Without a World Kirasu Rising Book 1 by Kristen Illarmo Genre: YA Science Fiction
A dying planet. A mythical new world.
Miranda struggles through each day in the Trash Lands, scraping for food and water, wishing she could blend into the sea of ash. The best part of her day is working a meaningless job in a place where people pretend she doesn’t exist.
Dismayed to learn her mother was right, Earth will get sucked into a black hole, Miranda must trust in skills she never knew she had to get to a place she refused to believe existed.
But when they learn the black hole is no natural phenomenon, Miranda can’t turn her back on the suffering of Earth, and saving it could cost more than she ever knew.
Miranda stepped into stiff, soot-covered overalls and tied her short black hair under a bandanna. The pants smelled like a marriage of charred plastic and spent oil, like everything in the Trash Lands. She wanted to peel them off and curl up on the thin cot for another three hours, or even ten minutes.
“Don’t want to go in today?” Beda stretched her arms above her head, her fingers scraping the ceiling of the squat, cinder-block shack,
and dropped into a right leg lunge. Miranda zipped the putrid overalls and stepped into black boots.
“When have I ever?” She pulled a water bottle from her bag and shook it—empty.Her tongue lay fat and sticky in her mouth. “What are
you getting ready for?”
“I have a talk tonight at the Bubble City library. Miranda, I want you to come.”
She screamed inside but managed to ask, “Why?”
Beda arched her back into cobra position, holding her upper body rigid. “It’s important to me. I need you to hear what I’ll say.”
She tried to pretend they were having a serious conversation and decided to ignore the butt that was now sticking up in the air.
“You need an audience to tell me something?”
Beda looked at her from between her legs. “Will you come?”
Miranda sighed. “What time?”
Beda stretched to her full height of six feet and beamed. “It’s right after your shift. I arranged with the council to give you an extension so you can be there.” She sank into lotus position, her long legs tucked into each other, thumb and middle finger barely touching, the backs of her palms resting on her knees. She closed her eyes.
Miranda’s neck got hot, and the flush spread fast up her face as Beda nestled into hours of meditation. As if she has control over anything. “Another speech by Beda Ess? Why do you bother? Nobody believes any of the crock you are pushing. ‘Love is the answer.’ People out here are scraping to find the next drop of water, and people in Bubble City are so set they can’t even see a problem. You’re not changing anything!”
Beda sat straight-backed; eyes closed. Her tone calm. “That may be, but you won’t find hope in a hopeless place if you never look.”
Miranda ignored the T-shirt slogan and enjoyed continuing to interrupt her peaceful repose. “I can fill three bottles today, but that’s all I can get in and out. It should get us through the night. Can you get any?”
Beda opened one eye. “I’ll try,” she whispered.
Miranda grabbed her phone and earphones, essential elements for the endless train ride that felt longer every day. She tied another bandanna around her nose and mouth and slipped on her leather jacket. “Try not to get lost in wonderland, Mom. I’ll go make some money so we can eat.”
“Bye, M, and thank you.”
She rolled her eyes and opened the door on a dark, quiet street.
Warm wind brushed her hand, and a fine mist of ash settled on its back.
She knocked it off and shoved both hands deep in her pockets. She plodded into the dark, beginning the two-mile walk to the train station.
She kept her phone in her pocket with one eye on the road ahead and the other on the edges, watching for movement. Her fingers rested
on the brass knuckles, cold in her pocket. She glanced under burned-out cars and listened for footsteps behind her. The quiet made her anxious.
The sky lightened to dull gray as she walked. The constant burning of Bubble City’s trash kept the air thick with soot and smoke. A low growl rumbled from under a car as she walked past. She stomped her boot hard twice and barked. It answered with a whimper.
“Welcome to the Trash Lands,” she mumbled as a heavy layer of soot settled on her head. She shook it off. If Bubble City tasted ash with every bite of food, maybe things would change. If they never saw their precious sun because thick layers of ash coated their dome, maybe things would change. But that won’t happen because they stuck the incinerators way out here and we get to live with them. Lucky bastards. She pulled her bandanna down and tried to spit in disgust, but it came out as air.
As she got closer to the station, shapes edged out of the shadows and focused into people. She joined the quiet commuter shuffle and trudged up three flights of stairs to the platform and scanned her ID. She relaxed a little walking through the turnstile and let her brass knuckles drop into her pocket.
Commuters jammed the platform on their way to Bubble City. She shook the piles of gray dust off the bandannas and shoved them in her
bag. Her hand brushed her phone. She pulled it out and pushed play on a new song Nathan sent her. It started with a catchy bassline. She smiled and turned it up. The singer’s voice came in simple and strong. Another voice joined, Are they sisters? She closed her eyes and leaned back, listening.
The singer floated in space in front of her. Omega’s door, what is that? Did she say rebirth?
Waking up is painful I agree with that.
Wake up and believe in everything
The truth is, anything is possible. That would be nice.
Two women floated now, seeming at home in the void of space. Their voices swelled and built a wall of sound around her. Who are these people? I’ve never heard anything like this. No one sang in Bubble City; music was all synth tracks and robots. The wave of sound crashed as the train arrived. The crowd pushed to get on, and no one got off. She moved with the tide and squeezed into a seat next to an older woman and a younggirl.
She rocked to the drums, listening to the lyrics. The train lurched forward.
Three hours to Bubble City. Three, long hours. Her butt ached at the thought.
Quiet meditation, incessant interruption
She closed her eyes and click—the music stopped.
“What!” she yelled at her phone. Dead. Stupid thing was useless, battery couldn’t hold a charge overnight, and no one had electricity in the
She threw the phone in her bag and pulled out a book called Synchronicity.
Nathan was so excited when he lent it to her a month ago. He asked her to think about how seemingly unrelated events could be profoundly related and could have a big impact on her life. The idea sounded interesting, but the language was so hard to follow. This guy Jung may have been brilliant, but he wasn’t trying to be understood. She closed it again and watched the desert stream past at sixty miles an hour, one long stretch of brown and tan. There were no trees, only scrub brush and bushes, and sand. Sand for hundreds of miles in all directions, endless desert, interrupted by bubbles—cities with protective domes to keep the poison air out.
She closed her eyes and her eyelids burned; sand stretched out forever behind them too. When she opened them again, the shadows of the
two moons broke through the clouds.
“Look, Dahlia.” The older woman pointed to the sky. “Look at the moons. Has your mother told you the story of the second moon?” she
asked the little girl.
“No, Grandma. Will you tell me?”
Miranda groaned, grabbing her earphones, but remembered she had no power. She’d heard this story so often from her mother she could tell it by heart. That didn’t mean she believed it.
“A long time ago, back when the Earth was green and fresh, there was only one moon,” the woman began. “The Earth was larger, because that second moon was part of this planet. Earth was one large, green planet with clean air and clean water, enough for everyone.”
“Wow, did you live then, Grandma?”
“No, darling, this was well before my time. But, as the story goes, there were two groups of people on this one large planet. One group
lived simply, with nature, and listened to her needs and tried to live in balance. The other group didn’t listen to nature, so they couldn’t hear what was most important. All they wanted was to collect money and pretend like their actions had no consequences. Does that sound familiar?” she asked the little girl. “Sounds a lot like people here now, doesn’t it?”
“I guess it does, Grandma.”
“The people who could hear nature tried to make the people who couldn’t understand they were out of balance, that Earth couldn’t survive
that way. My Nana told me they tried for many generations to help people understand, but it didn’t work. Nana said one day when she was a girl, she woke up and thousands of people from her town were gone. It was that way everywhere. That same night, she saw a second moon staring down from the sky. It glowed bright and big, just like it does now. Nana believed that’s where they went, that they broke off a piece of Earth and started their own world. Some say they are still up there now, living in peace with each other and with nature, with plenty of clean air and clean water.”
“Do you believe that Grandma?” the little girl asked.
“Sometimes I like to, but how would anyone break off a piece of Earth and get it up into space? You know, the scientists say we’ve always
had two moons. But Nana swore she remembered the day it first showed up.”
“What do you think they are doing up there, Grandma?” asked the little girl, staring at the fading moons.
The woman smiled. “Singing, maybe dancing. Or maybe they are quiet, maybe it’s morning there, and they’re making breakfast.”
“I’m hungry, Grandma.” The little girl grabbed her stomach.
“I know, baby.” Worry lines creased the woman’s face.
“Hopefully, we can find something when we get to Bubble City.”
“Ok.” The little girl held her stomach and closed her eyes. She put her spin on that old yarn. “Here.” Miranda handed the woman a roll wrapped in a bandanna. “I was saving it for later, but she
can have it.”
“Are you sure?” The woman was surprised.
She shrugged, ‘yes.’
The woman handed the roll to the little girl. She smiled at Miranda.
“Thank you very much, lady.”
“You’re welcome.” Miranda smiled back.
The girl devoured it in a few bites. “Do you think there are any Moon People here, Grandma?” she asked, looking at Miranda.
“Maybe so, sweetie. My mother was sure of it. She said sometimes they come down to try to help us. They’d get jobs and live like the rest of us, but they also try to change our world.” She smiled at Miranda.
Miranda stifled a groan. Beda had told her variations of this story since she was old enough to stand. But the truth is no one will save us.
She wanted to scream at the woman. We’ve always lived in a toxic waste dump, and that won’t change! She put her head back against the wall instead and let her eyelids burn against her eyes. She couldn’t bear to see the hope glimmering in the little girl’s face. The train pulled into Koch Station. They all got off and shuffled toward the main gate. No need to rush; there were multiple entrances with guards screening everyone for weapons and empty bottles as they entered. She yawned; this was rote.
Her brass knuckles and empty water bottles were tucked away under a false bottom in her bag. She sewed it in after losing a precious bottle to this idiotic process. That wasn’t happening again. The guard sneered at her as she handed her bag over for inspection.
“Why do you pretend you’re reading this stuff?” He laughed, throwing her book back in, and waved her through. Most guards didn’t care
about empty bottles, they were checking for explosives, but they couldn’t let it slide, either; you had to put in a little effort.
Cleared for entry, she walked through skinny, glass doors twenty feet high and six feet across with ornate black wrought iron casings. Iron roses climbed the glass to the sky. It was majestic from far off and easy to police. As she stepped across the threshold, the low and constant hum of machines took over. A robot rolled over and swept dirt off her boots. She stepped to the side, out of the way of the masses entering for the workday.
Crouching down, she took her arms out of her jacket and shimmied out of the dusty, sleeveless overalls. She folded them in half and, wrapping them tight, shoved them into her bag. Now she wore a green-and blue-striped T-shirt, cropped black pants, and her trusty worn leather.
Her clothes were as clean as she could get them, and she could never be mistaken for a resident. The clear distinction put them at ease. She wiped dust from her cheeks with a rag. Here we go again.
The crowds were thick at the gate. Miranda waited for a potential break and took a deep breath of sweet, clean air as she stepped onto the
frosted-glass sidewalk. It was raised above the black obsidian street, creating a track keeping the often drunken, always reckless drivers away from everyone else while they played with their favorite toys.
The sidewalk square lit bright pink as she stepped. My favorite, she cringed, as smoke rose from screeching tires below. She bumped into another worker. “Sorry,” she mumbled, but the woman scurried out of her way, not making eye contact.
Her bridge wasn’t too much farther. A few more bright, blue and green squares would get her there. As Miranda stepped onto the pedestrian bridge, a new pop tune pumped out of the stones. The girl sang about her dress. ‘So pink, so chic, gonna love you all night long.’
The video played on the bridge as she walked across it. Instead of looking down, Miranda looked out. The black, glassy street played back
the reflections of the residential towers like a mirror. She stopped, resting her fingers on the railing, and stared out at the stretching towers. Who lives there? But she knew—only the children of people who lived there before. Fortunes and leases passed from one generation to the
next. People in Bubble City knew where they came from. There wasn’t anyone making it rich and moving in anymore. It was all set, and they liked that just fine. Residents strolled along the sidewalk, shopping. A few people scurried through the crowds with somewhere to be; no doubt workers brought in for the day.
Motorcycles and cars darted along the track below, weaving around each other, all fighting to get there. Where? Anywhere, first. The black,
glistening street buckled and cracked; its color lightened to stormy blue. What am I seeing? Cars disappeared into rushing water. Small waves crested through hushed silence. Grassy banks overtook the cement sides of the track.
“Do you see this?” She pointed wildly toward the new river, but the crowd shuffled by. “Hey!” She grabbed the arm of a man in a silver suit.
“Look!” He jerked his arm back, horrified that she’d touched him. “Oh, sorry, never mind.” They can’t see it. It’s only a vision.
The biggest one she’d ever seen. She turned back and watched light play on the water, content to enjoy her private show for as long as it lasted. Movement in the distance caught her eye. “What is that?” she whispered.
In front of her, the hulking tower transformed into a snowcapped mountain, and an open field stretched out in front. A cold wind hit her.
“It’s so beautiful.” The words caught in her throat, and a tear spilled down her cheek. The clean smell of wet grass filled her senses as she drank in this peaceful place. Tall trees blanketed the mountain in green while bright beams of sun splashed the field in golden light. A horn beeped in the distance, and another; she felt the cold metal railing in her hand again. The trees on the mountain glinted and turned blue as the mountain folded back into a steel-and-glass tower. The tops of cars moved through the water until it drained away, and the black street glistened.
Bubble City surrounded her again. She shivered. A clock flashed on the building—8:10 a.m.
“Oh no! I’m late!”
She ran across the bridge to the riverfront café.
Kristen Illarmo is a young adult, science fiction author driven to write stories with strong female characters in the backdrop of crumbling societies. She proudly calls New Orleans home, a fact that may only change if the perfect beach town reveals itself.
When she’s not toiling to improve efficiency in local government in her day job, she’s writing about dark possible futures and thinking about the importance of the choices we make. The prequel to Without A World, Behind the Red Door, is available now at kristenillarmo.com.
Join her monthly newsletter to grab the prequel to Without A World for free, get author updates, and access other free books from emerging authors at kristenillarmo.com.
Question: How did you come up with the name of this book?
Without A World always had a name, just not that one
From the very beginning, Without A World had a name; it was called A Place Between. All of my drafts are labeled APB. That title made sense because Miranda, the main character, is caught between two worlds, and for a portion of the book, is suspended between them both. About a year ago, when I thought I had a final draft ready (I’ve done so much revision since then!), I finally decided to google the title to see if it was available.
Google it before you fall in love
A word on this. As far as I know, authors can use any title you’d like, even if it has already been used. This is not a wise approach, however, because if another work is using your name and it is well known (or they put money behind their SEO), then your book will not rank on the first page of google, and as my sister says, bodies are buried on Google’s second page.
In my case, a documentary from 2007 put lands most of the first page spots, and there appeared to be no room. I could have fought for space, but it’s a crowded field. Instead, I decided to find a new title.
Just pick a new title… right
Well, that turned out to be quite a challenge. My sister and my editor dove in to help, and we created a shared document with no less than 100 possible titles. There were more titles if I count the ones that only made it to texts. I would pick a title, sit on it for a week, and then hate it. This happened over and over for weeks. I finally decided my top 5 and put together a poll to ask for opinions. I did not get many responses (maybe 15?), but the responses did point to a clear favorite. Readers liked Without A World. It works for me, and it still speaks to Miranda being between two worlds without a home. You can read more about the title search and see the runners up here [https://www.kristenillarmo.com/blog/and-the-winner-is]
My book Without A World doesn’t rank on the first page of google without my name included, but maybe it will one day. Perhaps I could have stuck with my original title for the same reasons, but these are the things we learn.
Until next time-
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