The Arkbound Foundation and the Bridging Literary Divides team are delighted to share another extract from N.C. Campbell’s novel Call of the Void. Jasami Publishing announced that the novel will be out in October 2022. Natalie has been mentored by Michèle Smith, the managing director of Jasami.
Call of the Void will be be assembling in a tremendous narrative ‘a mercenary, a lost child, an old love, and a scientist. Mix them up, add the infinity of space and you will be drawn and called into the void.’ Here’s an extract:
‘Arctic tried pulling on the long door handle in vain before attaching explosives the size of his thumbnail to the locking mechanisms on the top and bottom of the door. He stepped back a little and detonated it. There was a muffled pop, then smoke drifted lazily upwards, adding to the fog. He waved his arm to clear it. The door hadn’t moved but when he pulled it, it swung open with are sounding creak.
“If they didn’t know we were here…” then fist connecting with his helmet cut him off.
“Looks like they do know you’re here.”
Arctic threw a punch back before he could even register what had happened, he connected with an unprotected skull and instantly threw another. He felt ribs crack under the force and he attacker fell to one knee with a gasp, then Arctic brought his elbow down swiftly on the man’s head, smashing the cheek bone and hearing a crunch. The man fell to the floor, unconscious.
Arctic turned to the dark corridor, ready for another fight, but it was silent and empty. He creaked the door closed again to limit the fog that was creeping inside. He couldn’t have it harming his cargo before he had a chance to rescue her. He moved forward swiftly, and as quietly as he could. The three red dots still flashed slowly on his map, moving around the same few square metres. Arctic guessed that those dots would be where the girls were being kept.
He continued down the corridor, careful to keep his semi-automatic raised as he checked each room he passed. The entire place was dingy and covered in mould. It must have been looted time and again, so that now all that was left was either worthless or too heavy to carry out even for those with strength modifications. The ground was getting soggier and he thanked the Earth when he came to a wide set of stairs he could not face more swamp walking just yet.
Staying close to the wall, he moved upwards, the ridged metal making a gentle ‘thunk’ with each step. The red dots grew closer. On the landing a corridor stretched ahead, a large metal door stood at the end of it. The map showed a large storage area on the other side, a few metres above the warehouse floor. Above that, a catwalk wrapped around the outside wall. Arctic stopped just short of the door. One dot flashed from catwalk, the other two were just beyond the door.
He pressed his finger lightly on the trigger, just enough for his HUD to register the weapon a shot, then grabbed the door handle and threw it open, firing immediately at the nearest Minos guard. He barely registered the red dot disappearing from his map before raising his gun to fire at the one on the catwalk, who fell flat, his rifle falling off the edge and clattering downwards.
A high-pitched scream came from his right and he whipped around, a group of nearly twenty girls were crouched on the floor, heavy iron chains around their wrists and ankles. Some were already trying to run away, others just cowered where they were. A bright light flashed by his left eye and he turned to see the third guard, ray gun in hand, frantically yelling into a mic on his collar. Arctic pressed the trigger again and he dropped, his sentence cut with a gurgle.
He turned again to the girls, most of whom were crying, some shrieking. He searched their faces;33%, 42%, 12%.
No, no, no.
74%, 88%, 53%, 98% –
Ninety eight percent?
He looked at the girl again. She was remarkably similar to his reference image. He could even see some red hair beneath the dirt and grease. He moved towards her and she shuffled back, until she hit the wall. Removing a laser blade from his holster, he grabbed her wrist roughly, and cut through the shackles. She looked up at him, huge eyes fearful as he took her next wrist and cut it loose. Once she was free, he reached into his pack and took out an element suit.
“Put this on.” He commanded.
She didn’t move.
The girl grabbed it from him and hurriedly unfolded the suit. It was designed to protect her from the arid atmosphere until she got to the ship. She shook as she stood, pulling it on, and Arctic saw just how scrawny she was. Nothing more than skin covered her bones, she wouldn’t be able to make it to the ship. Not in the little time they had to get there.
She struggled to fasten the suit. He swatted her hands away and quickly ran the zip up and fastened an oxygenator tightly over her face. He didn’t care if it hurt, as long as it kept her safe.
“Berry bring the ship down, now!” He ordered as he grabbed the girl by her waist and swung her over his shoulder.
“Arctic, you’ve got company.”
Something whizzed past his face and Arctic looked down over the balcony, the floor of the warehouse was littered with heavily armoured combatants. Red dots appeared on the map quicker than he could count.
“Fifteen at least.”
Arctic swore and dropped to the floor as a barrage of bullets flew around him. The girl let out a choked gasp and he jerked her beneath him.
“It’s ok, we’re going to get out.” He consoled her, pressing as close to her as he could, shielding her. He unholstered his ray gun and fired between the rails, hitting the two nearest operatives.
She convulsed beneath him and he glanced down.
Her face was covered in dark red blood, and she coughed more out, layering the inside of the oxygenator. He noticed a crack in the mask above her left eye. Her eyes rolled back. She had stopped moving.
“Fuck. No, come on,” he growled, putting two fingers to her neck. His HUD flashed. No heartbeat. “NO!”
He rolled off her cooling body as another storm of bullets flew at him.
What to do, what to do, what to do?
“Berry get the ship here now!” He yelled into his comms, running towards the huddle of the girls, all now pressed into the floor.
“Look up!” He ordered, and searched the faces, frenetic, until one popped up.
Eighty-eight percent. He grabbed her wrists and hurriedly cut the chains, leaving lengths dangling and did the same at her ankles. He didn’t have another element suit, which he cursed, but gathered her into his arms anyway, and ran to the doorway as three men came storming through it.The noxious atmosphere would be painful but it wouldn’t kill her —e hoped.
He stopped just short and fired three rounds, each one connecting with its target. More combatants began pouring through, and he turned instead to a thin staircase at the opposite side of the balcony. An operative had already made it to the top, but it was narrow enough that only one person could climb it at a time. Arctic fired a shot and watched the body tumble as he ran to the stairs. Another was clearing the top step and Arctic gave him a sharp kick, square in the chest, sending him down the staircase and taking two more with him. Arctic took a couple of steps down the stairs before realising it was too slow and leapt the railing, dropping to the floor. He felt the exoskeleton shudder as it absorbed the weight of the landing. He fired another three rounds, not caring at this point if they connected with anything. He just needed cover to get out of the enclosed warehouse.
He turned towards a pair of huge hangar doors. They were open just wide enough to escape through. In front of him were six armoured Minos soldiers with guns. His HUD showed only five laser bullets left before the clip would need to recharge.
He shot the operative closest to him and darted forward, hitting the next before they could fire a shot. A bullet flew past him and burrowed into the concrete floor. Arctic turned, not stopping, and fired at the balcony. A body fell over the railing. He pushed forward, hitting another combatant in the jaw, hot blood spraying over the right side of his HUD, and firing at another. As they crumpled, he pressed his ray gun back onto its magnetic holster and snatched a small metal knife from its sheath in one fluid movement. He slashed the blade through the next operative’s neck. He was only a few feet from the exit and the last operative stood right in front of the doorway, firing their rifle wildly.
Arctic coiled his arm back and released the knife. It flew threw the air, somersaulting three times before cracking through the oxygenator and sticking in his target’s forehead. The body fell backwards and cracked against the rusty doors, shaking loose a torrent of red dust. Arctic rushed to reach the pink light of the outside. His HUD displayed a blue light 200 metres away.
He ran towards it, for once connecting with solid ground.
190, 180, 170.
He could hear the familiar sound of his engines firing up.
“Ready when you are boss!” Berry’s voice filled his headset.
“Open the loading ramp!”
His ship started to come into view, a huge maroon mass giving way to dark tempered metal and bright blue thrusters that were creating a clearing in the harsh fog. The loading ramp was half way open, and he was only a hundred meters away. A surge of adrenaline seized him.
There was yelling and gunfire behind him, but he did not look back, not even for a second.Hearing a ting from his left and a second later feeling the dull pain of the exoskeleton registering a hit, he glanced down momentarily, and in his peripheral caught sight of a line of soldiers, all aiming straight for him. He pushed harder, willing himself to run faster, and finally felt his boot connect with true, solid steel. He looked up to the top of the loading ramp,
3 steps… 2 steps…
Pain flashed through him like lightning, and, vaguely, he had the sense of falling. His HUD briefly flashed an image of the exoskeleton, the point of contact visible in the centre of his back, before blinking out and racing through an array of images, maps, and software code. He was still holding the girl in his arms, although his grip was already weakening. With his remaining strength, him propelled forward, throwing her into the belly of his ship. He hoped it was enough as his helmet came into contact with steel. He felt his whole body seize and begin to shake violently as hisHUD turned black. His head was splitting open like a great crater and his body was on fire. He could only think of pain before he lost consciousness’