I am trying my hand at science fiction. I have the plot down but am finding the world building difficult. I’ve been reading a lot of sci fi to figure out how they do it. The Martian didn’t help because that’s based on reality, so is a lot of time travel stuff. I am going back to The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game and Orynx and Crake for inspiration. Check out my first chapter and let me know what you think. Oh, the novel is called Gaia.
Part One: The Compound
Chapter 1: The Choosing
No sooner had the challenge had been uttered than the boy was off. Paris7k12 was so sure-footed he barely left an eddy in the tall grass. Jason6b12 wasn’t worried. He knew where his friend was headed. To the tree, the one that overlooked the front drive to the compound. It was the perfect vantage point from which to view the visitors.
Jason took his time. It was a luxury to have nothing to do and he was tired after a morning of chores. Up at the first flicker of the dormitory lights. Into the showers before the bigger boys. A snatched breakfast of bread, cheese and berries. Then rushing, rushing, always rushing around. Morning was always busy for the middle boys. The little ones could dawdle over baths and breakfast but the middle ones like him were kept hopping, cleaning up messes, hauling dirty sheets to the laundry, supplying clean towels to the older boys.
Today was busier that usual. It was The Choosing and even his mentor was less friendly than usual, criticizing the shine on his boots and the time it took for Jason to bring him a hot towel for his face. Normally his mentor—a Kelvin with hazel eyes and broad shoulders—was calm and patient and would ruffle his hair. Not today. Jason could tell by his rigid shoulders that he was worried. He stood quietly behind the barber chair as the older boy was properly shaved by an Asclepius imported specially from a neighboring compound to help out on this day of days.
All the older boys were getting shaved. Most had straggly beards, little more than a hairy rash. Not like the long wispy whiskers on the older Craigs. Or the hair in their ears and noses, protruding like bushes that hadn’t been properly pruned. Today only the older boy’s faces were being shaved, though depending on the assessments some would have their chests shaved as well. If you were chosen to be an Eros, it was whispered, your whole body would be shaved. Jason couldn’t imagine such a thing. There were lots of whispers about who might be an Eros—and whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. Most of the older boys argued it was better to be in the middle, not an Eros—a pampered bed servant or a Ulysses—who never shaved and slept in barns with the animals.
Jason thought his Kelvin could be anything. He was strong enough to be a Heracles; so gentle with the beasts he’d be an excellent Aristaeus; clever enough to be a Chiron and even good looking enough, he supposed, to be an Eros. His Kelvin was the best person ever.
Jason knew he shared none of those attributes. He was average in school and games. Unlike his mentor, he had skin the colour of a cocoa bean and green eyes that seemed somehow out of place. He was also small for his age. He wasn’t sure what placement he wanted, but he wouldn’t have to worry about The Choosing for years. He wasn’t going anywhere. That was a good thing because he loved the compound. There were animals and fields and wrestling and a game the older boys played with a ball and a stick that he didn’t really understand but loved to watch.
The same wind that powered the turbines that dotted the fields around the compound carried Paris’ impatience and Jason picked up the pace. Even though the parched grasses topped his head by at least a foot, he could easily find his way to their tree. He never got lost which is why his mentor used to joke he must really be a Chiron. Jason wouldn’t mind being a teacher someday, once he had more answers than questions.
Jason ran the last ten meters to the trunk of the tree and climbed past the first and second sets of branches up to the third set, a good six meters off the ground. Paris was perched on the branch on the right side so he took up position on the left branch.
“Where were you?” His friend looked exasperated as he pointed to dust at the end of the driveway. “You could have missed them.”
There were two big trucks and a massive car. The trucks were not like the paneled ones on the compound which were more rust than white, belching horrible smells and protesting loudly at every bump. These trucks were shiny, white and silent, gliding like an antelope down the dusty road. The car was like something out of a dream. Long as an elephant and as fast as a wildebeest. There was nothing like that on the compound. There were flags flapping from a piece of metal sticking out of the front of the shiny hood.
“What’s the signet?”
Paris squinted. He had the best vision of anyone in the dormitory, so much so they called him The Rhino as a kind of ironic joke. “I don’t believe it! It’s an owl.” His answer was hushed, his eyes wide.
An owl, the symbol of Athena. The Mistress of all Mistresses was attending The Choosing at Compound 12! Jason felt his jaw go slack. That had never happened before. It was enough to finally see a female in the flesh after only seeing pictures in books, but the Athena! He’d heard about the handmaidens to the Goddess. They ruled for life, as the symbol of all that was good and true.
One of the trainers, an older Craig, would rub his hand through his grey stubble and after some prodding from the younger boys, talk about his days in The Colony, perched at the end of the world. “No kidding,” he would rasp. “There was a sign that said the end of the world.”
“And you believed it?” scoffed one of the middle boys, silenced quickly by a slap to the back of the head.
“No reason not to,” said the trainer. “Besides, when you stand there, on the cliff overlooking the water, there is nothing but blue sea. Nothing as far as even Rhino here could see.” Paris ducked his head at the pleasure of the rare compliment. When nudged back on track, the Craig explained how he had first met The Athena.
“I was standing on the cliff overlooking the end of the world. I was getting ready to jump. I wanted to die,” he said, glaring at each of their rapt faces in turn as if expecting an argument. “I was badly treated by my Mistress; beaten, starved.”
Jason nodded. He and the other boys had seen the evidence in the Craig’s twisted limbs and scored back.
His raspy voice continued the story. “There was no way out. It was either stay and be killed at a time of her choosing or run away and die at a time of my choosing.” He paused and at each of the audience members in turn. “That’s the one choice a male has in this world—how and when he wants to die.”
The Craig wanted to choose his own death. Jason wondered if he would have the same courage when the time came.
“I had taken off my boots and my clothes and knelt to kiss Gaia goodbye when I felt a touch on my shoulder, light as a feather.” The man’s hard face softened into unfamiliar lines at the memory. “I looked up and it was like staring at the sun. A female, An Athena, had descended from the Heavens. She bid me rise and asked me why I was about to end my life.”
He shook his head. “I all but shat myself. Here I was nude, crippled and ready to die and confronted by a goddess. But I told her of my plight and,” his voice cracked now with the memory, “she leaned forward and kissed my cheek. She smelt so good, so clean. I thought that if that’s the last memory I have of this earth, it’s worth it. I turned back to the sea and was about to jump when I heard her voice. It was soft as featherdown and as gentle as spring rain. She said, ‘You will not make this sacrifice. Gaia has need of beings with such courage. You will close your eyes and cry your tears and purge yourself of this anger. When you are done, you will climb back down the cliff and a man there will take you to your new home.’ He paused, wiped his eyes unselfconsciously, and added, “I’ve been here ever since.”
Jason treasured the story. It was the boys’ only exposure to an Athena, to any female. Even female animals were sent away after breeding. A female always presided over The Choosing so he wasn’t surprised that one had arrived but Jason gulped at the thought of the supreme honour awarded Compound 12. No wonder everyone was tense.
The convoy of vehicles pulled into a flat area just outside the main gate. Men with rippling biceps poured out of the trucks and with much pushing and shoving carried down a strange contraption. It was like a tent made of pink fabric with four long gilded poles protruding out of each of the bottom four corners. A second, similar device clad in gauzy white was hauled out of the back of the second truck and the men who had unloaded the litters quickly and efficiently undressed. First their shirts, unveiling corded, bulging muscles gleaming white and brown and black in the sun. Then their pants, tugged impatiently over the boots all the males wore. Underneath they wore what looked like athletic costumes—white wraps barely covering their groins.
The clothes were neatly folded and the piles placed in the back of the two trucks with an amazing economy of motion that could only have come from years of practice. Then, as one, the eight men positioned themselves under the end of the gilded poles and hefted them up, onto their shoulders. Jason gasped at how easy they made it look, how fluid their movements, how they walked as one until they had passed the vehicles and stood waiting in the noonday sun.
The two boys were both watching the litters so closely they almost missed the sight of the giant emerging from the back of one of the trucks. They had never seen such a big man. Not just his height–which made him nearly level with the top of the cab of the truck–but his girth. He was massive with huge shoulders and bulging muscles in his arms, chest and thighs. Even his head seemed oversized with a jutting jaw and prominent nose. The two boys pulled back slightly against the trunk, holding their breaths, as if worried he’d spot them among the foliage.
With one hand in what appeared to be a casual gesture, the giant easily lifted the metal ramp from the ground and tossed it into the back of the truck with a resounding clang. He reached up and pulled the cord to close the truck gate with the same amazing grace.
“He’s got to be a Ulysses. Or a Zeus,” Jason whispered worried the breeze would carry his voice and alert the giant.
“I bet he’s a Heracles,” answered Paris with equal awe.
“He can’t be a Heracles,” argued Jason, “he doesn’t have a beard or chest hair.”
Their discussion was cut short by the sight of the giant striding past the trucks to long car. The back door swung open and he stood silently waiting. The two boys leaned forward and almost slipped off their branches in anticipation.
Their shared unspoken question was answered when a white shoe emerged from the car. It was followed by a white ankle and the flutter of white fabric. The vision moved from behind the car door into view.
Jason’s heart stuck in his throat at the sight. It was a female. He’d never seen one in person, just in books. She might have been tall but next to the giant she appeared tiny, like the fairies in the bedtime stories his Kelvin used to read to him when he was very little. She was dressed all in white—gloves, dress and cape—but blonde curls peaked out from beneath her hood. She looked so clean and pretty that Jason shrank back against the trunk of the tree, somehow worried he would pollute her by sharing the same space.
The wind carried a gentle sweet sound their way. Her voice was like the violets that grew wild along compound fences in the spring. The female turned away before they could see her face and Jason felt a pang of disappointment. Another female followed her out of the car. She was squat and impatiently tugged her white hood up over short, reddish hair. The second female reached a hand back into the car and Jason’s heart stopped. Out stepped a tiny female, maybe his age. A girl, he remembered the older Craig had said. The younger females were called girls, the older ones were called women. They were all Mistresses, regardless of their age.
Paris nudged him, wide-eyed. Jason nodded, sharing the moment and then turned back to look at the young female. At the girl. She too was dressed head-to-toe in white but did not wear a cape. Her head was uncovered and her golden curls shone like the wild grains on the savannah. Jason thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life.
The first female and the girl approached the litter in the front and the giant helped them inside, firmly fastening the fabric to obscure the view before giving some kind of signal. The four litter bearers rose as one, bearing the weight with no sign of strain. The second female, the short, red headed one, moved briskly to the second litter and, waving away the giant’s helping hand, hopped inside. He didn’t close the fabric curtains around her and Jason could see her head turning this way and that, taking in her surroundings. Once again, the litter was hefted into the air, the poles secured on shoulders as the giant took his place at the front of the procession and they marched in step towards the compound’s main gate.
“An Athena!” Paris’s voice was filled with awe.
“And a girl,” Jason pointed out.
“Why would they bring a young female to The Choosing?” Paris wondered.
“We won’t find out sitting in a tree,” Jason answered, already scrambling down the trunk. The two boys raced back to the compound anxious to share the news and excited to find out more.