Welcome to anooooother week! Unlike last season, I didn’t jump immediately into self-editing. In fact, I put it off, mostly because I didn’t have a plan. Last year I created a world out of whole cloth, and so a lot of my self edits was thinking about if my random world-building made sense. The other edit was changing it from a scene into a story.
This year, I already know my world and my characters, so what I had left was to think about structure. One thing I struggle with in flash fiction is what a scene is and what a story is. I prefer to have a structure that’s like a novel in miniature, with rising action, a turn, and falling action. This time my turn isn’t much of one; it mostly reveals that Tim and Karenna’s relationship is in trouble, leading to the final lines that cast a different light on the conversation. But I couldn’t figure out how to improve it, so mostly, what I did was remove a few words and adjust some lines for clarity.
The one “major” thing that changed is that I was reading Catalyst Gate by Megan O’Keefe, and there was a note in there about how dust motes are a really bad sign on a space ship! And I had a line in my first draft about dust motes dancing around Karenna’s hair, highlighted by the sunbeams (I think you can still get sunbeams on a spaceship, lol).
Anyway, I changed the line to reflect that reality and make it more sinister.
Bonus: I’m deep in edits in Shining Palais (the ms that was inspired by last season’s Writer In Motion) and I have flash-fiction length interludes. Came across this one:
Ammu called her taara, star, and told her she was created from the same particles as the glorious furnace blazing down on them without rest.
Shine always. Shine bright. The stars are you and you are the stars.
Like maira? she remembers once asking.
No, beta, Ammu said. This is a different type of magic.
Anyway, here’s the much-unchanged Take Two on the prompt:
The Stardust in Our Souls (FYI, the title is actually the proposed title of this MS)
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?”
Sunbeams danced around his wife’s curly red hair. They looked dust motes, which was charming, but—
Dust was a death knell in space.
“That’s not what I mean. But they’re using you. 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. And they get what they want. The only way I can come along is if I’m on sabbatical as a civilian 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, 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.
He sat alone in a darkened captain’s office, and groaned in frustration. Sanguine also meant 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.