Last week, I blogged my first impressions on this season’s prompt. I knew I wanted to write from a male point of view, and I wanted to do something with the idea of something turning to ashes or dust. I also love adding dorky linguistic things into my short story (I am not a linguist, so I’m sure I make tons of mistakes), and so I hit upon the idea of Janus words, words that mean one thing and their opposite.
I decided it was easier to play with characters I already knew, even if maybe the plot of the story ends up being different than what happens in my books –a sort of AU, I guess. I started with my favorite character, Max, whose book I’m working on now (Book 2 of the Broken Union series). Turns out I know a bit too much about Max. I kept trying to throw things in there that would be too hard to explain in 1000 words. So I shifted to another character, Tim, who will be a POV character in Book 3. I’m not sure what I’m writing here will be a plot point in Book 3 or not. I didn’t mean for his marriage to become as contentious as it does in this draft! But it does provide a guiding light as I move toward plotting that book.
This draft is supposed to be unedited. However, I am someone who has to write to target word count (y’all, for my most recent MS, I budgeted 28K per act for a total of 112K and guess who wrote her last word and saw the counter tip over to 112,000? This gal). So although I knew I shouldn’t, because I wrote 1086 words, I cut out the 86. Seriously, they were extraneous words, and this way, on the self-edit week, I can focus more on story structure/development work.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s my first draft!
The Stardust In Our Souls
When Tim was young, his mom told him that all humans were made of stardust. And Tim would look in all his nooks and crannies, checking belly lint and earwax and boogers, trying to find evidence of sun particles, but all he could find were the lumpy, stinky, bulbous leavings of Earth-bound bodies.
Little did he know that stardust was powerful enough to turn a man immortal. Or that it could bring a civilization to its knees. But when one immortal man took stellar dark particles and cast them past the heliosphere of a backwoods star system, he created a chain reaction that led to the entropic collapse of humanity’s interstellar space lanes. Now Tim, captain of the ESS Starfell, was on a mission to recreate a path between Sol and Alpha Centauri, employing the very dust that had stunted them before.
Because yes, the dust giveth and the dust taketh away. Funny word, dust. A noun and a verb, the verb being a Janus word, one that means one thing and its opposite. To dust interstellar space could be spreading dark spores everywhere, or furiously brushing it away. Just like the verb sanction, as in, the Earth Union sanctioned a plan to use Martian technology to create a way to reconnect the star systems, but the Union also sanctioned his wife, the celebrated Admiral, because she prevented those self-same Martians from taking a few mining exoplanets—and the miners that lived on them—as compensation.
And now his wife was coming along on the five year journey to blaze a path between the stars, and she was adjusting rather badly, indeed, to being busted down to mere civilian, subject to the captainly authority, of all people.
“Karenna, I swear to the Ancients, this is not what I need right now, pre-launch on a brand new ship. You remember what that’s like, don’t you?”
Karenna, his beautiful, ageless, immortal wife—one of those blessed Ancients touched by stardust—crossed one long leg over the other and leaned back with a pout. “I’m just saying, Tim. You’re new to this. I was a captain for forty years. And I’m tellin’ ya, the Admiralty is up to something.”
“What,” Tim said, “you think I can’t make Captain on my own?”
Dust motes danced around his wife’s curly red hair, highlighted by the sunbeams reflected through the viewport.
“That’s not what I mean. But they’re using you. Think about it. I refuse to dance to their tune, they try to put me on enforced sabbatical, I threaten to join the dissident factions stirring up trouble in Alpha Centauri, and lo and behold! You get tapped to command the ship that’s going to be out of pocket for five years, knowing there’s no way I’d want to be separated from you. So, they get what they want. The only way I can come along is to temporarily suspend my rank, and bonus, I’ll be out of the way.”
Tim contemplated the end of his highball of whiskey, looking at Karenna through distorted glass. “Seems a little you-centered there.”
Antagonym, that was another term for that type of word he was thinking of, which brought to mind antagonist, like the way he and Karenna had been the last few months, duking and sparring and circling, waiting for the other to land the death punch. They cleaved to each other during the original crisis that led to the collapse of the space lanes, but the current spate of disasters were cleaving them apart. They were bound for Sol, but were chafing at being bound for life.
“Maybe,” Karenna mused, “they’re hoping you’ll keep an eye on me.”
Tim snorted. “They’d have a high opinion of my ability to keep up with you. Besides, what would you even be doing?”
Karenna put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “You know, this ship…” she began slowly.
“I’m not sure you should finish that thought, K.”
“It has an amazing cross-section of humanity. Union officers, but also civilian scientists, and Coralie theologians, and Martians, even. I’m thinking,” she said, tapping her chin, “I can gather some intel on what Mars is up to, and do some influence ops to right the Union’s thinking.”
“I’m thinking you have too much time on your hands. You need a hobby. Ever try knitting? Making ceramic cats?”
“I’m serious, Tim.”
“And I’m serious. I’m the captain of this ship. The senior Fleet officer, once we get out there in the black. I know you still think of me as that down-on-his-luck pilot you met on your ship, but I have a job, and one of them is not letting anyone under my purview foment unrest. Unless you don’t want to hitch a ride with us. I’ll drop you off.”
She gave a low whistle of appreciation. “You’re hot when you’re commanding.” She gave him an apologetic smile and came closer, sighing happily as he pulled her in his lap.
Contronyms, that was another term. They were both older, and weathered, not the same love-struck pair they’d been at the beginning, but they could weather any storm. Hopefully.
He buried his face in her hair. “Promise me you won’t stir up trouble?”
“I’ll try to respect your authority. But my opinions are my own, you know?”
He mmhd, breathing in her scent. Sanguine. Confidently cheerful.
She ruffled his hair in turn, and left him to this work.
Tim sat alone in a darkened captain’s office, and groaned in frustration. Sanguine: cheerfully bloodthirsty. Like the instinct that led him to accept a captaincy, in exchange for a job as a snitch. He pushed a hidden button and spoke, throat coated in ashes, voice thick with regret. “Did you get that, sir?”
“Copy,” came the voice. “Keep your head, Captain. Our analysts think our disgraced Admiral is going to make a move soon.”
Tim signed off, and put his head in his hands, trying to ignore the crumbling ruins of his marriage all around him.
I absolutely ADORE the wordplay in this. Also, lol at ” You need a hobby. Ever try knitting? Making ceramic cats?”
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Great story. At first I thought it might be a little too highbrow for me, my grasp of language not being as cerebral as yours, but I LOVE the dialogue, the pacing, and the humor. I am totally invested in this story. Thank you for sharing.
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