ArbitrationMage t1_jaqm540 wrote

The silver band glittered with malevolence.

I wanted to throw my arms around her. I needed to throw my arms around her. But that ring stood between us, bright and sharp and cruel.

Ten seconds since she proposed.

I couldn't take the ring. The flicker of a jogger in my peripheral vision reminded me— revealing my fuzzy nature here would leave me dead at the hands of the elders.

Twelve seconds.

But rejecting it would break her. And that would break me.

Fifteen seconds.

Damned if I do and damned if I don't but maybe there's a middle way. Cornered, I fell back on the thing that had gotten me into this situation in the first place: Smarm.

Smarm on its own is useless, but with genuine, honest passion and goodwill it becomes charm and chutzpah. And if I was lucky, it might just get me out of this situation intact.

I knelt, took her hands in mine— careful to avoid the ring— and looked deep into her eyes.

"I'll marry you, my love. But not yet."

I continued over the her noises.

"There's nothing I want more than to wake up with you every day. I want us to be the first thing we see every day. To be with you forever. To grow old together." I squeezed her hands, reassuring with pressure and warmth.

"You are the sun in my sky. And I'm going to marry you. And, I—" I hesitated, but barreled through. Awkward and cute worked. "I need to tell you some things first." A kiss, soft and passionate against her lips, to stifle her thoughts and fears.

"Nothing bad. I promise. We just need to have a sit-down talk before we're engaged. Once we get home, we can do it. Among," my voice went husky, "other things." We shared another kiss, a little more lustful but no less loving.

"Until then..." I closed her fingers around the ring. The lack of visible silver was like a lack of splinters in my hand.

"Until then, my love, hold on to my ring for me."

Feedback appreciated!


ArbitrationMage t1_j67ur6y wrote

I stood hunched over the sink. 0400 hours and I should be sleeping but I can’t sleep yet. Five.

The back of my uniform said “Replaceable Crew Member #29” but it was wrong. I wasn’t replaceable. I was disposable. We all were.

Twenty-nine of us so far and I’d been aboard for three months.

My eyes sought themselves in the mirror. Normal, brown eyes. A folding shaving-razor clinks against the sink as I bumped it.

Most days were simple. Repetitive, routine. But often the ship would find a strange planet or asteroid or anomaly and a team would be sent down. Sent to their deaths.

The Officers never had worse than a scratch. They’ll saunter and soldier on and mourn our deaths and do it again next week.

Few of us live past the first expedition. We are lost in sudden ambushes and tragic betrayals and dramatic battles. Some of the lucky ones make it to two and three but I’ve never seen an expedition return with the same number of crew as it set out.

There were patterns, patterns, patterns to who lived and who died. I had noticed and so had the others. We saw the patterns but the patterns saw us.

The razor opens quietly in the empty room.

Five, that was the key. The ones who survived were the ones who got noticed were the ones who were memorable. Stand out and you’re not disposable. Stand out and you survive.

I don’t know where I got the idea. Maybe I came up with it myself or maybe it built on the knowledge passed from the old hands or maybe it was one of the twenty-nine before me who thought of it. But we knew it was five.

Five adjectives makes a major character.

Mostly we’re normal, standard. Within a standard deviation. One, two adjectives come naturally, tall or dark or female. Just enough to tell who died. Just barely enough to care.

Officers all have five, brave or foolish or loyal. Visiting dignitaries, capable enemies, rescued princesses manage at least three.

Five immediately obvious adjectives. The patterns don’t see everything. Not unless they’re already looking.

The patterns don’t care if Raoul, may he dance forever, told dirty jokes at mess hall. If Jared, may his journey be sped, made chili so strong half of us had to call out sick. If Kiera, dust to soil, always had a shoulder when someone was crying. If Leslie—If L—

The razor draws a thin red line across my fingertip.

I can’t even remember all of them. I lived with them, worked with them— Twenty-nine. The further back I go the more the memories fade.


So far I’ve been lucky. No expedition has sent my number crackling through the comms. But I can feel it catching up to me

.Few of us live past the first expedition. Some of us make it to two or three but not further. The fortunate ones, an Officer says their name. The fortunate few.

I don’t want to go but I’m going to be called. Can’t modify the uniform, can’t run or I’ll be shot for deserting. Soon they’ll call me and I’ll have to go and go and see the patterns see me and ignore me and I’ll go and I don’t want to die.

The razor’s glint is reflected in the tears.

I adopted Paul’s thick accent and Abdullah’s shaved head and it’s not enough and it won’t be enough and I don’t want to die.

Paul and Hector and Sahra and Abdullah and Raoul and Todd and Jared and Kiera and more whose faces are gone and— and Leslie.

I don’t want to die.

My hands shake but my resolve doesn’t as I raise the blade to my face

Very different style from my previous two stories. Constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated!