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Read "Heliocentrism," a 2023 Novel Excerpt Contest Runner-Up!

In February, we challenged you to submit a 400-word excerpt from your NaNoWriMo novels. From over 650 fantastic entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! (For more excerpts, check out this forum thread.)

Heliocentrism by Claire H.

The hologram places a hand to his chest in an exaggerated motion, so that the translucent red light of his fingertips brushes against the armillary sphere at the center of his chest. Steam rises from beneath him, where rainwater mixes in with discarded oil and whiskey to create tar-black reflections.

“Love, I am the contact,” he says, an edge to his voice. “Or, at the very least, I was the one who drew your rebellious organization’s eyes to my location—”

Altya laughs slowly, interrupting him, but she’s sure it sounds more like a wheeze with the way she coughs afterwards, a sharp pain behind her throat. The hologram purses his lips—looking almost affronted at the interruption.

“So even the Monarch’s personal project has finally turned traitor,” Altya says, her words dripping with sarcasm after the coughing subsides. She shakes another scoria cigarette from the container despite the protest in her lungs, then keeps the pen-knife tucked between her teeth as she swipes the lighter on. “What made you have that change of heart?”

He lifts his hand. The distortion of hot air surrounding him shifts as he moves, following the track of his fingers. “You see, I’ve heard much of your organization’s exploits: all the way from the rubrasm mines to the Lungs of this very city. The assassinations, the alliances, the thievery, the coercion.” He seems to muse it over, his mannerisms uncannily human as he runs his tongue over his lips after speaking. There’s a beat of silence, a twang off-tempo, before he speaks again—as if he’s ruminating over a memory. “I’ve come to the realization that the current ruler may not have our best interests at heart. That the Upper Heart rumors may lend themselves to the truth.”

“Oh?” Altya takes a drag. “What kind of things do they say about us in the Upper Heart, pray tell?”

“They say you’re on the verge of a second revolution,” the hologram murmurs. The heat burns even stronger than before, distorting the air around him into heat mirages. In the dimness of the alleyway dusk, he looks every inch the monarchical creation they make him out to be. He holds out his hand. “And it would be my pleasure to partake in it.”

author photo

Claire H. is currently a junior in high school and a young writer who primarily enjoys speculative fiction and poetry. She is an enthusiast of corruption and redemption arcs, as well as an appreciator of dramatic irony! When not staring at a blank Google Doc or daydreaming about fictional characters, she plays the violin, studies biology, solves linguistics puzzles, and contemplates thought experiments. She has been recognized by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and the National Poetry Quarterly for her writing.

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