I am back with another prologue and an excerpt for a novel. A different novel. My other one has been on the back-burner after hitting a couple of creative snags, and as a teacher I feel that I may be able to engage with the voices of young adults pretty easily – so I thought I would give it a try.
My aim here is mid- to late-high school readers, so please let me know if you think I am getting the tone right!
I won’t go into too much detail in relation to the plot, but you should get a pretty nice idea of some of the setting. The prologue is obviously there as a hook to get readers in, and the excerpt will be part of a chapter earlier on in the novel, but I am not sure where yet. As far as my understanding is concerned, there’s a good chance that neither will actually end up in the finished piece.
I will also be asking my darling wife to do some drawings at the start of each chapter, and it’s nice to have her involved so I hope she will do that for me – I will update you!
Please give me some feedback if you feel the temptation come over you – either through the website, via email, or on Twitter or Facebook. Also, if you’re a publisher and you’ve found your way to the bottom of the barrel where I am safely nestled and decide you’d like to give me money, please let me know.
Sometime in May, 2223CE
The perfect darkness weighed down on Anastasia, not only because it was so total that most people could go their entire lives without experiencing something like it; or because surrounding her strapped-down and laid-out body was less than ten centimetres of space at any given point; but because she knew that the coffin-like capsule was finally decelerating. The air which had floated carefully by her since they had left Earth’s gravity well now pushed down against her, making it hard to suck any in.
But being short of breath was the least of Anastasia’s problems, because if they were decelerating that that meant that they were almost there.
And if they were almost there, then she knew she would have to fight.
And if she had to fight, she knew she might die.
And that terrified her.
Anastasia had woken to the feeling of thrust gravity, and she didn’t know how long the capsule had been decelerating before she’d woken up, so she couldn’t be certain when the lid would open, but she was going to be ready, no matter what.
So, she closed her eyes and thought of her mothers holding her just months before – admittedly, she could not remember how many months before, now. She thought of herself, curled up on the living room couch watching an old-style LED TV, Mamma stroking her hair casually, without thought, while Ma called out from the kitchen that the Котлети (Kotleti) were almost ready. They were always so delicious.
Despite herself, Anastasia felt hungry. Her mouth watered, and her cheeks were wet. Making herself sad wouldn’t help with what was to come. Even so, she missed her mothers and they’d been taken away from her, and that made her mad.
Her chest tightened as the deceleration intensified, and she clenched her fists to her sides.
They’d taken her away, and she didn’t know why.
In the kaleidoscope created by the pure black, she saw them reaching out to her, faces contorted. She saw the men strike them to the ground, hitting them in the heads with the butts of their guns one at a time, while she had a black sack shoved over her head.
She could smell the Котлети burning, abandoned on the stove when they knocked down the door. In the capsule she could feel place she’d fractured her rib as she’d fallen to the ground in the struggle, one of the men kicking her until she stopped clawing at the wall.
Echoing in her mind she heard the gunshots. Two of them, in quick succession. She would never know for sure what they signalled, but she knew what they probably meant.
For a long time, remembering that day made her sad. And then it made her desperate. And then she refused to believe it – it was her imagination, a dream, she’d wake up.
Now she knew it was true, and it didn’t make her sad.
It made her angry.
And for that reason, in the last stint of this long trip since the coffin had been closed on her struggling, living corpse, she’d slipped out of the restraints, and done her best to move and make sure that her muscles didn’t atrophy completely.
Anastasia would fight back, and if that meant she died then that’s what it meant.
Those mobsters would regret taking her life away from her.
 A kind of false-gravity created by a change in velocity – sort of like the way you might feel like you’re being pushed into the seat while an aeroplane takes off, but much, much stronger. Thrust gravity can make it possible for people travelling long distances in space to feel like they can walk around, take showers, or cook food – the catch is that you have to be either steadily speeding up, or steadily slowing down. The gravity created by planets is different, and the feeling of gravity created when things start spinning around is different still.
 Kot-let-i – a crispy, juicy snack which can be made from beef, pork, or chicken. The meat is mixed with spices and egg, and then breaded. Котлети is often thought of as a comfort food, and is found in Russia and areas surrounding it.
Chapter # – The Holy City
It had been a long, heated, and sometimes vicious debate well before anyone from the Arab Interplanetary Exploration Coalition had even set foot on the Red Planet, and it was an issue that was still vigorously debated even now, decades – more than half a century – since the colony had been formally established, first as a research station and now, like the other two colonies that came before it, a permanent settlement.
Here’s the problem: on Mars, which is an average of two-hundred and twenty-five million kilometres away from Earth, how does anyone pray towards Mecca?
Now, the easy answer is, “It doesn’t matter, if you don’t know where the qiblah is, then you make your best guess and pray that way.” But nothing is ever easy. For instance, if one were to pray towards Mecca from Sydney, Australia, you would assume that you would face north-west – and you would on Earth, of course you would. However, if you think of Earth as a planet, then the qiblah is below you, and if we put ourselves on Mars, then the qiblah can be above you.
You can know where Mecca is. You can look towards it. But if prayers are sent around the surface of a planet, rather than through it, how does one pray up or down towards Mecca?
Not so easy now, is it?
To many all this seems trivial, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that religion can make the trivial seem catastrophic. No matter what, people have found ways to get angry at each other about religion, especially if they ostensibly believed the same things. Nothing would ever solve this problem, but when everyone was all squashed into a cramped habitat on a hostile, alien planet tensions tended to get high, and quickly. Luckily though, just as the former, now late leaders of the various sects of Islam had seen past their millennia of conflict to come together and build themselves an alliance and a space program to rival that of China, India, and the US, their current leaders expertly wove the strands of their cultures together, creating a society so tight-knit that they could withstand conflicts that would have torn them apart in the past.
All of this Laila thought about which she prayed, and she hoped that the fabric of her society would withstand the challenges of the time to come.
Unlike her friends, Laila wasn’t born on Mars. She wasn’t even born in the Middle East. No, she came from the sprawling megalopolis of Sydney, which now filled the natural basin that had stopped European explorers centuries prior, and more recently forced the city to build up instead of out.
Laila didn’t remember the disorganised network of trains and mega-highways. She didn’t remember the heat, or the constant summer that meant that fires were always threatening to bear down upon the ghetto-like suburbs that had emerged as climate change pushed people off the islands and coastlines on which they had resided for a significant chunk of human history. But she did remember the gravity, and the free air. The sun shining down on her skin.
The pale blue sky.
As she raised herself up and turned to the right she snuck a glance at the sky, directing her prayers upwards towards where Earth was meant to be and being met with the void-like stare of a cold and uncaring universe.
“Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,” she said, her voice joining the crowd of people mirroring her.
She turned to the left, trying to focus on the task at hand and having trouble doing so in the knowledge that her prayer may not even be valid. After all, she thought, drawing breath for her next phrase, how do you pray upwards?
“Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,” she said again.
Over the next few minutes, people picked up their mats, returned those that were hurriedly rented from the automatic vendors that dotted the city, and moved off. Some moved quickly, and Laila knew that the prayer, for them, was just an obligation – a time a compulsory event that they had to adhere to. For others, the ones that moved off with more contemplation, she knew that their prayers had meaning, that they were asking for help for a loved one, a friend, or maybe just some inner peace which seemed so rare in this harsh environment.
Even though some of the people dwelled in place they all eventually moved off towards their business, and Laila was left all alone to make sense of a place on which God never intended us to be.
 Peace and the mercy of Allah be on you.