Placeholder (NaNoWriMo Day 29)

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: 3,2,71
Total Wordcount: 47,687 (includes Title, Chapter Headers, etc.)

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Out Of the Caves, For Realz

“They are leaving the caves today even if I have to literally write ‘and they escaped somehow’, said the Writer as she stomped into the faux-living room. “I want to win this tonight! I don’t want to be counting on actually getting words in tomorrow because as soon as I do that Murphy’s LAw is going to descend and ruin my Month End.”

“Well, you aren’t that far behind.” The Muse said. “I guess.” There was a pause. “I mean if you look at it in terms of other years where you wrote over 10k on the very last day, then this is nothing.”

“Right, so we’re off.” The Writer picked up her pen, set the word sprint timer and got to work.


Ship had said something to Simon that upset the human, but Simon hadn’t translated it for Cat and the feline was trying to figure out how to ask without making things worse. Then he remembered he was a cat and just went ahead and asked.

“Ship basically said we’re never going home again.”

“I know that,” said Cat, confused. “So why has it upset you? Did you not know that?”

“I knew it, I just didn’t know it,” said Simon, which made even less sense to Cat. The feline had been getting better at figuring out how the humans thought, but sometimes Simon confused the heck out of him. How did you not know something you knew? Semantics!

“It is our life now to wander,” Cat said without pity. “You need to know this, however you must. It is a truth.” He looked out the translucent windows at Blue. “I thought I might stay here, when this was done, but I don’t think they would make good packmates.”

“They are a little different, aren’t they.” Simon looked over at Blue. “I wouldn’t have thought those little guys were what Ship was built for originally.

“Hah, Ship has remade itself many times.” Cat laughed. “You have seen the walls move and mend, what made you think it could not do more?”

“Oh!” Simon hadn’t thought of that at all. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea that Ship was much more fluid than he had expected. That could also mean it would be very easy to get rid of crewmembers it didn’t like be venting them to space.


“And that’s why Simon’s a psychopath,” said Ship dryly as the cast wandered into the living room from the story fog. “

“What, you thought it too!” Simon said.

“But I didn’t say it.” Ship was quite smug, but also safely hovering out of reach of retaliation.

“That doesn’t count for anything.” Simon as he got himself a drink and sat down to read. “And my character is such a mess right now, I refuse to lay claim to any character trait other than ‘awesome’.”

“Awesome isn’t a trait,” objected the Writer. “And you are all devolving into the same character again, which always happens to me.”

“Up until you give us proper backstories, sketches, and a few dozen flash fiction adventures.” Ship said, with a rather superior air. “Then we’ll separate back out into voices you don’t have to identify every single line in group conversation.”

“Just because you’re logical doesn’t mean you’re right.”

“Do I get a sketch?” Asked Blue, who was so very very undefined that it actually hurt the Writer a bit to look directly at her. “Seriously, I have a rough size, a rough section of the animal kingdom, and a whole bunch of description of what I’m not.”

“You’re a warm blooded bird,” countered the Writer, “And you are Blue. Beyond that I have no idea what you look like. But we’ll hash that out later. Right now I have to get you out of the cave.”

And lo, the word war timer was reset.


Simon and Cat spent the rest of the evening just chatting and working on their language a bit. Once the sun started to drop Blue moved into the tent with them, but tried to stay as far away as possible. So they just tried to ignore that she was there and carry on as normal.

Blue gradually relaxed and towards the end of the conversation. Right before they turned in for the night/morning, she seemed somewhat interested in the back and forth dance of figuring out a good translation. But she never interrupted and was speaking to Ship the whole time.

Simon really thought he was going to be more unnerved with having Blue in the tent, but Cat had positioned himself between them and the smaller alien was… well, small. He just couldn’t get himself to take her as a serious threat because all she’d done so far was look like she wanted to run away.

Now if she could just keep from running away long enough for them to rescue the others, they could call this whole mess a win.


The next time the herd went out Green bolted up the cliffs to join them.

Simon and Cat let Blue and Ship do all the talking while they hovered in the background again. Simon was a little depressed to see Green had the same sort of unreasonable terror at seeing them. Was he really that scary? He supposed he was, but it still felt a little insulting. He had promised to help them and not harm them after all.


“How can you stand them?” Green was terrified and Blue tried to find a way to talk him back off the ledge where his underbrain would make him flee.

“Unfocus your eyes,” she suggested. “Use the circle mediations, trust me.”

Green looked at her like she had lost her mind, but did so, pupils blowing wide as he forced himself to relax his senses. The circle meditation was about controlling the input from their senses so they could better interpret the input as thinking creatures. Unfocusing allowed them to ignore the visual input and give preference to other senses like touch or hearing.

Thankfully the fur and not-fur were being quiet and the birds had a poor sense of smell, so they were effectively invisible when sight was ignored.

Green calmed considerably at this and she was gradually able to bring him back out of the meditation without him panicking.

She felt rather proud of herself and chose to ignore the fact that she’d stumbled onto the idea by pure luck the other day/night.


“These are very high-strung aliens,” Simon pointed out. “How are they supposed to be useful again?”

“You’re one to talk.” Blue ruffled her feathers in annoyance. “You have no claws, no fangs, no beak, how are you ‘supposed to be useful’?”

“I’m the everyman so the reader has someone to identify with,” he countered.

“You’re a psychopath not an everyman,” objected the Writer.

Simon raised an eyebrow. “You keep saying that, but until the next draft I’m not believing it.”

“He has a point,” said the Muse.

“Sush you.”


“So, you’ve explained the plan to them?” Simon and Cat were waiting for the drone to arrive with the transmitters as Blue and Green chatted up a storm.

“Yes,” Ship replied using the tent’s speakers. “They aren’t impressed with the plan, partially because they can’t hear the noises the herd makes so they have to take our word for it. They don’t like trusting things they can’t verify themselves.”

There was a pause.

“They have made it very clear, however, that if you fail and anyone of them is hurt or killed that they expect me to execute one or both of you as payment.” Ship sounded almost apologetic.

Simon noticed that what he didn’t sound was at all alarmed by this ultimatum.

“And you told them no, right?”

There was a pause and Cat looked over as Simon started to get angry.

“You don’t understand, the situation is more complicated than–”

“You told them NO, right?” The human demanded, cutting the ship off. “I am not risking my life for someone who thinks it’s A-ok to have us killed if anything goes wrong. I’m not over here demanding that any of them be killed if something happens to us!”

“Translate please,” Cat broke into the conversation, focusing on Simon.

Simon hashed out a flustered translation.

“Blood price is fair,” Cat countered. “They are giving us their lives, if we fail them how is it not our fault?”

“You don’t make things better by killing people!”

“Not ‘better’,” Cat said, confused. “Blood price makes things even in the world. How do you balance things?” If the human seriously lived in a culture where murder, even accidental was simply ignored… Cat was going to have serious thoughts about continuing this friendship.

“If you do it on purpose, you go to jail. If it’s accidental, well, you go to jail for that too sometimes– unless it really wasn’t your fault.” Simon said. “But we don’t kill people! Not in civilized countries. Mostly.”

“But you take from them their future,” said Cat, almost following Simon’s logic. Jail was not translating well, why would you contain a problem instead of deal with it? “So this is the same, yes? Only you kill them slowly with time instead of claws.”

“Well, yes.” Simon admitted. “But they have to have done something to cause the person to die. We’re saving them.”

“This is all theoretical,” interjected Ship. “We can work on the translation of laws after the rescue if someone is hurt.”

Simon was Not Pleased and probably would have complained about it for a little longer, but the Writer was trying to get the birds out of the cave before the 30th.


“Alright, how is that not cheating?” Simon pointed at the last sentence. “That’s obviously not part of the prose at all.”

“You’re just annoyed that something else popped up to slow the rescue down,” said Cat from his beanbag lair. He’d added a second beanbag to the setup and was now nesting under it while on top of the first one. It looked very comfortable and the Writer as a bit jealous.

“That too,” admitted Simon. “But there’s striving for wordcount and then there’s just sloppy.”

“Fine, fine,” the Writer had to admit it was just a little bit lazy. “I’ve only got 3.5k words to go, I get a little loopy at the end of things, sorry.” She reset the word count timer. “Out of the caves for real this time.”


The transmitters ship dropped off came in without a hitch and Ship was able to broadcast to them without issues. Cat snuck down off the rocks and vanished for most of the day as he laid them out in a path that range along the edge of the wood. The plan was that Ship would start the danger call at the first one and then gradually move the call further away as the herd arrived.

Cat made sure to leave a large dosing of his scent along the trail as well as some of the leftovers from his earlier kill. He also left his own blood and some shed fur behind at points too, in order to tease them into thinking he was vulnerable.

They had no idea just how clever the herd was, but they figured better to overestimate than under.

When he returned to the rocks Blue and Green were chatting away with Ship and Simon was pointedly ignoring them.

The human might not like the idea, but he’d realised they were doing the rescue with or without him and there was no way he was making it back through the herd on his own.


“They have a way to lure the herd away, they think.” Said Red. “They have laid a trail and want us to wait until we are sure they will stay on it before we leave. Blue and Green will come down the cliffs to us and the other ship’s crew will distract any of the remaining herd. We are to move as quickly as we can out of range.”

Violet and Gray looked less than enthusiastic and Red had to admit the idea of putting more stress on his body, already injured and less than well fed, was not his choice either. But it was the only way out.

And the aliens had agreed to a blood price if it failed.

Red had been very reluctant to agree to the plan before that happened. As much as he would like to have trusted the other Ship, these other people weren’t people, weren’t flock, and he couldn’t count on them to value his life, or the lives of the other elders properly without it.

Now he was sure the two would do anything to keep them safe, including risking their own lives. They could die saving him or they could die for failing to save them, the choice should be easy even to aliens.

The three gathered themselves and prepared for the flight.


“Alright, ground rules,” said Simon. “No one gets killed or seriously injured. Nothing goes wrong with the plan. We have time to make it more complicated later, right now we’re just getting everyone the heck out of that cave. Got it?”

“Aye, aye Captain!” Said the Muse from behind her tablet and mug of hot cocoa. “I’m sure the Writer will be happy to help you out on that.”

Something should go wrong,” the Writer objected.

“No.” Simon said firmly. “We’ve got less than three thousand words to wrap this up and unless you’ve got a plot bunny up your sleeve I don’t see how we’re going to get wormholes and defeating the shadow ship into this.”

“…point.” The Writer sighed and toned down the unexpected mayhem for now.

But she did make a note in the margins.


“So the plan is to, what, just attempt to terrify the remaining sentries?” Simon asked as they prepped for the escape. They had loaded the drone that had brought the transmitters up with what they could and sent it on ahead using the manual controls Ship had installed. It wasn’t fancy, but anything they could do to reduce weight would help in the run.

“You look scary, I’ll kill things,” Cat said with a grin. “They should be mostly gone, there won’t be more left than I can handle.”

“You say that now,” said Simon tiredly, but hefted his improvised baseball bat alternative.

Once the herd was out at it’s normal grazing area Ship signaled that he was going to begin transmitting. He lit up the beacon closest to them and after a few confused bellows, the herd took up the call and began the stampede.

The four up on the rocks watches as some of the sentries hesitated and then went to join the charge. More remained than they had hoped, but Ship was just starting to light up the second beacon and the herd had gotten to where they could smell Cat’s fake fights.

The pitch and volume of the herd changed at that and more of the sentries back at the caves peeled away. There were still more left than they had hoped, but it would be doable.

They waited for Ship to light the fourth beacon, which confirmed the herd was now outside of hearing range because there was no reaction from the remaining sentries.

With that Cat and Simon burst down the hill away from the caves, making as much racket as they could. The remaining sentries immediately beelined over to them, although there weren’t enough to properly make the whirling circle of death.

While Cat and Simon fended them off, Green and Blue snuck unnoticed into the caves.

“They’re out and moving,” Ship updated Cat and Simon as the sentries started to make bolder attacks. They still hadn’t actually come to trading blows, but the next charge would probably be the last test. Cat still hadn’t pulled out his ‘scary giant white cat’ routine, they were saving that for when they needed to run themselves.

Simon didn’t answer Ship, their job was to keep fighting until they heard the all clear and then to make it back up the rocks. After the herd calmed down they could try sneaking off the same way they had gotten up.

One of the triceradeer charged a little too close to Simon and he got in a nice solid blow with his mace. There was a sharp crack and it staggered back on three legs. The rest of the sentries pause at that and Cat took the opportunity to bodycheck one to the ground and snap his jaws around its throat.

He wasn’t quite big enough to get a suffocating grip and it threw him off after the initial shock, but it bought them a little more time. The sentries were made of sterner stuff than the rest of the herd and weren’t going to give up the fight as easily.

A few more back and forths that left both sides bruised and bleeding and then Ship’s call of all clear came in.

Cat was already panting, his coat alternating black and white, but his ears perked up at the signal and with a warning snarl to Simon he went beserk.

Simon followed the plan and bolted as soon as there was an opening, taking a few more hard swing on the way. The sentries had taken some serious damage from the fight, but there were still enough that getting back up the rocks without getting knocked down again could be an issue.

So Cat was staying and going super saiyan while Simon made it up.

And it worked, but just barely.

Simon cried safe as soon as he had a handhold above the reach of the herd. There was a series of loud roars, bellows from the sentries and then Cat was passing him, leaping up the rocks with a grace Simon could only envy.

But he was nice about it and offered Simon a hand up when he was done.


They were able to sneak back off the rocks, but it took them longer than expected. The rest of the herd had started returning just as they had recovered from the first fight and there were quite a few futile attempts by the uninjured sentires to climb the rocks to get at them.

Simon and Cat had to wait a little bit for them to calm down and then they slowly snuck off the rocks and out into the plains.

They rejoined the group of birds and started walking to the rover.

A few days later they made it to the rover safely and then a few days after that they got back to the base.

Everyone was safe… except for the shadow ship that was on its way there.


“Nothing like having a plan work perfectly, eh?” the Muse teased as the Writer came back out of the prompt.

“That’s not how stories are supposed to work!” She objected, but held fast to the NaNo traditions of not-deleting-anything. “But it will do for now. I guess.”

“Now you just have to figure out how to deal with the shadow ship, using two spaceships with no weapons, one of which is mostly dismantled and trapped on the ground.” The Muse looked over at the fictives, who shrugged helplessly. “And no one has any suggestions, apparently.”

“Which is why it’s time for bed,” the Writer said. “Y’all better hope I have really interesting dreams or tomorrow is going to be a complete handwave.”

And so it went.


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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!