Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Chapter 3 from Jack Strong and the Red Giant

Chapter 3: First Contact

Jack looked down the corridor as it curved away into the distance.
It was bright and well-lit, and like the outside of the spaceship it was silver-looking, without any recognisable panels, buttons, or instruments of any kind. Indeed, he couldn’t even see where the light was coming from. There were no light bulbs, filaments, or even switches in the ceilings or walls. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The whole ship was absolutely silent. No engine purred and roared. No machinery whooshed and rattled. Not even his footsteps made a sound on the soft, shiny floor. All he could hear was the sound of his chest rapidly sucking in and out lungfuls of air.
Jack looked around frantically as he felt the fear rise in his chest. He reached out and touched one of the walls. Like the floor, it was hard and smooth, and yet it seemed softer than metal. When he ran his fingers over it, he could press the material down by about half an inch. The whole corridor seemed to be covered in this strange sponge-like material.
He stood there for a few minutes not knowing what to do. The whole ship seemed deserted. Not for the first time tonight he was alone and frightened. What had happened? How had he got inside? Would he ever be able to get out?
He turned around and tried desperately to find a way out - anything that he could open and escape through. He couldn't find anything. He attempted to grip the smooth silk-like walls, trying to prise open a non-existent door or hatch, but his hands just kept slipping off.
Then his fear and frustration began to boil over, his screwed-up fists pummeling the walls.
“WHO ARE YOU?” he shouted out to whoever might be listening “WHAT AM I DOING HERE? LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!”
But there was no answer, only the echo of his own trembling voice.
Then suddenly, as if he'd pressed some hidden switch, a huge portion of the wall vanished.
Before him appeared a giant image of the Earth.
He jumped back, expecting to be sucked out into the vacuum of space at any moment. But nothing happened.
Then he reached out, his hands shaking. The image of the Earth rippled under his touch like a reflection on water. The wall was still there however, but it now seemed to be some kind of transparent window.
Looking down he was now high above Africa, with the pale yellow sands of the Sahara desert clearly visible next to the lush, green rainforests of Western and Central Africa. White and grey bands of clouds were drifting over South Africa and parts of Eurasia, and around all this was the bluest ocean Jack had ever seen.
When the spaceship had taken off he'd no idea. He hadn’t felt any acceleration, or heard the rush and boom of any rockets. It was like it had magically disappeared in one place and then re-appeared in another.
Not only was he the first boy to go on board an alien spaceship, but he had now become the first to fly into space too.
Then almost as quickly as the Earth appeared it dissolved into nothing, leaving Jack alone in the corridor once more.
Still too afraid to move, he sat in the corridor for a long time not knowing what to do.
After a while boredom and curiosity got the better of him and he decided to explore further down the corridor, turning around every now and again just to make sure he wasn’t being followed by some hairy, ugly space critter.
Where was everybody? Why weren't there any aliens or robots to greet him? That was what happened in the movies, right?
The corridor seemed endless. Every now and again he would pass some brightly-lit rooms that like the corridor were lit by a non-existent light source. On each of these there were no doors of any kind, nor no windows either. He could only guess as to what they were used for. He thought about going into some of them to explore, but thought better of it.
As far as he could make out there were no other levels to the ship. He saw no elevators, escalators, or stairs that led anywhere else. He saw no signs either. The only things he did see were some 3-D pictures of what looked like the Milky Way galaxy set against an even larger star. They seemed to be part of the wall itself. When Jack touched one it came alive, the shimmering stars revolving around the sun in the centre. He could even put his hand into the picture and feel the glow of the stars tingling on his fingertips.
He kept on walking for well over an hour but he couldn’t find a way out.
Then he saw something brown on the floor in front of him. He bent over to have a look. It was dirt – his own. He'd gone round in a circle. He must have brought it onto the spaceship when he came aboard.
Not only was he on an alien spaceship thousands of miles above the Earth with no way to get off, but he was also lost on this spaceship without the faintest idea where to go next.
Panicking, he began to run frantically around the spaceship; in the hope that he had missed something, or perhaps had taken a wrong turning. He hadn’t. About forty five minutes later he found himself back where he had started, next to several crumbs of dry mud and a few twisted blades of grass.
He slumped to the floor dejected, ran his hands through his clammy hair, and wondered what he could do next.
He was just about to go and explore one of the larger rooms when something large and heavy fell on top of him.
He crashed to his knees and fell over, his right cheek bouncing off the soft, spongy, floor.
Something was on top of him holding him down.
Whatever it was it was alive. He could feel its hot breath on the back of his neck and what felt like sharp claws or fingernails digging between his shoulder blades, ripping and tearing at his skin.
He managed to squeeze one of his arms out from under his body. He flapped and flailed at whatever was on top of him, grasping nothing but air. Eventually, he managed to grab what felt like tough dry leather and wrenched-off whatever was holding him down.
Jack gasped. Facing him was a pair of big, round black eyes surrounded by a pale, milky head, and a mouthful of sharp, white teeth.
He barely had time to breathe but what the creature attacked him again, its sharp fingernails poking and jabbing at his eyes as its small nose twitched and prodded as it sucked in his scent. Within moments it was on top of him again, its gleaming teeth locked in an angry grimace as it tried to strangle him.
Then he heard the sound of laughter from the other end of the corridor. He turned around instantly.
Before him was what looked like a young teenage girl.
The first thing that he noticed was how red she was. She had bright red hair and eyes, crimson lips, light-red, pinkish skin, and she was even dressed in red, wearing a tight-fitting red suit that stretched all the way from her neck to her feet.
“Is that how you practice first contact on your planets?” she chuckled.
Jack laid there quietly not knowing what to say as the jawstrocity on top of him glared at her with its tar-like eyes.
Then suddenly it opened its mouth, snarling back at her, “No, of course not, I was just …I was just…”
It glared in the direction of Jack again, “I was just protecting myself. I thought that HE was going to attack ME!”
“No I wasn’t.” Jack yelled, still gripping its arms. “He attacked me, I did nothing to him, I swear.”
“I don't care, you can believe what you like,” it said as it thrust him once more to the floor.
Then it got to its feet and walked quickly over to the red girl. “Where did you learn my language?” It demanded, the dark green veins in its skin almost popping out of its forehead.
“What do you mean? I was going to ask you the same thing. Where did you learn Rennish?”
“Very amusing,” it said, “Stop messing around and tell me where you learnt Asvari. Your accent is perfect.”
“Look,” she continued in a slightly arrogant tone “If you want to believe that I am speaking Asvari or Astar or whatever you want to call it then fine, but you might want to ask your friend over there how he can understand the both of us too!”
For the first time it looked flustered, green canals popping-up all over its skin. Then it glared at Jack again, who was still lying on the floor in a heap. “He’s NOT my friend!” it spat “I ...”
Then it abruptly stopped. “What language are you speaking?” it demanded of Jack.
“What do you mean?” asked Jack a little flustered.
“L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E!” It spelled out sarcastically. “What language are you speaking?”
“English, of course!” Jack replied, getting to his feet.
“See, I told you!” said the red girl triumphantly, her cheeks glowing.
“But how? It doesn’t make sense,” it said, looking confused.
Now it was her turn to spell it out, “We aren’t speaking each other’s languages, but we are hearing them! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Somehow in this spaceship we are able to understand what other people say.”
“But that’s impossible!” said Jack. “How…”
“I don’t know how,” interrupted the red girl. “All I know is that it IS happening. Perhaps there’s something on board the spaceship that makes it possible. Maybe it’s the spaceship itself, or maybe our brains have been re-programmed in some way.”
Upon hearing that Jack immediately touched his head, worried that it might explode at any moment.
“Don't worry,” Vyleria continued “I'm sure it's fine. By the look if it this spaceship is very advanced, so I'm sure it can handle a teeny-weeny bit of brain surgery.” “By the way what happened to your t-shirt? It looks like he's hurt you.”
“I didn't do anything to him!” protested the mouthful of teeth, its silver-grey spacesuit shimmering as his arms danced about in protest.
“No, it wasn't him,” Jack said, looking down at his blood-soaked t-shirt. “It was … it was … I fell.”
“You fell?” asked the red girl, not quite believing him.
“Yeah, I was playing football and I tripped and I fell and I hurt my lip.”
“And your cheeks and your nose and your forehead too?” she chuckled.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jack replied, shuffling his feet and fidgeting.
“See, I told you!” barked the mouthful of teeth “What do you take me for – some kind of monster?”
“No, of course not what do you take me for some kind of narrow-minded speciesist?”
“How did you both get here?” Jack asked, seizing a chance to change the subject and to stop them from arguing “I’ve been walking around this corridor for ages but I didn’t see either of you.”
“I..I..” started the creature with the milky, green face, but again the red girl interrupted him, “I’ve been exploring some of the other levels. There’s some amazing stuff down there, you should check it out. I got around by using one of the transportation rooms. I found it by accident actually.”
“What do you mean the transportation rooms?” Jack asked.
“You know the transportation rooms!”
Jack looked at her blankly.
“Oh,” she said, reading his expression “You mean you haven't found them yet? What have you been doing you two? Come on, I’ll show you,” she said, chuckling to herself.
They followed her down the corridor and into one of the rooms that Jack had passed before. It didn’t look like anything special - just white and empty.
“What do you do?” Jack asked, staring at it as a monkey might do a computer “How does it work?”
“Here, I’ll show you;” she said confidently “First you step inside and then think of wherever you want to go on the space ship. Wherever you think of, it sends you there.”
Then with that she stepped inside, turned round, closed her eyes and promptly vanished.
Jack was searching the room for her when suddenly he heard a voice behind him.
“Hi there!” said Vyleria, tapping him on the shoulder.
He jumped about a foot in the air.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, gasping for breath.
“I simply thought of the next room along this corridor and it sent me there. You should try it; I've been having so much fun!”
Jack stepped forward, only for the other creature to elbow him out of the way. Then it stepped inside the room, closed its eyes, and vanished, before re-appearing moments later.
When Jack stepped inside the room but he found he couldn’t concentrate. His head was a whirl of thoughts and feelings. He thought of the room next door, then the long corridor, Gaz Finch, the football pitch, arguing with his parents, the pen fight, the spaceship, seeing Planet Earth, how to get out, and then and then …
He found himself close to the ceiling.
He fell down immediately, bouncing lightly off the soft floor.
Then he heard the sound of laughter.
“Stop laughing at me!” he shouted.
“Sorry Jack,” said the red girl “I can’t help it. I never thought that you’d be so funny!”
“I did,” snarled the mouthful of teeth, its green veins almost poking out of its cheeks.
I’m not going to be laughed at here as well as school, Jack thought to himself, so picking himself up he went back into the transportation room, closed his eyes, thought of the room next door and vanished again.
He opened his eyes on a large white room. “Yes, I’ve done it!” he shouted, but when he went out into the corridor he realised that instead of re-appearing next door he had in fact ended-up in an identical room more than a hundred feet away.
He trudged back to yet more howls of laughter. It WAS like school all over again!
It took Jack five more attempts to get it right. Each time he got closer and closer, though once he ended-up in a room so far away it took him almost thirty minutes to walk back!
Eventually he got it right, though they still sniggered at him.
“Where should we go to?” the other creature asked the red girl, ignoring Jack completely. “Where haven’t you been to on the ship?”
“I came on board several floors down so I’ve been making my way up ever since trying to see if anyone else was here,” she said. “I’m not even sure how many levels there are, let alone how many remain up or down. We could always keep going up I suppose. Maybe we will find others too. By the way my name is Vyleria. Vyleria Romen.”
“I’m Jack … Jack Strong,” Jack stammered.
“Number six hundred and thirty four, Alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” replied the other creature, matter-of-factly.
“That sounds more like a room in a space hotel than a name,” Vyleria chuckled, “What can we call you for short?”
“You can call me Six hundred and thirty four, alpha wing, Andromeda sphere,” it replied, glaring at them both with those big, black eyes of his, “That's my name!”
“Yes, you're right,” said Vyleria with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I didn't mean to laugh at you. I just thought that if for example we are fleeing from an exploding supernova (Jack didn't like the thought of this) or are caught up in a solar hurricane (or this) for the sake of simplicity calling out Number Six Hundred and Thirty Four, Alpha Wing, Andromeda Sphere, might be a bit too long and complicated, and perhaps even a tad dangerous. Do you have a nickname (Jack thought of a few at this point); something that we can call you for short?
For a moment Jack didn't think it was going to work, but then after a few seconds the jawstrocity stopped glaring at them. “Call me Ros,” it said.
“Ros?” asked Vyleria.
“Yes, Ros.” it punched back “There do you like it? Can we move on now?”
“Okay, Ros it is then” said Vyleria, smiling “Let’s go up to the next level and see what we can find. Try to concentrate Jack; you don’t want to end up in outer space!”

With that they stepped into the transportation room, vanishing one by one. Vyleria first, then Ros, and then finally a worried-looking Jack.

Check out the rest of the novel here:

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