Reply To: Homework and thoughts

Ellen Saunders

This is the first 500 words of my homework; I revised it to combine both assignments (the protag was originally a mixed-race woman) by making the protag about as opposite me as I could. Caleb is a Black male pilot comfortable with confrontation and risk. The description of the “warden” is probably the most complete character description I’ve written, and it actually matters to the story by the end, but I am concerned it’s stereotypical. I didn’t include any description of the protag because … it didn’t feel natural to the flow of the story in his POV. The entire piece is almost 1400 (and it ends on a positive note).

The Ice Hole
Caleb Parkins planted himself in front of the warden’s antique desk, a squat hunk of furniture nobody had needed for a hundred years. “Garnet is a private merchant ship,” he said, for the third time. “I’m set up for cargo, not people.”

Caleb’s low-grav jumpsuit tugged on his shoulders. Doom weighed on his soul every time he had to walk through the gate in that plasma fence, down the cold corridors echoing with miserable voices, and across this overheated warehouse Warden Kashif Tarkini used as his office.

One look at the rows of privacy-screened art on the walls, the soft cushioned couches, the covered objects a guard once told Caleb were obscene sculpture, you’d think Tarkini owned the Ice Hole instead of this petty little debtors prison.

Caleb reminded himself to use the opportunity to suck as much of Tarkini’s oxygen as he could.

Tarkini leaned back in his chair, narrowing his eyes to telegraph he was about to be an asshole. His taut skin clung to his skull and fingers. The tan sleeve flopping on his emaciated forearm nearly matched his skin, the dark buttons of his uniform the same shade as his liver spots. Either he was in too much debt for much of a personal food budget, or he chose to sink his ill-gotten gains into his porn collection.

Tarkini jabbed the nutri-tube at the merchant-pilot like a weapon. “It’s just a simple transport,” he said. “You got a soft spot for child killers?” The warden’s intense brown eyes shifted off Caleb’s face to something near the ceiling behind him.

Trying to intimidate me by checking that antiquated cam? Caleb almost snorted. InterCorporate “Justice” didn’t care what this profiteer did as long as his prisoners didn’t break out or riot.

Caleb had only agreed to haul freight for this emaciated twit because deliveries meant Dawn could see her son. For that he could put up with a little nausea, a little guilty conscience that he, too, was profiting from a corrupt system.

“You told me once there wasn’t any money in killers,” Caleb said.

“I lied.” Tarkini sounded irritated. He probably lusted after something as profitable as the Ice Hole. “Can’t your heap and crew handle two shackled prisoners?”

Caleb frowned. What are you hiding behind that idiotic request? It wasn’t like Tarkini to ask more than once. Something had felt off about the man since Caleb had come into the room.

Private ships didn’t transport prisoners. The danger wasn’t from Tarkini’s prisoners. Officially debtors, they were all former employees the corporations didn’t want to release to competitors or wanted to silence; overly ambitious young bucks like Dawn’s boy, political dissidents, economic agitators, a few stubborn old coots and the occasional “troublemaker.”

No, the danger was back home in Smuggler’s Cove, where everyone was happy to press Dawn and the crew with gift packages and letters. Transporting Cousin Afram to a distant prison was something else entirely, a something that could result in a sabotaged fuel line or a firebombed dwell.

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