Flash: Join the Crew

Image from Jennifer Marquez on Unsplash

“Come forward, hermana.”

Anita walked forward to the gray-haired, stooped old man, her body trembling, her head bowed with her black hair streaming down against her white quinceaera gown, grateful for the gown still fitting a year later, though gaping wider at the chest and re-cinched at the waist. Her family was poor; the gown would be sold after this ceremony, her younger brother not needing it. She dropped to her knees on the first of galvanized diamond-etched steps making up the repurposed the spiral staircase. The metal used to connect the bridge to engineering, now it connected the passenger-congregational area of the community casa y iglesia to the Ship Logs.

“Rosita blessed, guiding light, she who brought us to Neuvo Mundo through Starfire and Voidcold. Before us this day is a child, our future. A daughter and a sister. You have guided and protected her four times four rounds of our home. Today, matching days to the ancient world, she has reached majority and is a child no more.” The priest of the Shipboard Faith paused. “Are her parents present?”

Her parents rose from the madera-nega bench they sat on and came forward. “Nosotros estamos aqui.”

“Do you have a marido for your hija?”

“No one has spoken to us or her. We present her to the Ship as an adult with no contracts for apprenticeship or procreation.”

Few men took on the title husband without a hefty dowry, and her small family were saving what little credit they had for their son. Fewer still of the skilled artisans and crafter took on apprentices outside their families. Her family’s small pasto y madera farm would go to her brother. Anita would need to find her own way in their colony.

“Rosita bless you for raising a child from birth to adulthood. Thank you for answering the calling, padre, madre. You are relieved of the onus you took on for us all.”

They sighed in relief behind her, her lifegivers, the ones who raised her, before retreating. Last year they celebrated her fifteenth birthday with all the love in them. Today, they willingly gave up obligations related to her. They had talked about it, her and her parents, but still, it hurt. Sixteen years was not enough; eighteen years and twenty-seven days by the Earth calendar, was not enough.

“Hermana Anita, welcome to the Shipboard. Do you join our vessel freely and of your own will?”

Not knowing any other options after being raised in the small Neuvo Mundo colony, forty-two light years from the ancient world, Anita answered, “I do.”

“Do you wish to serve the vessel as crew, or travel as a passenger?”

Anita inhaled deeply. What she was about to ask wasn’t asked often and granted even less, but without a husband and no skills, the procreation and school house was her only other option. “Officer on Duty, I wish to join the crew.”

“Daughter of passengers, the life of crew is hard. Are you sure you wish to take up this burden?”

“I do,” Anita’s voice was firm.

Officer Alfonso turned on the narrow spiral riser and walked up to where the Ship Logs were stored at the top of the fifty-foot spiral. Each step set the bells sewn along the outside edge tinkling, reminding the congregation of the sounds their ancestors used to hear as the ship heated and cooled on its long journey.

A second Officer, Hermano Sanchez, the one who normally covered Night Shift, came out of the audience and stepped around Anita to mount the steps. He carefully measured his stride against Alfonso’s, so the bells harmonized, traveling up to the first landing and stepping off onto the platform where the Console was suspended above the main floor.

The Officer on Duty walked down the steps carefully carrying a non-reflective metal black box. He stopped at the Console for the Calibration ceremony.

Relaxing her hands where they had gripped her skirts, Anita smoothed the wrinkles. No female had tried to join the crew as long as she had been alive. Last two who tried both died. According to what little times she spent with the copy of the logs available on the passenger level, women had never done well qualifying for crew. And fewer qualified among each of the three generations born under gravity.

Anita knees hurt against the repurposed metal while she waited hoping she would be an exception. She didn’t want to die. The planet hadn’t been kind, and she, like all females raised in the colony, knew her onus to replenish the ranks. The colony was struggling to survive. Food they had in plenty, but much of it became natural contraceptives to humans in the sun and soil of Neuvo Mundo. She would hate to deprive her community by dying, but she knew she wouldn’t survive as passenger procreator. Being a crew lifegiver and careraiser to the seven Officers that served as clergy, leadership, and security would be challenge enough.

At last, the priest of the Shipboard Faith returned to the passenger level and set the black box against the staircase handrail until it clicked into place. He then opened the box. From inside he raised out a golden crown of Roses ad Rays, each ray an antenna sparking with its own LED light.

“Blessed be Rosita, Captain of Us All,” said the Officer on Duty, holding the crown high for all to see.

“Blessed be Rosita, Engineer of La Libertad.” The congregation returned.

“Hermana Anita, I ask once again, do you wish to join the crew and take on all onus, duties, and responsibilities pertaining thereto?”

“I do.”

“Rise, hermana.”

Anita stood, carefully holding onto the handrail after so long on her knees. Between her short height as a third generation compared to the Officer’s first generation and him being on a step above her, he easily lowered the crown to her head.

“Hold it steady.” He instructed, his voice cracking with age as he reached under her chin to buckle some trailing wires. He took the step down and walked to first one side and then the other to connect additional strings around her ears. He then lifted his hand back to the crown. “Let go.”

Anita lowered her hands away from the slick feeling metal, waiting for whatever came next. The copies of the Ship’s Log said nothing about how the Rose testing worked. Some of the Diaries speculated the Crown came from the Captain Helmet which allowed her to communicate with the La Libertad before a meteoroid holed its second AI unit, destroying its personality.

Shadows grew sharper surrounding her, until the passenger-congregation gasp helped Anita figure out the Crown lights were growing brighter. Then, as the glow emulated from the gold metal crown, she felt the spike rays slip downward through her thick hair, etching into her scalp. First with a pinch, then a pressure. Anita bit her lip hard enough to bleed when the humming pain began. She fell forward, grabbing the handrail for support.

“Auh!” she screamed as the rays dug deep, the shorter ones completely imbedding in her head. Someone kept her from falling forward, guiding her down onto the hard textured steps. Iron and burnt hair taste and smell filled her mouth and nose. Abruptly the pain stopped, but so did all tastes and smells. The world turned black and soundless, except for a group of dots brightening and dimming one after the other in a circle.

(words 1,247; published 5/5/2024; created 11/19/2023)

Flash: Always Alone

Photo by Danny Lines on Unsplash

“Another world empty.” Tears streaked Greek’s cheeks. “How, why? We cannot be the only life in the universe.”

Lever, one of the Madal’s believers, adjusted its wide-brimmed eemy cap into a tilt so not to hit the other before hugging Greek with its two outer left arms, patting him with the middle one. “I know, I know. Considering how filled our world is with life, it hurts to know life has to be out there, more life, and not find it. But as we continue to search, we must start considering Briggs Anomaly Proposal.”

“No, I refuse. We cannot be the center of the universe, the only planet with intelligent life. God wouldn’t be so cruel.”

“We are scientists.” Lever squeezed Greek’s two emotion shoulders firmly. “Create a theory, test against evidence, adjust theory, retest. The evidence says we are alone.”

“Then we just don’t have the tools yet. We must see further, hear more, process data faster.” Greek dashed the bitter water from his face. “Life is out there.”

(words 170; first published 2/18/2024 – inspired by the thought many humans start from the thought we, personally, are the center of life and therefore the most important, and get distressed to discover the populations of other countries on our planet, let alone the number of worlds in the galaxy exist which could contain life. Imagine a species whose innate sense of self is the community of life on their planet, and their base assumption is there must be life everywhere, and they discover just how empty the universe it.)

Flash: Hope for the Future, the First Baby Born Off Earth

Photo by Bill Jelen on Unsplash

Five percent gravity just wasn’t enough. Carolyn bounced the three-month old baby on her shoulder as best she could. “Anything yet?” the annoyance in her voice made the convicted murderer running coms wince.

Being a convicted murderer on a ship of convicted murders meant little, but Larry Jackson had been an organized serial killer before being caught whereas Carolyn Haywood embraced her disorganized anger. If she flew off the handle, they could end up being down one of the sixteen women on the ship, or one of the few people with enough of a brain to operate the machinery around them. Namely him. It was a toss up if his chosen guards would react in time to subdue her or help him.

Keith and Akeem also had more brains than brawn and he had assigned them guards accordingly. If they were to make Sirius in forty years, or at least their children, brains and training had to survive. He wasn’t sure if money people back home cared if the convicts actually lived to arrive, or if the machine dropping into orbit was all they actually cared about. It didn’t help that theirs was the ship with the longest run of the four sent out in the “volunteer” program of life sentences being served offworld.

“We are four light months away from Earth. We sent them a message as soon we knew for certain you were pregnant. If they responded immediately, the earliest response would have been twelve minutes ago. That is if the relays are even working.”

“They fucking well better be.” The woman paced the small room in the stride they all had learned since gravity had become noticeable again under the constant acceleration. “It’s bad enough we had to listen to all the shit they send to us, we better be able to send stuff back to them.” She spun carefully, still bouncing the baby in hopes of a burp. They all lived for the burps. “Let me tell you, if we don’t get help, if we don’t get answers, me and the girls are locking our legs until you figure out how to turn all of this off. Or, best believe me, I will be castrating the lot of you.”

“Carrie, I do believe you. Here, let me take Hope.” Larry stood, extending his arms slowly. “You need to get rest.”

“None of us fucking parents. What were they thinking sending us up here before fixing us.” She handed over the baby and left the comm room, her two guards following her.

Just over two hundred people to start, they were down to ninety-seven in one year. Larry rocked the crying baby over one arm, patting the back, hoping for something. Back up by eight without a loss of a single precious woman since Larry and Farrelle established order in their own ways and merged their groups. Only two women weren’t pregnant or new mothers. With a ratio of five to one male to female, the only reason the other women weren’t pregnant was Missy had her insides ripped out because of cancer and Eve had entered menopause during the trip at thirty-four. Bastards made sure everyone was young and fertile when plucking them from the prisons.

Guess that answered the question. The billionaires funding this experiment wanted someone to arrive on the other end.

“Come on, Hope. You can burp now.” Larry wasn’t sure this one was his, but Carrie had been one of the ones he fucked, the dates matched, and there weren’t many white guys on ship, especially after the initial dominance games. As dark as she was from her mother’s side, Hope’s father had to have been white. Hell, her daddy might be among the dead they were changing over to fertilizer according to the manuals left behind by the scientist bastards. “You need to burp so you can eat some more little girl.” She was weirdly thin around her rolls of baby fat. No gravity to fight and constant colic for all the kids made a mess.

They would need to keep better mating records for the future, so their children didn’t end up with three eyes and one leg. That would go over like lead balloon with the disorganized members. He walked over to his notebook to write the thought down to discuss with the gang heads.

The comm dinged as he was closing the book. He bounced the baby on his leg, as he deciphered the message. “Reproductive Procedure Manuals stored in folders 369SXE with the passcode HaveFun; and Progeny Procedure Manuals Years 0 to 5 stored in folders 963EXS with passcode GoodLuck.”

“You are fucking kidding me.” Larry worked his way the folder system. “I really hate the scientists. You think me keeping thumbs as trophies was sick. If I had you in my dungeons…”

His two guards took a step toward the exit. Both were disorganized anger killers, and even after being assigned to him for months, still couldn’t figure how his cold temper worked. They did understand his methodical psychopath brain had kept them alive, killing others until their gang was one of the last ones standing, and that ability to make people suffer and die whenever he wanted shook them to their core.

“Got you. Search on baby gassy colic burp.” Larry clicked the button with flourish. “Hope, my little baby doll, get your fingers crossed.” For the next thirty minutes, during which the baby fell asleep across his legs, he flipped through the screens, after which he stood and passed the baby to Lester.

With a voice as cold as ice, he informed them of what he found. “There is a tool to draw air out of the belly and mouth. It worked for adults on the space station, and they adjusted it for something they think could work on babies and toddlers. It’s with the rest of the newborn equipment they have stored behind section six-eight. I now have the code to open it.”

“We could have used that shit for the last six months.” Lester said, struggling to hold the now awake and hungry baby. “Why didn’t they tell us before?”

“They better hope I never figure out how to turn this ship around.”

(words 1,041; first published 1/28/2024; created 11/15/2023)

Flash: Memory of a Kiss

Photo by YesMore Content on Unsplash

Cooling foam still dripped off the newly landed spaceship when the skin cracked and dropped a disembarking plank. Two spacers slid down the rail either side of the steps and barely caught the landing as they adjusted to full planetary gravity. Hurrying away from the ship, they ignored the person yelling words not legally usable on the planet. Local laws did treat ships like embassies, allowing some breaches in etiquette, and basically making the whole port a bastion against the religious restrictions found on Saints World.

The two ignored their fellow crewman. You snooze, you lose. Someone had to stay on ship at all times. Sucks to be Stan. Short for Standby for those who don’t spend a lot of time without gravity. After one final gesture, the figure walked away from the hole, the plank reversing course and resealing the skin. The younger of the two would apologize and trade out later. How much later remained to be seen.

A tiny bar cut out a corner of the customs area, inside the port. Spacers didn’t have to jump through immigration, visas, and tourist entry hoops to get their drink of choice.

“Beer,” were their first words in atmosphere in six weeks.

Saints World restricted words, religions, sex, genders, species, actions, imports, exports, clothing, and a host of other things. If humans could figure a way to make a law about it, Saints had a law. One of those laws was no drinking alcohol.

Except the monasteries made really good alcohol of all sorts – wine, beer, buzzbee, distilled liquors. None of it could be legally exported, except the buzzbee; too much money to be made there for the Church’s governmental coffers. For locals to drink, they had to pay an indulgence tax.

The Port of Call bar folded the tax into their fees; spacers didn’t care.

The two beers hit the smoothed, shiny local wood surface after credits transferred.

They sipped the drink slowly, swallowing carefully. Microgravity taught caution in eating and drinking; food couldn’t always figure which way was “down” when swallowing.

The younger of them shuddered, his Adam’s apple transversing up and down his throat with precision.

The elder set her drink down and sucked in the unrecycled funky air of the spacer joint, still sweeter in its own way than Far Meadows Finder, though she would never say that within the ship’s AI hearing range. She adjusted the ship’s earpod, verifying activation, something both of them should have done before leaving the ship. Mammy likely had followed the regulations to the letter, hence why he remained on ship. FMF pinged back.

The bartender leaned against the wall, watching the customs area for any clients. “Evie, Adrian, welcome back.”

“Father Andrews,” Evie nodded, taking another small sip of the nutty brew. “May as well pour Adrian another. He has the body mass for it.”

The young man hummed agreement beside her, breathing through his nose, the stein never leaving his lips.

“Done.” The monk-custom official drew another beer off the tap and placed it on the wood between them. “Sister Evie—”

“Just Evie, I wouldn’t want to be branded a heretic for assuming citizenship I had to give up.” She smiled sadly at him. “Spacer Evie if you must.”

Father Andrews leaned on the stool behind the bar, not quite sitting, likely some new restriction of when rest may be sought on a holy day. All days on Saints had some holiness to them. “Spacer Evie, may I ask a question?”

Adrian dropped one empty glass and reached for the next. The elder spacer laid a hand on his. “You only get this one, and in an hour you are reporting back to the ship. Think wisely about what is next.”

“Yes Captain.” He picked up the beer and edged toward the stained glass and plants decorating the customs waiting area.

Evie watched until he settled in the colored lights from the sunlight streaming through the glass from the local dual stars. “Please, ask away,” she said, taking another small sip.

“I know spacers can’t drink much in space. Especially crews the size of yours. Always on rotation and may need to respond with no moment’s notice in an emergency, therefore can’t afford any recreational impairment. But why is beer so important to new arrivals? It’s all they want. Not wine, not buzzbee, not whiskey or gin. Just beer.” The monk reached for the empty glass, accidently brushing the top of her hand where it lay on the bar. “I know you got The Neer, the near-beer substitute, but all spacers want is beer as soon as they arrive.”

“The Neer is worse than pis…not quite perfect.” Evie changed her words soon enough the high-ranking monk wouldn’t need to report them. The custom’s area did obey planetary regulations, mostly.

The Saint grounder shook his head. “I know it is not Blue Mountains or Crystal Stream, but the bitter and hops has a good mouth feel. Sure the foam is missing, but you can’t have that in space.”

“Worst thing inside the skin, needing to burp and can’t because the body doesn’t know how to in the microgravs.” Evie ran a finger through the condensation, wondering at it. On ship, those drops would be breaking off into balls of water she would be needing hunt down, while the other on-duty crewman would be adjusting environment to prevent more condensation from occurring. “Neer isn’t beer, even with the trippy version providing the five minutes relaxation effect. No bubbles. The bitter is off somehow. Gravity holds the world.” She shrugged, taking another sip. “Drinking The Neer is like … a memory of kiss. When all you can have is the memory, you turn it over in your head a thousand times.” She looked at Father Andrews for a moment, pushing against at least four commandments but worth it, making eye contact with eyes that exactly matched Adrian’s in color. “But nothing can compare to being held and kissed by one you love.”

(words 1,002; first published 1/21/2024 – created 11/14/2023)

Editing Rant: Male Gaze or Empowerment?

Photo by Dalton Smith on Unsplash

Right. So, is this manuscript I am editing awash with male gaze or empowerment?

What used to be empowerment in the 60s and 70s, an acknowledgment of a woman controlling her own sexuality and its presentation, has been turned on its head and now is seen as the male gaze.

Is the woman not wearing her bra because those contraptions hurt or because it’s time to show titties on the screen or page?

I think this manuscript could have worked even as late as the 80s, but times have changed, and the older writers and editors need to be aware of this. For heaven’s sake, READ GENRE from the last three years, not forty years ago.

Best way to explain the male gaze vs. empowerment discussion is by using two recent superhero movies: Wonder Woman (filmed by a woman) vs. Black Widow (in the Avengers filmed by a man).

Women have commented on their love of Wonder Woman landing and having her legs jiggle (not her boobs). Our heroine just goes in and gets things done. And when in combat, at least, the high heels get tossed out for combat boots.

Black Widow goes in and gets things done too, but the camera strokes her in a totally different way. Most people remember Black Widow in the Avengers scene with her tied to a chair. Yes, she is kick-ass, but it’s also her tied up and in heels, starts with a phone call and a high camera shot while she is seated. Avengers gets better once she gets into her leather armor fighting suit …. well, sort-of … not like it is an ACTUAL catsuit, even with the front unzipped to show off cleavage and she is shown in profile a lot for the boobs. I won’t start about the long hair in a combat specialist usually worn lose.

Oh.w.a.i.t.

Since she was trained to use sex as a weapon so it is all okay. It is empowering to females.

Suuurrreee, it can be considered “empowering” but who is the director trying to kid?

That is male gaze.

In this manuscript, the female main character is both a ninja and geisha – basically a Black Widow. Brought onboard the space ship and into a culture “far in advance” of her own (colonialism much?), she is expecting to have sex with those around her, but they are all Proper Men Who Would Never Take Advantage.

They do have drooling and wolf whistle issues (I’m not joking).

To her question of “do you need to use me as a geisha here?” when dealing with political situations, the male love interest is constantly answering “no, you don’t have to have sex with anyone”. It’s a running joke to the point of Kindergarten’s Cop “It’s not a TUMOR!” invasiveness (ha-ha, cue laugh track as a woman bows and asks for punishment through sex for angering the man).

The men around them are constantly going “why did anyone damage a beautiful GIRL this badly”. Clearly they are not the Horrible Types that did this to her (though they go to joy-houses where they can take advantage of this, but that only happened Before They Knew Her).

The secondary female character has been captured by the enemy and is under constant Threat of Rape by the Horrible Men.

Can you guess what happens when the two female character get together for the first time and are completely alone? Of course, we get a lesbian sex scene.

Did I mention the male love interest is married? But his wife is a shrew and cheats on him, so his interest as a forty-something man in the nineteen-year-old ninja-assassin he Rescued is totally acceptable.

All the women in this SCIENCE FICTION story have been raised and taught to use sex as a tool.

So empowering. (sarcasm font)

Note that this is a science fiction manuscript, not an erotica, not even being sold for its romantic elements.

I guess the best way to really capture why this is male gaze is the wash scene. The male is in water up to his neck and is the first to become aware of the other. The female is stretching and leaning over, half out of the water. The woman when she realizes she is not alone feels SAFER because a potential PROTECTOR is near. (Not a voyeur, secretly watching her, intentionally or unintentionally.)

It took me a moment to figure out if this is male gaze since they are both undressed and in the water, but then I realized we never “see” the male be naked or viewed sexually on the page during that scene, only the woman.

This continues throughout the manuscript.

I have a couple worse examples, but … and here is the sad thing … anything else would identify the book once it is published. EVERYTHING ABOVE IS SO COMMON, you might run across it in a dozen science fiction stories – books, television, movies, anime. In fact you already have again and again if you like science fiction. Think Firefly Inara as a companion, Fifth Element Leeloo needing love for activation (and as little clothes as possible), …

Hey – you, sci-fi writers. Update your tropes. You are embarrassing yourselves with how dated you are. Push the envelope forward, not backward.