It’s the final week! I got the awesome services of Kota Rayne. They had really nice things to say about my story, especially the two things I know are my strengths: the dialogue and the incremental lead-up to the ending. But they wanted to see a little more in terms of motivations: why is Karenna doing what she’s doing? What about Tim? And a little more to show the love they have/had for each other.
I’m not entirely sure I’ve succeeded in all of it, yet. Usually significant feedback takes me a bit longer to digest, so this idea of throwing in an edit within a week is hard. For example, there were details that Kota suggested were taking them out of the story, and some other ones better served in dialogue. The lazy ass I am, I just moved the paragraphs around rather than recast them into dialogue. Stuff like that. So, I’m not quite going to call this a final draft. Maybe next week, when I post my final reflections.
Regardless, I’m thrilled I was able to add more characterization and goal/motivation/conflict and I hope to be able to deepen it more next week!
The stardust in our souls
Long ago, Tim’s mother 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. And promptly put it out of his mind.
Little did he know that stardust was powerful enough to turn a man immortal. Or that it could bring a civilization to its knees.
Sitting in his office, Tim poured himself a much deserved drink and regarded his wife. “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–beautiful, ageless–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 couldn’t make Captain on my own?”
Now captain of the ESS Starfell, Tim was on a mission to recreate a path between Sol and Alpha Centauri, employing the very dust that had stunted them before.
Because 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.
Karenna was coming along on the five year journey to blaze a path between the stars, and was adjusting rather badly, indeed, to being busted down to mere civilian, subject to his captainly authority, of all people.
No, that wasn’t quite fair. Karenna was selfless, giving, one of his biggest cheerleaders. His guiding star, with a sense of right and wrong that saw her take on an entire Admiralty. A force majeure in the form of one blessed red-headed Ancient, touched by holy stellar particles.
Sunbeams danced around his wife’s curly hair. They looked like dust motes, which was charming, but—
Dust was a death knell in space.
“That’s not what I mean.” Karenna rolled her eyes. “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.”
Maybe Karenna was a Janus herself. 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.
When Tim had met Karenna, she had been a true-blue believer in the Earth Union, enforcer of its ideals. Now she was a thorn in its side. Troublemaker. Karenna would tell you she made the decisions she did out of love for the Union, trying to make it better. Tim wondered, however, if perhaps she just enjoyed it. More than one lifetime of toe-ing the line could make anyone gleeful at the thought of inciting rebellion in the name of justice.
Tim contemplated the end of his highball of whiskey, looking at Karenna through distorted glass as she extolled the lengths to which the Union supposedly went in order to stymie her. “Seems a little you-centered there.”
“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 crossed her arms and pursed her lips. “You know, this ship…” she began slowly.
“I’m not sure you should finish that thought, K.”
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.
“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 that was the problem, wasn’t it? Speaking up was one thing, but Tim knew his wife. She wasn’t one to stoop to half-measures. It was one of the things he loved about her. Why just yell about the Union’s faults when she could disrupt it completely and work to put new folks in charge?
He blew out a breath. “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 whistled low in 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 his 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 was being unfair to himself, for sure. The captaincy wasn’t his motivation. Ancients knew he had never put much stock in rank, or in pure ambition. But when one immortal man took stellar dust 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. And like his wife, Tim would do anything to serve the Union. Reconnecting Alpha Centauri and Sol was his mandate–and so was preventing his wife from doing anything that would bring chaos at a time they need to stand united.
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.