Saturday, March 23, 2013

Excerpt from Season of Bliss

The following is an excerpt from my new short novel, Season of Bliss:

     Jester stood in the large, grassy area just inside the fence that surrounded the base. The structure itself was utilitarian, containing only that which was necessary for its function. It was similar to military installations on his world. Human conflict seemed axiomatic. This world probably has similar conflicts to every other world.
     The prime minister, in a speech on the net, had said everyone should come together to welcome Jester on the eve of the bliss, whatever that was. That could suggest some sort of differences between governments that necessitated a military. He thought of asking others, but most seemed to keep their distance from him. It was understandable. They didn’t know his intentions.
     The many ironies of these people fascinated him. Their clothes seemed dull with unimaginative colors while appearing elegant at the same time. Much of their news consisted of commentary, and yet they still strove for the truth. Their music… he wasn’t sure he could describe it. Almost all of it seemed based on simple percussion, but the complexity of the melodies was astonishing. All in all, this world delighted him. Especially her, and for reasons he couldn’t fathom, he was eager to see her again.
     Soon, her car pulled up. This was the only civilized world he’d visited, but he’d read reports about other such worlds from voyagers just like himself. It seemed personal transportation and extensive road systems were a staple on all technologically advanced worlds. The driver stepped out and nodded at him. Jester nodded in return, as was the custom on that world.
     The driver opened the rear door, as if the lady could not do so herself. Sasha exited the car with grace. She smoothed out her dress and muttered what was probably thanks to the driver. The driver tipped his hat and stood next to the car as Sasha approached.
     Jester couldn’t help but smile at her. Her dress seemed to hide the features of her slender body, while at the same time enhancing it. She’d tied most of her brown hair into a sort of bun. A few strands had escaped to hang artfully around her shoulders. She wore very little makeup, far less than even the most humble woman on his world would wear. By all accounts, she was plain. No, he thought. Not plain, just—reserved. The few affectations in which she indulged enhanced her beauty beyond measure.
     Perhaps that was it. Her minimalist approach made her look more natural, and therefore more alluring.
     His thoughts clouded as she stopped a short distance away. Her facial features remained relaxed, but he could see the tension in her shoulders. Still apprehensive, he thought. Everyone was. Again, it was understandable, but with her it was different. She seemed almost upset, as if she’d rather be elsewhere. The thought bothered him.
     He kept smiling, but she didn’t return it.
     “That’s a nice dress.” A compliment might… smooth things over, as the expression went.
     “It doesn’t make me look larger, like the last one?”
     It was an accusation, not a question. He’d insulted her somehow, probably when commenting on her dress. Downloading and memorizing language and culture was one thing. Internalizing it was another. She would understand, but he should make amends.
     “I believe I insulted you earlier. I assure you that wasn’t my intention.”
     “I would hope not.” Her voice was curt. “I assume you wouldn’t say such things on your world.”
     “Most women genetically sculpt their bodies, sometimes daily.”
     “It must be nice.”
     That was it. On this world, people couldn’t body-sculpt. They were stuck with whatever their genetic code gave them. Anyone might be sensitive about their body if they couldn’t change it.
     “I’m afraid I’m not as familiar with your culture as I would like to be. I hope you’ll forgive me if I… stumble from time to time.”
     For a moment she didn’t react, and he thought he got the euphemism wrong.
     Then her shoulders relaxed as she gave a short sigh. “I’m afraid I also must apologize.”
     “It appears they are attempting to enter your spacecraft.”
     “Yes, I know.” She cocked an eyebrow, and he smiled. “My ship makes me aware of anything going on within its vicinity. It’s unlikely they can harm it and impossible for them to enter.”
     “Please understand we are merely curious.”
     “I do understand.” He waved the issue off. “Feel free to examine the outside of the craft.”
     “Thank you, Mr. Gold.”
     She put her hand to her mouth to cover a smile. “Yes, Jester.”
     “Is something wrong?”
     Her smile broke into a grin that became laughter. He couldn’t help but laugh with her. It was infectious. He could’ve stood there all day and watched her.
     “Forgive me,” Sasha said, “but may I ask about your name?”
     He’d expected this question. “You mean how it translates?”
     She nodded, putting her hand to her lips to stifle another laugh. “So you do know what it means, then.”
     “A clown.”
     “As in a court jester.” She smiled meekly. “That’s what I thought of when I first heard it.”
     “Only the most royal court, mind you.”
     Her face lit up when she laughed. Enchanting, he thought. Just like everything else about her.
     “To answer your question,” he said, “I knew my name was derived from old English, but that language is incomplete to us. It’s a surprise to find it spoken here.” He tilted his head. “It is English, yes?”
     “We’re not sure ourselves,” she said. “We know our ancestors spoke it, but we don’t know how much it changed over the generations it took for them to arrive here.” She shrugged. “We may never know for sure.”
     He nodded, and then they stood for a moment of awkward silence. He wanted the conversation to continue, but he couldn’t find the words. Every subject he could think of seemed inadequate or silly. It was peculiar, considering they were from different worlds. They should have plenty to talk about, but he was, as the expression went, tongue-tied.
     What was it about her?
     “So,” she said, “I hear you’ve been granted access to the city.”
     He’d almost forgotten that. “Yes. I’m looking forward to it.” He glanced up at the city, which towered over the base. “Looks like it’s a long walk, though.”
     “Maybe I can help with that.”