Authors: Andrea K. Höst
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Teen & Young Adult
Touchstone: Part One
November to March
Andrea K Höst
Touchstone: Part 1
Andrea K Höst. All rights reserved.
Cover art by: Andrea K Hösth
Published by Andrea K Hösth at Amazon
All characters in this publication
are fictitious and any resemblance
to real persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
On her last day of high school, Cassandra Devlin walked out of exams and into a forest. Surrounded by the wrong sort of trees, and animals never featured in any nature documentary, Cass is only sure of one thing: alone, she will be lucky to survive.
The sprawl of abandoned blockish buildings Cass discovers offers her only more puzzles. Where are the people? What is the intoxicating mist which drifts off the buildings in the moonlight? And why does she feel like she's being watched?
Increasingly unnerved, Cass is overjoyed at the arrival of the formidable Setari. Whisked to a world as technologically advanced as the first was primitive, where nanotech computers are grown inside people's skulls, and few have any interest in venturing outside the enormous whitestone cities, Cass finds herself processed as a 'stray', a refugee displaced by the gates torn between worlds. Struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture, she must adapt to virtual classrooms, friends who can teleport, and the ingrained attitude that strays are backward and slow.
Can Cass ever find her way home? And after the people of her new world discover her unexpected value, will they be willing to let her leave?
Touchstone is a diary in three parts, commencing in Stray, continued in Lab Rat One, and concluded in Caszandra.
A glossary of terms and phrases, and a character list, have been included at the end of each volume.
Friday, November 16
the FUCK am I????
Writing that down won't give me an answer, but at least there'll be a record of what happened. Not that I know what happened. I only know what happened to me – and, yeah, I'm not making much sense.
My name is Cassandra Eloise Devlin. Cass for short. Never Cassie.
I was walking home from school. I turned a corner, and I was here. No flashing lights, no warning, no zoomy wormhole: nothing but me one minute in Sydney and the next here.
is the problem. It's definitely not Sydney. I don't think it's Australia, either, unless it's Tasmania. But I'm sure they'd have gum trees in Tasmania, and that's the thing. The trees are all wrong. Hills covered in trees, too many to describe but none of them remotely like Eucalypt. The birds sound wrong too.
No signal on my mobile. I can't spot any buildings or power lines. No planes have flown over. I haven't been able to see anything at any distance, so I'm trying to get out of these trees, or at least to a lookout. I've been walking for maybe half an hour. My watch says it's 3.30 but the sky thinks it's later. I've found a thread of a track and I'm going to follow it.
I need new feet
Trees, trees, and, oh look, more trees. Green hills in every direction, severely lacking in distinctive landmarks.
All those stories where people navigate by the sun don't take into account crazy, crisscrossing animal tracks being the easiest way to get through all the trees and bushes. I wandered around until I found an overhang of rock, and decided to collapse for the night.
Still no signal on my mobile.
My watch says 6pm. It should be full light, but the sun's fading fast, so I'm not even in the same time zone. An hour or two ahead would put me where? New Zealand? How far ahead is New Zealand?
Of course, having been raised on a diet of
, I've no need to stop at New Zealand. I could be in an alternate Australia, any part of the planet at any time, or a different world entirely. Another planet. Or in a mental asylum, strapped in a straight jacket, giggling.
Since I really don't like that last option, I'm concentrating on gathering details. I was hoping to try and spot the Southern Cross when the sun went down, but it's cloudy. And cool: colder than it should be for nearly Summer. So I'm in a different time zone, in a different climate or possibly at a different time of year.
Today was the last day of exams. History. We were going to go out to dinner to celebrate. Mum will be so worried. Will she have called the police? What will I say, if I get back? No-one will believe I just walked to another...somewhere.
There was a stream a while back, so I'm not dying of thirst, and I filled up the Fanta bottle left over from lunch. The water was probably full of bugs and I'll end up sick, but I was so thirsty and it's not like I'm a smoker conveniently carrying a cigarette lighter so I could make a fire and boil drinking water.
A fire would be damn nice.
A quick catalogue of my wilderness survival gear:
- School uniform: blouse, skirt, blazer, stupidtie, socks, shoes, underpants, bra.
- Ponytail band and butterfly hair clip.
- Pencil Case of Doom, chock-full of writey stuff.
- 30cm ruler
- Modern history notes – useless (or toilet paper).
- Jenna's birthday present, a blank-paged book with a blue and green patterned cover, which I'm writing in. I was going to give it to her this morning, but she was sick again and didn't come to the exam.
- Little packet of tissues (definitely toilet paper).
- Mobile – close to useless, especially once the battery runs out.
- Wallet – about $20, mostly in coins, and other bits of paper and plastic.
- 600 ml Fanta bottle, full of suspect water.
- Half a forgotten muesli bar, going musty in the bottom of my bag! Yay! (Gone now.)
No knives, no matches, no blanket. No shoes good for walking for miles. This isn't fun. It isn't exciting. I walked into adventure and adventure has given me blisters. I have to try and go to sleep sitting in the dirt in a forest full of things making noises, and I don't know where I am, I don't know why I'm here, and...I don't want to think about it.
Saturday, November 17
How do you tell what's poisonous? Now that would have been a useful thing to learn at school. I've found a couple of trees covered in fruit which look like red pears, and I don't know if eating them will make me drop dead.
The birds seem to like them, anyway. It was hard to find any that hadn't been pecked to death. So here goes...
Floury, but it's been a few minutes and I don't feel any odder than I was before. I've only eaten one, and I'm going to wait a while before eating any more in case there's a delayed effect. I'll take the least pecked with me, since they might be the only thing I can find that's edible.
Last night was a black eternity. I don't feel like I really slept, just dozed, constantly starting awake. I'm heading in the direction the sun rose because it looks flatter that way. No mobile signal. No buildings, powerlines, planes, etc, etc.
I've never walked so much in my life.
It's an hour or two before sunset, but I've reached a clearing with a stream and stopped to sit with my feet in the water.
It looks like there might have been a fire here a few years ago: the entire slope of this hill is covered in grass and burnt-out trees. The clearing's given me my best view yet of Planet Endless Green Carpet. It's all so empty and untouched. I'm still not 100% certain whether this is or isn't Earth. I've scared off a few animals walking along, but the only one I caught a good look at was a deer, which doesn't exactly narrow things down continent-wise, and I guess there could be deer on other planets.
There's a curving glint of water down below which I'm hoping is a river. I mightn't be able to see any fields or signs of settlement nearby, but I figure if I follow a river I'll find a lake or the ocean and then – I don't know.
My school uniform is nothing but sweat and itches, so if ever a rescue plane wanted to fly over, I'm about to wash everything while the sun's still strong. Never thought to pack a spare pair of undies when getting ready for the exam. There's no cloud today, so at least I can hope to try some star-spotting tonight. Astronomy's not my thing, but the Southern Cross is the easiest constellation in the world – or off it! Too much cloud last night to even see if there's a moon.
Knowing whether this is Earth is really important. If it's Earth, then I might be able to recognise edible fruits and vegetables. And it might be MY Earth. Not another time, or an alternate or whatever. I could just be in somewhere really unpopulated and foresty, and that would mean home is still there waiting for me.
There are no really obvious clues so far. Gravity seems the same, the sun looks the same, the sky is blue, the leaves are green. If I see something which looks totally not from my Earth, I'll have to face not being able to walk back home. Even without being sure, once I follow that river I'm going to have to think about something other than going forward. But until then, just to keep it all in steps that don't overwhelm me, the plan is to get to the river, to follow the river.
Sunday, November 18
I'm no good at estimating how far I can walk in a day. I might get to the river today. I'm going very slow because of my feet, plus overall not feeling well. The nights aren't impossibly cold, and I made a nest in the grass which was more or less comfortable, but I woke up covered in dew, and my throat's sore. I'm out of tissues for toilet paper, too. History notes just aren't...up to scratch.
I cut my tie into two pieces and have padded my shoes as best I can. Awkward bandages. Paper scissors don't cut cloth well, but I had to wonder what I would have done if they hadn't been in my pencil case. The things I have with me are irreplaceable.
Better living through bare feet
So here's the plan. Barefoot unless the ground is really rough, and only then the torture devices. My feet are quickly collecting bruises, but I just couldn't go on in my black leather school shoes. My heels are a raw, bleeding mess.
I spotted a tree critter just now, and I'm waiting for it to come out again while wondering if I'm capable of killing animals for food. Food is my biggest issue, since I've finished the last of the red pears. They're not the only fruit I've found – there's lots of green berries, for instance, but they're so sour I think they're not ripe. I picked a bunch of tiny, thumb-sized apples, but they made my mouth go numb.
- Red Pears – good.
- Thumb Apples – bad.
- Green Tearberries – sour/not ripe.
I've been puzzling over catching fish, trying to remember ways that don't involve nets or fishing line. Pears won't last forever. If I'm heading for Winter I'm in such deep shit.
Progress-wise, I'm nearer the river, but have lost sight of it because I'm not up top of a good slope. I'm just aiming in the general direction, which is a lot easier in the afternoon when the sun drops and the shadows point the way. I'm not near anything resembling a good camp – just sitting down for a while – and I need to find water as well. One Fanta bottle doesn't carry nearly enough.
Back in the World
So tonight's the night of the Schoolies' Cruise, and I'm supposed to be celebrating the end of high school. We didn't want to fight the hordes at the beaches, let alone go up to the Gold Coast to be chased by Toolies, so about a hundred of us from Agowla and the Boy's Tech were going on the Harbour. Her Mightiness (Helen Middledell, unofficial Queen of Agowla High School) was the cruise driving force and had all the say on the guest list, but since HM started her thing with Todd Hunter she's been almost human, and didn't try to keep everything to some sort of In crowd.
I was really looking forward to the cruise. I had a great dress, blue and silver and not frilly or little girl. Alyssa's dad was going to drive us in, so we wouldn't have to ride the train, and we had taxi fare home. There was going to be a band, and the way HM was acting, it wasn't going to be Awful Cover Band #36.
Schoolies is a big thing. Not everyone's planning on uni. Not everyone will get in, and not everyone will go to the same uni even if they do. The cruise was going to be the last time most of us would see each other. Nick was going to be there. I hate that I'm missing it. I hate that my unexcellent adventure is probably spoiling it for Alyssa and Nick as well.
I might never see them again. I don't just mean Alyssa or Nick. Or Mum. I mean anyone. Anyone. Ever.
Monday, November 19
Nice place for a holiday
If there was a hotel and people and a way to get back home, I'd probably like it here. It's the sort of place which would be wall-to-wall tourists if it was Earth.
The animal I saw today definitely pushes me toward the not-Earth conclusion. It was pale gold, darkening to reddish along its back and tail and the top of its head. And bouncy. Not like a kangaroo, but like a jumpy lamb or a startled cat. It came down out of its tree and chased insects through the leaves. It has longish legs which look like they should be awkward, but aren't. I'm calling it a tree fox, and even if it hadn't been impossibly cute I don't think I could have brought myself to try and kill it.
Walking for forever
Three days. Three and a bit days. I'm surprised I haven't fallen apart by now. And I've had it easy, really. If I'd found myself in a desert I'd be dead. Even the bush just west of Sydney would be rough in comparison. But here there's lots of water, and the days aren't nearly as hot as Australia in November, though still enough to give me sunburn. I'm trying to make myself a hat.
I found another red pear tree, but most of the fruit had been eaten, or was full of worms. Eating nothing but pears for three days running is NOT good for digestion, plus my throat has stayed scratchy. My horrible blisters are drying out, but it's hard to keep them from becoming dirty, and they're already infected. My feet are holding up otherwise. Sore and bruised, but nothing like so painful as it was wearing my shoes. A bunch of insect bites, too, but nothing fatal, obviously.
I think I'm getting near the river. I'm a lot lower than I was, and the trees are spread out more. Most are a rough black bark, with branches which start spreading out low to the ground. I could probably climb halfway up one easy enough, but the high parts are thin and twiggy, making them not useful lookout points. If I see a wolf I'll climb one. And probably find that it's a tree wolf.
If there were no predators on this world, the deer and tree foxes wouldn't run away from me. That makes sense, doesn't it? I've got to start thinking about trying to make a fire, or a weapon. How to do that with the contents of my pencil case, and a world of rocks and twigs is the problem. I'd make a terrible cavewoman.