Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Set your story in an eerie, surreal setting.... view prompt


Coming of Age Science Fiction Teens & Young Adult

Arabella blinked a few times. She wasn’t sure if her eyes were damaged or she was floating somewhere completely black. She couldn’t tell, but she reached for her eyes and they felt alright. She tried to see her hand, moving it in front of her eyes. Nothing. It was unreal, she had never known it to be that black, anywhere. She slowly reached out in different directions, revolving slowly as her body moved in the void. Her hand didn’t meet anything. There was just empty air around her in every direction. She spread her arms and floated like a crucified girl in black space. She drew air into her nostrils. There was a hint of her own sweat. She called out. No echo, and no response. How could there be no echo? How big was this place? Was there some sound? The metal creaking of an old style craft maybe. The hum of an engine somewhere distant. Water and air pumps turning. She had travelled from Dream Harbour on an old craft, it sounded a little like this. Not the silence of the woods at home. No sound of the nearby sea. Somehow the sound wasn’t right. Too even, unreal. Maybe it was just her ears? The sound of her body in the silent void?

She had left Dream harbour when her Father died, three years or so before. It was her father who taught her how to navigate. She knew the local systems. Good navigators were in demand. She had arrived at Hart Colony without a thing to her name. In fact, without even a name. She had invented Goodword as a surname. She thought folk might trust someone called Goodword.

“My name’s Arabella Goodword,” she said, confidently enough for the official at Hart to type it onto an identity card.

Small droplets of water met her bare skin from time to time, cold pricks making her involuntarily jump a little. And the jumps would slowly spin her. Instinctively, she had started with her arms stretched out, to control a glide or fall. Now another instinct took over and she hugged herself, drew her legs up. A baby floating in a silent black womb.

Where she came from was too remote to need surnames. She was the fisherman’s daughter. Her father found things. If someone needed an eighty kilowatt generator, he would find one somewhere, dumped or for sale or salvage. He could find anything. Everyone knew him, The Fisherman, so they knew her, The Fisherman’s daughter. When he died, she had travelled in the old craft in a cabin with six or seven other travellers. It had that sound, that hum. They could hear every sound from the cabins around them, every grunt.

No sound of other travellers here.

At thirteen she was given a job on a revenue cutter, a small craft hunting smugglers. An army of small craft cheated the corporation of its taxes. They moved anything they could sell at a profit if they avoided the taxes and kept clear of the revenue craft. They made good money. She did well hunting them too. She made herself well known and successful enough to be unpopular. People liked cheap goods, didn’t mind smugglers, didn’t care about taxes. She interfered; it was probably why she had been taken.

Why keep her, alive, here?

She had been walking next to Keoghs. A lot of folk ate there, it was busy. She took the narrow road to the side and that was quieter. She stopped, irritated, because a man was blocking her way. She moved to one side but he did too. He had his hat pulled down and she didn’t recognise him. Then from behind a bag was pulled over her head and her arms were grabbed. She heard the muffled clatter of her dagger being dropped onto stone from under the cloth. She struggled with all her strength. She tried to reach for her dagger. Her legs were lifted. She felt herself carried into the alley behind the tavern. She was helpless. They were too many and too strong. Am I going to die? For a second she felt the pain in her neck. Then everything slipped away. Blackness descended.

Next thing she remembered was the dark. Turning slowly in the dark. No bag, no clothes, just total darkness.  It was hard to judge time. She wasn’t hungry, or thirsty. She hadn’t been here long. Why didn’t she ever reach the edge of the cabin, a wall? She propelled herself, best she could in what she thought was one direction. Nothing, just a little sweat from the exertion. It was warm here. Not too hot or cold, controlled.

She felt her hair, but it gave no clue. Wasn’t hanging down, wasn’t floating up. She was naked. Why would they want her naked? Could anyone see her? Infra-red?  She was skinny, underweight, had no tits to write home about, had cauliflower ears and a crooked nose from her father’s beatings, unremarkable shoulder length hair. She decided she wasn’t pretty enough for anyone to want to see her naked.

She heard her father in her head, asking her, “where are you, what are the clues?” She remembered the routine. Remembered standing in the woods.  Eight years old. “From the sun, I’m facing west. Dry ground, descending. I hear water to the north. I’m in Branston lee, below the Kleel river?” Later it was navigation by moons and constellation positions. Parsecs not miles. Three dimensional positioning. She hadn’t heard his voice for a while. She didn’t have an answer for him, didn’t know where she was. She half expected a blow, “What are the clues?” As she slowly turned she turned thoughts in her head, fumbled for a clue.

If she was in a craft, was it moving? She couldn’t sense it. Perfect zero gravitation? Impossible to navigate with no reference, no start point, no clue. She felt she had floated for hours. She recited things in her head, sang songs, fuel formulas, anything to fill the empty space. A girl could go crazy in here.

She went through the clues again. No light, no sound, no gravity. This place wasn’t possible. It can’t be real can it?  Where am I then? In my head? Am I imagining this? Why would I imagine this? A place where I can’t work out where I am., but I have worked it out. Can’t beat me. I’m Arabella. I’m a navigator. I’m in my head. She laughed into the void. No echo, no response.

She floated calmly now, danced to old tunes in her head, tried somersaults, difficult without leverage. Spoke to her father. He was a mean grumpy man, pretty socially inept but maybe he meant well. She fought off the occasional vague feelings of panic, how do I get out of here? can you plot a route out of your own head? am I getting out of here? Will I go crazy?

Eventually she felt her back might be touching something. Just a vague sense of her forty eight kilos. Cotton against her skin. Warm and soft. A little light in her eyes. Her head was pounding. she wanted to get up but couldn’t find her strength.

“Take it easy, you’ll be dizzy, you’re OK, stay there.”

She saw the window frame and the night sky outside, heard the sounds from the street, “I’m inside Keoghs. East side, above the alley”

“Yes love, we picked you up outside, someone drugged you. LSA is our guess. Had a girl a few weeks ago the same. thought she was in a cellar full of rats. Screaming something else for hours. Sends you out, messes with your mind, gives most people their worst nightmare. You seemed calm enough, a bit of twisting and turning, but no screams. No idea why they drugged you, they didn’t steal anything or nothing. Just left you there.”

“How long?”

“A day and a half. We took a bit of yer money to cover the room. It’s been mad busy. Place crawling with smugglers, a big spirits run or something. Someone came looking for you, a craft captain. Young guy, seemed nice. When he saw you, out, drugged, he said they couldn’t wait, said they’d catch you on the way back. Boyfreind?”

“No, I’m a navigator.”

“You? Really? You’re no more than a girl”

“Yea really. I’m nearly fifteen. I’m Arabella Goodword, the navigator.”

July 12, 2023 11:12

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