is inactive as a safeguard to keep her own neural integrity from any potential harm from overloaded sensors.

She hates giving up control.

“Entry into the old earth’s atmosphere,” as Renner once said, “is ’bout as smooth as stirring a bucket of paint with a chainsaw.” Cade can’t help but think of that every time they drop. Renner doesn’t see it, but it makes her smile.

Finally, the rumble calms down. The heat’s dropping slightly. Cade’s hand are tight around the steering, while Renner’s hand hovers a big, red button, ready to engage the manual override over major systems. Push that button, and it’ll be all in their hands.

A long minute passes in the dark of the cockpit, then another. Cade can feel slight tremors from the shuttle, as they’re barely missing things outside. Then the shrieking sound of metal scraping on metal. Shuttle’s stable for now, but something’s obviously wrong.

“Why aren’t the blinds down, Renner?”

Renner’s pushing buttons, moving dials, enlarging vital control windows hovering as holograms before him. “No idea! Jammed. We’re blind!”

Great. Cade closes her eyes. She focuses on her neural interface, forcing it to come to the foreground. The second it does, the shuttle rams something else outside. The outside sensors go ballistic, Some messed up electromagnetic interferences caused by spontaneous forming storms, or heavy smoke of erupting volcanoes clogging up atmospheric sensors, must have confused the dumb computer. Things like that are the reason for the neural safeguards during the drop. Cade’s forcing the system to ignore the safety protocols, and in return the broken sensors sending a spiked signal, a shockwave through her jack. Grunting, she yanks the cable from her head, and an instant, sharp migraine punches her in the forehead.

She takes in a deep breath.

Holds it to regain focus.

Then, a slow breath out. “Engage override.” Without missing a beat, Renner hits the big, red button. A quick jerk of the engines, and Cade takes over control. Without neural interface, without sensors but what the instruments tell her. Still, the heat-shields are not dropping. She pulls the shuttle up. Whatever is around them, chances of collision are smaller flying upward. Buying time. Let the tech-savvy Renner figure this one out.

“Sensors down,” says Renner.

“No shit!” Cade grunts. Not like she pulled her neural interface out for fun without it being properly deactivated, risking damage to her hardware (and, in more rare cases, to her actual brain). Renner doesn’t react to her outcry, too busy punching his console. “No hurry, old man,” Cade says. “Gonna do a victory lap.

Ja ja. I’m on it.” And that he is. For what it’s worth, Renner does know what the hell he’s doing. He used to be head-engineer back on Terra Nova. At least that’s what he claims. Says he came her to retire, join the ancestors of earth in their grave. For that, Cade’s always thought of him as some sort of psychopathic optimist.

The shuttle begins to shake again. It jerks to the right after colliding into something heavy. A nerve-grinding sound of something scratching along the left side of the hull. Maybe a rock. With it, bright-red flashing alarms pop up in her holographic overlay. They’re losing speed—fast. Fuel’s leaking.

“Renner!”

The old man kicks the underside of his console with his heavy boot. As if on cue, the heat-shields drop down.

“Got it!” he yells.

Once she can see, Cade has about a half-heartbeat to pull the shuttle away from a head-on collision into a gray office-monolith from the ancient twenty-first century. The geforce is pushing her ass firm into her seat, and all her blood into her toes. Renner’s face looks like a hanging sack of shit, but his pulled-down lips laugh like a madman, exposing yellow-stained teeth. “Yeehoo!” he yells against the crushing sound of engines trying not to break apart.

The autopilot brought them into an old city, miles off from their drop location. Navigation is all messed up. Sensors turning circles. And, though it’s stable for now, the shuttle’s flying solely on power from it’s solar-battery.

Cade can’t tell which of the buildings they must have hit on their blind trip through the old inner city, but it looks like they came out of this with more luck than anyone deserves. Massive ruins of condemned buildings are towering around them. All broken open, crumbling. Their steel frames exposed, rusting away. Any of those buildings—tombstones of a fallen civilization—could have been their certain death.

Yet, Cade must try hard not to smile. Her heart is beating in rhythm with the shuttle’s engine. The tremble from the excitement goes all the way into her fingertips, reminding her that she just cheated death.

She says, “Got to bring the shuttle down fast. Leaking fuel.”

“Good idea, Stern. And good job. Don’t see many pilots like that anymore.”

“Thanks, Renner. You too.” She turns the shuttle east, away from the city and towards an open field. “How’d you fix it? Don’t tell me kicking the thing actually worked.”

Renner laughs. “Sure it did! Not for bringing down the blinds, obviously. Got that figured out moments earlier. But kicking that damned thing sure calmed me the fuck down.”

Cade actually has to laugh out loud. “You’re an idiot.”

His robotic hand on his chest, he hints a slight bow. “One of a kind, baby.”

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