Norn Born - a Novel Excerpt
Excerpt from the Novel “Norn Born” by Tamara Wilhite
Kenyon was glad they were able to use one of the Borealis' units, rather than a rebuilt colonial heap. However, his fellow crew had already stripped it of non-essential items. Shouldn’t the bare bones craft appeal to Inverness’ efficiency? Nothing but what is utterly essential? Or is it the endless subtle noise that’s annoying him, when he wants silence?
The cup holders were gone, the plastic recycled. The heater was still installed and worked, but the cooling unit was now in a fridge in the expanded but empty communal kitchen. Most of the external sensors were gone, recycled for metal or environmental monitoring. The emergency supplies had also been commandeered for the communal stores. At least the suspension systems in the craft hadn't been tampered with. The terrain on this world was too rough to not have proper shock absorbers.
They'd traveled 300 kilometers to get here. They’d gone faster than the regulations allowed for this situation, but the sooner they got here, the sooner they could leave. The white noise was worse than the human silence. Kenyon desperately wanted conversation, but Inverness hadn't said 100 words on the way out. Watching the man work, Kenyon realized he didn’t know the man's first name. Kenyon focused back on the view, his eyes straining for the reflection of light on water in the depths below.
The colonists didn’t know the depth or breadth of this canyon. In 200 Earth years, they'd done virtually no exploring of Norn. Except the Jerdacha, but no one knows what they found. If you discover something and no one knows, does that count as discovery?
And with both ships on the ground, there was no way to map the whole planet. The lack of oceans gave this world about 3 times the land area of Earth. Lots of room for the Jerdacha to hide.
Inverness launched the remote controlled drone to look for water in the canyon. He was sitting cross-legged on a flat spot near the rim. Getting tired of the view, Kenyon got back inside the hovercraft. He watched the drone’s data begin pouring in.
No open water was visible yet. The stripped down sensors found a little water vapor and a serious lack of heavy metals. There were small deposits of lithium, aluminum, and sodium. Most of the spectography data was for hydrocarbons and sulfur compounds, all locked in native life forms. If not for the heavy metal and sulfur content, it might have been possible to use as fuel, like peat or coal. Maybe a Jerdacha could figure it out. But they didn’t have a process to make it useful, except to burn it out. Then they let engineered bacteria the long gone geneticists had created before their departure convert the sulfur and metals to a pure form that wasn’t toxic to crops. There's nothing of any value here. He sighed, waiting for Inverness to finish.
Kenyon heard a dull creaking. Kenyon tapped on the window to get the other man’s attention. Inverness stared blankly at him, and then went back to his work. Kenyon knocked on the window again, motioning for Inverness to come over.
Inverness motioned no, you come out here. Kenyon crossed his arms, wishing they'd had been allowed a radio. Kenyon heard the creaking again. How could Inverness not hear that?
Inverness got up at the new sound, still holding the control panel. Kenyon saw a brief flash as the drone obeyed some mistaken command, flipping over before it crunched into the canyon wall. Inverness was backing up toward the hovercraft, away from the canyon rim, eyes focused downward. Kenyon buckled himself in and started the craft up.
Inverness was a few paces from the door when the roar grew. Kenyon turned the hover jets on full. Within a split second , the hovercraft started hovering, just as the ground ceased to be there. Inverness floated in mid-air momentarily, the man tossing the controls away as he grasped futilely at the door and the flying hovercraft. Then, Inverness fell into the abyss below in a rain of dirt.
Kenyon slammed the thrusters into full. There was nothing but air between him and solid ground either behind him or below him. There was a moment of free-fall. The craft was meant to hover, not fly. He tried slowing his descent by turning the full force of airflow downward, hoping to maneuver and land on a ledge. He landed on an outcropping once a few dozen meters down, only to have his thrusters push him away from that possibility of safety before he could maneuver to a stop. He pushed the engines beyond the safe range, desperately seeking lift. It only slowed his fall. Then the canyon bottom rushed up to stop his descent.
The utter nothingness of sleep and the dark and silent hull of reality were disconcertingly similar. But reality brought the painful weight of his body, and eventually consciousness, too. If I want to sleep well, I have to stop the pain.
Kenyon reached up to check his head for bumps or cuts. His hand brushed against metal instead. His fingers moved along the sharp edged and twisted structure. There should have been a meter between his head and the cabin roof. If anything had gone differently, the roof would have crunched further and took his head with it. I was lucky I wasn’t killed. That brought him fully awake.
The straps holding him into the chair were digging into his chest, making breathing difficult. The pain in his chest didn't seem to be only from the straps. Kenyon steeled himself when another creak rocked the hovercraft. The craft moaned again, but it was a settling sound, not crashing. Kenyon decided to get out in case the whole thing collapsed upon him.
He worked himself out of the tangled straps until he was sprawled across what had been the roof. There was a very dim glow outside.
Kenyon surveyed the hovercraft. Or what was left of it. A spire of rock had crashed onto the fuselage on the rear of the hovercraft, leaving only a shower of debris around it. Another two meters, and Kenyon would have been under the one ton rock.
Kenyon didn't know how long it was until the freezing Long Night came. How long did he have until help would arrive? The only homing beacons he knew of were in the crashed drone. The beacon from the hovercraft had been removed, the parts on their way to better uses. Even if they did know where he was or could figure it out, could help get to him? He decided to stay near the hovercraft, hoping for help.
Sleeping inside of the hovercraft set his nerves on edge. Fear of being crushed and the cold interrupted his sleep. He tried to make fire to compensate. Either native life didn't burn or he had chosen the wrong types of rocks, but he had no fire despite repeated attempts to keep from freezing to death.
On the second day, Kenyon wondered about climbing out of the canyon. The climb would be long, but the longer he waited, the less likely he was to make it. Hunger had become a constant companion living in Avon, though it had yet to sap his critical strength. Now it was as vicious a pain as his injuries. On the third morning, he decided that help wasn’t going to come soon enough to save him.
If I want to live, I have to find something, anything, to keep me going. Kenyon overcame his fears of approaching the cliff side. He scavenged, hoping to find the coolant tank filled with water or anything else of use for the trip out.