Prelude of a fiction novel I'm writing, tentatively titled "Windfall".
I stood at the cusp of civilization, staring at its outer gates from the wrong side. The unadorned gray metal extended as far as my eyes could see, enclosing my world, my people, in a giant circle of rectangular pillars with no wiggle room between them, save for the gaps I knew laid bare in some regions. Omnipresent green light emanated from the pillars’ surface, rendering them visible against the night sky. They had always reminded me of bucked teeth.
Inside those gates was everything I ever knew. It was my home.
Or had been.
“Lenora here will be accompanying you until your trial is complete,” the Assemblyman said flatly. He stood before me with his hands in the pockets of his suit jacket. Against the pillar’s green light, I could make out the pin on his lapel that only Assemblymen wore.
I squinted at him. “You think I’ll try to escape?”
The Assemblyman shot me a contemptuous look. “We heard what you did to Kara’s body. I don’t know what you’re dumb enough to try. If you do attempt to escape, I imagine there won’t be any need for a trial. The Wolves will kill you on sight.”
I wanted to grab the smug prick’s face, but my hands were tied—literally. “I didn’t do it.”
The Assemblyman put a hand up. “Save it. You were the last one with her. There’s a hammer-shaped hole in her hotel room.”
I shook my head. “It wasn’t me.”
“Tell the Wolves that. Meanwhile, you jeopardized the first trade agreement between us and them in decades.”
I gritted my teeth. “Can you at least send a message to my family?”
The Assemblyman sighed. He looked me up and down, and I thought I saw pity in his eyes. “Sure, kid.”
I hated the pity I heard in his voice. It was as humiliating as the chains on my wrist and the black rags they clothed me with. “Tell them: I. Didn’t. Do. It.”
“Alright, I’ve had enough.” He turned to the soldier who’d been standing silently next to him—Lenora, I guessed her name was. She looked like she was only a few years older than me, but she stood with the self-assuredness of someone much older. She was dressed in standard Military combat garb, and from what I could tell, armed to the teeth. “Take him to the ship.”
Lenora approached me until we were face-to-face. She was only an inch shorter than me, which put her at five-ten. Up close, her expression didn’t exactly make me think we’d be cracking jokes anytime soon. Her angular face was taught, her lips tight, her eyes fixated unsettlingly on mine.
“Um, I’m Wyatt,” I said, feigning confidence. “I’d shake your hand, but,” I wiggled my handcuffs so that they jiggled noisily, “you know.”
Lenora stared at me in thick silence for another few seconds. Then she broke eye contact, turned, and walked away from civilization and into the grassy Wildlands.
I gave the Assemblyman one last dirty look, followed by a respectful head bow towards my home. I tore my eyes away from the great pillars and found Lenora a few paces ahead of me. I ran to catch up, awkward with my unfree hands.
As we walked in silence, I looked around warily. The Wildlands was home to nightmares that knew nothing of Human law. I should know—as a soldier in the Military, part of my job was to fend off its Creatures when they tried to invade. Without the pillars’ light, it was hard to see anything in detail. Fortunately, the grass was short beneath our feet, and I knew from experience that the land was flat for miles. If anything bigger than a rodent came for us, we’d see it.
Not that I could do much, at the moment.
Dammit, I missed my hammer already.
After several minutes, I started to make out the shape of something large in the distance. As we drew nearer, I recognized it. The ship had the same tubular shape, the same red-brown solid coloring, the same intimidating enormity as the one that Bogg and his daughter, Kara, had arrived in.
I shuddered at the memories that threatened to replay in the forefront of my mind.
The envelope that Kara had given me.
The vomit-inducing scene of her headless body outside of her hotel room.
Bogg’s howls of loss, and his red-eyed, haunted expression that he beamed at me.
The cell they threw me in.
“We’re ready,” Lenora said.
I turned to her, thinking she was talking to me, but I shouldn’t have been so naïve. In my hazy thoughts, I hadn’t realized that we’d reached the ship. Up close, its beautiful details revealed themselves. The tube was coated in swirls of various shades of red, patterns whose underlying order I couldn’t quite discern but that my eyes found rather pleasing. From my angle, I could see a dozen or so windows on the right side of the tube, all sheathed from the outside. The wings that extended from the tube’s side were made of the same seemingly clayish substance that the rest of the ship was made of, and three rotating guns sat upon them, slowly reorienting themselves.
Until they pointed at me.
“Good,” a gruff voice said. I tore my eyes from the ship towards the man standing before the ship’s nose. He was around six-two, and in the kind of shape I’d been hoping to be in after a couple years in the Military. He wore armor from head to toe, the same exact—and I mean exact—color as the ship. It appeared to be a single, continuous article, and yet as he walked towards us, the armor moved along with him as if it was another layer of skin. A utility belt hung around his waist, where a dagger and gun were both sheathed. Although his armor seemed to have no joints at which different components of armor connected, I did notice faint lines on his armor’s arms and breast. They closed in on themselves, delineating regions that jutted very slightly above the rest of the armor, as if they were lids on containers.
I noticed an emblem sketched over the part of his armor that covered his belly button, as if someone had pressed into the clay-like material before the design had permanently hardened. It looked to be a pictograph of an index finger and thumb pinching down on a droplet of water. The entire image was embedded in a perfect circle.
Points of golden light shone from small bulbs on his shoulders and knees, providing enough light for me to see his face. The bridge of his nose was flatter than any Human’s, but his wide nostrils more than compensated. Even with his mouth closed, thin, fine fangs dangled from beneath his upper lip, falling nearly down past his chin. As with the only other two Wolves I’d ever seen, most of his face was covered in thick hair. Although his helmet hid the top of his head, curly black thickets fell to cover his forehead, and beard covered everything below his cheekbones. I guessed that his neck was just as hairy, but his armor shielded that bit of him, too.
I nearly took a step backwards when I looked below his wild eyebrows. His eyes were mostly dark-brown, but silver freckles dotted his irises.
I knew what those meant, even if he was a Wolf.
“Trip to the Builder’s Mountains won’t take long,” the Wolf said as he came within inches of us. “The pilot’s ready to go.” He extended an armored-coated hand. “Cain.”
Lenora took his hand. “I’m Lenora. Thanks for picking us up.”
Cain eyed me briefly before returning to Lenora. “The circumstances are most unfortunate, but the Mind of the Builder will rectify.”
“What does that mean?” I blurted.
Lenora didn’t turn to me, but Cain did. He looked at me, his expression stone. But he said nothing. Instead, he turned around and slapped a hand on the nose of the ship. One of the ship’s windows seemed to grow wider, like an acid chewing up the clay around it. As it opened up, a ramp slid down from the floor from inside of the ship.
Lenora walked towards it without so much as asking me to follow her.
I could’ve tried to run away then and there. I’d fought Creatures in the Wildlands before, I could do it again. I looked down at my handcuffs, and at my dirty hands. I hadn’t showered since they’d arrested me.
I looked back at the ship’s wings, where its weapons were still pointed at me. Were they on? Would they shoot me on sight?
I swallowed and ignored the fear that was gnawing its way through my insides. I took one last look at my empty, impotent, shaking hands.
Then I followed Lenora into the ship, where I’d be taken to the world of the Wolves. Where an alien people would judge me for the murder of one of their own. Where they might choose to end my life.
To rectify, as Cain said.
But I didn’t join the Military because I’d roll over so easily.
I thank Sam Nix, Kitt Johnson, Matt McLernon, JP Doherty, Joe Immen, Jaime Pellegrin, Julio Torres, Neil Hudson, David Perlmutter, Diana Cimino, and Ahmad Abdulla for their continued support.
If you also enjoy Windfall and wish to support my writing, you may do so via Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/Fallibleanimals. Patrons will receive mention in the Acknowledgements section of Windfall when I publish the final version, as well as at the end of subsequent chapters that I publish here on Substack.. Thank you very much.