Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Prompt: Switch up the Setting (yesterday’s story in a different genre)

Note: Sometimes a story easily unfolds in an alternative setting, such as fantasy or science fiction. Sometimes I have to “push” it a little. And sometimes, I have to drag it, kicking and screaming, to sulk in the corner until it pulls its thumb out of its mouth and looks around, deciding maybe this would be interesting after all. Not sure how this one is going to behave yet. You let me know what you think!

A retelling of yesterday’s post… 

It would be the sting of the century if she pulled this off. Lisa lay in her transorbital pod, connected to the service port of the van Kensing station orbiting Jupiter, waiting for any sign that she was noticed. She tracked comm traffic for twenty minutes before she relaxed. Time to break in.

Gerald van Kensing’s palatial—and extremely secluded—home had been the first of its kind after the MarsThree colony proved profitable by 2049. The van Kensing’s had sunk their family fortune into the Jupiter Orbital Homestead Project, and with travel from Earth under six months, the über-rich had a new über-exclusive destination.

Lisa had studied every schematic for months. She probably knew the station better than the original designers. When she realized the service port’s external access was independent of security systems, her whole plan came dropped delicately into place like one of van Kensing’s brilliant concertos. When she called Matt to tell him she’d figured it out, he actually started humming vK 2 in D Minor. She had laughed, but it had become their theme over the past two years.

No one had been on the station in over 20 years. When van Kensing’s wife and daughter died in the inter-planetary shuttle accident that destroyed his hands—and his career—he withdrew completely from public life. He spent a year in the best recovery center on Earth, then returned to his station and shut out the rest of the galaxy.

Lisa’s earliest memories were of van Kensing’s concertos. She didn’t really remember her life before the crèche on MarsThree, but she had known every note of every one of his compositions before she studied them in school. Her fascination with the van Kensing family bordered on obsession, especially once she saw old pictures of his daughter and decided they could have been sisters. Could she be a distant relative? Her obsession grew to a determination to meet van Kensing himself. She met Matt instead.

One might think that she crossed a line somewhere when she decided she should take matters in her own hands and sneak into his home. One might question where her moral compass was pointing to invade the privacy of an elderly, broken, grieving man. One might, but Lisa pushed aside any such internal debate and focused instead on the logistics of entering an independent Jupiter orbiting station without permission.

Matt had the schematics. It didn’t matter how they found each other. It was fate. She hadn’t even planned to stay back on Earth, but to return to the more familiar demands of life on MarsThree. They did meet, and they concocted a plan. Lisa didn’t examine Matt’s interest in breaking into the vKS, blindly accepting his willingness to help her. And now she was here. Ready to make her next move. She cycled the pod to connect with the port and dialed open the iris between them. Closing it behind her, she pushed through the service tube to the station center and dialed another iris to drop her down crouching on the side lawn.

Inside the station looked like a mansion from 20th century America. Grass? Dear God, how much did he spend to keep grass growing? She stretched her fingers into it, still coiled low from her jump, and reveled in the smell. Grass was rare enough on Earth, and there was none on MarsThree.

With a deep breath, she stood and walked briskly toward the house, crossing the open lawn as if she belonged there. Reaching the brick patio without incident, she held her breath as she pulled on the handle of the double French doors. The door swung open easily at her touch. She slipped inside and pulled it closed. Looking around, she was surprised to find the room empty except for a grand piano. There were no photographs nor artwork hanging on the walls. No chairs or tables.

The piano sat in the middle of the room, angled so the player faced the windows. But the bench was empty too. Lisa walked toward the piano, feeling drawn to it. She reached her fingers out over the open keys, but she dared not touch it. She felt the prick of tears in her eyes and shook her head. She would not let emotion—sentiment—keep her from her goal.

She was surprised by the click behind her. She slowly turned around. An old man stood in the doorway, holding a stun gun in clubbed hands that surely could not even pull the trigger. His hair and beard were long and bushy, but clean and brushed. He wore black slacks and a light blue turtleneck. That had always been his favorite color.

“Are you a thief? You’re too late,” he said in a harsh voice. “I’ve nothing worth stealing.”

Lisa took a step closer, and something clicked into place. Her whole life. She staggered back and sat on the bench with a thud, staring at him with disbelieving eyes. “No, I’m not a thief," she whispered. She took a shuddering breath and spoke more loudly, firmly. 

"Hello, Father."

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Bacon, Brindle

Time writing:
30 minutes

June word count:


  1. I like this one better, but I think it is because the reveal at the end is a surprise to both the reader and the character. In the first one, you have to assume that she did know it was her father's house (unless I missed something?), so I may have felt a little betrayed (not quite the right word...?) by the character not letting me know before the end. Here you are with her in the surprise. Also has a little more depth, with the mystery of who is Matt.

    1. Thanks, I did think the other ending was a little too deus ex machina, and I'm glad you saw an improvement with this one.


  2. The roar of an engine. I flattened myself to the bulkhead. Through the porthole I could see the cranes slowly dissembling the station. I wondered how long until they got to this unit. The engine stopped and a canopy clicked, followed by the clunk of hard-soled shoes on metal. I closed my eyes, returning to childhood days when I had thought that made me invisible. I found myself reciting half-remembered prayers, but resisted the urge to finger the tattoo on the back of my neck. Those times were long gone. And religion had failed me spectacularly.

    The driver sighed and made a thunk: leaning against the porthole, I guessed. I opened my eyes, unable to bare the suspense. I could see his head and the top of his shoulders, over the swell of metal from my hiding place in a passage halfway up a wall behind him. He wore a stationer's uniform, but that meant little. He could be old crew or any opportunistic robber scavenging from the clean corpses of the blown-out areas.

    He seemed to be feeling the edges of the porthole, and I panicked. What if he was one of the suicidals, just looking for somehow to let the blankness of space in? He knelt down, touching something on the floor, and I noticed the tattoo on the back of his neck.

    I was tired of hiding. I slid to the floor.

    Time writing: ~15 minutes

    1. Nice world building! I like the tie-in with the tattoo, even though it still doesn't really answer any questions for the reader or the character (well, maybe more for him):)