Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Excerpt: "Leaving Home"

“Hayley, get out of the bathroom!”
The door muffled Dad's shouts and knocks but enough got through to irritate me. There were toilets in the community showers, not 300 meters away from where he stood and pounded. I, on the other hand, needed this exact place at this exact time.
I looked in the mirror. There wasn't much I could do with about my coveralls but I thought my hair looked pretty with my favorite scarf tied in it.
I turned my head to look at myself out of the corner of my eye and pursed my lips. Then I checked out the other side of my face. Disgusting. “I look terrible!”
“You look fine! Now get out of there!”
I tilted my head down to see how I would look to someone who was taller than me. That wasn't so bad; it was only the full-face view that would give Tom nightmares. If I stayed close to him and never let him see me at eye level —
“Hayley!”
I took one more look and was relieved to note my ears didn't stick out as far as they used to. But they still stuck out.  “One more minute.”
I took off the scarf and retied it. Better.
Behind me the door opened. Mom had used her override. She opened her mouth, probably to yell, and then closed it. She smiled. “You've been in here long enough but it paid off. You're beautiful.”
“Really?”
She nodded. “Now get out before your father explodes. You know he doesn't like the public bathroom.”
I nearly ran out the door. Lunch would be included with the tour so all I carried in my bag were my sketchbook and pencils.
The gardens ran nearly the whole length of the ship, lining the inside of an enormous cylinder. A tether rail ran through the center and, one after another, we clipped onto it and floated in.
“A lot of the ship's fresh oxygen and all of our fruits and vegetables come from here,” the guide said. “The Gardens also will provide us with starter stock for the colony.”
“Don't we have seeds in cold storage?” someone asked.
“We do,” the guide said. “Nearly every plant on Earth is represented there and in the virtual gene banks. But it will be a lot easier to transplant healthy organisms then grow them from scratch.”
I barely listened. I was three people behind Tom and needed to find a way to move up. We were all leashed in place, which made it tougher. I tapped the kid in front of me. “Excuse me. I can't see. Can we switch places?”
Thirty seconds later I was one place closer, with two to go. I tapped the next kid. “Excuse me. I —”
 “Alright, kids,” the tour guide said, “you have about two hours of free time to explore and then we'll get back together for lunch. Use the buddy system and try not to destroy our oxygen supply.”
The line of youths dispersed like pollen in a stiff wind. I stayed put trying to see through the swirl of feet, heads and rear ends. When the melee cleared, Tom was nowhere in sight.
I hung there, trying to figure out whether I wanted to rage or cry. Before I'd made up my mind, I heard that voice near my ear again. “You want to be my buddy?”
I turned. Too fast. Tom caught my shoulders before I started to spin and held me at eye level.
Great. “Uhm … Hi.” Even better.
Tom showed his teeth again. “Hi. Do you want to buddy up?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
“I don't draw but I might take some pictures.” He held up his fone but I found myself more interested in the muscles of his forearm.
“Cool,” I said.
The Garden stretched above our heads, below our feet and far beyond the reach of either hand. It looked like it went on forever, shade of green after shade of green. The air was fresh and moist, like the inside of a shower stall.
“Let's start over here.”
Every 10 meters or so the tether rail branched off, right to left and up and down, to the Garden wall. We hooked onto the left-hand line and pushed off. We hooked and unhooked a couple of more times and ended up near a patch of strawberries.
“Do you want one?” Tom said.
“Do you think it's OK?”
“I didn't hear the guy say we couldn't.”
“I'll just take one.”
Tom got his fone out again. “Wait a minute, let me record the event.”
I froze and squeezed out my photo smile.
“No, keep moving. I'll get video. Pretend you are a jewel thief or something.”
While Tom filmed, I exaggeratedly looked from side to side and then up and down as if seeing whether the coast was clear.  Then I pretended to be nonchalant as grasped a berry with my thumb and forefinger.
I shot to the end of my tether when an alarm went off in big, scary whoops. “I'm sorry! I didn't know!”
The alarm shut off in mid whoop allowing me to hear Tom's laughter so much better. He was red-faced, nearly doubled over, floating about three feet from the wall.
“Funny,” I said. “Very funny.”
It took him a little while to calm down but, finally, he took a deep breath and straightened up. He looked at me, and I did my best to look angry. He started laughing again.
“I'm sorry,” he said, once he finished gasping and snorting. “I couldn't resist.”
“Your fone?”
“Yeah, my wakeup alarm.”
“Nice one, jackass.”
He shrugged and smiled again. No fair.
“Here,” he said, “let me pull you in.”
I kept my arms crossed and glare on as he towed me back to the wall via my tether line. The ride ended with our faces about six inches from each other. His eyes were so blue. He grinned again and I had a sudden urge to lick his teeth. Or something.

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