Hi, everyone. A few days ago, author Leigh Hellman visited the blog to write a fantastic guest post about their debut release, Orbit, a new adult science fiction novel! Today, I’m upping the book celebrations by sharing an excerpt with you all!
As always, let me give you the plot synopsis first! Author bio goes at the end this time! Because I’m mean like that. But go read this awesomeness!
Ciaan Gennett isn’t green, despite the brand of light hair that betrays her heritage: an Earth mother. A mother she remembers but doesn’t know, who left one day and never came back. Ciaan’s as metal as her home planet—cold and hard and full of so many cracks she’s trying to ignore that she doesn’t have time to wonder about questions that don’t get answers.
After one too many run-ins with the law, Ciaan finds herself sentenced to probation at a port facility and given an ultimatum: Prove that your potential is worth believing in. With help from her best friend Tidoris, Ciaan stays away from trouble—and trouble stays away from her. But when a routine refueling turns into a revelation, Ciaan and Tidoris find themselves forced into an alliance with an Earth captain of questionable morality and his stoic, artificially-grown first officer. Their escalating resistance against bureaucratic cover-ups begins unraveling a history of human monstrosity and an ugly truth that Ciaan isn’t so sure she wants to discover.
Now they all must decide how far they are willing to dig into humanity’s dark desperation—and what they are willing to do about what digs back.
Excerpt content warnings: bullying, threat/promise of physical violence
78 Years Later
NIGHT HAD ALREADY CREPT across Toi and the Earth loomed—huge and menacing and beautiful—just past the crooked rooftops, as it slowly consumed the sky. Across Toi’s dented metal streets two sets of footsteps pounded out a frenzied rhythm that echoed just slightly, like a spring rain over tin shingles.
I’ve got to lose him, was all that Ciaan could think. The words looped through her mind: I’ve got to lose him, I’ve got to lose him, I’ve got to lose him.
She didn’t care where she was; she barely noticed when the buildings began to shift from the shiny, newlyseamed ones of her neighborhood to the rusted, warped clusters she’d been warned about. She didn’t care that she couldn’t remember how long it’d been since she heard the curfew alarm; she’d still been racing past gleaming lacquered storefronts then. All that mattered now was getting as much distance between Melean and herself as her stubby legs could manage.
“Run all you want, greenie! You’re not gonna get away from me!” Melean’s threat was broken up by his wheezing breaths.
Ciaan scanned the street directly in front of her, noting sharp turns at small intersections or down narrow alleys that she thought of taking always a second too late. Fear began gnawing sharp in the pit of her stomach as she realized that all the thick acrylic windows were closed and most likely locked here. No one would hear her scream; or if they did, they wouldn’t care.
She decided, as she missed another possible turn, that her best bet was to stay on this main street. No one was going to come out of their house to help her, but she might run into some straggler coming back past curfew. And eventually they’d be out of this sector and then maybe she’d be able to scream. At any rate, the main road kept her visible and out of dark dead-ends where she’d really be in trouble.
She listened behind her for Melean’s heavy breathing and footfalls, trying to gauge how far apart they were and orbit whether or not it would be safe to slow down a bit. Her own breathing had become ragged and forced and her legs were shaking beneath her. She’d never really been a runner—despite her school’s mandatory rote physical drills. She could manage shorter distances well enough, but long distances always gave her side cramps. Plus, she’d never had to run for her life in organized athletics, so this was a whole other thing entirely.
The good news was that Melean seemed to be just as bad at murderous chasing as Ciaan was at terrified running. He wasn’t big in either muscles or fat, nor was he thin and gangly like many of the other boys on Toi, so she’d assumed he’d be better at it. He was, Ciaan imagined, what Earth boys looked like: tall enough, strong enough, handsome enough. The only thing he was too much of was mean. That’s what made him a p-kid.
Ciaan, on the other hand, looked exactly like a p-kid. Dark-skinned like Melean (but blotchy where he was smooth) with an undergrown, slightly disproportionate body that someone could look at and not quite be able to put their finger on what was off. Only they could with her, because of the one stark difference between her and the other p-kids: her hair. She could feel it slapping against her neck as she ran, thick woven braids of bright, gold-pale hair. The color they all said only Earth people could grow, the color she had never seen on any head but her own. The color that branded her forever as someone who wasn’t a real p-kid. Melean, with his close-cropped black braids, knew what that color meant—that it meant soft and weak and vulnerable and green like the wilting Earth where it came from—and that was why he tormented her every chance he got. That was why he was chasing her, and that was why she couldn’t let him catch her.
“Come on you…filthy…little…brat!” Melean’s voice sounded gummy—like he had too much saliva in his mouth, or not enough.
Ciaan’s vision blurred and she struggled to blink it clear. Her eyes refocused, searching ahead. To her growing horror the buildings seemed to only get worse; huge cracks in the steel shot up the walls, and front steps were sunken and scratched away. People in this sector didn’t even seem to care about lacquering their homes to hide the fact that this was a whole planet made of metal. The buildings were thinner and more tightly stacked together, like the street had decided to compress and forgot to tell the houses about it. It made the second-floor apartment that Ciaan and her father, second mother, and the rest of their children shared seem like an Earth mansion.
Sweat was running from the back of Ciaan’s head down her neck and under her loose shirt collar, tickling orbit her buzzing skin. She knew that she’d have to stop soon or risk fainting dead in the street. She could no longer hear Melean behind her—her blood throbbed too loudly in her ears—but she knew he was still there. She knew that if she turned around, he’d be just a few inches past arm’s length away. She didn’t want to, but the tears had been stinging her eyes for a while now, so she let them run down her face. They wouldn’t look like anything more than another trail of sweat anyway.
Suddenly, a flash of sharp light cut out from the street ahead. It was a curfew patrol, she realized, and now she was caught either way. She considered flagging it down, turning herself in, and facing her father and second mother at home. She’d only been caught by a patrol once before—when she was eight or nine—and between her obvious panic and her second mother’s desperate begging, the soldier had let her off without a note on her record. This time she probably wouldn’t be that lucky, even if she wasn’t out late by choice, but a curfew violation was definitely better than the alternative of Melean. Every ounce of better judgment told her this. So, like a typical thirteen year-old, she did the exact opposite of what her better judgment recommended and ducked away from the approaching headlight into a dank alley.
She quickly—but not quite quickly enough—realized her mistake. This was just the type of place she’d been trying to avoid by staying on the main street. Narrow at the front, it tapered even more as it pushed farther back to where the houses were the most warped and pressed together. Trash chutes lined the walls at about shoulder-height, and the whole place reeked of three-day-old garbage that had probably already been rotten when it’d been thrown out. The only legal animals on Toi were the few that people kept as standard pets, registered and restricted to indoors. Still, people bred rodents and other small scavengers illegally, though for what reason Ciaan couldn’t imagine. She tried to ignore the scuttling sounds that shot out between tattered trash bags.
Of course the worst part of this decision was Ciaan’s particular choice of alley; she’d turned into one with a dead end. She was trapped, plain and simple, and the best she’d get out of this now would be some dark bruises and chipped teeth. She didn’t want to think about what the worst would be. P-kids played rough, and they didn’t play fair.
She didn’t have to turn around to know Melean was there. She could hear his breathing—gasping and tight like hers—and knew he was doubled over like she was, waiting to catch his breath before the fight started. Finally, their gasps slowed. Ciaan sucked in a long gulp of sour air and her stomach clenched against it.
Leigh Hellman is a queer/asexual and genderqueer writer, originally from the western suburbs of Chicago, and a graduate of the MA Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. After gaining the ever-lucrative BA in English, they spent five years living and teaching in South Korea before returning to their native Midwest.
Leigh’s short fiction and creative nonfiction work has been featured in Hippocampus Magazine, VIDA Review, and Fulbright Korea Infusion Magazine. Their critical and journalistic work has been featured in the American Book Review, the Gwangju News magazine, and the Windy City Times. Their first novel, Orbit, is a new adult speculative fiction story now available through Snowy Wings Publishing. They also have a historical fantasy piece included in the SWP anthology, Magic at Midnight.
Leigh is a strong advocate for full-day breakfast menus, all varieties of dark chocolate, building a wardrobe based primarily on bad puns, and bathing in the tears of their enemies.