Goneril

She’d crashed on the planet, gosh, almost twenty years ago now, and the couple whose hog waller she’d crawled out of had been nice enough to take her in, teach her the language, adopt her, like. They didn’t talk much about the past, but she got the feeling that they’d lost at least one kid before she came around, maybe more. They certainly treated her like family, but there was always just a little bit of distance there, a little bit of an expectation that, old as they were, they’d live to bury her yet.

Maybe so.

By the standards of her previous life this didn’t qualify. Nights they froze, winters they half-starved, there was too much work to do for the three of them and not nearly enough food to go around. They slept when it was dark, ate boiled grass some years; there wasn’t a book in the house and she wasn’t sure they could have read if there’d been anything to read.

Still. She wasn’t idle, and she wasn’t useless, and if they kept her just a bit at arm’s length, well, it was the rare summer night that she didn’t go out to the flat rock at the edge of the woods and pick out the star she’d come from, or scan the sky for a sign, any sign, that someone was looking for her, that there was life beyond this field, this county, this country, this land, this world.

But she wasn’t unhappy. Things could definitely be worse.

Elevator Pitch

One’s a swinging bachelor! One’s a hard-driving executive! One’s an irresponsible stoner! They’re all roommates, and they’ve all been dating the same woman! Can they raise a baby together?

or

She’s a hard-bitten private investigator that no one takes seriously! He’s the cowardly actor she hired to serve as the face of the agency. Can they work together to solve a murder?

or

He’s an out of work actor coasting on a show three decades out of style, she’s a college dropout hiding from her parents in her aunt’s unfinished apartment, he’s a broke Broadway producer desperately trying to grift enough to keep the illusion of relevancy alive, can they launch a successful podcast?

or

Casualties continue to mount in Ukraine as winter sets in. Power failures are common, as the invading army cuts power to the country’s largest cities. Meanwhile in Somalia, the drought enters its fifth year, and starvation grips the once-powerful nation; a victim of increasingly violent climate change, which continues to fall most heavily on formerly colonized nations. We enter our third year of a global pandemic, with no end in sight; less than one in eight Americans have received the latest booster. Here at home, the former President has called for the suspension of the US Constitution, and demanded a return to power and control of what remains the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

or

Confused? You won’t be, after this episode of Soap!

The Farmer

The shepherd’s death didn’t bother him, exactly — they hadn’t been what you’d call friends, and death had to come to everyone, sooner rather than later — but nevertheless he felt a certain sinking of the gut as they lowered the old man’s body into the ancient sarcophagus. The shepherd had had the dream, the visions, that had led them to this backwater planet, and they’d believed in them enough to follow him; what did it matter that the man died of malaria less than a year into the project?

“What now?” said the artist, head cocked a little to one side, as he wrapped up the perfunctory eulogy. There was water in his weak eyes. “Pack it in, or—?”

He shrugged and turned back toward the potato rick he’d been digging out before, Levi the sheepdog at his heels, After a moment the artist’s uneven footsteps started trailing after him. What else could they do?

He chewed on it in the fields, and in the evening went in and put on the old man’s robes. There was more water in the artist’s eyes when he came out from the kitchen with their sparse supper, but he’s blessedly silent.

He bit out a short, awkward prayer to the gods of the forest and Mother Drau who created the world; it’s all just words, but someone has to say them. Might as well be him.

Eleanor

The first thing Eleanor does when she wakes is kiss the picture of Hick she keeps on the mantle in her bedroom.

From there it’s a whirl of activity. Committee meetings, state luncheons, diplomatic soirees; she’s forever in demand, forever traveling. At 49 she is as busy rediscovering herself as ever, with the same tireless, cheerful drive that she ever had. The children are grown and scattered around the country, they don’t need her, but so many other people do. That hasn’t been part of the job before, but what the hell, jobs grow to fit their holders, just as much as the reverse.

That first night word reaches them that Cermak has died of his wounds. It’s an ambiguous omen; a death to cloud a triumph, perhaps, but also a near-brush with Frank’s own mortality. Hard not to feel chosen, somehow; called to this.

She puts as much of this as she can in her nightly letters to Hick, and ends the day as she began, kissing the photo of the hard-bitten newswoman with the enthusiastic German Shepard. There’s comfort in that longing.

Clover

Clover leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette, stared out over the city without seeing it. Uncounted poems had been written about the way the morning sun struck the hills overlooking the bay, but it was just visual noise to him. He picked unhappily at the remains of his breakfast, the scrambled eggs, black coffee, and currant jam on rye toast that he started each day with. He had been camping out in this hotel room for over a week, and the waiting was beginning to get to him. The city’s charms were wasted on someone who couldn’t leave their room.

With nothing better to do, he went to clean the high powered rifle yet again, methodically disassembling it, inspecting and oiling each component part, then methodically reassembling the gun. When it was back together, he broke it down again; rebuilt it and broke it down again. The ritual soothed him, replaced the cacophony of his thoughts with a peaceful white noise.

The sun has swung from morning to late afternoon when the ringing of the phone broke him from his trance. He stretched muscles only slightly tense from disuse, and picked up the phone. He said nothing, but a woman’s voice on the other end of the line said, “It’s time,” and a smile broke the surface of his face for the first time in a week.