Sunday, April 21, 2013

Writing Challenge With Author, Sam Sackett!!

The Challenge:
In 2000 words or less, write about a spacecraft that has mistankly found a rift in time. They return to an Earth cast in Medieval times. What do the people on the ship do? Try to assimilate into this time period, or find their way back home?

The Result:
 
STOWAWAYS
Sam Sackett



            In the year 6322 of the Common Era, the Matriarchal Council of the Planet Marsha, the fourth planet from Sol, decided to send explorers back in time in an attempt to avert a potential catastrophe.

            For long Marshan astronomers had known that the third planet was a burned-out cinder, incapable of supporting life.  But in 6321 researchers discovered, deep in forgotten catacombs in the Matriarchal Library, vids which established incontrovertibly that the original inhabitants of Marsha had in fact come from that third planet, the name of which, they discovered, was something like Urrth.  In fact, to everyone's amazement, it turned out that Marsha had originally been merely a colony of Urrth.

            Many Marshans drew from this the conclusion that some disaster had affected Urrth in order to turn it into the cinder ball which it now appeared to be.  But what disaster?  And was there a possibility that a similar disaster could destroy life on Marsha?

            After much debate, the Matriarchal Councilors resolved to try to find out what had happened to Urrth.  The method chosen was to utilize the spiral nature of time to send explorer capsules through space to Urrth to examine situations there and determine what factors might have resulted in its demise.  For the initial probe, the capsules were to be sent back five milennia at hundred-year intervals: 1022, 1122, 1222, 1322, 1422, etc.  Each capsule would be automatically set to return to Marsha after one hundred revolutions of Urrth upon its axis.

            Each capsule, it was determined, would be staffed with three researchers: one historian, who would serve as captain; one linguist, and one nexialist -- a person competent in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and political science, but not expert in any one field -- who would serve as pilot. 

*

            The three researchers selected to go to 1322 were Marya 477, the historian and captain; Travoom 6, the nexialist and pilot; and Luckwai 38, the linguist.  All three were in perfect physical condition and experienced in research.

            All three women were, in addition to being experts in their fields, remarkably attractive.  Marya had pale skin, blonde hair faintly tinged with red, and lustrous blue eyes; Travoom's complexion was like dark café au lait, her hair was naturally wavy, and her dark eyes sparkled; and Luckwai was similarly colored, though with more lait in the café, and with eyes that smouldered rather than sparkled.

            As the capsule circled Urrth while Captain Marya sought a good place to land, the three marveled at Urrth's beauty.  Far from being a cinder ball, Urrth had oceans which glittered in Sol's rays, and much of its land area was a green which existed on Marsha only in the hydroponics gardens.  At last the captain's choice was made: just offshore from the largest continent were two large islands, the larger of which was shaped like an elongated triangle. 

 Marya hovered the capsule over the larger island, seeking a good landing spot.  She wanted to avoid being too close to the largest city, which was near the southeast corner of the island, and also she wanted not to land on a heavily wooded area, both to avoid damage to the trees and to protect the capsule's underside.  She chose a spot just a little west of center, about a quarter of the way north of the southern shore; since it was near what was evidently the main road on the island, stretching north from the large city she sought to avoid and a somewhat smaller city in the northern part of the island.  Probably there were habitations nearby where they might find sources of information.

            The capsule settled gently to the ground, mashing only a few trees.  Travoom immediately set about taking an air sample, which she analyzed.  "The air is breathable," she announced, "though it is much richer in oxygen than we're accustomed to.  It may make us a little giddy and euphoric."  Though Travoom did not know it, when oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley in the eighteenth century, he at first thought he might market it as a mood enhancer.

            The three women looked out at their new environment through the portholes.  It was not heavily forested, though there were trees in the area.  They began making preparations for exiting the capsule, when suddenly Marya said, "Look!"

            The other two rushed to the portholes and looked out.  Three bearded men were approaching the capsule; all were clad in green, and all wore swords buckled at their sides, bows slung over their shoulders, and quivers of arrows hanging at their backs from loops around their necks.  Yet their attire was different enough that the clothing was evidently not a military uniform. Two were of a height; one was a full head taller than the other two, and bulkier.

            "I wonder where the women are," Travoom mused.  "It's strange that they let these men out of confinement without warders."

            "We are in a time and place strange to us," Marya said, "and so we must expect the customs to be strange.  But there's no point for us to stand here trying to guess who or what these men are.  Let's disembark and see whether we can communicate with them."

            Though the capsule was equipped with an airlock, the women did not activate it but passed through it; opened the hatch, which automatically caused a row of steps to extend; and stepped for the first time on Urrth ground.  The air was much warmer than they were used to, and they noticed the intoxicating effect that Tavoom had predicted.

            The women could not help smiling at the puzzled expressions on the men's faces.  The two groups at first stood wordlessly facing each other.  Then Luckwai spoke in Inglis, hoping the language would be understood:  "Greetings, men of Urrth."

            One of the men stepped forward, removed his green hat, and bowed gallantly.  Then, straightening up: "And greetings to ye, fair ladies.  Welcome to Barnesdale Heath.  Whence came you?  And what manner of wagon is it that you came in?"

            Luckwai murmured to her companions:  "They use 'ye' for second person plural accusative."

            Marya replied, "We come from the planet Marsha.  Our 'wagon,' as you call it, is a space capsule.  My name is Marya 477,  and these are Travoom 6 and Luckwai 38."

            The man said, "My name is Hood; my parents named me Robert, the parish register gives Robertus, and my friends call me Robin.  He" -- indicating the giant -- "is John Little, whom for reasons you may guess we call Little John. He" -- indicating the next, who, Marya noticed, wore a red feather in his hat -- "is William Scarlock, whom we call Will Scarlet." 

*

            The spacetime travelers were not accustomed to eating meat, since on Marsha there were no animals used for food; Marshans ingested proteins in liquid or tablet form.  Thus chewing venison was a new and somewhat difficult experience.

            After the meal Luckwai asked Robin, "Where are your books?"

            Robin's expression was puzzled.  Evidently the word was unfamiliar to him.

            Luckwai tried again:  "What do you read?"

            Robin laughed.  "Oh, I cannot read.  I am not no clerk, nor no monk neither."

            The other men laughed with him, almost drowning out Luckwai's startled comment:  "Fantastic use of a multiple negative!"

            Marya asked Robin, "Where are your women?"

            Robin laughed again.  "Safe at home in Wakefield, we hope.  We dare not join them, for we are wanted men."

            "Wanted?"

            "''Tis a long tale, lass, but mayhap worth the telling.  We four were foresters of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster.  Lord Thomas was among the lords ordainers, and I must needs explain who they were.  King Edward was become greedy for both money and power, and the lords ordainers forced him to sign ordinances renouncing his avaricious ways.  But o'er time the king began testing the ordinances, pushing first gainst one and then gainst another.  Lord Thomas lost his patience and rose up in rebellion to o'erthrow Edward. All his liegemen, including we foresters, were his army.  Edward's army beat us at the Battle of Boroughbridge; Edward imprisoned Lord Thomas in his castle at Pontefract and declared all his supporters outlaws.  Many of us went to sea to escape being hunted down by Edward's men.  But we three all had wives that we did not want to leave.  So, since we were named outlaws, outlaws we became.  And from time to time we creep to our homes to see our wives."

            Marya said, "So you fear that Edward's soldiers are watching your homes, hoping to catch you?"

            "Aye," Robin agreed, "'tis so.  But since thou seemst interested in the past, let me show thee Sandal Castle."

            Marya had seen that the shadows were lengthening. "Is there time before nightfall?"

            "Aye," Robin said again.  "'Tis not far off, and there'll be a moon tonight."

*

            In truth, Sandal Castle was not far distant, and Robin led Marya there quickly.

            "It's very beautiful," Marya said.  "Who lives here?"

            "At the moment," Robin replied, "no one.  It was the home of Earl Warenne.  I was one of the earl's foresters at the time.  But the earl  showed very poor judgement."

            "How did he do that?"

            "He ran off with Lord Thomas's wife.  Now he's dead, the castle is empty, and I became forester to Lord Thomas.  But come, let's go inside."  He led her across the drawbridge over the moat to the entryway and paused, inspecting the stonework.  

 "Ah, but the castle will not be standing in a century or twain.  See this crack?"  Marya came closer and bent her head to look.  "The water will get into that crack when it rains, and then in the winter the cold will make it greater.  Then the stone will split.  And the castle is built entirely of stones like this."

            It was dark inside the castle; the only light came from little slits in the walls.  "Why are there no windows?"

            "If the castle were attacked, it would be too easy to shoot arrows through them."  Robin drew closer.  "Ah, lass, thou'rt a beauteous wench in sooth.  And I have been so lonely these last weeks."  He put his arm around her shoulders.

            A tangle of thoughts rushed through Marya's mind. Robin was, after all, a married man, and she had known him only a few hours.  But she sympathized with his loneliness, she liked him, the touch of his strong arm was comforting, his manly scent was exciting, and the oxygen in the atmosphere was making her so giddy . . . 

*

            "Where is it that you come from?" Little John asked Travoom.

            She paused.  It would be hard to explain it.  "It is a place far from here," she temporized.

            "Use they the bow there?"

            "The bow?  Oh, I see what you mean.  No, we don't."

            "Robin prides himself on his skill with the bow," Little John said, "but I have won as many contests as he.  Come, let me show you how to shoot.  There is a little willow sapling not far from here that we use for a target."

            Travoom rose and followed him.  She was surprised at how lithe he was for so big a man.  It was hardly a quarter of an hour before they came to a clearing in which stood a willow sapling, no more than six inches in thickness.

            "I'll show thee how 'tis done," Little John said.  He stood some forty paces distant, took his bow in his left hand, notched an arrow to the bowstring with his right, drew his arm back and let the arrow fly.  In an instant the arrow stood quivering in the sapling.

            "Remarkable!" said Travoom.

            "Now 'tis thy turn," Little John said.  He showed her how to stand, with her left foot forward, pointing toward the target, her body posed so that her left side was facing it, the bow in her left hand, the arrow notched to the bowstring in her right, her eye sighting along the arrow.  As he arranged her, his hands and arms touched her in various places; at first she shuddered a little, but then she came to like the sureness of his touch, the warmth of his body, the man scent of him -- and the oxygen in the air was making her light-headed . . . 

*

            "Be there many deer where thou comest from?" Will Scarlet asked Luckwai.

            She noted the syntactical and morphological features of the question and then replied, "No, we have no deer at all."

            "I know a glade not far from here where they come to feed about this time of day.  Come with me, and I'll show thee."

            She followed him through the trees until they came to a clearing where the grass was lush and green.

            Will said, "Let us hide us here in these bushes and watch to see whether they come."

            The bushes were not very big, and by necessity they sat close together.

            It was not long before a herd of deer entered the clearing, a stag and four does.

            "What are those things on the head of the biggest one?" Luckwai asked.

            "Those are his antlers.  Antlers are the mark of the male.  There be one male and four females.  Now watch!  I trow we may see something magical."

            As Luckwai watched, she felt Will's arms tighten around her.  The stag was sniffing at the tail of one of the does; then he emitted a sound the like of which Luckwai had never heard before, reared up on his hind legs, and mounted the doe from the rear.  Luckwai's eyes were round and unblinking as she watched the deer mating.  She felt Will's arms, she smelled his man scent, and the oxygen in the air was intoxicating her . . . 

*

            And so the hundred days passed.  Many times the spacetime travelers went with Robin and his men to Sayles Plantation, from which they could see the traffic on the Great North Road; they watched as the outlaws stopped the nobles and clergy -- Robin explained that they were the ones with the money -- and let the peasants and tradesmen go by unmolested.

They also went with the outlaws to the village of Barnesdale and saw how Robin and his men helped villagers who needed help, and how they purchased goods at uncommonly high prices so that, as Robin explained, the villagers would not turn them in for the reward.


            And many times the six sat around the campfire while Robin and his men sang ballads such as "Edward" and "Sir Patrick Spens."

            Also many were the visits to Sandal Castle, the archery lessons, and the trips to the woodland glade.

            Then one day three loud hoots pierced the air. Robin and his men leaped to their feet.

            "By'r Lady, what is that?" Robin asked.

            The spacetime travelers also rose.  Marya said, "'Tis but the call our wagon makes for us to prepare to leave."

            Travoom said, "May I have your attention, please?" And when the outlaws' eyes were fixed on her, she wove the air with her hands hypnotically and said, "Now you will not remember we were ever here.  When we have departed, you will awake."

            The three men stood as statues while the three women entered their capsule.  Travoom launched it on its way down the spacetime spiral toward their home planet.

            "I saw nothing to suggest why Urrth has become a cinder ball," Marya said.  "Did either of you?"

            Both replied, "Nay."

            Marya continued, "I am taking a souvenir home with me."

            "A souvenir?" Travoom asked.

            "Aye," Marya said.  "I am pregnant."

            "So am I," Travoom said.

            Both looked questioningly at Luckwai.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The linguist smiled enigmatically.  "We are returning to Marsha with three stowaways," she said.


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