The premise of my weekly writing challenge is a simple one. I and a friend provide a genre and a theme to work with. 1000 word limit. A development of character, prose, exposition within that few words is something I’ve used as an exercise for years and having the opportunity to do with a friend is a wonderful chance. However, I feel getting my own thoughts on what I do subconsciously is a chance to expand my own limits.
For this entry, I chose Science Fiction and Isolation.
‘It’s fucking boring today’
River sighed forcefully and with a finger resting on the transfer insignia of her command console she mulled it over before applying force.
‘Getting coffee, want in?’
‘4 Sugar and body to go with it’
Taking off her headset and kicking off her blanket wrapped around her body. Slowly uncoiling her body from its nestled position in her chair. Stretching and slipping on her boots she made her way to the most precious part of her cargo. The coffee station. It had been a bit of a stretch to sneak it on, but once realising her boss didn’t care River had been a bit more generous with her living arrangements when on a job. As she waited for the coffee to finish filling the cup she fished around in her pockets for a lighter. Extracting it habitually her thumb danced across the markings of the Navy on the front. Stoically ignoring the supressed memories and she lit a cigarette to go with her coffee.
Feeling both the kick from the coffee and the beginning of a headache fade with the smoke River returned to her post at the helm. A delicate balancing act ensured as she returned to her nest and re applied the blanket. Finally plugging herself back into the network with the application of her headset she inquired to Mets
Nothing. With a grunt and a sip of coffee a flashing red light caught her attention. A coms link request. Mumbling a farewell to Mets if they were listening River switched from the private channel to the frequency requested.
‘Sigma-Four Seven Niner patched through. Status report.’
‘Customs; Four Seven Niner, hold fast’
It was standard protocol checks. Rattling off the details provided by her client and agreeing for a scan she waited as the lights from the beam washed the outside of her freighter. Silence punctuated with the occasionally blinking of lights and confirmations in her ears. Yawning and giving her coffee her undivided attention waiting for this ‘critical’ aspect of logistics to be completed.
With the all clear given River was free to resume her course. Switching back to the private channel she tried Mets again
Still nothing. This was a regular occurrence they seemed to disappear every so often. Firing her freighter’s engines again and realigning briefly. With nothing but the silence of progress River reached into her pocket again, this time taking out a steel tube. Twisting it to reveal the needle under the cap. Sighing as she reached up and lifted up her hair at the back of her neck. Closing her eyes and preparing herself for the pain as she thrust the needle into her flesh. Guided to a raised lump from repeated injection with the side of her thumb the injection was a daily habit. As the Calm flowed into her bloodstream already a hazy fatigue was descending. Not enough to put her to sleep properly. But the next few hours would be a blur.
Rivers eyes were half open as the alert repeated. Someone was trying to get hold of her. Her hand was heavy as it pressed the insignia.
‘Sigma-Four Seven Niner’
‘Oh. I’m pretty out of it. Calmed. You disappeared.’
‘It happens. Grab a coffee?’
‘No I think I’m ok. Comfortable.’
I didn’t get a chance to finish the challenge due to increased work commitments at the time. So it’s not been proofread barring a quick once over for basic vanity. So I apologize for the grammar.
The first thing that I wanted to really explore the setting was a sense of normality. I don’t read a lot of the genre so my experience is limited, but I always got the sense that due to the grounding in science there is a lot of exposition to cover and it shows in the world building of the material. But I opted for simplicity and limited the exposition with the background to a minimum. Details that make it relatable take priority. Customs checks, a navy, cigarettes and a coffee machine.
River, however, is the central piece that has the most expansion here. I drew heavily on tropes and stereotypes drawn from American Popular culture. Former military working in a rather menial position. An attitude which emphasizes this change. An addiction to a drug which numbs the mind.
Developing the isolation was something I failed to do at least in my eyes. I had laid the foundation in keeping the set piece to a small cockpit and making the only communication that River engaged in was over a headset, it was designed to really impart a sense of facelessness to ‘Mets’ and the Customs officer.
I think if I had found the time to fully complete the exercise I would have played on the negative effect of using a depressant like ‘Calm’ with the second dialog with ‘Mets’ coupled with the boredom and the melancholy of River I think it could have reflected a sense of mental isolation then literal which again ties into the relatability of River and her flaws. Sometimes being normal makes a character so much stronger.