Another Flash Challenge – The Manor Above

As I mentioned in THIS post, I’ve started following terribleminds specifically because I’ve missed writing flash fiction in answer to challenges. terribleminds is the site of Chuck Wendig, a “novelist, screenwriter, and game designer.”

His previous challenge resulted in a piece that I’ll try to sell (if you want to read it, it’s HERE – you’ll need a password; leave a message in the comments below and I’ll e-mail the password).

This week, he used THIS TITLE GENERATOR and came up with ten titles:

The Incubus’ Tale

The Manor Above

The Dancer And The Shattered Shell

The Hero Will Not Be Automatic

Ring of Bullets

The Music Box of Manhattan

These Damned Insects

Tiger, Burning

A Cold Opportunity Without The Kingdom

The Apocalypse Ticket

Readers are to pick one and go off to a dark corner and write a 1,000 words flash piece.  

There were a number of them that caught my eye (no, it didn’t hurt) but I went with The Manor Above. This time, I’m posting it without a password so that I can openly share it. Mind you, I just wrote it and had only one read-through. I’ll be re-reading it tomorrow and catch any errors I might have missed. 

In case people are not aware of it, I like the challenge of flash fiction; the telling of a story while developing character and fleshing out their world and doing it with relatively few words. Some readers don’t like flash fiction specifically because of the lack of detailed information. The most often comment I get is “we want to know more”. But, for me as a writer, it’s the equivalent of a marathon runner doing a sprint. It’s a form of training for when I have to go the distance. Also, as a seat-of-the-pants writer, it’s where I most feel in the zone. Still, rushing headlong into a short form story can be perilous.

In other words, this is a semi-rough draft. It’s a two hours effort (but I had to stop for dinner) and comes in a tad above the suggested 1,000 words. It’s 1,570 words. 

Here it is:

The Manor Above

©2015 E. J. D’Alise 

Lidya raised up. Stretching the sore muscles of her lower back, she looked skyward in time to see a Manor drift silently above her. The setting sun was already hidden behind the Western Mountains but its rays still bathed the Manor’s solar panels.

She tracked the Manor’s passage, noticing the intricate machinery of the Isabel Drives along the perimeter of the floating structure. Based on a typical cruising altitude of one thousand feet, this particular Manor was a sizable Freehold.

She watched it for a few minutes. The Manor’s perimeter lighting switched on just as the last of the Sun’s rays reflected from its communication antennas. It looked like a shiny jewel floating in the sky.

And then, it was but a point of light in the distance.

“Someday. . .” Lidya murmured as she bent down to finish harvesting the current row of mature rice plants while there was still enough light. This was one of the better harvests in recent memory and meant the fourth year of ending up in the black.

It also meant Lidya would have enough saved to finish her Isabel Drive Maintenance Certification. She finished the current row just as twilight gave up fighting the lengthening shadows. She tapped the embedded sensor on her wrist and the two support drones rose to light her path back home.

The drones had been a luxury but had paid for themselves by allowing her to work longer hours. They did most of the heavy lifting, ferrying the harvest to the storage depot while she continued working. She had almost splurged on a harvester ground-drone, but the return on investment was longer than she was comfortable with. She had a plan. A plan carefully mapping the timetable and effort that would have her standing on her own Manor floating above the troubles of the world.

#

Nearing the house, she noticed someone was there. Probably Joel. Childhood friends, they often shared their dreams and hopes for the future, especially when one of them had a bad day. It helped them focus on their respective goals. Joel visiting meant another bump in the road to his dream of becoming a commercial pilot. Lidya tapped her wrist, sending the drones to their recharging stations.

Joel had already set the table and had his back to her as she walked in.

“Hey, Joel. What a pleasant surp . . .” Lidya stopped as Joel turned. His eyes were red-rimmed, and she could see the barely controlled shaking as he stood there supporting himself on the counter.

Lidya rushed to Joel and hugged him. The return hug spoke of the desperation fueling the trembling that shook his frame.

They stood there in silence. Lidya didn’t ask any questions; she just provided the support and comfort he obviously needed. Time passed and Joel’s shaking subsided.

“Thank you,” he said as he broke the hug.

“I made your favorite,” he said as he turned to the pot on the stove. “It’s rice.”

Lidya laughed at their private joke and was glad Joel retained a bit of his wonderful sense of humor.

They ate in silence and only once finished did Joel speak. He did so without looking at Lidya.

“They cut the pilot training from the curriculum,” he said. “The latest AIs will be online as early as next year, and they scored nearly 100% in safety and performance. The plan is to stop new pilots from coming online and phase out current pilots as they retire.”

Lidya sat in silence. Once she had her Manor, Lidya had planned on hiring Joel as the Manor’s pilot. Guiltily, another thought crossed her mind; this should bring down the cost of buying and operating a Manor.

“What will you do?” she asked pushing that ugly and unworthy thought from her mind.

“I don’t know. They canceled the grants, so I can’t transfer the credits to another degree and my current job does not include an educational allowance.”

He still had not looked at her and continued looking down at the few rice kernels on his plate as he continued.

“Lidya, how do you feel about me?” he asked.

Surprised, Lidya sat back on her chair.

“We’re friends, Joel,” she finally answered after a slight hesitation, “have been since we can both remember.”

Her mind had switched gears at the question. Was he about to ask her for financial help? This would be a setback, perhaps a major one, but . . .

Joel looked up, his eyes looking into hers for a few moments before he smiled and continued.

“That we are,” Joel said, “and a good friend you have been.”

“You speak as if our friendship is ending,” Lidya said, a worried tone tinging her words.

“That, it will never do,” Joel said as he rose and grabbed and carried the dishes to the small sink.

“I’m leaving, Lidya,” he said as he turned and leaned back, his hands resting on the edge of the counter.

“What?” Lidya too rose and went to stand in front of him. “When? Where to?”

“I’m joining the Mining Corps. I have just enough savings for the Asteroid Miner Certification course. Training starts in two days, and if I can pass the qualification, I plan on signing the contract a month from now.”

“But . . . but that’s three years in the Asteroid Belt,” she countered.

“I know,” Joel answered as he looked down to the floor between them.

“Isn’t there anything else? Something less dangerous?”

Joel looked up at her and then turned, starting to do the dishes as he answered.

“I had other plans, but they fell through,” he answered. “This will help me get back on my feet financially and give me training that might open other doors for me.

“Stop that,” she said as she pulled him from the sink. “I’ll wash those later.”

He wiped his hands dry as she dragged him to the table. Before she could speak, Joel pulled an envelope from his pocket.

“Here, this is for you,” he said.

She looked at it and made to open it.

“No, please, after I leave.”

They sat and talked into the small hours of the night. The late hour would mean a late start in the morning and less time for the harvest, but she didn’t care.

They talked about their childhood, the scrapes they got into, the tremendous blow of Joel losing his parents and becoming a ward of the County, of the friends they had made and lost as the outside world pushed and pulled people to and from their lives. And now, the world was pulling them apart.

“It’s late,” Joel said as he stood. “I need to go.”

They hugged, each fighting back tears, and then Lidya was staring at the inside of her door.

It was three days before she remembered the envelope. It contained a note with just a few words and a credit voucher.

“For you,” the note said, “Fly high.”

She queried the voucher and had to support herself when the number lit up. She tried calling Joel but there was no answer. She called the Finance Corps and confirmed the credit amount.

She hailed a transport drone and went to Joel’s house. On approach, she saw the big transport and people moving stuff into the house. Her heart sank; Joel had sold his house. 

#

Joel stood outside the recruiting office, the Asteroid Miner Certificate in his hand. He looked up at the sky, then on the ground. This might be the last time he would see the blue sky dotted with white clouds. The last time he would feel Earth-normal gravity. He wanted to savor it before crossing the threshold to his new future. He closed his eyes and took a big breath.

Exhaling, he opened his eyes and focused on the ornate door to the recruitment office. Without further thought, he walked to it and pushed it open.

It took a while, but he finally sat in one of the recruiters booths and placed his certificate on the table. The man glanced at it and then entered the certificate number on his pad.

The table top came on and the contract appeared on the inlaid screen. They went over the fine points, Joel asking a few questions but knowing these contracts had been through rigorous reviews. Finally, nodding, the man produced a stylus and handed it to Joel.

“Not so fast,” a voice behind him said.

Joel turned as Lidya walked up to his side.

“Excuse us a moment,” she told the recruiter as she grabbed Joel by the arm and pulled him outside the booth.

“What are you doing here?” Joel asked, aware of the irritated looks the recruiter and the applicants behind him were directing their way.

“Well, between your contribution, my savings, and me selling my farm, I had enough to buy a Manor. It’s a small one, but it’s in good shape and comes with an existing trade route.”

“That’s great!” Joel’s smile lit his face up as he grabbed her by the shoulders and then hugged her.

“Well, yes,” Lidya answered, “but I need you on it.”

Joel broke the hug and stepped back.

“I don’t have a Pilot’s License,” he said.

“You idiot. I don’t need a pilot,” Lidya answered.

And then she kissed him. People cheered.

The End

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