Check out The Lost Planet, a middle-grade SF adventure by Rachel Searles, available January 28, 2014 from Feiwel & Friends!
This is what the boy is told:
He woke up on planet Trucon, inside of a fence line he shouldn’t have been able to cross. He has an annirad blaster would to the back of his head. He has no memory. He is now under the protection of a mysterious benefactor. His name is Chase Garrety.
This is what Chase Garrety knows:
He has a message: “Guide the star.” Time is running out.
The boy opened his eyes to a sky the color of melted butter and a sense of inexplicable terror.
He sucked in a ragged gasp of air and sat up. The pain followed a second later, smacking the back of his head like a club. The world swam around him in a blur. He grasped for simple facts: where he was, how he’d gotten here. Why he hurt. Why he could barely see.
Shoving aside his confusion, he pushed himself to one knee with a grunt. The muggy air seemed to vibrate, but he couldn’t tell whether it was real or whether he was imagining it. He squinted hard enough to make out the gray shape of a nearby building, and something vast and green behind it. What was this place?
A hand landed on his shoulder. With a cry of surprise, he turned and saw a blurry figure crouched beside him. It took a moment to unscramble what the person was shouting.
“Who are you? How’d you get past the fence?”
Fence? He shook his head. Something had begun to rise in his chest, a bubble of vital information—what was it? His mouth worked silently, trying to pin down the words dancing at the edge of his tongue. The pain swelled, crowding everything else out, and he felt himself slipping away.
“Guide the star!” he shouted, just before the blackness closed in.
“Hey! Hey, wake up!”
He opened his eyes. The blinding sunlight was gone—he was somewhere dim and quiet, breathing processed indoor air. A dark-haired boy leaned over him, studying his face. “There you are.”
For a moment he struggled to form a slurred question. “Where am I?”
“I brought you inside. You’re safe. You’re in my house.”
He stared at the pale, sharp-faced boy. Was this the same person who’d spoken to him outside? “Uh… who are you?”
“Okay, you’re welcome. I’m Parker. Now who on Taras are you? Where did you come from?”
Letting the questions fly over his head, he looked past Parker to take in his surroundings. He was lying in a bed, inside a small, empty bedroom. The only light came through an open door. He turned his head to see what lay beyond the door, and winced as throbbing erupted behind his eyes.
Parker had crossed his arms as if he were waiting for something. Did he know this Parker? He didn’t think so. His eyelids grew heavy and began to droop.
“No you don’t. Stay awake.” Parker reached down and slapped his cheek lightly, but he may as well have swung a hammer. Jagged bolts of pain raced across the boy’s skull, and he cried out.
Parker raised his hands. “Whoa, sorry! Good lords, what happened to you?”
“What happened?” he repeated, looking for the answer himself. The confusion he’d felt outside started to rise again.
“Um, yeah. How did you get through the fence?”
Parker shook his head. “What is wrong with you, kid?”
“Kid?” He felt like a bleating idiot repeating everything, but
it was as if his brain had shorted out. Why didn’t he know the answers to these questions? Why didn’t he know anything?
“Yeah, what are you, thirteen?” Parker said, with the authoritative air of someone much older. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen himself.
How old am I? “I don’t know,” he admitted.
“Don’t know how old you are? Are you some kind of runaway?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Who are you?”
Who am I? He stared into Parker’s gray eyes, and his con-
fusion began to twist into fear. “I don’t know,” he repeated a third time, his voice dropping to a whisper.
Parker’s face lit up with a grin. “Are you kidding me? You must’ve really gotten your brains scrambled. I know what to do—hold on a sec.” He left the room and returned a minute later, thrusting a mirror into the boy’s face.
Wincing, the boy hoisted himself up on one elbow and grabbed the mirror with the other hand to steady it. His stomach plummeted and his heart began to race. A sandy-haired, ashen-faced stranger stared back at him from the mirror with wild eyes.
A low gasp diverted his attention from the mirror. “Oh lords,” said Parker, staring past the boy at something behind him.
Tingling panic raced over his skin. “What is it?”
Parker was already backing toward the door. “I’m gonna call the doctor,” he said quickly. He turned and ran, his pounding footsteps echoing down the hall.
Frantic, the boy on the bed wrenched his head around. Fresh explosions of pain knocked him back into unconsciousness, but not before he glimpsed the bright red stain spreading on his pillowcase.
Warm, firm fingers pressed on his neck, probing it gently. One hand cupped his head while his upper body was lifted away from the bed. The fingers moved to meander through his hair. Someone was speaking in a low, calm voice, but his brain only processed snippets of words: the fence, run a pulse, huge risk.
He felt himself starting to drift away again and forced his eyes to open. A man in glasses with a gray-speckled beard leaned over him. When their eyes met, the man smiled.
“Hello, there. I’m Dr. Silvestri. I’d like to take a closer look at this wound you’ve got on the back of your head, so I’m going to need you to roll over on your side. Can you do that for me?” He lifted the boy’s right shoulder and helped him turn. An agonizing bolt of pain shot from his head down through the middle of his shoulders, and the boy groaned.
“On a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?” the doctor asked.
“Nine?” the boy gasped, his voice muffled by the pillow. The pain spread out in waves, blotting out the rest of his thoughts. His fingers curled into the sheets.
“Alright, hold on a moment.” There was a rattling sound, and the doctor placed a hand along the boy’s jaw and pressed something against the back of his head. A cold sensation spread out from the area, and the pain cut off instantly, like flipping a switch. The boy sagged into the mattress with relief.
“Can I get you to roll forward a little bit more?” Something beside the boy’s ear made a series of clicks. “We’ll get you all cleaned—” Dr. Silvestri drew in a sharp breath.
The boy’s pulse sped up a notch. “What?”
“Hey, is that—?” Parker’s voice rang out across the room. “Get out of here, Parker,” the doctor snapped.
“Oh, come on!”
There was a huff and the door slammed.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Silvestri said. “I’m going to talk with you in
a second about this wound, but I think I’ve already found something that may help us out.”
The boy waited, feeling nothing, his ears filled with the rushing of his heartbeat.
“Parker told me that you can’t remember your name,” the doctor murmured as he worked.
“No,” said the boy in a tiny voice.
“Well, let’s see what we can do about that. Okay, you’re all bandaged up. It was just a flesh wound; the steamgel I used should heal it up in about twelve hours. You can roll over now.”
When the boy turned back around, Dr. Silvestri was squirting clear liquid into a flat glass dish. He swirled it around a few times and held it out to show a tiny black fleck resting in the bottom of the dish. “I suppose you didn’t realize you had an ID marker implanted under your scalp, did you?”
Leaning over to get a closer look, the boy shook his head. “Does that mean you can tell me who I am?”
“The chip’s been damaged, but it looks like there’s some readable data on it. I’ll run a scan on it right now.” The doctor fished a hand-size device from a case on the floor and held it over the tiny marker for a few seconds. “It’ll take a few minutes for the frag analysis to run.”
The boy sank back into his pillow. In a few minutes, this confusing nightmare would be over. He looked around the small, windowless room, which contained little more than the bed he lay in and a blinking console by the door. “Where am I?”
“You’re in Asa Kaplan’s estate, in the Wesley District. We’re on the far outskirts of Rother City.” The doctor paused for a reaction, and added, “We’re in the Eastern Territory… on the planet Trucon.”
The doctor could have been speaking gibberish for all the boy knew—none of the names were familiar to him. He remembered the strange yellow sky he’d seen outside and shook his head.
“You were lucky to make it here safely.” Dr. Silvestri inhaled as if he were about to say something else, but stopped himself. “Parker told me you said something to him before he brought you inside?”
He remembered the words he’d spoken and the urgency he’d felt, but had no idea why it had seemed so important to say them. “‘Guide the star.’ I don’t know what it means.” He stared at the foot of the bed, and his vision shimmered and doubled as tears filled his eyes. Why couldn’t he remember? What kind of a mess had he gotten himself into?
Dr. Silvestri placed a hand on his arm. “Just relax. How does your head feel now, Chase?”
“Fine,” the boy mumbled, looking away as he wiped his face. When he realized what the doctor had said, he looked up. “Chase?”
Dr. Silvestri had pursed his lips in the beginnings of a smile, but he stopped when he saw the boy’s confusion. “That doesn’t sound familiar to you?”
The boy raised his eyebrows doubtfully. “My name is Chase?”
“Yes.” Dr. Silvestri peered at the screen on his device. “It says here your name is Chase Garrety.”
Chase lowered his head, swallowing back disappointment. He had hoped that his own name would sound familiar, would open up his memory like the key to a safe. Instead it sounded like two arbitrary words, no different than if he’d been told his name was Blue Shirt or Wooly Fantastic.
“You found that on the chip?” Chase asked, once he could control his voice.
“Yes. There’s more coded on the chip than just your name, but it’s pretty badly damaged. I’m going to take it back to my lab and see if I can recover any information from it. I took a tissue sample as well, in case we need to use DNA records to track you down.”
“What should I do?”
Dr. Silvestri regarded him with a sober expression. “I’m going to tell you the truth. The wound on your head is not something I see often, particularly not on someone as young as yourself. It looks like…” He paused for a moment, glancing down at his hands. “It’s a blast mark. I can tell by the small radius, and the burned edges. It looks like someone fired an annirad blaster at the back of your head. Low frequency, obviously, or you wouldn’t be here, but still… it looks like you were attacked.”
Attacked? A flicker of the earlier urgency surfaced, but with no details attached, it felt meaningless.
“And you really don’t remember anything at all?” the doctor asked. “Not even a partial memory or an image?”
Chase closed his eyes and willed himself to remember, but his mind was maddeningly empty. He shook his head.
“I’d like you to stay here for the time being. We don’t know what happened to you or who did it. If there’s one place I know you’ll be safe, it’s here at the Kaplan compound. Sound good?”
Chase hesitated. “Isn’t there someone that I should contact for help? To see if anyone’s looking for me?”
Dr. Silvestri held Chase’s gaze for a long moment. It looked almost like there was something important that he wanted to say, but he gave a quick sigh and smiled. “Let me handle everything for now. I’ll run a search on your name in the local databases, see what I can find.”
He dug into his equipment, pulling out a clear vial. “I’m going to give you something that’ll make you feel a lot better. Get some rest, and I’ll be back in touch as soon as I know anything.” He slipped the vial into a slim metal cylinder with a flat disk on one end, and pressed it against the inside of Chase’s right elbow.
A peaceful sleepiness rushed over Chase as the medicine kicked in. He was safe. The chip held the answers. The doctor would help him.
“I’ll see you very soon,” said Dr. Silvestri as he stood. “Don’t worry. You’ve survived the worst already. We’ll figure this out.” He walked out of the room, turning off the light as he went.
With every beat of his heart, Chase could feel himself floating farther away. The last thing he saw was a silhouette standing in the door frame, and then he slipped into the blackness.
In the darkened room, Chase drifted in and out of awareness, oblivious to time or worry. Was it hours that passed? Days? When the pieces of his consciousness began to reassemble, he stared at the ceiling in blank confusion for a few moments. Then he remembered: Parker, the doctor, the microchip… and his missing memory, an unanswerable question looming before him.
He climbed out of bed and fumbled his way through the darkness, groping along the wall until he found a door. The room opened into a hallway, bright with daylight from high frosted windows. Squinting, Chase looked down and noticed he was wearing soft gray pajamas.
He headed down the hall, and at the end he came to a wide room filled with sleek, comfortable furniture. More frosted windows filled the room with airy light, and like the hall, it was silent and empty. Where were the people who lived in this house? Chase sat down on one of the couches for a moment to think. It occurred to him that he could find the front door and leave, but where would he go? He wondered where Dr. Silvestri had gone, and how soon he could talk to him again.
“Finally, you’re awake.”
Chase whirled around in surprise. Parker stood in the doorway, pushing his dark hair out of his eyes. “I thought you were going to sleep forever. How’s your head?”
Chase’s hand crept up to the bandage on the back of his head. He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten about his injury, but he had. The pain was completely gone. “Feels okay, I guess.”
“Do you remember who I am?”
“Um, Parker, right?” For a second, Chase doubted his answer.
Parker nodded. “So who are you?”
“And where are you from?” The question followed quickly,
as if Parker was testing him.
Chase opened his mouth to reply and closed it with the
confused expression it seemed he was constantly wearing. “I don’t remember.”
Something like a smirk crossed Parker’s face. “Well, that sucks. But at least you can remember my name.” Seeing Chase’s frown, he added, “What I mean is, whatever brain damage you’ve got, at least you’re able to make new memories. That’s good, right?”
This was true, but there was something annoying about the way Parker mentioned brain damage, like it was only a sprained ankle. And why was he talking like he was some kind of memory expert? Chase crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Where’s everyone else?”
Parker had started toward a shiny black panel on the wall, but he glanced back and raised his eyebrows. “Everyone who?”
“The other people who live here, I don’t know. Your parents?”
“My parents are dead.”
Chase ducked his head, cheeks burning. “Oh, sorry.”
“Don’t be. They’ve been dead a long time. I live alone.”
“Alone? You’re, like, thirteen.”
“Fourteen,” corrected Parker. He shrugged and turned
back to the panel.
That had to be a lie. No way was a kid that young living
by himself. “Dr. Silvestri said this was someone else’s home. Asa something.”
“Kaplan.” Parker tapped something on the panel, his back to Chase. “Yeah. Technically it’s his estate here on Trucon.”
“He doesn’t live here? Is he your uncle or something?” Parker sighed, and after a minute Chase thought he was going to ignore the question. Finally he turned around. “Asa owns some big tech corporation. My parents used to work for him. They died in an accident when I was a baby, and Asa took me in as his ward and sent me to live at this compound. But he’s never lived here.”
“How can you just stay here by yourself? What do you do all day?” asked Chase. “Do you go to school?”
Parker made an exasperated face. “No. There’s plenty of stuff to do. I study, I play games. I eat, I sleep. Whatever normal people do.” He leaned against the wall and narrowed his eyes. “What do you do all day?”
Chase’s mind automatically reached for the answer to that question, and again hit a blank. He frowned and shook his head.
“So what does ‘guide the star’ mean?”
“I don’t know.” Chase felt stupid admitting that he had no idea what it meant when he was the one who’d said it.
“Try harder. Can’t you dig up any personal memories at all?”
Did Parker think he wasn’t trying hard enough? “No. Where’s Dr. Silvestri?”
“At his home, I assume. How about any type of strong feelings? Do you remember any fear? Anger?”
“No,” snapped Chase. “Will you let up? I don’t remember anything at all, and you’re not helping.”
Parker looked surprised for a moment, and then his face closed, as though he’d drawn a curtain over it. “Fine,” he muttered. He punched a button on the panel, and a screen lit up on the wall and started playing a video feed of a crowd of people in a packed street.
A black sliver appeared directly below the video screen, widening as a large panel of the wall slid upward. Chase watched in wonder as a tabletop, set for two and covered with platters of food, extended out into the room. On either side of it, sections of floor rose silently to form two benches, flipping their tops to reveal a cushioned side.
Parker took a seat on one of the benches. “Don’t you want any breakfast?”
Chase gaped at the feast spread out on the table. “Where did it come from?”
“Autokitchen. Sit down.”
Chase sank onto a bench, breathing in the rich smells from a tower of hot buttered bread rings, platters of syrupdrizzled fruits, and a bowl of small red jelly-like balls. “But who made it?”
Parker gave him that examining look again, and Chase couldn’t tell whether his expression was incredulous or irritated. “It’s from a food synthesizer. Are you going to eat?”
His stomach suddenly roaring, Chase grabbed a bread ring and crammed the whole thing in his mouth in two bites. Crispy and sweet, it dissolved into buttery richness in his mouth. He reached for another.
“Whoa there, animal, don’t choke yourself.” Parker leaned over his plate and stared as Chase attacked the food like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. He touched the video screen beside the table, and the volume increased. On the screen, a sharpfaced man gesticulated behind a podium, speaking in a strange, fluid language.
“What are you watching?” asked Chase through a mouthful of tart green berries.
“I like the news,” said Parker defensively. “Why, would you prefer cartoons?”
Chase rolled his eyes. The video changed, and a blond anchorwoman stood in front of an ornate building. “Leaders from several planets are already commending the new Lyolian president-elect for his strong stance on shutting down interplanetary trafficking networks,” she chirped. “Here in the capital it’s a happy day, but in the wake of this surprising election, many are holding their breath as they await the response of the planet’s Karsha Ven militants. This is Parri Dietz reporting live on Lyolia. Back to you, Boris.”
“What’s Lyolia?” asked Chase.
Parker’s head snapped around so fast Chase could practically hear the air crack. “What?”
“I—I just haven’t heard of…”
Parker stared at him intensely for a moment. He pointed at the newsfeed. “What’s that called?”
“Um, a video screen?”
“What rises in the morning and sets in the evening?”
“You mean the sun?”
“Is a fork an animal or a utensil?”
Chase scoffed. “A utensil. Why are you—”
Parker held up a hand to interrupt him. “How many planets are there in the Federation?”
Parker’s eyes widened. “Fifteen. Is Trucon a colony planet or an origin planet?”
Chase shook his head.
“Colony. What’s the capital of Earth?”
“Good lords! Earth, your origin planet. You’re Earthan, Chase—come on, you’ve gotta know that.”
Chase shook his head, the names and information whirling around inside it. How did Parker know that he was Earthan, whatever that was? What other options were there?
Parker stared at him. “Last night after you passed out, I was reading up on amnesia. If you know what a video screen is, what a fork is, that means your semantic memory—your memory of facts and information—is intact. You should be able to answer the most basic questions about the galaxy. How could you not know this stuff? How could you not even know that you’re Earthan?”
Chase flushed and started to stammer something about memory loss. The gaping void in his brain was bad enough, but somehow it made things worse to know that the only clue he had so far was that he didn’t know much about anything. “How do you know I didn’t just forget that too?”
Parker narrowed his eyes, shaking his head. “After you showed up here yesterday, Dr. Silvestri and I figured you probably escaped from one of the slave traffickers. They’re always moving shipments of slaves around in the deserts here. But even a slave would know what Earth is, unless you’re just really dumb. Did you grow up in a wormhole or something?” A smile stretched across Parker’s face. Was he enjoying this?
“Obviously I don’t have any idea where I grew up,” said Chase through clenched teeth.
Parker opened his mouth to say something else, but his eyes flickered past Chase, and abruptly the smile vanished. His expression darkened into a scowl.
Chase glanced over his shoulder. To his surprise, a teenage girl with long brown hair had walked into the living room. Her bright eyes locked on Chase, and she walked right up to his chair and extended a hand.
“Hello, Chase,” she said.
“Um, hi?” He turned around and shook her hand. Behind him, he heard Parker snort. Why hadn’t Parker mentioned this girl?
“Welcome to our home. My name is Mina.” Her face was calm, almost expressionless, but her blue eyes rested on him with an unsettling intensity.
So Parker had lied about living alone. “Nice to meet you, Mina,” he mumbled.
“Where did you come from?”
Did she really not know about his amnesia, or was this another attempt to trick his brain into giving up the answer? “I don’t know,” Chase said after a strained pause. “I can’t remember.”
“Okay.” She stared for a few more uncomfortable seconds, analyzing him. What kind of weirdo was she? A normal teenager might try to make conversation, or at least blink.
Parker flicked at a piece of bread on the table, shooting a crumb across the room. “What do you want, Mina?”
“I’m going out to run some errands.” Her eyes never left Chase. “Don’t leave the house.” She turned around and walked away as suddenly as she had arrived.
“Who was that?” Chase asked after she had left. “Is she your sister or something?”
Parker’s eyes widened. “Are you—? You’ve got to be kidding me.” He got up from the table, shaking his head. “Honestly, I’m starting to think maybe you were raised in a wormhole.”
Chase stared at the video feed, grinding his teeth. Obviously there was a lot he didn’t understand. Parker didn’t need to make him feel so stupid. “When is Dr. Silvestri going to come back?”
“I don’t know. Hey, get up.” Parker jabbed him in the shoulder. “Come with me. You want to play a piloting game? I’ve got a pretty good virtual deck downstairs.”
“I don’t want to play any stupid games,” said Chase angrily. “I need to figure out who I am, did you forget that?”
Parker raised his hands, backing away. “Fine, freak. Whatever. Do what you want.”
Feeling guilty for his outburst, Chase added, “But thanks for breakfast. And for letting me stay here.”
“Like I had a choice,” Parker said over his shoulder as he walked away.
Chase watched the video feed, where people were dancing in a street somewhere. As far as he could tell, they looked the same as he did. Did that mean they were all Earthan? What was the opposite of an Earthan?
If he couldn’t remember where he was from, the best thing to do would be to retrace his steps from yesterday. If he’d really come in from the desert, maybe the desert was where he should start looking for clues.
Don’t leave the house.
Yeah, right, Chase thought, jumping up from the table. He headed down the hall, away from the living room and past his bedroom, until he reached a foyer with a large metal door. He yanked the door open, and a wave of heat washed past.
The sky was a strange bright yellow, casting a warm glow over the landscape. Chase stood for a moment with his eyes half closed, soaking in the warmth on his face. He tried to look around, but it was difficult to see in the blinding sunlight. A pale green lawn stretched out before him, dotted with a few gnarled trees. Beyond the lawn, all he could see was a bordering jungle of leafy plants that looked like giant blades of grass, each one as wide as a man’s shoulders. He took a step to the left, planning to circle around the house.
Something shot up out of the grass forest into the sky, a large, dark shape moving at incredible speed. Chase took a wary step backward, raising his hand over his eyes as it vanished against the glare of the sunlight. Then he saw it—a scaly black creature at least twice his size, with wings spread like a fan and far too many reaching limbs. He froze, holding his breath.
It was headed straight for him.
A loud electric crackle vibrated through the air, and the creature suddenly rebounded, tumbling inexplicably backward, away from the house. Chase tasted metal, and the hair on his arms stood up. The creature fell into the grass forest and vanished, but a second later, three more leapt up into the sky.
Chase stumbled backward into the foyer, slamming the metal door shut. A siren was blaring inside the house, though he hadn’t noticed when it started. He turned around to call for help and found himself face-to-face with Parker.
“What are you doing?” Parker shouted. “Are you insane? Defense, lock sequence!”
The siren cut off as the heavy thunk of a deadbolt falling into place sounded in the door behind Chase. His heart still hammered in his chest. “What was that?”
“You mean the Zinnjerha?” Parker ran a hand through his hair. “Good lords. If you don’t know what those are, there’s no way you’re from Trucon. If anything, anything, is burned into your memory, that would be it. The whole planet is full of those underground monsters. They could rip you to shreds.”
“Why did—it couldn’t get to me—”
“There’s an electrified dome protecting the house,” said Parker, waving his hand in a circular motion. “But you still can’t go walking around out there like bait. One or two or five can’t get through, but get two hundred of them riled up and I can’t promise we’ll be okay. Especially with the way they’ve been acting lately.”
“Everyone here lives like this?” Why would anyone live on a planet where they couldn’t go outside?
“No, in the cities there’s a perimeter fence. But we’re pretty far from any city out here.”
An image formed in Chase’s mind of where they were, in a solitary house out in the middle of nowhere. On a planet he wasn’t even from, apparently. “Where did you first find me yesterday?”
“Out there in the yard, setting off all the perimeter breach alarms. And, yes, the Zinnjerha were trying to break through and tear you apart.”
“How did I get there?”
Parker shook his head. “I don’t know. Nobody knows. That’s why Dr. Silvestri told me not to let you leave.”
Chase looked back at the door. “Could I even go anywhere if I wanted to?”
“Not really.” Parker shrugged. “Sorry. You’re stuck here for now.”
Anxiety teased at Chase’s stomach. Dr. Silvestri had seemed so friendly when he told Chase it was safer for him at the compound. But that wasn’t the real reason he’d asked him to stay put. He was suspicious of how Chase had gotten inside.
Nobody told the truth here, it seemed.
The Lost Planet © Rachel Searles, 2014