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Featured Story, Week of July 22, 2018: "Fresh Earth"

Each week we feature a story written by one or two of our group members at our weekly meetings. This week's featured stories were based off of this assignment of Erik's making:

Bridging the Immersion Gap

Fiction: not a technical manual. Unless you're writing a procedural of course. And then there's always immersion in non-fiction: a travelogue. What pulls us out of our seat on the train or the diner and puts us in the middle of the forest? It's a writer's ability to give a reader the tools of imagination, to substitute one reality for another.

How immersive is your story? A rich, sensual description builds the texture, literally constructing an alternate reality. The writer builds a sense of place for the narrative to unfold. This is particularly critical for the beginning of a story, and especially when it's not a captive audience. If it's a sequel, or you have a fanbase, they're captive – you've got room to streamline right to the action or lay the texture on thick.

…But what's that balance for a blank page? How do we engage an audience that doesn't know you and has no reason to care? Join us today as we begin a story. Our writing prompt is going to be three-fold: Figure out a setting to anchor a bigger story. Figure out two characters to drop into it. And, finally, write a scene between those characters that draws the reader out of their seat in the diner – and into the world you've imagined.

We had 20 minutes to write.

Fresh Earth

By Kate Weize

It was 4:25 am Earth time when Lynn Ryder reached the planet in question. She was running on Terviva IV time, so her body was perfectly awake and alert, but she always liked to check the Earth on the omniclock every time she came to a new planet. It kept her grounded, she felt, and that was important when you spent most of your time traversing outer space.

Her little Honda Star Series X3 puttered down into the atmosphere, chasing the sun as the auto-GPA zeroed in on her destination: A northern-hemisphere superkale farm, just a few clicks off the standard coast. In moments she spotted it--and unassuming prefab farmhouse perched on a low, easy hill, the landing pat lights winking white and blue.

Lynn brought her Honda in for a landing and checked the omniclock again--local time, 9:30 am. She’d made good time considering. Her possible informant stood waiting at the edge of the landing pad, a tall, lanky man in faded blue.

The hatched opened with a hiss, and Lynn stepped into the mid-morning sunlight. All her senses confirmed what the planet specs had told her. It had that new planet smell. The freshly-generated atmosphere bit into her lungs, so clean it was almost painful. The air left a bitter taste in her mouth. THis as a cheap type of terraform, one that focused on crop production and only provided the bare essentials for its human inhabitants. They sky was tinged an uninspired shade of puce thanks to the residue of the ozone generators, and the ground was pancake-flat. Kansas flat, Lynn’s dad would have said, save for some distant mountains bearing important water-storing snowpack on distant white peaks.

“I’d imagine you’ve seen prettier planets,” the farmer said, extending his hand. “Abel Edemaker.”

Her tall, lanky assessment had been correct--he towered over her by almost a meter, his clothes a clean but well-worn denim, a weathered face with keep blue eyes, hair cropped short. His hand was callused and the grip firm--not one of those fully-automated farmers, then. She liked him already.

Lynn shook the offered hand. “Pretty is as pretty does, Mr. Edemaker. I understand you’ve done well here.”

He gestured at the fields surrounding him, where the dark black soil had a hazy sheen from sprouting seedlings. “This plot’s ideal for superkale. Then again, they built it that way.”

“I’ll admit I’m surprised that you contacted the service. Most successful farmers don’t go looking for reasons to have their planets scrutinized.”

“Maybe so,” he admitted, scratching the stubble on his chin. “But Ma’am, my family has been farming for eighteen generations. We’re honest people. And after what I saw...well. I’m hoping you’ll prove me wrong.

Time to do her job. Lynn pulled out her tablet and pen, skimming through the notes on the first page. “You say there are unusual deposits here. And you don't think they were seeded by the terraformers?”

“The whole reason I jumped on this plot was for the soil content. High iron and calcium deposits. Perfect for superkale. But it’s not uniform. My cousin has a plot five clicks from ehrer that barely shows any traces of either element. He’s spent a fortune on soil conditioners.

“That’s not an uncommon practice,” Lynn said, frowning at her tablet. Though the disparity was surprisingly dramatic. “Increasing the monetary value of featured plots while skimping on others. It’s unethical, but not exactly criminal.”

“There’s more,” Abel said. “Come with me.”

She had to double time to keep up with his long stride as they circled the house. A holodog on the front porch got up and barked until Abel waved it away. The house had a handmade shake built lean-to style against the prefab on the back. Abel opened the makeshift door and pulled out a plastic bin. Inside lay a heap of earth.

“I took this from my east side quarter.” Abel knelt and ran his big hands through the soil, filtering it through his fingers. Little piece of white remained. He held them for Lynn’s inspection and she felt herself go pale. This brand spanking new soil from a freshly terraformed planet contained tiny fragments of bone.

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