Astella: The Partner of My Dreams

Submitted for Contest #59 in response to: Write about a character arriving in a place unlike anywhere they’ve ever been.... view prompt

10 comments

Sep 19, 2020

Romance Mystery Science Fiction

I am Xion. I am writing this because I am, well, confused. My bunkermate Cass suggested this. Considering my distress recently, she introduced me to this type of writing therapy. “They used to call it ‘confession’,” she said, her hands gesturing outwards as if presenting the word in the air. She explained very little but said that her “parents” made her do this once and she’d felt better. 

Cass is from the Trad Tribe, a growing group of historiarians who follow the traditional methods of human living passed down from the early 2000s. They started as a funny bunch who insisted on the sophistication of knives even though food were only available in bite-size. They continued to wipe their mouths with processed chopped wood rather than succumb to the convenience of the cleansing scan provided in every alleviation room. They argued that nature had its significance in the course of life and remained true to the early intelligences of humankind. As their group’s teachings expanded, and their reading disseminated throughout the cloud platform, more and more people began adopting their way of life. Cass’ gene donors were from the Trad Tribe and insisted on naming her Cassandra outside of the auto-generation code. She began as a dedicated Trad Tribian but compulsory enlistment changed her mind. After a big altercation, Cass and her gene donors compromised. She will call them “parents” and agree to accept Trad Living, but she will move into my bunker and follow the course of civilians among our age group. 

~

“Well? How goes?” Cass asked, plopping herself onto Xion’s white, plush sofa. 

“Fairly well, I suppose. It’s hard to say with no previous data. Couldn’t you have brought me a sample from your Trad rec?” Xion said, leaning back in his chair and finally taking in the condition of his desk. The 120 pages of processed wood Cass had brought back the previous night were scattered all over his desk. Some were crumpled as a result of his frustration with his lack of ink pen control.

Cass got up and peered over Xion’s shoulder to examine the result herself, “What’s dis? Start with chapter womb why duncha?” 

Xion’s face flushed pink; he was too used to his daily introduction of his “strange” bunkermate and leaned on it when he couldn’t think of how to begin his own story.

“Start with when you met her or sumthin’, why the Wyoming would you write about mey?” Cass continued. 

~

I am Xion. I am age 26, from unit 52 - previously known as Under America. I met Astella - age 25, from unit Unknown - 12 synods ago. In this day and age, it’s not uncommon for extended periods of long-distance relationship. In fact, the transfer application process itself takes at least 5 synods.

Except Cass keeps reminding me that visitation only takes 1.

I met Astella through the Reach For Partnership program. She was my fourth match, and I her first. Our initial correspondence was polite as they usually are, but as time passed, it was clear that she was well-read and passionate about the world beyond ours. She wasn’t quite Trad Tribian, but she was fascinated by worldstory, by rhyme wars, and by ancient language discordance. The first time she went into a rant about how crazy it is that civilians used to speak different languages that don’t facilitate communication - well, it took my words away. First of all, I did not know that. Second, the way her gaze drifted away from the camera to whatever was behind her console… It was as if the world, the past was there beyond the brown rectangular backdrop that framed her beautiful oval-shaped face. I wanted to see it. I craved to see what she saw.

~

Xion looked up from his project. Cass had brought over a chair to read along beside him. He could see a glimmer in her eyes.

She noticed his pause. “A lot betta,” she said softly, and turned away. She remembered the day she returned to the bunker and found it covered in pink cloud bubbles, an aspidistra elatior standing proudly in a white pot with a gold ribbon around it. Her heart bubbly and her palms clammy, she found Xion at his wardrobe deciding between a blue floral tie and a red solid tie. She remembered his expression of concern, yet he had been completely indifferent to her appearance. She’d learned then that it was Xion and Astella’s meeting anniversary and he had planned to surprise her with a green plant he ordered 2 synods ago for this special occasion. She spent the rest of the night in her sleep dome.

~

My anniversary surprise was a success. Astella’s tears of joy melted my heart. I just wished I could bring her the potted plant in person. I knew her interests, her desires, her dreams, her preferences - but I knew nothing of her life, her day, her routine. Not that it ever came up as a problem; we had way more important ideas to cover. 

But Cass was right. This is now a commitment to the future. If we were to continue to move forward - together - what does that look like?

So I requested a meeting with Astella. Only the second mention of meeting throughout our relationship. She broke down and disconnected.

The next day, she called and agreed to my request. Her eyes sullen, and cheeks sunken. All in the span of one night, she seemed to have withered. I questioned, but didn’t press further. That night, I received an address in the email, a passcode, and meeting time.

~

Xion gripped the ink pen tighter, attempting to steady his script from his shaking body. Drops of tears landed at the bottom of the page, each drop adding to his frustration. He gripped tighter.

“This is the dumbest method of record keeping!” he shouted, his script on the page a mix of shivering strokes and swirls bunched together too closely.

He threw the ink pen across the room, got up, and activated his sleep dome. Ignoring Cass’ pleas, he fell in. The sleep dome caught his body, cradling him in a flowy bubble. He breathed in the sleep scent and closed his eyes. His body floated as did his mind, until the images in his head stilled and a field of vibrant green stretched out before him.

~

I stepped into the green field, my mind barely comprehending the senses. The vibrancy of the green, the rustle of the wind, the shrill sound I didn’t understand. The… sky? Real clouds? What is this place? But I digress. My mind returns to the important matter at hand. I was to meet Astella for the very first time - in person. I assume. I looked down at the suit I picked out, still white and straightened. The blue tie I chose, still blue against the white. I touched my face, the stubble still gone as I had shaven this morning. All of this is like a dream.

I walked towards the little wooden house, the only structure on the expanse of green. As I approached, I noticed the details of the wood, the tiny etchings on the door:

Astella M.

#3

VLP2101

The door opened and Astella appeared. She was shorter than expected, the top of her head just barely reaching my shoulder. The ends of her long cerulean hair wisping at her waist were a shocking comparison to her pearly white skin. Her eyes were a light brown, slightly melancholy. Her nose was small, slightly upturned and pointed. Her lips… her lips were a soft pink, the lower lip plumper than the top. Her smile was reserved, soft smile lines appearing on her beautiful face. The dimple I thought she had through the computer screen was no longer visible.

“Hi,” I said, when I meant to say so much more. 

“Hi,” she replied, her voice exactly the same as I’ve heard through our calls. “Shall we sit outside?”

Astella led me to the back of the wooden house and sat me down on a daybed located against the side of the house. A console was set up in front of the daybed. The wooden backdrop… this was where she calls me… I sat, on the daybed, finally looking from the other side of the screen. Beyond the console was the expanse of green land, alive in the wind. The sky blue and the clouds white. A horizon of trees in the distance, green and yellow. And flowers… just like in the stories… some scattered on the green land, some peering out of bushes to the right of the house. 

“What is this?” 

“This is my world, Xion. Where I live.”

“But where… where are you when you wake up?”

Before she could answer—if she intended to—a fluffy creature poked its head from under the daybed, starling me. 

“What is this?!”

“It’s a human companion. We used to call them guinea pigs. They were popular companions back in—”

“This level of tech is banned! Are you a criminal?!”

She tried to put a hand on mine, but I wouldn’t accept it. 12 synods and I have no idea who she was. The partner of my dreams… who is she?

“Are you a criminal?” I pressed on.

“My name is Astella, but years and years ago, I was Stella McMillan. I was the third and last human conscience uploaded to the cloud. I’m sorry.”

I ran across the green, back onto the shuttle platform, and exited the Virtual Living Program. 

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10 comments

Sage S
01:13 Oct 21, 2020

I love your injection of personality using dialect, as well as unfamiliar descriptions of familiar things (120 pages of processed wood got me). It has such whimsical sci fi vibes, but with intriguing darker undertones by the end. The character's thoughts and descriptions feel organic, without being a tsunami of stream of consciousness. The world building is nice and succinct for an intro piece, with good repetition of new words (I love synods!). I saw in one of the comments that this is your first sci fi, so great job! Whether you co...

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Vinci Lam
20:34 Oct 22, 2020

Thank you for your critique, Sage! I really appreciate you taking the time to read it. Honestly, I had no idea I was going for whimsical sci fi but now that you mention it, whimsical sci fi is all I want to aim for! I'm glad the style came through okay; as I understand most sci fi to be more present moment action stories, I was worried this wouldn't work very well. But of course, like another reader mentioned, it still needs a little more action to drive it further. How do you mean the perspective is too fluid? Like it jumps back and...

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21:52 Sep 23, 2020

Very cool, I really enjoyed the amount of world-building you managed to fit in so few words! I also enjoyed the distinct characters you have in it, really nice. There are a couple of things I noticed that maybe can be worked on. The first one is the point of view: you switch at one point between those of Xion and Cass, but my impression was that the whole story was meant to be from the former's perspective. Maybe it was deliberate? It was a bit unexpected and I'm not sure worth doing when you have 1K-3K words. The other thing I noticed, whi...

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Vinci Lam
18:16 Sep 24, 2020

Thank you so much for your critique, Pablo! I really appreciate it. This is my first ever attempt at sci fi (world-building has always been a fear for me), so your first sentence really meant the world to me! I see your point regarding perspective, and you are totally right - it's probably better left for a longer story. I guess my original intentions were to highlight Cass' significance in the story because she was the element that creates the contrast of the world vs ours. Good catch on the colours! I was trying to contrast the lack...

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Josh C
03:45 Oct 07, 2020

What a really interesting story! I feel like there is a huge world behind this, and a lot of backstory that I want to know more about. The mix between what he has written and what is happening is interesting, and gives a good clue that the end is all dreamed in the sleep dome I guess. I think the only thing that really stood out was the end - Astella being an uploaded consciousness was really out of the blue. Because we know nothing about uploaded consciouscness except that only 3 were uploaded (it isn't mentioned elsewhere in the story) ...

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Vinci Lam
19:11 Oct 07, 2020

Thanks for reading my story, JC! I'm so glad you found it interesting! This is my first ever sci fi story because I am the kind of person who overthinks world-building and unnecessary details and then ends up cramming too much in. So I really tried to hold myself in for this one and learn where it can make sense to leave unexplained - but obviously still more to learn! "I think the only thing that really stood out was the end" - this is a good catch. I do tend to write stories that are more focused on the reveal at the end. In this case, ...

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Josh C
01:24 Oct 08, 2020

Oooh ok, that information was lost on me. I re-read it and I see what you !ean, his 'present ' ends with him stepping into the green field. By the way when I say stood out, I meant for improvement. I enjoyed the story and world very much. Scifi in shorts can be tricky and easy at the same time. On the one hand you can hand wave alot of technical stuff as there's some not time to explore it, and if it generally falls within established sci-fi tropes (ftl, artificial gravity, food cubes) no one questions it. On the other hand, because th...

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Vinci Lam
19:35 Oct 16, 2020

All good points! I totally see where I started one way and moved towards another, which probably ended up causing unnecessary split of attention in the story. Will definitely be more aware of that!! I think you gave great notes! I really appreciate your time, JC! :)

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Josh C
02:17 Oct 17, 2020

You are very welcome, and likewise I very much value your feedback. I'll be sure to check out more of your work when it comes up, so hopefully we will critique each other again! I'm not writing this week though, none of the prompts particularly appeal to me.

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Vinci Lam
00:55 Oct 21, 2020

Definitely would love us to critique each other again! I've been trying to start writing something every week but have abandoned most of my attempts for the same reason... Hopefully we'll both find some inspiration soon! :D

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