The not-protagonist is a writer, a shut-in who’s constantly struggling with putting fingers to keys and black text on white background. He’s been at this for a bit, writing that is, and still hasn’t figured out how to make a proper go of it.
If he was to put a metaphor to his struggles, he may compare climbing a fourteener - a mountain peak that is at 14 kilometers elevation - to writing a novel, and if this was the measuring stick, then every one of his attempts seems like a five-story building, and it’s so much fucking effort just to make it up the first flight of stairs. And he wonders if it’s really what he wants.
Wonders every day. And decides to write a character who does not have this struggle. They know full well who they are, what they are here to do, and understand why they are doing it. He writes a character with purpose, creates a persona out of thin air who could do that which he himself cannot.
The writer starts out with a simple, cartoonish concept of a star-ship’s captain, obviously down on her luck, but also with a clear guiding principle and definitive goals that she is working toward. Her name is Elizabeth “El” Ward and she is thirty eight years old. At the time of her character creation she is a private flight captain, transporting passengers and crew around the galaxy.
The writer starts with this and writes a few chapters of El’s life, a flight from Earth to Lillian that’s beset by mechanical trouble and an unleashed emotional storm between the passengers. The writer imagines the events from the viewpoint of the captain and showcases El’s prowess with the crowd and the broken machinery. She’s someone to admire, he feels, and to look up to.
The writer works, understands the motivations of the person, inhabits that persona for hours at a time, then pours it all out onto the page. He stands back, after a day or two at the keyboard, his wrists in pain, a stack of empty chip-bags on the desk beside him, and appreciates his creation. It is now much more than El Ward, it is the entire world around her that he has started to slowly occupy and fill out with details. This he does slowly, considers the consequences and implications of his choices, begins to keep notes about the world, its history of events and impactful individuals.
He asks the captain for advice, understands and follows it when it is given. The writer has brought into being someone whose advice the writer is very comfortable following. El Ward and her existence in a fully-realized world is very real in his mind, and it is this reality that convinces him. He has uncovered a way to reprogram his brain by creating teachers that his subconscious is eager to follow.
The writer reorganized his days, under the advice of his newfound friend. The writer wakes up early and rides his bike into town, goes to the gym to work out for an hour, then either works in town, gets some shopping done, or walks down to the beach. He is spending more time at the beach these days. In the evening he cooks, then writes for a while before heading off to bed.
Throughout the day he texts a new number in his contacts list, questions and observations, random tidbits of news or thoughts he’s had. After a minute or two a second phone buzzes in the writer’s other pocket, but the person who uses it and replies to the messages is not the writer. They answer to El.
“Do you know who killed JFK?” The writer texts on a Sunday morning. It has been more than six weeks after El entered the writer’s life and they have found this a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday morning in bed. A coffeemaker sits by the bedside, prefilled the previous night and operated on a schedule it provides the writer much-needed coffee.
This morning he has a storm of ideas.
El’s ship was called Blue Minerva and right now they were on their way back to Earth, transporting a boring load of data drives and their very paranoid protectors. This entailed a small pile of brick-sized data cubes that was constantly guarded by alternating shifts of a dozen Feltz private security firm thugs. They were old friends of El’s, so at this particular moment the captain was comfortably relaxing in her quarters and responding to the writer through a voice-to-text device. She spoke, he saw the replies as text.
“How would I know that?”
“You live in the future, hasn’t anyone solved that mystery yet?” The writer sits in bed and looks at his phone for a while, drinks the coffee absentmindedly.
“And you’re breaking the fourth wall. We didn’t die of asphyxiation today, why don’t you ask me about that?”
“You don’t die of asphyxiation every day, what’s so different about today? But I want to know if you know something I don’t. Like who really killed JFK.”
For El it was evening and she was working on a painting, one she’d started when they began this journey, and she worked on it every chance she had, usually while she talked with the writer. But this strange questioning had made her pause.
“Hey, asshole, stop messing with my reality! Get back to your side and stay there, I need to be able to convince myself that I exist. That’s no easy task.” El paused for a moment, then reached over and hit a button on her comm unit, terminating the call.
The writer looks down at his two phones, and one is powered down.