Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thirty... Deleted Prologue Sequence.

This prologue got a mixed bag of reviews from crit group and the contest circuit. Seems you either love it or hate it. I was trying for a dark tone but with a slightly omniscient POV. It seemed cruel to strive for Deep POV when we all know what was going to happen to the soldier at the end of the prologue... Tell me what you think!

July 29th, 2104: 2120 EST

Death marked the night. Like a black cloud promising rain, it was there, waiting. A degree away from release, it permeated the chill darkness.

The soldier was not ignorant of the forecast in the air. Hidden in the shadows of one of the great pines, he searched the forest surrounding the isolated cabin for that which hunted him. If asked to pinpoint exactly what had put him on edge, he couldn’t have explained. He was the perfect soldier: Stronger, faster… lethal. His senses were honed before birth to a heightened awareness far beyond the average man. His skill level was unparalleled by any but his brothers. All of Viadal’s boys were trained from birth for this very thing. They had been trained for death—just not their own.

But Death haunted him this night. No sight, smell, taste, or sound gave any indication of its presence, yet he could feel it down to his very bones. Like an oil slick spreading on water, the premonition of doom oozed over every pore of his skin, to be inhaled with every breath he took.

He strained his ears and caught normal sounds: a southern short tail shrew foraging for worms that would have come out with the rain, the chirp and crick of night insects, heavy plops of leftover drops that rushed down with each slight breeze—they all rang hollow and untrue. And though the heavy scents of wet bark, pine and loam were the only things that hung in the night air, his nostrils still flared as he sought to find another scent, something that was off, something to explain why he was sure death laced every breath he drew.

Long minutes crawled as he remained under the low slung branches of his pine, immobile as King Tut in his tomb, waiting. If need be he could wait all night. There’d been times he’d waited longer. Endless minutes passed. The flickering light that shone through the windows and doorway of the isolated cabin waned, until eventually the candle he’d lit before he’d come outside to scour the woods guttered and snuffed out. One word could have called up the lights—the hundred year old log structure may have looked old and rustic, but had been updated with the latest technology—but raising his voice would give away his position. Instead, he shifted out of his cover and moved in on silent feet, using the dark shadows to hide his approach.

He didn’t enter, but slipped behind one of the porch posts. Carefully, he craned his neck and peered through the open door, his eyes searching. Dilapidated sofa, stiff chairs, the scarred, pine table—which now held an oversized mug and a saucer of wax, smoke trailing up from its center—all popped into perfect focus. Other than the lack of color, he could see just as well at night as during the day. ‘He must have spliced in some cat’, his brother Carthridge would say jokingly. The ability was another of Viadal’s blessings to his boys, or, depending on one’s viewpoint, a curse. Viadal had given his children many of those.

Silently slinking from window to window, he scrutinized the interior of the cabin. A quarter hour later, he stood on the front porch once more. Nothing. The only thing out of place was him. He should be inside that warm cabin right now enjoying his two days of freedom, not crawling around out here in the chill mist. He sighed, tried to wipe the filth from his fatigues, then cursed. He was becoming paranoid. Whitesman’s questioning the other day had put them all on edge. The cabin was safe. No one was here to kill him. The terror that licked at him was all in his imagination.

Annoyed with himself, he eased inside and closed the door, absently engaging the locks and security behind him. The scent of wet earth and evergreen clung to the air of the cabin. Not surprising. He’d left the windows cracked during the storm.

Pushing aside his unease, he went back to his evening routine. His tea had gone cold, so he reheated it then sipped while he flipped through the pages of the classic Orson Scott Card book, Ender’s Game. By the time Ender had been promoted to the Command School ahead of schedule, the soldier’s nerves had eased and he decided to shower.

It was as he padded back across the threshold of the darkened bedroom, the small towel around his waist lapping up the water droplets running down his chest, that it came to him—the one thing that was wrong. A scent: Man, distinct in his chemical make-up, the whiff of adrenaline radiating off him in anticipation. The sharp odor was smothered in mud and pine pitch. Still, he should have heard him, seen him, something before now. The fact that he hadn’t was alarming.

This realization was instantaneous and not nearly long enough to ponder what that meant… a snap, a burn and the soldier was dead.

1 comment:

  1. Tes,
    I'm an inveterate deleter! When I can't decide, I delete. I have general faith that whatever comes next will be better.

    I AM SO CURIOUS NOW! Especially since (and yes, I'm admitting this in public) I finally read Ender's Game for the first time last winter. I know. Better late than never, right? I want to see how that reference informs the rest of the book.