I'm back with Part 3 of The Shell and the Star, an unpublished Science Fiction Romance book being serialized and offered in its entirety here on Spacefreighters Lounge.
If you'd like to catch up with the first two parts and connected commentary, you can find them here:
How Part 2 ended last week:
A large form torpedoed into the room and splayed his fins, coming to an abrupt stop. He was a magnificent Perling male—a young giant, sleek and keen-eyed. Shoulder-length, black hair drifted in the gentle current, framing a handsome face. Very handsome, even by Talstar standards. His dark eyes locked on her figure and his face contorted with shock and scorn that Jinn knew—and feared—all too well.
“A throwback?” An explosion of bubbles emitted from the young male’s mouth. The sharp laughter simultaneously sounding from her translator shriveled Jenn’s battered heart.
Mortified, she opaqued the one-way shielding in her outer bubble to hide from the son’s scathing gaze, ashamed and wounded by his undisguised contempt.
So much for her suitor’s approval.
The Imperator grimaced and grasped one of his son’s forefins, addressing him in a tone of rebuke. “Have I not taught you better? Where are your manners? Introduce yourself to our guest, my son.”
“There is no need,” Jinn said through her teeth. They couldn’t see her inside the one-way shielding, but they could still hear her translator. She moved her hand to the controls, ready to reverse course and glide straight back to the transfer station and the shuttle that would soon depart again for Talstar.
“Please hear his very humble apology,” the Imperator said with a glower at his son.
“Apologies,” the young Perling said in a most unapologetic voice. He pulled his fin away from his father’s grasp and rose to snatch a breath of air from the ceiling before speaking again. “I am Tardem,” he announced, puffing out his chest in pride. He crossed a fin over his waist and jack-knifed his body into an exaggerated bow. “First son of the Imperator.”
First son? Jinn mouthed from within the safe screen of her pearlized bubble. Then he’s…
“My impetuous heir now having satisfied his infinite curiosity will remove himself from our presence.”
“You’ll suit Trey well,” Tardem said with a droll smile, then flailed his arms in a mighty butterfly stroke, and rolled to glide toward the exit. Shooting through the archway, he slapped his fin on the shoulder of another Perling who had just entered as he jetted past.
Jinn took in the new arrival and gasped.
The young male gazed at her opaqued sphere and pulled himself up inside the chamber with a wave of his fins to hold his position. He was a runt! A Perling, yes—but short-limbed and compact—a virtual mirror of her own disfigurement.
Jinn felt a stab of pain in her heart as sharp as any dagger.
Now I see.
The second son of the Imperator was a mutant among his people, just like she was. Had their two fathers agreed to marry off their freak offspring, finding them suitable for no one but each other?
Jinn’s face heated and she hugged herself tight within the obscurity of her bubble. How could she accept the bid of this man? Any children they produced might very well be doomed with the same mutation they both suffered. How could she afflict such heartache on an innocent child?
She wanted to power back to her shuttle and leave for home at once.
She wanted to shout obscenities.
But mostly, she wanted to cry.
“This is the son you have come to meet, Jinn Amalla.” Her translator interpreted the kindly voice of the Imperator. “The son who has bid for your hand. I think you will find his manners far superior to his older sibling. Perhaps I should leave the two of you to get acquainted. I’ll send Morra with refreshments.”
Jinn didn’t want to be alone with her suitor. What would they talk about? What did they have in common—other than the obvious? She watched the Imperator glide from the room, anxiety making her palms sweat. Still hiding within the safe obscurity of her sphere, her gaze darted back to his second son.
“Hello.” The young Perling swam closer to her bubble, peering at the whitened sphere she’d hid herself behind. “I’m Trey.”
His words were unassuming, and the timbre of his voice came deep and confident through her translator. Despite his stunted limbs, he swam with an effortless grace, the muscles in his shoulders and thighs rippling with power as he maneuvered his fins. Like his brother, he wore no bodyveil, only a short red swimkilt that left his chest and appendages naked. Jinn had heard her giddy siblings gossip about how this was acceptable attire for young Perling males, but having full view of his bare, well-toned chest felt indecent.
“I’m Jinn,” she finally muttered.
“You’ve come to honor my bid,” Trey affirmed. “As you can now see, I’m not like others of my kind.” Trey’s voice was steady, neither apologizing nor defending his appearance. He seemed at home in his own skin in a way she had never had been in hers. She envied him this.
“I am not like others of my kind, either,” she admitted.
His eyebrows raised in surprise. Before he could ask more, Jinn cancelled the opaque and her bubble went clear.
Trey back-paddled and stared. He broke eye contact for only a moment to rise to the ceiling to take in air then descended to hover at eye level.
About that Disability...
In its infancy, I shared a portion of The Shell and the Star WIP with a couple of local critique partners for their reaction. Though both had favorable comments, one was struggling to understand what the hero and heroine looked like. She scratched out a quick drawing of two squat, bulbous little bowling pin shaped figures and asked, "Is this how they look?" I stared at her drawing with raised eyebrows and a sinking feeling that, clearly, I needed to do a better job as the author. (Writer, meet Shortcomings. haha)
The intended twist in The Shell and the Star is that Trey and Jinn look just like us--like modern humans--but their evolved, elegantly tall, graceful, long-limbed (or finned) contemporaries see them as hideously deformed social outcasts. Perhaps in the way our society would view a Neanderthal or a much earlier hominid if one were born in 2022. Perhaps viewed as a curiosity at best, but with those who are less tolerant seeing a freakish evolutionary anomaly--what in animal husbandry is sometimes called a "throwback." In fact, that's how these two societies refer to them, as well.
One facet of the story is how these two individuals grow up to view themselves. How one embraces and accepts his differences, but the other rejects her physical 'shortcomings' and is shamed by her appearance.
Trey and Jinn are both throwbacks to our time. Two distinctly de-evolved individuals in this distant future.
Or are they?
Read on next Monday, and have a great week!