Excerpt 2: Untitled Space Opera

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So, I recently shared with you guys an excerpt from a WIP – an untitled space opera.  It was from one characters point of view – the story itself has multiple characters so we can see a lot of different pov’s.  Today, I wanted to share one of those with you.

Ulysses Sean Starker is the character who inspired this entire story.  It was his tale that I wanted to tell.  I realized early on that I needed to build his past before I could tell the story that I wanted to share – even if no one else ever read any of it.  Luckily, my brain being my brain, his past became this interesting and compelling story in its own right and other characters, like Gabe Carter, started to emerge.  But it all started with Uly and wanting to understand him better, know where he came from, how he became the man I first imagined him to be.

So, meet Ulysses Sean Starker, son of a farmer who only wanted to be something different.

Excerpt: Untitled Space Opera

By Patrick Hester

© 2010/2011 All Rights Reserved

In a word, farming was boring.  At least for Uly; short for Ulysses Sean Starker, only son of Atticus and Deidre Starker.  In just one day, Uly would turn seventeen.  His parents were firmly in the ‘you’re going to be a farmer just like us’ camp, while he was firmly in the ‘oh God please get me the hell off this rock’ camp.  Rarely did the two camps see eye to eye, which made family dinners interesting, to say the least.

“You have to aerate the soil,” said his father while demonstrating his technique.  Atticus Starker was a tall, thin man with too-tanned skin and thinning brown hair currently matted down with sweat.  His eyes were gray and sharp; he could see Uly goofing off or not doing his chores around corners and through walls.  Currently, Atticus wore a simple set of blue-jean overalls, a thin undershirt and his normal workboots, all of it covered in a thin layer of dust, dirt and grime, though the boots certainly had the lion share of each with more than a little mud thrown in for good measure.

“We have machines that do this,” Uly said.  His father looked up from where he was working with his hand tools, leaning back on his knees to frown at his son.  “We also have machines that measure the moisture in the ground, the maturity of the crop, the ratio of bees to pollenizer – all done by machines and all managed by your pad.”  Uly threw this last bit out because he knew damn well the pad was sitting back at the house in practically brand new condition despite being over twelve years old.  His father preferred a more ‘hands on’ approach to farming and suffered the trappings of modern ingenuity and technology only because the military insisted on it.

“You have to get dirty sometimes, Uly,” Atticus said.  “You have to dig your own hands into the soil, feel it under your fingernails, get a sense of it.  One day, all of this is going to be your responsibility and you are going to need to know it all as well as I do.  There’s not a spot on this farm unknown to me, because I take the time and make the effort.  You need to do the same.  Now, get down here and-“

“I’m enlisting tomorrow,” Uly interrupted him.  His father looked suddenly very tired.

“We’ve discussed this before and no, you are not.  You’re a farmer.  Now, grab your trowel from the truck and-“

“I’m not asking you for permission,” Uly interrupted him again.  “I’m telling you what’s going to happen tomorrow.  I’m going to wake up, get cleaned up, head into town and sign the papers.  I’m enlisting, dad.  Tomorrow.”

“You are a damned fool,” his father said, then he threw his tools down for emphasis.  “You never can get it through that thick damned head of yours,” he added, rising.  Atticus was not an imposing man normally, but standing nose to nose with him, Uly found himself fidgeting.  He himself was bulkier; built like the football player he’d become whereas his dad was easily a runner.  Where Atticus had thin but well hardened arms, Uly had more defined muscles and more heft to him.  His football coach wanted him for linebacker but Uly preferred wide receiver because he was strong and quick.  His eyes were his father’s but his hair was darker, favoring his mother and his skin, though tanned, was not as leathery as either of his parents.

“We’re safe here,” he said, thumping his finger on Uly’s forehead to emphasize each word.  “No wars, no terrorists, no politics, decent pay and plenty of work that needs doing.”

“If you’re a farmer,” Uly said.

“Son, you are a farmer, you just don’t know it yet.”

“I’m not a farmer and we’re safe because there are people out there protecting us!”

“No, we’re safe because no one knows we exist,” Atticus sighed.  He brushed by Uly and made his way to the truck.  A little rougher than he needed to be, he pulled the water cooler from its place in the back and held it above his head to take a drink.  When he was done, he leaned back against the truck and stared at his son.

“Your mother and I had to make some difficult decisions before you were ever even conceived.  We could’ve stayed home, lived our lives the way we always had, worked to pay off our debts and taxes, but we never could’ve afforded to have a child – not the way we were going and with the money we were qualified to make.  It was the easier way.  We had a bit of family around, life wasn’t terrible, but we just didn’t see a future that we wanted in it.  So, when the chance came up to move here, we took it.  ‘Wipe away your debt’ said the recruiter, and all we had to do was sign the Official Secrets Act and let our families believe we’d died in a car crash or some such bullshit.  A new beginning the moment we signed those papers; a whole new world to call our own.  Coming here, there were no prohibitions on having children, no prophylactic implants – we were encouraged to have children and as many as we could or wanted without any taxation or fees!  If your mother hadn’t had complications… That’s neither here nor there.  Believe me, son, this is paradise compared to back home.  You wouldn’t even be here if we hadn’t chosen to be farmers on this colony.”

It was the most his father had ever said on the subject in one sitting, but it had little impact on Uly.  He was frustrated that his parents either didn’t see how miserable he was, or they outright chose to ignore it.  Either way, he was done.

“I leave at six thirty tomorrow morning,” he said as he turned and walked away.  He could feel his father’s eyes on him with every step; he never looked back.

* * *

Ruby was snuggled into the crook of his arm, her cocoa brown skin warm against his. They were wrapped in his sleeping bag on soft grass far from everyone. Well, as far as they were allowed to go. The military had strict ‘out of bounds’ rules and fences. Still, they were far enough away for it to feel like forever. Uly was staring up at the sky and thinking. When she pinched his chest and yanked out a hair, he yelped.

“I’m getting the feeling you’re not here with me anymore,” she said with a wicked grin. Her dark eyes were full of amusement, her slim face still a bit flushed from their last… “I think I deserve your full attention, sir,” she said.

“You have it,” he smiled. “I swear!” he added when he saw the menacing look cross her face. She leaned in and rested her head against his chest.

“You’re thinking about Atticus again,” she said, not really asking a question.

“And tomorrow,” he admitted. “But I’m here now. Promise.”

“I really have no idea what I’m going to do when you’re gone,” she said softly. She wouldn’t turn seventeen for another six months and even then, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do yet.

“Don’t wait for me,” he said quickly, and got a hard slap on the chest for it.

“I heard they’re talking about lowering the age limit again, making it sixteen now instead of seventeen when you can enlist.” Uly whistled. That would not sit well with Atticus. He’d fought hard ten years ago to keep the limit at eighteen only to lose at the polls when the referendum passed with a startling majority.

“Are you going to enlist then?” he asked. He knew what she would say.

“I don’t know,” she sighed, just as he knew she would. He didn’t think she would leave the colony; the farmer was too strong inside of her. She was more like his parents than either of them liked to admit, and yet, he loved her. He would marry her if she’d have him, but was afraid to ask unless he knew how she’d answer. “Momma says it would be good for me but daddy says he doesn’t want me to go.” What do you want?, he almost asked, but he knew that down that road was a fight he didn’t want to have tonight.

“Ruebella? Get your ass home this minute! If you’re out past curfew again I will make sure you never sit right again! Do you hear me, girl?!”

The voice was Ruby’s mother and Uly found himself chuckling. Ruby started to extricate herself from the sleeping bag, digging through the pile of clothing that was half hers half his until she came up with her wrist wave.

“We’re on our way back now, momma,” she said, then quickly turned it off. Uly found himself with a wonderful view of her; standing in the moonlight, naked, shadows and light falling just right to accentuate her curves. Her dark hair shimmered, falling in rings across her shoulders and down her back. When she noticed him noticing her, she smiled. “I’m going to be late again, aren’t I?” she asked.

He threw back the sleeping bag to show her the effect she was having on him.

“God, I hope so,” he said. She laughed as she dove back in.

* * *

“Name?”

Uly rolled his eyes. “Thom? You have known me all my life. You’re only a year older than me. We played football together for three years.”

Blushing with each word, Thom Castle looked like a thundercloud about to erupt. He was a larger man than Uly, much larger, with wide arms and a wide torso and a melon of a head to match. Gone was the curly dark hair of his youth, replaced by the short-cut marking him as part of the military (as if the blue and gray uniform didn’t say it loudly enough). Absently, Uly wondered if they’d had as much trouble fitting him for that uniform as the football team had. The man was a mountain on two legs.

“God dammit, Uly! This is my job! I have to do it right!”

“Okay, okay,” Uly said, putting his hands up to forestall anything turning ugly. “I’m sorry.”

“Good. Now, name?”

“Ulysses Sean Starker.”

Thom pushed the keys on his terminal one at a time, his pudgy, sausage-like fingers sometimes causing him to push too many all at once, then having to go back and correct it. Uly started to wonder how long this was going to take and if there were going to be mistakes made.

He’d left the farm at six-thirty on the dot, his father nowhere to be seen but his mother seeing him off from the porch all full of tears and hugs. Dinner had been a nightmare, of course, but Ruby had taken his mind off of that. He’d snuck in after curfew and never heard his father leave in the morning before him, but somehow he’d managed it. Still, he thought he felt his eyes on him now and again as he walked to town.

“Age?” asked Thom.

“Seventeen today,” he replied, trying hard not to roll his eyes again. His mother was a puzzle to him; the night before, she’d been just as vehement as his father, just as loud with the yelling, but this morning, she was sad and teary eyed and clingy. He just didn’t understand women.

“Papers to prove it? School transcripts? Medical history?” Thom asked.

Uly waved his hand above the reader and Thom nodded as his terminal dinged, Uly’s implant having transferred the necessary information. At least Ruby hadn’t acted like his mother. She took everything in stride; no tears, no guilt. He really did love her.

“High test scores,” Thom grunted. He was looking at the data and grimacing. Thom always had struggled with school work. Uly had pushed to graduate early, taking summer courses and doing extra hours. Everyone thought he was dedicated to school but really, he just did it because it meant fewer hours working the farm. He’d also done better than most with half as much work, which bothered people. Given Thom’s expression, he must’ve been one of those people. “Broke your collar bone?”

“Yeah. Remember that game against Benton two years ago?”

“Oh, yeah,” Thom said with a whistle. “That was murder.”

They’d lost by twenty-four points. The rain was coming down as if someone were up in the sky pouring it out of buckets, turning the field into a mess of mud and standing water. A dozen players had broken something that day with all the slipping and sliding going on, except for Uly. Roshuka Gaida had taken him down in the third with a too-high hit from behind that had gotten him banned from playing the rest of the year given that it could’ve crippled him. Little consolation to Uly who lay face down in the mud, his collar bone broken and his mouth full of blood, mud and water.

“Roshuka joined,” Thom said into his thoughts. Uly’s eyebrows climbed nearly off his head. “Already off-world,” he added with a nod.

“Wow,” Uly said. It was all he could think to say. Roshuka had a mean streak a mile wide and everybody knew it. Part of him was glad the man wasn’t anywhere near the people he loved anymore but another part worried for anyone fighting against him. Roshuka would show no mercy.

“Okay, everything looks like it’s in order. Take a look at your screen and make sure the information is correct,” Thom said. The screen facing Uly flared to life and he saw all of his information. He did a quick scan through it, nodding.

“It’s correct,” he said.

“Wave please,” Thom asked. Uly waved his hand across the reader and Thom’s terminal dinged again. “All right, all that’s left is for me to read to you the agreement for enlistment and for you to wave your agreement. Please wait until I have completed reading the agreement before you wave the reader. Do you understand these instructions? Please wave for yes.”

Uly waved his hand across the reader, Thom nodded as it dinged.

“You affirm today that you understand you are enlisting in the United States Defense Force on this, your seventeenth birthday and that you foreswear all other allegiances and oaths, that you will support the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and will obey all orders given to you without question according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. You agree and understand that you can and may be sent away from this, your homeworld, for a period of no less than five years and you will remain on reserve recall for no less than fifteen years beyond your term, during which you may, at any time and without warning, be recalled to active duty. Do you affirm and swear, before God and myself as your witness, that you do understand and agree to the terms of your enlistment?”

Uly waved his hand above the reader. Thom nodded at the deeper ding that his terminal made, then looked up with a grin and offered his hand to Uly. “Welcome to the USDF!” Uly took the hand with a smile of his own. It was official now; he was a soldier.

“You’ll report out front of this recruiting station tomorrow morning for duty, nine o’clock. If you don’t show up, they’ll send someone to find you. I don’t recommend you let that happen.”

“I won’t,” Uly said. “I’ll be here.”

Uly walked out of the recruitment center expecting to feel different, like he was a different person but he still felt like Uly. He shook his head, then he saw his father’s truck. There was no mistaking the beat up old red Ford. His father stepped out and walked around without even looking at Uly. He reached into the back and pulled a duffel which went on the ground in the middle of the street, then he pulled a second one that landed next to it.

“Your things,” he said. “Don’t come back to the farm.”

“Dad…” Uly said, taking a step forward. The look on his father’s face stopped him dead.

“Don’t come back to the farm, Ulysses.”

Uly didn’t know what to say. He watched as his father drove away.

* * *

“You can sleep in the guest room – alone. And you Ruebella? I’m lockin’ you’re door tonight from the outside and if you step out it, I’ll shoot you and him. Is that clear?”

“Yes, momma,” Ruby replied. Genevieve Boisseau fixed him with a stare that would’ve sent any sane man running for the hills. Short, dark skinned and heavy-set with her abundant hair done up in layers and held in place with a cloth (Ruby told him what it was called once but he suddenly couldn’t recall), Genevieve was an imposing woman, more so considering that she seemed to have an intimate knowledge of his intimate knowledge of her daughter.

Women were crazy. They talked about everything.

“And you,” she said in that accent his parents had told him was half French half Southern, “What your parents done ain’t right. Rest easy knowin’ I will have words with them. For tonight, keep your nose clean and your dick dry, you hearin’ me boy?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said quickly, trying hard not to look at either of them. Ruby was smiling. Smiling!

“You can help Ruebella with her chores and we’ll getcha to town tomorrow,” Genevieve announced. With that, she left them alone in the guest room, though she didn’t close the door.

“She left us a window,” said Ruby as she came up to him, stood on her tip toes and kissed him.

“A what?” he asked, one eye on the door in case they got caught and he needed to start running.

“She said she was locking the door. Didn’t say anything about the windows,” she said as she slid her hand down his pants. Uly jumped and stepped back.

“Ruby! She’ll kill us!” Ruby laughed that throaty laugh that meant she was ready to do terrible things, terrible, wonderful things that would get them both shot by her mother in a fit of rage.

“Then come help me with the chores. We can start in the barn with the hay…”

* * *

“Now, you listen to me good, boy, hear?” Uly nodded. “You keep your head down! Don’t be drawing attention to yourself. Just do what they tell you and when and you’ll be fine, hear?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Uly said with a smile. Mrs. Boisseau eyed him as if she didn’t believe him, but then she smiled, hugged him and kissed him on one cheek and then the other.

“I’ll give you two a minute. Don’t tally, Ruebella!” and she waddled off.

The USDF shuttle had arrived just a few minutes ago, and all the recruits were milling about, making their goodbyes to loved ones and friends. He was surprised by both the numbers of recruits and how many he knew personally. He’d counted at least thirty in the crowd and knew maybe a quarter of those by name and another quarter were familiar if he didn’t know their names. Devlin Ortiz was there; he lived up North and attended Conrad High School. They’d played each other a lot on various teams growing up. The other smiled at him when he made eye contact and Uly smiled back. Searah Alistair was from Uly’s class; a small girl with light hair and large eyes that never really said much. He was surprised to see her there at all, he didn’t get the ‘military vibe’ from her.

A few others caught his eye; Robin Trayce with his curly hair and freckled face, Danis Hobb all muscle and no neck, Kristen Alvarez, easily one of the most beautiful girls in school, like something out of a vid she was all boobs, hair and butt, Tamothy Druin, long, tall and gangly – the list went on and on.

“Hey,” Ruby said, cupping his chin and directing his eyes toward her. She slipped her arms around him and he around her; they kissed until he heard someone telling him it was time to go.

“You better send me a wave when you get there,” she said as he reluctantly pulled away.

“I will,” he said. “I promise.”

“And one every day after that!” she added with a smile.

“I’ll try!” he shouted as he ran for the shuttle door. He was the last one on and ended up next to Tamothy, quickly strapping into the seat.

“Well,” said Tamothy in a surprisingly deep voice. “Here we go.”

Uly looked at him and Tam smiled. “Voice changed this summer.”

“I had no idea!” Uly said with a laugh. Tam shrugged.

“I don’t talk much so how could you?”

“We’ll have to fix that,” Uly said as he felt the shuttle shudder and lift off. He looked out across Tam to the window and saw the town quickly shrink as the shuttle rose into the clouds. Uly took his duffle and shoved it under the seat in front of him. He’d gone through the things his father had brought him and cut it down to just the essentials, then asked Mrs. Boisseau if he might keep the rest at her home until he could send for it. She said yes so he was able to travel much lighter.

“I didn’t see your parents,” Tam said. Uly shook his head.

“We said good-bye on the farm,” he lied. If Tam knew it for a lie, he said nothing, just stared out the window. The view out the window flared and became darkness, both of them leaned to get a view.

“We’re in space,” Tam said breathlessly.

“I wonder where we’re going…” Uly said as he watched the planet start to fade beneath them.

“I don’t know, Earth maybe? Where do they train us?” Tam asked. Uly had no clue, but he doubted it would be Earth. Somehow, he didn’t think he’d get that lucky on his first time off-world. Earth existed to him only as a series of images in history books. There was very little direct contact between the colony and Earth for security reasons. At least, that’s what he’d always been told.

“Welcome to the United States Defense Force,” said a pleasant female voice. The lights in the cabin began to dim and the vids on the backs of the chairs in front of them sparked to life. “As part of the Protected Colony Planet Initiative, you or your legal guardians signed the Official Secrets Act as part of their Colonization Agreement. This means that your home world is classified top-secret in order to protect it and you from harm at the hands of our enemies at home and abroad. When leaving your home-world, you are bound by the oaths and agreements taken by your legal guardians to protect the location and existence of your home-world. To facilitate this, your planet, Montana and all the towns within were named after towns in Montana on Earth. Further, street names, layouts of towns, schools – all of these are identical to their Earth counterparts.”

Uly shared a look with Tam. The screen in front of them began showing side by side maps of their home towns and their counterparts on Earth. It was eerie. Uly felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up when he saw his high school side by side with an identical one on Earth.

“If asked, you can honestly tell anyone the name of your home town, the schools you attended, the parks where you played as a child and they will assume you are from Earth. Further inquiry will show that, on the surface, your details match the towns in question. If pressed, understand that violation of the Official Secrets Act will result in execution for treason of yourself and any living family members off world. Please wave that you understand.”

Uly swallowed as he waved his understanding to the vid, changing the color from red to green. Tam did the same, his own vid turning green. After a few minutes, the entire cabin was filled with a green hue and the voice returned.

“Thank you. Your flight today will be short. Please be sure that your harnesses are secured as we approach the Tower Transport System.”

The vid died and the cabin lights came back on. Murmurs started throughout and Tam looked at Uly, shaking his head.

“I’d wondered,” said Tam. “But I never expected that.”

“We’re on a secret colony,” Uly said. “I suppose they have to do something to keep it secret.”

“But why?” Tam asked. “I mean, why is it a secret?”

“I don’t know,” Uly shook his head. “My dad always said there were a lot of problems on Earth; wars, terrorism, crime – he said that was only part of why they took the deal to come here. There’s probably more,” he added.

“The Chinese,” said a new voice. Both turned and looked across the aisle. It was Searah Alistair and Kristen Alvarez, Searah had done the talking.

“What do you mean?” Tam asked.

“The Chinese have been pushing for a long time,” Searah explained. “They outnumber us easily ten to one and back on Earth, the US has a lot of rules and laws limiting procreation, so they had to do something to increase our numbers for the coming war.”

“You think there’s going to be a war?” Kristen asked. Searah nodded.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time. So they have to keep the colony worlds secret so they’re safe. Like a fall back position.”

Uly didn’t like the sound of that at all, any of it.

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