I had some great help on this round too! My CPs gave me wonderful things to think about. Dan Koboldt had a great point about strengthening the overall arc, but I ran out of words. While technically I can go over 1000 words now that this is the final draft, I try to stick to it anyway in the spirit of the challenge. I could have altered some of the thoughts of Goat in the beginning, but I felt like that would give a different tone and character to Goat than what I was going for.
SM Roffey gave me some of those words though, pointing out a sentence I could cut, and Kim B wanted more detail of the inside of the building, so I used my 9 extra words there instead with some worldbuilding.
Beyond those changes though, it was mostly necessary nitpicks. People still suggested changes to “Not following orders” so I finally fixed that, but I kept my “full with leaves” because “full of leaves” doesn’t work for me and I couldn’t come up with something better. The hazards of editing power-sessions: now my worder needs a break.
But I really enjoy my little Space Goats, and I am pleased to present my final draft, complete at 996 words:
You sproing through the scraggly bushes that cling to the hill, muzzle raised to the cool breeze. Alien scents wash over you, so different from the ship’s sterile, recycled air. The trees are full with leaves, and the sky is blue above the darker bruising of the distant mountains.
It’s rather disappointing. Shouldn’t alien planets be more, well, alien?
And there’s a blocky, artificial structure right at the top of the hill, not even trying to hide. Training exercises are supposed to be hard, aren’t they? Otherwise what’s the point? It’s all dreadfully boring, so you stretch your neck out, rising on the tips of your back hooves to reach a long-hanging branch and nibble at the twigs there. It’s against the Code, but who’s gonna tell on you? Cow? Cow’s not here. She’ll be in the building that’s clearly where you’re meant to go, waiting for you to show up for your briefing.
But you’re on an alien planet! Simmering underneath the disappointment, excited energy thrums through your bones. The grass isn’t made of crystal, and the sky’s not green, but it’s still a completely new ball of rock hurtling through space, and you’ve actually done it. You’re a Space Goat and nothing can take that away from you.
All you need to complete the day is a nice glass of wine, the fruitier the better.
Oh, and to finish your mission, you suppose.
You can hear the Whale as distinctly as you did when he stood in front of you, a scowl on his long face. “This mission is simple. You’ll be Dropped on an alien planet. First, use your head to find your assigned mentor, who will have the Matter Transportation Device. They’ll brief you on a short excursion, and upon your return, you’ll both Matt back up to the ship.”
Look for clues, for anything out of place, of course. Like the glaringly obvious building.
Your hooves squish in the springy turf, and the mountains rise and fall behind the apex of the hill with each bouncing leap. Going directly toward the building would be boring. You’ll go around it first—scouting. That’s right. Totally being responsible.
A breeze whips past and you pause, your eyes half closing as you filter the new smells and try to guess what they are. Plants. Air. Smoke. Smoke’s a little concerning, but it’s only a whiff, so it’s probably pretty far aw—
Something slams into you, lifting you off your hooves. You skid across the rocky ground on your side. Dust in your eyes makes them water. Your heart hammers faster than it did during your first spacewalk, and you scramble to your hooves.
Cougar stands a meter away, his fangs a flash of white as he smiles. “Disregarding orders again, Goat?”
What’s he doing out here? You glance at the building, where Cow would be waiting. It’s too far. Cougar will outrun you.
He prowls a step closer. “This is a training exercise. You and I weren’t supposed to meet like this. If you had followed orders, we wouldn’t have.”
“You wouldn’t hurt me. Not really.” Too bad fear makes your voice high-pitched and bleaty.
“Accidents sometimes happen in training exercises.” He sits, inspecting his claws.
You flick your tail. You won’t bow to the threats he’s tossing about. You’re the first Goat to make it onto the Whale’s Space Teams. And even if this planet seemed boring at first, it’s your very first alien planet! You’re not about to let the chance to explore end here in the cruel claws of a Cougar bully.
You dig your small hooves into the ground and lower your head, dropping to all fours. A flicker of surprise lights Cougar’s eyes as you spring forward. You crash horns-first into his side, the same way he’d knocked you over just a few moments ago. Spinning around, you charge for the top of the hill, for safety. Cougar won’t be happy you hit him, but all you have to do is make it to the tiny, square-sided building before he does.
The soft dirt slows you, giving no easy hoof-holds as you scramble up the hillside. Hot breath on your flanks urges you to move faster, and you skid around the side of the building, panting for air.
Where’s the door? Where’s the door? Cougar’s gonna get you before you can find the entrance to this dirty, unassuming building, and on your very first mission. That’d be mortifying.
The door gleams, white metal in the sunlight, and you lunge for it, scrabbling with the knob. It was obviously not made for hoofed-species. He’s coming and you don’t have time to wrestle with a space-junked door! You kick it, then lower your head and head-butt it.
It lurches open and you stumble inside. Your hooves slow of their own accord. You stare around, gaping. The interior is an enormous cavern. A cool grey banister stands two meters in front of you, separating you from the rest of the colossal space, while ramps of bustling Geckos, Mice, and Tamarins spiral deeper into the mountain beneath you. A Bat whisks past you toward the ceiling, carrying a basket. Everything is lit with warm yellow bulbs, and flashes of colorful doors amidst the shadowy grays accent the interior. This is more like it.
One floor below you, Cow waits, tapping her hoof. “How’d the Goat do?”
Your mouth works, but nothing comes out. Who was she talking to?
Behind you, a velvet voice has no trouble finding words. “Off-script, and with a literal meaning for ‘using your head.’”
Your eyes flick from Cougar to Cow and back again. This was all a setup?
Cougar grins at you. “What, cat got your tongue?”
“What?” you squeak. Normally you’re much wittier, you swear.
Cow shakes her head. “I needed to teach you an important lesson before we get to our primary objective.” Her bovine face turns serious. “Never judge a planet by its drop site.”