I’m nearing the end of the first draft of a new story. It was born in the need for some history behind the main character of the novel I’m working on. The novel’s working title is Midway, but so far the story has no title. I plan to submit it to Critters.org for some feedback by next week.
For your reading pleasure, here’s the first draft of the first scene. I’d love to hear what you think of how the story begins.
Tom Ramy powered up the rental skimmer and dodged pedestrians on his way out of the spaceport. Brown hair stuck to his sweaty forehead in the afternoon heat, and despite warnings of looters, wild animals, and radiation, he drove with the windows open. He hadn’t complained about the underpowered engine or lack of air conditioning in the rental, realizing he had been lucky to get a vehicle among the multitude trying to evacuate the area. As he neared the river, he passed an increasing number of refugees on foot, streaming away from Nova Macedonia in the opposite lane as he alone sped north on the open road toward the destruction. Their dirty, traumatized faces flashed by, forming in Ramy’s mind the single, horrified visage of the flattened capitol city. Instead of the familiar outline of the bridge, open sky greeted him as he crested the last hill before the Okeanos River. He skidded to a halt at the twisted metal that had once anchored the bridge to the south bank of the river, threw open the door without thinking, and ran toward home. Ash fell from the sky like black snow and settled on the slow-moving water. He narrowed his brown eyes against the glare and tried to see through the smoke across the water.
I’ll swim across. I’ll find them. They could have been in the basement. They’ll be OK.
The Hashrati weapon, a directed asteroid propelled from the ring of debris that orbited the Elysion system and cloaked from the colony’s modest sensors, had penetrated the moon’s orbit before Elysion’s defenses blasted it into the smaller fragments that punched holes in the planet’s atmosphere. The world survived, but one of the fragments had erased most of the young colony’s capital city before an effective evacuation could get underway. The aliens must have jumped into the star system months or years ago, launched the attack, and slipped away undetected.
Ramy made his way to the water’s edge with some difficulty. Thin ooze crept into his expensive shoes as his feet sank into the silt. Huge pieces of concrete, and presumably the meteor that had smashed the bridge, formed a giant strainer that caught downed vegetation, animals, and the scorched detritus of a once thriving colonial city. A flash of bright color caught his eye as something broke loose from the jam and sploshed into the lower downstream water. He watched it float toward him until he saw the bloated face of what had once been a young woman in a red dress. He pulled off his sweat-soaked business jacket, dropped it in the mud, and fell to his knees. He retched, though his stomach was empty. When he looked up again, a pack of canoids stood on the opposite bank. The native hyena-like creatures chuffed and raised their snouts at him. There were at least eight of them. With the city’s ultrasonic broadcast barrier no longer irritating their sensitive ears, local predators could pick the bones of Nova Macedonia at will.
Ramy coughed on the smoke, spit bile, and looked in vain for something to throw at the scavengers, though he doubted he could hit them fifty or so meters across the water. Stinging black smoke rolled over the river, stinking of burnt plastic and spoiled meat. He looked up toward the hills, split by the founding engineers for highway and bridge. He and Jen used to go up there to picnic and gaze down on their new house, before baby Joya had come along. He stood and pulled a foot from the sucking mud, careful not to lose the shoe. He wiped at tears with the back of one hand, and wondered about radiation. The beasts across the river began to howl in frustration at the live food they couldn’t reach. He headed for a sign beside the small roadside parking area that read “scenic overlook.” He should be able to see the house from the top of the cliff. Winded from the short climb, he crossed the guardrail and stood at the edge overlooking formerly exclusive waterfront property. He kicked at gravel and watched it fall a hundred meters to the river below. Before today, he could have counted one street over and two back from the bridge to identify their house among the tiled rooftops. Where were the streets now? The ground had been thrown up around the impact crater, burying all but a few structures on the waterfront. He had spoken with Jen and Joya before getting on the in-system shuttle for home. They had been in the kitchen baking cookies. Now they were gone.
I’m sorry! I should have been with you. I could have gotten you out, but I went to another conference instead.
He swayed in the stiff mountain breeze, inching one foot forward into open air, and let his vision lose focus.
Humanity knew only what had been learned from single alien scout captured at what was then the edge of human civilization nearly three centuries ago. The thing inside had been the size of a large dog, insect-like, bristling with pincers and antennae. Ramy imagined a group of those monstrosities gathered around a board room table like the one he’d been at the day before. The thought kindled a rage that grew until it all but eclipsed his grief.
Harsh barking echoed off the cliff. Canoids weren’t particularly bright, but eventually they’d find a way across. He stepped back from the edge, backed up against the guard rail.
They’re going to pay. They’re never going to stop paying.