Sunday, November 07, 2004


One of the subplots I played with in Afterburn, the SF novel that follows Bio Rescue, involves Jadaira's Terran stepmother, Teresa Selmar, and Captain Noel Argate, a marine biologist working for the League. This scene helps establish their backstory almost entirely through dialogue, which I prefer.

The danger of doing backstory in dialogue is that it can sound like a classic As-you-know-Bob info dump. Unless you have some fun with it. . .

Excerpt from Afterburn by S.L. Viehl
Scheduled Publication Date: September 2005

“The one who got away.”

Teresa turned to see Noel Argate watching her from the edge of the moon pool deck. She already knew what she would say before she removed her regulator and mask, but she took her time doing so. “The one who said he didn’t need an alien-lover girlfriend wrecking his career.”

“Teresa. You remembered. I’m touched.”

“It isn’t every day you find yourself dumped by your lover and expelled from your master’s program for cheating on a test you studied six months to pass.” She stayed in the water. “That program you planted on my computer was inspired, by the way. Everyone thought I had used it to hack into the university’s database and get those test answers. No BioTech on the planet would even glance at my enrollment application after you railroaded me.”

He held up one finger. “Don’t forget, I drove you off the planet as well.”

“That, too.” How like Noel to admit it so baldly, and right to the face of the former victim.

“Fortunately for me, you’re not a vindictive person.”

“You have always pegged me so well.” She removed the long blade from her shoulder harness and let the light gleam along its honed edge before replacing it. “Feel like going for a swim?”

“Maybe later, when there isn’t any steam pouring out of your ear canals.” Noel chuckled and dropped down to sit on the deck step, seemingly indifferent to the fact that seawater instantly soaked his immaculate trousers to the knees. “Your prediction was dead on, you know. I wrecked my career quite adequately on my own.”

She arched her brows. “Really. What brought you down? Sleeping with the wrong professor’s wife, or pissing on the wrong colleague?”

“Terran marine biology has become choked with the young and the restless these past few years.” Mild annoyance made faint lines appear across his forehead. “A promising experiment went bad, and someone with slightly more ambition than me took advantage of it.”

“Exposed you before you could clean up the mess and cover your ass, did he?” She let her grin spread wide. “Lord, Noel, as justice goes, that’s almost poetic.”

He looked down at the rippling surface of the pool. “It ruined my marriage and my career.”

Finding out he’d married someone else sent a small shockwave through her. “It obviously did nothing to block your dive into the exciting field of intergalactic military science.”

“I wasn’t thinking when I enlisted. I just had to get away from it; get off Terra and start over.” He tugged at the front seam of his shirt. “The uniform takes some getting used to, but the rest of it isn’t much different than teaching at BioTech was. I travel more. My colleagues aren’t Terran, of course, but one gets used to that offplanet.”

“How enormously courageous of you.” She swam to the edge of the pool. “Do go on. I should start weeping, oh, any year now.”

“I think you’ve cried enough over me.” He reached out to help her out.

“I hate to deflate your self-opinion, Noel, but it was only that one time, when I found all my belongings in the yard in front of our apartment.” Teresa ignored his hand and climbed out of the pool. “Mostly it was for the clothes. The rain and mud had ruined half of them, and I couldn’t afford to replace them.”

“The housekeeping drone wasn’t programmed to do that. I guess it got its wires crossed.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “God, you really must hate my guts.”

“Long time ago.” She began peeling off her wetsuit, and hesitated. It had been decades since she had lived on Terra, where public nudity was only one of the many social taboos. “I’m naked under this. If that’s a problem for you and your delicate homeworld sensibilities, best turn your back.”

He shrugged. “Seeing you naked was always a pleasure, but I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”

“I haven’t been a pretty young co-ed for twenty years, Noel,” she said wryly as she continued to strip. “These days my body fights gravity, and gravity is starting to win.”

“Nonsense. Mature women have their own appeal.” He studied her. “You’ve grown up beautifully, Terri.”

“Thank you. I think I can die happy now.” She stowed her suit and rig in her locker and pulled on a dry tunic and trousers. Get this over with, now. She faced him. “What are you doing here, Noel, and what do you want?”

He stroked his chin. “Friendship being out of the question, I suppose.”

“I’d rather tongue-kiss a man-o-war.”

Copyright 2004 by S.L. Viehl
All Rights Reserved.

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