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the only way

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Occasionally, she is asked why she writes. The answer spoken aloud is always 'because I can'. In truth, it is because has yet to see any proof as to why she cannot; so far this very year, she has had four stories published, and it is not yet even spring. As to why she should not, well, she will ignore the rules of propriety as it suits her. Julius is the one who keeps track of such things, paints himself up as a proper English gentleman. Kay will be whoever she wants.

She can hear him from the kitchen. "Honey?" From the way his voice carries, she can tell where he is in their apartment; at the typewriter, slaving away. "I've got one for you."

Kay Eaton can be any sort of woman she wants to be, but she does not want to be the sort of woman who shouts through the rooms of her home. She walks out into the living room, drying her hands and elbows with a towel from the kitchen. "Alright," she says to her husband, leaning back in his chair. "Then it's your turn in the kitchen."

They switch positions for the night; Kay finishes Julius' story, and Julius washes the dishes and sets them to dry. Of course, Julius finishes his duties first, and sits on the sofa to watch her work. Kay spends the night picking the nits out of Julius' story, dropping a paragraph here and there until she's gotten to where he left off, with the protagonist about to make First Contact with the aliens.

First Contact? No, a needlessly clunky phase. The protagonist is about to meet the alien race's ambassadors for the first time.

"No need to boggle them down with jargon, Julius. None of this... Primary Directive stuff."

"But it adds to the realism-- perhaps if we shortened it?"

We, because they rarely work on stories alone, anymore. We, because it has been a very long time since either of them could properly remember, once a story is good and finished, who wrote what any longer.

"Prime directive, fine, but no need to capitalize it. You're English, not German."

Julius laughs, and they spend the night tinkering until the story is finished; the protagonist ("Why must everyone's name be five letters long, Julius?" "Here, now, the captain's name is only four.") speaks with the aliens until a common ground is discovered. The hostages are returned. The day is saved.

From his position, lying sprawled out on the sofa, Julius speaks up."That's quite the optimistic ending, Kay."

Kay thinks of Benny. Kay knows better than to mention Benny, these days. Instead, she says, "we can't all write stories about rats, Julius."

"No," Julius says, looking over the rough draft for things to fix, "no, we can't."

In the morning, they wake on the sofa together, neither remembering falling asleep. But the story is finished, and that is what matters most. During breakfast, Julius starts up another one. Eating toast in the middle of her living room, Kay sifts through ideas, trying to decide what to commit to paper first.

Something with a woman in it. And not in the background. Perhaps she is the captain of her own ship?

One day, when Kay is famous and well-known, and does not have to go by a pseudonym or fail to appear for photos, she will site Benny Russell as one of her influences. Why else would her world be so full of captains and science officers, now, if not for him?

It seems to have infected Julius, too, though he handles it differently. He is not so brazen as she is, as Benny was. No protagonists or title characters. Just, occasionally, Kay will catch a name or two in the background, a character briefly mentioned without any implication of European descent. Sometimes Julius will edit that out before the final draft is completed. Sometimes he doesn't.

While Kay could never do that herself-- be so cautious and quiet-- she cannot judge Julius for his deliberation. Kay spent her childhood sick and confined to her room, and since escaping the sickbed has vowed never to live life so carefully or boorishly.

Kay thinks Julius is just living the only way he can. As luck would have it, that involves a copious amount of writing and swearing to king and country.

Upon first meeting him, Kay had thought the accent carefully cultivated, but since marrying the man who sent her a fan letter all those years ago, she has learned the accent is anything but a trick. No, it is everything else that Julius pulls together-- from the cigarette holders and the clothes to the sense of humor-- to fit the accent.

Occasionally, Julius is asked where he got a name like his, with skin that color. The answer spoken aloud is always some variation of 'from my parents'. In private, to Kay, Julius confides the particular of his upbringing. "My father," he whispers, late at night, "fine English gentleman. Met my mother on business in Prussia. She was there on vacation from Sudan."

If Julius' clothes are carefully tailored to match his accent, perhaps the men on the train won't know what to call him. Maybe they'll never be able to decide between 'limey' or something much worse. Perhaps they won't say anything at all. Julius is past caring about what people think, often hung up on what they ultimately do. On this matter, Kay feels the complete reverse.

The problem with these sorts of stories, these stories about crews of spacemen exploring the stars, was figuring out all of the cast. Kay has her stalwart captain preferring to go by 'ma'am' rather than 'sir'. But who should fix things?

("Head Engineer," Julius says, leaning over Kay's shoulder to peek at the notes she's taking.

"Cheif Engineer," Kay says, unwilling to concede to any idea when it may be improved by her commentary.)

But who would the chief engineer be on this ship of Kay's? She would have to have some internal conflict, some sort of man vs. self. She is half human, Kay decides with a few strokes of her pen. The rest is alien, unknown, and something she rejects within herself.

"Now," Kay says, "I just have to fling them out into space."

Inevitably, their stories change. The aliens become more human. The villains of Julius' stories become the heroes of Kay's. First Contacts are made. New space is explored.

"An ion field? Is that... viable?" Julius squints as if trying to see the logic Kay is hurriedly typing out.

"Of course it is," Kay says. "It's my story." Kay Eaton will be any sort of woman she wants to be, and her stories will be populated with the sort of women she would like to meet. If the characters are so mailable, science will bend to her will shortly after.