I’m writing and editing a 1,000 word science fiction story this month as part of Writer in Motion. It’s been a lot of fun; you can see my first draft and second, self-edited draft in my previous posts. This week, we’re revising our stories based on feedback from two critique partners. I was delighted to be matched with two talented SF/F writers to swap story critiques in the first of the two CP rounds. Nyssa Rae is a Canadian SF/F writer whose fantasy story (Accidental Wishes) has a wonderfully snarky narrator and opens with vivid sensory detail. K.J. Harrowick completely ignored the story prompt (side eye) but wrote an action-packed sequence that takes place in a very compelling fantasy second world.
Their insightful feedback on my story emphasized exactly why getting other eyes on your work is so important. Nyssa provided a spectacularly detailed line edit. She pointed out some tense inconsistencies in the opening that I hadn’t noticed, and flagged some other places where a small adjustment could improve clarity or readability. Kat is a wizard of cadence and helped me polish some rough parts that (once again) I’d missed. Both of them also had nice things to say and responded to hints of deeper mystery/worldbuilding. Some of which were even intentional! Without further ado, here is the revised version of the story.
The Watcher in the Vale
by Dan Koboldt
The knock on my door came at midmorning. Three confident, staccato beats. There’s not a settlement for miles in any direction, and this little stone keep isn’t listed on any map. I’ve made no effort to scrub the weather stains from the old stone walls. The unidentifiable shrubs and saplings threaten to swallow the entire structure every year. In short, my humble abode was hard to find as any place in the galaxy.
But still they came.
I yanked open the door after the second knock. A young woman in a Space Corps uniform stood there. Probably early thirties or a bit older; I was losing my ability to tell. Three stripes, so a lieutenant. She had red hair, green eyes, and the unmistakable set to her shoulders possessed by someone who’s made up their mind. The familiar smells of ozone and sanitizing foam still lingered around her. Fresh off the shuttle, then. She hadn’t wasted any time.
“What?” I demanded.
My abruptness brought her up short. She blinked, then cleared her throat. “My name is Karina Fawcett.”
“Pleased to meet you.” I made it clear with my tone that I wasn’t.
“I understand there’s a device here that allows one to see the future.”
“Who told you that?”
She hesitated and looked away. “Someone I know.”
“Does that someone have a name?”
She stared at me. “I forget.”
“Then go away.” I slammed the door and barred it.
She didn’t knock again. I hoped that would be the end of it.
When I went out to collect firewood, Fawcett was still there. She sat in the shade of one of the misshapen trees. So still that I didn’t see her until I was halfway down the path. I ignored her, but felt her eyes on me as I dragged a large bough back up to the keep and got to work with my axe.
I fell into a rhythm of setting, chopping, and stacking. Working with wood relaxed me. Kept my mind off things, like the ever-present temptation to have a look myself. I didn’t realize she’d moved until her shadow fell across my chopping block.
“I’d like to look,” she said.
“No, Lieutenant Fawcett. You really wouldn’t.” I scooped up the split logs, turned my back on her and went back inside.
She didn’t bother me again until the next morning. I stomped out to haul water from the well. She was waiting by my door when I got back. Judging by the wrinkles in her uniform, she’d spent the night on the ground. The bags under her eyes told how well that had gone.
“You still here?” I asked.
“I want to look.”
“You really don’t.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” she snapped.
“In hopes that you might listen.” I held up a hand to forestall the inevitable protest. “I know, I know. You have an important decision to make and you need to know how it turns out.” The interstellar war had raged for six years. Last I’d heard, it was going poorly for both sides. Like most wars do.
That gave her pause. The look of astonishment said I’d hit pretty close to the mark. To be fair, it wasn’t hard to guess what a young officer from the Space Corps wanted to know.
“Well, it’s true,” she said at last.
They all came this way, desperate to know what the future held. I shook my head. “You might see something you don’t like.” That happened sometimes. Even worse were the ones who took their glimpse and didn’t see anything. Given the precise focus of the instrument and the way the timing worked… well, it didn’t take a prophet to know what that meant.
“I know,” she said.
“Whatever you see, you probably can’t change.”
The silence stretched between us. A breeze ruffled the otherwise still mountain air, shifting a few strands of auburn hair across her face. It reminded me just how young she was. So few years under her belt, so much weight on her shoulders.
She stood up straighter. Stuck out her jaw. I knew what she’d say next. “I’ve come to look, and I won’t leave until I have.”
I sighed to myself and gave a tight nod. “Come on, then.”
As I entered the stone keep, I brushed a finger across a tiny sensor panel on the door frame. A soft chime sounded. Lieutenant Fawcett harrumphed. The biometric security always surprised people, especially the military types. I hefted the bucket onto my stout wooden table.
I nearly offered her a drink, but she only had eyes for the instrument. It was a shimmering glass oval two meters tall mounted into the stone at the back of the keep. The Lens, it was called. So named because it showed you a moment two months, two days, and two hours into the future.
“It’ll only work once for any person. Do you understand?” I asked.
“You know the words?”
She bit her lip, nodded, and looked up at the glass. “Mirror, mirror.”
I didn’t look. I never do. Still, I couldn’t close my ears to the noise. The roar of space engines, the dull thuds of explosions. The screams.
When the vision faded, it wasn’t hard to read the devastation on her face.
“I tried to tell you,” I said.
She moved to the door, which I hadn’t bothered to close. I followed her outside. It was midmorning by then; the sun had crested over the high ridge and chased the mist away. She set off at a slow but deliberate pace, heading away from the spaceport into the tall and mist-shrouded mountains. Never said another word.
I shook my head and would’ve gone back inside, but I spotted movement from the edge of the vale. A man this time. He wore the other uniform but marched with that familiar, grim purpose toward my door.
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