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More than Meets the Eye · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Into the Skies Again
The planet stank. You could tell from orbit. Mostly from spectrographic analysis, true, but it looked shit-brown and pus-green and there was this one long curved scarred valley between two broad mesas that resembled Satan’s festering asscrack.

And that was roughly where she had gone down. Just our luck.

I swiped with my forefinger, dragging overlays onto the screen that applied different filters to the EM data, and soon found the tiny spike in titanium / iridium like a little gravemarker. I’d expected it, but I felt a tightness at my chest.

I sighed and turned away from the screen. “I have sensor confirmation. The Mary Alsen is pretty much where you remembered, Joren.”

Joren, our de facto leader, nodded. “Thanks, Nicky,” he said quietly. He was entitled to be called the captain, but he wasn’t inclined to pull rank and neither were we. He wasn’t showing any emotion, even now that he was so close to his goal after wading through so much hell. He glanced around the control room at our tiny crew of talented specialists, most in more than once discipline, and sighed as he rose from his seat at the pilot’s station, drifting slightly in the minimal gravity and keeping his artificial leg hooked under the chair arm..

“Okay, folks. Part of what brought the Mary Alsen down at last was a nasty crosswind along that valley. We were tumbling after losing the port engine and that was the straw that finished us. So we’re not going to make any mistake like that this time. By the book, above board, regular landing. Sing out if you notice anything wrong.” He sat down and transferred the coordinates I’d found into the navigation system.

An hour later, we had guided the Faye Retriever into a normal landing, and were down.

This planet, Krelbin’s Rock, had been locked at an algal state of development for billions of years. Once the terraforming engines had finished their work in a few hundred years more, it’d be ready for settling. At present, there were no special restrictions on surface contamination, and oxygen masks wouldn’t be strictly necessary were it not for the stink. Oh, fuck, the stink. Brown scummed ponds dotted the planet, generating a mostly breathable atmosphere, but also gurgling and releasing vile sulfur-mercaptan farts into the nascent air.

We kitted up and headed out to see the Mary Alsen. We’d done an aerial survey and it didn’t look wonderful. There were bits of her strewn in a hundred meter streak, and while her hull had mostly held up, it had a twenty degree bend in the center.

It looked like something that belonged in a scrapyard. But we approached it with reverence, as right now, it was a tomb.

Joren, his wife Michi and her brother Harve, all of them good friends, hardworking and able, had been making supply runs for the crews maintaining the polar terraforming stations. Engine trouble had brought them down near the equator, thousands of kilometers from help. The planetary crews had no way to send aid, so the owners of the Mary Alsen, a consortium called IMT, had sent the cheapest assistance possible.

Joren survived the crash with a broken leg, but Michi and Harve weren’t in condition to breathe. The bitter thing was that they’d all chipped in recently to buy a stasis helmet, a device for preserving the brain after death for later implantation into an android body, but they’re stunningly expensive, so they’d only been able to afford one.

So poor Joren had to look between his wife and his best friend, and decide which one of them might have a chance to get resurrected. He froze a bit on that, but he really didn’t have much time, so he chose Michi, hating himself and hating their bad luck all the while.

And the rescue ship took its time showing, of course, so Joren had to sit there on that stinking world, breathing the corpsefart air and doing everything he could to keep that one stasis helmet running. The fuel cells are only designed to last for a day, but Joren did some creative things with what was left of the engine, and kept it going for a week, while the bodies kept moldering and adding to his distress

It wasn’t long after that that the “rescue” ship arrived, crewed by a pack of humorless and inflexible androids. Remember, I said it was the cheapest one the owners could commission. And this one had regulations about lifting “dead weight.” It was only permitted to take living bodies. No personal possessions that might add to the fuel costs. Certainly no corpses. And bodies in partial stasis didn’t count. They wouldn’t even let him take the helmet.

They just took Joren, stripped him naked, and bore him onto their tiny ship as he raved and screamed and struck at his rescuers until they forcibly sedated him. They left the bodies of Harve and Michi to rot.

There’d been a lawsuit, and a lot of personal threats, and an assault, and Joren had some done jail time, mitigated by a sympathetic judge. But in the end, he’d lost just about everything–his fortune, his reputation and his livelihood–and IMT had just collected the insurance on the Mary Alsen and bought a few more luxury skycars for its top executives. And life had just rolled on.

The only thing that kept Joren going was his friends. Leisha, and Jorge, and Oré, and Phila, and me. We were all involved in spacework in one way or another, and most of us were doubled up on experience. Leisha was a shipyard worker with some actuarial experience, Jorge was a fusion engine tech who’d dropped out of medical school, Oré was a metallurgist with an interest in geology and owner of the Faye Retriever, Phila was a systems pilot and diagnostician, and I was just a programmer who had been Joren’s buddy since his college days.

We’d all have been more than glad to give Joren a place to stay and food from our plates for the rest of his life, but that wasn’t Joren’s style, and it wasn’t quite good enough for us. We wanted to help Joren by fixing his life, as best we could, so he could take a place in the world again.

So we’d calculated, and pooled our savings, and talked it over with Joren for months, and worked out a plan. We’d purchased the salvage rights to the Mary Alsen for less than its value as scrap. If we could make her spaceworthy again, Joren would have his own vessel, and be his own boss, beholden to no one.

So Oré donated one of his project vessels and we donated our spare time until we had a spaceworthy craft with one clear mission–to carry enough materials, equipment, spare parts and slightly crazy people to Krelbin’s Rock, and give Michi and Harve a proper funeral, and raise the Mary Alsen.

So here we stood, as Joren and Jorge entered the Mary Alsen under a light brown rain. The air must have been full of moisture, for the contrail we’d left as we flew down had touched off a drizzle. As Joren went with Jorge’s help to retrieve the bodies of the two people who’d been closest to him in all of spacetime. Meanwhile, the rest of us were unloading the Faye Retriever and striking up a few temporary quarters, as the Faye had been packed as tightly as we could manage with everything we thought we might need that we could scrounge, borrow or afford, and all the weights and associated fuel costs had been ruthlessly calculated by Leisha and I, down to the microgram.

I noticed, as Leisha and I bent fabric around hooped tent poles, that her eyes and attention kept wandering elsewhere, towards the Mary Alsen. She’d been one of those giving Joren a temporary home after he’d gotten out of jail, and I gathered that the proximity had awakened something. During our months of planning, and the prolonged trip we’d all made together in the cramped space aboard the Faye, I’d noticed her going moon-eyed in Joren’s general direction, sighing a lot, and giving other signs of infectious feelings.

“Nicky, are the power hookups on your end?” she asked me.

I fished around for a moment. “Yeah.” I tossed them over to her. “Leisha, pardon me for butting in, but you gotta tell him sometime…”

She gave me a raised eyebrow.

“ I mean,” I said, trying not to think of the grim task underway, “not right now, of course. But sometime.”

“I’m sorry to have been that obvious,” She sighed. “But you know, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and even if we raise the Mary Alsen–

“When! “ cried out Oré and Phila as they carried out a very heavy crate. “When we raise the Mary Alsen! She’s going up again, don’t you doubt it!”

Leisha rolled her eyes and lowered her voice. “And even later, he’s going to have enough to do to put his life back together again. Why should I distract him from all that trouble, with my troubles?”

“Well, don’t you want to be there to help him through that trouble? Take a part in his new life?”

Leisha drew breath to reply, but instead, she set down her half of the tent and put her hand over her heart, turning towards the Mary Alsen. It took me a moment to catch on, but I followed, as did Phila and Oré.

Joren was emerging from a large hole in the Mary Alsen’s side, carrying one end of a long bundle wrapped in a brown shroud. Jorge followed. They laid it gently within a metal box, re-entered the Mary Alsen, and brought out another, which went into a separate box.

Joren turned to us.

“You all know the story, my friends,” he said to us. “I wasn’t able to save them. They were everything to me, my family, every bit that mattered of my life, and I did the best of everything I ever did for them.

“If one life is all you ever get, they’ve had that life. If there are other worlds to which souls may venture, they’re off to take their places there. There’s not much more I can do for them now.

“But there is one thing.”

Most of us were starting to cry.

“There’s one thing I can do for those I’ve lost” Joren said. “I can make sure that their bodies do not spend one more moment on this polluted, stinking, disgusting slimeball than is absolutely necessary. I can make sure that when I visit their graves, it’s under a clear blue sky and green leaves blowing in the breeze, with the roar of the sea and a fresh salt breeze in the air.

“I don’t care how we have to manage it, and fuck any weight requirements. When we raise the Mary Alsen, and we all go home, they are coming home with us for a proper burial!”

We were all weeping at this point, and cheering.

“But first, we do a a fuck ton of hard work to get her going. Then we change her name. And on the way home, we figure out how we’re going to stick it to IMT…”

And then he taught us the song.

“She’s not going to fly again, with that curve in her belly,” said Phila. Oré sighed and nodded.

We’d made a lot of progress in the last week, gathering scraps of hull and wing, joining plating like puzzle pieces with a fusion welder, getting used to the planet’s smell on the outside and our often unshowered fragrances within our huts.

“So, what do we do about it?” said Joren. “This was something I mentioned before, before we even left.”

“It’s a lot more pronounced than we estimated from what you told us,” said Oré. “You’d need a shipyard to do a proper correction, and they’d probably ‘correct’ it by scrapping the ship. They may not even make girder benders that big.”

“So,” said Phila, “We’re going to do something crazy instead.”

It took a week to prepare for ‘something crazy.’ First we unshipped almost everything removable from the Mary Alsen, and Jorge swore as he had to undo a days’ work on the fusion reactor.

Then , we rolled the Mary Alsen over, all 100 metric tons of her, making liberal use of several moving machines that Mary Alsen had been carrying as cargo on her last run, and being thankful that we hadn’t rebuilt that one wing yet. That impossible bulge in Mary Alsen’s belly now faced straight up to the sky.

And then after another day of bracing and testing, Phila got in the Faye Retriever, which we had loaded up with cargo. She lifted off, and landed the ship right on top of Mary Alsen’s bulging belly. Turbines whined, metal screamed and groaned, the ground roasted under thousands of degrees of heat, and Mary Alsen’s hull grew cherry red, which was actually part of the plan.

Phila, doing the most delicate but most massive belly flops in history, repeatedly lifted up, built momemtum, then brought all of the Faye’s mass down on Mary Alsen’s bulge. Jorge and Oré took measurements of the curvature and reported them to Phila, who adjusted her course accordingly.

In the course of a day, the belly sag was pronounced corrected, and then all we had to do was roll the Mary Alsen back over, bang out the ripples in the rest of the hull and straighten the smaller girders, and put everything back where it came from. Whee! There was one other notable benefit–the ground actually smelled a bit better after we thoroughly toasted it.

There was something different about Joren after that day. He’d been down, of course; who wouldn’t be? He didn’t let it get to him; he worked as hard as any of the rest of us at banging metal or shifting heavy crates. I remembered how moody he’d used to get back in our twenties. Amid the bustle I got a chance to talk to him alone, as we we rerouting and reconnecting some wiring harnesses in the Mary Alsen’s hull.

“Bit of a spring in your step there, old fella?” I remarked.

“I think so, bosom chum,” he said, and winked. “I should be exhausted by now, not whistling showtunes and strutting around. I should be…” he scratched the back of his head. “I should still be mourning, shouldn’t I.”

“Is that what you think is proper, or what you think is thought proper?”

“Oh… Shit, Nicky, I don’t know. If you’ve truly loved someone, how much mourning is enough? There’s only one acceptable answer: ‘It can never be enough!’” He yanked way too hard on a run of cabling.

I kept my mouth shut for a bit, matching colored wires back to a complex connector

“But Nicky, it’s not all hyperbole. I haven’t stopped mourning. I never will stop. But–” he bit his lip. “It’s as long as it was, but not as broad. You get… more efficient at it, maybe? Manage it better?”

“Mmmm,” I said, reaching for a screwdriver.

“So, yes, getting the Mary Alsen to this stage is really good news, and seeing there may be an end in sight, that helps. And without betraying the love I had, yeah, I am feeling less like a walking corpse, and more like a living man who can walk around and notice things, including Leisha, if that’s what you brought up this whole thing for…?”

“Aw shit buddy,” I said. “Sorry to be so obvious.”

“Eh, it’s okay. It’s to be expected anyway. That’s what all you “living” people do, right? Notice each other and fuck? It’s sure hard to do that after you’re dead. Might as well do it as much as possible now.”

“I am empowered,” I said, giving it a slight pompous air, “to carry news of your possible intentions back to the personage in question. I mean, I didn’t ask her, but I’m mostly technically empowered anyway.”

He sighed, and spent the next minute drilling home some bolts.

“I know it’s not the answer anyone wants to hear…” he said.

“But, ‘It’s overcomplicated.’ I got you, buddy.”

We finished up the work in relative silence.

A week later, as the Mary Alsen’s stubs started to look more like wings and her lines were starting to suggest a bird that might one day take flight, I was taking a break from reprogramming the reactor controls, went for a walk, and wound up in the middle of a discussion.

“I can boil it down to one statement,” said Jorge. “Either or. Either we strip some plating from Fay Retriever and use it to finish Mary Alsen, or we leave Mary Alsen unfinished, go and get more plating, and come back to finish her up. A ship must be shielded to be spaceworthy and protect its occupants.”

“I do not care at all for the thought of leaving Faye on this stinking rock,” said Oré.

“Nor do I,” said Leisha. “But we’ve shot the wad for our budget anyway and can’t afford more plating. So it seems only one ship may leave in any event.”

“Does it make sense to rescue one ship by ruining another?” said Phila. “It’s quite wasteful, and I too would not like to abandon Faye.”

“Has Joren weighed in yet?” I asked. “Looks like he’s just diddling on his tablet.”

Joren looked up with a merry light in his eye that made my heart leap with happiness to see, and made Leisha blush a little. He pointed the tablet at us. “See that?” he said.

It was an ancient 2D picture of one of the most primitive of spacecraft, a NASA Space Shuttle, back when they were still learning how to launch people into the sky on thousands of pounds of explosives without blowing anybody up. The picture showed one of these Shuttles, riding on top of an even older passenger airplane with a bulgy upper cabin.

That was able to fly,” said Joren. “If that can fly, then perhaps we can use the plating to make Mary Alsen spaceworthy, and mount Faye on her back, and the two of them together can also be made to fly. No one will be in Faye, so we only need to shield the electronics and not the whole ship, but we can control Faye’s engines from within Mary Alsen and use the combined thrust, right?

Phila grimaced, put her hands over her eyes, and sat quietly. Oré stared up at the ceiling, tapping a stylus, then started scribbling on his tablet. No one seemed to want to say anything. The minutes dragged out.

Phila looked up and said “Yeah, I guess,” at about the same time as Oré looked up and said “Maybe.” They looked at each other and laughed.

“Make it so, then,” grinned Joren.

And in a week, they made it so, and test flew it, and it looked like a plucked chicken was trying to fuck an eagle, but it flew.

And so, after we’d thrown away the worst and most awkward of the old cargo, and secured what was worth keeping, and we had a final date for Leaving This Miserable Stinky Rock, I was somewhat surprised by a conversation that I was technically empowered to overhear, by dint of being quietly at work under the main cabin console. There I was, absolutely minding my own business while patching code to make sure that Mary Alsen and Faye would cooperate with each other during flight, when some other people entered the cabin and closed the door.

“So, is this private enough?” said Joren.

“Yeah,” said Leisha. “So… I guess you know by now. I haven’t been very subtle.”

“You haven’t,” he said. “But I’ve probably been about as distracted as you are, for different reasons. In any case, it’s not really fair for me to keep you hanging, so let’s try to sort it out now. We both have to be alert on the flight home.”

“Very true,” she said. “So, Captain Joren, I understand it’s likely to be a delicate time for you, and I am not trying to make light of the situation, but I would really like a chance to win your heart. I think you are amazing, I think we are both smart enough to keep each other amused, I think you have a really fine body that makes me go quiverkneed, and I am prepared to wait until such time as you might be ready to consider your options.”

They were both being light hearted, excessively formal, but I knew what she’d been going through for the past month, and I had stopped typing and my heart was taking every other beat so it could be quieter.

He sighed. “Perhaps I’ve been a bit distant,” he said. “I’m sure the reasons on the face of it were fairly obvious. But everything that you have done for me, and the efforts by everyone else who has worked so hard and stood by me so long… I’ve noticed and I am grateful to all of you. And this by itself would entitle you to ask me for a chance.

“However, there’s a deeper reason I haven’t been forthcoming…”

Jackpot, said one half of my mind while the other half tried to shush it.

“Everyone thinks I’ve lost the love of my life, and my best friend, her brother” said Joren. “But that’s not the whole truth. I’ve buried two lovers, Leisha. Do you understand?

“So you… were a triangle. Oh–”

“Yes. It was the sort of thing that started between us almost by accident, and grew with us over time, until it was as natural as breathing to us, a part of the way things were. I don’t know that I can ever find that again; it may be a a set of shoes no one can fill. But what you need to know, Leisha, is that if you pursue me, and you are expecting a traditional sort of relationship, you might wind up cruelly disappointed in me.”

I was holding my breath and biting my lip with the glow of the tablet terminal highlighting my face.

“Well, Captain Joren, I appreciate your taking this confidence in me.” she said.

Argh, her voice was so unreadable! Was she being shocked or sarcastic?

“And since you have seen fit to entrust me with such personal information, It would be callous of me not to respond in kind. I am rather flattered that you didn’t realize it, but I am not expecting a traditional sort of relationship, as I am not really a traditional sort of person, myself, and in fact I am rather ashamed that I didn’t let you know earlier and save us both a great deal of misunderstanding.”

“Ah? Oh! I see!”

So this is where I dropped my tablet and they found out I was under the console, so that sort of altered the mood, but really, I’d been living with that girl in a temp hut for a month and a half without realizing she was intersex, so I think it was pardonable. It didn’t stop them from from getting closer, anyway, so no harm done.

And nothing serious from then on stopped the final day from arriving, that day on which the repairs were finished, tested and certified, and we were all thoroughly prepared to leave Krelbin’s Rock behind for a thousand years or whatever it took for it to become more civilized, or for us to scrub that horrid stink out of our noses.

Joren’s last act, before we all piled in to take off, was to rechristen the Mary Alsen. All he really did was to extend her name a bit, to bring it in line with a song that had been on all our minds for many weeks now, a song written by a man named Steven Rogers, many centuries ago. It was sort of a symbolic Fuck You to the IMT corporation, before we found other ways to hold their gonads in the fire.

We applied the new name to the prow. It wasn’t paint; it was a device that altered the arrangement of the atoms on the surface of the plating to produce a texture that ate photons and absorbed them into the hull as heat. It did the trick nicely; a black that looked deeper than space.

And that name… It was a woman’s name, from an old song about an old ship. But it wasn’t important who she was anymore, or whether that ship was ever real. It was bigger now than any person, or any song, or even any meme. It was an expression of human purpose, the phoenix, of birth and rebirth and always reaching higher, of DNA spirals and swirling stars, the drive of life and the force of gravity. It was every family that counted coins to send a child to a better school. It was everyone who felt the need to move to a better place, or worked all their lives to make things better where they stood. It was the builders, the dissatisfied, the changers, those who faced down disaster and stood to do what was right anyway. It was watching what seemed like the whole world turning against you, and standing in the storm to fix what was wrong with worn and broken tools. It was politics and ignorance and bitter old cynics and financial criminals doing their best to break a new generation, and the fresh awakening of impossible hope.

As the starship lifted above the clouds, the result of our sweat and effort and dedication, we gazed out together through the viewport and watched the stars appear in the deep black sky, and together we sang the song of that name.

Rise again, rise again!
Though your heart it be broken, and life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend.
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again!”
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#1 ·
Man, for some reason it feels intimidating to get the review chain rolling. Just in case everyone else feels that way too, let's bite the bullet — even though my thoughts on my reading aren't entirely sorted yet.

This was a good start to my reading! I'm pretty easy to please with sci-fi, but it caught and held my attention the whole way through, and there was very little that got my editor brain stirring. Great sign.

Honestly, the biggest critique I've got is that the ending was a letdown. Sometimes hanging a lampshade on your source just calls attention to the fact you're borrowing. This felt unique to me throughout, right up until the song made me realize I just hadn't been seeing your inspiration. Or, if that wasn't your intent … I'm honestly not certain what it adds. Getting people to compare your story to other works sharing the same themes rarely ends well; you get them to remember the compared thing instead of your own effort.

This packs quite a lot into its 4000 words. The plot keeps moving and kept me engaged. Though the characters felt a little thin in hindsight; I really wasn't absorbing a lot of their drama aside from Joren's character arc and the romance subplot. If you expand this in editing I would really drill into that, getting Nicky spectating into the others' lives the same way he does Joren and Leisha, giving every one of them some memorable moments that define them.

Speaking of, I did appreciate the romance on the whole, although the way it resolved felt wrong to me. Polyamory and intersex aren't weird in the same way. This seems to be making the implication that what Joren was missing when his lovers died was having sex organs of both genders to play with, and finding someone with both at once was enough to fill that gap, which is … not how people work. The fact of his previous relationship DOES imply that HE would be much more likely to be okay with Leisha's physical condition, but the story as currently written flips that around. If it was Leisha pushing him away because she didn't expect him to be okay with it, and Joren revealed his backstory to put HER at ease, that would have made sense.

I love the framing of the scent to draw readers up front into the story. Great hook.

I like how the Faye fixes the Mary Alsen's main girder. But honestly, the way I'm picturing it, I can't imagine it doing anything other than making the problem worse. The idea of a ship "belly flopping" (even after softening the LZ by blasting it with rockets for a while) just sounds like it's crashing into the thing it's trying to fix. You don't repair an automobile by crashing other cars in.

Nitpicks aside, this is definitely going to set a standard for the other stories to follow. Thank you!

Tier: Solid
#2 · 2
A big question to ask is "why are we with the viewpoint character?" This is especially important in first person narrations because you are so deep with them that the entire story ends up filtered through them. The problem here is I find myself asking "why are we with Nicky?"

He doesn't really change or learn anything. He isn't involved emotionally more than "Joren is my friend." He is very much an observer to everything going on and a very passive observer at that. The fact that you are confined to his view actually kind of hurts things since I legitimately forgot characters besides Leisha, Joren, and Nicky existed because their view is so filtered through him. Which I think is to the detriment of the story since the point, broadly speaking, seems to be about friends coming together to do this.

I dunno. I had trouble with this one. There is definitely some very good writing here (though I think you could stand to cut a fair amount - you just have a lot of what I would consider extraneous sentences or descriptive elements that go just a couple words too far, etc), but I ended up in kind of the opposite place of Horizon with my mind wandering as I read. There just... aren't really appreciable stakes (I get HOW these could be appreciable stakes but again, we are in the view of a character who I think is fine if this fails), there isn't really any dramatic tension (challenges are basically presented and resolved in the same space), etc.

Like, don't get me wrong. There is some good writing here and the ideas are all solid. I just think the positioning of the story is off and that's a problem.

The Liesha/Joren thing is (time for everybody's favorite word) problematic. At a general level because if you manage to skim over the one sentence, you totally miss that thing. At the other level because there are just kinda generally a lot of problems with the way you went about that insofar as the wide range of human sexual experience goes. Basically, either of them being what they are does not really indicate they will be fine with the other. There's nothing with that being the case, but the fact that you kinda create a sort of parallelism with something that definitely is not parallel is no good, if that makes sense.
#3 ·
One of the more annoying tropes in sci-fi and fantasy is strange naming conventions, and I'm glad we've largely avoided that here. Joren's a bit odd, but everyone else is pretty normal so his oddness helps him stick out rather than blend into a sea of nonsense nomenclature. Of course my bar for "strange names" has been significantly altered since working at a school again, so maybe that's to blame, too.

Anyway! I dig the descriptions of the planet. I imagine like a moist, half-birthed Earth-Venus hybrid and it totally makes the ardor of the mission all the more pressing. I also dig the belly-flop blacksmith method of ship repair, however ridiculous it may be. I get that the Faye is smaller than the Alsen because of which is strapped to the other during the take-off, but maybe some more idea of the size disparity would help the scene be a little more engaging as a mental image.

Now, for the elephant in the room regarding the romance: I agree with Horizon and Andrew that it's drawing a parallel when the situations aren't quite the same, but I just giving the reveals between the two more room to breathe and for them to emote and react for more than two lines would help weave the lines together better.

All told, a solid sci-fi story to kick things off, and the android-based rescue service adds just a splash of not-quite-dystopian flavor to the whole mix.
#4 ·
I think I would've enjoyed this more:

If it wasn't such a pastiche of Robert A Heinlein. 'Cause I like the bones of the story, author, but Heinlein's writing has always made my skin crawl.

His characters, like those here, never advance much beyond what the late SF critic Baird Searles called "a snappy name and a job description," his attempts to incorporate alternate sexuality into his stories were as unconvincing as the attempt here, and the dialogue here reminds me of the wooden phrases that dropped heavily from the lips of Heinlein's characters: I mean, has anyone ever in real life called anyone "old fella" or "bosom chum" or said "However, there’s a deeper reason I haven’t been forthcoming"?

So sorry, but this one just pushes all the bad buttons in my brain...

#5 ·
I hate:

Leaving entirely negative comments, so lemme give a positive suggestion here, author, for a way to pull Nicky more into the story and maybe make the romance work. Maybe the narration could make it clear in the first half of the story that Nicky's also in love with Joren. Then when he tells Leisha that she should tell Joren how she feels, she can point it right back at him. Then at the end when we find out what Joren wants, the threesome's all set.

Oh, and the song is by Stan Rogers, not Steven Rogers.
#6 ·
This story feels rushed, and when writing SF that's rarely a good thing. I feel you have the seed of a good story here, maybe even a seedling.

From my ScifiPony alias, you may be able to guess what I usually write. I have no issues with your space opera idea, and I think there is an endless place for good space operas. But when a story depends on science and engineering, all the science and engineering must at least seem plausible. That said, you can skip the rest of this paragraph because it is an SF writer's opinion and mostly a subjective rant. Plausiblity could be achieved with the proper handwaving and lampshading, but the details you did supply bugged me. As one example amongst many, as the repair progressed, I didn't buy the process of building, why shielding was needed where it was needed, or especially the fusing of the two vehicles. Airworthiness isn't that easy. Even if the ship were basically a missile, it's not that easy. Now add wings...! Moreover, I didn't buy that even these good friends would risk their lives to fuse the ships together since nothing convinced me as a lay scientist the fusion could work, so why did the characters believe it? This requires so much more than the Star Trek science you provided at that point in the story. I didn't buy the weight limit issue, either, in regards to the stasis helmet as most space vehicles are fixed in size and a few kilograms of load one way or another are lost in engine efficiency variations and fuel reserves against atmospheric exigencies. (I was okay with the Stasis helmet idea, though, and the gruesomeness it implies.). Really, most of the repair issues go away if they have androids doing the repairs. The bent frame fix could be achieved through reforging by android workers, or gasp, by having a spectacular fight over the tilting-at-windmills idea of salvaging the ship vs risk and just taking the bodies home and calling it a win. The song could even be sung to celebrate the good try they gave the project, and the burial of the lost spacers.

That bit where we don't call Jorsen "captain" is well explained, but it grates as the title is not always just a term of authority but respect. For me, this made the story feel hollow, especially when he is called Captain Jorsen later. The group are obviously professionals and the discussion makes them feel like idealistic amateurs. I'd just drop it all together in a subsequent draft.

Last, you had plenty of time to foreshadow the relationship issue so that when Liesha says "I am not really a traditional sort of person, myself, and in fact I am rather ashamed that I didn’t let you know earlier and save us both a great deal of misunderstanding," your readers should have had plenty of clues about Liesha's sexuality to give this impact and give the conversation real tension. Her dialog her also feels stilted in this sequence. The hiding underneath the console bit feels a bit juvenile and rude, but that may just be me.

The idea and basic plot of the story is sound; please understand this. The SF mechanics are the main issue. A secondary issue is the message; I'm not sure what you are trying to tell the reader, though if it's just telling a good adventure story, that's probably good enough for most.

Please take this as what a long time SF reader/writer got from reading the words you wrote. Take whatever makes sense to you and discard the rest.