Unpublished HELLHOLE Chapters: The Children of Amadin

In our novel Hellhole, colonists of all types make their way to a world devastated by an asteroid impact—outlaws, misfits, con men, religious splinter groups, convicts, and many others who have nothing left to lose and no place else to go.  Under the stern, but determined leadership of General Tiber Adolphus, the settlers have to work together; the colony can survive only if everyone pitches in.

The members of a fringe cult, the Children of Amadin, have come to Hellhole to form their own enclave where they can practice their beliefs without interference from outsiders.  Led by a grim but charismatic man named Lujah Carey, they simply want to be left alone.

Even though all new settlers are required to give their first year of service to the Hellhole colony, the stubborn and determined Children of Amadin refuse—despite many warnings.  After picking up their supplies and equipment, the cult members leave the rest of the colony behind and head off into the blasted wilderness.

Later in the novel, the scraps of their failed settlement are found—a ghost town.  But nobody knows what really happened to Lujah Carey and his followers.  These deleted chapters tell the story of the Children of Amadin and the tragic end of their dreams.

Barassa was the least hospitable of the original twenty Crown Jewel worlds, with rocky soil, steep terrain, and windy climate on the only inhabitable landmass.  The Children of Amadin had established a religious enclave there and eventually thrived by the grace of their supreme deity.  Over the centuries, the Children had profited from selling exquisite handmade fabrics, clothing, and furnishings around the Constellation.

Even the rugged existence on Barassa, however, had not prepared Lujah Carey for Hellhole.  Already, his people were grumbling, and some regretted their voluntary exodus.  He and his followers had wanted to escape the secular extremism on Barassa, free to pursue their religious beliefs as they saw fit.  When he had dismissed Sophie Vence’s cautions and set off with his followers into the backcountry, he’d had no understanding of the planet’s utter desolation, of the sheer ferocity and unpredictability of the surroundings.

On their first day, following an azimuth map installed in their overland vehicles, they had traveled only a short distance away from Michella Town before being overwhelmed by the static storm.  The reinforced hulls had protected them from the worst of the weather, but they’d been forced to hunker down in their Trakmasters until the following morning.  The three Trakmasters had been refurbished by one of the local shops, with hardened suspensions, drive systems, and treads adequate for traversing the shattered ground.  Even with heavy seals, however, the driving compartments and trucklike rear canopy areas did not keep out dust well.  Now, dark brown grit covered most of the group’s equipment and provisions, as well as their pale blue uniforms.

Next morning, a bright, clear dawn showed that Amadin was smiling on them again.  The entire group used shovels and their bare hands to dig out around the huddled vehicles, which were buried up to their tiered running boards.  When Lujah noted that a fresh breeze was already lifting the light dust into the air, puffing it away in vigorous gusts, he joined his followers for a quick breakfast of energy tablets and water; they waited as the winds scoured the grit away and cleared the vehicles without any further effort.

“By the grace of Amadin!”  Lujah lifted his hands to the sky, as did the others.  They were ready to move again.

He guided the small caravan in a northeasterly direction, toward a region designated as a zero point in the coordinate system: the geographic center of the impact that had nearly shattered the planet centuries ago.  The place where Amadin had touched. . .

Lujah felt that he should take his people to the impact zone in order to understand the nature of the resculpted world.  The crater was hundreds of kilometers in diameter, and somewhere in the radiating hills of geological ripples and canyons marking the impact spokes, he would find a place where his people could settle down and practice their faith without interference.

The group traveled overland for the rest of the day.  The wide treads ascended slippery talus slopes and clattered down the other side, following a route that curious geologists and explorers had used to reach the impact zone.  At one point, just as they crested a pass and started down the other side, the Trakmasters encountered another vehicle coming in the other direction — a small bus filled with tired-looking men and women, some of whom were sleeping with their heads against the windows.  It seemed odd to encounter other people out here.  The oncoming driver pulled to one side on the narrow surface and waited while Lujah’s caravan passed, and then continued.

Lujah wondered what those people had been doing out there.  Workers of some sort, he presumed.  Mining crews, perhaps.  The Children of Amadin had come here to get away from other people.  He instructed his drivers to push on, farther from any designated settlements.

The three vehicles had louvered side windows to let in air, and in the back of the lead Trakmaster he heard one of his deacons leading the followers through a lively prayer to Amadin.  Inside the cab, he looked over at a muscular woman who wore the same light blue clothing as everyone else.  She worked the controls for the gears and drive system, watching the terrain as she guided them.  The woman was not much of a conversationalist, and Lujah fell silent himself as they bumped across a dry river bed.

Late in the afternoon, beneath sun-drenched clouds, Lujah squinted into the powdery white brightness.  Ahead, glassy hills shimmered in varying colors with streaks of deep reds, like bloodshot eyes.  He activated a topographical feature on the azimuth map to bring up a satellite-derived three-dimensional representation of the area, indicating their progress from Michella Town.

Lujah pointed ahead.  “There — that’s where we’re going.  Look closely, and you’ll see the edge of a deep canyon, one of the fracture lines from the impact.”

“Doesn’t sound very appealing,” said one of the acolytes, an outspoken teenager named Nehl.  Impatient, she had come forward into the cab.  The girl was an orphan, her parentage on Barassa unknown.  The deacons were careful to keep her away from boys, since she had the body of a twenty-year old, but the immaturity of a child.

“Nothing is appealing around here,” Lujah said to her.  “This is Hellhole.”

Less than an hour later, he ordered the driver to pull over at a wide clearing near the edge of the deep canyon.  They would rest there for the night.  As they all emerged from the vehicles, Lujah found that their natural stopping place showed evidence of previous campsites; cans lay strewn about, and food wrappers were caught in the branches of bristly shrubs that grew near the canyon’s abrupt edge.  While the others commenced the work of setting up for the night, he took Nehl aside.  “Go to those old campsites and clean up the garbage that was left behind.  It dishonors our new world that Amadin has given us.”

“By myself?”

He flashed her an annoyed frown.  “While you’re going about your task, consider what the scriptures say about listening a hundred times more than you speak.”

“I’m being punished?”

“You’re being instructed.”

Nehl made a face of displeasure, but went to do as he commanded.

Later, while the others sat on the ground near the Trakmasters, eating their dinner provisions, Lujah watched as the orphan girl worked the nearby campsites, tossing cans and other garbage into a bag.  Obviously upset, she banged and slammed around, making as much noise as she could.

He saw the last sunlight reflecting from the other side of the impact-spoke canyon, revealing black lines of shocked material.  Silence set in, and Lujah felt free out here in the wilderness, far from arguments over spiritual beliefs.  Somewhere out here, he would set up his colony and teach these people.  He felt the spirit of Amadin guiding him.

Hearing a sharp cry, he looked to the edge of the canyon.  In her wanderings to pick up blown scraps, Nehl had slipped, and now she held onto a gnarled shrub to keep from sliding toward the crumbling edge.  He and one of the deacons ran toward the girl and pulled her back to her feet.

Her tone was suddenly conciliatory.  “I’m — I’m sorry to interrupt your meals.”  The girl’s scraped knees and elbows were red, and she brushed herself off, more embarrassed than hurt.  Then she looked down at her palms to see a bright red rash.  “It burns . . . and itches.”

“Maybe an oil in the plant is irritating you,” suggested an older deacon, Henry Malibu, who had trained as a doctor before abandoning that career to focus on his faith.  He took Nehl by the arm and guided her toward the Trakmasters.  “Come with me.  I’ll see what I can find for you in the medkit.”

After they had gone, Lujah stared at the disturbed ground around the uprooted shrub.  Something solid and shiny lay beneath the loosened rocks.  Unconcerned about getting a rash from the alien plant, he pulled hard and tossed the shrub away.  In the bowl-like indentation left by the roots, he found that the half-buried object was not a rock, nor was it litter from some inconsiderate camper.  Half a meter long, it was black and twisted with perfectly nested curves, a strange geometry that he had not seen before.  A jewel?  Something artificial?  His pulse quickened.

Lujah hurried back to the Trakmasters, where Malibu was tending the girl.  He didn’t respond to their comments, too intent on rummaging around in their tool compartment until he retrieved a sturdy short-handled digging tool.  He returned to the spot and smashed through the tough, glassy surface of the bowl, breaking away enough material to grab the strange buried object in his hands.

In his zeal, he had not noticed that his other followers had gathered around him, looking on, asking questions that he did not answer.

Lujah lifted the object out of the depression and brushed it off.  Tiny, silvery bumps studded the obsidian-smooth black surface, glinting in the coloring light of sunset.  He turned the artifact over and over.  “Amadin left this for us to find.”

For days the Children of Amadin continued their pilgrimage across the rugged terrain.  The three Trakmasters traversed a narrow land bridge, one rig at a time, then entered the shattered landscape near the central impact point.

In the rumbling vehicle, Lujah contemplated the mysterious alien object he had unearthed near the canyon rim.  It’s slick sides, strange curves, and crystalline inclusions baffled him.  He felt it was a mystery posed directly by Amadin, but he could solve it by deep meditation.

The Trakmasters ground their way across a broad, igneous plateau, then set a magnetic course across the glassy expanse, running alongside a series of jagged fracture canyons.  The impact spokes were like highways, converging toward the main crater.  The bullseye that had shattered the planet’s crust would be so large he and his people would never be able to grasp it with their eyes or minds; Nevertheless, Lujah felt called to go there.

After many days of travel, the ground sloped steeply down into a bowl that extended to the horizon; on the vehicle’s azimuth maps, the driver indicated that they had reached the fringes of the stepped crater.  The Trakmasters toiled down the precipitous slope, switchbacking toward a flat expanse strewn with lava boulders, rilles, and piles of rubble.  In the afternoon shadows, much of the ground ahead of them shimmered faintly orange.  Oozing like blood from a still-raw wound, moving magma shone from black obsidian fields.  Even five centuries after the impact, the planet’s shattered crust still hadn’t healed.  Lujah’s heart raced from the violent beauty he was seeing.

When the gruff female driver hesitated to venture into the hazardous terrain, he urged her to proceed.  “That is where we must go.  Amadin calls us.  If we are to live on this world, we must first brave its elements.  Only after we prove ourselves, will we be worthy of settling here.”  It was all the woman needed to hear, and she moved the large vehicle down the slope, leading the other two Trakmasters.

The small caravan proceeded gingerly over the hardened lava surface and slick obsidian patches.  Suddenly, the driver slammed on the brakes, locking the treads so that the big vehicle slewed to one side.  From inside the cab, Lujah could feel the ground shifting and lurching.  Close by, the other vehicles skidded, collision-avoidance sensors keeping them from crashing into each other.

Lujah heard the rattling of packed bins and loose tools as the Trakmaster ground to a halt.  The seismic upheaval knocked some of the lava boulders that had been piled up in incomprehensible defensive formations.  The rumble grew louder.  A quake . . . a Hellquake.

“How are we going to go forward into this, Lujah?” the driver asked.

Perhaps he had misinterpreted the signs.  Maybe they had ventured too far.  He imagined hellfires ready to open beneath them and drag his followers down into eternal flames.

His followers inside the vehicle cried out in fear as the heaving ground shoved and rocked them; panicked shouts squawked across the inter-vehicle speakers.  But Lujah sat in complete silence.  In the deepest part of his soul, he put his fate in the hands of Amadin.  And eventually, the shaking subsided, as if Lujah’s own serenity had calmed it.

As they let out long-held breaths, the Children of Amadin emerged from their Trakmasters and stared in amazement at the dramatic Dante-esque panorama.  Ahead on the plain, a spectacular eruption spurted roostertails of orange lava into the sky.  The air smelled of sulfur.

Then he noticed that one of the other Trakmasters was tilted awkwardly to one side.  The driver bent over to examine the vehicle’s left tread, where interlocking wheels had smashed together, axles broken.  The driver looked up at Lujah.  “Something’s broken underneath.  We felt it hit us hard, and now the drive won’t respond when I try to activate it.”

Two deacons with mechanical experience inspected the Trakmaster, shaking their heads.  “This is beyond our abilities to fix.  We’ll need a specialist.”

While the people groaned about the prospect of returning to Michella Town, Lujah shook his head.  “No, tomorrow we’ll carry everyone in two rigs.  We cannot run back to civilization every time we encounter a problem.  We must survive, and tame, this world.”  He looked around, exhilarated by the simmering fury that spanned the basin.  “We will be resourceful, and we will persevere.  Tonight, we camp here.”

Though it did not seem the most pleasant place to rest, they realized the terrain was likely to get worse as they continued into the central impact zone.  No one expressed any doubts.

With well-practiced efficiency, the Children of Amadin erected prefab structures, sleep shelters, and communal awnings.  Instead of helping his people, Lujah took out the alien artifact and sat studying it by the coppery glow.  The questions it sparked in his mind were both glorious and frightening.  What had that inhuman race been like?  Had they seen their end coming?  What sort of messages, or warnings, might they have left behind?

Most importantly, had they believed in Amadin?

As his followers began to serve the communal dinner, calling him to join them, Lujah returned the artifact to the open Trakmaster and then walked over to the circle, where his people waited for him to lead them in prayer.

Before he could utter the long-memorized words, though, Lujah saw a dark smudge approach from the direction of the volcanic eruption, a single amorphous shape that covered the smoky ball of the sun.  The moving patch of black speckles threw an expanding shadow across the basin, and a coarse hum and vibration filled the air.  The Children of Amadin watched with fearful questions, and they looked to him for answers.

In a matter of seconds, the coagulated cloud arrived overhead and began to drop down like black raindrops . . . buzzing, flying shapes — insects.  As the bugs swirled close, like droplets of living obsidian, he swatted at them, as did his companions.  The swarm thickened.

Some of the people ran for the protection of the Trakmasters, while others dove for the tents or prefab shelters.  The insects engulfed the blue-uniformed people who thrashed and flailed, landing on their hair, their clothes . . . chewing and tearing.

Lujah raced with four of his followers into the cab of the broken-down Trakmaster, including the teenage girl Nehl.  As the bugs buzzed and chittered around them, he saw the rest of his people scattering in terror.  After crowding his companions inside the vehicle, he saw he could do nothing for the others, and sealed the hatch.

Outside, people ran screaming, unable to shake their tormentors.  One man fell, his entire body a writhing, black silhouette.  Other victims, completely enveloped by the flying bugs, were caught up in a cyclonelike swirl.  Through the dusty windscreen of the Trakmaster, Lujah watched in horror as a blanket of the predatory insects lifted the stocky female driver of the lead vehicle.  They carried her off the ground and stripped the flesh off her bones in midair.

Even inside the shielded cab, stray bugs bit and scrabbled over the few passengers who had locked themselves inside.  Lujah felt sharp mandibles tearing at his skin.  He swatted at his face, and his fingers came back bloody.  Young Nehl, her face and arms slashed, tried to help an older woman beside her, but the voracious bugs kept attacking both of them.

The murderous bugs covered the outer windows of the Trakmaster, scrabbling all over the metal hull.  Then Lujah heard them chewing through flexible sealant strips to enlarge soft entrance points.  A few moments later, once the insects broke into the vehicle’s ventilation system, they filled the cab like a flood of flying piranhas.

Lujah heard Nehl scream, and then the hungry buzzing overcame everything else.

Notes:

Hellhole is an extensive epic told in three large novels, comprising many storylines and many main characters, and therefore the opening chapters require a serious investment from the reader to get to know the large cast of players.  In the first fifty pages or so, the reader is introduced to General Adolphus, Sophie Vence, Antonia Anqui, Vincent Jenet, Fernando Neron, the Diadem Michella and her daughter Keana, the young nobleman Christoph de Carre, and the Diadem’s watchdog, Ishop Heer—in individual chapters from each character’s point of view.  Their storylines grow and expand and entangle with one another over the course of the novel.

When originally plotting the scenes you just read, we wanted to show the Children of Amadin trying to found their own independent settlement.  We felt the exploration and adventure was a poignant story that demonstrated the challenges of life on the planet Hellhole.  Their tragic fate highlighted very real dangers of this place and served as an object lesson to other colonists who chosd not to abide by the General’s wise rules.

However, this subplot also asked the reader to follow yet another batch of characters who, ultimately, vanish from the story.  We wanted to keep the focus of the story on the main group of characters, for pacing and manageability in the beginning of the novel.  We decided that Lujah Carey and his followers made the novel lose focus, diverting attention from the important characters and the primary thrust of the plot.  And although we felt these chapters were exciting and poignant, ultimately it was a tangential story in which all the characters die—they had to go.  Besides, not knowing what really happened to the Children of Amadin enhances the mystery.

We hope you enjoyed these additional chapters and found our reasons for cutting them to be instructive.

IN STORES MARCH 26—Hellhole Awakening

copyright 2011 by Dreamstar, Inc. and WordFire, Inc.

art by Stephen Youll

all rights reserved; unauthorized dissemination prohibited

 

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