Literary Exercise (revised)

By Meriem Clayton

Standing at the door of Sam's condo jiggling his car keys in his hand, Daniel ran a mental check to make sure he had everything in place to give Sam a pleasant evening when he brought her home from the airport.

He looked over at the little table near the door with its silk floral arrangement and wondered if he should have gotten flowers. Bad idea, Daniel. She'd freak out altogether if she thought you were getting romantic. He put the keys back in his pocket, thinking he would check everything out in the kitchen one more time before he left.

There was a little mirror just above the top of the spray of bogus daffodils and he caught sight of himself. Maybe it's the short hair. She said she liked it right after we met and she's never said anything since. He fussed with spiking it up a bit more for a minute and then chided himself for the stupidity of the thought. Like she always treats you like a girl friend just because you cut your hair short.

He started toward the kitchen and firmly put his thoughts back on the safer track of preparations for the evening. Maybe freaking out would be better than the way she has been, so sad and withdrawn ever since she broke it off with Pete last month.

I guess I don't really know that she dumped Pete and not the other way around. She never said. It really is weird that she won't talk about it with me. He took the wine out and studied the label, suddenly uncertain as to whether Sam wouldn't prefer beer.

Has to be her doing. Pete would have to be nuts to let someone like Sam slip away. He's a nice guy but Sam's absolutely exceptional. Despite not wanting to, he had found himself really liking Pete. He put the wine back in next to a carton of orange juice. He'd pick up a six pack on the way to the airport to cover all bets.

This trip to St. Louis probably has only made things worse. Not that there's anything wrong with St. Louis, he told an imaginary group of upset Missourians he suddenly pictured sitting in the living room, but Sam was planning for Pete to go to this American Physical Society conference with her. Instead she's been sitting on the plane with someone else in the seat next to her that would have been Pete's. I hope she at least didn't get a seat mate who wants to describe his hernia operation at 20,000 feet. He shuddered briefly remembering the airplane trip when he had learned, oh, maybe 20 times more than he wanted to know about acid reflux. Actually more like an infinite amount more since he really didn't want to know ANYTHING about acid reflux.

Got everything ready for the salad; just need to put on dressing. Bread. Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Toppings. No whipped cream though. He'd have stop at a grocery store instead of a gas and gro now. He poked at the colander full of cooked linguini. He had learned the handy trick awhile ago of cooking the pasta ahead and then pouring boiling water over it when it was needed. He turned the heat down further under the spaghetti sauce and then decided it was too likely to burn and turned the burner off. What if they got stuck in traffic or something? He'd reheat it in the microwave.

He looked into the Blockbuster's sack. Crap. Why did I only rent 1 DVD? He went over to check out her DVD collection. He really didn't have any idea what she had. They always rented.

What he discovered was really a strange assortment. There was one shelf that had "White Palace", "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," "Mannequin," "Pretty in Pink," and a mixed bag of several other films he had never heard of. Most of them didn't really seem to fit her taste or fall into the same genre.

Wait a minute. Are those all movies with what's his name, plays a smarmy attorney now on television? He pulled one out and looked at the back. That's it, James Spader. She's got a thing for James Spader. I never knew.

Daniel was personally not into Spader and kept looking. There was what appeared to be a complete collection of Deep Space Nine episodes which didn't interest him either. He just didn't see anything he wanted to watch. He'd have to pick up another DVD in addition to the whipped cream and the beer.

He plopped down on the couch . Deep Space Nine, Deep Space Nine, what am I not remembering about Deep Space Nine? He leaned back and closed his eyes and free associated. There, that was it. We were talking about how our life was really science fiction and comparing what we've seen with what's out there in sci fi. And she said, what was it she said? Yeah, yeah, that's it. She said that Dr. Bashir reminded her a lot of me.

He opened his eyes, looked up, and saw the time on the wall clock across from him. The planned stop for beer had turned into more like an expedition and, looking at the time, he'd better get on the road.

He was halfway out the door when he stopped and snapped his fingers. Better check to make sure the flight's on schedule. Daniel really hated hanging around airports. He had a tendency to buy overpriced t-shirts he didn't even want, just for something to do. The number for the flight information was busy and stayed busy for 5 minutes.

The airlines are certainly leading the way in customer service, he groused.

He was about to just go on and take a chance when he thought about checking online. He went into the spare bedroom Sam had turned into an office and sat down at her PC. He quickly went to the Web site and stared irritably at the screen. Damn good thing I checked. Over an hour delay.

He was impatient to see her. Four days without Sam was four days of wandering around feeling incomplete. What was he going to do for an extra hour? Might as well veg out here for awhile. No point in going home and then leaving 15 minutes later.

Since he was sitting at the desk anyway, he decided to make a list for the store. Three items was two more than he trusted himself to remember. There was nothing to write on out on the desk surface but the wastebasket was loaded with balls of crumpled paper. He picked up one that had spilled over unto the floor and smoothed it out.

What the heck is this? The sheet of printer paper was heavily marked up. Sam never does like to edit online. He was quickly scanning the page and whistled. This is NOT a scientific paper. He seemed to be in the middle of a story, specifically, in the middle of a description of two people ripping each others' clothes off.

She must be editing this for a friend.

A few more lines later, he amended that. Well I'll be damned. The guy's name is Bashir. Maybe she did write this. What do they call this? He struggled to remember an article he'd read about how the Internet was remaking culture. Fan fiction, that's it. Sam is writing fan fiction about Deep Space Nine. Boy am I going to have to find a way to rag her about this.

Chuckling to himself, he started pawing through the wastebasket for more pages, smoothing them out and assembling them in order. He found an e-mail from someone called "StationBabe" addressed to "ScienceOfficer" and put that to one side. He started reading her story from the beginning. Part way through the first page, he stopped thinking anything was funny about this.

Apparently the female love interest was a blonde astrophysicist who had just been assigned to Deep Space Nine named Mandy Carson. Sparks flew immediately between Bashir and Mandy. Sam didn't go in for casual sex and she saw to it that there were four pages of getting to know each other and falling in love before the clothes ripping part.

It was spooky how much like Sam Mandy was but probably not surprising considering that authors frequently used themselves as a basis for their protagonists. The really weird part was how much Bashir was like him. At first he considered the hypothesis that maybe that's what Sam had meant when she said Bashir reminded her of him. Or he reminded her of Bashir. Whatever. Then he encountered some lines of dialog that were direct quotes from conversations he had had with Sam that changed his mind.

When he got to the page after the one he had initially read, he saw that the love scene continued. The printed description was equivalent to PG movie love scenes where you don't really see anything, the music comes up, and you get a shot of waves breaking on the shore or flames or the like. Written in the margin in Sam's handwriting and crossed out, however, were four lines that were considerably more explicit.

This is really making me hot. He kept reading with a dry mouth, disappointed but maybe also a little relieved that there wasn't any more such heated prose. He already had enough trouble with preventing inappropriate mental images of Sam cropping up in his head at the worst times.

Holy crap, he thought as he finished the last page which described the wedding between Bashir and Mandy.

A little kernel of hope started to grow at the back of his mind. Sam can't be totally oblivious to me if she's comfortable describing a sex scene between surrogates for the two of us.

He looked at the e-mail. Its subject was "Beta comments on "Words of Love" and the e-mail had a numbered list of editorial suggestions. Sam had methodically checked each one off. "No way" was written next to one of them. This was a suggestion that she consider having Bashir die right after the wedding.

At that point, he decided to break into Sam's e-mail. It bothered him to invade her privacy like that but he had been waiting too long for some sign of hope to not follow this wherever it led. He was no hacker but he had watched Sam log into her personal e-mail a couple of times. He had played a game for years of trying to see if he could tell what people typed for passwords. Given his intense interest in Sam, he had remembered hers. He was very grateful that she evidentially didn't change her password very often when he was able to immediately get in.

What he found was as whole world that he never knew existed. Sam belonged to a Yahoo group called "The Nine" which was devoted to discussion of the show and sharing of fan fiction about it. Sam had been posting chapters over the past two months of an epic centered around Dr. Bashir heroically struggling to contain an epidemic on the station. Mandy didn't make an appearance. Daniel saw several e-mails urging her to post the next installment. There was a running dialogue where a few of the others in the group had started describing her as a fan fiction goddess or at least a demi-goddess. If Julian Bashir was a stand in for him, he was very flattered at how she portrayed the character. The story he found in the wastebasket had just been posted, right before she left for the conference.

Skimming through he noticed that occasionally Sam had sent out e-mails explaining that she would be absent from the list for awhile. They coincided with the longer SG-1 missions. Of course, Sam didn't attribute her absences to traveling to other worlds. The group seemed to be extremely tolerant and Daniel thought she probably could have made that claim and the rest would have just taken it in stride as yet another in the many flavors of madness out there that made the world interesting. The Air Force, on the other hand, if they had ever found out about it… He didn't want to think about that. Sam had covered her tracks by inventing visits to an elderly aunt who lived out in the middle of nowhere without any Internet connectivity available.

He checked the unsent draft messages and found a very short story in which Jadzia Dax speculates that there might be something more than friendship between Bashir and Sisko, the commander of Deep Space Nine. Please don't tell me she ever seriously considered something like that about Jack and I. I really don't want to go there. He was quite unsettled but encouraged that she had never posted the story or even sent it to her beta.

Going through the sent messages again to make sure he hadn't missed anything significant, he hit pay dirt when two months earlier, right before the break up with Pete, he found a story entitled, "With Or Without You" in a message to StationBabe. There was a follow up e-mail asking StationBabe to delete the story. It was just too personal. Daniel had to read this one.

He was absolutely spellbound. His favorite authors, Hemmingway and Melville, could have pooled their considerable talents and never come up with anything that held his interest like this. Mandy appears again but this time Bashir just treats her like a very good friend. He is still suffering from the loss of someone he had loved very much. A detective appears at the station to solve a murder for which Bashir is a suspect. Bashir is cleared but in the process the detective falls in love with Mandy. Mandy lets a relationship happen, hoping at first that Bashir will be jealous but that doesn't happen. Eventually Mandy agrees to marry the detective, wanting children and despairing that anything will ever happen with Bashir.

Sam's biological clock has gone off. Daniel was surprised to realize. She hadn't talked with him about that either. I thought I knew her like a book and I'm beginning to think I didn't have a clue. Not a clue.

Eventually Mandy decides that as much as she cares for the detective, she can't marry him, loving Bashir as she does. Daniel was overwhelmed. She did break up with Pete and not the other way around. If the story really reflects what she was thinking, she broke up with him because she loves ME! She was working it all out in that story.

His cell phone rang, jolting him out of his reverie. He answered it to hear Sam's voice.

"Daniel, I can't seem to find you. I'm at baggage claim. Are you out front?"

"Actually, Sam," actually what, "um, actually, I had a flat tire." He winced, glad that she couldn't see his face. He was not a really good liar. I can't believe I've been reading this stuff for 2 hours.

"Look, I should be there in 20 minutes. I'm really sorry. I've got some food and videos for us for this evening to make up for it."

"It's okay. I'm in the middle of a really good book so I'll just wait down here at baggage claim."

Daniel hurriedly crumbled up each of the pages again and put them back in the wastebasket, keeping the one from StationBabe and writing down all the pertinent information on the back like the name of the Yahoo group. He turned the computer off and looked around for any other evidence. Satisfied that she would never suspect anything, he let himself out.

The rest of the evening and for the next three days, he could think of nothing else but what this information meant and what he should do about it. What if I'm completely wrong and those were just good plot ideas? Melville never went after a Great White that I know of. If I am wrong and I say something, we can never go back.

He had an inspiration. He opened a new AOL account with a username completely unlike his own. He joined "The Nine" and began to lurk. He had picked the user name of Janet, thinking that another woman would seem less threatening and that the name Janet might be one she would be predisposed to feel positive toward. After awhile, Janet started drawing ScienceOfficer into discussions about her fiction. He had to read between the lines to learn much this way since he was afraid he would scare her off if he was too direct. What he gleaned did seem to be encouraging.

Encouraging enough that he wrote a story. At the beginning, he acknowledged the character of Mandy that had been created by ScienceOfficer in "Words of Love" and thanked her for her splendid writing that had made this character so real to him. In Daniel's story, Bashir loves Mandy passionately but is afraid to make a move because she always seems to be involved with someone else. For a long time, Bashir thinks she is in love with Sisko. When Mandy is briefly engaged to someone else, Bashir realizes that he might loose her forever. At last, Bashir summons his courage and declares himself to Mandy in a letter. Bashir asks Mandy to come to his quarters on April 10 at 8:00 for dinner if she returns his feelings. The story is left as a cliffhanger with Bashir sitting in his quarters, hearing footsteps in the corridor outside and not knowing if it is Mandy or not. It took some slightly contorted plot turns but he managed to include some details from their life together that would leave no question in her mind as to who the author was.

He posted the story on April 8 on a Deep Space Nine fan fiction archive under the pen name SpaceMonkey and then, as Janet, sent an e-mail drawing the attention of the group to the post. A couple of people commented on the story with reasonable enthusiasm but not ScienceOfficer. Janet e-mailed ScienceOfficer asking her what she thought of it. ScienceOfficer wrote a one-line e-mail back. "It blew me away." Unfortunately that could mean a number of things and Daniel didn't feel any more secure about the likely outcome.

Daniel had planned this so that the day in between the post and the moment of truth would be a Saturday. He didn't want to spend a day with Sam at Cheyenne Mountain trying tell from her face, her reaction to him, whether she had gotten the message or not.

Sunday at a few moments before 8:00, he stood in the middle of his apartment looking around. Boy am I going have a lot of depressing clean up to do if this didn't work. Every surface that didn't have a candle had flowers. The table was set with linen and cloth napkins, still creased from the way they had been folded in the store. There was wine in a wine cooler. He rushed over and took off a price tag he noticed was still stuck to the side. He went into the bathroom for maybe the fourth time and looked at himself in the mirror. Nothing to be done about the hair at this point but he had just shaved and even used aftershave.

Coming out of the bathroom, he looked at the stethoscope lying on the coffee table. Would putting that on be too over the top? He settled for sitting on the edge of the couch twisting it in his hands and straining, like his protagonist, to hear footsteps approaching outside.

Precisely at 8:00, there was a knock on his door. He was terrified. What if it's Ms. Grimaldi from next door? Sam is never going show up. This was a terrible idea. He stuck the stethoscope under the couch cushion, wiped his hands on his pants, took a deep breath and opened the door.

There was Sam in the sexiest little black dress he had ever seen. They stared at each other for several beats and then she smiled seductively and said, "Mandy Carson reporting for our meeting, Doctor."

They only wrote one more piece of fan fiction. It was jointly authored, not suitable for general audiences, and described their wedding night. It was never submitted for posting.