This year, I will be posting a chapter of my new online exclusive novel every week. Galactic Division Heroes: Kat follows a new character, Katarine Rafalsdottir, through the timeline of the first three Galactic Division novels. You can read Chapter One here.
I made my way slowly back to quarters. Every millimetre of my body was feeling heavy, and I craved sleep. Arriving back at my room, I hoped the strawberry blond had been true to her word, and would be long gone. I didn’t even want to feel any of her residual warmth. It would take a while to get used to ‘sharing’ my bed. Entering the room with trepidation, I once again found myself in a full room. This time, though, it was a lot less lively. There was a crowd of girls standing around one of the lower bunks, forcing me to stand on tiptoes to try to see what they were doing. As I got closer, I heard sobbing.
“I don’t think she’s gonna calm down,” a voice said.
“She’s going to have to. I’ve had a long day. I really need to sleep.”
“We’ve all had a long day,” a big girl, stood to the side of them, said. “You ain’t nothing special.” She said it not in annoyance, but matter-of-factly. She had brown, curly hair, falling around her soldiers.
“I – just – want – to – go – home,” the girl sat on the bed said between sobs.
“You just need some sleep,” one of the other girls said. “It’s not gonna be so bad here. It’s like camp.”
“You’ll be fine. We’re all in it together. Come on, it might even be fun,” said another. She was a brunette, as tall a girl as I had ever seen, with long, graceful legs. She pushed up from her crouched position with a grunt, and stepped back, finally leaving me a view of the crying girl. She was petite, but with a big, round head, that seemed altogether too big for her shoulders. Her face was red, her eyes redder. It had been a hard day for her.
“You think?” she asked, unconvinced.
“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” the girl who really needed her sleep said impatiently. She turned away from the crying girl, shaking her head, long brown locks flicking around her shoulders. She spotted me standing in the doorway, and regarded me with curiosity. She had light brown skin, deep brown eyes, and might have been the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in person.
“Welcome to the fun-house,” she said to me, rolling her eyes.
Everyone else turned to look at me, leaving me feeling exposed and awkward. The crying girl let out a squeak, staring at me with a look of horror on her face. Before I could react, she started wailing.
“Oh my stars!” she said. “They’re gonna make us shave our hair!”
It took me a moment to realise what she was talking about. Everyone looked up at my head, and the big girl off to the side snorted in amusement.
“No, no, it’s OK, don’t worry about that sweetie,” she told her. “This chick chose to do that.”
“Why would you do that?” the crying girl asked, giving me a puzzled look. I felt a flash of heat come to my face, but quickly quelled it. There was no point in being offended. We were a group of complete strangers who were going to have to get on indefinitely. Arguments were to be avoided at all costs.
“Oh, well, it’s, uh, the height of fashion on my planet,” I said.
“Oh yeah, where are you from?” the big girl off to the side asked.
“Then no,” she said with a laugh, “no it isn’t.”
“Oh. Yeah, right.” Of course, we were probably all from Erran. “You’re all new here today?” Everyone nodded.
“I’m Persia,” the big girl said to me. “This sad little thing is Lavan.” Lavan offered me a grim smile from the bed. Persia turned to look around at the others. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember what all your names are.”
“I didn’t give it,” the beautiful girl said. “Introductions tomorrow. I really need to sleep.”
“I’m Gem,” the tall girl said, to no-one in particular.
“Tomorrow!” the beautiful girl insisted.
Shrugging, I walked over to my bunk, and pulled my SleepBag out of its drawer. As I went to step on the bottom bunk to reach up to my own, I noticed there was a girl already fast asleep down there. Looking around, there were several girls already sleeping, despite the lights being on, and the girl still sobbing. I located the notches that were supposed to be used to climb up, and ascended. I unrolled my bag. It looked pretty thin, and the board it laid upon pretty hard.
“It doesn’t look very comfortable, does it,” Gem said to me, crouching down at the bottom bunk of the next stack along. “I’m just hoping I can fit my whole body in there.” She was definitely tall, although there would be taller boys aboard, so they must have been designed to accommodate all.
“Bad luck getting one on the bottom,” I said. The bottom bunks weren’t quite on the ground, but they were only about half a metre up.
“Yeah, not easy on the knees, getting down here. I’ll maybe see if I can swap tomorrow, once these two are awake,” she motioned to the two sleeping girls in her stack. Perched up on my bed, I considered for a moment. Being in the middle stack, there was a strong chance I’d forget myself some nights, and step on the girl below. Of course, being on the bottom meant there was a good chance I’d get stood on myself. All in all, though, the bottom seemed the better option to me.
“Middle bunk OK?” I asked her. She looked confused for a second, then looked at my bed.
“Thank you! If you want to swap back, though, I totally understand.”
I shrugged, peeled my bag back up, and picked my way down. Gem didn’t need to worry about stepping on the girl below, or negotiating the notches. She grabbed the side of the middle bunk with both hands, and pulled herself up, easily swing a leg on to the bed in one fluid motion. Suddenly, the room went dark.
“Hey!” a voice cried out.
“It’s past sleeping time,” a shout came back. I couldn’t have been sure, but it sounded like the girl who really needed sleep. After a few seconds, the room lit up again. “Hey!” With the light on, I could see it was indeed the tired girl who had wanted darkness.
“Just give us a few minutes to get ourselves ready, won’t you,” someone shouted across.
“There’s still a couple of girls left to come, I think,” Persia pointed out.
“Well that’s their problem,” tired retorted. “Two minutes, then the light goes off. Have you got any idea how long I’ve been awake?”
“Yes!” came a chorus, and several girls burst into giggles. I might have found it amusing too, if I wasn’t so exhausted myself. I laid my bag out on my new bed quickly, before darkness consumed the room once more. I wondered what would happen if I needed to use the toilet during the night. Would the light be on out in the corridors? Oh, of course it would! Our bedtime was someone else’s lunch hour. Life on board the Anastasia was going to take a bit of getting used to.
Getting into bed, I already regretted giving away my middle bunk. As ridiculous as it was, I felt low down. We were floating through space somewhere, where there was no real concept of up and down. But the ship’s artificial gravity pulling down on me, the height of the ceiling, and the subconscious effect of knowing I was near the floor made it feel like I was laying down in my grave.
“OK, that’s time,” the tired girl called out.
“It’s been, like, twenty seconds,” someone replied.
I looked across at the sobbing girl, Lavan. Someone was over there still trying to comfort her. She didn’t look to be in quite as much of a state as she had earlier, but she still wasn’t coping well. It was a wonder there weren’t more girls crying. Maybe some of the ones who had gone to bed before I’d come into the room had cried themselves to sleep. Or perhaps the other kids who weren’t coping well were just doing a better job of hiding it. I didn’t feel sad at all. I wondered if my mother did. Was she at home, shedding tears for me? I doubted it, but part of me hoped she was. I’d never know, but if I could convince myself she really did still care after all, I’d feel a bit happier.
The girl with Lavan patter her on the shoulder, then scurried across to her own bunk. Lavan didn’t move for several seconds, but then she slowly climbed into her SleepBag, and curled up in a ball. What happened to people who couldn’t cut it, I wondered. There must be a decent percentage who just weren’t up to being soldiers.
The lights went out, and I tried to shut my brain off. There were some whispers, and then someone burst out laughing.
“Please!” the tired girl urged.
“Sorry,” came a shout back.
“The Galactic Division urges you to sleep,” some else called out. “You can look forward to many hours of fulfilling sleep with the Galactic Division.” More giggling.
More giggling. I should have been irritated, but fatigue must have been getting to me because I started chuckling myself.
“I swear, the next person to make a noise, I’m gonna introduce you to your first taste of combat training. The hard way. You hear me?”
There were a couple of snorts, but then silence descended. I listened out, expecting someone to make more noise, to purposely wind the tired girl up. The longer I waited, the more nervous excitement I felt, until it got to a point where I almost burst out laughing. I stifled it, and turned it into a quiet cough. That was the end of the day’s excitement. I didn’t know what to expect in the morning, but whatever it was, I needed to be ready. I curled up into my usual sleeping position. The SleepBag was a bit of a marvel. It looked thin, but it was more comfortable than it looked. And as hard as the board beneath me had looked, it did have some give in it. It felt, almost, like my cheap mattress back home. Not home anymore, though. Just that place where I used to live.
You can read Chapter Eleven here