Feb 172015
 
After several years feeling mostly unmotivated, I’m getting back into fiction writing.  Fortunately I have many (too many) aborted attempts to finish, so no shortage of material.  I’m finally feeling inspired so I’ve been devoting lunch and evening time to working on a particular few.

I intend to start by publishing ebooks on Amazon, and from there who knows.  I anticipate that the first release will be Downtime, a dystopic tale about survivors of a destructive planetary shift in the future.

I’m presenting a draft of Downtime’s introduction here for your critical pleasure.  Feedback is welcome; note that this portion is mostly solidified but subject to tweaking and tightening (some passive voice needs attention, for one).

I will be sharing the full version with a select few after completion of the first draft.  I will especially be needing guidance on Finnish culture and dialog.

Downtime

Blond, bronzed children dashed through the gathering throng with the abandon that only imagined immortality could grant.  Their laughter was tinkling melody to the rhythmic bass thrum of approaching spacecraft.  Families and whorewives clustered around each of the massive landing pads by the dozens, closer than allowed, which just emboldened the running youngsters.  Periodically some listless launch proctor would interrupt festivities with a stern reminder of his one power, hoarse voice booming tired warnings over crackling speakers, and the crowd would meekly retreat.

Except the children, who raced in and toward oblivion.

The whorewives stood distinct for the most part, tolerated for their service but shunned for its necessity.  Their number included a small percentage of young men: lithe, preening boys whose glib gossip curled the lips of straight men and tugged the ears of their women.

Many of the fliers returned Earthward to empty dwellings, most having left or lost family long ago.  A strong desire or at least wistful acceptance of lengthy loneliness the most useful attribute for their role. They would be out for months sometimes, and family came and went.  There would always be whorewives.  Usually beautiful, often damaged, forever plentiful.

Leen craned her neck to spy around shifting souls, constantly batting long hanks of black hair from her sun burnt face.  The gritty wind pressed embattled natives to keep their hair cropped or covered, and the prostituting males nearby snickered at this gawky stranger’s ignorance.

New girl.

There was usually no knowing in advance who was alighting where, or how many during each landing window.  The controllers deliberately randomized touchdowns, and kept that information guarded and priced higher than most could or would pay.  So the crowd naturally distributed itself fairly evenly, rearranging in mad adjustments almost every time a ship hatch discharged a shaky occupant.  Long ago, children had made a game of this, incorporating rules that parents now had largely forgotten.  Some smiled nostalgically at the laughter alone.  Few adults could afford that, either.

Young women like Leen found themselves at an awkward crossroads between child and adult, accepted by neither and damaged by personal trauma far more deleterious than the relentless communal toil against desertification.  Emotionally stunted, they found occasional acceptance in the transient arms of fliers… who always left before the corrosive residue of any whorewife’s troubled past encrusted them, as well.

Leen bore the additional burden of Roma heritage, something the peninsula’s insular natives refused to let her forget.  This was the richest livelihood allowed her here, one she understood could be killed on any civic whim.  She could die, too, and none would know or care.  Her body would fertilize some local lord’s fortunate garden.  Another discarded girl would be sucked into her life’s vacuum.

Worthless, worthless, a voice from her past taunted.  Leen clenched her delicate fists and fought it off.

Those crowded around the landing pads were made peers for a brief time.  They each awaited the same thing, heat beating down on them all with a blistering, democratic brutality.

At this particular pad, only Leen and a handful of effeminate men waited.  The cracked and pitted concrete disk was larger than most, built to serve a rare class of carrier, and ringed by a mostly-useless metal rail.  Men with families favored the smaller, bell-shaped craft for their shorter jaunts.  The serious loners landed here.

The ribbon shade of a leveled hand was not near enough to protect against the insistent sun.  Squinting into the glare, Leen could not spy the silver ship she knew to be approaching but she could tell by the rising excitement of nearby boys and the change in air pressure that patience was about to pay off for someone.

Squeals of laughter turned to shrieks as children rushed up and dared each other to jab dirty toes onto the pad’s edge.  Crowd-reinforced jeers, cowardly shoves and stumbles, the barking of the proctors.  Leen heard only the furious roar of protesting retrofire.

A new man stepped up near her right shoulder.  She pivoted a bit to size him up: much larger in every way than the boys, who shrank back from his sky-blue stare.  Even as a newcomer Leen understood there had to be a certain history here, and the hulking stranger showed no interest in pretty males.  The girl’s dark eyes made contact with his, and she smiled shyly.  There was no response; his true focus was over her head.  Still, she could not tear herself away.  There was something about this dismissive man, a regal bearing that defied his commoner’s clothing.  As he drew back with the pad’s small crowd, she followed reflexively.

So wrapped up was she in scrutiny that Leen barely registered the pressure of hot lowering thrust pushing against her.  She did not even notice the actual touchdown until her knees unwittingly flexed with the thud.

The usual landing measures proceeded with practiced care.  First cooling, then disembarking, then inspection.  After the first two were satisfied, a couple of auditors would approach each landed craft, wind-tussled clipboards in hand, to check more for contraband than the pilot’s condition.  Often pilots went completely ignored during the process, unless an auditor felt something suspicious or they were short on some quota.  They were paired to ensure accuracy and objectivity, and reduce the opportunity for graft.  Bribes were said to happen nonetheless; bureaucracy just doubled a flier’s cost.

Leen peered with sharp interest as fuel-celled cooling carts were rushed to this pad.  Handlers moved like dancers in their deployment of the hoses, executing a well-rehearsed ballet of technical wizardry.  Cooling was almost as much art as science, a function that, if poorly-performed, could cripple a ship with cracks.  Engine repair techs were rare and expensive; a cooler handler could lose several months’ pay covering their rescue work.

Once the steam had dissipated, a klaxon clamored for attention.  The big ship’s hatch creaked open and disgorged a grey-suited figure… also taller than average, on the thin side and overly cautious based on his slow descent down the deployed ladder.  Or maybe just in no real hurry to return to reality.

He stood for a moment, facing the girl and the silent giant shadowing her.  Then the helmet came off and he was all yellow beard and tanned face and toothy smile.  He shouted something rough in their language and the larger man laughed.  Behind her, heavy boots crunched red gravel in impatience.  Then the auditors arrived and the old game was on.  But the exchange seemed routine, and in minutes the pilot was allowed to sign off and leave.  Leen caught the local word kiitos and then braced in anticipation as he clumsily strode her way, space legs still protesting their abrupt return to gravity.  And he took absolutely no notice of her or the boys, clasping the other man in a huge familial hug and exclaiming something warm and relieved.
The two men ambled off toward town, leaving the bemused Roma girl discouraged and embarrassed.  More voices of dark legacy flooded her skull.

“You’re nothing!  You have nothing that anyone wants!  Good for whoring once, and only as a last resort!”

Leen winced at the mental onslaught, breathed reflexively and rapidly for a moment.  Nails plunged again into calloused palms.  Once the familiar panic had faded, she hoisted her worn canvas bag of scant, prized belongings, sighed and resolutely trudged toward town after the two long, receding shadows.

 

Edit: update here

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