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Friday, June 14, 2013

Shorty--Earth 4

Today I'll share my short story with you. I started a piece using the first picture, but liked David's Ishtar, Planet of Hope much better. Then I remembered a piece I started a year ago and never finished. It goes really well with another of the pictures, so here is Earth 4.

And I'm taking the liberty to cheat a bit on the word count. I managed to cut it down from 1,700 words to just a bit over 1000. Help me streamline it more, please?

Earth 4  

The ship’s engines pitched lower as it dropped out of hyper drive and powered up the reverse thrusters. Overhead lights dimmed then brightened signaling a ship wide message. Thousands of people paused mid-stride and waited.

“Attention all passengers, we are now approaching our destination. Earth 4 will be within view of the forward and starboard viewing halls in thirty minutes time. Debarkation will begin in two hours. Remember, you may carry your own luggage or recycle it. If you choose to recycle, you will be issued a class two mandate for your stay on Earth 4. Gold members will receive an automatic upgrade.

“Thank you for traveling on the Galaxy Gala. It’s been our pleasure to serve you and we hope you enjoy your new life.” The voice fell silent.

Tensati hobbled forward on his arthritic legs. He needed to find Lyria. They had waited a long time to get passage on a cruise liner destined for a young earth. He wanted to enjoy his first sight of it with her.

He found her in their room curled up on the bed crying, “What’s wrong? We’re almost there. If we hurry we can get a good spot on the forward viewing deck.”

She sobbed harder and buried her head under the pillow muffling her voice.

“My ears are old, remember?” Tensati pulled the pillow away from her face and sat on the edge of the bed.

Lyria’s tear streaked countenance looked up. Blue eyes as clear as the day he married her seventy years earlier. The little lines around them reminded him of all the years they had shared laughing. It made the tears all the more unusual.

“Come on, what’s wrong?” He rubbed her shoulder.

“I can’t go to Earth 4.” She sucked in a ragged breath.

“Sure you can. We’re all paid up.”
“No, there’s something I haven’t told you.” She sat up and pulled her knees into her chest. Even at ninety-four she moved like a dancer.

“Well, tell me now and then we can go look at our new home.”

“Ten, they’ll never let me set foot on that planet. I don’t meet the requirements. I should have told you years ago, but I was too afraid.”

“Afraid of what? This isn’t another of your theatrics is it?”

She scowled at him, “Do you remember when I was sick?”

“Sick? You haven’t been sick since,” he ran through the years in his head, surprised at how far back he had to go, “your lung implants?”

“Yes. Do you remember that time?”

“Vaguely. That must have been thirty years ago. What’s that got to do with you going to E4?”

Lyria gave him her Come On look, “I can’t believe you’re going to make me spell it out for you.” She got up from the bed and pressed the button to open the viewport in their room. E4 loomed larger than life. “They didn’t just replace my lungs.”

“Oh. What else?” Immigration stipulated you must be fifty percent human in order to relocate. How much could she have changed during such a short hospital visit?

“Everything. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it would matter. And then they opened E3 and you started planning. I was so happy when they capped immigration.” She kicked the wall, “Damn them for opening E4!”

She dropped her head to her hands and sobbed. Tensati stood, but didn’t reach for his wife.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

She turned to face him, shoulders slumped and lip quivering. “I’m a bloody construct.”

“But you aged—” His brow furrowed. “How is this possible?”

“I was part of a trial for the TrueLife series of constructs. All I wanted was a few more years with you. I didn’t care about the immigration restrictions because there was nowhere to go.”

“TrueLife? Dammit, why didn’t you tell me? Asked me if it was the right thing to do?” Tensati balled his hands into a fist and stalked to the far end of the room. His heart raced and he feared he would die of a heart attack orbiting his destination.

He listened to Lyria breathing behind him. Remembered how warm and soft she felt as he held her just hours before. He never would have guessed she was a construct. Every moment of the last thirty years had been a lie. A beautiful, happy lie.

“Ten? I’m sorry. I really am. If you choose E4 I’ll understand.” Her pain seeped through her voice. "The crew hired me for the return trip, so you don't have to worry about me."

The door slid open, but Tensati didn’t turn around until it closed. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the clouds revolving on a dream.


“Final call for all passengers debarking at Earth 4. Please report to the main lounge on deck 34 to clear customs. Your new organs have been cloned and will be waiting for you on the other side. Thank you again and enjoy your new life.”

Tensati picked up his bag and walked to the door. It slid open, but he didn’t walk through. He had tried four times already.  The door closed when he took a step back.

As he stared, it opened on its own and Lyria stood before him. She had shed sixty years. Her hair was jet black instead of white. Her whole body toned and firm like the day he met her outside the dance studio. For the first time in decades his body responded on its own at the sight of her. He let the bag fall to the floor.

“Lyria?” He breathed it like a prayer.

“Ten? Why haven’t you left?”

“I, I wanted to—” Tensati swallowed and willed his hands to stay by his side. “I don’t know that I can go without you. I’ve tried.”

The tears welled up in her eyes again and a slow smile spread across her face. She stepped in until the door closed and walked slowly around Tensati to sit on the bed. Earth 4 gleamed in the window behind her head.

“Ten? Thirty years ago I bought and paid for your body construct. It's in the cargo hold. The staff can have you in it in less than an hour.” Looking up through her lashes in that way that used to drive him wild she patted the spot beside her. “Be young again with me Ten.”


Crystal Collier said...

Wow. Just, wow. That was amazing. =)

David Jace said...

OK, first, let's talk word count, since that's something you asked about. By cutting the story off at the asterisks and trimming the fat from the debarking announcement (all you really need there is that their destination is approaching.), I can get it down to 755. You can streamline his disbelief to cut it down further. There's no reason to draw out that conversation when you're working with this kind of word limit. Give it to him like ripping off a band aid!

Now, to the content itself. I love the idea, and I can see there's a whole world(s) of detail and social order that you've got set up in the background which is really intriguing. I think this conflict alone isn't enough for a novella, but the setting is rich with possibility for more. I also like the emotion you pour into both characters. I think a higher word count would let you finesse those emotions better, though. (500 words is REALLY short. Crazy Hemingway.)

I do have a couple of things that bothered me in the story, though... It bothers me that she would even let him buy the expensive tickets that "they saved up for" the trip when she knew she couldn't go on the planet. She should have told him at the outset. Of course, people don't always do what they should, do they? In the second part, she claims to not only have been able to afford making a construct herself, but also to buy one for him, completely without his knowledge, though the line of them saving for so long to be able to make this trip and get a new (old) start on a "young earth" indicates that money hasn't exactly been easy to come by. Surely these constructs aren't that cheap? I was very confused when she showed up at the door with him in her young form. My understanding was that though most constructs don't age, she was part of a trial that did. Did she actually buy three constructs, getting an extra, young one for herself?

I think that, for this format, you can cut out the last segment where we know he isn't going to go, and also drop the question of a construct aging. Just let the reader assume that they do, for the purposes of the flash fiction. That will also cut you a few extra words.

I enjoyed the read. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Charity Bradford said...


@David--Many great points here, thanks! My writing group had a few more concerns last night and we decided I should give myself about 5000 words to work this story out properly. and to "fix" a few questions and plot holes.

Yolanda Renee said...

Lovely read, and it sounds like you have your critique done, and the fix in the making.

Would love to see the finished product. Love the premise!

Liza said...

Outstanding story! Really. The twist at the end is magnificent! The only thing I could see (at your request) is where you could tighten it some. A word by word read to make sure everything there is necessary and powerful would help. If you don't mind...I took a gander at your first paragraph:

The ship’s engines pitched lower as it dropped out of hyper drive. Overhead lights dimmed signaling a ship wide message. Thousands of people paused mid-stride.

I don't think losing the things I took out lessened your story at all. Write tight! Great, great story!

Trisha F said...

Loved the story and the premise is great. Also, love that image :)