Writer in Motion, Week 4: Exile (second critique group feedback)

And here we are, at the finish line. To recap: 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 third draft, which was revised based on the insight and input from critique partners K. J. Harrowick and Ari Augustine. This week, I received feedback from Sara T. Bond and Kimberly Bea, who helped me tune back into the relationship between the two main characters, while also helping me keep to the 1,000-word limit.

Let’s take a look at that photo prompt one last time:

Photo of a small cabin in a grassy area with mountains in the background
Photo by Rahul Pandit on Unsplash

So, without further ado, the fourth and final draft:


Matt has been looking for Doyle for thirteen months. After two months on Azati chasing a false lead, he got a tip to come to this world, where he rented a flyer and traveled to each of the whopping three major cities before landing at the base of these foothills and walking a mile to this picturesque ridge and this cabin. He’s got it all planned: first apologize, then kiss Doyle. Or maybe kiss, then apologize.

He didn’t count on getting shot at.

Now that he’s lying flat on his belly, blaster shots sizzling the air, he considers maybe Doyle isn’t happy to see him.

When the shots stop, Matt looks up for a moment and shouts, “Doyle. It’s me.”

A door creaks open. Heavy footsteps plod through the grass. When Matt looks up again, a worker bot, vaguely humanoid except for the third arm and dull metallic plating, towers over him. It reaches down and grabs his wrist.

“Come with me. I am not to harm you unless you resist. Please comply.”

“Okay,” Matt says, heart still hammering. “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.

Except of course the bot still has him by the arm, until Doyle says, “You can let him go now.” The bot unclamps Matt’s arm and retreats to a corner, where its eyes dim. 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.”

“You’re not.”


Doyle smirks. He downs his drink, pours another, and rattles off Matt’s movements for the last three months: Azati, here, each city, the dealer in the last one who tipped him off. “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 trying to smuggle kalicite ore for an easy paycheck, hoping to pay for his sister’s illness. He hadn’t known the buyers were aliens from a parallel universe—Doyle’s universe—who needed the ore to power their ships. If they’d succeeded, they would have destroyed Doyle’s entire civilization. And it would have been all Matt’s fault. And in preventing that, Doyle stranded himself in Matt’s reality.

No wonder Doyle won’t look at him now.

Something smells acrid. Matt looks over Doyle’s shoulder. “Your dinner’s burning.”

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.

Doyle’s face is like stone. “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 soften. Matt can barely breathe, but at least Doyle’s touching him now.

Doyle lets 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. 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 electricity arcs around his forearm before he collapses to the floor.

Matt resists the urge to hold Doyle and stop the seizure. He turns to rouse the bot, but it’s already activated itself. It walks over to Doyle, 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. He does not wish to leave, but probability of fatality is seventy-four point two percent if he doesn’t receive immediate attention.”

“Can you repair him?” Matt asks.


Matt gets up. “My flyer’s about a mile from here.”

The bot picks up Doyle. “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.”