Frank looked at the typewriter again, for the fifth time. He looked at the words written on the blisteringly white paper wedged against the cylinder of the machine. Or, rather, he looked only at the white paper for there were no words upon it yet.
Frank didn’t like to write.
So why was he a writer? He couldn’t have told you that. Maybe he loved to write or could love to write if he could write what he wanted. He had loved to write, once. But now he wrote garbage. He thought it was garbage at any rate — alien romances. Who wanted alien romances?
A lot of creatures apparently. And it wasn’t like he had a choice.
He let out a huge sigh. Resigned to his task, he started typing.
The keys made satisfying chunk sounds as he pressed them. The typewriter was old, manual. The corresponding typebars swung into position and stamped against the ribbon. They left the imprint of each letter on the paper. Frank’s fingers ached, thinking of all he had left to do. He missed his word-processor.
He typed Wormhole Rendezvous: An Alien Romance. His finger jabbed return. And he typed By: Rufus Snarblax. His pen name.
Another sigh escaped his lips. So it began again. It was all too real. The clock on the wall read 5:45 AM. He had a couple hours, a little more.
Then his editor would arrive.
He pressed return a few more times and then began in earnest. It was all he could do.
The words flowed, from his mind and through his fingers. Plastic and metal translated them into little drops of ink on pulped trees. Well, what looked like ink and paper anyway. The ludicrousness of it all made him laugh out loud. He stopped typing.
The clock read 6:23 AM. Was it 6:23 AM? Was it even a functioning clock?
Frank glanced around the spartan room. It contained only his writing desk and the clock. The old replica typewriter sat on the desk and to its left lay a stack of hundreds of sheets of 20-pound typing paper. One lone sheet sat to the right of the typewriter. The room itself was a perfect cube, as far as he could tell. The walls were all white, they looked like regular painted drywall. And in the ceiling was a single incandescent light bulb. Behind him, behind his battered and squeaky wooden — was it? — chair was a door.
His editor would come through that door at 8 AM sharp. Again he sighed, louder than the other times. He started the chunking and clacking once more.
After years it was only a matter of letting his mind go to work, hoping his tired hands could keep up. Today it was wormholes, yesterday a starship, the day before the surface of a cold, barren asteroid. The setting didn’t matter. All that mattered was that two, or more — depending on the target audience — beings found each other. His editor provided the specs.
He stopped typing again and his eyes went to the lone sheet of paper to the right of the typewriter. On it was almost a full page of type — today’s specs. The target audience was the civilian population of Erdilon VIII. There was a thriving economy there based around tunnellers, worm-hole jockeys. They would dive through in their ships, hoping to find something of value. Then they would hope to return with said something. It was gold rush days there now. The public wanted, craved was the word in the spec, stories about their gallant brethren. And about the aliens they met and seduced. Of course. Whether those stories were true, or not. On the spec, below the overview he had read, were a few choice snippets from some of these tunnellers.
Singleblad the Everlasting, a likely name, had written a couple of lines. It concerned his quest for the Serdedian Snudas, an ancient weapon of some kind. Barry Tysver — yes, Barry is a common name on Erdilon VIII, one of those cosmic coincidences — found love through one wormhole. Then the space harpy, his words, left him and took all the valuables he had squirrelled away. There were another couple tales in the spec but those two would do.
Frank had his through-line: Barry the Somewhatlasting was successful in his quest for the ancient Talmeredian Snarflas. It being the only thing that could save his people. But, would he choose his mission or the stunning Talmeredian maiden who guarded the Snarflas? With her pulsating, iridescent tentacles she was quite a catch.
Frank started typing, forcing the words onto the paper. He changed out the sheet of paper, then another, and another.
He finished and looked at the clock. It read 7:50 AM.
Once upon a time, he would read back over what he had written. Those times were long gone, years gone. So many years. What did he care anyway? If the story wasn’t good perhaps his editor would return him to Earth. Or, better yet, kill him. Either way, he’d be free.
7:55 AM. Five minutes to dream, to remember. To ponder what ifs.
What if he had stayed home that night, instead of chasing those lights he had seen in the sky? But he had been a new New York Times bestselling author. He had made his name with a book, of fiction, based on a personal experience. In the forest, he had found something odd and used it as the basis for his book. What if those lights had been the start of his next great work?
Instead, here he was, years later — how many? — writing pithy romance for aliens, trapped in a replica of an Earth room. Outside these four walls was an architecture he couldn’t fathom and an atmosphere he couldn’t breathe. The door behind him — through which his editor would soon emerge, dressed in a pressure suit — was one end of an airlock. The pressure suit hid most of the editor’s grotesqueness. But it couldn’t hide the six arms and the three rows of seven eyes.
He glanced at the stack of blank white paper once more. It was so white, like a beacon.
What was it they said, death by a thousand paper-cuts? He picked up the topmost sheet.
The clock read 7:58 AM.