Roanoke has been nominated for Most Original Plot at the Time is Running Out Awards. Check out the link on my profile.
Thank you for reading Roanoke. This is a first draft, so critiques are much appreciated. I always try to return helpful reviews. For those who stick with me and critique the whole novel, I try to return the favor in kind as well.
While I appreciate any an all critiques, please understand that this is a first draft, so copy-editing (fixing typos and such) isn't going to help me out much in the long run (since so much will eventually be rewritten). Repeated grammatical problems are what I could really benefit from. I already realize that in the first couple chapters my dialogue punctuation is off. The problem is fixed later on.
I've modified some of the descriptions in this chapter to make the setting more clear. We'll see how that turns out.
Chapter 1: Prisoner
Riley awoke to distant shouts coming from outside her cell. She curled up in the corner and prayed that it was another inmate going crazy on the guards—and not the other way around. She felt her jaw where it was still bruised from her most recent experience with a guard who had too much alcohol and not enough to do.
The nearby crack of a gunshot made her jump and a short shriek escaped her throat before she managed to contain herself. Following the shot there was more incoherent yelling until the voices drew closer and she was able to make out what they were saying.
"All clear here, sir!"
"Good. Get me a status report from the West entrance."
The crisp, military voices surprised her. Unless some major changes had taken place on the island, these weren't the guards she knew. She wasn't sure whether she should be relieved or concerned. Overcome by curiosity, she inched towards the front of her cell. She stood, pulling herself up by the bars to make up for the lack of balance caused by the tight manacles around her ankles. If she was going to have to face Imperial forces, she would face them with the dignity her position required. This time, she promised herself she would.
A uniformed soldier carrying a rifle looked in as he ran past her cell and stopped when he saw her. He looked at her for a moment with an unreadable expression. She was relieved to notice that his silver-lined coat was red, not the gray of the Imperial forces. She couldn't come up with a uniform she knew that was red with embroidered knots, though she knew from the ranks that it had to be from somewhere that at least served the Iorian Empire.
After a moment he turned away and motioned towards someone Riley couldn't see. "Sir, we've got one."
Riley shrank away from the door, taking tiny steps backwards as fast as she could without tripping. It wasn't any good to hide in the shadows now, but she couldn't help moving back towards the safety of the dark that had provided her with the only protection from the guards she had. They might not have been Imperial forces sent to revoke her stay of execution, but she was a criminal and they were soldiers, and the obvious relationship between the two did not bode well for her.
Another uniformed man came into view, holding the familiar key ring carried by the guards. Light reflected off the metal and she noticed the red shine of fresh blood coating the handle. She wondered who the blood belonged to. After a few tries, the man managed to select the correct key and the door slid open. Her eyes instinctively went to his shoulders.
"Commander." She stood straight and tried to sound as dignified as possible, but her voice cracked horribly from lack of use.
She noticed the slight shift in his posture a split-second before he moved, which gave her no time to react as he pushed her roughly against the stone wall. She felt metal pressed against her neck and a sharp pain as it cut slightly into her skin. She hadn't even seen him pull a knife. The sting made her eyes water and she was painfully aware that there wasn't much space between his blade and her death. His face betrayed nothing of his intentions. Was he trying to restrain her or taking his time before he killed her? She breathed as shallow as possible, afraid that even that slight movement might be all it would take.
"What's your name?" he said, but there was no way she was going to risk speaking with the knife where it was. After a few seconds of silence, he drew it back and replaced it with his hand, pinning her against the wall by her neck.
"Riley Tucker, "she said, looking him in the eyes. The knife flashed in front of her again and she winced, but instead of pain she felt a rush of air as he cut through her sleeve at the shoulder. She opened her eyes slowly and watched as he tore at the fabric around the gash, revealing the symbols that had been branded into her flesh there. The burns had finally healed but they were still red.
"Treason and double murder."
She couldn't help herself. "One murder. They lie." So he could read the symbols. At least she could probably still keep her identity a secret.
He shrugged and released her neck, which surprised her. She would have expected that finding out her crimes would have made him see her as more of a threat, not less.
"Interesting." he said.
"You don't deny that you did, in fact, commit murder. Or treason, for that matter."
"Well ... that's true."
"You're proud of it, then?"
She shrugged. "Well, it's not like I accidentally committed treason."
A small smile crept across his face. "No. I would hope not." He beckoned with the hand not holding the knife which, she noticed, he still had pointed in her general direction. The other soldier entered the cell, also keeping his rifle trained on her. "Tucker, is it?" She nodded. "Take Miss Tucker to the Roanoke. Leave the manacles--we don't know what she's capable of, yet."
"What's the Roanoke?"
They were taking her somewhere. Excitement to breathe open air and see the ocean again trumped her fear.
He turned and swept out of the cell without answering her question, leaving the young rifleman behind. She repeated her question to him, but he just raised the rifle higher in response. She closed her mouth tightly to emphasize that she got the point. He looked nervous, like he hadn't been doing this for very long, and the last thing she wanted was to startle him into accidentally setting the damned thing off.
"Go." He made a jabbing motion with the barrel towards the door and she obeyed as quickly as she could, which wasn't very quick at all. She was tempted to ask him to at least remove the manacles from around her feet, but doubted that would go over very well. If he wanted her to move faster he could think of that himself. Several more soldiers ran past them, all wearing similar red uniforms. She couldn't help looking around and her guard made no effort to stop her. It was the first time she'd really been able to see any other part of the prison other than out of her peripheral vision. She kept expecting to hear the 'eyes forward' command that never came.
The gate leading out of her sector was hanging open, guarded by another soldier. The metallic smell of blood reached her nostrils, making her stomach lurch. She looked down and noticed the prostrate form of a guard, the back of his tan uniform soaked in blood. There was no question now whose blood had been on the key ring. The soldier caught her staring at the dead guard and grinned at her, which made her shiver. Who were these people? If they were attacking an Imperial prison, they couldn't be from anywhere within the Empire. Her thoughts were interrupted with the prod of a barrel to her back. "Keep moving."
The passages were carved through the rock, some with doors and lanterns, and others which led into empty darkness. It was a maze of natural and manmade passages, lit by lamps rather than the more expensive electric lighting. She lost count of the number of turns they made and was surprised at the sheer size of the prison.
Most of the cells they passed were left open with their occupants removed. Some weren't--she could smell the rot coming from what was left of the occupants in those cells. She looked away, surprised that the sight of a dead body still disturbed her so much. Where were all of the other inmates? Other than the dead bodies, the only people she'd seen so far had all been uniformed soldiers.
As if reading her mind, the rifleman said "You were in the farthest sector in. We already cleared these out."
Deepest sector for the worst criminals. Of course, anyone else committing her crimes would have been hanged long ago; so on that scale she was, in fact, the worst criminal Galkava had. Was she what they had been expecting? It pleased her to think that she probably wasn't. The Commander had seemed surprised, at least.
"To the right." The rifleman announced. Riley stopped and looked down the passage they had arrived at. The entrance was unmarked and there was no lighting that she could see. She felt another prod in the back and reluctantly obeyed, carefully making her way along the uneven floor and biting her lip even though she wanted to ask if he knew where he was going. Her doubt ended when she felt a cold breeze on her face and smelled the ocean, the first fresh air in months. She wanted to run towards it, but it was especially difficult to deal with the manacles while moving over the rocks. They turned a corner and before she knew it, she was standing out under an open, star-studded sky.
Riley couldn't help but stop to stare at it; she didn't think she'd ever seen anything so beautiful in her life. She breathed in the cold air and smelled the sea. It was a full minute before she even remembered that there was still a weapon pointed at her head, but when she looked the soldier had relaxed his stance and was looking at her with a wry grin on his face.
They were standing at the edge of a short cliff. Seawater sprayed up and she turned her face toward is so that the water sprinkled her face.
In front of her, two towering smokestacks dominated her view. Her eyes traveled down them to the hull of one of the largest battleships she'd ever seen. Electric lights lit up the deck, and she was able to count eight guns mounted on four turrets on the near side alone. This ship was better-equipped than most of the vessels in the Imperial Navy itself.
"Welcome to the Roanoke."
Music I listened to while writing this chapter: "Evacuating London" - Narnia Soundtrack