52 in 52 : Story #1 – Always Falling Home (Rabbit’verse)

‘Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.’ – Ray Bradbury

I’ve joined the madness over on the NaNoWriMo thread and going to try and write 52 short stories (or Flash Fiction) in 2017. I’m aiming for flash fiction of roughly five thousand words or less and I want to use this as a way to learn how to outline via MuseFic.

This post contains the Outline, Rough Draft, Editing, and the Solid First Draft.

If you want to read them as a daily post, check out the story on Wattpad! 🙂

Title: Always Falling Home
Universe: Rabbit’verse (Science Fiction)
Final wordcount: 1,203


Outlines

“Technically, this is already Day 4,” the Muse pointed out as the Writer frowned down at her keyboard trying to scrounge up a story idea. The story mists churned around them as the Writer waffled between universes.

“I got distracted,” the Writer shrugged. “New year, new resolutions– besides, I can always whip up a drabble if things get dicey. But outline today, write tomorrow, edit Friday and I’m back on track!” Her writing desk was covered in piles of notes from all of the established universes, but so far not a single plot bunny had spawned.

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Alright, fine.” The Writer closed her eyes and randomly picked a universe from the piles.

There was a pause.

“Now this is going to be good!” The Muse laughed. “Rabbit’verse? Really? You have to go and pick the most lyrical ‘verse to speed-write in.”

“It does lend itself to purpler prose,” the Writer agreed with a sigh. “But we’ll keep it short and sweet– I don’t have enough with Rafiq to really write him well off-the-cuff, so we’ll go with all new folks.”

“The ‘verse leans more towards slice-of-life than action sequences,” The Muse mused. “So something relatively low-key– are we working with Firsts or someone more tangential to the alien contact groups?”

“Firsts– wait, wait,” the Writer put aside the keyboard and grabbed her doodling notebook. “What about having a new First, someone just coming into the program, meeting up with an established First who’s just returned from an assignment? Set a while after Rafiq’s established the training programs to bring them home again.”

“So a newbie who’s scared of losing themselves meeting someone who’s still partially lost?” The Muse frowned down at the rough doodle of sort of lounge-atrium with sketches of a bar and some tables.

“Yeah, have the new person just checked in, new class, is out in the cafeteria-type thing and have her run into the older woman, who’s still working her way back from the alien headspace.” The Writer doodles a bit more. “See, the place won’t look so enclosed this way. They’d have it a lot more open while still enclosed to remind the Firsts of both sides– it would help the ones coming back to be in nature and still around other humans.”

“So… what’s the point?”

The Writer blinked. “Point?”

“What happens? Why is the story important?” The Muse tapped on the rough outlines of the two main fictives who were talking to each other. “What message is it meant to convey?”

“Um, it reassures the new First that the job they are going to be doing is important? That it’s worth the possible sacrifice of their own humanity?” The Writer frowned. “It’s not really connected to anything else, or important in the sense of a later story– it’s just world-building?”

“Well, we have to start somewhere, I suppose.”

“You aren’t being very helpful, go play on AO3 or something.” The Writer shooed the Muse away from her writing desk.

“Fine, fine.” The Muse apologized. “So how do you outline a conversation between two people you’ve never met?”

“I normally make it up as I go,” the Writer admitted. “So maybe we just outline the characters and the general topics?”

“Sound fair. So the topic is about being a First and their ability to submerge themselves into alien mindsets. About what it feels like to go crazy on purpose and how hard it is to come back again. About how much humanity gains from successful first contacts and how vital their jobs are even thought the personal risk is incredible.” The Muse said.

“The new First will have had no contact with other Firsts or the academy, came from one of the new colony planets probably. So all they know is they scored high on a test they didn’t know they were taking and now their being expected to do this terrifying thing.” The Writer doodled a few more sketches of the younger First. “The older first will be coming back from, hmm, a small-herd herbivore contact that failed, so not only is she working her way back to humanity, but she’s being cross-examined on why the contact failed so they can decide if they need to send someone else. She spent a year planet-side trying her hardest to learn how to talk to something that possibly was never intelligent enough to understand her.”

There was a pause.

“Do you ever write happy stories?”

“It is happy!” The Writer objected, “They both come out of the conversation with optimism and enthusiasm for their jobs.”

“Which have a high probability of failure and/or driving them insane.”

“Well… yeah. But still!”

The Muse sighed and the Writer wrote on.


Rough Draft

 The girl walked through the cafeteria doors alone, still buried under the numb feeling that none of this was really happening. Her morning had been full of lectures and paperwork, medical screenings and hurried introductions– it was rare to get a candidate from the last quarter screenings so no one had been prepared when she arrive.

She was never going to be prepared. Not for this.

She got food from smiling cheerful people who thankfully didn’t try and make conversation, and headed for the furthest table she could see.

The cafeteria was immense, starting near the doors with the normal trappings of civilization and then opening out into a giant indoor wilderness. The tall glass ceilings were built just right that once you were in among the trees it was easy to forget you were still inside.

Because the academy was built for humans and people who weren’t quite human anymore.

She put her food down on a table and then abandoned it to curl up against the trunk of one the tress, cradled in its nest of roots. And there, in the bit of the building that still reminded her of home, the numbness lifted and everything she’d been trying so hard not to think about suddenly became real.

She cried until she had no more tears and only towards the end, when she was still sobbing in hiccuping gasps for air did she notice the woman slowly working her way over to her table in a sideways shuffle.

The woman was moving backwards at an angle where she could just see behind her, but without ever looking directly at her destination. When she was within a few feet she stopped and shifted her weight from side to side in the same calm slow rhythm.

The girl wiped away her tears and tried to swallow down her hiccups, without much success. “Hello?” she asked, looking over without getting up.

The woman rolled her shoulders and then slowly turned her head just a tad so their eyes could just barely meet, still rocking. When the girl didn’t object the woman smiled and shifted slightly more, still carefully not facing the girl, she moved to the bench on the far side of the table.

“Comfort sharing, close come I?” The words were halting and the woman mimed putting down her tray of food across, but not close to the girl’s. She wore the uniform of a First, but it was battered and worn.

The girl nodded, wiping tears that weren’t there. “S’okay.” She started to reluctantly stand and the woman stomped a foot, startling her.

“Stay, stay, calm, breath first.” The woman frowned for a moment, “Word shapes ill-fitting, but rest.” She settled onto the bench, still softly rocking.

“You just got back, didn’t you.” The girl asked, relieved that she could stay there, sheltered by the tree. Somehow the rough bark against her skin felt safe, even with the worst fears of her future sitting across from her.

“Hah!” The woman grinned, still not quite looking at her. “Back enough. Word shapes too brittle, hard to hold, but mended soon enough.” She dug into her food then, quietly eating without looking down at the girl.

After a while the girl felt better enough to get her own food, and the two ate slowly and quietly together.

“Was it hard, the one you just came back from?” The girl asked, not looking up. The dance of not quite looking at each other felt natural now and she was learning the rhythm of the older woman’s movements.

The woman touched her cheek to her shoulder and looked away in one rolling movement. “Yes.” She said sadly.

“Did it work?” Because that was the whole point, the whole reason the Firsts went out and came back broken. They were learning how to be alien enough that the aliens would finally notice them too. It was what they would send her out to do and it terrified her, because sometimes the Firsts never came back at all.

“No.” The rocking stopped and the woman was just heavy in her seat. “Nothing.” For a moment she was still and then she reached down and pulled out a faded photograph from her jumpsuit and handed it carefully over to the girl.

The picture was of a small band of creatures that looked roughly like giant sloths, half hidden in the forest behind them. She handed the photo back just as carefully and the woman tucked it away again.

“Word shapes too far hidden,” the woman said bitterly. “If at all.”

The girl blinked, it had never occurred to her that the survey results might sometimes be wrong on something’s sentience and she asked without thinking “Are you sure?”

The woman laughed tiredly, but in a friendly tone. “For me, yes. But shapes for others?” She shrugged. “When back and my shapes mended, I report. Then someone falls again, or not.”

“Is it always that hard?”

“No,” the woman was trying harder to look at her, but had resumed her rocking. “Some falls– memories like stars, beautiful, bright.” She said fondly, “But distant once mended.”

“What about the ones who don’t mend.” The girl knew you weren’t supposed to talk about the Firsts who never came home, the ones so far gone that there was no way back from the feral states, but she was scared and she wanted to know.

To her amazement the woman grinned. “Firsts’ Secret, listen, listen.” She gestured her close and the girl leaned in, confused. “We fall, we break, but not broken. Find good place, home place, fall hard home. Stay.” She laughed at the girl’s reaction and sat back. “Learn, learn, watch, someday home calls… listen.”

The girl had no more questions after that and they sat together companionably in silence until the trainers finally came looking for the girl.

And years later when she found home in a pack of creatures that weren’t quite foxes and weren’t quite birds, she fell for good.


Editing

“Well, it’s not horrible,” the Muse admitted as she looked over the printout of the story. “I’m still not buying that it’s happy, but at least we have something to work with.” She handed the copy back to the Writer who had broken out the colored editing pencils.

“First things first,” said the Writer, pulling out a purple pencil. “These fictives need names. I’m tired of calling them The Girl and The Woman.” She pulled up Google’s vast army of baby name generators and got to work.

“Do Firsts even have names?” The Muse asked, watching over her shoulder. “Half the old stories just refer to them as their job title.”

“Hmm, true. Well they have to call them something, so let’s go with “First” and then their last name. There are so few of them there shouldn’t be much overlap. So I declare the older First to be First Vanhanen, which is Finnish and in theory means ‘old’.” The Writer doodled the name in the margins along with a quick sketch of the older woman.

“That’s mean!”

“That’s accurate, besides I like how it sounds.” The Writer scrolled thoughtfully through the lists. “And the other one, hmm, Belig I think. It means ‘clever, wise’ in Turkish and Mongolian… if the internet is to be believed.”

“What, you aren’t calling her ‘young’? Young is even an actual last name,” the Muse grumbled as the Writer updated her doodle notes.

“I’m trying to make the future a little more interesting than your average Anglo-Saxon romp.” The Writer snapped. “Play nice or I’ll name them Smith and Jones and be done with it.”

“Fine, fine. So this whole thing is from Belig’s point of view then?” the Muse gave up the naming battle and went over to sit in her comfy chair. She could Muse just fine from there, thankyouverymuch.

“The story’s not long enough to head-hop and I want to get across the fact that Vanhanen is acting very oddly, so it seemed easiest from Belig’s POV. Besides, Vanhanen’s going to still be thinking a bit sideways since she hasn’t come all the way back yet.” The Writer skimmed the story. “I don’t have anywhere near enough description in here.” She pulled out a green pencil and started adding notes.

“To be fair, the fictives don’t really need description. Let the reader fill in whatever shape they like– beyond young and old, it doesn’t make a difference to the story.” The Muse waved a hand at the opening section. “But you need more in the beginning. This is Belig’s story, then get further into her head. There’s too much unsaid about what’s happening and why she’s so upset.”

“Oof, truth.” The Writer added more notes to the outline in red. “We’re also probably going to get a lot of readers that aren’t familiar with the ‘verse, so it might be good to add a ‘verse overview right at the beginning of some of these. There really isn’t room in the story to explain all of it– this is more fanfic than true story.”

“So, stepping back, what’s the one sentence summary?”

“Um.” The Writer blinked. “I have no idea. Old First comforts a New First? The time when Belig found out Feral states weren’t so scary? The Secret of the Firsts? Other than literally saying what happens, I’m not sure how to describe it.”

“How about a theme?”

“Things aren’t as scary as they look? Going crazy for fun and profit? This really isn’t working well,” the Writer grumbled. “It needs a title and a summary or I can’t put it up on the website easily.”

Falling Home?” Offered the Muse. “No, wait, that’s too close to Bringing Sarah Home. Hmm, something about falling seems appropriate thought, since that’s what she’s scared of and that’s what the secret is about.”

Learning to Fall, um… A Different Kind of Broken. No, hmm. Something about cliffs or letting go, maybe?” The Writer flipped the paper over and started mindmap of related words. “We want something that talks about removing the fear of failure, the willingness to let go of her old life and embrace the new one, even if it is scary.”

Walking the Edge, maybe? Ah, how about Always Falling Home? I know it’s close to Sarah, and it’s actually close to Chasing Falling Stars too… but it fits. Besides by the time we finish Sarah we’ll have a lot more in the Rabbit’verse so the titles won’t sound do close.”

“I can always renamed it later,” the Writer pointed out, making notes in orange.

“And that.”

“So we have a title, I think I’ll come up with the blurb after I’ve redone the draft. You want to come over here and help?” The Writer looked over at the Muse.

“Yeah, yeah.” The Muse got back out her comfy chair with some reluctance and moved over to help the Writer sort things out.

And so it went.


Solid First Draft

The girl walked through the cafeteria doors alone, dressed in ill-fitting trainee overalls and still buried under the numb feeling that none of this was really happening. Her morning had been full of corporate lectures and paperwork, medical screenings and hurried introductions. It was rare to get a candidate from the last quarter screenings and rarer still to get one from a colony world, so no one had been prepared when she arrived.

They’d spent the morning telling her how special she was and how her talents were vital to the academy’s mission… and all Belig could think of was how much she wanted to go home.

If she’d known it was a test she would have failed it, but the academy has learned to outwit its candidates. No one wants to be a First. No one sane, at least.

She picked up a tray of food from smiling cheerful people who thankfully didn’t try and make conversation, and headed for the furthest table she could see.

The cafeteria was immense, starting near the doors with the normal plastic and metal trappings of civilization and then opening out into a giant indoor wilderness. Tall glass ceilings arced overhead, built carefully so once you were in among the trees it was easy to forget you were still inside.

Because the academy was built for humans and people who weren’t quite human anymore.

She put her food down on a wooden picnic table and then abandoned it to curl up against the trunk of one the trees, cradled in its nest of roots. And there, in the bit of the building that still reminded her of home, the numbness lifted and everything she’d been trying so hard not to think about suddenly became real.

She cried until she had no more tears and only towards the end, when she was sobbing in hiccuping gasps for air, did she notice the woman slowly working her way over to her table in a sideways shuffle.

It should have looked awkward, but the odd rocking movements seemed fluid and effortless. The woman was moving backwards at an angle where she could just see behind her, but without ever looking directly at her destination. When she was within a few feet she stopped and shifted her weight from side to side in the same calm slow rhythm.

Belig wiped away her tears and tried to swallow down her hiccups, without much success. “Hello?” she asked, looking over without getting up. The woman wore the jumpsuit of a First, a darker version of Belig’s trainee gear, but it was battered and worn and the jacket’s right arm was covered in mission patches.

The woman rolled her shoulders and then slowly turned her head so their eyes could just barely meet, still rocking. When the girl didn’t object the woman smiled and shifted slightly more, still carefully not facing the girl, and she moved to the bench on the far side of the table.

“Comfort sharing, close come I?” The words were halting and the woman mimed putting down her tray of food across, but not close to the girl’s.

Belig nodded, wiping away tears that weren’t there. “S’okay.” She started to reluctantly stand and the woman stomped a foot, startling her.

“Stay, stay, calm, breath first.” The woman frowned for a moment, “Word shapes ill-fitting, but rest.” She settled onto the bench, still softly rocking. “First Vahaann– Vanhanen, I.” The woman stumbled over the name and made a sharp clicking sound, frustrated with herself.

“I’m–” but the girl wasn’t herself anymore, she was First Belig now. “First Belig.” She tried to ignore the woman’s head bob as she caught the hesitation. “You just got back, didn’t you.” Belig asked, relieved that she could stay sheltered by the tree. Somehow the rough bark against her skin felt safe, even with the worst fears of her future sitting across from her.

“Hah!” Vanhanen grinned, still not quite looking at her. “Back enough. Word shapes too brittle, hard to hold, but mended soon enough.” That seemed to be the limit of her small talk reservoir and the woman dug into her food, quietly eating and looking out into the woods.

After a while Belig felt better enough to start on her own food and the two ate slowly and quietly together.

“Was it hard, the mission you just came back from?” The girl asked, studying the wood-grain as it wound along the tabletop. The dance of not quite looking at each other felt natural now and she was learning the rhythm of the older woman’s movements. Breath in to the left and pause and shift–

The woman touched her cheek to her shoulder and looked away in one rolling movement. “Yes.”  Vanhanen said sadly.

“Did it work?” Because that was the whole point, the whole reason the Firsts went out and came back broken. They were learning how to be alien enough that the aliens would finally notice them too. It was what they would send her out to do and it terrified her, because sometimes the Firsts never came back at all.

“No.” The rocking stopped and Vanhanen was heavy and still in her seat. “Nothing.” For a moment the woman was motionless and then she reached down and pulled out a faded photograph from her jumpsuit and handed it carefully over to the girl.

The picture was of a small band of creatures that looked roughly like giant sloths, tiger-striped and half hidden in the forest behind them. Belig handed the photo back just as carefully and Vanhanen tucked it away again.

“Word shapes too far hidden,” the woman said bitterly. “If at all.”

Belig blinked, because it had never occurred to her that the survey results might sometimes be wrong on sentience and she asked without thinking “Are you sure?”

Vanhanen laughed tiredly, but in a friendly tone. “For me, yes. But shapes for others?” She shrugged. “When mended enough, I report. Then someone falls again, or not.” She touched her cheek to her shoulder again and looked to the sky.

“Is it always that hard?”

“No,” the woman looked down. She was trying harder to look directly at Belig, to win back that morsel of humanity, but resumed her rocking. “Some falls– memories like stars, beautiful, bright.” Vanhanen said fondly, “But distant once mended.”

“What about the ones who don’t mend.” Belig knew you weren’t supposed to talk about the Firsts who never came home, the ones so far gone into the alien that there was no way back from those feral mindsets, but she was scared and she wanted to know.

To her amazement Vanhanen grinned. “Firsts’ Secret, listen, listen.” She gestured Belig close and the girl leaned in, confused. “We fall, we break, but not broken. Find good place, home place, fall hard home. Stay.” She laughed at the girl’s reaction and sat back. “Learn, learn, watch, but someday home calls… heart must listen.”

Belig had no more questions after that and they sat together companionably in silence until the trainers finally came looking for her.

And years later when she found home in a pack of creatures that weren’t quite foxes and weren’t quite birds, she followed her heart and fell for good.

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!

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