Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sandcastle

It had been an awkward few days. It hadn’t started out too badly, Carbon had just looked sad the first day and progress continued on the engine. Something had been going on that he hadn’t been aware of and his reaction to finding out had not gone as he would have liked, in retrospect.

He had just spun around in the doorway slowly, trying to process exactly what she had meant in those few seconds. She had looked up at him from the couch, hands folded in her lap. So hopeful and expectant, so terribly vulnerable. He had laughed nervously and dismissed the idea out of hand, a little surprised as he pushed into the passageway toward his cabin and away from whatever damage he might have caused.

After that first day, she had started to deteriorate. That worn-down look he hadn’t seen in a month returned and he could just see the hurt in her. Talking to her wasn’t much better. Always distant, sometimes thin and frail. That actually worried him. He may have only known her for a few months, but the idea that she’d ever sound like that was entirely foreign.

They had kept eating meals at the same time but all of the camaraderie was gone, replaced by the gentle hum of the life support and the hollow click of synthetic utensils on synthetic trays.

Alex had stopped sleeping well.

Five days in, it had come to a head for him. He wasn’t sure what he needed to say, just that he needed to say something. He pushed a piece of chicken around his tray for a few minutes before he managed to screw up the courage to do so.

“I’m sorry.”

“There is nothing for you to be sorry for.” No animosity, anger or sadness. Not even a sigh. There was nothing in her voice.

“Yes, there is. I should have reacted... better. I should have asked you what was going on. I should have known something.” He barely managed to keep his frustration in check.

“Even if that is so, there is nothing for you to be sorry for.”

“Why?”

She stared through him, idly stirring her food for a long moment before she spoke “I deluded myself. Engaged in fantasy. I made myself believe you liked me when you did not.”

“I do like you.”

Carbon made a dismissive sound. That kind of pissed him off.

“Is that what you really think?”

She went back to looking at her food, picking it apart into separate piles of ingredients. “Yes.”

“If I didn’t like you, why would I have tried to understand you better?”

“You were recuperating, you had to fill your time with something.”

“Oh, that is bullshit and you know it.”

Carbon’s head snapped up and she looked at him with shock. He wasn’t sure if she was familiar with swearing in English, but at least she got his tone. Her eyes darted away from his and her reply was obstinate but weak. “It is not.”

“Yeah. If I didn’t care we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We wouldn’t be eating together. You don’t eat with people you don’t like!” Alex was starting to fail at keeping himself calm.

“Sharing a meal is an intimate act...” She sighed, at least sounding resigned. “I am sorry, Alex, I made you a pawn in a game when you should not have been. I rationally knew you could not have known our ways, but I still convinced myself that they applied to your behavior.”

“Ok, that’s a first step. Apology accepted.” His curiosity quickly got the better of him, ”what did I do?”

“You bared your legs in my presence. You could not have known how much that meant to me.”

“When I wore shorts? That’s what that was about? Yeah, you’re right. I couldn’t have known. That doesn’t even make sense to me. But you could have told me what that meant, I would have been happy to listen.”

“No.” She took in a rough breath before she continued, “I was not willing to admit that you did not know.”

“Alright, fine. Explain it to me.”

“What good would it do?”

He closed his eyes for a moment, tamping down his frustration again. “I really like you, Carbon. I enjoy working with you and spending time with you. But there is a lot I don’t know about you, your people and your ways. If you just want to have your fantasy, fine... But if you want anything more, I’m going to need some help.”

She was confused for a moment, then surprised. “What exactly do you mean?”

“Show me what I need to know,” he tapped his temple and smiled. “At the very least, I won’t mislead you again.”

“That is- I do not know if it is safe.” Worry crossed her face, but she still looked like she wanted to jump at the chance to mind link with him again.

“Why not?”

“I have a lot of baggage, as you put it. I do not know what the effects on you would be.”


“Will it kill me?”

“No, but I do not know how-”

“Good. Let’s do this.”

4 comments:

  1. You ended it THERE? That's kind of an evil emotional cliffhanger. Bah. (You can take it as a compliment that you got me all worked up about it.)

    Anyway, lots of awesomely cringe worthy awkwardness here. I had the feeling it would be too easy if they just started cuddling.

    Now for the comments.

    The first paragraph could be cut. There's a weird jump in continuity between it and the next paragraph (where you have the flashback) and you cover what he did and her reaction pretty thoroughly elsewhere.

    he pushed into the passageway toward his cabin and away from whatever damage he might have caused. I like his dawning awareness here. The whole paragraph could come out of flashback, more dense description and immediacy could really heighten the awkwardness.

    Always distant, sometimes thin and frail. I wasn't quite sure what you were going for here. Is her voice thin? Is she abrupt, or trailing off without completing thoughts?

    Just awesome. They had kept eating meals at the same time but all of the camaraderie was gone, replaced by the gentle hum of the life support and the hollow click of synthetic utensils on synthetic trays.

    He pushed a piece of chicken around his tray for a few minutes before he managed to screw up the courage to do so. reads like he's screwing up his courage to eat. Maybe just, 'he managed to screw up his courage'

    (I'll be back for the rest... gotta run to a tutorial. This new job has a wild training schedule.)

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  2. Alex was starting to fail at keeping himself calm. You could probably cut this in exchange for something describing his expression or raising his voice. Maybe, 'his voice rose despite his intention to remain calm.'

    “Sharing a meal is an intimate act...” Is she agreeing or disagreeing with him here? She doesn't sound like she thinks eating together counts.

    I made you a pawn in a game... this is pretty strong phrasing to describe making him part of a fantasy.

    “I have a lot of baggage, as you put it. the colloquialism is awkward here. It doesn't sound enough like Carbon. (Sorry that's kind of vague.)

    “Will it kill me?” Awesome! I really like the straightforward way Alex approaches things.

    I'm looking forward to the next link.

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  3. Well I was thrilled to get to read this today while I was waiting for my wife at the Hospital. The only thing that I saw that could probably use a bit of tweaking is that first paragraph.
    It could probably be cut, but I don't see that it would be necessary. Personally I'd keep the paragraph.

    It's easier to show you what I'd do than to explain it..because my brain is broken.

    It had been an awkward few days. It hadn’t started out too badly, Carbon had just looked sad the first day and progress continued on the engine. Something had been going on that Alex hadn’t been aware of and his reaction to finding out had not gone as he would have liked, in retrospect.

    Changing that first "he" to "Alex" lets the reader know at a glance that you're still not referencing Carbon directly. It kinda threw me off today when I read it the first time.

    Other than that, I'm impatiently waiting for the next Thursday to roll around. Trying to get my wife to read this too.

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  4. @J. A. Platt: Of course I ended it there! I've spent all this time being a horrible person and I can put it to use constructively now. Gratz on the new job?

    I'm reviewing the opening paragraph. I might hack it up and work some bits into the following paragraphs, work out the flashback angle a little more throughly.

    This is pretty strong phrasing to describe making him part of a fantasy. Wait for it.

    I have a lot of baggage, as you put it. I flip between this sounding weird and appropriate, though it is very colloquial. She never would have said it if Alex hadn't taught it to her. It will probably be tweaked a bit as well.

    Alex does have a very straightforward way of dealing with a lot of stuff. I like that about him. Their next link is going to be a doozy.

    @J.A.F.: OH HAI. As mentioned above, the opening paragraph is going to be fit into everything else. I think it'll just be cleaner that way.

    She should totally read it. Totally.

    ReplyDelete