Hi everyone! I would love some feedback/criticism on the first chapter of my first novel. I'm a perfectionist so I'm having a hard time continuing with the story until I believe this first chapter is just right, so please be as honest as possible.
One thing to note (which I hope you would get by reading, but just in case) is that this is the first chapter in a story with two main characters. Chapter two will focus on "Max" and his story. I thought adding a short intro that would let the reader know it's going to be two stories in one, so please let me know if I am mistaken.
Oh, and I haven't come up with a name for the planet Leed is from yet, so *planet is serving as a placeholder now.
The darkness stretched before him as far as the eye can see, with twinkling lights dotting the blackness of the never-ending space. At home, Leed spent many evenings staring into the sky above him, connecting the stars overhead to form pictures. Once, he swore he saw his own face staring back at him, roughly outlined in glowing dots. But today Leed paid no attention to the thousands of bright white spots indicating stars. Today, he was on a mission, wrapped up in his sudden freedom and responsibility. Mesmerized by the swirling white mist he knew to be clouds and the gentle movement of the colors below, his gaze was transfixed, straight ahead, on one particularly radiant, blue and green planet. It took him a few moments to remember his duties and he reluctantly pulled his eyes away and began taking notes.
On that very same day, Max found himself staring into that very same night sky, though he was greatly interested in the sparkling white stars peeking through the surrounding darkness. Specifically, he was staring at one brightly shining star which he knew was high above him, although it seemed close enough to hold in his hand if only he could stretch another inch. Max had been watching that bright light in the sky for as long as he can remember, as did his father before him, and his grandfather before that. Staring out into the empty space, he dreamed of green, bug-eyed aliens and spaceships zooming around the galaxy. One day, he thought, he would have his very own flying machine and then he would visit the far reaches of the universe. He let his mind wander as he dreamed about an adventure through space and soon he drifted off to sleep on the makeshift observatory atop a platform that sat shakily on the roof of his grandmother’s old, red barn.
“Are you sure you’re ready for your mission, Leed?” asked Professor Immich in a stern, but gentle way that Leed thought seemed fatherly. And in many ways Professor Immich was much more of a father to Leed than his own.
Professor Immich was tall and dreadfully thin with small square spectacles that were always sliding down his long, pointed nose. His short gray hair formed a ring around the shiny pink spot on the top of his head, doing little to hide his age. Leed estimated his teacher to be nearly 70 years old, though it would be considered rude to ask. Still, in his long white scientist’s coat and polished black shoes, Leed couldn’t help but marvel every time his professor entered the room.
“Yes, sir,” Leed replied with all the energy and vigor of youth.
“You’ll be out there, alone, for nine days,” warned the professor.
His emphasis on the word ‘alone’ made Leed’s stomach do a flip, but his excitement remained nonetheless.
“Of course, you can contact me whenever you want with your Telescreen.”
“I’m ready, Professor Immich. I am!”
Leed had difficultly not jumping up and down right then and there. He wanted to run to the front of the room and give his professor a big hug. But that kind of behavior was not accepted in *planet and he knew a scolding would follow if his father found out. With much effort, he convinced his limbs to stay still, at least until class was over.
It seemed like ages – though it was less than ten minutes – when Immich finally let him go for the day. His instructions were to arrive back at the classroom the following morning at sunrise to prepare for his mission. The butterflies fluttered in his stomach, even stronger this time as his greatest wish was coming true in only a few short hours.
He quietly, and at a respectable pace, gathered his books and telescope. He waved goodbye to Professor Immich as he nearly sprinted out the door, excited to share his news. He dashed down the stairs, took a right at the drinking fountain and skipped past the lunch machine before coming to a stop in front of a large, wooden door with peeling green paint and an ornate metal handle.
Leed looked up and down the hall to ensure no one was nearby as he slowly opened the door. When he deemed the coast clear, Leed slid inside and limboed through the familiar piles of old telescopes, surplus specimen jars and long-forgotten reports until he reached the dangling string that lighted the dusty, flickering bulb. This was Leed’s secret place – a place where he could be alone and daydream about another life. It was a place where he could voice his feelings without fear of being overheard and hide his writing without worry of being found. This tiny room was the only place Leed felt he was truly free.
He learned long ago never to show emotion, perhaps he was even born with this intuition. One of his earliest memories is of his father punishing him when he cried over losing his favorite toy on the playground. He couldn’t have been more than three. But it was enough to teach him to bottle up his feelings. He never again expressed how scared he was about failing his Training or how unfair it was that Molly Terran was never allowed to talk to her family again. He never told anyone that he hated his father, was jealous of his sister’s success or longed to run away to another world. He often thought these things, but there was no place to voice his emotions, nowhere safe at least. He had never said any of it aloud, until the day he found his secret place.
It was nearly three years ago now, on a Friday after school. He was only 11 then and had not yet begun his Training. All 11-year-olds take the same general classes before declaring their Profession, but many already knew what they were going to choose. Those from Professional families often spent their afternoons volunteering with the career they plan to pursue, to get a leg-up. Leed was visiting the science building after school that day to watch the scientists send a new satellite into orbit.
Despite being from a prominent Professional family, Leed had never been popular in school. He was small for his age and less muscular than most the girls in his class. Leed did like his eyes, which are a deep chestnut that nicely complements his light brown skin, but his straight black hair hung in his eyes and was always in need of cutting. He was quiet in school, though it was because he didn’t have anyone to talk to rather than a lack of things to say. His mother said he was just shy, but Leed knew that wasn’t it. He liked meeting people and considered himself very friendly, if given the chance. No, Leed knew deep down it was because he was different – he just didn’t belong.
And he wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Many of the other students in his class agreed that he didn’t fit in, and often took it upon themselves to remind him. Bullying is not tolerated in *planet, but that didn’t stop Abegnail and his crew. Abegnail Abermathy was as thick as he was tall, and as mean as he was dumb. His gang was always picking fights in the schoolyard, though they never got caught.
Abegnail’s mother is a Leader, so he is immune to most punishments bore by the Professional and Laborer classes. Abegnail’s crew usually targeted the Laborer children in their cruel taunts, but he made a special exception for Leed. The bullies constantly made life miserable for Leed, so much so that he had made it a habit to turn in the opposite direction at the slightest sign that Abegnail was nearby.
On the day Leed stumbled across his secret hiding place, Abegnail and his crony, Malarg, had followed Leed as he was leaving the science building. Malarg had a shaved head and bulging eyes which looked as if they could pop out of his head at any moment. He was much taller and lumpier than Abegnail, but it didn’t matter because he was also the son of a Leader.
Leed had just exited the science building to return home for dinner. An ear-to-ear smile was plastered on his face, as this was the first time he had ever witnessed a satellite launch. He was fascinated with its shiny metal body and long, flat wings. He was just imagining it high in the sky, transmitting data only the scientists could decode when he heard Abegnail’s voice. His first instinct was to run.
“Hey, Leed,” Abegnail sneered. “What are you doing out here alone?”
Leed didn’t reply, but continued walking, quickening up his pace. He did not want to be caught by Abegnail and Malarg alone near the rocky outer banks of *planet.
“Aww look he’s going to run home to his mommy,” Malarg called after him. The boys’ cold, harsh laughs echoed between the mountainous terrain behind him and the hard stone buildings in front.
“Leave me alone,” Leed shouted back with a calculated fury that surprised him, as he felt on the verge of tears.
“Or what?” barked Abegnail. “You’re going to sic your sister on me?”
At that, Leed turned around. “Don’t talk about my sister,” he said, much more calmly than he felt.
Abegnail picked up on Leed’s anger and ran with it. “How does it feel to have the famous Brin as a sister? She’s so hot! And she’s smart, while you’re just a sad, little loser! Are you sure you’re even related?”
Behind his back, Leed’s fists clenched. All he wanted to do was punch Abegnail in the face, but he knew that would result in a week’s detainment and he certainly didn’t want that. He’d never been sent to detainment, but he knew it was horrible. Still, it was almost worth the risk to give Abegnail what he deserved. But, then again, he was barely two thirds Abegnail’s size, and surely Malarg would join in the fight. That would be two against one, he thought as he debated his next move.
In the seconds it took Leed to weigh the risks and benefits of punching Abegnail square in the mouth, Malarg had already made his decision. It took a moment for Leed’s brain to register the pain. Malarg’s thick fingers left a bright, stinging red mark on his cheek as he tumbled to the ground. Leed looked around in horror for the Police, but only Malarg stood before him, with a malicious grin. They weren’t being detained. Malarg hadn’t been caught. Of course he hadn’t, those two never get in trouble.
As if the injury wasn’t enough, Abegnail felt the need to add insult to the mix.
“I bet you won’t even be chosen for Training. They’ll just send you straight to the Laborers. Then you’ll never see your precious sister again,” he said with a twisted sneer that made his ash gray eyes narrow into dangerous-looking slits. With that, they ran off laughing.
Leed knew he couldn’t go home with his face still red or his father would know he had been fighting. If he didn’t get caught by the Police and sent to detainment, his father would make sure he is punished, and it would be just as bad. Leed also couldn’t be caught crying, but his eyes were quickly betraying him. He made a rash decision and headed back toward the science building. Holding back his tears as best as he could, he meandered through the empty halls – it was well after 5 o’clock – as he tried to find somewhere to hide. It was then that he saw the green door for the first time.
It seemed in better condition then, magical even. The big brass handle’s wavy design extends several inches above and below the knob, much more than was necessary. In *planet, nothing is more or less than is necessary. And the door’s façade was painted a deep green, the color of the moss-covered stones at the bottom of the river. It was rare to see things painted in *planet. He had gone to a dinner with his father once, to the home of a Leader, who had a wooden chair painted bright red. But even that didn’t have any excess metal or wood. It was just a chair and it did its job, just like anything else in *planet.
The green door didn’t seem to fit in with anything else in the reticent science building. While all buildings in *planet are made of stone, the science building is even colder and darker than most. The building has very few windows and burnished metal covering nearly every surface. It is cleaned twice daily, because so many experiments get out of hand, leaving a permanent sterile feeling throughout. Even Leed’s classroom, though it has windows and light yellow stone walls, seems dark.
But in this rarely used hallway, the door is a beacon of hope, a remnant of a better time, standing out among the cement and steel. Leed doesn’t know how the door came into existence, and he’s never heard it mentioned. He, of course, never brought it up fearing his secret place would be exposed. It’s been his clandestine fortress for years, a place of mystery in a world full of knowledge. “Knowledge is Life.”
*planet’s slogan instinctively butted its way into his thoughts, but it was easy enough to push away. He’d been doing it for years, unwilling to fully accept his society’s ultimate goal.
The dark storage closet safely tucked away behind the mysterious green door is his oasis, where he can be free to ponder the meaning of life, and what makes it so great. He was certain it wasn’t knowledge, though he’d never say that out loud (or even write it down). He was glad to have a place to shout his feelings and rant out loud, speaking to no one but himself. He could cry, he could sing, he could do anything he pleased in the safe confines of the tiny, cramped room. He had long since learned it was soundproof and rarely, if ever, entered by anyone other than him. In the years he’d been hiding out here – even before he was selected for his Training – he had memorized every towering heap of junk, every stack of books. He could navigate his way through the tottering piles with his eyes closed, and he often did just for fun. It was here that he found Olan’s book – the only remaining copy as far as he knows.
But today he had no time for reading. No time for daydreaming. No need for crying, or writing or singing. Today, all he wanted to do was smile. Smile as any 14-year-old would just hours before his dreams come true. Today, all Leed wanted to do was shout from the top of his lungs, for tomorrow was his very first solo mission to observe Earth.