Monday, May 9, 2011

Grace Bridges' Legendary Space Pilgrims

Grace Bridges is the owner of Splashdown Books, an independent publisher of inspirational science fiction, fantasy and paranormal. She is an incurably voracious reader and author of sci-fi, and has two published books, Faith Awakened (2007) and Legendary Space Pilgrims (2010).

Grace is a Kiwi of Irish descent living in beautiful New Zealand, and is a multilingual do-it-yourself gal.

You can find her online at
www.grace.splashdownbooks.com
www.facebook.com/gracebridges1
www.twitter.com/gracebridges
www.avenireclectia.com




Legendary Space Pilgrims

If Pilgrim's Progress happened in space, this is what it might look like...

On a planet that has never seen the sun, a harvester hears a Voice from beyond. It's time to leave the oatfield. Mario and Caitlin escape the mind control of Planet Monday, following the Voice to unknown worlds where wonders and challenges await.

Have you got what it takes...to be a legend?





Here's an excerpt of Legendary Space Pilgrims:

PART ONE
MONDAY-MORNING-ITIS

MONDAY 1


The clang of the work-bells forced its way into Mario’s consciousness. A sliver of light pushed through his eyelids, and he pried them all the way open.

Morning again. Monday morning. But on Planet Monday, every day was the same. No joke. He threw back the thick rough-woven blanket and heaved himself upright.

His limbs were slow to respond as he lurched into the plastic wet-cell that towered beside his bed. What had he been up to last night? It sure didn’t feel like he’d slept the full nineteen hours.

He slid the pane across the opening and flinched at the shock of the cold water. After thirty seconds the water switched off and he stood still as the airdryers around the cell’s base kicked in. The air wasn’t much warmer than the water, but it invigorated him.

Stepping out of the cell into the two-by-four-foot floor space of his living quarters, he opened the long drawer built under the bed and pulled out a sky-grey sweatsuit, standard issue. Some things never changed. He chased the thought across his consciousness and peered out the tiny window above the bed. Square grey buildings met his gaze. Above hung the eternal grey clouds. Nothing ever changed on Monday. Unless…

Unless he’d been mindwiped.

He groaned and let himself sink onto the tangled brown bedcover. Looking up at the emergency transport tube access in the ceiling just above head height, he examined its round rim. No dust. Talk in the fields said this was the sign of recent use. Of mindwipe.

He blinked and shivered as he stared unseeing at the vid-wall’s moving feed of Ocean region, intended to soothe but failing at present.

Last night, they’d sucked him up that tube. Wiped his emotional memory. Extreme feelings were erased from the workers—a technique no one ever remembered going through. But everyone knew it happened, since afterwards only the simplest facts remained. Had he really been emoting so badly?

Mario scratched his head, put on his boots, then the second bell sounded. He rose, seized his blade-gloves by the cuffs, and moved to the door as it swished open simultaneously with all the other doors up and down the hallway.

The two hundred inhabitants of the third floor exited their quarters as one. To be precise, the third floor of Wing B, Building 17, Sector X9, Foodstuffs Region, Planet Monday. The doors swished closed again and the workers turned to march towards 17’s central hub.

Mario strode over the hallway’s threshold to the third-floor lobby and accepted a breakfast pack from the dispenser in the doorway. He bit off the cap and squeezed the warm coffee-flavoured sludge into his gullet on his way to the mass transport tube. He joined the shuffling line in front of Wing B’s accessway and guzzled the rest of his breakfast while he waited. Smiles greeted him, but he’d lost all memory of their owners.

Monday-morning-itis. The clown who named this planet deserved to be recrewed to Sewage Region. Just because they discovered it on a Monday…since when do you have Mondays in space, anyhow?

He chucked the empty plastic foodsack in a waste unit to the left of the accessway, slipped on the bladed work-gloves, and stepped into the pod that opened before him.

The thin plastic shell closed. A jolt accompanied the sudden blackness as the pod began its journey. The familiar whoosh of the surrounding air calmed him, which was a bonus for the emo-reader implanted in his neck. If it didn’t detect strong emotions, he wouldn’t get sent to be mindwiped. But it was too late for that. Again.

The chip in his neck beeped, warning him to prepare for landing. An open accessway lit up the pod from below just before it dipped near the ground and its bottom opened, dropping him out of the tube. His knees bent to take the impact. He shot out of the darkness feet-first to land at the edge of a vast field of oats.

Mario flexed his elbows and knees, noting new knocks on his wrist, shoulder and lower leg as well as the usual ankle stress from landing. As far as he knew, the transport tubes had never killed anyone, although they sure doled out a beating-up to those who used them. But he’d come off lightly today.

To his left and right, other morning-dazed freshly-podspit bladers slowly righted themselves and faced the day’s task. X9 was Monday’s oat capital. Their harvest became the breakfast porridge served by dispensers in every part of the planet.

Nineteen hours, and counting down. Days were long here, but then, so were the nights. The line of workers moved forward, cutting the oat-stalks with the blades sewn into the thumbs and index fingers of their gloves, then releasing them to be sucked into the transport tubes that filled the grey sky with their spidery network. No longer set to carry human-occupied pods, the tubes now gently removed the harvest for processing in X9’s huge barns some miles away to the east. To the west, the first of the dormitories was barely visible on the horizon. Ahead, to the north, grew oats and oats and oats, fading into the skyline where they met the cold whiteness of the clouds.

Mario paused and pulled off his gloves to raise his jacket’s hood and tighten its edge around his face. Monday had no weather to speak of—at least not like on Old Earth as he’d seen in the vid-hall movies. Only night and day. But it sure was cold, except where the sunlamps glowed from the undersides of tubes. For the crop, of course, not the workers. He shrugged off the cold and threw himself into the rhythm of the work, just as he’d done on more than two thousand other days since being assigned to X9.

What happened yesterday? What had he done to deserve this mindwipe? As he struggled to remember, he caught sight of dark-blond dreadlocks peeking out under the hood of the worker to his right. A shock of delight rippled through his chest. His chip gave a single low beep. 10% of critical emo-level has been reached. Adrenaline pumped though him.

Ten percent wasn’t really dangerous, but it could get that way if it kept on rising. He worked a little faster so as to get ahead of his neighbour, then cast a quick glance back. The lumpy dreadlocks framed a pale and petite face, with brown eyes that gazed steadily back into his own.

His heart hammered. Two beeps sounded. Twenty percent.

Calm down, tubeslug. The chip fell silent.

Maybe he’d been crushing. He wanted to remember. He wished life didn’t have to be always the same. Always controlled by the emo-reader. The bosses said it kept people working better, but Mario had his doubts.

He ignored a third beep provoked by the burst of frustration, and worked to drop his emotions. He concentrated on the plants, thinking about all the breakfasts these oats would soon provide.

Hours passed. The transport tubes stopped sucking up oats long enough to deliver a mid-morning meal to each worker’s feet. Along the line, dust-faced bladers sat in the dry dirt to consume wholemeal jam sandwiches, an apple, and the contents of a vitamin drink-pack.

Mario stretched out his legs on the ground as he chewed. More than once he caught himself turning to look for the girl with dreadlocks.

Once she met his glance and shot him a puzzled look in return. An emotion he couldn’t name clutched at his heart.

He whipped his head back around and tried to concentrate on his food. He mustn’t think of her. Way too dangerous. At any cost, he had to avoid the beeping emo-reader and preserve whatever was left of himself after yet another mindwipe. He looked up at the opaque sky above the transport tubes. Had anyone ever seen beyond those clouds?

* * *

That evening, Mario took a walk around one of Building 17’s huge courtyards, moving in and out of the circles of warmth from the skull-sized heat-lights. They swung on strings above eating-places where hundreds of people in workers’ grey buzzed with everyday conversations about work, movies and local gossip. A transport tube gaped in a shadowed recess, and Mario turned his gaze away.

He passed a vid-hall and paused to peruse the posters, filled with shining Baxter faces. Great. Yet another History of Monday flick.

Sure, the First Baxter had done a good thing when he financed Monday’s beginnings fifty thousand days ago, rescuing so many from cramped starvation on Earth—if the movies told the truth. It wasn’t like they could call Earth to find out. They’d heard enough about Old Earth, the first colonists, and the glorious Baxter empire.

Mario spat in a corner. He’d actually heard that spack so often that it was stuck inside his brain. It even survived the mindwipe, although he suspected that was deliberate. The Baxters lived in the fortified and heavily guarded Baxter Region. They wore no emo-readers, if one believed what people said.

A scream rose from across the courtyard. Workers stumbled to get away from a table where one person sat alone. The unfortunate woman’s emo-reader beeped the signal for eighty percent of critical level. Eighty almost always hit one hundred due to fear alone. The chip beeped even louder, broadcasting fate.

Then silence. The frozen workers, the chip, even the breeze.

Mario stiffened and watched in morbid fascination as the courtyard’s transport tube detached itself from the wall and moved to hang its end beside the hapless worker’s position. She stared up at it wide-eyed for just an instant. Then from the open pod door snaked the imprisoning loops of an involuntary transportation. Wide straps encircled her at shoulder and thigh, drawing her into the pod. She writhed in the restraints. A sucking sound drowned out her cries, then she was gone.

The people in the courtyard breathed again, collectively. They returned one by one to their meals and conversations as the transport tube returned to its place beneath an electronic billboard that read X9 Sixteenth Most Efficient Sector On Monday! It flickered and changed to Monday Evening Freedom! Eat What You Like!

A small dreadlocked figure sat on a bench near where the vanished woman had been, hands covering her face: the girl he’d worked next to today. A tall redhead stood behind her, stiff fingers resting on a shoulder. Had they been friends with the other woman?

The smell of roasting chicken grumbled his stomach. Approaching the food-stall, he joined the back of the line and shuffled forward with the others. He gazed at the ground, willing himself to think of nothing. How could everyone act as if nothing happened?

A voice separated from the chatter. “Lily, excuse me. I have to check up on Mario.”

A pair of boots came into view and he looked up at their owner. The pale face and blond dreads registered once more.

He smiled. “I saw you in the field, right?”

The girl’s face fell, but she held her steady gaze. “You don’t know me?”

He grimaced and rubbed the bridge of his nose between thumb and finger. “No, I, uh…I think they mindwiped me last night.”

Shock exploded on her face. Her emo-reader beeped. She stepped back from him, her eyes pleading in words he’d forgotten. Then she ran across the courtyard.

Her red-haired friend glanced at Mario with empty grey eyes, then followed her. Hushed murmurs flew about and echoed off the dorm walls.

“C’mon, dustface, you’re up!” called the man in the chicken booth. Mario’s head jerked around. Behind the counter, someone opened an oven, releasing more of the aromatic steam into the frigid evening air. Mario reached the stall in one long stride.

“Uh...two, please.”

The server handed him the two birds. He turned back to look for…what was her name again? He didn’t know. There. She leaned against a skinny tree some distance away. She rubbed at her eyes. The tall girl leaned close, whispering in her ear before abruptly turning away.

Hefting the chickens, one in each hand, he quickly crossed the open area by the stalls and picked his way between the tables to the tree where she stood. Her eyes were closed. How to speak to her without making her run again? Weighing the chickens in his hands, he sensed their tempting aroma again. Now he knew what to do. He hoped she was as hungry as he.

Edging closer to the mystery woman, he held out a chicken until it steamed right into her face. His own stomach rumbled again.

A tear slipped out of her tightly shut eye. Lower-level beeps still sounded

He stretched out his arm with the chicken until it almost touched her nose.

Her eyes flicked open. Mario asked himself how he got himself into this. How was he going to explain this to her? His plan had seemed sound, but an excuse for holding poultry in someone’s tear-stained face—

Then she laughed. He joined her. The tension leaked out of her expression. Her beeps gave way to silence.

She wiped her eyes and smiled at him. “Is that for me?” He nodded, and she took it from his hand. “Thanks for the laugh. I needed that.”

She sank down at a nearby table, under the tree imprisoned by paving stones.

Mario followed, gripping his own chicken a little more tightly than necessary.

Sympathy chased across her features. “Sorry I sconded. Of course you won’t know anyone from before. Lily told me to grow up and talk to you.”

Inspecting the palm of her right hand, she apparently found it lacking in cleanliness, and gave it a quick rub on the lower back of her grey sweatshirt. She stuck it out in greeting. “I’m Caitlin, and it’s spice to meet you, Mario. I’m sure we’ve been through this a hundred times.”

Mario loosened his hand from the chicken and peered at the grease glinting in the glow of the electric lights. He shook his head slowly.

She let her fingers trail lightly along his arm instead. “Shall we eat?”

He gave way to his hunger and tore great hunks of meat from the bird. Caitlin picked at her food, but still managed to eat nearly half of her chicken before Mario finished his.

He picked the simplest question to begin. “Was that a friend of yours who got taken?”

Caitlin nodded. “Irina.” She dipped her head and stared into the skeleton of the chicken before her.

Mario licked his fingers, but they were still sticky. He drummed them on the table. “How well do you know me?”

She twisted one side of her mouth into a smile, turned serious again, and gazed about at the courtyard. Something glimmered in her eyes. He cocked his head and waited.

After an age, she looked at him. “Mario, you’re unfeasible. I don’t know how you manage to keep any cohorts at all.”

His brow creased. “I have friends?”

She sighed. “Okay, okay. I know this isn’t easy for you. Let me put it this way. You have a high propensity for overtaxing your emo-reader.”

Mario gulped. “You mean I get a lot of mindwipes?”

“The last one was maybe twenty days ago. You told me it was going to happen.”

“But—but how did I know?”

She gulped and looked away. “You triggered it on purpose.”

He’d what?

He buried his face in his hands, remembering the chicken grease at the last second. Too late. His head snapped back up, but he could feel the oily smear on his cheeks.

Caitlin laughed and pulled a wet-wipe from the dispenser at the end of the table.

He scrubbed at his hands and face, and dropped the wadded paper on the smooth surface. “Let me get this straight. You know me—uh, quite well?”

She nodded.

“And you say I’ve been triggering my own mindwipes?”

Caitlin pursed her lips before answering. “Yeah. You get them more often than me.”

“You’ve been mindwiped as well?”

“Sure. Sixty-three days ago. You were doing well at the time. You filled me in on what I needed to know.”

Mario sat silently. Information overload. Curiosity won out. “And do you know why you were mindwiped?”

She focused on something far away. “You told me I’d been really down lately. Apparently I was unsatisfied with my life, upset because everyone kept getting mindwipes and forgetting me. It was so hard to start all over again, and it happened so often.”

And it was happening again right now. He looked up and saw the depth in her eyes and the strong set of her jaw.

“But you’re doing better now, right? Sixty-three days is way better than me!”

“And I know why.”

“You do?”

Caitlin glanced to both sides. The nearest tables remained empty. She leaned forward on her elbows. “Should I even tell you this? You’ll freak just like always and there’s nothing I can do.”

“Go on.” An eerie sense of déjà vu swept over Mario. He couldn’t stand not knowing. “Please tell me.”

“You get a lot of fondships.”

“For—for who?” Mario’s voice trembled.

She looked down. “Mostly me. Sometimes other girls, too. But I wish you wouldn’t. When emo-readers hit the danger zone, it’s either you or me.” She rose to her feet, triggering the table’s waste disposal unit to open its dark mouth. It ground the chicken bones to grit.

Mario straightened from his slump in an instant.

“You emote to get taken. To save me.” Caitlin’s eyes flicked up to his. “Thanks.”

Shock and fear hammered on his brain. He leapt up, nearly tripped over the bench seat, and ran for his dorm entry while his chip beeped a threat in cadence.

He looked back once. Caitlin stared at him, sympathy on her face. He snapped his head back just in time to avoid bowling over a gaggle of watching women, and ducked into the dark doorway.

* * *

Mario pounded down the hall towards his room.

“Hey, wha-what’s up with you?” A short figure stepped out two doors before his and stopped him with a hand to the chest.

He eyed him, wide and wild. Grey-hair dropped his hand and a look of concern crossed his face. “Ju-just been wiped?”

“Yeah. Do I know you?” It was hard to speak around the beeps.

“A-Aaron. I-I live right here.” He pointed at a doorway. “You got any qu-questions, just come on d-down and ask ’em.”

Mario backed away into his own quarters. “All—all right. I will. Thanks.”

The door swished shut. Safe. It didn’t have to reopen until the morning. At least eighteen hours away.

The vid-screen flickered and the image of the grey-green ocean filled the wall. He leaned against the inside, closed his eyes, and let the waves wash over him, calming him. He dropped to double beeps right away, and as his breathing settled, single beeps, then silence.

He breathed deeply and peeled off his clothes, stained with the dust of the earth and the grease of the chicken. After dumping the sweats into the laundry chute by the door, he stepped into the wet-cell to get cleaned and dried.

He pulled a nightshirt over his head, then sat on the edge of the bed and used the buttons on the wall to browse through the menu offered by the vid-wall system. Was there anything more calming than ocean? Ah, yes. Fish.

Colourful goldfish and angelfish appeared larger-than-life on the screen and swam around aimlessly in a forest of gently-swaying waterweed. He sat and watched them for a while, equally aimlessly.

His mind relaxed. Were they real, or computer-generated? He couldn’t tell, but didn’t care. He lay back on the bed with a mindless grin. Once again, the dangerous emotions were banished.

* * *

Mario dreamed, but there was no picture. Only a voice. It repeated a set of words again and again. The effect was incredibly soothing. Yet as it kept speaking, Mario found himself feeling more and more awake. Soon he discovered he was not sleeping at all. He opened his eyes.

The oversized fishes still swam on the vid-wall, the dark night reigned outside his window. It was nowhere near morning. But the voice still spoke.

He understood the words for the first time.

Listen to me—I must be first. Do not confuse me with another, and do not speak carelessly of me. Be still and listen, and I will speak. Obey what I ask, and the Pathfinders I will send you. Treat life in a manner worthy of me. Esteem loyalty and do not give in to bent desires. Respect what belongs to another. Speak the truth at all times, and do not wish for anything I do not give you, for I will give everything you need.

Again, they repeated. Mario listened a while longer. Strange words. He had never heard anything like them before. Who would say such things? Though unfamiliar, their beauty enthralled him. The concept of such pure goodness, such care, tingled through him.

After a time, he began to say the words along with the mysterious voice. A freshness flowed through his aching bones. He swung himself up to a sitting position.

The voice finally quieted, but Mario found he knew the words by heart. He spoke them once more, alone this time, then fell silent. The back of his neck prickled. He expected the emo-reader to beep, but time ticked on. The quiet continued.

Mario had the strange sensation that someone waited for him. The feeling did not subside, so he spoke. “Who are you?”

I am the Voice of one who calls you. Will you do as I say?

“Why?”

I can help you resist the mindwipes. You never have to forget again.

“You expect me to believe that? Hey, how are you speaking to me anyway? What is this?”

I will explain soon, as you grow more able to understand. Believe, for you have felt how my Words have calmed you.

True enough. “What do you want me to do?”

* * *

MONDAY 2

Ding, ding. Mario stirred, then stared at the ceiling. Bells, still ringing. Synthesised, of course. Not real bells like he sometimes heard in the movies.

First the dream ran through his mind again He stretched and sat up, remembering Caitlin’s revelations. Would her presence in the field today make him overload and get mindwiped?

Listen to me—I must be first.

Mario rubbed his eyes. He moved into the wet-cell. What a vivid dream.

Do not confuse me with another, and do not speak carelessly of me.

Mario’s eyes went wide an instant before the cold water doused him. Was it real?

Be still and listen, and I will speak.

The water stopped, and the airdryer hummed.

Obey what I ask...

The pause seemed unnatural, but Mario knew what came next. “And the Pathfinders I will send you.”

Right!

Mario emerged from the shower and peered around his room before rummaging for fresh clothes. “Someone is speaking to me.”

Just as I did last night.

“Oh, blimmo! It wasn’t a dream!”

No, it wasn’t.

He exhaled. A conversation with the air?

The second bell chimed. The door opened. Another day with Caitlin? He trembled.

“Please don’t go away.”

I’m with you wherever you go.

Mario stuffed his feet in his boots and scrambled to join his colleagues in the corridor. Aaron waved at him. He gulped down his breakfast and entered the transport tube.

The strange words returned to him there in the gently whooshing dark. He repeated in a whisper what he had learned in the night. Listen to me—Esteem loyalty—Speak the truth—I will give everything you need. He paused as the landing beep sounded, then the Voice spoke again. I’m with you. Do not fear.

Mario landed, straightened, and checked for bruises as usual, surprised when he found none. Caitlin stepped into the oats beside him, same as yesterday. She gave a quick smile before turning back to the task at hand.

The long morning passed in silence. After twelve hours in the field, it was time for the afternoon meal. Picked oats floated back down to the ground instead of sailing into the tubes. All along the line, tired workers recognised the signal and sank down to sit and wait for the meal-packs. The pause was welcome, but existed only for technical reasons as the last of the oats were delivered to the barns before the tubes could pick up the food from the distant factory that produced it.

“Caitlin.”

She turned an expressionless face on him.

“Caitlin, I—I just want you to know you’re really amazing. You stay so strong, and you bounce back so quickly.”

Her blank gaze dropped down. “It’s only self-preservation. I don’t want to be mindwiped.”

She breathed deeply. Her chip beeped once. She rubbed at her eye. Something glistened there. Two beeps sounded, then three. He watched her force her face into a grim mask.

Sympathy arose in Mario. His own emo-reader beeped. Scuzz.

Then the Voice spoke.

I will save you both. Speak my Words!

The sound calmed Mario, but Caitlin’s shoulders heaved. Of course she hadn’t heard it. He had to say something. What harm could it do?

He opened his mouth. “Caitlin, I dreamed of a Voice last night. This is what it said.” Once more he recited. “Listen to me—I must be first. Do not confuse me with another, and do not speak carelessly of me.”

Caitlin stopped sniffling and her eyes filled up with questions. He had her attention. Mario moistened his lips and went on. “Be still and listen, and I will speak. Obey what I ask, and the Pathfinders I will send you.”

The beeps from the emo-readers ceased. Caitlin stared, open-mouthed.

Keep talking. “Treat life in a manner worthy of me. Esteem loyalty and do not give in to bent desires. Respect what belongs to another.”

A series of soft thuds announced the arrival of the meal-packs, but Mario wanted to say all the words before he turned his attention to food. Caitlin needed all of their comfort. “Speak the truth at all times, and do not wish for anything I do not give you, for I will give everything you need.”

Silence roared about them, then Caitlin shook herself and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. She smiled as she reached for the foil meal-pack before her. “How did you do that? I thought I was tubefood for sure.”

They both ripped open their meals. Hot lasagne-perfumed steam rose up.

Mario sniffed a long breath of it in. “Mmm, my favourite.”

Snatches of conversation from the other workers reached their ears. Caitlin seized the plastic fork, but paused. “Podslug, you sure do talk nonsense sometimes!”

Mario grinned and began to eat. Not nonsense, perhaps, but certainly hard to understand.

“Glad to help. Friends should stick together, right?”

Caitlin’s face hardened again, and she swallowed another mound of lasagne. “I don’t want cohorts anymore. It’s torment when they wipe someone. Makes it too dangerous.”

Mario nearly choked on his food.

Caitlin spoke no more.

“You’re serious!”

Her tiny nod was the only response. They finished eating in silence and left the packaging on the ground behind them. Soon a waste robot would trundle along the line, picking it up for disposal in Recycling Region. The workers began to get to their feet. Caitlin looked at Mario almost wistfully as she brushed the brown dust from her pants.

“Don’t talk to me any more, okay? It’s far too dangerous for both of us. You saw what almost happened just now.” Mario stammered an objection, but she cut him off. “Your fancy poem or whatever it was—it helped this time and that’s great. But that’s not reality. We’re all alone in the world, whether we like it or not. Get used to it.”

Mario gaped, but she was already deep into the oats. His knees turned to water, his heart to a rock. His chip beeped.

Speak my Words.

“Huh?”

It helped, didn’t it?

“Sure it did...uh...Listen to me—I must be first…” Mario spoke on. His feelings shifted. The sadness was still there, but covered up with calm.

He returned to work. Only six more hours till nightfall.


Here's the book trailer for Legendary Space Pilgrims.



Purchase Legendary Space Pilgrims from Amazon.

Grace is giving away a copy of Legendary Space Pilgrims. To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment. You can enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post.

3 comments:

apple blossom said...

thanks for the chance to win

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Anonymous said...

This looks like a good book!
Sunny

splashesofjoy said...

Sounds like an interesting read~
Blessings.....Joy
ibjoy1953{at]yahoo[dot]com

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009 Design expanded and personalized by PattyWysong.com 2011.

Back to TOP