::deep breaths:: Ok, this is my first draft. I like the character and the imagery, but the problem is… As far as I know, this isn’t a short story yet. More like an excerpt. I tried to end it in such a way there was a resolution, but I think I spent too much time on the relationship and backstory… But that’s my favorite part! When I edit, I’ll try to see a.) How to make it fit a short story outline and b.) Make sure the theme(whatever the theme is) is present throughout.
So here it is!
Four months after the attack, parts of the Ivory Palace still smoldered blue, the soft light of the gloaming adding an orange cast to the unearthly glow.
Sarai passed the checkpoints, one, two, three, the chip in her badge automatically letting her through into this, the most secure building on the planet. Past the secretary, past security standing tall, she crossed the threshold into the stately office of the leader of the world.
“You wanted to see me, sir?” she asked.
A year before, she had rolled that word in her mouth. “Sir.” Tongue forming over the sibilant s, uvula worrying over the rhotic r. Practiced over and over, so she didn’t stumble over the novelty of it and instead mumble something indistinct like sherm. Months after the Darvasi strafed the capital, panic still roiled, bags drooped under the politicians’ eyes, but this, this she could control. “Sir,” said strong and true to her ex-husband, the unrequited love of her life, the President of New Terra.
“The Joint Staff is pushing for a retaliatory attack against the planets of Southern Gate,” the President said now, eyebrows raising in anticipation of her response, which was indeed —
“Are they out of their fucking minds? Sir,” she added belatedly. “The attackers were transstate actors. It’s not the fault of the planets they were based on.”
“People want results, Sarai. Restitution. And they fear further attacks.”
“People are idiots. Sir. You do this, and you put the New Terra in even more danger than before. What about sleeper agents for the most notorious Southern Gate planets, who would see this as crossing a red line? All for what? Bombing the shit out of places that don’t actually control the Darvasi? We cross that rubicon, and we’re all in danger. Morgan and Jack are in dang–”
She had crossed a line. She could see it in the set of the President’s jaw. He held up a hand. “I know the argument. But I brought you in here so you could provide a response to the Joint Chiefs’ demands. A measured response,” he said, as her mouth began to move. “I value your judgement. You know that.”
“That’s what you hired me, sir.”
“Indeed.” His mouth quirked up in a smile, eyes soft, and she couldn’t help the heat that sprung to her cheeks. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, we plan to take the fight to the Darvasi themselves, too. You ready for that meeting today?”
She took a minute before answering, her hands clenching and unclenching in rhythm. “We’ve got the projections, sir,” she said, stomach roiling. “The virus would only affect the Darvasi who’ve chosen to illegally enhance their powers, and even then, would just affect their implants so they’d have to take them out. No long term damage, no death, no affecting innocents.”
“So you’ll be able to sell it to the lawyers,” he said. Statement of fact. Didn’t even need a nod in response. Just one lifted brow.
Of course she could convince the lawyers. Collate and synthesize information, make it palatable to an audience without dumbing it down, and bring them around to her point of view. Her forte.
She was the best. She knew it. Everyone knew it. That’s why she had been called to the little mansion out in the Alfagi Coast a year ago by the President-Elect’s transition team, and been asked to join on as Planetary Security Advisor. Why instead of laughing in their faces, she had nodded sagely and asked, delicately, about the optics of having an ex-wife on staff. An ex-wife who shared his last name. An ex-wife, an ex-senator’s wife, who had unceremoniously and very publicly cheated on him ten years before. It was worth it, they said. She was the best.
“Sir,” the secretary broke in over the console, “the First Lady wanted to remind you about dinner in twenty minutes.”
He took in a breath and nodded over the screen, and returned his eyes to Sarai. But she had seen it — she hated that she had seen it — that little grimace at the mention of his wife. Nope. No no no no, Sarai. Besides, there were more important things afoot.
Like the fact New Terra was about to engage in bio warfare.
The Darvasi were overpowered magic users. Everyone had a little magic in them. Sarai, for example, could shoot little sparks out of her hand, useful while camping or during a blackout, but not for much else. The Darvasi used illegal alien tech to enhance theirs. Twist it, into something dark and hateful. They claimed they just wanted the freedom to live their lives. Many of the other human planets shrugged, or looked the other way. New Terra, though…
“You know we’re not weaponizing something dangerous, right, Sarai?” the president now asked, looking at her with concern. “We’re trying to rectify a wrong.” He worked his lower lip and then smiled, holding up his commtab. ” Oh, and Morgan wanted your help with her history homework. About the Exodus. Said since we were old we’d know all about it.”
Sarai laughed in spite of herself. Their grandparents were babies when Earth was dying, when the aliens had come to corrupt their populace with tech that would later consume them, enslave them, leeching from Earth’s lifeforce to do so. Her ancestors had thought all was lost.
Then one day, the gates appeared. And the tech didn’t work in space. And as humanity took to the stars, they broke their shackles. Freedom.
New Terra was the vanguard. And now New Terra had to protect the rest of humanity against the sins of their past. Stooping to this type of violence though — pathogens. Ripping away something that had come integral to the way the Darvasi lived. It was necessary. Didn’t make it right.
But Sarai could button herself up and sell it anyway. For humanity. For… for him.
After all, she was the best.
I like your story’s set up. Nicely done!