Musings

[Blog] Great Big Planetary Empires

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Across the planet today, there are around two hundred different countries, between three and eight thousand different languages, and more cultures (and subcultures?) than anyone could possibly count– if they could even find a reliable definition of culture in the first place. Or put another way, our Earth is both very big and very small.

This is the sort of thing that comes to mind after watching entirely too many episodes of Star Trek in a row. Or pretty much any science fiction TV show or movie or video game or book, for that matter. Compared to our own, all the biggest, grandest worlds that we’ve created are just so small, so limited.

And some of that is by necessity. Take the aforementioned episodes of Star Trek*, for example: if you only have a little less than an hour to tell a complete story, then you just don’t have time to develop a complete and complicated set of geopolitics for your strange, new world, and to try it would be to take away from the story you actually want to tell. When a bunch of humans, Klingons, and tribbles all end up on the same space station, we don’t need to know anything about the inner workings of Klingon geopolitics in order to enjoy the episode.

Even in the infinitely more complex Deep Space Nine that spent numerous episodes exploring the conflict between the Bajorans and the Cardassians, both species have only a single culture, and any hypothetical divisions among them are ignored. It seems there is no such thing as Northern Bajorans and Southern Bajorans, and even those separate groups that appear as the series progresses all stem from the same basic culture, only different in the way they react to their common history. And again, that’s not a bad thing. Even as simple as it is by real world standards, it’s plenty complex enough for the purposes of the story.

That being said, I’d love to see a story that plays a little more with the ramifications of multiple major powers on a single planet with the capability of interstellar travel. What would happen if American explorers made contact and formed an alliance with the Greys from the planet Heru at the same time that Russian explorers hit it off with the Purples on one of the same planet’s other continents? And what would happen if the Greys and the Purples didn’t get along?*

I’m inclined to think that that’s exactly the sort of question that science fiction was born to answer.

 

* It strikes me as I write this that I’m poorly enough read in science fiction that someone may have already written such a story, and I just don’t know about it. If you happen to know one, do mention it in the comments below, as like I said the idea fascinates me!

Fiction (Short)

Aruri

FRONTIERSTATION

It was something about the way the girl moved. She was human, as were at least a third of the other passengers that the latest transport ship had deposited on Whitehorse Station, but despite the fact that she shuffled along towards the security check like all the rest of the travel weary crowd with her head down and her shoulders slumped, Taylor watched her and waited for her to do something that would explain the wary feeling nesting in his chest. She looked young, no more than eight or nine years old. She was thin, too, and wiry, though most children who grew up in space were the same. A mane of thin brown hair reached just below her shoulders, and a loose hair-tie could only do so much to keep it out of her eyes. She followed close behind a young couple wearing the sort of sturdy clothes favored by colonists, and Taylor almost convinced himself that he was reacting to nothing. Colony kids always seemed to be a little different.

But then she disappeared.

She looked at him first, glancing up from her feet and staring at him long and slow out of the corner of her eye. Taylor’s first impulse was to look away, though whether that was out of some irrational fear or to keep from spooking her he couldn’t say, so he kept on watching. Or rather, he did until some disturbance farther down the line stole his attention for a split second, and when he looked back she was gone.

He muttered something under his breath and looked twice all through the line. The young couple was still there, as was the scattering of other humans and aliens of a dozen different species— everyone except the girl with the wolfish eyes.

He tapped the comm in his ear, and it clicked softly as the line connected. “Lumyan, keep an eye out for a girl trying to get into the station proper. Human, not even ten years old. You’ll know it if you see her.”

Understood.” There was a pause, then his partner’s voice hummed in his ear again, this time with laughter barely held beneath the surface. “Anything else I should know? Is she the next big mob boss or something?

“Heck if I know. I’ve got a feeling is all. Just let me know if you see her and try to keep her from running off.”

Sure thing.” Lumyan paused again, then: “Want me to search for any puppies or kittens while I’m at it?” He didn’t need to see her grin to know it was there.

“Only if you want to. Taylor out.”

He hadn’t expected her to, but the girl had not reappeared. The young couple she had been following was still there, still looking tired and travel-worn just not like the parents of a child that had gone missing. He approached them anyway.

“Excuse me,” he said, and the two broke off a quiet conversation and looked at him. “Could I speak with you both for a moment? Are you traveling with a daughter?”

They were not. They had no children at all, let alone a girl almost ten years old. Taylor thanked them for their time and moved on again, scanning the crowd for the twentieth time in the vain hope of catching sight of her again, though he wasn’t at all certain she was still there at all. He just didn’t know where else she could be or how she had gotten there.

He had a better idea about five minutes later when the young couple caught his eye and broke away from the line to approach him and report that the bag that had contained their papers, currency, and a few valuables was well and truly missing. Taylor directed them towards the office that specialized in helping with that sort of thing and started for the front of the line. A clever adult would be able to come up with several ways to use the pilfered items to get inside. A clever child would have an even easier time of it. He tapped his comm again as he moved.

“Lum, she got her hands on some papers. Have you seen her yet?”

There was a pause of a few seconds the reply came, and Taylor grimaced at the delay. If the checkpoint was that busy, the girl might not have even needed the benefit of the papers to sneak right through.

Sorry, Taylor. We just got swamped over here with a couple of clowns who don’t think the rules apply to them. If she’s come through I haven’t— oh, hell. I think that’s her. She just snuck through with another family.

Taylor broke into a run. Colony papers didn’t have the built-in checks and safeguards the ones issued on the central worlds did. It was fiddly technology at the best of times, especially with the older printers that would be available on fledgling planets. The scanners would only be checking to make sure the numbers of people matched the numbers of passes.

As he approached, Lumyan looked up long enough to point and wave him on in the direction the girl had gone. “Towards the markets. Go! I’ll have Sarge send Rofik down to help me here!”

Taylor gave a grateful nod and bolted through. The wide hallway was busy, full of humans, feathered avings, four-legged xentou, and all the others who had just made their way through security and into the expansive rings of the station beyond the docks. The thirty seconds it had taken for him to get there was more than enough time for the girl to vanish in the crowd. And if— when— she made it to the markets, the haystack would get that much bigger.

He held out hope that he’d find her before she they reached the markets until the corridor spilled out into the massive, noisy, stall-filled room that was the markets. If futility ever needed a physical representation, this was it. It didn’t matter how long he spent winding his way through the bickering, bartering members of species from every corner of the galaxy. His chances of finding the girl were beyond poor.

After a few steps more he slowed, stopped and raised his eyes to the ceiling in a look that expressed his frustration better than words ever could. Then, he commed back to Lumyan.

“She made it to the markets. Nothing I can do for now. Might as well tell Rofik he can go back to napping in the precinct. I’m putting in an alert and heading back to you.”

The rest of the passengers passed through security without further incident, or at least without anything out of the ordinary. There were a few lost bags, a few complaints about the level of service they had received on board the transport ship, a few red-eyed travelers who weren’t certain where they were supposed to go next, but all that was to be expected. It took less than an hour to empty the rest of the line, and when the last of the exhausted passengers made it through and stumbled off towards the residential rings and the rest of the station, Taylor and Lumyan followed.

A single main passageway led through the entirety of the docking ring. Turning right would take them down to the markets, and Taylor stopped for a moment and looked off that way until Lumyan slugged his shoulder.

“Won’t do any good, mate. Well. It might make you feel better, but there’s no way you’re finding her in there.” She winked. “Your words, more or less.”

Taylor grumbled, but he turned and followed Lumyan to the left and the precinct office. It was a small room, just large enough to hold a pair of desks and four chairs and still be comfortable. Taylor sank into his seat and woke his console with the intention of updating the alert to something more detailed than “Human girl, brown hair, 1.5m tall, approx. 10yrs old. Contact security if seen.” If nothing else, pulling her image from the security cameras in the docking bay and attaching it might keep would-be do-gooders from trying to turn in any of the brown-haired ten-year-olds who actually belonged on the station. He had just found and added what he needed when the door hummed and slid open to admit a pair of g’keyli.

Taylor’s stomach turned upside down and slid back against his spine. He was ashamed to admit it, but of all the alien species humanity had encountered since taking to the stars, the g’keyli unsettled him the most. They looked, to human eyes, like massive, bipedal canines. The smallest he had ever seen was nearly two meters tall, and the pair that loomed above his desk now, staring at him, were bigger. The fur that covered their bodies was long, braided and beaded in places and dyed with dark colors in others. They wore little in the way of clothing beyond belts with pouches and pockets and what little their culture asked for modesty’s sake, and while the end result was both practical and sensible, it also seemed a little wild.

The smaller of the two, relatively speaking, took a slow, deep breath, then twisted her tongue around human, English words that fit so poorly in her mouth that they came out with a rough, growling lilt.

“Do you have a moment, Packprotector—officer? I am Niumra, this is my mate, Grumyu. We would speak with you, if you have the time.”

She crouched down so that her golden eyes were level with Taylor’s brown ones. It was a sign of respect. That was what some quiet memory desperately said again and again in the back of his head. He just found that hard to remember when a mouth full of long, white teeth dipped that much closer to his neck, even when that same mouth was saying such civil words. His own mouth was uncomfortably dry, and he had to swallow before responding.

“Of course. How can I help you?”

“The transport ship that is docked here now, is that the Azdatses?”

Taylor nodded. “It is. Do you need to board her?” He forced himself to match and keep the g’keyli’s sharp, bright gaze.

“No, thank you, Packprotector. We have our own vessel, but we believe that one of our own was aboard the big transport. A young one named Aruri. She rode the transport here, and we must find her before she gets herself lost any further. Will you assist us?”

Taylor swallowed again, a little more easily than before. Though not by much. “We’d be happy to help,” he said, “but I’m afraid you’re the first g’keyli we’ve seen on the station in months. You’re certain she was aboard the Azdatses?”

Niumra turned to Grumyu, and they spoke a few words in their own tongue before she looked back to Taylor and nodded once, pointedly. “Quite certain.” She was about to continue when Grumyu touched her arm with one of his heavy, paw-like hands and tilted his head in query.

Niumra’s ears flicked backwards, almost pinning, and the two canids held another hurried conference in their own language. It seemed more combative than before, and Taylor put his hands below the table to hide the fact that they were shaking. He had almost regained his composure a few seconds later when the comm station in the corner of the room chimed, and both he and Lumyan rose on instinct. She waved him back into his seat with a wink and an impish expression. He paused, but there was nothing to do but drop back down and attempt to calm his hands once more as Lumyan transferred the call to her own comm before stepping outside to answer it.

It only took the g’keyli a moment or two to finish, and Niumra turned back to him with an almost sheepish expression. “Forgive us. My mate and I disagree—”

But whatever she was about to say slipped away as Lumyan burst back in and called across the room.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt, Taylor, but someone saw the girl. She’s still in the markets, apparently trying to steal herself some dinner. Stall A-34. They think she’s still close. Go! I’ll cover here.”

Taylor was up and on his feet in half a second, and halfway to the door in one more. He was about to apologize when both of the g’keyli started after him, and Niumra’s paw brushed his shoulder.

“Wait, Packprotector. We will help you hunt.”

She phrased it like a statement, but the question was clear. Taylor hesitated, and fear twisted another knot into his stomach. But there was no time. Taylor gave a quick nod.

“It’s a human child, somewhere in the markets. ” He reached back and turned his console screen so that the two g’keyli could see the picture taken from the security footage. “She looks like this.”

Grumyu gave a short, sudden bark and followed it with a wild pattering of words in his own language. Niumra stopped him with a paw on his chest before whirling back to Taylor. “We understand.” There was a wild look in her golden eyes.

“She’s just a child. Be gentle!”

“We understand! We go!”

And they went. Rushing the the door, flying down the corridor. The g’keyli let Taylor keep the lead, but their mere presence was enough to keep the halls clear for their passage. Only idiots stood in front of a loping g’keyli. The effect was less noticeable once they reached the markets themselves, but even then they made their way through the crowds in half the time it would have taken Taylor alone. He also got the distinct impression, once they reached stall A-34, that the aving merchant was a great deal more polite than he might have been otherwise.

“I appreciate your coming so quickly,” he said. “It’s good to have some sign that you humans do care about the security of your station. Too bad you couldn’t stop the little wretch before she savaged my wares.”

The attempted raid was evidenced by the various meats and breads still spilled all across the floor beside the stand.

“Where is she now?” Taylor felt impatience rising up the back of his throat, and he fought it back down beneath a show of professional calm. It got harder as the merchant began to let loose a flood of complaints, none of which gave any hint as to which way the girl had gone.

“…and I demand reimbursement from the station for… failing… to…”

Taylor frowned in confusion and was about to ask what was troubling the merchant when he noticed that the aving’s eyes were focused over his shoulder. He glanced in the same direction and found the answer on his own: Niumra’s muzzle was wrinkled in annoyance, showing almost an inch of her long, white teeth. It was all he could do to keep his knees from giving out. His voice was husky when he spoke.

“Which way?”

The aving pointed further down the row of stalls.

He muttered a quick thanks, and the three of them were off again, moving quickly down the opening in the crowd provided by the presence of the huge canids. Even as they went, Taylor felt a rising certainty that it was all in vain. It didn’t matter how close they got without catching her, not when she could vanish into the crowd or between stalls at a moment’s notice. But perhaps if they split up.

“Niumra.” He stopped and turned around to look at her, and his whole heart jumped up into his throat. She and Grumyu were both just behind him, both standing at their full height. He forced his words out over a dry tongue. “We won’t find her this way. We need to cover more of the markets.”

“Of course, Packprotecter. I was about to suggest the same.” She was about to translate for Grumyu when Taylor forced himself to speak again.

“But one more thing. The girl, she’s human. She’s not as strong as you. Don’t hurt her.”

Niumra clamped her mouth shut and flicked her ears back. A chill tumbled down Taylor’s spine that grew a thousand times worse when something that sounded too much like a growl escaped the g’keyli’s throat.

“We are not fools, Packprotector,” was all she said. Then she exchanged a few words with her mate, and the two big creatures stalked off in opposite directions through the crowd, leaving Taylor to continue in the direction they had been going.

His progress was not as quick without the g’keyli to clear the way, but if it had been he might have missed the upturned container that drew his attention to a small space between two stalls. And if he had not seen that, he would not have seen a pair of hazel eyes staring back at him when he peered inside. He also wouldn’t have suffered a surprisingly heavy blow to the head when the girl hit him with a length of aluminum pipe she had clutched in both her hands.

She hurtled past him while he was still reeling and sprinted wildly through the crowd of milling shoppers. Taylor scrambled to his feet.

“Station Security! Stop her!”

No one did. A few tried, but the girl was too fast, too agile, too wiry. She slipped out of their hands or between their legs, and Taylor knew she was getting away all over again.

And then Grumyu appeared from around the corner of a stall, just ahead of where the girl was running. He barked something fierce and forceful in the g’keyli language, and the girl stopped and dropped to the floor. The big g’keyli stepped forward until he stood just beside her, towering above her tiny form and growling low.

“Grumyu, wait!” Taylor’s knees were weak again. The g’keyli didn’t understand any human tongues. He could only hope the alien would hear and understand his name.

If he did, Grumyu gave no sign. Instead, he bent down over the girl, still growling, and placed one enormous paw on her thin chest.

“Grumyu!” Taylor started running forward, horrified by the images provided by his own mind of what was about to happen. “Grumyu! No!”

He was still yards away when something caught his shoulder and stopped him in his tracks. It was Niumra. Taylor yelped and shrieked like a child.

“Hush, Packprotector. The girl is fine. You are fine. Stop your fear.”

Taylor went quiet. He couldn’t tell if it was because he had regained control or because he was too scared to make a sound. For the moment, he didn’t care.

A few yards away, Grumyu’s low, rumbling voice continued speaking. It was joined a moment later by a second voice, a tiny, thin, and piping voice that answered inexplicably with g’keyli words.

“Our pup,” said Niumra. “Our Aruri.” She lifted her paw from Taylor’s shoulder, tentatively at first and then more freely when he didn’t run. “She is curious and rebellious, and she found her way onto the transport ship. We did not realize until too late.”

It took some time for Taylor to find the courage to speak. When he did, a question came out first. “Your pup?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Niumra. “Our pup, since we rescued her from the broken ship where her blood parents died. She was tiny and very weak, but we helped her and raised her, and she is ours.”

“Ah,” said Taylor, and he nodded.

Niumra made a chuffing sound that might have been a laugh. “You are surprised?”

He paused and considered, then nodded again. “I think I am.”

“That’s alright,” she said. “Many are.”

Musings

[Blog] The Book’s Not Always Better Than the Movie

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A few years ago, one of my friends introduced me to Mass Effect, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the game. The characters, the setting, the adventures– the hours I spent as Commander Shepard proved incredibly fun and as deeply inspiring as any of my other favorite stories. And some of that is because of the way the story was told.

Different mediums have different strengths and work better for certain stories than others. It’s why the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, as entertaining and as grand as they are when shown on the big screen, will never have the same depth as Tolkien’s written masterpieces: there’s just not enough time, even in the twelve hours that make up the extended editions, to do justice to the depth and history of Middle Earth. What’s more, trying to match it word for word would have resulted in films that sprawled even more and probably wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable.

Now, before you start reaching for your torches and your pitchforks, I’m not saying that the movies were flawless adaptations. Any number of characters were changed in ways that made them so much less than they were in the books (Faramir, anyone?) without adding something back in exchange to the structure or the pace of the movie. However, even if all the characters had been spot on and true to who they are in the books, the films would still have been missing something of what made the books as wonderful as they are.

It goes both ways, too: some stories work better as a movie than as a book. Take The Princess Bride, for example. While we get more details about pretty much everything throughout the course of the novel, the story itself profits from the quicker pace and the tighter structure of a film, and I’m inclined to argue that that’s what made it the classic it is today. Of course, I’d still recommend reading the book if you get the chance, but that goes without saying. The fact remains that the movie is the reason we’re all saying the lines along with Inigo in the gif below.

Bringing all this back around to video games, it’s fascinating to see how this “new” medium stacks up against the ones we’re more used to. The biggest difference, I think, is how we interact with the story being told, and vice versa. In a book or a movie, we have a far more passive role. The story will go the way it always goes, regardless of what we do. The only way we can change what happens is by stopping, and really, that only delays it. The words have still been written, the scenes have still been filmed, and no matter how hard we throw the book against the wall or how loud we yell at the screen, what will happen will happen. In video games, that’s not necessarily the case.

Going back to Mass Effect, the game forces the player to make different choices along the way that tie in with the general morality that each Shepard develops. Regardless of the path chosen, the story will progress through the same events. However, the tone of the story will feel entirely different depending on whether you play more as a hero or an anti-hero. In one, the story is that of an epic space opera with great heroes and steep odds. In the other, it’s a gritty space marine tale, where even the best people are deeply flawed and broken.

And what’s more, because you are the one making the decisions throughout the game, you feel each one more deeply than you would if you were just watching or reading about the hero making those choices on their own. When you have to press a button to confirm that you really do want Shepard to do something, it immerses you even more deeply in the story. It makes you think about the actions taken just that much more, and that’s the greatest strength of any story.

Updates

[Update] January 2018

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Happy New Year! To those of you who have been following me for a while, thanks so much– you mean the world to me! To anyone just stumbling across my little corner of the internet, welcome, and if you happen to like what you see feel free to stay a while.

Between the holidays and the end of my Armenia trip, December was another fairly quiet month around here when it comes to writing. Friday blog posts went up every week, but nothing much beyond that. But! I’m back in the States, and while I haven’t manage to settle into anything like a routine just yet, I’m looking forward to more time for writing and the chance to do some more work on my bigger projects, as well as getting back into the swing of two short stories a month.

Speaking of those bigger projects, there’s two I’m particularly excited about! The first is that I’ll be working to finish the second draft of a fantasy novel tentatively titled The Seven this year. Check out the teaser here, and keep an eye out for more information as the year progresses!

The second is that I’ve got more Tanner and Miranda stories in the works, with an eye towards writing a complete collection. The two stories I’ve completed so far (Under Whiskey Hill and The Ethan Lindsay Job) were so much fun to write, and I know there’s a bunch more adventures in store for the siblings. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading about them as much as I’m enjoying writing them.

That’s all I’ve got for now! I hope the start of your year has been a good one, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the months ahead. As always, drop me a line in the comments if you’ve got any questions, or just to say hi! I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,
Faith

Updates

[Update] December 2017

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It’s December, and the end of the year is approaching far faster than it has any right to. That’s what it feels like, at any rate; I’m having a hard time believing it’s not still early fall.

My Armenian adventure is quickly coming to an end, and while I can’t wait to see everyone back in the States, I can already tell I’m going to miss this place more than I ever thought possible. Between the amazing people and the more relaxed pace of life here (not to mention the incredible food), the specter of reverse culture shock is already rearing its head and eyeing me balefully from a distance. But that’s a problem for later. For now, I’m still here.

That being said, I am looking forward to seeing how the experiences of the last few months end up working themselves into my writing. I already have a few ideas– one of which is even half written. I didn’t complete any new stories in November, but there should be at least one going up in December, provided that the last couple of weeks don’t end up too crazy.

That’s all for now! As always, drop me a line in the comments or via email if you’ve got any questions. Until next time!

~Faith

Fiction (Short)

The Farewell

OURFAREWELL

It was late, and we were loud, but for tonight, that was alright. Tabby had told us hours ago to not worry about it. The corner table at the pub was ours as late as we wanted it. And so far, no one had seemed inclined to complain anyway. The only looks that came our way were smiles and nods, and Reuben and I didn’t end up paying for any more than a third of our drinks. The rest were covered by our friends, and a couple of rounds appeared at our table, courtesy of grateful, generous strangers. The other members of the crew were probably doing the same thing with their own friends in some other bar.

We tried not to call it a suicide mission. It might have been. Probably was, really, but on the off chance that it wasn’t, we promised each other that we wouldn’t count ourselves out until our ship was blowing up around us. Either way, we were leaving the next morning. Our ship was already prepped and ready, and it waited at the launching grounds at the edge of town with the course out to another system and another planet somewhere beyond colonized space already programmed into its computer.

But that was tomorrow. Tonight, we were still here.

“So, Erin.” Reuben’s dark eyes glittered wickedly at me from across the table, and even the fuzz left by my last beer wasn’t enough to dull the feeling of sudden dread.

“Don’t even think about it,” I said.

“Think about what?” His grin showed more teeth than it ever did when his motives were good.

I grinned right back at him. “The same thing you’ve been hounding me about since it happened.”

“Come on, Erin. It might be our last chance. Everyone wants to know the old tractor story.”

A general clamor in Reuben’s favor went up from our friends, encouraged as much by his sly fox smile as my pretended scowl of disapproval.

“You’ve got to tell it now!”

“Cat’s half out anyway.”

“One to remember you by!”

“You’re a bloody cheater, Reuben,” I said, but there was nothing believable about my frown.

“So, will you tell it or will I?”

“You.” I balled up a napkin and threw it at him before he could start. “But not until your sister gets here, because she’s been demanding the details since it happened and she’ll kill me if everyone else finds out before she does.”

His smile faltered. “I’m not sure she’s coming.”

I gave him a quizzical look, but he waved it off and I didn’t push. I just paused for a moment, playing along with the game before giving the answer everyone knew I’d give. And I still smiled when they cheered. Our joviality was fragile, but it was enough.

The only thing I would have changed would have been to have Luca there with us.

 

 

An hour passed. Another one followed it. The late night grew later, and we grew sleepier and even a littler quieter. The pub’s other patrons left, one by one. So did a couple of our friends, citing the years they had gained since we’d first met. They promised to see us at the launching tomorrow as they went.

Luca never came, and it didn’t need to surprise me to hurt. I’d sent her a handful of messages throughout the evening, surreptitiously touching my fingers to my commphone’s controls to activate the contact display and tap out the words I wanted. Reuben caught the telltale, electric glimmer across my eye the second time I did it, but he didn’t say anything, just offered a quiet, sympathetic smile and looked away before anyone else noticed. I’d tried to be as present as I could the rest of the time, but I’m not sure how well I succeeded. It was hard when I was waiting for a response that didn’t come.

At least, it didn’t come until the night was over and last few of us were finally admitting that we should sleep. My contact display lit up, and I jumped despite myself. The message was short and simple, but it said everything it needed to.

I’m out by the launch field.

It took me less than a second to get up from the table. I grabbed my jacket, apologizing as coherently as my midnight-addled tongue could manage and confirming that I would see them all for last goodbyes before we left. Reuben gave me a look that I returned as best I could, and then I took off. I broke into a jog before I was five steps out the door.

I found Luca leaning back against the wall of the maintenance bay, staring towards the dark outline of our ship where it waited in the field. She turned her head as I approached.

“We missed you tonight,” I said. I think I said it without letting it sound like an accusation. I didn’t mean it to be.

“I’m sorry,” said Luca. She paused before saying something about being at the launch tomorrow.

“For whatever it’s worth, I appreciate it,” I said. “Reuben will too.”

She didn’t respond, quickly or otherwise. I’m usually comfortable with silences. The stretch of wordless seconds that clings to the edge of a conversation has always just been another way to enjoy a friend’s company. Nothing more, nothing less. But this one wasn’t like that.

I forced a laugh. “Hey, if we get ourselves killed, at least you won’t have to worry about keeping us out of trouble anymore.”

“What the hell, Erin?” She jerked away from the wall. “Seriously?”

An apology slipped off my tongue, and I followed her out into the field, into the deeper shadows where the hull of our ship blocked the light of the moon. An excuse or two stuck in the back of my throat, whispers and mumbles about coping mechanisms and an attempt to lighten the mood. But Luca kept talking before I made anything worse.

“I wanted to sabotage this thing, you know.” She was looking up at the hull. “To find a way to break it enough that it would never get you to deep space.”

My stomach tightened. Only the fact that she kept talking kept me from making some stupid inquiry after the state of the ship.

She shrugged, or that’s what it looked like. “I might have actually done it if I thought it could have stopped you.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “Keep us behind, safe and sound. That’ll work great until the bad guys come and kill us here instead.”

Luca snorted in disgust. “There’s every chance they’ll do that anyway.”

“No! Not every chance. If this works they never get past Relfa.”

“If!” She hissed the word through gritted teeth. “’If’ means nothing! ‘If’ means we’re down to dreams and delusions!”

“’If’ means that some of us haven’t given up just yet!” I shouted, and my words echoed out across the field. They faded without interruption.

Her response came slowly, cold and delayed. “Or maybe it means you’re just going to die in denial.”

“Better that than whatever it is you’re doing.”

Her hand moved in the darkness, and I braced myself for a blow that never landed. Her fists jerked at the air above her head instead, threatening to beat her own skull. A ragged scream wedged and died in her throat. “How can you say that? You! Of all people! I’ve been in every meeting you have, come up with dozen insane schemes of my own—I lost my husband to one of them and it never stopped me!”

“It broke you when Aaron died!” There was a moment, just a moment when I could have kept from going further. “If he was alive he would have been the first to volunteer”

I thought she was going to hit me. I’d have deserved it. If I’d been her I probably would have. The dead silence was worse, and it remained unbroken even when she left half a minute later, leaving me alone to justify myself to the snarling in my head. It was a lost cause, and I gave it up after the barest handful of seconds.

I woke early the next morning, well before my alarm and only five or six hours after I’d finally collapsed into bed. I should have been able to fall back asleep. Exhaustion squatted on my chest, and I didn’t need to look in a mirror to know that my eyes were bloodshot. Another hour of rest would have smoothed the roughest edges if nothing else. I knew without trying that I’d never manage it. A resigned curse escaped through my teeth, and I dropped my feet to the floor.

Not that I had much to do before the launch. My bag was packed and skulking by the door. My uniform hung over the back of my chair, waiting for me to pull it on. A pile of letters sat on my desk, filled with sentiments I’d already said out loud to the recipients, though perhaps not so eloquently as when I put pen to paper. Actual paper. It was old-fashioned, perhaps, but it seemed fitting. It would be something to hold onto if things turned out the way we feared the most.

One of them was for Luca. It was one of a dozen, but when I looked at the stack it was the only one that mattered. Fortunately, I’d written it before last night, and the things inside were things I meant, things that I wanted her to know and remember. If she decided to read it instead of burning it, it might bring her a little peace.

A twisting in my gut told me that I was still angry. Of course I was. I would be until we made up, and unless Luca felt like seeing me in the next few hours, I was just going to have to live with it. Or die with it. One or the other. I gave a snort. It was as close to a laugh as I could manage.

It didn’t take me long to get dressed and ready. My uniform went on easily, comfortably. I dragged a comb through my hair until it was vaguely presentable and able to be tied back in a tight braid. I tossed my dirty clothes in a laundry basket. I made my bed. I yanked my boots onto my feet and laced them up. Within fifteen minutes, I was out the door with my bag slung over my shoulder and the packet of letters clutched in my hand.

The colony was quiet. The streets weren’t quite empty, but the few of us who walked them were more inclined to enjoy the silence and the solitude than to strike up a conversation. We exchanged civil nods when we passed and little else. When I reached the little shop that operated as a post office of sorts, I dropped off my letters with a minimum of talking. Old Man Rufus who ran the place did the same, though he offered his well-wishes and only charged me half price for sending the letters. I smiled and thanked him and left.

I wandered the streets after that. I still had hours before launch, hours even before the crew had to be there for our early checks, and I wasn’t about to spend the last of my free time aboard the same beast of tech and metal that I would be tied to for the next weeks. My bag wasn’t all that heavy, and I took simple comfort in its weight against my back as I said my goodbyes to the colony.

I was halfway to Luca’s house before I realized where my steps were taking me. I stopped walking. The urge to turn and go back the way I had come thrummed in my chest. I could put aside the argument from last night. I could make myself believe it didn’t matter. I could bury it deep and let it fester until the mission was done or I was gone. Just not if we came back for round two now.

But if we didn’t, there was no way we were going to reconcile. The odds weren’t good for any encounter turning out that way, but it wasn’t as if I was paying much heed to probabilities these days anyway. I started for her house again with a sigh and a muttered prayer.

Of course, everything hinged on her actually being home and willing to open the door. I’m not sure which one of those wasn’t true, but I imagine that in the end it doesn’t really matter. After the fifth time I knocked only to be met by silence, I admitted defeat and wandered back the way I’d come.

I passed the rest of my time in one way or another. Fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there. Half an hour saying goodbye to the hollow in the corner of the park where I’d always hidden when I wanted to get away. Forty-five minutes getting lunch and coffee at my favorite cafe. Seconds and minutes and hours that I used to make sure I remembered.

Finally, I made my way back towards the launch field. We still had an hour to go before the crew was scheduled to gather for our final checks and any last updates on the mission, but it was close enough, and I was ready to not be alone anymore. I wouldn’t be the only one of the crew already feeling drawn to the ship.

I didn’t expect to find Luca there, but as I emerged onto the launch field I saw her there, standing next to Reuben. She saw me too, said something to her brother, and started making her way across the field to meet me. As soon as she got close enough for me to see it, the dark look on her face made me hesitate.

“You were out of line,” she said. “Tell me you know that.”

I didn’t want to. I did know it, but the words shriveled on my tongue and others to describe her own faults grew in their place. I choked them back and said nothing instead.

But Luca didn’t say anything else either, just kept staring me down even as I dropped my gaze. I tried again.

“I went too far.” It wasn’t what she wanted to hear. It was lame, and it wasn’t what I should have said. I hoped it was closer than anything else I’d come up with.

“I’m supposed to say it’s all okay now. That it was nothing,” said Luca

“Yeah,” I said. “But neither one of us believes that.”

“At least you’ve got that right.”

I felt the words of an apology trying to form just behind my teeth, but I couldn’t tell if they were sincere or self-serving. I could express remorse without taking blame, voice regret without admitting error. Smooth our feathers. Steal goodwill for an hour.

I could. I didn’t. “I shouldn’t have said what I did,” I said. “I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

If Luca was surprised she didn’t show it. If she accepted my apology I couldn’t tell, and the time that passed before she said anything at all left deep dread in the pit of my stomach. When she spoke, her words came slow and with a terrible deliberation.

“I’m still mourning Aaron, and you used him just to make a point.”

She looked me in the eye, and I kept her gaze, barely, as she continued.

“Maybe I should be able to let it go. Maybe it was only thoughtless words spoken in the heat of the moment. And maybe you’re right. Maybe if he was here he’d have volunteered right along with you and Reuben, and I’d be watching the three people I love most climb onto a deathtrap instead of just the two I’ve got left.”

She paused and shook her head, and her mouth opened and closed as she hunted for the right words. “But the fact that you’d use him against me without thinking hurts deep. And I can’t just forget it and I can’t just let it go. Even if maybe I should.”

I set my jaw and nodded once. Before I managed a single word she reached out and put a hand on my shoulder.

“But I forgive you.”

Her hard look cracked just long enough for me to see a whisper of a smile. I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her in a tight hug, and as she did the same a weight I’d tried ignoring slipped off my shoulders.

“We’ll need to talk about it,” she said. “When you get back.”

I nodded, still hugging her. “Then I’ll make sure we come back.”

“You’d better.” If her words were an act to make me feel better, then I couldn’t tell. We stepped apart and she smiled again, and this time it lasted a little longer. “And you’d better tell me the tractor story before you go.”