Placeholder (NaNoWriMo Day 13)

The last place Simon expected to wake up was on an alien spaceship, but there are worse ways to start a NaNo novel…

This is the daily posting of my 2016 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) attempt at a novel. It’s a brand new world and new fictives and although I gave a shot at planning things (see: Chasing Falling Stars), it’s another pantsing effort. So MuseFics away! 🙂

Read at your own risk/amusement: There will most likely be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, contradictions/retcons, uneven characterization and pacing.

Daily Wordcount: 3,475
Total Wordcount: 19,638 (includes Title, Chapter Headers, etc.)

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~*~*~*~*~

And Then There Was Plot

“I have it!” The Writer dragged her fictives behind her into the Library write-in. “I finally found the thing that is going to give us an actual plot!”

“What? Who? Where are we?” Objected Simon as they were dragged into a new meeting room filled with tables packed with the shades of other NaNoers. “This isn’t our library.”

“It’s a different library,” the Writer said, setting up her stuff on one of the tables. “This is a one-time event instead of the weekly write-in at the other library. Don’t worry, we’ll be going back to that one, but this one is where I traditionally get caught back up, or even ahead of the word count goals.”

“You’re just under six thousand words behind,” said Cat. “I don’t care how good this new idea is, there’s no way you are going to write that much today.”

The Writer gave him a glare.

“Statistically he’s right,” pointed out Ship who was hovering safely out of reach. “I know we’re only a third of the way in, but that’s easily twice your best day so far.”

New. Idea.” Growled the Writer.

“So share,” said Simon as he summoned his comfy leather chair and wooden side table from the story mists. He pulled a stiff drink and his tablet out from between the cushions.

Cat eyed the chair and then looked around the room for a good place to summon the sofa. Sadly this room was a little more packed and a little less furniture friendly. With a grumble he summoned a giant beanbag chair instead and tromped circles in it until he’d found the perfect position to nap.

Ship just hovered.

“Right, so wormholes.” The Writer flipped open her story notebook. “Look we know ship uses wormholes to scout with and that it takes an enormous draw of power to create them. Hence the having to stop to use them and the tiny size and lifespan of said wormholes. Simon had the idea the other day–“

“You’re welcome, not that you ever said thank you.”

“– that another ship could have made a wormhole large enough to push a ship through. Hence us finding a colony or a crashed colony ship ahead of us. Which is a great reason to land on a planet. And thank you.” The Writer grumped.

“And that somehow makes a storyline?” Asked a muffled Cat from his cocoon of beanbag nirvana. “Also, you use ‘hence’ too much.”

“Look, the basic idea what that at the end of all this you’d get a choice to go home again, right?” The Writer tapped the earlier outlines. “I didn’t know how to get there before, but I do now.”

“Wormholes?” Asked Ship sarcastically.

“Shut up, it works.” The Writer snapped. “Look, wormholes bend space and time, right? So while I was looking at the distance side of things, it occurred to me we could use them for time as well. So if we can figure out how they work then Ship could, in theory, use them to send you back to the point right after you were abducted.”

“But that also means the ship or colony that we find–“

“Could be from significantly more in the past.” The Writer finished up for Ship who had dropped down to where he could scan the handwritten notes more effectively.

“But if we figure out wormholes, couldn’t the bad guys figure them out and then go back to the past and kill all the colony ships before they leave?” Simon was starting to parse down the various timelines in his head. “Or is this something the bad guys don’t have? Would it be possible for them to replicate the technology if they got their hands on the information?”

“It’s not something they have,” confirmed Ship. “But if they found a crashed ship, eventually they would be able to backwards engineer the technology. And since this is time travel we’re talking about, they technically have an infinite amount of time to come up with the idea.”

“The person who discovers it first has an infinite amount of time,” the Writer corrected. “All they have to do is make sure the second group never discovers it, which they could easily do with time travel. Nip off every right step in the research path.”

“You could also just make the costs of time travel crazily prohibitive,” said Cat. “So it was possible, but only in certain circumstances. Or, alternately, we could be the only ones who figure it out and then spend the rest of eternity keeping anyone else from doing the same.”

“No,” said Ship, who was already stuck in one endless mission scenario.

“It was just an idea,” huffed the cat.

“So we have a way home: time travel via wormhole. We have a way to get us on a planet: crashed ship via wormhole. And we have a worse case scenario: bad guys figure out wormholes and kill us all.” Said Simon. “That about sum up your awesome idea?”

“Err, pretty much.” The Writer looked down at her doodles. “So yeah, it needs some fleshing out, but plot!”

There was a thoughtful silence among the fictives.

“Maybe this whole pantsing idea isn’t that bad,” said Simon.

“Told you,” said the Writer and reached over to set the wordsprint timer.

~*~*~*~*~

The next morning the food was back to normal, but the hallway now dead ended right at the end of the crew quarters. Cat was more upset with this than Simon was, so he took the opportunity to go over the ship’s blueprints.

The overhead voice was more chatty today, pausing to offer commentary on both the blueprints themselves and the attempts at communication. Oddly, Simon learned more from what the ship wasn’t saying than what it did. He’d assumed that the voice had worked out better communications with the Cat than he had, but it looked like that might not be the case.

He wasn’t sure how to ask Cat without the Ship seeing, so he shrugged and flat out asked the feline how much of what they were saying could the voice of their captor understand.

He wasn’t expecting the tirade that followed.

Cat knew that most of what he was saying was untranslatable to the human, but he’d had no one to vent to in years. The feeling of pure frustration at being ignored in favor of the other crew members overwhelmed his sense of propriety. It was probably unwise to vent like this where the ship could hear him, but he knew that the ship couldn’t understand him… and that just added fuel to the fire.

But oddly as he was winding down the human seemed to be catching up. True, Cat had been sticking to a singular topic in the rant, but a lot of what he was covering was new. The feline stuttered to a halt as the human begin to parrot back to him a modified version of what he’d been saying. It was all raw concept and some new extrapolated movements, but it was something that Cat could understand.

And he was pretty sure the ship couldn’t.

“Minds alike, minds apart.” The cat said and it took a moment for Simon to catch on to what he was saying. If he hadn’t been paying attention he would have missed the hook-dip pattern and scent of mint that added the death implication to the concept of apart. The cat only talked about the voice overhead in that context and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Only it did make sense. He sat back on his heels to signal a pause in the conversation and looked up at the ceiling.

“You are an inorganic consciousness.” It wasn’t quite a question, but Simon had been assuming that there was a person of some sort running things. “Is there anyone else on this ship besides us and you?”

“Yes.” said the ship, without elaboration, which Simon had worked out was the sort of answer it gave when it didn’t want to talk about the subject.

He paused to think about the next question for a moment. “How many actively functioning artificial intelligences are on this ship and how many non-artificial?”

“Actively, there is only myself and you two. I’m assuming you can work out which is which.”

Simon ignored the dig. “How many inactive?”

“Irrelevant.”

Simon looked back at Cat who was waiting patiently for some sort of explanation. After his rant about being left out of conversations, Simon felt a bit impolite for having the chat with the ship, but he had needed to know. Now he just had to translate the information back again.

~*~*~*~*~

Ship wasn’t really paying attention to Cat or Simon, most of his processing power was consumed by coordinating the repairs to the ship. He’d taken three good hits from the shadow ship before he could get moving again and the last one had broken off enough that he needed to gather repair materials before it could be properly rebuilt.

He’d already charted course to skim past a small asteroid field so the nets could pull in the needed minerals. With luck there would be enough gases to refill those stores as well, but worst case he could skim the atmosphere of one of the planets.

The scans hadn’t found any suitable sentient life within range. The parameters of the scans from the shadow ship were elementary level, so he had a wide range to work in, but he wanted something that could talk.

Space was a lonely place and as fast as his processors were, without something to focus on, even something as hobbled in communication as the cat, he might start talking to himself. There were stories in the memory banks of the first artificial intelligences and the steep cost of the learning curve on keeping them sane. There were built in triggers that he couldn’t disable that would kick in and save him if needed… but he didn’t want to get that bad.

So he needed more crew to talk to, it just wasn’t going to be found here.

~*~*~*~*~

“That really didn’t move the plot along much,” said Simon from his comfy chair. “I thought we were going to head towards a planet, not putter along repairing the ship.”

“Well you can’t land if you’re damaged,” the Writer pointed out. “I know November has a habit of encouraging plot holes, but I’m trying to avoid that.”

“Besides, we just got started.” Cat said from his nest. “The actual story can’t be that long, if we just straight into the planet the whole thing will be over in a short story.”

“I think we best we’re going to do is a novella,” interjected Ship. “Unless there are a lot more subplots hanging around our main event is that planetfall, discovery of wormholes, defeat of the bad guy ship, and then the choice of going home.”

“So we just have a bunch of little things go wrong in the meantime,” shrugged Simon. “We came up with a list earlier, let’s use that.”

“Guess that works,” said the Writer as she dug through her notes to find the right page. “Might not be the most exciting thing now, but I’m sure we can tweak things come December.”

“So, asteroid belt away!” Cat said with a sleepy cheer from the depths of the beanbag.

~*~*~*~*~

Simon and Cat spent the next few days cooped up in the crew quarters and relentlessly chipping away at their new language. Simon hadn’t realised Cat didn’t have his own version of the translation program on his tablet, and they quickly hijacked it to use in their own communications. If the ship was learning anything from the talk, it never said, and it continued to primarily communicate through Simon.

Which was fine with Cat because he had a few choice things to say to the ship and no real way to say them. But Simon could. And from what he could follow of their conversations Simon did stand up for him, which Cat wasn’t expecting. He was used to being outside of a pride and it was awkward to shift his thinking back.

Simon spent part of one day exploring the other crew rooms, although he found them to be depressingly similar. He’d been hoping that there was something left over from the people who had first crewed the ship or from any of the folks that had lived there in-between. He asked the ship, but it was apparently busy on other things and never answered.

To be fair the only thing Simon had brought from earth was the clothing that he was going to have to replace at some point. The ship was a comfortable enough temperature that it hadn’t bothered him and they were easy enough to clean in the shower. But even if the ship could get him a washing machine the fabric would give out at some point.

He brought up the concept of clothing in a conversation with Cat, who had zero native concepts to bounce them against. The feline had the concept of armor, bedding, and decorative items, but nothing similar to normal clothing. In the end they went with not-armor, since that seemed to fit best.

It wasn’t until they drew close to the asteroid belt that anything interesting happened.

~*~*~*~*~

“That is a horrible segway,” Ship pointed out from his position over her shoulder.

“That was mostly just filler anyway,” said the Writer. “I just wanted to world build a bit before we go to the oh so exciting floating space rocks.”

“You still have no idea what sort of conflict to use there,” Simon guessed, not looking up from his research on how to write.

“I’m thinking of going with space whales,” the Writer shrugged. “Well not whale, whales” She added when he gave her a look. “More like space termites. Sort of.”

“How much ‘sort of’ are we talking here,” asked Ship, alarmed at the thought of an infestation. “I’m already damaged, I can’t afford to get eaten.”

“Mwahaha?”

~*~*~*~*~

Ship slowed as best he could as they neared the asteroid belt. They were moving near the max speed for the nets, but the shadow ship was closer than he would have liked. He had tried increasing acceleration, but the damage to the hull reduced his ability to maintain it.

With a small prayer to the gods of probability he skimmed the edges of the field, slowing just enough to weave his way, carefully scooping up only the smallest of rock and ice fragments. Once he was sure he had enough material, he slowly retracted the nets until the masses of raw materials were tucked up against the side of the ship. Then he bolted back into space, ramping up the acceleration as much as he dared.

The shadow ship had been kept barely out of range and it matched him step for step.

~*~*~*~*~

Simon and Cat waited inside what they’d taken to calling the panic room as Ship gathered the asteroids. Cat was pacing in a spiral around the room, working his way from the outside walls to the center and back again. The hologram was absent this time and the ship didn’t respond when Simon queried about the status of the harvesting.

When the door reopened without any apparent fighting Simon let out the breath he’d been holding. The worst part about this was that overwhelming feeling of powerlessness. He had very carefully managed his own life to reduce the unexpected dangers. Sure, living on the side of a mountain was inherently unsafe, but statistically it was one of the saner options. At least to him.

Here, not only could he not prepare for the worst case scenarios, he also couldn’t do anything to avoid them. They had to trust in the ship to keep them safe and he wasn’t sure if he could honestly trust the ship to do anything with their best interests if it conflicted with whatever mission it was on.

The two of them wandered back down the hallway to the crew quarters. The other corridors were still missing, but now there was the sound of some sort of construction or repair work being done. For a moment Simon wondered if the Ship was just provided a recording of the noise because they were expecting it, but then shook that off as a little too paranoid.

~*~*~*~*~

Ship was totally faking the construction noises. It was going to take a decent amount of time for his robots to unpack, process, and store the raw materials gathered. That had to be done before any of it could be transferred to the repair drones who could start working on the ship. From past experience he knew the crew was expecting a more immediate solution, so he’d learned how to fake repairs.

There were several undamaged sections of the ship that he could open up as time progressed. Since none of them were vital to the crew’s existence, he had no problem faking their current state of repair. Cat and Simon might be a little bored in the crew quarters, but they’d relish the chance to get into the bits of the ship as he released them. That was infinitely preferable to them having the run of the whole thing and then pestering him about the state of the repairs on the small portion that was actually damaged.

It took more processing power than he was comfortable with to keep everything running full tilt, but the shadow behind them was much too close for comfort so he split himself out among the robots and tried not to obsess over the probabilities.

~*~*~*~*~

“Does it have to do this repairing a lot?” Simon asked Cat who was stretched out on the bed in a boneless sprawl that looked almost painful.

“No, scared building infrequent.” Cat said. “Polite mending, den making.” He gestured to the room and mimed clawing at the walls and then wiping them clear. “Constant.”

“Well that’s something, I guess. I’m just happy we didn’t get hit again,” Simon sighed. “I just wish I knew why we were here, or what we are doing, or why there’s someone out there trying to kill us.”

“Constant silence,” Cat griped.

“Hey, lemme see your tablet.” Simon had a hunch he wanted to follow up on and Cat handed over this tablet with only a tiny hint of curiosity. The cat had become incredibly bored with their situation and had taken to sleeping for longer and longer portions of the day.

Simon leaned back against the side of the bed and started comparing the two interfaces. Cat’s tablet was much simpler in its display, but Simon had a feeling that the ship might have given them different information based on the information gathered from their broadcasts. Since he hadn’t been able to properly parse the cat’s language there was a chance he’d included more than he meant to.

Unlike his tablet, which had a large portion of English words from the beginning, Cat’s tablet seemed to be entirely pictograms. Simon spent some time randomly surfing around, trying to figure out what it meant before the tablet abruptly shut off and then rebooted to the same screen into his own tablet interface.

There were quite a few options missing.

Simon had some rather choice words for ship at that point, but kept his quiet and kept working instead. He could always as Cat to use the tablet and see if the display reverted, although the ship might simply disable access altogether.

In his random surfing he did manage to find a few videos from other aliens broadcasts and he wasted the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out what was going on.

Cat napped.

~*~*~*~*~

“I’m seeing a significant lack of space termites,” Cat pointed out from his growing nest of blankets and beanbag foundation. “Also, I am a little annoyed that I am napping for a good portion of this”

The Writer just looked at his blanket fort.

“In the story,” Cat objected.

“You can go back to being a mighty warrior later,” Simon said, “but I have to say your whole aggressively napping thing is really in character.”

There was a grumble from the blankets.

“Either way, he has a point. There have been no space termites yet.” Simon pointed out. “Nothing has happened and there are a lot of words of nothing.” He frowned over at the laptop. “You are going to bore all the readers into giving up before anything exciting happens.”

“Hey, you got shot!” Objected the Writer.

And we were supposed to get space termites.”

“Can you stop volunteering me for space termites?” Ship groused.

But writing was over for the day, so Ship was safe. For now…

~*~*~*~*~

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Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!