The Stars’ Favored Son: An Excerpt

This year’s NaNo project was (is) a sci-fi, gender-bent retelling of Snow White, with flavors of Treasure Planet thrown in for good measure, complete with an evil stepmother, a wild treasure hunt, and space pirates! It’s very much a zero draft and there’s still a lot of story to write, but doing some minor edits through this excerpt helped put these characters back in my head after leaving them alone for two and a half weeks. I will not neglect them any longer. The following scene happens in the second act, after Alaric’s (my MC) true identity is revealed to the crew and after he bargains for their aid to spare his life. How does he handle all this stress? With a little help from his friends, of course. Check it out!  

Bonnie dismissed Al to the room he shared with the other teens. He was grateful for the opportunity to rest his eyes as the tension he’d built up since she revealed the bounty on his head finally released. Matty and Lee went with him, though Matty only came as far as the door. After a short, whispered conversation with Lee, she ran off elsewhere on the ship. Al didn’t hear where she said she was going.

“She said she was gonna go talk to her mom about something,” Lee said in answer to his questioning glance. “Probably to apologize about the mutiny we almost pulled.”

Al shrank into his shoulders. “I’m really sorry about that,” he said. “You guys didn’t have to do that for me.”

“We meant it though,” Lee said, an unfamiliar seriousness to his smile. “You’re family now. And we had to remind them we don’t turn our backs on family.”

Al sat on his cot, staring at his hands in his lap. “I think we have a very different understanding of family.”

Lee didn’t turn that into a joke, and Al wasn’t sure if he was thankful or disappointed by that. “I suppose all families are different,” Lee said. “I just don’t accept that you can have a true family without love, and if you can turn your back on someone you claim to love, then, well, you aren’t family and you didn’t love them.”

Al frowned at him skeptically. “That’s kind of a naive way of looking at it, don’t you think?” Moira may hate him now, may only view him as an obstacle to her intragalactic reign of terror, but he remembered a time when she had loved him. A time before Pop passed away, when they had been a happy family. “Sometimes people change. They go through things they can’t come back from, even if others can go through the same things and come out in one piece. I don’t think that means their love didn’t exist before.”

“Maybe.” Lee didn’t sound convinced. “Point is, we weren’t going to let anything happen to you.”

Al leaned against the wall behind his cot. “Do you think Bonnie would have sent me back to my stepmother without asking the crew’s opinion first?”

“Rita definitely would have,” Lee sighed. “But I don’t think the captain would have. She’s tough as nails when it’s necessary, but if your life is really in danger, she wouldn’t have the heart.”

“Probably helped that I had a counteroffer.”

“Oh definitely. One thing we pirates can’t refuse is treasure.”

“Were you always pirates?” Al asked. “I can’t wrap my head around a pirate crew that includes teenagers.”

Lee laughed. “Nah, we were an actual respectable merchant ship once. But the further your dad’s company’s reach extended, the harder it became to make a living. So we started dealing in small black market stuff. Believe it or not, there was once a time we would regularly transport passengers short range. Kinda had to stop doing that when our haul became less than clean.”

“I’m sorry,” Al said.

“Don’t sweat it. There wasn’t anything you could have done until you took over anyway, right?”

Al’s shoulders slumped. “No, I suppose not.” Would he even have known how Moira’s policies were effecting outlying colonies? He was so caught up in the Bow that he didn’t really think about how life elsewhere would be effected by the decisions he made. Or didn’t make.

Lee slid to the edge of his bed and leaned toward Al. “Hey, c’mon, don’t beat yourself up over it. You’re still just a kid.”

“A kid, huh?” Al’s laugh held no mirth. When was the last time he’d felt like a kid on the Bow? Everyone always expected great things from him so he pretended to know like he knew anything, even from a young age. He had to be strong and smart to live up to Moira’s expectations. He had to be better than her expectations. He’d never actually succeeded, of course, but he had tried so hard. “What about you and Matty?” he asked, changing the subject. “You two grew up on spaceships, didn’t you? What was your childhood like?”

“I wasn’t born on a ship,” Lee clarified. “Ma had been planetside with Grandma to have me. She was real sick, though. Everyone said she was too old to be having a baby. The same illness that took most of her sight, also almost kept me from even being born. I had a weak immune system and was always sick. Without her eyes, Ma couldn’t work as a navigator and we ran out of money real fast.

“The doctors didn’t give me a high survival rate,” he shrugged. “But our people are stubborn, and Ma insisted I was going to at least see the stars as she once did. So, when I was 5, we took a small charter off planet to the nearest space station. I got better. We met a lovely young woman with a daughter my age who was looking for a navigator and twelve years later, here we are.”

“Bonnie took on a blind navigator just like that?” Al asked, wide-eyed.

“Well, not “just like that.” Ma was pretty well known in the region, and the captain had a neural navigation headset that she couldn’t use. She asked my mom if she would be willing to give it a try.” His face broke into a wide grin. “She says she can see when she flies. She got new purpose, and she got to show me the stars.”

Al rested his chin on his knees as he listened to Lee talk. He had few memories of his home planet from before coming onto the ship, but they stopped home for a visit every few years. Zodara was a small planet orbiting an orange dwarf star in the Proxima Eridani system. It had several different cultures that shared the land peacefully, though that hadn’t always been the case. In each culture, though, connection to the planet was important. Lee’s beliefs allowed for travel away, provided they returned to renew the connection as often as needed. It sounded like a beautiful place.

Al had spent most of his life on The Bow, so he couldn’t really imagine returning to the planet of his birth. He wished he could return to The Bow and set things right, but that wasn’t the same thing as needing to feel it beating beneath his feet.

“Growing up with Matty was about what you’d expect,” Lee laughed. “She was bossy, and a bully, and she idolized her moms so much she tried to mimic them to the point they had to ban her from the bridge for a whole week. Our tutors were mortified.”

“You guys had tutors?”

“Yeah.” Lee stretched one arm over his head. “Our moms insisted we have a standard education in addition to all the stuff we were learning around the ship. Figured it’d make us “well-rounded” or something.” He flashed a toothy grin at Al. “Whatcha think? Are we well-rounded individuals enough for your fancy station education?”

Al tilted his head to one side as he considered it. “Well I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think my own education was typical of the average spacer kid, given that I was also being trained for corporate takeover.”

“It was a joke, Al.” Lee shook his head with an amused grin.

“Oh.”

“I’ll chalk it up to your tiredness.” He stood up and was over Al in two strides, pushing him down with and tossing a blanket over him. “Take a nap. Doctor’s orders.”

Al frowned at him. “Doc didn’t tell me to sleep.”

Lee sat on the floor at the edge of Al’s cot. He rested his arms on the mattress and poked Al’s nose with his finger. “Doctor Lee says get some sleep. You’ve been wired since breakfast and after that ordeal with the crew, you could barely stand.”

Al rubbed his nose petulantly. “I’m ok,” he argued. He didn’t know if he could sleep with Lee staring at him the whole time, no matter how tired he was.

“And you’ll be great with a catnap.” He smirked. “Don’t worry, I won’t let you sleep through dinner.”

“I never doubted you,” he said, a yawn betraying his resolve not to doze off. “Though, now I am questioning your motives.”

“My motives are to get you to sleep so you can relax later.” Lee took Al’s glasses off and folded them on his bedside stand. “Besides, I’m not the one you need to worry about.”

Al wasn’t so sure about that, blind and alone with the mischievous boy. “Is Matty planning something?”

“Matty is apologizing to her mother,” Lee repeated. “And then she will probably go find something to beat with a wrench after her mother scolds her. But don’t worry,” he said, “it won’t be you. I wouldn’t let her anyway.”

Al could hear the taunting grin in his voice. He sighed. He really didn’t have the energy left to argue so he let Lee have this one.

He still wasn’t sure if he would be able to sleep, though. His body was exhausted enough, but his mind was still racing. He’d survived the lioness’s den by the skin of his teeth. Only because he had something shinier to distract them from the reward they’d already been promised. He hoped that shine didn’t dull the closer they got. He had no doubts they would turn on him if he couldn’t deliver on what he was offering them.

He really missed his father. Pop would know what to do. He would know how to appease these women. Of course, if Pop was still alive, Alaric wouldn’t be in this mess. He would have been there to rein Moira in, and keep the peace between them. Alaric would have had many more years to prepare for his corporate throne. Pop would have understood if he didn’t want it. Pop could be on this adventure with him.

Al tugged the thin blanket tighter around his shoulders. He gripped his locket underneath his shirt. To think he had hoped today would be a good one. Now he wished the day would be over soon. It was really the loneliest day of the year.

A soft tune met his ear and caressed his heart. Lee was humming a somber lullaby. Curiously, it banished the dark thoughts from Al’s mind as he focused on the notes and their source. He’d never heard it before, so he didn’t know the words, but it had a similar haunting melody to lullabies he did know.

He reached out from the blanket with his free hand, searching for another. Lee’s hand found his and grasped it tightly as he continued to hum. His warmth flowed into Al and eased him to slumber.

When he woke, Lee was gone. He fumbled for his glasses in the dark, wondering if Lee had let him sleep through dinner after all. He brought the lights up to dim to give himself time to adjust before he headed up to the galley.

He changed his shirt and washed his face. He stared at himself in the mirror for a long while. His reflection grimaced back at him. Dinner was going to be so awkward. He sighed. “You can get through this, Al. It’s just another normal dinner. We can all pretend like the value of your life wasn’t being debated a few hours ago.”

On the other hand, he didn’t have to hide himself anymore. He didn’t have to pretend to be James. He could talk candidly about his life without worrying how they would interpret the things he said. Being able to be himself again was a huge relief.

Taking that confidence, he marched out of his room and headed toward the galley. At least there wouldn’t be any more surprises on this trip.

The lift opened and for a moment Al thought the deathtrap had finally broken. All the lights were off so it looked like the doors had opened into the shaft. Had he slept into the middle of the night cycle? Matty and Lee hadn’t been sleeping in the room when he left, right?

Al was blinded as all the lights came on at once. A deafening roar greeted him and he almost jumped back into the lift to flee to his room. Then he heard the words.

“Happy Birthday, Alaric!”

He blinked to clear the spots from his vision. “W-what?”

The whole crew was assembled behind the table. A slapdash “Happy B-Day” banner had been hung on the wall with makeshift streamers and the table was covered with all his favorite dishes from The Bow. Bonnie stepped around the table to greet him. “Today has been a lot to handle, I’m sure. But when Matty asked me if we could have a party to celebrate your special day, I couldn’t say no. We have so few opportunities to celebrate. Of course, if you don’t want to celebrate, then please consider it an apology for bargaining for your life earlier.”

“It’s not much,” Cook sighed. “If I’d had more warning I would have made a bigger spread worthy of a 17th birthday, but there is cake!”

“Cake?” Al repeated.

“Birthday cake,” Lee said. “You know, cause it’s your birthday.”

Al gaped at the spread and decorations. “Uh oh,” Sylvia chuckled, “I think we broke him.”

Matty’s eyes widened. “Have you never had a birthday party?”

Al shook his head. That wasn’t it. He’d had parties before, but they were usually diplomatic events. He hadn’t had a fun birthday party since he was a kid. “I just, never thought I’d celebrate this one,” he said, voice cracking.

His friends rushed over to hug him. Lee offered him a napkin to blow his nose with as he struggled to hold back his tears. “I’d say “don’t cry” but it’s your birthday and you can cry if you want to,” he teased.

“You are such a dork,” Matty rolled her eyes, but she was grinning too. “C’mon, you must be hungry, and we’re gonna eat this food whether you care to celebrate or not.”

“Thanks,” Al said. He looked at each of the women around the table. “Really, thank you. I hope I’m worth all this trouble.”

“So do we,” Rita grumbled as her wife elbowed her.

“You are,” Bonnie said. “And you’re one of our kids now, so you get a birthday party whether you like it or not.” That got a round of raucous laughter from everyone, and Al felt something new rise in him. As he sat at the table surrounded by his friends and the motherly crew of the Calico Jack, he felt something he hadn’t in weeks. Safe. He was home.

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