The first three days of NaNoWriMo have been productive. I wrote 2,000 words the first day, a little over 2400 yesterday, and just under 1600 tonight, bringing my total to slightly over 6,000. This is a good pace, and it will come to a screeching halt tomorrow. I’ve got commitments tomorrow night which will keep me away from the computer. There’s always the weekend to try to catch up and gain a little cushion.
I’ve written what amounts to three chapters introducing three of the main viewpoint characters. I’ll introduce a significant fourth viewpoint character later in a flashback, whose present whereabouts will be a mystery for a while. None of the three characters I’ve introduced have any idea where they are or how they got there when we first meet them, nor do they know anything about the nature of the planet they’re on. Discovering that will be a major portion of the storyline. I don’t have a working title yet, still kicking a few ideas around.
Anyway, here’s what will probably be the first chapter, in rough draft form with little to no editing.
Lieutenant Jacob Vasquez dangled over the river, trying to convince himself to let go of the branch he was hanging from. There were enough rocks below, and the drop was high enough, even with this planet’s slightly lower gravity, to make such a course of action potentially fatal.
He looked back down at the base of the tree for inspiration. Three creatures from a nightmare clawed the trunk. They were as tall as large dogs and just as wide. Short black fur covered their backs and eight legs, fading to grey on their undersides. Square heads protruded from the bodies, connected directly to the torsos without benefit of necks. One looked up at him, opened a mouth filled with needle sharp fangs, and gave what Vasquez could only think of as a cross between a yodel and a whine.
The call was answered from within the forest, and two more of the things scurried from the trees. They moved incredibly fast for their size.
One of the newcomers made a threatening noise at one the creatures already there, and received bared fangs in response. The one that had yodeled ignored the arrival of the two and began clawing its way up the trunk.
Fortunately the short, stocky legs weren’t suited for climbing, or Vasquez would have already been torn to pieces. He’d spooked them while hunting and had barely been able to outrun them. There were no branches low enough for him to grab without stopping on any of the nearby trees, and that would have been fatal. He just managed to scramble up this tree. It hung far enough out over the narrow gorge that he thought he could make the jump to the other side. Unfortunately, his foot slipped on the smooth wood and he’d only managed to catch himself because he straddled the branch as he lost his balance instead of slipping over the side.
Still, he’d fallen almost completely off the branch before he could get a secure grip. Now he hung from the branch, his inner thigh throbbing from the impact when he fell. Vasquez doubted he could make the jump now, even if he could regain the running start he’d lost.
The beast attempting to reach him slipped off, but another immediately took its place. This one was heavier, and the impact when it hit made the trunk shudder. Vasquez felt himself drop as the branch bounced. He managed to hang on, but his palms were growing increasingly sweaty. Soon the decision of whether to jump would be taken away from him.
He tried again to lift himself so he could wrap his legs around the branch, but his hands began to slip. He dropped his lower body as quickly as he dared. Evens so, he almost lost his grip.
The tree shuddered again as another of the beasts attempted to scale it.
Vasquez looked down. Heights didn’t bother him, never had. He wasn’t afraid of falling or of the sudden stop at the end. But he wasn’t a fool, either. There were too many rock directly below for him to think he could survive the drop.
The tree shuddered again, and Vasquez swayed. That gave him an idea.
As carefully as he could he switched his grip so that he was facing the animals and began to slowly work his way further out onto the branch where the rocking of the tree would have a greater amplitude. A gust of wind blew their scent to him. He tried not to gag; the things smelled like milk that had been left out in the sun for a week. Lifting his feet he began to swing slowly.
When the next impact came, he was ready for it and used the momentum imparted by the animal’s attack on the tree to increase his swing.
His fingers began to slip again. The next swing out would have to be it.
Vasquez extended his body and felt the barkless wood slide past his fingers. Then the air was rushing past him. Everything slowed down. It seemed as though he were falling in slow motion. The world tilted and the river rose into his field of view. The rocks and breakers grew larger as he closed the distance to them. Somewhere above him, the beasts set up a chorus of their weird yodeling.
One particular rock, with a jagged edge, seemed to draw him closer. At the last minute Vasquez tucked. He didn’t know the depth and wasn’t foolish enough to make a head-first dive into the churning water. He hit curled into a ball.
The air had been warm and muggy. The water was like ice, and the cold coupled with the impact almost took Vasquez’s breath away. His back grazed the rock, and time resumed its normal flow.
The current was stronger than he’d realized. It pulled him under, bouncing him against the bottom, slamming his body into rocks, the cold sucking his strength away. Vasquez didn’t know which way was up.
He broke the surface, gasping and nearly swallowed a mouthful of water. Then he was pulled under again. His lungs burned and his vision began to go black around the edges.
Then just as he saw the surface coming closer, the river dropped over a small fall and sent him plunging into a small pool. The flow of water over the drop pounded him, forcing him under. Vaquez managed to get his feet on the bottom and pushed off, uncertain of the direction he was heading. The current caught him again.
This time it slammed him into a rock, washing him up onto the surface of a flat stone. He managed to drag himself up out of the flow the water and lay gasping in the sunlight. This planet’s star was red, and gave less heat than he was used to. Still, it was better by far than the water. His muscles ached, his exposed skin was covered with abrasions, and he knew when he took off his coveralls he would be painted with bruises. A lump was rising on the back of his head. He gently probed the knot with his fingers. The skin was tender, causing him to wince, and when he pulled his hand away, his fingers were bloody.
Vasquez laid back, drawing air deep into his lungs.
After an indeterminate time, he tried to move. His body was stiffening up. If he stayed on the rock much longer, he would have to spend the night there. The thought was not reassuring. The two nights he’d spent on this planet since he’d awoken had not been cold, but he knew on the water the air would feel chill. Despite the risk, he had to try to make it to the shore.
He climbed to his feet, his sore body protesting with every move. Careful not to slip, he looked around.
He was closer to the far shore than the one he’d jumped from. That was fine by him. He’d never be able to outrun whatever those things were if he encountered them again. There was another rock just past him. The water flowed through the gap between it and the one he stood on a rapid pace, accelerated through the channel by the weight of the water coming down behind it. Normally he could make the leap without any problem. Now he wasn’t so sure. Still it was better than going back in the water and trying to swim.
From there he thought he could make it to the shore.
Vasquez took a step back, braced himself in as much of a runner’s starting stance as he could, and took two steps. On the second step he pushed off as hard as he could. He hit the rock and slipped, his feet slid into the cold water. He managed to grab an outcropping with his right hand while he flailed about with his left. The current began to pull him off the rock and around the edge. His fingers were starting to cramp, and he was certain he was going to lose his hold when his left hand found purchase. The additional leverage allowed him to brace his feet against the side of the rock. It was slippery, but there was enough friction for him to begin to climb out of the water.
He did so mostly by crawling across the rock. Eventually he managed to get clear of the water and stand up. He was only about three meters from the shore, which consisted of a small beach. Shrubs and bushes formed a barrier between the beach and the rocks beyond.
Vasquez opted to jump rather than wait for his strength to come back. He was afraid it wouldn’t before dark. He landed in the middle of the water, and the current took his feet from under him before he could find his balance. He ended up on a sand bank and pulled himself onto the damp sand further up the beach on his hands and knees.
The sun was beginning to disappear behind the cliffs on the opposite side of the river. He didn’t have the means to start a fire nor the strength to go far up the slope.
Vasquez climbed to his feet and staggered into the bushes. Once inside them, he was able to walk mostly upright, and used the branches for support until he was far enough from the river that the air felt warmer.
He collapsed into a pile of leaves and took stock of his situation. Somewhere in the river he hand torn the fingernail from the middle finger of his left hand. He hadn’t felt it in the cold water, but as he began to warm, the pain began to be noticeable. Nothing seemed to be broken, just bruised and scraped.
Hunger gnawed at his belly. He’d not dared to eat anything since he woke up leaning against a tree two days ago, alone and without any survival gear. He had no idea where he was, and until he knew if the local foliage was safe for his biochemistry, he’d prefer not to experiment. That option was fast being taken away from him by time. Vasquez had used the last of his strength getting out of the river and making his way to where he presently lay. He’d have to eat tomorrow. So far, nothing in the water he’d been forced to drink had made him sick, but he knew he couldn’t count on that not changing.
He began to shake and knew it was more than the lingering chill from the river. Shock was setting in again. Some part of his mind wasn’t surprised. He was supposed to be on a starship, on a mission to investigate some anomalous signals out on the edge of human space. The trip was supposed to take a year and a half.
How he’d gotten on this planet, without any memory of being awakened from coldsleep was a mystery he had no immediate means of solving. At the moment all his energy and dwindling mental resources were devoted to surviving.
As darkness fell, Jacob Vasquez slipped into shock.