What to Expect During Your First Year of Writing Fiction

Welcome, friends, to a post about writing when you are new to the craft. First, let’s do a little housekeeping. You may have questions. I think I have guessed a couple of them. Let’s see if I’m right.

Isn’t it presumptuous of you to be giving writing advice when you aren’t published (indie or traditional)?

Yes and no. I’m not going to be telling you about “my sure fire way to get published”, “the top 10 things you MUST do as a writer”, or even “all the mistakes I made during my first year writing”. Believe me, do I ever have plenty of content for the last one.

But no. This is an experience report. An opinion piece on all the things I believe a new writer will probably notice as well. At least if they are half as dim-witted and brain-addled as I am.

Wait. Haven’t you been writing way more than a year?

Yes. Sort of. I’ll explain eventually, give me time. I REQUIRE TIME.

On to the experiences!

Your first year as a writer

The first year as a writer is one of the most frustrating things a person can experience.

You’re thrust from the world where people don’t see your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on display for full scrutiny. Now those same thoughts, feelings, and ideas are available in a format where anyone and everyone can analyze them at their leisure.

It’s like if you moved your funny bone from its semi-protected spot on your elbow all the way down onto your fingertips. Now every time you angry-text someone, you get a nerve zinger shooting up your arm.

Delightful.

It’s ok. Sometimes people are kind– oh wait. Sometimes Roy is right too:

You’ll spend hours revising and proofreading

You will spend hours checking the words you wrote. You’ll look for spelling errors, grammar gaffes, poor phrasing, long sentences, short sentences, too many sentences that all are the same length, use of all five senses, nice rhythm and flow, consistent persona and tense, and the list goes on and on.

Everyone goes through this. We all have to learn it. Good news: the longer we spend looking at these mistakes and fixing them, the less likely they are to get into our zero-draft work in the first place.

You’ll receive conflicting advice

You’ll get advice from other writers, much of it conflicting.

You’ll be drawn in different directions by people with more experience than you. Who’s opinion should you take on board? Who’s right and who’s wrong?

As a wiser person than me once said: there are very few absolutes in the world. What works for one writer may not work for another and vice versa.

Reserve judgment on the “facts” you see and hear. When a writer tells you that she thinks writing in 15-minute sprints is better than waiting for bigger blocks of time, ask her why she thinks that. If you’re lucky, you’ll get concrete reasons for the opinion, and you will have learned something. Collect ideas from more than one writer. Find out if there’s a consensus. Read the original material and do your own research. Take no-one’s opinion as gospel, but put effort into formulating your own.

Try some of the different ideas, but not all of them. You’ll be forever experimenting otherwise. Just be sure you quit the things that are not working.

You won’t know what to learn

Should you learn more about tactical sentence structure? Do you need to figure out how to make your characters life-like? Does creating a plot structure terrify you? How early should you start building a following and how do you do that? How do you world-build and how much world building is too much? Where do you find reliable resources on writing?  And if you have to learn all this, what order should you learn it in?

It’s a hard enough to learn just exactly what the list of things you should learn are. Worse, you also have to prioritize the list.

I’ve gone down some rabbit holes in my time. My best experience thus far has been when I’m writing new words every day, and I try to get answers to the things that come up as I’m writing.

Also, having a good writing group at your back is an immense help here. If you aren’t part of a writing group… be part of a writing group.

Your ego is in your words

You’ll feel that a failing in your words is a failing in you as a writer. If someone finds mistakes in your writing, you’ll feel it’s an attack on you.

Learning to write well: you need to get some less desirable words out on paper/screen before you’ll start writing better ones. There isn’t a way around it. Just accept that you’ll be writing poorly at times.

Writers with more experience stay a little more detatched. They’ve already written tons of words even they consider terrible. Try to welcome criticism. Look at it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Man, sometimes I want so badly to get defensive about words just because I happened to be the one that wrote them. The good news is, as the old coding saying goes, your words are not your child. You can throw them out if they get unruly. No one will even bat an eyelash.

You’ll feel like you have to know everything

The good news is: you don’t.

You’ll probably quit a lot

Maybe you won’t. I did. This is the answer to the question above. I just now feel like I’ve really had a year’s worth of writing effort. I will say this (and break my rule about giving advice in this article in the process):

Don’t quit.

Quitting is how you lose. In fact, it’s the only way you lose. Keep writing. Write every day or nearly every day.

It will pay off.

———–

Thanks to Najaf Ali for setting up a great template in his article about the first year writing code. In more than a few ways, coding and writing are alike. I shamelessly thieved Najaf’s format for this post.

 

 

 

RPG Review – Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters

WILL RAMBLES

Here’s the deal folks. I’m not an RPG reviewer. I can’t pretend I’ve read all the books currently on the market, or even all the books I actually own. I love Tiny D6 games (Tiny Dungeon, Tiny Frontiers) as some of the best minimalist RPGs I’ve personally played, so I’m going to write an RPG review… even if it isn’t completely unbiased.

If you’re looking for my previous write-ups on Tiny D6 games, I can oblige. Just click the image below

tinyFrontiers print-and-play-rules-300x300

THE REVIEW

Fair warning: I play RPGs with the author of Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters on a fairly regular basis. I’ll do my best to remain unbiased, but keep this in mind.

Today I’m reviewing the Kickstarter edition of Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters by Alan Bahr .

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It’s a minimalist STAND ALONE (that’s right, you don’t need the original Tiny Frontiers to play) sci-fi RPG about giant robots and hyper-destructive kaiju, designed to play on the run, with new players, with kids, or just with your normal group when you are between campaigns.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Tiny Frontiers book isn’t huge. It clocks in at 164 pages in with gorgeous full-color illustrations and layout. There are sidebar callout, sensible tables, and has an overall clean look. It’s well organized and easy to read. The paper quality and binding are great. In short, the producers learned lessons from their previous projects. This book it top notch quality.

At any rate, the standard book is priced at $15 and the PDF on DriveThruRPG is only $10 at the moment. For my money, a huge bargain. It’s also available in hardcover print on demand for $30.

10/10


2.) Art

The art in Mecha & Monsters is far above average for an RPG. I’ve seen Ennie winners with worse art. There’s plenty of it, and it’s very evocative of the setting. I guess there could have been a little more? This is picking some serious nits.

9/10


3.) Content and Rules

For me, there are two areas where Tiny games really excel. This is one of them. The original TD rules are a great minimalist take with only 3d6 required to play. The Tiny D6 ruleset has been adapted for Mecha and Monsters with great effect. The game is still minimal and simple, getting out of your way so you can tell great stories together. Win.

9/10


4.) Game Master Section

In Mecha & Monsters, the GM section is a bit expanded over previous Tiny games. It has some nice guidelines for devastation, plenty of tables for random generation, and some guidelines for how to keep games about this particular brand of game fun.

8/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I LOVE MICRO SETTINGS. Part of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter were micro settings written by sci-fi authors, RPG luminaries, and generally talented folk. People like Steve Diamond, Robert Denton, Marie Brennan, and Elizabeth Chaipradikul to name a few.

I can’t say enough about how easy and fun it is to read a 3-5 page micro setting, take one of its adventure hooks, and run with a fun session. All this in mere minutes.

10/10


Total Score: 46/50

The highest score I’ve ever given. Not that I’ve given many.

I’d purchase this game again.

POSTSCRIPT: Alan Bahr runs a tight KS ship, and he is running an amazing Kickstarter right now for Nocturnal Media. It isn’t sci-fi or minimalist but is it one of my all-time-favorite rulesets (King Arthur Pendragon– it’s possible KAP 5.2 will be my next RPG review), and the game is absolutely gorgeous. Also, a huge chunk of the proceeds goes to the widow and family of Stewart Wieck. Paladin was a labor of love for Stewart. Check out the Kickstarter. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nocturnalmedia/paladin-warriors-of-charlemagne
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I’ll keep this short.

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K. M. Alexander posted a quote that struck a chord. For over a month now, my entire writing existence has centered around the idea he recently espoused here.

It works. I sit at the computer, and I say, “For the next 15 minutes there is nothing but writing.” Then I set a timer, and I go. Sometimes I get 350 words of total crap. Other times I can barely force 190 words, and none of them seem great. Other times, I feel like it’s all coming together. I feel like I’m writing something I would enjoy reading.

The other times are starting to outnumber the rest. It’s a good feeling.

Now back to work.

Kurt Vonnegut on Sci-fi

“I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal”

Kurt Vonnegut 

I believe fascinating concepts can be more thoroughly explored through the lens of the  possible future. Some circles are catching on. Some are not. 

Does it mean I’d never consider writing literary fic? No. It does mean I think limiting all stories to “our world” present or past would be ridiculous and boring. 

Genre labels are a bit silly. I’m with Kurt on this one. Don’t put any writing in a box/drawer/container by genre in order to better piss on it. Verify each recommended work on its own merits.

Heinlein’s Rules

A perfect example of needing to be prepared for knowledge before I can have it successfully dropped on me. I’ve heard this before. Several times. Needless to say, I’m going to be focusing on more short works (after I finish Rue From Ruin) and on finishing them. I’ll come back the novel at a later date.

I Make Stories

Robert HeinleinRobert Heinlein‘s rules for writing from his 1947 essay “On the Writing of Speculative Fiction” is always worthy of a reposting:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Learn them. Live them.

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RPG Review: Tiny Frontiers

WILL RAMBLES

I’m not really in the business of reviewing role-playing games. Granted, I’ve been playing them off and on for 28 or so years. My generation lived in the time when this sort of make believe was frowned on. A time when the most parentally appropriate handling of RPGs was to sell them, throw them out, or burn them.

At any rate, now I play RPGs with my kids. Take that, irony! It’s a nice way to bond, have a good time, and do something intellectually stimulating. I also find it helps exercise the creative muscle in my brain that I use for writing. Playing sci-fi RPGs helps me think through scenarios in The Galaxy and All Her Charms.

THE REVIEW

Fair warning: I play RPGs with the author of Tiny Frontiers on a fairly regular basis. I might not me the most unbiased person to write a review of Tiny Frontiers, but I’m going to do my best.

Today I’m reviewing Tiny Frontiers by Alan Bahr of Gallant Knight Games.

tinyFrontiers

It’s a minimalist sci-fi RPG system, designed to play on the run, with new players, with kids, or just with your normal group when you are between campaigns.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Tiny Frontiers book isn’t huge. It clocks in at 136 pages in with black-and-white illustrations and layout. The sidebars contain call-outs. It’s well organized and easy to read. My only complaint is the binding on the standard Kickstarter edition. It’s not the best and I think eventually it will fail. However, if you can get your hands on a Deluxe hardbound edition (good luck) it’s binding is perfection and has a handy bookmark ribbon to boot.

At any rate, the standard book is priced at $15 and the PDF on DriveThruRPG is only $5 at the moment. For my money, a huge bargain.

8/10


2.) Art

The art is quite decent for a first Kickstarter. It evokes the sci-fi setting effectively and there is quite a bit of it spread throughout the book. It feels very thematic to the game and true to the original fantasy setting, Tiny Dungeon.

6/10


3.) Content and Rules

 

For me, there are two areas where Tiny Frontiers really shines. This is one of them. The original TD rules are a great minimalist take with only 3d6 required to play. The statistical curves are good and the simplicity lends itself to easy understanding for new players and kids. Take those original rules and add brilliant adaptations for alien species, cybernetics, space ships, and mecha. Now you have yourself a sci-fi bonanza!

9/10


4.) Game Master Section

For a minimalist RPG, the GM section is pretty short and sweet. Some decent guidance and nifty tables for random generation of everything from planets to enemies.

7/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There isn’t exactly a pre-made adventure in Tiny Frontiers. Instead, Gallant Knight Games gives us something I really love: MICRO SETTINGS. Part of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter were micro settings written by sci-fi authors, rpg luminaries, and generally talented folk. People like Steve Diamond, Ryan Schoon, Marie Brennan, and Dan Wells to name a few.

Micro settings are an amazing way to wrap your head around a quick idea for a universe of gameplay and include several adventure hooks to get the story jumpstarted.

I love them.

10/10


Total Score: 40/50

So, I’ve never done this, but I think 40 is a pretty dang good score.

I’d purchase this game again. In fact, I’m backing a follow-up Kickstarter right now: Tiny Frontiers – Mecha & Monsters! The new game stands alone, but can be used in conjunction with the original. It also has full-color art! This is a great chance to get one of those deluxe copies, and Alan has told me he’s going with a better binding on the standard version as well.

You can read my review of the completed Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters here.

I’ll tease you with the cover art:

tf_mecha

The Galaxy and All Her Charms – Chapter 1

This is it. As close to a final draft of Chapter 1 of The Galaxy and All Her Charms as I will produce without feedback from an editor. I owe my wife and my writing critique group a universe of thanks for  their feedback. This chapter would be infinitely worse without their kind guidance and occasional gut punches.

TGaAHC_Banner_White

The reason I’m posting the chapter online, is because I promised I would when I wrote about Tiny Frontiers. Those of you who followed the TF Kickstarter know it was highly successful. In the meantime, Alan Bahr and Gallant Knight Games have started funding a follow-up: Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters. It looks pretty amazing, so I’ll recommend you send all the monies to help unlock all the stretch goals. You can also look forward to a full review of the first book here on the blog. I got my copy last week!

Moving along to TGaAHC. I hope you enjoy chapter one. I’d want to hear from you either way, even if you just are “meh” about it. I have 20,000 words of this book written, and your feedback will help me make it better!

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The heavy lift door slammed shut with a metallic clank, just missing Jeita, as she rushed to enter. The dull edge of the automatic entrance would not slow its progress for her sake. She suppressed a sigh and spoke the lift command, “Deck three-oh-seven.” It would leave her current deck when an inappropriate amount of wait time had passed.

Since the Second Holy Arab-British Empire sanctioned its ban on safety features for Abdalam-only service machinery, servant lifts were dangerous –no, life-threatening– contraptions. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first loss Jeita suffered at the hands of the “Shabby”. She nearly chuckled at thinking the forbidden nickname Abdalam often used for the S.H.A.B.E. and was careful not to let it turn the corners of her lips. Best to keep the outward appearance of being dull-faced and broken in case the Raqib were watching.

As the lift lurched into movement, her stomach seemed to shoot down into the tips of her toenails. Jeita Grotto wedged herself into the corner of the rough metal box for balance, and she felt its cold start seeping into her side. Hundreds of floors of the spaceship screamed past as the lift careened upward from the cramped Abdalam level of the ship with minimal metallic shrieking.

Must have been adjusted recently, she thought.

Normally, the sound was loud enough for any Abdalam who used it to be forced to plug their ears or risk damaged hearing. No one gave members of her caste much thought, and it surprised Jeita anyone bothered with maintenance at all. She didn’t give it much thought today. Her time as a neglected subject of the Shabby was about to be behind her, with any luck. She had seen something intriguing in her last waking-migraine dream. Based on her previous experience with the painful and often disturbing visions, there was a good chance today would be her last trip in a death-trap servant lift onboard the IMS Damascus.

The lift came to a screeching stop at deck three-oh-seven, its riveted metal door slamming open for the mandatory 2.7 seconds just as the warning sticker above it stated. Jeita moved out quickly, and the lift door crashed shut behind her in a not-so-surprising attempt to perform an impromptu amputation. The odor of overflowing bins assaulted her nostrils. She wished for the thousandth time that more Abdalam quarters were in the ship design so that the cleaning schedule could be more frequent. She pushed her way reluctantly into the almost visible stench. She forced down the wave of nausea and steeled herself against the flared sense of mourning and loss accompanying it. Anything reminding her of her son still shook Jeita even now, months later. She pushed the thought of him back, avoiding the display of emotion she knew it would lead to.

Straightening her servant’s smock, Jeita surveyed three-oh-seven. The Anglo-Arab soldiers of the Shabby military caste usually inhabited the deck. Right now, the “double-ays” were off enjoying Concentrated Holy Mess, a registered trademark, in the cavernous mess hall on deck nine-oh-two. Since servants were meant to be neither heard nor seen, tidying always happened during chow or training hours.

Jeita moved lazefficiently from bunk to bunk in the first lodging block, gathering waste left behind by double-ays, and emptying bins into disintegration stations. The lazefficient method was designed to avoid attention from the Raqib, and most servants knew it. She wondered yet again why the military couldn’t be allowed to throw out their own trash, but today was not the day to question her lot as Abdalam.  Keeping up appearances was vital. If the proctor caste singled her out for discipline on this day, it would be disastrous.  Born Abdalam, Jeita’s lot was simple: perform menial tasks on fifteen of the 1095 crew decks onboard the Damascus each day. It was all very mathematical. The organizational officers must revel in it, for even the ship designs ensured the numbers all came out perfectly.

One servant, of course, was relegated to the officers’ deck daily. The bluebloods weren’t to be left neck-deep in filth.

She went about her duties, as usual, not wanting to arouse suspicion. Time was her enemy, as it refused to pass fast enough for her liking. She knew from previous shifts on this floor that her timing was just right. Eventually, when she entered the second lodging block of one-hundred and forty-four bunks laid out in a twelve-by-twelve grid, Jeita stopped and noted the shielded release for the block’s escape mechanism. Its understated warning label promised the violence of action.

SECURE ALL LOOSE OBJECTS BEFORE ENGAGEMENT

She reached up to touch the release mechanism, and its shielding gave her the familiar and obligatory shock that sent tingling, numbing nerve pain shooting up her arm. They had explained it all to her in detail in her dream. The slight, young Abdalam knew what came next…

At the precise moment it was supposed to, deck three-oh-seven shuddered around her, and Jeita felt the weightlessness of the void take over her body. She watched in dismay as uncollected garbage, blankets, pillows, and personal effects floated up into the air as well.

It’s going to be very untidy in here now, she thought. The concern was so irrational she laughed out loud and immediately felt guilty for doing so. Her emotions flashed to irritation at her guilt. Any Raqib who were watching had bigger concerns now. They wouldn’t be focused on the outbursts of one random Abdalam.

Red alarm lights flared, and she knew they would be ship-wide. She had seen the plans of the resistance fighters who were helping her to be free. The entire fleet would be on alert now. Hyper-vigilant, yet blind to the Abdalam escapee right inside their flagship.

Finally, she would be free of her tormentors and away from the Shabby. Jeita could, at last, flee from the memory and pain of Jerom’s passing. A tear escaped her eye and trailed a watery path down her cheek at the thought of the forbidden name she had given him in her heart.

Jeita reached out, and her fingers grasped the emergency release, its shielding now disabled by protocol. She flinched slightly, half-expecting a second shock, but of course, there was none because of the emergency status of the Damascus. With the solid, narrow metal lever in her grasp, she pulled.

“EMERGENCY CONFIRMED. RELEASE ENGAGED. Q-DRIVES EMINENT.” a mechanical baritone voice with a Shabby accent said vibrating through the barrack.

Blast doors at the block entry crashed to seal the barrack from the rest of the enormous ship, and it was now a lodging-block-turned-escape-pod. Jeita let go her hold on the release lever and tried to claw her way through the air to a more stable position. She only succeeded in rotating herself vertically and now her head aimed at the floor. The hiss of lock releases sounded from multiple directions as air-driven components released the barrack from its once snug-fitting home on the starboard side of deck three-oh-seven.

No longer bound to its former home, the large escape vehicle’s Q-drives engaged without regard for free-floating items, or people, within its zero-g space. Jeita and everything unattached in the escape pod flew violently against the back wall and blast doors as the emergency Q-drives pushed the vehicle out and away from the rest of the Damascus at an assuredly unsafe speed. The Shabby quality control people who insisted on the warning label about securing objects hadn’t been joking. Unfortunately for Jeita, though she tried to heed the label, she hadn’t the skill in zero-gravity. She crashed into the former exit, and her head hit the corner of an exposed bulkhead. The youthful Abdalam felt a brief flash of pain followed immediately by the blackness of unconsciousness. Jeita didn’t even notice as the rest of the loose contents of the barracks pelted her and the wall around her.

The escape pod cruised away from the enormous capital spaceship. It was nearly unnoticed amid the flurry of the ship-to-ship battle raging throughout the fleet. Flying almost directly toward the attacking flotilla of unmarked vessels, it was a barely noticeable speck among the void. The pod shuddered then, as its engines struggled in vain to carry out the predefined escape sequence against the strength of a powerful tractor beam.

 



The chilly metal floor had just enough nip in it for Ayda to do a scamper-dance until the pads of her feet numbed from the cold. Everything seemed colder in the void of space.

Sure, she understood the myriad heating systems, insulation, and plating protecting the delicate human life onboard. A floating fortress like the Damascus was layered with extensive protection from the void.

The knowledge of those protections didn’t put an end to Ayda’s disconcerted thoughts. She hated space, except when being here allowed her to fly. The first morning touch of toe to floor was colder than it had any right to be. Perhaps irrationally, some small part of her always attributed the cold to being in space.

Numbed though her feet might be, Ayda walked on tiptoe toward the officer’s common showers. The showers were empty and, because she was clearly the last to use them this morning, also unbelievably chill. Cold water was the Office of Motivation’s way of not-so-subtly hinting to late risers that they had made an “unfavorable decision”. The water seemed to Ayda like icicles falling from the shower head, spearing into her scalp and shoulders.

Hyperbole, Ayda? she thought to herself. Not very ladylike.

Siwa, her childhood nanny, would disapprove. Most people, certainly members of the Raqib and Abdalam castes, didn’t have the luxury of showering with water while in space. They had to make due with sonic showers and earplugs to protect their hearing. The occasional sponge bath was a rare treat for rank and file members of the military.

Ayda could shower at night when there was a slightly better chance of warm water, but she always felt greasy the following morning even if it wasn’t true. Honestly, she should just learn to get up earlier. The dread of taking her feet out of the covers and shivering uncontrollably always kept the young officer in her rack too long. She was always cold it seemed. Except when she was flying Esmerelda, her fighter. Then, adrenaline kept her warm.

Walking back to her locker from the showers, wrapped in a white cotton towel that smelled clean yet slightly burnt from the high heat of military-grade dryers, Ayda noticed a furtive figure shuffling out of her barracks. Was it so late in the morning the Abdalam assigned to tidy the officer’s deck was already working?

“Hello?” she called out. A slim Adbalam man shuffled back around the corner. They are all too thin, Ayda thought.

He glanced at her face briefly before directing his eyes to the floor and speaking in a soft, small voice, “Lieutenant McDeckard, Mum. May I be of service?”

So, he knew her face. Of course he did. She replied keeping her tone conversational, “I apologize for keeping you from your work. I didn’t think I was running so late. Please, don’t let me interrupt your schedule. Allow me one moment to gather my clothes, and I’ll be out of your way.”

The man nodded in deference and turned to walk away, but stopped in his tracks as George al-Abdul slipped from behind the corner and into the Abdalam man’s path. He was an imposing man in his late twenties. A cruel smile twisted his lips.

“What is your name, rijs?” al-Abdul asked letting the insult linger on his lips. Then he laughed and said, “Nevermind. I couldn’t care less. Begone.”

He pivoted around the Abdalam with the grace of a trained fighter and pushed at the small of his back with enough force to nearly send the servant sprawling. The gaunt man caught his balance and walked away in haste.

“Why do you even speak to them, Ayda? They aren’t worth the effort of forcing sound from our lips.”

“My reasons are my own. I wouldn’t expect you to understand, George,” Ayda replied. “Now you begone. Aren’t you late for mess anyway?”

“I’ve just finished. Thought I’d come back here and see if you were still a lacking bitch. I can see that you are,” George said, his face scrunching in anger.

As if on queue, Djinni, Ayda’s rackmate, appeared through the doors of the barracks and rounded on the irate man. Her face was blotchy from crying, as usual these days, but she didn’t let it stop her from tearing into al-Abdul.

“Are you bothering Ayda again, you lack?” she said. Djinni’s nostrils flared as she sized the man up. She stood herself directly between George and Adya, but only inches from George. Her head barely tilted up to look in his eyes, and the olive-skinned woman nearly blotted out Ayda’s view of the man. Without a word, he spun on his heel and marched away, infuriated.

Djinni turned to Ayda and half-smiled at her. Her face was still red, and her eyes were bloodshot as well. When she spoke, her voice was soft and caring, probably to soften the scold, “Miss Ayda McDeckard, you just walk away from that lacking man the next time he tries to corner you. He’s a cowardly zabad who doesn’t deserve any courtesy.”

“Thanks, Djinni. I know he’s a blowhard, but you didn’t give me any chance to fend for myself,” Ayda replied. “Still, you know I appreciate it.”

“You’d better go, girl. There isn’t going to be plus food left at mess soon,” Djinni said. “Me, I’m going to catch a cat nap before training. See you soon.”

Ayda hurried to gather clothing and waved goodbye to her friend, and then she jogged back to one of the dressing chambers near the showers. As she dressed, she wondered why Abdalam and people in the higher birth couldn’t have relationships more like the one she had with her old nanny Siwa.

Finally ready for chow, she pushed the musing aside for another time and rushed to the officer’s lift. It recognized her on approach and glided open, the car waiting for her arrival. Once she was inside, the door closed efficiently and quietly shut and, almost as soon as it had done so, reopened in the anteroom of the officer’s mess hall. She stepped out into the room, and the lift door closed gently behind her.

Mess lived up to its name, as usual. The disgusting slop passing for food onboard would have been unappetizing even to fringe settlers living off colony rations and whatever they could grow with their hands. Ayda always wished her father would do something about the chow the officers ate. Then again, he ate whatever he wanted — steak, hummus, fresh fruit. Perks of being an admiral in the Peace Fleet. What she wouldn’t give for a nice crisp apple right now. Perhaps it was time to make nice with him.

She culled the thought as soon as it occurred to her. An improved relationship with her father wouldn’t make a difference. Propriety was Admiral Allamu McDeckard’s number one concern, and it would be improper to have a lowly PF Lieutenant sitting down to eat with an Admiral. Even if she did happen to be his daughter.

She finished her meal in near silence as most of the remaining officers filed out to prepare for training. Ayda was already wearing her khaki green training flight suit, so she took her time, continuing to peruse memories of her father.

Those musings faded quickly when the general alarm sounded.

Another drill? Seriously? she thought. The entire Fifth Flotilla had just completed a full-scale general alarm drill the previous week. It was strangely curious to have another so soon. Ayda’s heart rate accelerated. If the fleet had located pirates smuggling contraband, they would see their first real action in months. Ayda pined for action. She left the remains of breakfast and sprinted for the lift. It anticipated her arrival; it’s door opened to receive her.

Moments later, she was with the others suiting up in the barracks. There was a tight sense of anticipation coming from the pilots lined up near their racks changing into flight suits. The room was silent save the whisper and rustle of clothing being changed and the thumping boots of those jogging from the room as they finished.

“I can’t get another poor drill score, Ayda,” said Djinni, who had finished changing and was waiting for her friend. “I could lose rank, or worse, be decommissioned. I’m not sure what I would do with myself if I couldn’t fly. It’s the only thing holding me together since– Ladin,” her voice barely able to choke out his name. “Then what would happen to Charlie? Our parent’s inheritance didn’t leave enough to pay for his education on enlisted wages.” Ayda didn’t know what to say. She finished changing in silent thought.

Jogging down the corridor to the flight deck, Ayda couldn’t help thinking that Djinni probably was on her way out. The young officer couldn’t seem to keep it together since Ladin had died in a training exercise two months prior. They had been closer than propriety dictated. If she didn’t improve her scores–

Ayda reached out and nudged Djinni with an elbow as they ran side-by-side, and using her given name said, “You’ll do great today Lamia. You’ll be lights out.”

——————————

The expression “lights out” was more applicable than Ayda had intended. A brief ten minutes later, Djinni was blown to space by one of the unidentified fighters swarming around the Peace Fleet pilots who had managed to launch thus far. Her lights were out permanently because the auto-eject of her fighter never had a chance to fire. From her rear camera display, Ayda watched in shock as metal slugs from an enemy fighter entered Lamia’s cockpit from above, killing her instantly. She had been trying to circle around to cover Ayda’s six– for the second time today.

There was no time to mourn her friend. Ayda was fully engaged in the null-g combat now, and ships on both sides had already been sparked, not just Lamia. She picked a trajectory that put her on the six of the enemy pilot who killed Djinni and let loose a full barrage of plasma and energy, vaporizing the unshielded ship in an instant. The comms lit up with a cheer, and she rounded on her third target of the fight.

It was her cockiness in the instant that earned her ending. In Ayda’s haste to end the existence of the filthy zabad Djinni fell to, she made her fatal error. Her starboard side was exposed. As she watched a third enemy fighter pop its atmo and scatter debris across her bow, a cold feeling tingled up Lieutenant McDeckard’s spine. She recognized the feeling of warning when you’d done something too stupid for the galaxy to forgive.

Of course, the galaxy was a she. And she was not feeling magnanimous.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. The thought came to Ayda in that split-second of silent retrospection. The seeming inevitability of her death stretched on like the last light of a dying star, ready to wink out of existence with a finality that might just collapse into a never-ending abyss so powerful, even light could not escape its grasp. The events of the morning flashed through Ayda’s mind at incredible speed in a maddening way that made this moment seem less important than it was. The detonation of an explosive-packed projectile was no laughing matter. When it was in proximity to the hull of your spaceship, it was a deadly one.

I really should have stayed in the warm comfort of my bunk this morning, Ayda thought. Lack the bloody void. Court marshals weren’t so bad. It had been too cold to get up anyway.

The irrational idea fled as the concussion of explosives knocked her automated ejection off course, and her head collided with a nearby piece of debris the size of one of her twin Dalmatians back home at the family manor on New Scots.

What were the odds? her last conscious thought. Perhaps no one would ever tell her.


The end. Chapter 1 of The Galaxy and All Her Charms. Let me know your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. I’m pretty anxious to hear them, but I have thick skin. Don’t be afraid to tell me if you don’t enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!