7.31.2012

A peek at GHOST PLANET . . .

Only three short months until launch! The book is available for pre-order now in both print and digital. It's high time for an excerpt, I think!

I have procrastinated doing this because it is SO hard deciding. . . How much is enough? Where do I start? Where do I end? If you don't start on page 1, you run the risk of confusing the reader. If you DO start on page 1, you may not be able to include enough to get to your hook.

So I've done my best here. I started NEAR the beginning, and I included the hook. If you plan to read the book and don't want the surprise spoiled, stop reading now. If you want an intro to the plot and characters before reading the excerpt, you can read the cover copy here.

Hope you enjoy! And let me know what you think of the excerpt - too much text? too little? too confusing not starting at the beginning?

GHOST PLANET by Sharon Lynn Fisher
Tor Books - Oct. 30, 2012

We trotted up half a dozen steps and were passing through the glass doors when Murphy said, “We’ll be scanned by security just inside. I hate them being here, raising people’s anxiety level in a place where we want them to feel safe. But all new arrivals pass through here, and someone decided it was a good idea.”

Thinking about the illicit-substance and weapons scans in all the airports and public buildings back home, I raised my eyebrows. “What’s it for?”

“To get a sort of fingerprint on everyone,” he explained, walking through the doorframe-shaped scanner. “Just to make sure we know who’s who. They can’t do it at the transport terminal because no one has ghosts when they first arrive.”

I followed him through the scanner, and a long beep sounded somewhere off to my left as I joined him inside. Murphy’s head jerked toward the sound. His eyes moved to the glass doors we’d just come through, and slowly back to me. He glanced at the security desk on our right.

“Where is it?” Murphy called to the guard, whose fingers were flying over his keyboard. The guard’s ghost leaned against the wall behind him, little more than a shadow.

The man stopped typing and looked up. “I’m sorry, Dr. Murphy?”

“I heard the alert go off, but I don’t see her. My ghost, Simon,” Murphy added, growing impatient. “Do you see her?”

The guard blinked at him a couple times. Then he cleared his throat. “She’s standing right next to you, Dr. Murphy.” 

* * *

Murphy looked at me, startled. He shook his head and walked over to the security desk.

I turned halfway around, searching for the missing Aunt Maeve.

Though the colonists were far from any real understanding of the aliens, Ardagh 1’s scientists had established that they were nearly identical to us physiologically. Only a specialized medical scan could reveal the differences in their insular cortex and limbic structures.

So the security scan was identifying ghosts—creating a record to help keep track of who was and wasn’t human. I joined Murphy at the security desk, and the guard swung the display around so Murphy could see it.

The screen was split into two halves, a picture of me filling one side. Opposite the photo was a crisp 3-D brain scan. Murphy touched the screen to manipulate the image, zooming in on a half dozen small, flashing red patches. He dropped his hand and stood staring at the screen.   

“No question, Dr. Murphy,” said the guard. “This has never happened before. I’ll have to file a report, and I’ll need to do a full workup on this new one. My shift is over at three. Do you have time then for me to ask you some questions?”

Wait. One. Minute. The guard’s face wheeled as the ground lurched under my feet.

My first case of space-voyage induced jet lag had taken a toll on my processing ability, but I was pretty sure all of this was adding up to a dangerous misunderstanding. I fixed my eyes on the man most likely to clear it up.

“Murphy, what’s going on?”

“Come with me,” he said, nodding toward the entrance.

I followed him between the desk and scanning equipment, stopping just inside the doors. He walked slowly back through the scanner, and I did the same—flinching as another beep sounded off to my left.

By the time we got to the security desk I was shaking.

“Same as before, Dr. Murphy.” The guard spun the display around and we were again looking at the split screen. The woman in this new photograph wore a worried expression.

My heart raced. I flashed hot and then cold. Calm down. Use your head and get to the bottom of it.

“Something’s wrong,” I said firmly. “Let’s do it again.”

I circled back and made a third pass through the scanner, triggering a third beep. 

“Now you,” I said to the guard.

The guard shot Murphy an uncertain look. Murphy nodded. 

He stepped out from behind the desk and passed through the scanner. No beep. The doors to the center suddenly swished open and a harried-looking man came through, glancing up to acknowledge Murphy with a nod. An older woman with short, silvery hair followed close behind him—and again the beep.

I turned to Murphy, laying a hand on his arm. “This is obviously a mistake. What do we need to do to clear it up?”

The guard settled back into his chair, folding his arms over his chest. “If you’re worried about the equipment, Dr. Murphy, there are a couple ways to be sure.”

“I know, Simon.”

Alarmed by the note of doubt in his voice, I stared hard at his profile. A scientist like Murphy—the planet’s ghost expert—couldn’t possibly accept a security scan as verification his new employee was an alien.

“Wait here,” he said, his eyes meeting mine briefly before he moved away.

My heart accelerated again as he crossed the building’s spacious lobby. He started up a stairway and disappeared from view. I glanced at the guard, who’d gone back to his keyboard. I stood feeling anxious and awkward.

Pain sliced through my abdomen and I staggered forward, arms clenching my middle. My vision flashed red as a second razor-sharp wave tore through me, and I doubled over.

“Murphy!” I cried. Sweat dripped from my lip, splattering on the flagstone floor.

Even as my stomach churned broken glass, my legs propelled me forward, toward the lobby. The intensity ratcheted down as I walked, and I stopped in front of the stairway, panting and gripping the railing for support.

I heard footsteps descending, and Murphy reappeared. The relief was a tangible thing in my body.

“Murphy, I think I need a doctor.”

His gaze slid past me as he continued on to the security desk.

“I’ll come down at three to answer your questions,” he said to the guard.

His tone was grave. Resigned. Murphy was buying it. How was this possible? My brain flailed for the right thing to say to him. I ticked off the pieces of evidence: disappearance of Aunt Maeve, positive brain scan, and what could be construed as a physical reaction to Murphy walking away from me. I squeezed my eyes shut, afraid to see how damning it all was.

As he headed back toward the lobby, I recalled there was one irrefutable piece of evidence in my favor. I was Elizabeth. I was alive. I couldn’t be a ghost because I had come to Ardagh 1 from Earth. I was nobody’s dead sister or aunt or wife. Certainly not Murphy’s.

“Murphy—”

He started up the stairs again. I followed.

“Dr. Murphy,” I insisted, “you’re not considering all the facts. I arrived here from Earth just this morning. How is it possible I’m a ghost? I’m not dead. I was expected. You met me at the terminal yourself. It makes no sense, Murphy.”

We reached the third floor and he paused on the landing. I stopped next to him, holding my breath while I waited for him to answer. But he exited the stairway instead.

I was regrouping for a second attempt when something occurred to me: I didn’t need to convince Murphy. It would all be cleared up the second I walked out of the building. I wasn’t sure I’d want to work for him after this, but under the circumstances I doubted the academy would deny me a transfer.

A door hissed open to our right. A woman with a long, chestnut ponytail and even longer legs stepped into the hallway. She was nearly as tall as Murphy.

“Irish, there you are!”

He gave a short nod. “Lex.”

“I must have sent you a dozen messages. Is something wrong with your portable?”

“I shut it off.”

“You what?” She studied his face. “I was trying to save you a trip to the terminal. I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now. God, how awful.”

A chill danced down between my shoulder blades. I took an unsteady step toward Murphy and his colleague.

“What are you talking about?” he asked her.

Lex’s almond eyes flickered in my direction, then fixed on my face, registering my presence for the first time. “Murphy, that woman behind you—”

“Alexis, what’s happened? Does this have something to do with our new employee?”

Her gaze pulled back to Murphy. “She’s dead, Irish. There was some kind of freak electrical storm. The engines on her transport failed. The thing sank to the bottom of the goddamn ocean.”

I stood dumbstruck, staring at her. This was a joke—a colossally unfunny one. Or possibly some final, elaborate test cooked up by the academy. But why now?

Who’s dead?” I demanded.

Lex’s eyes remained trained on Murphy, seeking cues.

“You’re talking about Elizabeth, is that right?” He spoke the words in a slow, deliberate way. “Elizabeth Cole is—dead.”

Lex raised an eyebrow, nodding.

“You’re absolutely sure.”

“Braden’s already working on a statement for her family.”

“No!” I shouted. I grabbed Murphy’s arm to pull him around, but he stiffened and stood fast. “Don’t you do that. This is a mistake! My mother—my mother is clinically depressed—a suicide risk. Don’t you dare tell her I’m dead!”

Murphy and Lex stood inches apart, their bodies straight as fence posts. I couldn’t see his face, but from the intensity of her expression you’d think they were having a lovers’ quarrel.

“Do you want to tell me who the hell this is, Irish?”

I waited for Murphy’s answer, hand trembling from the strain of my grip on his arm.

“Elizabeth Cole,” he replied.

Lex’s head shook slowly as she tried to understand.

“She’s a ghost, Lex. My ghost. It wasn’t making a lot of sense until now.”

Frantic, I let go of Murphy and wedged myself between them. For a moment I stood jammed against him, looking up at her. Then he stepped back.

“You have to listen to me,” I pleaded with Lex. “He’s wrong. Don’t let them tell my mother I’m dead!”

She cast him a doubting look over the top of my head. “It still doesn’t make sense, does it? You already have a ghost. And you didn’t know Elizabeth on Earth.”

“I did, actually.” His voice was low now. Softer. “Just barely. And the other one’s vanished.”

Lex stepped around me. “Jesus, Murphy, I’m sorry. Just when we thought we were getting a handle on this.”

“What is wrong with you people?” I shouted. “Don’t you think I would fucking know if I was a ghost?”

My words evaporated in the stunned silence that followed.

“I think you’re going to need help with her.”

Murphy breathed deeply, running a hand through his dark hair. “I’ll be fine. But I’m going home for a few days, until things . . . settle. I’ll cancel the staff meeting. Could you and Braden divide up my sessions?”

I shook my head in disbelief. I’d been seconds from walking away from both of them when they’d dragged my mother into it. Now I had to figure out some way to make Murphy listen to me.  

“Don’t take this lightly,” said Lex. “You know the risks. You’ve already been interacting with her.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I assure you I’m taking this very seriously. I’ll check in with you later.”

“There’s one more thing, Irish.”

Murphy tipped his head, waiting.

“Security wants you to stop by the transport terminal to sign some papers.”

“What papers?”

“Release papers.” I heard Lex swallow. “For the remains.”

Remains?!

“Oh Jesus,” Murphy groaned, rubbing his temples. “When?”

“They said right away.”

“Brilliant. Okay, I’ll take care of it.”

Murphy turned to go, and I cobbled together a plan. I’d go to the terminal with him and talk to planet security. If anyone could help me straighten this out, they could.

After that I’d beg, borrow, or steal my way onto the next transport to Earth.

* * *
We retraced our steps all the way to the transport terminal and I followed him in, my hair and clothes damp from the steady, misting rain. He’d practically jogged the whole way, and I couldn’t help wondering if he had been running from me, hoping to avoid another confrontation. Even in my agitated state, I felt a pang of regret for the lost opportunity. He was bright and charming. Friendly and likable. I’d been looking forward to working with him.

Murphy stopped at the service desk, and I caught up in time to hear a terminal employee telling him, “The security team has set up on the tarmac.”

Murphy thanked him and spun toward the sliding doors.

Outside on the landing pad, the scene was a striking contrast to my first few minutes on the planet. A pair of hoverlifts swung into view, and we stopped to watch them alight like hummingbirds on the opposite end of the tarmac. At center stage was a crippled passenger transport, green-uniformed officials buzzing around its hulk. The cockpit had partially separated from the passenger compartment. I shuddered to see water trickling from the gap, collecting in an already substantial puddle below.

Somebody’s transport had most certainly gone down.

Murphy approached a cluster of people standing near the wreckage. I followed.

“I can’t answer that yet, folks,” said a harassed-looking man with a clipboard. “We know there was a storm. That’s all. Our first priority is notifying family members and making arrangements to send the victims home.”

“Is it true the ship’s emergency evac failed?”

“I can’t answer that either. You’ll know more when we do. Now if you’ll excuse me . . . ”

As the man pushed his way through the knot of reporters, Murphy drew him aside. “I was asked to come here and sign release papers for one of the victims. Can you tell me who I should see?”

“They shouldn’t have sent you out here,” muttered the official. “They’ve set up a desk inside for processing paperwork. We’ve got our hands full prepping these people for transport.” He glanced over his shoulder and my gaze followed.

My breath stuck in my throat as I saw the neat row of dark zippered bags, inert amidst the hurricane of activity. A tunnel of silence connected me with those bags, and a pull in my chest drew me across the tarmac.

I gazed down at the first of the oblong, lumpy forms. A strip of white tape stretched across one end of the zipper. Something had been written on the tape in black marker.

A. Nakagomi.  

I walked slowly down the line, my eyes moving from tag to tag. Only three more to go . . . and suddenly I stopped.

A voice broke through the silence. “Hey, move away from there!”

Blood surging in my ears, I bent and gave the zipper a yank, ripping the white tape in half. I peeled back the edges of the bag.

Vertigo knocked me backward onto the tarmac. I couldn’t breathe.

I’d expected blanched, waterlogged skin. Purple lips. Sunken eyes. But she looked peaceful. Like she was sleeping. I crouched over her and grazed her cheek with my thumb, then recoiled at the temperature of her skin.

Someone pulled me away from the body and started shouting in my face. I couldn’t make sense of anything coming out of his mouth. Murphy moved into view and spoke quietly to him. The official’s words froze on his lips and his gaze darted to the unzipped bag, then back to me.

He released me abruptly, like I was coated with biocontaminant, and both of them moved away.

A boxy cargo ship roared in over the trees and settled like a fat hen next to the passenger ship. Big block letters on the rear cargo door read, “Cold Transport.”