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: 2,564
Total Wordcount: 39,246 (includes Title, Chapter Headers, etc.)
Behold The Herd
“I wonder if I’m ever going to have a NaNo without this last minute sprint to the finish line.” The Writer said with a sigh.
“Every November is another chance to find out,” said the Muse. “But looking at things historically… no.”
Red, who had been having a long involved conversation with Simon about NaNo and all it entailed looked over with a worried trill. “Does that mean you are going to leave our story unfinished?” He really didn’t relish the idea of being trapped in the caves forever.
“No”, said the Writer firmly. “Even if I miss word count, I’ll do a little summary of whatever is still unwritten. It won’t be pretty, but it will finish the draft. But on that note–” she reset the word sprint timer. “–to work!”
The next two days of travel were boring and exciting at the same time. Nothing unexpected happened, after the unexpected night swarms, but everything they passed was new and thus interesting. At least to Cat.
Simon was less enthralled with the countryside. He was worrying about the fact that soon they’d be leaving the safety of the rover and forced to continue on foot. In theory the tent was strong enough to prevent predators from entering, but they still had no real idea how the ‘herd’ –as the planetside ship referred to them– had managed to trap the colonists.
They were also only bringing in the barest of essentials, so if anything went wrong with the rescue, they were going to be forced to improvise. Part of that lay in the fact that Simon couldn’t carry very much, but also because most of the technology would theoretically not work once they got into the dense forests.
Simon wasn’t sure he was buying the idea that the forest was somehow interfering with electronics. The idea that trees (or bushes), no matter how alien, could be generating some sort of energy field that broke their gear, but wouldn’t harm them… was a bit farfetched.
So Cat rode with his head out the window, joyously drowning in the sights and smells of the planet and Simon sat inside and pondered the wide variety of things that could go wrong.
It was a fun trip.
“We’re here,” said Ship as the rover came to a stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere late the next morning.
Cay bounded out and did a quick joyous lap around the rover on all fours before he stopped, shook himself, and moved to help Simon clamber down the ladder.
“This will wait for us to get back, right?” Simon confirmed for the hundredth time as they unloaded the rover.
Ship didn’t bother to reply.
“You’re going slowly on purpose,” Cat complained as he watched Simon finished getting ready. The feline’s fur was a constant ripple of static spots shot through with random lightning bursts of impatience. He’d already strapped into his own backpack and lept about a bit to check the fit. It wasn’t as good as the ones from home, but it would do.
Simon refused to rise to the bait and carefully triple-checked everything one last time before he turned to face south. He’d never been hiking before, but he’d gone wandering around the cabin sometimes. Nature was beautiful, but he still prefered to see it from behind glass.
“So we head this way and you’ll check in every thirty minutes to confirm you can still hear us and we’re on the right path.” He could just see the edges of the cave system.
“Correct.” Said Ship.
There wasn’t any good reason to keep dawdling, so Simon finally headed out with Cat at his heels.
Well, at least for a few minutes and then the cat gave up and raced ahead to explore.
The rest of the trip that day was just as boring for Simon as it had been from the rover. Only this time his legs and feet hurt, not to mention the strain on his shoulders from the backpack.
Cat seemed to be having the best possible time and had been perfecting his hunting technique in the new terrain by practicing on Simon. He was quite good at vanishing into the grasses, even though they didn’t seem at all tall enough to high such a large creature.
Simon was not amused.
“Will you stop it!” He finally snapped after Cat leapt past him unexpectedly for the thirty time.
Cat turned and trotted back, rising from all fours to greet Simon with an inquisitive guessture. He still hadn’t managed to differentiate words, but he could tell the human was annoyed with him.
“You are startling me,” Simon signed, with the added down stripes that meant annoyance instead of amusement. “We’re almost at the location Ship wanted us to camp, why not go hunt dinner instead of me?”
Cat blinked, then worked out the translation for the second part and nodded. “I will bring dinner to the den site, be safe.” Then with a grin he vanished into the grass again.
Simon sighed and kept walking, another hour and they’d be done for the day.
Only four more days after that.
“So I’m assuming the bug swarm is going to be important somehow?” Asked Simon as he looked up from his tablet. He had been showing Red the joys of fan fiction and they were trying to figure out how to summon another tablet.
“Probably, I don’t know, pantsing!” Handwaved the Writer as she frowned down at her notes that were slowly starting to cover the desk again.
“Here,” the Muse handed Red a tablet she had pulled out of the couch. “The couch’s interdimensional cushions are more powerful that the chair’s.”
The bird gave a grateful chirp, refusing to contemplate the ridiculousness of that fact, and then sat down on his own beanbag. Cat had eventually emerged from his nest the previous day and shown the avian alien the joys of the squishy softness.
Simon was still in his comfy chair and refused to join in the bag furniture madness.
“So is anything else interesting going to happen between now and finally running into the herd?” Asked Cat from the depths of his beanbag, the tip of his tail was hanging over the lip and it twitched in a lazy rhythm.
“There should be something,” said the Writer, “but I’m going to skip it for now. I just want to get to the flock, get them rescued and tie up the main story plots. We can come back and add subplots if we have time.”
“Fair enough,” the Muse reached over and reset the word sprint timer. “Onwards!”
Nothing interesting happened until they got within a half-day’s walk of the forest edge. The signal from Ship was getting more and more garbled as they neared the forest, but they had been working out alternate methods of data transmission on their half hour check ins.
The planetside ship had been less than helpful when it came to methods of working around the interference. Ship was assuming this was because contact had been lost abruptly with the colonists, but he was a little concerned that the ship didn’t seem interested in the method he and his crew were working out.
To be fair to that ship, the communication methods he had with Simon wouldn’t work as well with the bird aliens because their language relied much more heavily on tone and specific word usage. WIth Simon tone wasn’t important and he could use basic words and have the meaning implied by the context.
Ship had a feeling Simon’s language lessons with Cat had also helped, since the human was already used to translating concepts without having the proper words at hand.
While communications were simplified, it was more than enough to have effective messages passed back and forth. As Simon and Cat were moving closer Ship was also working with an army of tiny flying drones to feel out exactly where the interference became too great to function.
Again, something he would have expected the planetside ship to have done, but it seemed uninterested in finding anything beyond the rough line where it couldn’t communicate perfectly with the bots.
Having worked with the space termites, Ship was much more willing to let them have a little bit of their own decision making process that they could fall back on when he lost touch. Since that skirted the rules that he had in place about creating AIs, he didn’t mention it to the other ship. Most likely it wouldn’t have learned to bend those rules the same way he had and it could cause issues.
Like the other ship trying to trigger a reset on Ship.
It was in the middle of one of the checkins (and communication tweaking) that Cat and Simon finally ran into the herd.
One moment they were standing along in the grass and the next a mass of animals exploded into sight. The beasts were running around them in circles, weaving in and out of the grass and each other, giving the illusion of a rising wave of undulating tans and shadows.
Simon yelped and tripped backwards as Cat shed his backpack and slipped on his reinforced fingerless gloves in one smooth move. With a roar the feline was a sudden bright brilliant white, with his fur on end he seemed to swell to twice his normal size, and for a moment the wave in front of them ebbed.
With a snarling roar that sounded suspiciously overjoyed the cat leapt into that hesitation, black claws flying and fur flashing in waves of black and white that started at this nose and flowed back across his body. He was utterly terrifying, at least from where Simon was sitting.
The hesitation in the wave turned into a true break as the animals bolted away from Cat with a rising chorus of low bellows ending in screams that reverberated in Simon’s bones.
Simon stayed here he was on the ground cover his head with one arm as Cat laid into the herd. He still couldn’t make out anything about the animals other than they were fast and he hoped that they’d captured recording clear enough to figure out what they heck these were.
In the end, it turned out they didn’t need to.
Cat stood triumphant over a downed whatever it was, his fur more pink than white as the rest of the herd disappeared back into the forest. Or wherever it had come from.
Simon waited for Cat to calm down, but that took quite a bit. So he ended up chatting with Ship as they went over the recordings instead.
Once Cat had finished doing his victory poses over the dead animal and cleaned his fur, they took a look at the beast.
It was tan, dark gray, and white striped and black accents which blended in well with the grasses. It appeared to be an herbivore of some sort, with cleft hooves, three small blunt triceratop-like horns, and this one was the size of a large donkey.
“It bites like it will taste good,” signed Cat happily and went to get the tools to start butchering his kill.
“They came out of nowhere,” said Simon, still a little shaken up by the ambush. “What if they come back?”
“I think Cat has scared them enough for tonight,” Ship said. “And the tent should protect you, but tomorrow may be… interesting.”
“You don’t say.” Simon muttered.
“Is there any way to tell when they are coming?” Simon asked Cat as he came back with the knives and testing kits.
“Yes,” Cat said with a grin. “They make low noise, bones sing.” He tapped his nose with a knife. “Didn’t know what it was. Now I know.”
“If we can’t scare them off again, there’s a good chance they can trample us.” Simon watched as Cat stuck the tester in the haunch of the beast and then waited for the lights to turn green before he started butchering.
“They did seem to have danger cry,” Ship noted. “It might be worth it to play that back if they return. It should at least confuse them and then Cat can persuade them to leave.”
“I hope they come back,” Cat said as the lights turned green. “These are tasty!”
The panicked cries of the herd reverberated in the caves as they returned to the forests and the flock rushed to the spyholes to see what was going on.
The herd poured back past them, their hooves echoing on the rock walls and temporarily drowning them with noise. But once they had passed the flock could hear the normal cries of the herd were interspersed with pain.
Alarmed they send out a request for updates to the their ship. Three yes, three nos. And then they waited.
“What does he mean by fight and herd?” Blue demanded as Red tried to interpret the transmission. “Is there another herd out there? Was that our rescue? Are they dead??”
“It could mean many things,” said Violet, trying to calm the younger bird. “Let us hope it means our rescue party has found a way to drive the herd away so we can leave.”
“That’s not possible,” countered Blue. “We’ve tried a thousand things and none of them worked!”
“They aren’t us,” Red reminded her, tiredly. “They are other types of people, maybe one of them has skills we do not.”
“‘Other types of people’,” sniffed Blue. “What sort of people are they if they aren’t us?”
Gray chittered angrily, that kind of thinking was what had led to the war. But before Gray could launch an attack, Red interrupted.
“There are many things you don’t know, hatchling.” He said sternly and Blue’s feathers flattened at the admonishment. “You are a thinking being. Wait and see. Think.”
The older birds chirped their agreement and even Green turned away from Blue in admonishment.
Blue sank down and offered an apology fluff of her feathers.
“You are young yet,” said Red. “That doesn’t mean you will not come to know these things, it only means you must be more aware of what you do not know.” He turned to look out the spyhole at the herd that was anxiously pacing around the caves. “So we wait.”
“Kids,” Simon raised a glass to Red who was looking exasperate. “Can’t live with ’em, can’t repopulate the species without them.”
“If only,” Red sighed.
“That’s actually not a bad place to leave it for tonight.” The Writer said with a yawn. “This is turning more and more into a story that I think I can edit come December.”
“January,” countered the Muse. “At least.“
“Alright, alright.” Agreed the Writer reluctantly. “But still, I think I can start to tie a bunch of the subplots back together to finish this up in a way that makes sense.”
“If I get to be the single-pawed savoir of the day, I have no objections.” Noted Cat.
“We’ll cross that mayhem when we get to it.” The Writer looked down at her growing pile of notes with a sigh, then valiantly swept them off the writing desk to join the piles on the floor. “Tomorrow you rescue!” There was a pause. “Somehow.”
“And then wormholes and then going home,” Simon added.