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Should the Dog Eat my Homework – Post #3

10/06/2015
Contains violence, reader discretion advised.

This is the third  post in a series where I share the first-ish draft of my work in progress and discuss where I see the weak and strong points. First drafts are seldom worth sharing, but I can learn from it so here goes:

At this point we are deep into the book FASTER THAN LIGHT. It’s an odd SciFi novel for teens with interstitial humour and lots of action. In this scene we’ve just saved an entire race of people that Keil’s father had left for dead a decade ago. It’s supposed to be a ‘hooray!’ scene, in which the reader takes a well deserved deep breath, finds a tear welling in their eye, and then gets ready for the final action sequence. Have I pulled it off? Will the dog eat my homework? Let’s find out.

****

The thunderclap that followed bent wide tree trunks. The tree clutching Keil’s Skater whipsawed and Keil and Telly with it.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

Keil heard the sound before realizing it was him, drawing breaths. He hung in his straps, nose first [replace ‘first’ with ‘down’ which is clearer] in the canopy of Xebon’s jungle.

After the post-jump-thunder, great rumbles punctuated dead calm [delete ‘punctuated dead calm’ as it’s confusing] threatening to shake the Skater from the branches. Finally the island of Apatar settled into the jungle of Kebo. And then came the whistling. [paragraph break here] Not one, not a hundred, but thousands of whistles. Jubilant trilling that [delete ‘that’ as it’s unnecessary] filled the air and lifted birds from trees. Monkeys barked and everywhere Apatarian’s dangled from each other’s fingertips, chains of them looped in the trees like popcorn on Christmas tree holos.

They’d done it.

The world blurred and tears dripped from his eyes to the ship canopy. A blue light flashed and suddenly Telly embraced him.

“Trust me?” they asked, green circuit irises ablaze with light. [Telly is agender and prefers the pronoun ‘they’]

“Why not,” he said and then they appeared a foot above the ground, [replace comma with semicolon] everywhere rolled Apatarians.

The release of the pressure of the black hole, the saving of the race, Keil leaned back and hooted back at the monkeys and then, putting his fingers in his mouth, whistled shrill and long.

In the distance came another shrill whistle and he recognized it.

“Lothain,” he shouted and he’d never been so glad to see the guy blundering through the underbrush, and colliding with Keil in a great hug. He turned to look for Sabra.

“Where are we?” Lothain asked.

“Long explanation, where’s Sabe?”

She stepped out from around a baobab tree, one hand grappling a root, the other at her head.  A bloody gash wept there. Keil jogged to her and embraced her, while Telly looked on.

“You did it,” Sabra said.

“We did,” he agreed. He didn’t say what he suspected everyone knew: but we’re not done yet.

The Apatarians gathered beneath the hanging Skater. All of them. A sea of linked humanoids that stretched well beyond Keil’s ability to see. He didn’t need to be joined with them himself to feel their happiness, but there was grief too. Not everyone had survived the black hole, nor the landing on Kebo. Rising like a cliff from the forest was their island, still pulsing at its base, but more slowly. Perhaps it was dying, perhaps it didn’t need to work so hard here and it recovered. Here the Apatarians could rebuild.

His father, of course, wouldn’t be too pleased about the company. They’d set down a few hundred miles away from his little tree fort, but Keil would leave his father and the Apatarians to work it out if they ever found one another. Keil suspected his father would be packing right about now while explaining to his wife that he’d left a race for dead, but they’d followed him here, and some hundred thousand angry aliens would love to see what human tastes like.

“Can I sleep now?” Keil asked and Sabra shook her head.

“I think they’ve other plans.”

The crowd parted and out from it rolled their leader, dead serious and eyestalks practically non-existent. [When they are angry they smile and their eyestalks extend--of course. ;)]

“Apatarians share honor. The achievements of one are on the eyestalks of many,” he said. “But you,” And his many digits took in Sabra, Loth, Hal, and Telly. “are honored alone among humans.”

It was a bit of a backhanded compliment. Out of a couple trillion humans, five weren’t so bad, but it seemed a fair assessment given the situation.

The whistling and clicking began again, but this time it had an order. Tongues clucked in rhythm forming a baseline, then came a single whistling melody of such aching beauty that even the jungle noises stopped. It rose like a wind and settled like a fine mist in Keil’s soul and he knew he witnessed something special, and it was for them. He sat in the hollow between two roots of a tree and Sabra settled between his legs. All was right with this world, if not for the universe.

While the arms of the Apatarians undulated in the music, Keil fell into a sleep so deep that he managed to forget that his mom was gone. His father had betrayed them. And Keil had done something he’d never thought he could.

Eight hours later, he stood on the deck of the Dainty, orbiting Kebo. Hal worked to repair the damage done to Keil’s Skater. [Not sure about this transition back into space. It feels rushed and maybe like a missed opportunity for a moment of poignancy. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve spent enough time on the celebrations and need to get on with it.]

“There’s gotta be a trillion parsecs in the diamond,” Sabra suggested to Telly. Rather than the light of the diamond from Kebo diminishing, the gem itself had shrunk to the size of a football. “Strap it to your back and off you go.” Her [Sabra’s] voice was brittle. If anything, the night of sleep and the end of the chase had allowed the flood of emotions that each of them held in check to emerge. [Do I need to show rather than tell this? Showing rather than telling is a good rule but it can bog down a story too. When do you show and when do you tell?] Visions of Keil’s mother on the floor flashed into his mind when he didn’t expect it. He saw her in the mirror, when he shut his eyes ... His drive for vengeance returned and he forced it down.

“You can, you know,” Keil said to Telly. “I know what you said before, but the Apatarian’s are safe. Now’s your chance.” [Telly holds the bounty on Keil’s head. A bounty paid in Faster than Light parsec credits of which they now have a whole lot. This is a big moment for Telly when we can complete her character arc.]

Telly cocked her head at him and pressed the blood from her lips. As if she’d made a final calculation and decided, she nodded, and strode to grip his arm. [Move ‘she nodded’ to the front of the sentence.] And even though it wasn’t her prosthetic the fingers clamped tight. Her other hand lifted and he only saw the finger turn into a spearhead for a flash before she plunged it into his stomach. He doubled over but she held him, her finger itching in his guts. Sabra screeched and raked Telly’s face with an open hand before shoving her forearm up into her throat.

Telly toppled backward [comma] bloody hand held up. Sabra leapt for her, her own hand a mess of weaponry blazing with a plasma knife and a bottle opener. [Everyone in this story has lost appendages and replaced them with cool prosthetics.]

“Stop!” Keil managed, gripping his stomach and finding that the hole was smaller than he had expected and the wound cauterized. “It’s the pill.” [This is how Telly ensured he didn’t flee.]

Telly held the pill. She’d freed him.

“Why?” Sabra demanded.

It was the same question Keil had asked Lothain and it reminded him that unanswered questions remained. Why had the Commandant deported him? Why had someone tortured his mother? Why then and not ten years ago after his father disappeared? [I don’t even know the answers! Good thing? I don’t know but that’s how I roll...]

With blood-glistening fingers she saluted Keil. “Telly the Bit reporting, sir.”

He stood open mouthed. She was reporting to him? “You said yourself, Telly. You’re a loner. Too smart for the rest of us. I get it.”

Her lips tightened. It might have been a smile. “You’re my first ... friend.”

Sabra made a choking sound. “You held his bounty.”

Keil held up his hand. “She had chances, Sabra. And she saved our lives.”

“Saved her own life,” Sabra mumbled.

“Telly ... my ship only has room for two. I can’t take you on.”

A tear. A big dollop of emotion welled in their eye, jiggling this way and that as if trying to decide which way to go in weightless space. [Replace ‘their’ with ‘Telly’s’. One of the challenges of the ‘they’ pronoun is confusion over who is speaking or acting.]

Lothain ,who had been watching from the side and wringing his hands, drifting forward.

“You’ve got room for more crew, Captain,” he said, holding out Francie. “Lothain, reporting.”

“You can’t,” Keil replied.

“It’s my ship, I can name the Captain. Don’t get any ideas, it’s still my ship.”

Keil wrapped his arms as far around Lothain’s girth as he could and squeezed. Then he turned back to Telly.

“All right.”

Telly’s tear broke free and drifted toward the ceiling. Over half of they was inorganic, but humanity remained in they yet. They’d tried hard to rid themselves of it, perhaps they was finally embracing what they had left. [See what I mean? They is Telly.]

“What next, Captain,” Lothain said.

Keil didn’t want the weight of it anymore. Now that things mattered, being the captain didn’t seem to be fun. [The theme of the novel is ‘Does anything really matter?’ Repeating the theme at this point is important.]

“If we leave humans to keep FTLing around the universe there will be more Apatars. So we have to stop the guilds from using it.”

“Planet zapper them,” Sabra replied.

But Telly shook her head. “If we had the juice, which we don’t, it would create the biggest black hole the universe has ever seen. Wherever Xebo came from, I’m guessing there’s not much left.”

“Telly’s right, we can’t blast them. We have to steal it.”

“Steal ... you’re not saying to go back and ...” Sabra trailed off.

 “We have a universe to save,” Lothain said with a grimace.

“A final act of piracy,” Sabra added.

They all knew what they had to steal. The most guarded, protected, armored, shielded, piece of jewelry in all the world, maybe the universe. Earth’s Blue Diamond.

“But how?” Telly asked. “How do we get close enough?”

“We give them exactly what they want,” Keil explained.

“Which is?” Telly’s brain had failed to consider the crazier alternatives.

“Me.”

 

****

My dog won’t be eating much of this one. But we have issues.

For an early draft, I’m okay with most of this. One issue is clarity. Parts are unclear. Confuse the reader, lose the reader. But that can be fixed with more editing. The second key issue is that I’ve rushed things and it should be two separate chapters, breaking at the transition I had struggled with. With two chapters I can spend more time on Telly’s arc, and expand on the theme and how we’ve begun to answer the question: Does anything really matter?

What do you think? When should an author tell and not show? Sounds like another blog post is in order. :)

ATTENTION: The submission window for critiques is open! If you’d like your work critiqued, please submit no more than 2 pages (double spaced, 12 point font) via email to jessica.roy@BiblioOttawaLibrary.ca.

Michael Stewart is OPL’s  first official writer in residence for teens and tweens. Michael likes to experiment by combining social media with storytelling. He's both traditionally published and indie published. He writes middle grade through to adult novels, graphic novels and new media projects across many genres.

www.michaelfstewart.com
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