Excerpt: The Wayfaring Stranger

Below is an excerpt from my current project, a science fiction novel titled The Wayfaring Stranger, which is still in the draft phase. Enjoy!

“What’d you have to go and get on me like that for?” Kyson asked.  He’d been sulking in the back of the shuttle for the last half hour as they made their way down the little yellow planet to search for their missing soldiers. Cricket was flying and was in absolutely no need of a co-pilot, but Diana still rode shotgun. She liked to see the open, inky expanse dotted with stars, and the sight of an alien planet rushing up to meet them gave her a high like nothing else.

This planet was a dirty pus yellow color, but the thrill was still there.

“There isn’t much point in sucker-punching a handcuffed worm,” Diana said.  “And there shouldn’t be much pleasure in it either.”  They hit the planet’s atmosphere and the shuttle began to shake.  Cricket, her long black hair pulled back in a ponytail so as not to obstruct her sight, had to work slightly harder to maintain control of the shuttle, and the dull roar nearly obscured Kyson’s reply.

“Since when do you not like beating on the worms?” Kyson asked.

“Since never,” Diana said over her shoulder.  “I just make sure they can hit back before I start swinging.”

But Kyson wouldn’t let it go. “She called me stupid, Commander.”  He would have sounded whiny had she not known how sensitive he was on that particular subject.

“No, she called you ignorant.”

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

“The difference is… they’re just different,” she said, frustrated that she couldn’t put it into words. “There’ll be hell to pay if she can’t jump the ship because you broke one of her ribs.”

Maima, who’d been sitting silently next to Mattera for the duration of the flight, asked, “That can stop her?”

“I don’t know,” Diana said. And that, she thought, was ignorance.  All Coalition soldiers were taught how to kill worms—and what the worms could do to them if they didn’t—but the grunts on the ground knew little else.  Content to rage against them, that ignorance had never been an issue for Diana before, but now not knowing her enemy left a wriggly, uneasy feeling in her chest.

The roar faded as Cricket slowed their descent. “There’s our target, out in the middle of nowhere,” Cricket said.  “Good thing about most of these frontier worlds: the landing zone is pretty much wherever you want it to be.”

Diana looked out the windshield and saw what Cricket meant.  Their goal was a communications base built to provide maintenance for the nearby ARGUS satellites.  It was the dark gray, clunky type of pre-fabricated buildings that dotted most frontier worlds, and it was surrounded by nothing but dirty yellow flats stretching out for miles in every direction. There were two starships nearby, both of them charred and torn, leaving nothing but skeletons and warped scraps of metal. Cricket set them down with a gentle bump, kicking up a cloud of yellow dust as she did so.

“All right, everybody, lock it up,” Diana said. Basilisk and Cricket all put on their helmets. Diana’s ears popped as the airtight seal locked into place.  “Maima, you’re staying here with Cricket.”

“What? Why?” Maima asked, offended.

Diana bit back the retort of, ‘because I said so’. Basilisk had never had a reputation for following strict conduct rules, and she didn’t think any of them put much faith in the chain of command. It’s what made them nearly unstoppable as a team, and pure hell for the rest of the Coalition.

“Because there are worms on-world as well as humans,” she said. That was the issue with the distress signal Cricket had wanted to discuss with the Captain. The two groups had been battling for over a month now. “I don’t know what their situation is, but they might be desperate enough to try and take the shuttle. I need Kyson with me in case things get hairy and after what happened to Zane, I don’t trust Mattera to watch Cricket’s back, so it has to be you.”

“I can hear you, you know,” Mattera said.

“Open her up, Cricket,” Diana said, ignoring him.

After fiddling with the controls, the shuttle’s back hatch opened, and the hiss of air pressure being released was silenced by Diana’s helmet. She led the team out, her feet sinking deep into powdery yellow dust.

“Stranger, this is Cricket,” Diana heard over her comm. “The extraction team just made the Step.”

‘The Step’—named after Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step for man’ on Luna and You Xia’s ‘step into the future’ on Mars—was a squad’s first step onto a new planet. It was tradition.  When space travel was gray and cramped, and space itself was radiation-riddled and astoundingly lonely, it was the Coalition’s way of keeping the romance of the final frontier alive.

She didn’t think it worked for everyone, but it still made Diana shiver. She might not have been the first human on this particular planet, but odds were she was the first person to stand where she was standing, and quite possibly the last as well.

Comments, critiques, and constructive criticism are greatly appreciated! 🙂

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