The Tesserene Imperative - Deleted Scenes:

Chapters 1 & 29

Right before I submitted the final draft of the book to my first publisher, I decided to excise most of Chapter 1 and a large chunk of Chapter 29. These parts dealt with Swede’s home life. Although I liked the scenes, and felt they gave the reader a better feel for Swede outside of work, the comments I’d received from some beta readers indicated that Chapters 1 and 2 dragged a bit. Because I needed to introduce the rest of the crew via the poker game in Chapter 2, the home-life scenes in Chapter 1 had to go, as much as I hated to delete them. That was most of Chapter 1. Fortunately, losing the scenes didn't have a major effect on the rest of the story. Once I deleted those scenes, I had to delete the related bits from Chapter 29 as well, but that was all. I then moved some of Chapter 2 to the end of Chapter 1. As a result of these edits Chapters 1 and 2 move much more quickly. Unfortunately, Helga became relegated to only one or two brief mentions in the entire story, and little Timmy ceased to exist. (Sniff, sniff. Sorry, kid.)

 

Although this information no longer applies to the finished novel, you might enjoy this “alternate universe” version of Swede at home. The scenes in Chapter 1 take place immediately after the opening scene.

Chapter 1

 

I sat up abruptly, wild-eyed and heart pounding. Sweat beads meandered down my chest. I found myself dripping wet—yet again.

 

It took me a moment to recognize my surroundings. The wall chrono showed 10:43 a.m. I’d overslept. Helga sat beside me, chin on knees, arms wrapped around bare legs. Her sea-green eyes stared at the holoscreen on the wall in front of the bed.

 

I’m not the most astute judge of women, but from the way she studiously avoided looking at me, even I could sense trouble coming.

 

“You had that nightmare again, didn’t you?”

 

I nodded, my heart still racing.

 

“Why don’t you just quit your job? Do something safer; something that doesn’t give you nightmares. I’m worried about you, Jan.” Her voice had a plaintive note to that at times could be damn sexy. At the moment it was merely a distraction I didn’t need.

 

This was barren ground, tilled to death through repetition. As with the dream itself, I knew nothing would change; but I couldn’t stop myself.

 

“Look, honey, my leave's up and I have to get back to the ship. You know that. It’s how I make a living. If I quit, how would we get by?” I started to roll out of bed and set my feet on the floor.

 

Helga turned onto her side and curled an arm around my waist, pressing her cheek against my back, holding me tight and keeping me from leaving. Helga wasn't classically beautiful, but she was in great shape and had gorgeous strawberry-blonde hair. She hated her freckles, but I thought they were adorable. To me she was stunning.

 

“I don’t care,” she said. “We’d think of something. But at least your nightmares would stop.”

 

“Would they? Or would they be replaced by nightmares of you and Timmy slowly starving to death? You know how hard jobs are to come by these days.”

 

Helga said nothing, pursing her lips instead.

 

I gently pulled myself from her embrace and stood up. “Sweetheart, I have to get dressed. Can you make us something to eat? I’m ravenous.”

 

For once Helga didn’t seem inclined to continue the argument. “Of course. I’ll go fix something.” She got up and stood behind me, arms around my chest, holding tight. “I packed your stuff last night; everything but your shaving kit and a change of clothes.” Her voice was thick with emotion. “I didn’t want you to forget anything. I know how distracted you can get when you’re set on leaving.”

 

I glanced at the mirror in time to see Helga turn her head away, eyes glistening. Her skin was warm against my bare back, the top of her head level with my shoulder blades. She isn’t short; I’m just taller than most, especially for a spacer. My forehead has the scars to prove it.

 

“Honey, you know I don’t want to leave. But I have to.”

 

She looked up at me, hope filling her tear-sparkled eyes. “What would happen if you called in sick…?” I wasn’t getting off the hook so easily after all.

 

“Sick? C’mon, Helga, I’d miss the mission!” For a moment my annoyance flared; then I stopped to take a deep, calming breath. “Sweetheart, you know how it works. The ship leaves tonight whether I'm on it or not.” I frowned. “I know you’re not crazy about the arrangement, but you've never made this big a deal about it before. So what’s different this time?”

 

“I don't know, exactly. I just have a funny feeling…like you're not coming back. You’re not the only one who had a nasty dream last night. I dreamt you were attacked by aliens—horrible aliens. They had dead black eyes and razor-sharp teeth dripping blood; their claws were ripping at your chest. It seemed like—I don’t know…like it wasn't a nightmare, but a premonition. It was so real!”

 

Following on the heels of my nightmare, her description gave me goosebumps. I tried to laugh it off. We spacers are a superstitious bunch and I didn’t need that hanging over me. “Helga, honey, with an imagination like that you have a rosy future ahead of you writing horror stories!”

 

She punched my shoulder. “I’m serious, you big ox!” Maybe so, but her voice had softened to its normal tone.

 

“Besides, what aliens?” I turned and held her in my arms. Our eyes locked. “In over two centuries of space exploration no one’s discovered a single alien life form bigger than a poker chip. Right? The way I see it, the only one clawing at my chest is you.” I winked and flashed a crooked smile. “Relax, sweetie; there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Can’t you just skip this one trip…?”

 

I sighed. “Helga, be reasonable. I can’t just arbitrarily skip missions, especially in the last minute like this. The guys depend on me! I can’t let them go halfway across the galaxy without an RCO, and there isn't time for them to find someone to take my place. You can call in sick one morning and it’s not a problem. You just walk in the next day. If I don’t show up, the rest of the crew is shorthanded for months. Aside from everything else, that puts their lives at risk. And, as I said, we need the money. I can’t build a nest egg for us by skipping missions.”

 

She sighed in resignation. “I know, but I can't shake the feeling. Maybe it's not rational, but I just know something horrible is going to happen if you go…. I don’t want you coming back missing vital parts.”

 

I pulled her close and nestled my nose in her hair. She smelled of warm jasmine; her skin was like silk. Leaving her was the last thing I wanted to do. “Any parts in particular? Never mind. I don’t think I want to know. Nothing really important, I hope.” I waggled my eyebrows at her and leered.

 

“Jerk. Don’t make fun of me. I’m serious!”

 

“Sweetheart, I'll be fine—trust me. Have I ever not come back before?” That got me a roll of the eyes and a hint of a smile, but at least she wasn’t frowning anymore. “Don’t worry, I'll return in a few months as sexy and handsome as ever.”

 

She ignored my comment and changed the subject. “You know, sometimes when you first get out of bed, you look just like Timmy—with your blond hair sticking out all over and those blue eyes looking for trouble. You’re like bookends.”

“Yeah, but he doesn't have my broken nose,” I said with a wink. “Give the kid time. Once he starts hanging around spacer dives, trouble’s sure to follow.”

 

Her mouth quirked up in a brief smile. “Not if I have any say in the matter. I won’t have you both in space!”

 

“It’s going to be a while yet for Timmy. Do you really see us staying together for the next fifteen or twenty years?”

 

She turned away and changed the subject again. “You get dressed on and I’ll get started in the kitchen.” She threw on a bathrobe, walked to the door, and looked back over her shoulder. “If you get yourself killed, I’ll never speak to you again!”

 

It was an old joke, but she’d been entirely too serious. It was good to hear her lighten up.

 

“I promise not to die. Cross my heart and hope to die. Besides, I’m way too young to cash in these sexy chips.” I flexed my biceps at her.

 

Helga merely flashed a wan smile and shook her head as she headed for the kitchenette.

 

I finished dressing in time to hear her ask Timmy to set the table for lunch. I knew that would only take a minute, so I went to the sofa to wait for him.

 

“Okay, mommy,” came his reply from the living room.

 

Helga’s apartment was tiny—nothing like my spacious bachelor quarters in the Saleya Intergalactic compound. My place wasn’t free, but it was subsidized by SI, so it was reasonable. Still, Helga never could have afforded it on her salary. She was a marine biologist; a respected and essential profession, but not a lucrative one. I begged her, more than once, to move in with me, but she stubbornly clung to her cramped little kingdom.

 

While on a mission, I always had to contend with the tight confines aboardShamu. I was used to that; but during shore leave I preferred to stretch my legs. Helga’s apartment was way too small for me. She was worth the inconvenience, but I hoped to change her mind eventually.

 

Timmy finished setting the table, his face eager and expectant as he glanced over his shoulder at me. I was the source of wondrous tales of space exploration (mostly fictional), and he couldn’t wait to hear something new to tell his friends. I wasn’t about to disappoint him.

 

I waved him over to the sofa and wove together the mostly-true details of a dozen missions—with considerable embellishment—into one amazing adventure that kept Timmy enthralled until Helga finished her prep work and went into the bedroom to get dressed.

 

“How about watching some holo while your mother gets dressed, Tim?” Now that he was six—six-and-a-half, as he kept reminding us—he insisted on being called Tim. His mother disregarded his pleas; after all, he was still “her baby.”

 

He nodded enthusiastically. “We could watch Polaris Phil. He’s a space marshal. Phil and his loyal sidekick always catch the bad guys!” Phil was my only rival for Timmy’s affection.

 

“Yeah, I know; he’s invincible. But I’m taller! Besides, I’ve got a better sidekick.” I winked and we shared a smile. “Screen on. Polaris Phil.”

 

The holoscreen snapped on at my command. Phil and Phreddy were already in hot pursuit of the bandits. The holoscreen occupied the entire wall opposite the sofa and was visible from both the kitchenette and the tiny living/dining area. That was about the only advantage of such a miniscule flat.

 

It was a fact of modern life. With forty-three billion humans calling Planet Earth home, there just wasn’t enough living space to go around. Even though each woman was limited to only one live birth, the population kept increasing due to longer life spans. With overcrowding came food shortages, and thus strict rationing. One thing we learned from the food riots of three decades earlier was that the governments of the world had to provide enough food to feed the poor. Everyone got enough to survive on, but little more.

 

Apparently Phil was less riveting than usual that day. “Uncle Jan, why is your ship called Shamu?”

 

“Because it’s shaped kinda like a killer whale.”

 

“But all the whales are dead.”

 

“Right. The ship is named after a famous dead whale.”

 

“Because he was brave?”

 

“Hmm. I’m not really sure why.”

 

“So which is bigger, a real whale or Shamu?”

 

“Shamu—no contest.”

 

Timmy looked up at me with wide, trusting eyes. “Are you the boss of the ship?”

 

I had to smile at that one. “The captain? Almost.” I didn’t want to disappoint him. He thought I was the next best thing to Polaris Phil. SomehowRCO Johansen didn’t sound quite as swashbuckling as Captain Jan.

 

“So what do you guys do all day?”

 

I looked over at Helga, who was stirring something that smelled delicious. “How much longer will dinner be?”

“Not long. Is Timmy getting on your nerves?”

 

“Nah. He’s great.” I turned back to Timmy and ruffled his hair. “It’s a long story, Tim, but I’ll give you the short version. We explore new systems, searching for buried treasure.” Okay, technically we were prospecting for minerals, but gold and silver ore could qualify as treasure, couldn’t it? “If we find some, we process as much of it as we can on the spot.”

 

“Like tesserene?” His eyes lit up.

 

“Absolutely! That’s where the treasure hunt comes in. No one knows where the gold, silver, and tesserene are hidden. We have to follow the clues until we find the treasure.”

 

“Stellar!” Timmy didn’t care about money. For him it was the adventure, the danger, the heroism in the face of overwhelming odds. He watched entirely too much Polaris Phil…

 

Timmy finally ran out of questions, giving me a few minutes of peace before lunch.

 

He knew me as Uncle Jan, and I played the role of the kindly uncle to the hilt. He needed a father figure in his life since Michael took off. Timmy was too young to remember him, so I was the stand-in dad and he was definitely attached. But it was tough on him, me being in space for months at a time.

 

I had to admit, the little squirt was growing on me too… It would have been hard not to develop feelings for such a bright, happy little kid. As Helga liked to point out, we looked somewhat alike; more so than he looked like Michael.

I suppose I’d taken Helga for granted, but it hurt to see Michael replace me in her life. After the divorce, I was determined not to lose her a second time. We grew closer, but I still wasn’t ready for marriage. That put a strain on our relationship; but with me rarely around, we spent most of my shore leave getting reacquainted. That left little time for arguing.

 

Having Timmy around was an added bonus. It was flattering to be thought of as a great space hero and alien slayer—especially considering that the recipe for space exploration was more along the lines of one part tedium and one part hard work, with a dollop of sheer terror thrown in for leavening.

 

***

 

“I’m sorry it’s not what you’re used to,” Helga said for at least the tenth time that month.

 

On the table before us was a small tureen of stew—mostly vegetables, with but a few scraps of leftover meat for flavor. There was enough for the three of us if no one had seconds. There was also half a loaf of sourdough bread on the side, for dipping. It was made from kelp flour—wheat flour was almost unobtainable—but it was homemade and tasted much better than it sounds.

 

At least she and Timmy had a steady diet of fresh vegetables, and now and then some real meat; not the kelp-and-soy-based nutrient bars the poor subsisted on. We’d consumed the unused food I brought from my last mission during the first two weeks of shore leave, so we were down to what we could find in the neighborhood food dispensary. I always gave Helga my ration book to help her shop for groceries—after all, I had no use for it when I was in space. Still, I could have gotten a pretty penny for it on the “dark gray” market, as other spacers have done. Food shortages were a fact of life all over the world. So even though Helga had the ration stamps for meat, often there was none to be had.

 

“Honey, stop apologizing,” I said. “It’s not your fault the rationing is so strict. I love your cooking.” That earned me a weak smile.

 

I wasn’t lying. Helga was a terrific cook. We went through this exercise every shore leave and it added unnecessary tension to my visits. Helga felt ashamed at what she perceived as a failure on her part to meet my culinary expectations. For my part, I felt guilty for eating so much better aboardShamu than she and Timmy—and, indeed, most of humanity—did.

 

Mealtimes were always difficult for that reason, but I had no idea what to do about it. The world was what it was. There was nothing either of us could do to change things.

 

I tried one more time. “If you’d just let me help pay for the rent, you two could have a bigger, nicer flat to live in. I earn more than you and I’ve got almost no expenses when I’m off-planet.”

 

Helga sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, as if steeling herself for battle. When she opened them again I felt pinned to my chair by the force of her unwavering gaze. “Jan, I’m not going through this with you again, least of all at the dinner table. I’m going to pay my own way and that’s that.Understand me? Besides, this flat is plenty for the two of us when you’re gone—which is most of the time.” The latter was tinged with accusation.

 

I conceded defeat on the subject, yet again. There was no budging Helga once she’d set her mind on something.


Chapter 29

 

While the negotiations were ongoing, the Company generously offered to locate secluded areas in which to move our loved ones, so they wouldn’t be bothered too much. At first Helga refused. She didn’t want to disrupt Timmy’s life any more than had already been done. But once the newsies started to stake out Timmy’s school for a glimpse of the poor kid, Helga reconsidered. The final straw was when I proposed.

 

“You…what? Did you just…?” She stood there, mouth agape.

 

“I asked you be my wife, my partner for life, my beloved.”

 

You could have knocked her over with the proverbial feather. She blinked several times, as if processing data that just didn’t fit. Finally, she leaped into my arms, inducing a pratfall and dumping us both unceremoniously on the floor.

 

I quickly forgot my bruised posterior as she covered my face in a messy combination of tears and kisses. “Yes, yes, oh yes! It took you long enough, you big ox.”

 

Before I could recover my breath, still flat on my back with Helga atop me, she knocked me for another loop. Her face grew serious. “There’s something I’ve needed to tell you for a long time, but I was afraid to because I didn’t know how you’d react. But I guess now’s as good a time as any.” I steeled myself for the worst.

 

She blurted it out in a rush. “Timmy’s your son, not Michael’s.”

 

My jaw dropped. I’d half-suspected it, but it was still a shock. Helga and I had dated before her sudden marriage while I was away on a mission. We’d had a nasty fight before I left and I always assumed she married on the rebound. As a single woman she wouldn’t have been allowed to give birth; children were reserved for married couples only. All I knew was when I returned she was already married and pregnant. I never asked and she never volunteered Timmy’s parentage.

 

“He was conceived just before you went back into space on that hellishly long mission. During the six months you were out, I met Michael and convinced myself that I was in love with him. It wasn’t really his fault the marriage didn’t work out. But I needed someone dependable to help raise my child, and that someone wasn’t you.”

 

I nodded. It hurt to hear, but I couldn’t really blame her. I wasn’t husband—or daddy—material in those days.

“After the divorce, I realized you’d changed.”

 

I nodded again. “Seeing you married shocked me. I guess I’d expected us to be together indefinitely, and suddenly you were married and had a child on the way. I realized I didn’t want to keep going the way I had been. Then, when you got divorced it was like I was given a second chance.”

 

“It took you long enough to wise up.”

 

“Hey, I’ve always been a slow learner. Besides, haste makes waste.”

 

“Waste? I’ll ‘waste’ you!” She smothered me with kisses once more.

 

In keeping with the rest of the fanfare surrounding Shamu and her crew, our wedding was telecast live by one of the holo networks. Amazingly, it was done more tastefully than their usual sensationalist tripe.

 

After a honeymoon in the Seychelles, we moved to a large ranch at the foot of the Tetons in Wyoming, away from the overcrowding of the big cities. There weren’t as many kids for Timmy to play with, but at least no one bothered him out there. And he had a pony of his own to ride. I didn’t know one end of a horse from another, but fortunately his Uncle Sparks was there to teach the three of us.

© 2015-2016 by Mark Terence Chapman. Proudly created with Wix.com

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