The story thus far about the story thus far: This month I’m taking part in #WriterInMotion, where I write a 1,000-word story and document my revision process. Last week, I posted my second draft, and this week, I got feedback! Some extremely helpful observations came from critique partners K. J. Harrowick and Ari Augustine. They confirmed some concerns I had about whether I’d included enough backstory for this to stand on its own. (Spoiler alert: I hadn’t.) Thank you to both of them for their time and their suggestions!
Let’s take a look at that photo prompt again:
The interesting thing about this round? The references to the photo in my previous drafts have more or less faded away. That’s the thing with prompts that I try to remind my students about: they’re just a start. It’s the scaffolding, the tool that gets you putting words down on paper/screen. Once you’ve got the story, you can take away the scaffolding.
There’s still more work to do, but I’ve hit a bit of a wall at the moment. Any shortcomings that remain in the story are, of course, mine alone. So, without further ado:
Matt figured the first thing he’d do when he saw Doyle was apologize, then kiss him. Or maybe kiss, then apologize. Instead, he’s flat on the ground outside Doyle’s cabin while blaster shots sizzle the air above him.
When the shots stop, Matt cranes his neck toward the cabin and shouts, “Doyle. It’s me.”
A door creaks open. Heavy footsteps plod through the grass. When Matt looks up, a worker bot towers above him. It reaches down and grabs his wrist.
“Come with me. I am not to harm you unless you resist. Please comply.”
“Okay, I’m complying.”
Inside, the rustic little shack is clean, bright even. Doyle sits at a small table with two chairs, and behind him, steam curls from a pot on the stove. In front of him is a bottle and two short glasses. Doyle’s grown a beard. Matt likes it, and for a moment he imagines how it would feel against his cheek… or his belly.
“You can let him go now, B,” Doyle says, and the bot unclamps Matt’s arm. Doyle nods at the chair opposite. “Have a seat.”
After Matt sits, Doyle uncaps the bottle and pours. It smells like bourbon. Matt lets it wet his lips but doesn’t drink.
“You’re hard to find,” Matt says.
Doyle smirks. He downs his drink, pours another. “You rented a flyer three days ago. Arrived planetside five days prior. Traveled to each major city before finally meeting someone who said they knew me. Spent two months on Azati before that. Should I continue?”
“I was there, thanks.” His heart yoyos between hope and disappointment—that Doyle cares enough to keep track of him, but not enough to make contact.
Doyle stares at his glass, then the floor; anywhere, it seems, but at Matt. “Why are you here, now? I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me.”
Matt’s face feels hot with shame. The last time they saw each other, Matt was doing a little smuggling, expecting an easy paycheck. In reality, he was making a mistake that might have destroyed Doyle’s entire civilization. And in preventing that, Doyle stranded himself in a reality where he doesn’t belong. When Doyle’s cybernetic enhancements became evident, the last thing Matt said to him was, “What are you?”
No wonder Doyle won’t look at him now.
Something smells acrid. Matt looks over Doyle’s shoulder. “Your dinner’s burning.”
The pot is bubbling over. Cursing, Doyle lurches to his feet. That’s when Matt notices Doyle’s left hand—or rather, its absence.
“Doyle.” Matt moves toward him, only to find Doyle’s remaining hand around his neck. Matt tries not to blink. He’s seen what Doyle’s hands can do.
“Don’t move up like that on a man like me.”
“Sorry.” Matt tries to swallow. “For everything. I’m sorry.”
The hard set of Doyle’s mouth doesn’t change—but his eyes tell a different story. And at least Doyle’s looking at him now.
Doyle lets him go and turns back to the stove. “You hungry? There’s plenty.”
“No, I’m—what happened to your hand?”
“I fell a couple months ago. Hasn’t worked right since, so I took it off. I’d get it fixed, but there aren’t a lot of techs around here.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Other than falling apart? Not much.”
He puts two bowls on the table, grabs two spoons, and they both sit. Matt eats a little—it’s gamey, a layer of grease floating on top—before setting his spoon down.
“So, you’re just going to, what? Spend the rest of your life hiding out on a backwater planet with a bot?”
Doyle drops his spoon in the bowl with a splat. “What would you do if you were a half machine hybrid from a parallel universe and the first person you ran into here had the same face as your ex-husband?”
Doyle waits long enough for the silence to get uncomfortable. “You’d think the universe would be big enough, right? That I wouldn’t run into anyone who looks like someone I knew or cared about from my reality. But it kept happening, like I was some kind of magnet drawing them to me. I got sick of seeing ghosts. So don’t criticize me for hiding out. D-don’t. D—”
Doyle’s head twitches. His eyes glaze, and his arm thumps the table. Electricity arcs around his forearm before he collapses to the floor.
Matt resists the urge to hold Doyle still and stop the seizure. He turns toward the bot.
He’s not even sure it will respond to his voice commands, so it’s a relief when its eyes light up.
“Ready to receive—oh.” The bot walks over to Doyle’s convulsing body, reaches down, and grasps his forearm. The current and Doyle’s convulsions stop. The bot lifts Doyle from the floor and carries him to the bed.
“It appears to be the same malfunction that occurred approximately one month ago,” the bot says.
“Can you repair him?” Matt asks.
“I am a class B maintenance bot. Repairing cybernetic implants is not in my program.”
Matt gets up. “My flyer’s about a mile from here. We’ll take him—”
“Mister Doyle does not wish to leave.”
“Did he command you to make sure he stayed? What’s your command protocol?”
“I am to look after Mister Doyle.”
“Are his injuries life threatening?”
“Probability of fatality is seventy-four point two percent.”
“Is letting him die looking after him?”
The bot looks at Matt, then back at Doyle. If Doyle were conscious, he would probably order the bot to leave him there.
The bot leans over the bed and picks up Doyle again. “There is a technician in Callanish. I will carry him to your flyer.”
Matt follows the bot to the door. “If he wakes up before we get there, he might want you to bring him back here.”
“The likelihood of that is ninety-nine percent,” the bot says. “We should move quickly.”