Here’s my advice:
Drop Everything and Follow Your Dreams
YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO DO THIS!!!
One. Uno. And it could end at any moment.
Do what James Dean said: “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”
It sounds very cliché. I know this. But I can say that I am living proof that sometimes it is the way to go. Take my story:
I was an English major with no real goal in mind as to what I would do someday. As a little kid I never had a concrete answer. The kids around me spouted out “veterinarian!” “doctor!” “lawyer!” “fireman!” and I sat there and thought… hmm…. I have no freaking idea.
It wasn’t until I decided that a degree in Secondary Education in English would be a little bit easier to justify to myself than plain old English that I made my way toward what my life is today.
I got into the College of Ed, took a ton of classes, and along the way took one very life changing class called Books for Young Adults, taught by the amazing Elaine Daniels. In said class we had many great assignments, but the very last one, due May 9 of 2011, was the one that would change my life as I knew it.
The assignment was this:
Write a first chapter of a YA book. It must be at least 8 pages long.
So I wrote my “first” chapter and titled it “The Zooks Ruined My College Plans.”
(I wrote it in the middle of the night… the night before it was due. Somehow, that always worked for me.)
No joke. The first fiction I EVER WRITE and the word “Zook” is in the title. Zooks, by the way, are aliens. Who I later called Troiqas. And the “first chapter” I wrote is now the beginning of Part 2 in a manuscript called Liberty (which I’ll post at the end of this blog… just a sample), which is 131,000+ words long. (too long for any agent to trust, sadly! Also… a first book usually isn’t the best book a writer comes up with ;) thank goodness )
VERY INSPIRING CLASS.
I showed this eight page assignment to my sister, Emily, and my husband, Greg. Emily encouraged me to keep writing. She said I had something good going. Those were amazing words to hear.
Greg, however, said, “Man, it just got too serious. You should make the Zooks turn people pink or something.” I was not about to make the Zooks turn people pink. But he did say that it was good and encouraged me.
If it weren’t for the college of Education I never would have started writing. And I hated student teaching. Hated, hated, hated it.
As it turns out, LOVING to read does not directly correlate into the classroom. I may have dived right into Lord of the Flies (again!!!), but my sophomore English class did not. I am so glad that there are people who are meant to teach. I am not one of them. I was nervous as hell and I never quite got my point across, no matter what I tried. Again- so glad that there are awesome teachers out there!! My bad experience wasn’t all bad, though. I tried to look at the bright side in the end.
I take things like that as signs. I feel miserable student teaching, therefore I must not be destined for a long and happy career teaching. However, I have this book I’m writing and a ton of other ideas as well…. yes, that felt meant to be. It still does.
So I went with writing. I graduated with a degree in Education without certification (which might be even less useful than an English degree) and decided that I would be a writer. In the meantime I also became an assistant chocolatier at a local truffle company, Cocopotamus.
I am a chocolatier and writer. I’m making money from the first, hoping to someday make a career out of the second, and life has never been better.
Moral of the story? Even if something seems like a disaster, something good might come out of it. I don’t necessarily believe that everything is meant to be, but I think that we can turn a bad situation around. I definitely shifted gears and took a chance in doing it, but I’m so happy I did.
Share your dream with me! Tell an inspiring tale of your own… what did you opt out of in search of something greater? Or have you known since day one you would be ___ and you are ___ today. I want to know!
EXCERPT FROM LIBERTY:
Part II: Present Day (150 T.A.)
My life was perfect. I had no sob story to speak of here on Trajectory. Sure, I had experienced some rough times, but I had good friends, and one best friend, to get me through and a typical older brother who caused me neither grief nor great joy. Everything was normal, mediocre, but to me…perfect. That all changed the day the Troiqas came.
‘There are many mysteries.’ -Mrs. Stillwater
The panic all began while I was sitting in my first class, on the first day of school. I was seventeen and just starting my 15th term. Most kids my age were at that point in their schooling. It was a fairly new system and set up by terms that lasted sixty Lights. This was supposed to be the time of my life, considering I was going to move to Objectify in the fall in order to finish out my upper school requirements. Objectify wasn’t really where I wanted to go but I had no other choice. The moment we were informed of the attack, I knew that was all just a dream which would never come true.
Mr. Pine, the most boring teacher on the face of Trajectory, was teaching our small class the history of our town and making quite a snore of his lesson. His voice was high pitched in a nasally way and his head was always tilted slightly back as if he were peering out at us along the end of his nose.
“Nnn-now class,” he began as usual, “today we are going to learn about the Shuttle Life and the Landers that are our ancestors.”
The lesson might have had a chance at being interesting if we all hadn’t known the complete history our whole lives already. Each one of us had been told the stories since we were old enough to understand words. They’d been around since life began on Trajectory.
“Nnn-now, you may have noticed the shuttle in the middle of town.” Only every time we walk outside, Mr. Pine. It was a massive object, sleek and dark blue. I imagined it had been much shinier when it landed, but now it just looked old.
“It is the one and only shuttle that made it here as planned.” He looked around at us, as if sniffing out who he should target. We were all seated in rows. There weren‘t many students in the class but apparently there were enough of us in order for it to take a lifetime to look at us all.
“Who can tell me the name of the other two shuttles?” Nobody leaned back or averted their eyes in order not to be called on. It just didn’t matter. Only two girls raised their hands. Everyone else was far too offended at being asked such a stupid question and stared back at the teacher with a dull silence. Someone yawned.
“Yes, Glassy,” he said.
“Liberty and Happiness!” After shouting it enthusiastically she looked around to see who among us would be amazed, which was no one. She added, for dramatic effect, and without hesitating, “And we have no idea where they are. They could still be floating in outer space.”
“Nnn-very good.” Mr. Pine had a way of making an extra sound in his nose before responding.
“Now class, who can tell me the name of the most important Lander?”
This was silly. He called on the only other girl raising her hand.
“Picket Kal!” The girl said it triumphantly while Glassy looked annoyed she hadn’t been the one to answer. Although hearing his name always made me shudder, I couldn’t really say why. I continued to sit there in disbelief, slumped in my chair and thinking once again only of the next class I would be attending that day. I twiddled my thumbs in front of me.
“Nnn-very good.” Now Mr. Pine peered out and lifted his bushy eyebrows just slightly and to our surprise said, “Nnn-yes, Micah?” We all turned to look at the person who had raised his hand without being asked a question first. Nobody, not even the two suck-ups, did that very often.
“Sir, couldn’t it be argued that perhaps Coy Kelbum was the most important person?”
I sat up straight. This had potential to get interesting.
Mr. Pine responded curtly, “No, it could not. Nnn-now class, moving on-”
“But we wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him!” A few murmurs of approval arose among my classmates. Finally, something worthwhile was happening. I loved a good discussion.
“Picket Kal is the reason humans exist, nn-Micah.” Mr. Pine peered down at Micah as if he were the dumbest kid he’d ever seen. And was that inflection I heard in my teacher’s voice? I had thought it to be impossible.
“Ya, okay. So, we landed here…but then what? Coy made it possible for people to survive once they got here-”
“Nn-Micah, are your parents from Objectify?” Mr. Pine was speaking to himself, it seemed. “Yes, yes, they must be.”
“No!” Micah practically stood up from his chair. “It’s just what I think!”
Now I spoke up because it seemed as if we were beyond raising hands, if even for a minute.
“Until everyone almost froze to death and Picket Kal saved the day once again!” Even though I was taking sides with our horrible teacher, I couldn’t help if he had been right in that case. And I still couldn’t help that strange feeling when I said the name Picket Kal. Either way, I was right.
“Yeah! Good point!” Someone shouted.
“Whatever!” Glassy would be on Micah’s side simply because he was a boy. I wasn’t worried about her.
“Eeeeenough.” Now Mr. Pine barely raised his voice louder than his normal drowsy drawl. He was gaping down at us over his nose as if he couldn’t believe someone had spoken up in his classroom without his giving permission. His mouth was open.
“Just saying,” Micah said a bit quieter than a moment before, crossing his arms and wiggling down into his seat.
“Jeez, you can be such a jerk!” Glassy whispered in his direction, just before whipping her head back toward the teacher with a smile painted on her face. I gave a quizzical glance in her direction because of her questionable loyalty.
There was a long pause and I could tell no one was going to take the issue any further. We had enough of that topic at home and some of us, myself included, liked to keep it simple. But Mr. Pine was right; based on what he said it did seem as though Micah’s family must have come from Objectify. But they didn’t. I’d known him all my life, just like the rest of my class.
The day droned on and my mind could only wander. So often in school I found myself trailing off into thoughts of my own. I could think and think for hours on end with only the additional concentration of staying warm to distract me.
I heard it as if it were an echo from a distant hallway, Mr. Pine’s voice and others as the lesson continued. Why weren’t we learning anything important, I had to wonder.
“Nn-silly me. I forgot to review.” We all moaned in unison at the thought of another oral review. It was such a complete waste of time.
“First things first. I need a volunteer.” He stared us down and this time I did shrink into my seat. I was afraid that if I were called on I would say something stupid. It wasn’t that my nerves would get to me or that I didn’t want to stand up in front of people, it was just that my parents had always had strong opinions. I tried my best to form my own but I didn’t want to let slip what I had grown up hearing. It might not go so well.
“Good. River. Nn-come up here and briefly, in your own words answer the question: why are there humans on this planet?” There was a shuffle among the desks as we all realized just how little Mr. Pine truly thought of us. I turned sideways to look straight at Micah and scrunched my nose at him. He smiled and shrugged. I was certain that this was punishment for what Micah had said.
But River did his best to shake off his incredulous look before Mr. Pine turned back in his direction. He stood before us and said in a bored voice this: “There are humans on this planet because Earth could no longer sustain life. Picket Kal made a way for humans to come here and save the human race.”
“Ahem,” Mr. Pine coughed. “The shuttles, you’ve forgotten the shuttles.”
“But we’ve already covered that part.” Some kids snickered.
“Cover it again, nn-River. And give us some detail as to why they were named what they were named.”
“Alright,” he said slowly, “Shuttles Life, Liberty and Happiness were the names. In a place called America, those three words encompassed the ideal life and what every person should have. The whole planet Earth was lacking in those three things by the time people had to leave. Not only were there natural disasters, but the wars and a sudden loss in technology killed much of the population.”
“And, nn-River, what is technology?” Mr. Pine leaned against his desk when he asked it.
“Ah. Technology.” Now that was an interesting question. We had all heard about it but had never experienced it or seen it. I was curious as to how it would be explained.
“Okay, technology.” River’s eyes were looking up at the ceiling as he thought.
“Technology was something that allowed people to have easier lives. What I mean is, it helped people to do things quicker…it mostly ran on electrily…electric…”
“Electricity,” I said.
“Right, thanks Penny. Electricity was what made technology possible. You can’t see it, it’s just there and makes things run.”
“Nn-thank you, River. Now, who would like to tell us what happened next?” Glassy raised her hand yet again. Mr. Pine nodded at her and she stood up and walked to where River had just been standing.
“So, electricity was like, taken from everyone. Everyone, it seemed, but the super rich people. And, I’m not sure, like… why they were rich. I guess they just had lots of stuff. But the common man, who most of us descend from today, was left without the use of what they’d had for so long. They couldn’t get around because they were soooo used to not having to walk!” I was sure descend was a big word for Glassy to use. I almost clapped for her. “And so, people were going to die. I mean,“ she paused yet again for dramatic effect, “go extinct. And that’s why Picket Kal had to make a way for us to get here. And he did. So, here we are.” She scurried back to her seat and sat down.
“Nn-very good. Would anyone like to elaborate on what we’ve heard so far?”
I couldn’t control myself. My dad’s voice was on my shoulder, telling me that I couldn’t let the information be said in such an ignorant way. Our history mattered more than that.
My hand shot up in the air almost without my consent.
“Ah, Penny. Go ahead.” He gestured for me to come forward with his hand. I slowly stood up from the desk and walked to the front of the room. I was going over what I would say at a quick pace in my brain. I pulled my sleeves down over the palms of my hands. I then clasped my hands together in an attempt to not wave them around like a crazy person like I usually did when I spoke.
“Well, although Glassy and River did such a great job explaining things, I’ll try to add some detail that I know. I know we’ve all had these stories told to us by our grandparents and they had them told to them by their grandparents… and so on. But we are here today because of something extraordinary. The chance of life on a new planet. I know it’s hard to think of, since we’ve been on Trajectory our whole lives, but these people were from Earth. Earth; a place we can’t even imagine. Instead of ice covering the whole ground it was a soft texture and they called it ‘dirt,’ or ‘grass.’ Of course, much of that was gone by the time people had to leave. They kind of ruined their planet. All the technology, as River and Glassy were saying, was gone as well by the time people were forced to leave. However, before that it was so ingrained into their lives that it was like an additional body part. From what I’ve heard,” and read, I thought, “people had things like running water. It just poured out of something in their homes. They could talk to people miles away but it wasn’t by shouting. The whole planet was connected in an invisible web, and that part I’m not so clear on. But I do know that they had to leave everything behind. Not only was the lifestyle they’d had for so long destroyed when the technology was taken from regular people, but it went a step further and people had to leave home. Those who were chosen to come here to Trajectory left family members behind. Books and photographs and all kinds of things from their homes… left behind. There were millions and millions of people on that planet, and only some one thousand survived until the end days. They survived what humans really shouldn’t have been able to live through. And then they had to be asleep for, what, three years? And they landed here and were freezing cold, although I can’t imagine being anything but, and had to survive on a whole new planet. They started over.”
“Nn, thank you, Penny. That’s quite enough.”
I really wasn’t finished, but I figured it was a good place to stop.
“Try not to use your hands so much, nn-Penny.” His critique wasn’t new. Every teacher said I should try to control my hands when I spoke in front of people. The gestures just helped me think, I guess.
Growing up I had often pondered the idea of Earth. I exasperated my parents time and again with my questions. Our conversations would go something like this:
“Mom, how could there be a place where huge things grow out of the ground, other than ice?”
“Different climate, sweetie.”
And a few minutes later… “How could the ground be soft and brown? How did they write? What were those hundreds of different kinds of material they used to write on? And build stuff?”
My dad would sometimes chime in, “There wasn’t as much ice. And… they had machines that made the paper.”
“Okay.” But I was never quite at the point of giving up.
My mom would set down her food and give me a look. “There are many mysteries.”
As I got older and I had gotten my hands on more reading material, my questions grew more in depth.
“Why were their governments always corrupt? How did people live? I know they had a natural resource called ‘oil’ and that they ran out of it. Why did they use it all up then?”
I knew my parents wouldn’t know the answers. I think I just wanted to ask out loud in order to validate the fact that I wasn’t the only one with questions. There were so many questions to ask, and no Trajectorian could seem to answer them, not just my parents. And I knew I was not the only one with those questions.
Since humans arrived on our planet, the generations of people who had any realistic idea of what Earth was truly like were long gone. The true answers hadn’t survived long enough for me to hear. After lots and lots of thinking, I decided that the Earth humans simply gave up talking about their old home. Maybe it was too painful. They really seem to me like a simple bunch of folks, and I had to say that the people who landed here, well, they weren’t the most creative bunch either. Here’s why: their trajectory and target was our planet, hence the name Trajectory, and the exact spot they landed, they named Landing. Landing was where I’d lived my whole life. Landing, Trajectory.
Once I stopped to think about it, I realized that nowadays we weren’t that creative either. I mean, we called the first people to land here “Landers” didn’t we? All I can say is at least we have an excuse for our lack of creativity: genes.
Micah was feeling brave that day; I could tell. His next move snapped me back to reality and away from my day dreaming. He raised his hand but before being called on he said, “So, when are we going to talk about the most important part? The Troiqas?”
He had a good point and that was also something we’d all been informed of for years. But it was a touchy subject and I doubted Mr. Pine would have wanted to discuss it.
“Nn-for another day, Micah. Remember,” he now said it to everyone and made that clear by how he scanned us with his eyes once more, “I must call on you before you may speak.”
But it was important.
“Humans do not belong. You came from planet Earth,
and to Earth you will return. We will come again and
on that day you will either go back home willingly or die.”
That was the message that came in the sky so many years ago before I was even born. My dad’s best friend was the one to find translate and discover what it said. I was so little when I heard them talking about it.
“Oh, they’ll come, alright. But I guess we should just let them take us back,” I had heard Thadeus say over my own parents’ dinner table.
“And what exactly awaits us on Earth? You don’t think we should fight?” Both of my parents, but my mother especially, had strong feelings toward Earth. They figured if humans had gone to such drastic measures to leave, it must be an awful place.
“Aw, don’t be mad at me for suggesting it. I’m just saying I’d rather it be peaceful than have people die.”
“Our home is worth dying for.” I had loved how my mother stated it as a simple fact. Even then, as such a small girl, I completely agreed.
I wasn’t even sure anyone here knew where Earth might be. In fact, Picket Kal was said to have purposely left no trace of the path he mapped out to get to our planet. It was a place which could no longer be lived on and, as Glassy so plainly stated, the ultimate purpose of coming to the new planet was to forget life on Earth and save the human race from extinction. He wanted Trajectory to be a permanent home for humans. So far, that plan had worked. The Landers had brought precious few books and records with them, most of which were ruined in some way or another by the time I had a chance to see them. I knew from class, a class many years before with a very lively and informative teacher, that there were only three hundred and fifty people who came to Trajectory on the Shuttle Life. Like I said before, those people had to leave everything behind… not that they had much left. Even though I knew my own great-great-great (and probably more “great’s”) grandparents were the ones who dealt with this hardship, I had a difficult time picturing what they went through. I could talk about it and try my best to understand but there was no way I could fully grasp the concept of losing everything. Things like that just didn’t happen, did they? And why hadn’t the Landers taken better care to preserve their own pasts?
They had come from all over the Earth; at least a few individuals from each continent. As far as anyone knew we didn’t have continents here. It had been proven almost impossible to travel very far from where I lived. There was most likely a whole other habitable side to our planet and we might never even get to see it. Anyone who had tried to explore further than two hundred miles or so from Landing wound up returning quickly because of the terrain. It was dangerous, to say the least. It became too jagged and perilous; the winds almost carrying a person away with them. It wasn’t hard to see why so many factors made it hard for me to imagine all of our history taking place.
I guessed that over the course Mr. Pine would have us give oral presentations on our own families. I would actually enjoy that. My own ancestors came from two places: America and Australia. Most of the Landers were either from there or some European countries, and a few were from other places as well. The other two shuttles had picked up humans from other regions. That old planet Earth had strange names, and billions of people. It was almost no wonder things went wrong.
Mr. Pine had one book shelf and it held a whopping ten books. It was more than most classrooms held. The only papers we have are from Earth, as we lacked any natural resource that could come close to it. Those saved are special books and documents the people who came here felt were important enough to preserve. There were very few Trajectorians who cared to study them. Because of this fact, we really only had an oral history. Everything we knew we had learned from memory.
“Nnn-now class, who can tell me the significance of Cloiden?”
But no one, not even Glassy, had a chance to respond. He was interrupted by the Head of School who rushed in to give us the bad news.
Despite the boring lesson we had all just barely managed to escape from, my homeroom actually was being informed of an attack. Right. Now.
Mr. Gold, the Head of School, ran into our classroom completely out of breath.
“Everyone out!! Now!!! Head to the SECURITY FORTRESS. I repeat: SECURITY FORTRESS. Go now! Leave your things! We have no available Getoos near, so be careful on the ice!”
Then he was gone.
So I did what everyone else did and abandoned all hope of learning for the day. There were other, more informative classes to be had after Mr. Pine’s time with us.
Mr. Pine looked worried and he shouted with a high pitched shriek, “Nn-Come on! Let’s go! No one left behind in here!” He stood at the door and ushered us out.
We all headed toward the middle of the school property. The situation was a bit terrifying, but also extremely annoying because I had been scheduled to give my presentation in my next class. I couldn’t believe myself. What a stupid and selfish thing to think about at a time like this! But that was annoying and I couldn’t help but think it; I tended to remain pretty cool, calm, collected and above all, practical, in the face of danger or stress. I had worked all throughout the break on my presentation. I had the entire thing memorized and I even perfected it the night before in front of my dad and best friend. Now no one was ever going to hear my idea about how we can start recording our history, or dress better.
My whole idea for the first part of my presentation came about because I had one very unique item in my possession: a Getoo tooth. I loved our only animals. The Getoos provided a large portion of our traveling because they were much tougher than any Trajectorian person. They had skin that was thick and soft. I loved to pet them whenever one came around. The Getoo is yet another genius term for something, as I believe the first humans to come here realized that these animals could “get” them “to” wherever they needed to go. They kept us off the ground and after some hesitation, humans realized they were also very agreeable animals. Getoos didn’t ever belong to any one person, but seemed to make themselves available to all. They tended to have favorites and that was the closest any of us ever got to ownership. My family only “had” one Getoo, and I thought she was possibly the nicest one to ever have lived. It was hard to get an accurate number, but it seemed as though Getoos lived to be over a hundred years old. My hunch was that their longevity and wisdom of old age brought about their calm and gentle nature. Not only were they quite nice, but they were sleek and shiny, too. With long limbs and strong, lean muscles, they could get anywhere without tiring. They had long necks and sturdy frames, with four huge legs underneath them. Their tails were small and no longer than my arm. Getoos were tall; taller than any person I’d ever seen. My favorite thing about Getoos is their music. Each Dawn anyone on Trajectory can hear them. They send forth a beautiful melody each time and along with the sky, which has lines of color rising over the horizon in uniform and changing with each and every Dawn, the Getoo song makes Dawn my favorite time of day.
Because they live so long, we really don’t experience them dying very often. But a few years ago one died here in Landing and my dad managed to get one of the teeth. He made it into a necklace for me, using a tiny strip of Cloiden for the string. I always had it on.
Basically, since the day we were born, we got a skin-tight suit that never came off unless we were inside our home. It was a great discovery that took the Landers two freezing and miserable months to figure out. The suit was as thin as anything, but kept us warm and toasty no matter what. It was one of the few materials we had to work with. It was a gift from the Getoos. They produced it, and although they didn’t have any spit or anything like that, every few months they shed a layer of stretchy, ultra thin material that we could wear. It was jet black. Cloiden. It was what we wore and what held my Getoo tooth around my neck.
One day I was lying on my stomach on the floor of my room, daydreaming, and found myself absent mindedly scratching the tooth on the floor beneath me. It made tiny scratch marks and every since then I had the idea that we could make Jammet tablets and scratch what we wanted to write with the Getoo teeth. The only problem was that a lot of people didn’t know how to read or write. There simply wasn’t a use for it. Everything was spoken. I was convinced that without my amazing presentation in class, it would always be that way. And now I could only think to myself, oh well, as we all headed away from school and the lives we‘d been so used to.
Another key factor to my presentation was something I was almost completely convinced of, and it was that we could eventually wear something other than Cloiden. My favorite book to look at was full of pictures of what people wore on Earth. There were years next to each one. Some were drawings and some were actual photographs. The styles were so different for each year mentioned, and I was in love with the beauty of it all. The women always had soft pillow-like hair that was swept back and in curls, wearing gorgeous dresses. My favorite one was from the year 1930 a.d. and a girl who appeared to be my age was wearing a simple white dress. The image was captioned “Women’s Style: Simple Feminine Delicate” and it had me hooked. The dress was loosely flowing around her, but was hugging the upper part of her waist. Her body looked curvy, yet modest. If I ever figured out a way to create clothing, I would start with the dress from that picture.
The only way I could think of to start making soft material like the ones I saw in the book was to do something with our food source.
Kelbum was a mossy, stringy and soft textured plant that grew at the base of the ice giants. I thought one day we could do something with it other than just eat it. I just knew it! Or we could all wait until the ice thawed and then grow cotton. The problem was, we had the seeds and no ground to plant them in. Picket Kal and others had stocked the Shuttle Life full of seeds they wanted to grow once they landed. It was a sad day when they accepted that the ice would keep it from happening for a long, long time. I doubted I would see the ground that lay beneath the jagged ice in my lifetime, but a girl could always dream, right?
I wasn’t sure why Mr. Gold had given such a startling announcement. He wasn’t the brightest of people, in my opinion. So I was slow to believe that there was any real danger at all. Was it the Troiqas, finally attacking after all this time? Were we all dead? If it was really them. what were they going to do to us? Those thoughts were swirling around my head as I was looking around for my friends, but I couldn’t spot any of them. Maybe their classrooms were actually under attack, or maybe the Head of School hadn’t gotten to them yet to tell them to run for it.
“What is happening? Is it the Troiqas? What do they look like?? Are they invisible?” Some girl from the class below us was yelling this in my direction as we ran. I didn’t want to admit even to myself that those same thoughts were going through my mind. I gave her my best “Who knows?” gesture, and booked it. I had pretty long legs and a good stride (my mom had called me her “little Gettoo” because of it), so after a few seconds, I couldn’t hear her anymore.
“Penny!!! Duck!” Now that was a voice I knew well. It was coming from behind me and so I did duck and swerve to the side just as a huge piece of something shiny passed by right where my whole upper body had been. It made a loud “boom!” and crashed to the ground like nothing I had ever seen or heard. Okay, Mr. Gold…I believe you now! The owner to the voice grabbed my hand as I continued to run, faster now.
“Nothing like lead and copper to blow your head off at First Dawn.” Leave it to Hill, my old buddy old pal, to make a joke at a time like this. I was relieved to find that he was at the school that day. He was my brother’s age and not many older students still bothered to show up. There just wasn’t much left to learn at that point, unless they went and read it on their own. Hill and I were the best of friends, but so different. I really tended to stay entirely practical, where he tended to stay goofy in a stressful situation. Or I should say, he remained goofy around me. The rest of Trajectory thought he was the most serious guy. What could I say? I guess I just brought out the fun in him. But wait… how the heck did he know what that was made of? Lead? Copper? I was too nervous and my adrenaline was pumping through me so I didn’t have much time to contemplate. But seriously, knowing that he had run to catch up with me, saved my life by yelling at me to duck, and was now with me, made all the difference in the world.
By that time there were more objects flying down toward us, some crashing to the ground with loud noises and making the ground rumble, and some whizzing by our heads making sharp noises on the ice. The air around us was so foreign and it only grew scarier. It was obviously more urgent to get to the Security Fortress, so our hands parted as Hill and I picked up pace. By then I could even look up and see my brother, Nickel, a few yards away from me and knowing he was safe also helped.
Hill and I were among the first people to reach the doors because we could run fast and dodge the towers of ice easily. We were accustomed to the way they stuck out of the ground at every turn. I was just the product of my environment. And I loved my environment. I had grown up admiring the colossal and piercing sharp ice giants that shot up out of the ground, and found myself fascinated by the way we learned to walk and move so as not to get sliced whenever traveling outside.
“Move like this,” my dad had told me when I was so young.
“If you touch the ice this way, you won’t get a slice on your hand,” my mom had advised, her breath coming out in little white puffs. I just assumed that that was what breath always looked like. The chill in the air was all we had ever known. Blinding ice covered the land and would continue to do so until we didn’t know when.
Only one person was daring and adventurous when it came to the terrain. And it was just one of the many things I liked about Hill. His family was close to three Getoos, yet he was usually walking or running. He’s a risk taker, and often ventured out without even his full Cloiden suit on. Whenever I saw him in just the pair of shorts he made for himself, he claimed that the cold didn’t bother him. He had some big scars because of the exposure, but mostly he made it around just fine. Perhaps others saw him as serious because of one of his biggest scars ran all the way from his hair line to his chin, and down the left side of his neck. It was a thin scar, but it added to the seriousness on even his neutral face. I just thought it looked silly because I knew that he acquired said scar from trying to glide down a slanted ice giant on one foot. I was with him when he was laughing all the way to his house, where nobody could even do anything to help. Now his smile had an odd, but quite attractive look to it. He was not even remotely aware of this and so I would never, ever, dream of acting like I noticed. Besides, it just wasn’t like that with Hill. Never had been, never would be. We were both usually rosy cheeked from the cold air outside and his scar practically turned blue when it was particularly chilly out.
Once we reached the Security Fortress I was so glad to be inside and momentarily safe. Our buildings and other useful items were made of really tough material, so that helped the level of safety I felt rise just a bit. The Jammet was beautiful, like when the day was new and bright and the ice had light coming through it, but it was not clear or see through. I loved it’s light and illuminating look. Every house was magnificent and because Jammet was the only material we had for building, people tended to get very creative with how they modeled their homes. Neighborhoods were all the same color, but there had never been a similar design. Some rose above our heads several stories, jutting out at different angles and tricking the eye into believing it would fall over at any minute. The ice allowed builders to climb up and make the houses tall. Other homes were spread out thin and were long enough to run through and feel the need to catch your breath. Jammet allowed for us to build almost anything we needed, which wasn’t much. I couldn’t imagine needing anything more than a home and a few handy things to keep around like knives with which to cut the Kelbum. The only problem was how hard those things could be to acquire, since molding Jammet had been proven to be one of the hardest jobs on Trajectory. It took immense heat, which only occurred on one single spot on the whole planet. The Burning Lands were very far to the West of Landing. Nothing there was even burning, but the ice evaporated and the ground was nothing but soft Jammet. In the middle of the Burning Lands the Jammet was bright and hot. As it reached the outer edges toward the icy land the material cooled and we could scoop up what was there. Our planet had a small moon called Melter that hovered over that particular spot on Trajectory. It emitted a heat so intense and specifically aimed that the ice skipped the actual melting altogether. It was dangerous to get close to the center of the Burning Lands, but once the Jammet was collected it could be molded and shaped into anything until it cooled down too much and froze again.
Once Hill and I were further inside the Security Fortress I immediately soaked in my surroundings. I had never imagined that we would get to see inside one day. It was a huge building that was placed right in the middle of everything on campus. The buildings were built hastily once the Troiqa message was “revealed” and were square shaped. Nothing fancy, just simple. I would guess that one hundred people could fit inside. That was quite huge considering there were only forty of us that attended Landing High. There were at least five other Security Fortress locations that I saw every day as I got through town as well. It’s a bit excessive and they could never all be full at once. However, the HAAT Department, of which my dad was a proud and withstanding member, insisted that these be put up. The letters stood for Humans Against Alien Terrorism. The group formed once the message came and grew in numbers and force when the message was translated by Thadeus. My mom’s department, on the other hand, encouraged people to volunteer to get it done. The WWWF, the Way We Will Fight, was a much more influential group. People were much more interested in providing time and effort for their physical safety than they were in believing that there were actually Alien groups out there who wanted to take us from Trajectory.
“Damn! Your dad had some vision!” Hill always teased me about my very socially and politically active father, so as he said this he slapped his hand down on my shoulder.
“It wasn’t even my dad who designed this, but yes, he does. And I wonder if it is really appropriate to crack jokes when we all might be dead in a few minutes.” But as I said this, I couldn’t help but crack my own wide grin. Somehow Hill always managed to make things seem okay. Even the invasion of the Troiqas. Or whatever it was out there. But things really weren’t okay.
“Aw, Pen! I just remembered your presentation! I bet you are pissed!” Hill knew me too well.
“I was trying not to think of it!”
He flung his arm around me and I immediately shrugged it off.
“Well I liked it. I can’t wait to see you in a fancy dress someday!”
“Yup. Just like the nineteen thirties,” I said right back. I was doing a great job at hiding my fear because as we were heading to the Security Fortress I had tried to look around to see if anything was happening. There were so many people I looked for and didn’t see. When I happened to looked up I saw bigger objects flying and circling through the air a few miles away. They looked like something I had never seen before.
What made me nervous was that the only way we could fly was on the four animals the WWWF worked with, which were quite small and could only hold one or two people. Nickel wanted to work where my mom had someday because of one reason: they learned to fight. I’m talking real battle stuff, like riding on the flying animals we had and learning to kill someone (or something) with the Jammet Swords that were crafted for the WWWF members. Who knew if anything we did would hold up against what the Troiqas might have had planned for us in their attack? The animals were so new to us that they weren’t even named, and they were very hard to capture and train. My mom had done it twice and only two other people had been successful. So I guessed the whole planet had a grand total of four animals to fly on, no one who was particularly good at riding them, and no kind of weapon other than the knives with which to defend ourselves, should the huge alien attack ever occur. Boy, did I feel safe. My brother was convinced that he would have the same ability as my mother and perhaps raise the number of fliers to six. What he chose to blindingly overlook was the fact that while training her last animal, my mom died after falling thirty feet to the ground. It was a shock and something I wasn’t in any way prepared for at the age of eleven. It was one of the worst events to have ever happened on Trajectory. People still talked about “the accident.“ Life went on, however, and sometimes I even forgot what she actually looked like. It made me feel like a terrible daughter, but I chose not to dwell.
And I couldn’t dwell, because at that very moment, flying through the air, were giants. They were made of some sort of shiny material, but not the kind that almost decapitated me. Copper and Lead, as Hill had called it.
Okay, I remember now, those things are metal…like in that book I read when I was nine. I read just as much as you, Hill, even if I can’t remember it all on the spot.
Hill had the very fortunate opportunity to read more, given that his dad specialized in Earth Human Language and had greater access to the books Landers brought with them. The books were always lying around his office and Hill read everything he could get his hands on. His dad was never around because of his obsession with books, and it’s my own opinion that Hill felt closer to him by at least reading what his dad read. Hill would never admit to that, though.
What was suddenly shooting down toward the ground was fast and huge. And those flying things, they were even bigger, my guess being that they could hold at least fifty people. But this guess was made from very far away, so I really had no idea how accurate of a look I had gotten.
We were lucky we had made it inside unharmed. Right away I was being pushed and shoved by my peers, and I realized that we all needed to keep flooding in so that more people could make their way inside. I saw Jewel, Glassy and Ore all run in at the same time. Jewel was a girl my age and she was mostly quiet. She had stunning features but her bright green eyes were always focused down. At one point we had been very close, but time changed us both and we eventually grew apart. Her dad was one of the men who walked around making my dad sound like a fool every chance he got, and I was pretty sure Jewel was sorry about that. The only reason was because my dad was still friends with Thadeus. All of my friends love my dad and each of them had had a time when he was there for them when their own parents weren’t. When Hill’s dad stayed in the office for days at a time and his mom remained inside her room, Hill came to our house to stay. When Jewel’s parents argued and she was scared, she knew she could come to our house, too. It seemed like my home acted as safe haven for so many, and I wasn’t even sure why. Sure, my dad was nice and friendly, but he wasn’t perfect. I wanted to get out of the house any chance I got.
Out of the group, Glassy was the loudmouth who was always either excited about something or crying. Good grief, was what I was usually thinking when she showed up somewhere. I had certainly thought it in class just minutes before. Ore was Glassy’s little brother who liked to follow Hill and me around. I thought that with an older sister like his he was trying to look toward some better role models. At least, I liked to think that I might be a good role model. The three of them ran into the Fortress, spotted me right away and came to my side. We all walked to the furthest corner.
Glassy was of course hysterical and blurted out, “I’m so glad we found you two! I can’t believe this is happening!” She threw her arms around Hill and he patted her back, giving me a “why me” kind of a look. She had a major crush on him, and it was no secret. It was painfully obvious, truth be told, at least to everyone but Hill. He was as clueless as ever, but she certainly wasn’t the only one. It had made my own friend list drop considerably, being best friends with Hill. I just never saw what they saw. I thought to myself at that moment that perhaps I saw Hill the same way he saw himself.
After a long moment Glassy dramatically pulled away from Hill, exclaiming, “We saw Nokia fall over after a noise whizzed right by us! She screamed… and we… I saw blood!…we had to keep running… what if she… what hit her???” She was hyperventilating. The situation was extremely alarming, but we could hardly understand her. As usual, I thought, good grief. Jewel and Ore both had their heads down, also crying.
Hill looked as serious as I had ever seen him and rolled his eyes as he said to her, “Don’t you know anything?? They’re called bullets. You can hear them, but they move so fast and are so small that you probably couldn’t see. They can travel very far, so they were most likely shot all the way from those planes I saw. She isn’t necessarily seriously injured, but it is possible.” The two girls looked up, horrified.
I was glad Hill was my best friend and I was impressed by the way he kept casually dropping into conversation the fact that he knew what everything was out there. Planes, this time. Ore looked at Hill in a strange way, as if he didn’t know whether to hate him for the knowledge of what had hurt Nokia, or if he was completely in awe of his confidence. I put my arm around him like I usually did, and ruffled his hair. I always wanted him to know that he would grow up to be just as confident and smart as Hill, and probably even more so.
As I looked around again, I thought about our protective Cloiden suits. Without meaning to, I said out loud, “I thought these suits were supposed to protect us from things…” I wasn’t really talking to Ore, Hill, or to either of the other girls, but I was processing how unsafe we really were.
Hill’s voice remained firm, but also sounded sympathetic as he responded to me.
“Ya, Pen, I know. We are protected from some of the sharpest ice poking out of the ground, this forever frigid air, but not from goddamn metal bullets. We never created or sought out anything to protect us from those because we never had to. And, I doubt we even have the resources to do so. The people who came to Trajectory had a utopia planned… they thought the world that needed bullets had been left behind.” Hill really does read a lot. I knew everything he had just said but the panic of the moment had rendered my memory useless. He was the one remaining calm. I pondered this for a moment. So… there were Aliens who were using the resources humans used to have? Did they steal all the stuff from Earth? Did they have their own way of obtaining these strange resources, like metal? It all sounded suspicious and confusing.
By now all five of us were trying to hide our slight panic. Well, everybody but Glassy. Hill and I were obviously staying the most calm. I was looking toward him with a hope that he would say something silly. Anything to calm my nerves…but I could tell it might not happen. At least not now with all these other people around. I decided to look for my brother and make sure he was safe. In the past year we had grown apart quite a bit, but he was still my brother and I loved him. His safety was number one to me. I saw a few of his friends right away, but I couldn’t find him. There were people congregated in the opposite corner of the room, and the first thing I noticed was all of the blood.
“All wounded! All wounded come here!” One of the teachers was shouting out and gathering up injured people…too many injured people. It was the first time I had seen our suits broken open and people vulnerable like that. What was happening out there? My blood was rushing through me and I felt like my head was spinning out of control when I saw my brother. I couldn’t believe that literally a few minutes ago I had seen him running.
At that very moment I was staring at Nickel, who just happened to be missing one of his legs.
Fainting seemed like the only thing I could do, but instead I calmly walked over to him. Panicking won’t make this better. Crying won’t make this better, either. Stay strong, Penny, I told myself over and over.
In a confused voice Nickel began to speak. “Wh-what happened? Did I get hit? Penny?” He was looking at me in a daze, his eyes fluttering between closed and half open. I put my hand on his cheek, something I remembered my mother doing whenever we were in distress.
“Nickel. I’m here, I’m with you.”
He was trying to lift his head and look down at his legs… or I guess I should say leg.
“Am I going to lose it?? Shit. It hurts so bad… Penny?” The quiet, shaky way he was talking frightened me. His question had me thinking he thought his leg was still there. How could I tell him it was already gone? His eyes slowly closed and he was still wincing. Just this morning I’d thrown some Kelbum on the table and hacked the ice chips for us to have for breakfast. He’d joked with me and said I was too into school but that my presentation really was impressive. I joked back and said he better get to school or I’d think he was as lazy as his friends. So he came to school.
“The blood loss is gettin’ to him,” I heard the teacher say. “We gotta act fast, or we may just well lose him. Better ta lose a leg than a life.” Right at that moment two other teachers rushed up and carried him away. He was so still that he may as well have already been dead. That was the first moment I truly felt afraid.
“They’ll get him all good n’ fixed up, Miz’ Stillwater. Don’cha worry now.”
I wheeled around, peeling my eyes away from the direction of my brother and turned to the teacher. Time to get my serious voice on.
“Mr. Stone? Do you know where my dad might be?” I’m not sure why this was the first thing I thought of to ask, but still, I thought he might know. Mr. Stone was best friends with my dad. They used to do a lot of work together, but his radical views about Alien terrorists led him to become a teacher instead. My dad still respected him greatly and spoke to him almost every day. He was much better at teaching, though, and now he was doing an excellent job in helping the wounded. Ever since I was little, every time he spoke I noticed his very curious accent that I couldn’t figure out. I thought he just wanted to sound different than everyone else. Mr. Stone was peculiar in many ways, not just in the way he spoke.
He looked like he didn’t want to tell me. “Miz’ Stillwater…I do believe I heard yer dad say that the first place they would go in case a’ an attack is to the Watchtower, n’ hop on one of them flyer an’mals your mama trained. But don’t go lookin’… matter o’ fac’, , don’t even think ’bout leavin’.” He couldn’t look me in the eye as he said this. Maybe he could tell I was thinking of doing just that. After all, he had known me my entire life.
Someone yelled, “Mr. Stone! We need you over here!” And he was off.
Hill had been by my side the whole time, and remembering this I turned to him with tears threatening to fill my eyes and I made a choice. Either you start crying, or you suck it up and do something, I screamed in my own head. I grabbed Hill’s arm and pulled him away from where Mr. Stone and I had spoken.
Even though there had never been more than a simple fistfight in Landing in my entire life and my mother‘s death was the worst tragedy anyone had experienced and this attack was the strangest and most unreal thing that any of us had ever seen, I was thinking of a plan. That‘s all I could do. What would logically help? What could I do to make this better? “We have to get out there and help. At least find my dad! I don’t care what happens to me, but I need to at least try to get to him. Let’s get out of here.” I was determined, somehow remaining calm, and completely overwhelmed.
“You do realize that we don’t even know what’s out there?” He said it with a smile and a laugh, but I could hear his worry.
“Hill, whoever they are, they just shot my brother’s leg off.” Because I convinced him to come to school today, I didn’t add. “Didn’t you see? And we both know what most likely happened to Nokia. So whatever it is, at least we can surmise that it isn’t good!” Then I added, “But that’s no reason not to risk it!” It made no sense, I knew, but I also knew Hill would most likely agree.
“Okay. I’m with you. Between what you know, and what I know, I think we should help, too. I’m afraid it might be hard to get out of here, however. Do you think between the people running in and panicking, we could run out?”
“Um… since when do you not know the answer to everything?” I wanted to laugh as I said this. He usually only asked me my opinion when it came to family matters. I still felt confident, because Hill and I would be together. I gave him that smile again, and he grabbed my hand. Hm… two hand holds in one day. That was new. But this day certainly was new, too.
In urgency, I squeezed his and said “Okay, we’re doing it. We’re fast runners and I know we can get out of here without anyone wanting to chase us. There’s our safe place we can get to on the edge of campus, then I know a quick path that will lead to my dad’s work. Think you can keep up with me?” I winked at him and after I said this I couldn’t help but notice his smirk.
“I don’t think that will be a problem, Miz Stillwater.”
Now, I knew that Mr. Stone didn’t say my dad would be at the HAAT department, but I had a gut feeling that it would be the best place to start. I always had those gut feelings and I never, ever, failed to follow them. And so far they hadn’t led me down the wrong path.
The others had made their way toward us once again. I was glad Glassy hadn’t seen my brother. “How do we ditch the criers?” Hill said this with his lips pressed against my ear, so quiet that I could barely even hear him. I knew he wanted to get away from them, because he could handle a crying girl about as well as I could handle one.
“Easy” I whispered back. Walking closer to them, I said, “Hey guys? Hill and I are going to help usher people in. Don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be okay, and you three should stick together no matter what.” I hugged both Glassy and Jewel, and gave Ore a squeeze on his shoulder.
“See ya, Penny,” he said sadly.
We inched our way to the door, while more and more people, some wounded and some not, piled in.
Mr. Stone was on the other side of the open entrance, and I was watching him to make sure he was distracted. My heart pounded. I was sure it was going to pop right out of my chest and break my black Cloiden suit. I knew no one would stop us, but I wanted to go unnoticed. It would be easier for everyone that way. Just as we were about to leave, the entire floor underneath us shook violently. I braced myself against the wall by the doors and watched as people toppled over each other, all scrambling to get inside. I lost my balance and fell into Hill, who had stood his ground and was steady enough to catch me. All of a sudden, the rumbling stopped and I regained my footing. I was in front of Hill and I looked back at him. It was louder in the Fortress than seconds before but I could only hear my own breathing and Hill’s next to me.
Together, we started running. We were outside. Right away I heard noises buzz by my ears. The bullets, I knew. The air was crisp and cool so I felt refreshed, but I knew the feeling wouldn’t last long. Nobody seemed to notice us, and we certainly weren’t being chased…at least by any humans. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Hill by my side as we ran, not knowing if we would survive another minute.