The Gauntlet – Lost Chapter 1
prequel to The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest by M.J. Moores
My hands slipped on the rope. I grunted and dropped a yard. My feet caught a random knot. Tightening sweat-soaked hands, I grasped the thick, blue cord until the flesh of my palms imprinted the twist of the rope. Hurry up, Taya – what are you waiting for! Bending my body in half, I maneuvered my hands past my feet and re-gripped the rope: piking in mid-air with seven red flags clenched between my teeth. Releasing my feet, I swung down the last four yards to the bull’s-eye on the floor. I stood, only because my knees locked.
The bell chimed – top ten. I collapsed to the floor and spat out the flags. My knuckles froze. I couldn’t release my grip on the rope so I wiped my bare arm across my face instead. Streaks of blood marred bronze skin, elongating my red S-shaped coliths. Oh yeah – my nose. The rock wall had bit me back.
“Jutaya,” Master Rezz dropped to her knees beside me. “What have you done to yourself?” She pried my fingers open.
I screamed. Hot, sharp spikes of pain drove up the back of my hand and into my arm: the muscle spasmed. I gritted my teeth and glared at her.
“Passing the physical trials, like I said I would.”
Rezz opened my other hand – I was ready for her this time, but still bit my tongue. I massaged it against the roof of my mouth.
“I told you, you weren’t ready. Dear Zola, you’re only 16.”
Nearly 17. I swallowed the blood from my tongue, “Passed it, didn’t I?” I pushed long black sweat-soaked strands of hair from my temples with the backs of my claw-like hands. “I’m clearly motivated, Master Rezz. It’s been weeks since I passed the intellectual gauntlet – I told you I was bored.”
Sliding an arm around my torso, she helped me up, “Just because you have the drive and the motivation to perform, doesn’t mean you’re ready for Level 7.”
“I thought that’s what the tests were for. Is there some arbitrary rule I’m not aware of?” I should have kept my mouth shut, but it had a mind of its own.
Master Rezz sighed and brought me to the first aid station on the other side of the gymnasium.
* * *
The bunk room for Level 7 at the CTF, Contractor Training Facility, was smaller than the one on Level 6. With fewer beds, it was divided by a tinted, two-way mirror overlooking a student lounge between the dorms. This phase of my training was all about research – to prepare me for the myriad of jobs I would take as a full Contractor, once I graduated. Some people dream of specializing in one particular profession, but I never had that luxury growing up. I was here because it was the only way for me to get an advanced education. Working for the Kronik, the government, would keep me alive and off the streets.
I had never spent much time on any one training level, but I knew this time would be different. The skills here were focused and vital. I could be Contracted as a Justice of the Peace, a personal body guard, an administrative assistant, or even a lab technician. I had to prove my mettle more so than before.
I tossed my bags on the steel trunk at the end of an undressed bed and glanced at the digital clock on the wall – lunch was still an hour off. Rezz said I should rest, but I wasn’t tired anymore. I went to a door opposite the one I’d entered. It slid open, and I walked through. The elevator descended a floor. Since the gyms were two stories tall, the dorm rooms and classrooms split the difference on the opposite side of the building taking up a single floor each.
Brilliant light from the suns blinded me, not that I needed my eyes to know where I was going. Every class was the same. The whisk of cloth on plastic told me the professor was no longer the centre of attention.
“Ahh, Jutaya, welcome. Please find a seat. We were just transitioning to astronomy.” My eyes adjusted. It was Professor Gellik. He was of the Nirian race with dark grey skin and jade-green coliths. He sported a shock of thick, white hair and a pair of virtual reading glasses, resting half-way down his nose. He taught science on every level at the Facility.
There were ten other students in the room, all of them in their twenties and all of them fashion plates. I was the only one present wearing workout over-clothes. I was also the only one without a family – living off the income I’d earned in the mines as a child. I bought my clothes from a catalog and I wasn’t here to impress. I sat at the back of the group, so they wouldn’t stare.
“As much as we know about our solar system, and those systems surrounding our neighbouring planets, scientific minds have yet to agree on the cataloguing of our third and smallest sun, Gamma. With the current technology at our disposal, what are the two dominating theories?”
A guy of Metek decent, green skin and gold coliths, placed a finger on his nose.
Professor Gellik nodded.
The guy said, “One theory focuses on Gamma as a new type of moon.”
“Yes, and the other?” Gellik looked out over blank faces. The Metek-guy smiled, he knew but he wanted everyone else to know he knew it too. What an ass. Gellik looked right at me and raised an eyebrow. There was no avoiding it; I placed a finger on my nose.
“The more sound of the two theories is that Gamma is a rogue dwarf-star.”
Metek-guy snorted. My skin prickled. I rolled my head to stretch out my tense neck muscles.
“You don’t agree, Jezetek?” asked Gellik.
“I agree with the second theory but not her opinion of it,” he said and he looked right at me: eyes glinting and mouth half-cocked in a grin. For some reason, everyone was looking at me again. I didn’t know what kind of pissing match this guy was trying to start but I wasn’t playing. Sitting back, I crossed my arms then stretched out my feet under my personal virtual display, and crossed my ankles. Staying neutral, I ignored everyone except Gellik.
“Why don’t you share your understanding, then?” Gellik prodded.
“Sure thing, boss.” Mr. Full-of-himself turned sideways in his chair. Resting one ankle over his knee, he continued to stare at me and spoke, “Gamma has a number of elements that closely associate it to a moon.”
I wasn’t really looking at Professor Gellik, more through him to the topic on the interactive-display board at the front of the class. Whatever that Tek-guy was going to say, I’d already heard it.
“First of all, Gamma rotates around Xannia and not the other way around – like Alpha and Beta. For a planet’s gravity to attract and maintain a cosmic satellite, the object would have to have passed through our system on a particular trajectory in order to bypass the gravitational pull of our other two suns, yet its mass would have to be small enough to become trapped, like a comet. Gamma’s radiation signature, while similar to those of Alpha and Beta, is different enough and weak enough to rule it out as a stellar body. Because of Gamma’s revolutions, tidal and weather phenomena work in the same way a moon would to a planet.”
“The flaws in your theory scream incompetence,” I said. Dammit, I opened my mouth. I closed my eyes.
“Jutaya,” said Professor Gellik. My eyes popped open. “Would you care to elaborate?”
I slid my feet back toward the legs of my chair and sat forward with my hands on my knees. I spoke to Gellik, “The fact that Gamma is irradiating anything at all says, point-blank, that it’s not a moon. Moons are inert. While I concede to the point that moons are more likely than stars to orbit planets, moons only reflect light and energy, whereas Gamma creates its own. The moon theory insists on having a known celestial object perform contrary to any and all existing masses already classified under that term. By considering what we already know of the universe, the best fit for Gamma is that of a dwarf star. I agree with the postulation that it was not Gamma that was trapped by Xannia’s gravity but the other way around. We are Gamma’s satellite and the twin stars we know as Alpha and Beta drew both us and the dwarf into their orbit.” Why am I standing?
“Thank you, Jutaya.”
I sat down. Professor Gellik turned to the board and called up each theory with visuals. Heat crept up the base of my neck and flared onto my cheeks. In my peripheral vision I could tell I’d said too much.
* * *
Click the cover image for a free e-copy of the complete Lost Chapter.
M.J. Moores is a high school English teacher turned author, editor and freelance writer. Her love of books stems from being one of the top readers in her class at the age of 7. Her passion for writing ignited at the age of 9 when she learned that both kids and adults enjoyed her adventure stories.
M.J.’s first science fiction novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest will be launched October 1st, 2014. In anticipation of this achievement she is offering readers one free Lost Chapter a month until its release. The Lost Chapters are glimpses into the world of Time’s Tempest looking at scenarios spoken about but not delved into during the course of the main story.