In this passage we learn how protagonist Myra has discovered a secret lab beneath her lunar boarding school and the events that soon follow.
Hear more from Michelle A. Barry in our full feature interview with the author.
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Michelle A. Barry: So, I’m going to read a quick passage from “Moongarden.”
In the story, Myra has recently discovered a hidden lab that was tucked behind a classroom that she stumbled upon a few days prior. Inside the lab, she found a friendly robot, so she kind of wants to go back and visit him. And then she kind of starts to wonder what that room might be there for.
The hallways are so eerily quiet, it almost feels like I’m the one breaking curfew. I fight the urge to tiptoe as I move from the dormitory corridors to the academic hallways. I wonder if I’m the only one still here. There must be at least a teacher or two to oversee any stragglers.
After what feels like light years, I wave my hand in front of the deserted classroom sensor. The panel slides open with a whoosh, and I slip inside, then trot towards the teacher’s workstation. The room buzzes with energy. I can practically feel the vibration of it in the floor. It’s probably just that I’m excited to finally see Bin-ro again.
Bending down, I carefully press my palm against the triangular carving etched into the wall. As warm air billows over me, a strange feeling rushes through my chest, a mixture of excitement and anticipation, like the moment you reach the top of a hover coaster, and for a pair of heartbeats, all you see is the first drop.
I take two steps forwards, passing into darkness. The lights flick on, and I’m greeted by a blast of bells and whistles so loud I wouldn’t be surprised if my classmates heard it in a Apolitan.
“Hi, Bin-ro,” I say with a laugh as she spins around my ankles. “Miss me?”
She squeals and I giggle. “I missed you, too.”
I turn in a slow circle, taking in the lab. It looks exactly the way I left it. A few magneafires knocked a stray on the counter, the others is still set in a neat line. The rest of the room is empty, but for some reason my eyes keep darting around, as if expecting someone to pop out from a secret hallway.
The hair on the back of my neck prickles. I wish I knew what this place was for. There’s got to be a reason it’s so well hidden.
Something nags at me as I walk the perimeter of the room, like there’s a clue hidden on the walls but it’s written in invisible ink. I smile down at my little robot friend. “Too bad you can’t tell me. I’m sure you know all about it. But I’d take forever for you to beep it out.”
“Beep,” Bin-ro agrees.
“This is going to sound silly,” I say, trailing my hands along the sleek walls as they make another loop around the lab. “But since I know you can’t share this with anyone, can I tell you something?” S
he chirps a yes, and I continue my circle. I pause next to a section of wall opposite the entrance to the classroom and lay both hands on it, then press my ear against the cool metal.
“I feel like there’s something in here, something I can’t see. It’s almost like…like feeling a heartbeat, except without the pulse or the sound. I know it’s strange, but I feel like there’s something…something alive in here.” I shrug. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Bin-ro’s quiet for a moment. A blue light flashes slowly from somewhere in her metal shell, and then she takes off like a rocket. Beep, chirp, beep. Bin-ro spins around my feet again before shooting off across the lab, hurtling into the counter in the center of the room.
“Crashing comets, Bin-ro! Are you okay?”
She skids towards me and then back towards the counter, knocking into it again, this time more gently. “Is there something you want me to see over there?”
She blows a raspberry, clearly saying, “No, Myra, I just like crashing into things.”
I hurry over my eyes, scouring the rectangular counter, sitting in the center of the room like a metal island. I clear off the magnafires piling them against the wall, and then return to the counter where I run my hands up and down it, pulling out every drawer, feeling around inside each one. Nothing. No unusual ridge. No seam out of place, no decorative engravings.
I shake my head. “I don’t see anything Bin-ro.” She squeals like an emergency transport. “Okay, I’ll look again!”
This time I take a step back and then to the side. Then, I sit on the ground and look up. That’s when I see it.
One of the overhead lights glints off the metal countertop. The shape of the reflection is the same shape as the symbol carved into the classroom wall outside this lab. I stare at the triangle of light, memorizing its location, and climb slowly to my feet. When I move, I lose the angle of the beam and the shape disappears. But I know where it was.
I lift my hand slowly to the spot and press my palm to it. A shiver rushes through me, or maybe it’s the room shuddering. A moment later, the countertop retracts into itself, as if the metal is being tucked into an invisible pocket. Then the sides drop away, too, melting into the floor, leaving behind a rectangular shaped hole where the counter was seconds before.
I peer inside. A chute like a child’s slide slopes downwards into darkness.
“What’s down there, Bin-ro?” The robot doesn’t answer. Instead, she whistles a tune and rolls up to the edge, as if to check it out. But instead of stopping, she slips over the side and disappears.
“Bin-ro?” I dipped my head into the darkness but can’t see anything. Not Bin-ro’s flashing lights, not the bottom, nothing. Gripping the sides of the opening, I lower myself in, holding tight so I don’t slip down.
“Bin-ro!” I call again, my voice echoing. In the distance, a soft beep sounds and I wince, still clinging to the metal sides.
She’s just a robot, Myra. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t…”Blast it,” I whisper and then I let go.
Excerpt from Plotting the Stars 1: Moongarden / Text copyright © 2022 by Michelle A. Barry. Reproduced by permission from Pixel+Ink. All rights reserved.