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: 3,613
Total Wordcount: 42,856 (includes Title, Chapter Headers, etc.)
Plans A Through Z
“Four days, ten thousand words, we got this.” The Writer looked happily at her clean desk. “I think.”
“I just want to be rescued,” Red said with a sigh. The alien was sitting in his beanbag still only roughly defined, a bipedal shadow with an aura of bird-ness. “And while I’d like to say I have full faith in your ability to problem solve, I don’t see how you are going to drive the herd away enough for us to escape.”
“I will eat them,” said Cat, dismissively. He had abandoned his beanbag for another couch sprawl and was trying to read the Muse’s tablet while upside down. She was ignoring him. He was ignoring that she was ignoring him.
“There has to be something that they are afraid of,” said Simon. “If they had no predators than the damned things would have taken over the planet by now. There has to be a reason that they hide in the forests. Something on the grasslands must eat them… other than Cat.” He amended as Cat preened.
“Well, time to find out.” Said the Writer and she set the word sprint timer.
“We need more information,” said Simon as they sat in the tent that night. The herd had returned, but was unable to damage the tent material and was simply grazing around them. There was the occasion headbutt of the walls, but it was halfhearted at best. “These things have to be scared of something.”
Cat nodded. “Something eats them, otherwise they are too many. If we can be this, they will flee.” He bared his teeth at the wall as another headbutt attempt was made.
They hadn’t tried scaring the herd away, they wanted to save that for the daylight when they were unprotected.
“Too bad we can’t put wheels on the tent and just push our way through.” Simon said with a sigh.
“Hah,” Cat chuffed, “without anchors they push us where they will. We are not as strong as that.”
“We can talk to the colonists,” said Ship.
“Wait, what?” Simon and Cat looked up. “I thought we couldn’t get a signal through?”
“The other ship has been talking to someone,” Ship said. “It’s a very basic form of communication in and only a yes/no signal coming out, but it is communication.”
“Why didn’t it tell us that?” Simon was getting incredibly frustrated with the planetside ship. “This would be so much easier if we could see what they have already tried.”
“I don’t think I was supposed to notice the communication,” admitted Ship. “I just happened to catch it because I’ve been trying to monitor the noises the herd makes.”
“Wait, those things aren’t intelligent, right?” Simon was already feeling oddly nauseous at the thought his dinner might have been a person.
“No more than goats,” said Ship. “They are clever for animals, but there is no sign of actual intelligence. They do have a series of subvocal communications that appear to be linked to meanings, but ‘food’, ‘danger’, ‘here I am, where are you?’ and ‘help’ seem to be the extent of it. I’m still not sure if ‘danger’ and ‘help’ are the same thing, they seem to have different tones.”
“That could be useful,” said Simon, “but is it safe for us to talk to the colonists? Is there a way to pretend we were just trying out ideas and stumbled into finding the channel?”
“They should be able to hear us through the normal channels,” said Ship. “There’s no need to try and use the same one, unless there is some other reason they are using that one. The communicators they have to talk to the colony should be able to pick us up.”
“Well, here’s goes nothing then,” said Simon as he went to unpack their radios.
When the radio started beeping with an unknown call and response request, the flock wasn’t sure what to do. While the signal was very similar to their ship, it wasn’t the same and it wasn’t using the established communications patterns. Their ship hadn’t mentioned anything about the rescue party trying to communicate with them and they had been under the impression that it wasn’t possible with the weaker handheld signal generators.
While the flock was debating over how (and if) to answer, Green pushed the button and asked who they were.
“Wait, backup,” objected Simon.
“The ship they were on has been traveling for decades right? So these birds aren’t the originals unless they live a crazy long time. So how much has their language changed in the meantime?” Simon looked over at Ship. “Back me up here.”
“My own crew died relatively soon after I left,” admitted Ship. “But given a long enough time, which they’ve had plus ten years, there could easily be some dialect shifting.”
“But our ship would have had language training in the original,” objected Red.
“Why would you have used it?” Said the Muse. “You’ve got plenty of your own folks onboard, wouldn’t they have been more inclined to train the kids themselves?”
Red looked thoughtful.
“Oh hell, why not.” The Writer reset the word sprint timer and ran with it.
“I have no idea what they just said.” Simon stared at the communicator.
Cat shrugged, he’d never heard the language outside of Ship’s impromptu cram sessions and what they had been taught sounded nothing like the colonists’ chirps and clicks.
“It’s shorthand,” said Ship as he tried to parse the meaning through the static interference. “And a very weird dialect of some sort, but I think I can work with this.” There was a pause and then Ship replied with something that sounded much closer to the musical language he’d been teaching them.
Red stared at the radio for a moment, he hadn’t heard the more formal speech patterns in a long time, not even their ship spoke with them anymore. But it was somehow easier to parse the music from the static and he wished they had thought to try it.
“What did it say?” Most of the flock had never heard the old songs and only Gray was old enough to have learned it from his parents like Red had.
“They are near the edge of the forest, but are surrounded by the herd. They want to know what we have already tried.” Red frowned. “Is there are harm in telling them? They appear to be the rescue that our ship spoke of and they know the old songs.”
“So would the shadow ships,” said Violet. “But we’re running out of supplements. If we stay in the caves much longer we will die. If we try and fight our way through the herd, we will die. What extra risk could a shadow ship be?”
Gray and Green nodded and while Blue looked uncomfortable, the youngster didn’t object.
So Red began the long process of trying to remember the right words from his youth to explain the situation.
“They don’t speak that well, do they.” Simon asked as the sing-song response came back through. Unlike Ship’s transmission this one was halting and somewhat offkey.
“Well enough,” said Ship as he worked his way through the message.
“So?” Cat was starting out at the herd through the translucent panels. Thankfully it was a one-way transparency and the herd had grudgingly started to ignore the tent instead of headbutt it. The last one had been quite tasty, but they still had plenty of leftovers so he had no good reason to go hunting again quite yet. Other than it was fun. He flexed his claws longingly.
“They had tried a variety of noises, although I doubt they have noticed the subvocals since those a well outside their range of hearing. They also tried flashbangs, which only made the herd more aggressive. Attempts to sneak out while the herd is away grazing don’t work, since they animals move much faster than they do. They had only minor weaponry with them and have run out of ammunition.”
“And they aren’t as scary as Cat,” Simon added.
“I hate to point this out,” said the Muse,” “but what happened to that swarm of bugs from earlier? We’re closer to the forest, shouldn’t they be bothering the triceradeer?”
“Huh, I forgot about those.” The Writer frowned.
“Maybe the triceradeer use them as cover?” Offered Red. “They don’t come out on the plains in the daytime, maybe it’s because whatever eats them doesn’t like the bugs.”
“Then why didn’t it eat us,” objected Cat. “We were out there walking around for several days.”
“Maybe all of this is a migration issue,” offered Simon. “Maybe the herd shows up a little before the predators do.”
“We’ve been here ten years,” Red objected. “We would have noticed this before now.”
“Hmm, maybe something else happened to drive the herd to this area then?” The Writer said. “Maybe they lived in another section of the planet, outside the normal range of the colony and have only recently shifted over. That would mean the predators might still be following them, or they came here somehow without being followed.”
“I know the other colony ship is a bit… lazy,” Ship said. “But there’s no way they wouldn’t have noticed something as massive as this.”
“It seems to have a pretty strong track record of not mentioning things it doesn’t think are important,” Simon pointed out. “Maybe it did notice them, but they were too far away to be a danger?”
“It’s worth asking at least,” the Writer said as she set the word sprint timer.
“Are these creatures native to the area?” Ship asked the other colony ship.
“Yes, but not this specific location.” It answered. “The colony site was chosen because of the lack of competing wildlife.”
“Is there a reason the herd moved here?”
Ship paused, trying to find a tactful way to ask what the hell was going on. “What information do you have on the species.”
“Medium sized herbivore that travels in family herds of one hundred to three hundred. Previously non-hostile.”
“What is it a prey species for? What does it eat?”
“Unknown and plants, obviously.” The other ship seemed to be getting annoyed.
“How is the population maintained if it has no predators?”
“Unknown.” The other ship snapped. “It is your job to asses the situation and rescue the colonists. I needed to concentrate on establishing the colony.”
Ship gave up.
“So what did you find out?” Simon asked as the sun came up and they started packing up the tent.
“Nothing useful,” Ship said shortly. “I have probes out now trying to locate another herd so we can gather more information. Right now we only have what we’ve observed.”
“From what the colonists’ said we’ll be attacked the moment we enter the forest and the communication transmissions will become harder to make.” Simon looked over to where Cat was driving in another one of Ship’s signal boosters into the ground. “If we get stuck in there this might get complicated, so we’re going to see if we can go up the rocks instead.
There was a line of rough stone that made it out of the forest a little further down. It would be a circular way towards the colonists and much harder route to walk, but it would cut down on the amount of forest they had to traverse.
“Keep singing,” Cat said as he finished up with the transmitter. “They might know things without the right words to talk.”
“It can’t hurt.”
Blue was frustrated beyond moulting. The new ship could only talk to the oldest of the elders and as much talking as was happening, nothing was actually getting done. She was holed up by one of the spy holes that overlooked the herd and was doing her best to glare them into oblivion.
The creatures were settling down for the day. The herd had sentry animals that seemed to rotate throughout the daylight hours. Her favorite triceradeer was one with a large white spot on its back, which made it easy to find. It almost always took the first watch and she spotted it after a minute at the near edge of the herd.
They had tried several things over the weeks they’d been stuck in the caves. Scaring the triceradeer did nothing, but neither did trying to make friends. The herd reacted to anything larger than a badger with the circular trample that had proved terrifyingly effective.
There had been some talk to trying to start a fire in the hopes it would drive them away, but it have been agreed to that it would be a very last resort. As frustrating as the animals were, no one wanted them dead. Just… somewhere else.
“The more I think about it, the less I think these things have normal predators,” the Writer said as she mulled over the herd. Anything that attacks them would have to be terrifying, like Cat was the first time they met him, or fast enough to grab a meal and then outrun the herd.
“So something like birds or crocodiles,” said Simon. “Something where if it grabs them the rest can’t follow.”
“Or really large trapdoor spiders,” offered the Muse.
Everyone else ignored her suggestion.
“Or it could simply be a competing herbivore,” Cat pointed out. “Something large enough that their trample wouldn’t do enough damage or something in large enough groups that they couldn’t encircle it.”
“That still doesn’t give us a way to get them out,” Simon pointed out.
The Writer still had no good ideas on that front, so she set the word sprint timer and got to work.
Cat and Simon made their way carefully down to the edge of the rock formation. They were staying quite a ways away from the treeline and so far the herd didn’t seem to be objecting. Simon was already sore and grumpy and the idea of adding rock climbing into their adventure was not at all appealing.. But neither was getting trampled to death. So he climbed with only a little bit of complaining.
Cat learned quickly which noises Simon was making were important and which sounded important but could be ignored. The human was making quite a lot of the second kind, but so far none of the local wildlife seemed to care.
A few of the triceradeer had come to the base of the rocks and looked up at them, but none of them seemed interested in attempting the climb. Cat fantasized about leaping down on them, but they still had plenty of food left. Alas.
They manage to get quite a bit further up the rocks than he’d expected. Simon, for all his noise-making was putting in a serious effort not to slow them down. Cat was impressed with the human’s stubbornness. He had originally assumed he would be forced to leave Simon behind at some point, but that didn’t look like it would happen.
He wondered if it was worth trying to convince the human to stay behind on the planet with him.
“No, there is no way we can get up to where they are.” Red said when the Ship queried if they could reach the top of the ridgeline from within the caves. “The herd nests right outside the caverns and none of the cave exits that we can fit through are outside of their reach.”
“Why haven’t they come inside the caves?” Ship asked.
“We blockaded the entrances, but the brush is easily removeable from the inside.”
“Well, at least they are closer.” Violet said when the computer broke connection so it could brainstorm with their rescuers. “Although I’m not sure what good that will do.”
Their own ship can been miserly with updates and they had refrained from hinting that they were in communication with the second ship. Since the planetside ship hadn’t mentioned the possibility there was no real way for them tell it outright.
“Could one of us sneak out there and meet them?” Blue asked. “The rocks aren’t that steep and the herd takes a while to get back here from grazing, even with the alarm calls.”
“What would that help?” Gray asked, dismissively, but Blue refused to be cowed.
“What could it hurt!” She ruffled her feathers. “I know not everyone can make the climb, I’m not saying we leave you here… I’m just saying it might help if we had a way to work together.”
“You just want to see what they look like,” Violet said. The Ship had no words to describe Simon or Cat so the two were still just vague concepts to the flock.
“That too,” Blue admitted. “But communications would be clearer outside the caves as well, maybe the Ship could understand me.”
“If nothing else, it will mean some of us can escape,” said Red finally. “I’ll check with the ship when it calls again.”
“They want to come up here?” Simon blinked.
“Just one to start with, to see if it’s possible.” Said Ship. “Of the five only two appear to be able to make the climb fast enough to escape the herd. The older three will remain in the caves until we find another solution.”
Cat seemed unconcerned with the idea of houseguests so Simon shrugged “I guess it’s okay then. They know we don’t speak bird, right?”
“I’m going to have translation issues myself with the younger ones,” Ship admitted. “They speak a very clipped slang that I’m not used to yet. But I’ve learned how to deal with countless languages over the years, at least this will be one I was built for.”
“Anything we should be careful of then?”
“As long as Cat doesn’t try and eat them we should be fine.”
Cat was not amused.
“When you come up the ridge they will be waiting as far away from the edge as you can.” Red said as Blue got ready to make her run. “They are not hostile, but they will be very different.” He tugged on her arm and she turned to give him her full attention. “This is very important, you need to remember you are all thinking creatures. No matter how terrifying they make look or how hostile they may act the are not a threat.”
Blue nodded reluctantly, she had been trying to avoid thinking about the danger. She had always scored well in her temperment testing, but those had all been simulations. This was the first time she would be putting her training to a true test.
“I know you will succeed.” said Red and he stepped back so she could leave.
With a deep breath she bolted out of the cleared cave entrance, racing for the rock face even as the sentry triceradeer took up the alarm calls.
“I’m still having a hard time with idea of calling the triceradeer,” Simon said as the Writer turned off the timer and looked down at the new pages. “It’s such a stupid–“
“Silly,” interjected the Writer.
“–stupid name. I’m assuming in the next draft we’ll be naming them something appropriate?”
“Triceradeer is actually pretty descriptive,” said the Muse who had created a small mountain of blankets on the couch. “But I suppose it depends on the POV what it would be named. Cat can hardly call it that, he has no idea what a deer or a dinosaur is.”
“This is totally an argument to have in December,” the Writer said. “I still don’t know how to rescue anyone!”
“Can we have one or a whole handful of Ship’s drones make the ‘come help me kill this’ noise?” Asked Simon.
“Nope, I can’t get close enough.” Said Ship.
“Can we go plant speakers then?” Asked Cat. “We could put out a bunch of them to lead them away so as soon as they get near one the next one goes of.”
“Could we stuff everyone in the tent and just let them push us out of the forest?” Asked the Muse, who was not trying at all hard to be helpful, so they ignored her.
“How about drilling through the roof of the caves?” Ship asked and then realized that this would require a robot which would have issues functioning inside the forest. “Nevermind.”
There was a pause.
“I think the speakers might work,” said Red. “The herd leaves behind sentries, but some of those will leave where the other cries go out. The remainder should be easy enough for us to hold off while we get clear.”
“I should be able to plant the speakers easily,” said Cat. “I’m fast and stealthy, plus they are already a little afraid of me.” He still looked rather smug about that fact.
“That… actually sounds like a decent plan.” Said the Writer. “It doesn’t really tie into any of the things that you’ve done before this, so we might need to tweak it to another plan in the next draft, but this will do for now.”
Red looked quite relieved at the idea rescue was in the near future.
“But not tonight.” The Writer yawned. “This is plenty of story for today and better to start tomorrow off on the right foot!”
“You’re only two thousand words behind,” said the Muse without looking up from her fan fiction.
“Which means I only need to do a little bit extra the next three days. Besides, if I start on that now I won’t get to bed until midnight.” The Writer packed up gear and headed out to pretend to be a responsible adult. “Night all!”
The fictives ignored her.