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graywillow
04-12-2012, 12:21 AM
Hi everyone! Looking for a beta reader. Would be willing to read + critique in response. :)

I've posted the first 1,300 words for a snapshot. This is a complex, layered thriller, set in a new world that walks the line between sci-fi and fantasy, which follows two underdogs with unique talents as they deal with a corporate plan to sabotage the emperor's heirs, the sabotage plan leading to an environmental disaster of true epic proportions.

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RAINBORNE

-1-
MOIRA

The dust storm rushes forward, grit and swirls of bronzed gold that curl and uncurl in the air.

Her body like a tree, her arms its rigid branches, Moira hunches inward as she turns away from the storm’s coming. Her fingers clench around the boom rod that runs the length of her flier, and she fights for balance with her chin tucked into her shoulder and her feet unsteady.

The wind is a beast. Rather than crackle with the energy of a thousand particles against her skin, it heaves past her shoulders like hot steam and leaves her tense, too much before the race begins.

A headache brews beneath her temples. With it comes anger—these sharp twists in her forehead, these constant pinpricks that murmur, Look what you’ve done and See how exhausted you are, are entirely her fault. She shouldn’t be such a mess, not when she must win, but yet her body is so burned out that her leg muscles shake with the effort of standing.

The storm-wave passes, first so thick that she cannot breathe, then lighter, until even the evidence of its passage vanishes with the eastbound breeze. She releases her fingers from the smooth graywillow bark to wipe the thinness of sand from her face.

Her seven fellow racers clear their throats, shake powder off their gear, and line up their fliers, eyes lit with fire. Practice helps them align in the air horizontally.

To the racers’ left, along the edge of the mass, spectators huddle in regional groups, academies, or locales, so far from Moira that they blur together—dots against the horizon. She knows they keep to private conversations. Nobody will hear Paschi until the races begin; the announcer will speak to the whole galaxy then. Above, in the spectator divisions, additional observers browse through racers’ statistics on their telecoms, and bets move between hands accordingly. Multi-colored district flags flap higher.

Moira grits her teeth. Pol and Olive have surely bet something of their coins or gear on her expected win, but here she is, completely imbalanced. For the first time since her debut race, real fear rakes its claws across her skin, and she can’t tell Pol why—Pol, who has trained her for years; Pol, who is a best friend in ways that Olive will never be; Pol, who trusts her to win and bring in coins.

Pol, from whom she has kept her secrets.

I wasn’t careful.

I forgot that this body—it is destructible.

She glances over her shoulder, to the dock that spans a hundred foot-lengths into the open sky. Built of charmed wood, it never wavers, whatever the weather. Pol stands at the dock’s end alongside the other trainers.

He will be so disappointed if she loses.

And I might lose. For the first time in . . . seasons.

She is tired, when she shouldn’t be.

In pain, when she shouldn’t be.

Moira runs a hand over the net enclosing her hair and growls under her breath.

Come now, winds, and work with me.

“Set 100-A, prepare yourself.” The announcer’s voice is steady through the link in her ear. Her mind clicks out from the churn of thoughts; clicks into the present.

“Five . . .”

She wishes Pol could see her eyes from his place so far away—see the pain there, the ache inside her head manifested, proof of her exhaustion; the apology-in-advance: I’m sorry for breaking my promise. I’m sorry that I didn’t stop.

“Four . . .”

She swallows then focuses on the open sky before her.

In the far, far distance, another landmass—her home, Jhed—hangs suspended by nothing but the energy that churns through its center and the play of gravity on its soil. Somewhere below her, below the clouds of gray streaked with white, a village floats. Above her and to the west exists the capitol with its thousand docks and cluttered sky paths.

Between them all float a million more masses.

“Three . . .”

Sweat pools on both hands as she relaxes then re-tightens her grip.

“Two . . .”

All seven engines rev.

Her valves clunkclunk as they hitch in the air.

“And . . .” The horn blare silences all sound—even that of Moira’s thoughts—as the flier thrusts her body forward, unforgiving.

###

Two racers lose before the horn. Their eyes aren’t on the horizon; their feet aren’t inching toward their energy plates, ready to blast the fliers forward. They will not catch up.

Moira keeps herself still, one hand on the sail, and lets the wind trace its fingers against her face and the bare skin on her neck. Everything below is covered in clothing specially tight-threaded to make her skin hypersensitive to each shift of her body.

Five miles in, the six left over spread thinner.

Twins, their hair bound in tight baskets behind their heads, keep pace with each other until one falls back, into the exhaust of Moira’s engine. The other speeds ahead, and Moira grins through the cloud over her gaze; this twin will be out by fifteen miles. The girl’s pacing is off, and sooner than later the exhaustion will hit and her adrenaline flow won’t be enough to even finish the race.

Seven miles. Moira’s muscles loosen in protest. She shakes her right foot in search for blood flow.

Another racer slows, his body too lax.

The rest go forward. Farther into the track, farther from peace.

Four remain—and only one may win.

Breathe. Moira opens her lips and air glides down her throat.

This point in the race is the most difficult to judge: she must decide to give herself a speed boost, and risk tiring too early, bones turning into liquid at the twenty-five-mile mark—or wait until it may be too late, the other fliers clearing the line as she simply ceases to try.

It is impossible to fix either mistake.

The remaining twin keeps to the front, but Moira and the other two fliers cut each other off, three sprightbirds in flight, humming alongside each other as they exercise their wings. Their balance and grace defies their speed.

Moira’s fingers twitch at her side as she debates, while her chest squeezes: in, out, in.

Darkness fizzles over her mind.

The lightness of wind fills her from the inside out, the way lanterns fill with air until they pop. It would be so easy to let go, to tumble over the edges of the flier and spin downward until death broke the fall.

Tired.

Sleep.

She cannot remember the last time her body was rested. All she knows now is the fog that is her life.

The four speed ahead, Moira at the rear.

If she concentrates enough, she can make out individual dots in the sky, far above this group—another set of fliers making the same lap. She gauges the distance. The group must be five, six miles in front, which means they started a few minutes before. A younger sub-division’s final.

The three racers behind the leftover twin swing to the right on a turn. Moira leans farther into it than she usually dares, and clips past one racer, finding her way into third.

Turns these wide are the toughest. Pull too hard on the sail, the flier will flip, and she will fall, pulling desperately at a parachute, trying to light the safety energy strapped to her back. Don’t pull hard enough, she’ll take a wider berth than she should and will be out of the race.

It’s about the sweet spot. She waits for her shoulders to ache under the pressure—wait for it . . .—and then she pulls and holds until the flier glides without effort.

The seconds melt into each other, the next longer than its predecessor, until she straightens out and shoots ahead yet another racer, the adrenaline rush back, headier than ever. The adrenaline fights the ache in her body, battles for precedence, for clarity in the mind and the movement of her body. It steals her breath, as does the sudden thrum beneath her skin: Rain. How it comes.