A revised piece for the Re|Write contest
|A vein throbbed in the professor’s neck. Purple and lurid, it stood proud from Starkov’s throat, pulsing in time to his heartbeat.
“It is not as straightforward as that, my dear.” He clenched a fist behind his back, determined not to let Lydia see how hurt he was. “There was a delay in the sequencer, I simply could not leave the lab.” His face was flushing; he could feel the heat creeping into his cheeks. Damn Lydia for getting to him like this. Why hadn’t he left the telecoms on audio-only?
“I’m afraid it is, Henry. Godfrey was counting on you being there. It was the first recital of the season. All the other parents were there.” Lydia swept a blond wisp of hair away from her face. The lab comms unit was old, downright antiquated compared to the tech Starkov used only meters away in the main lab. Hell, the comms unit could be relied on to cackle and crackle and fizz and fizzle every bloody time he used it.
So why did it have to work perfectly today? He could make out every silver thread in Lydia’s hair, the faint crease of powder around her eyes and the pinch where she was biting the inside of her lip.
And no doubt the set at home was picking up every detail of him too. The florid rush of blood to his cheeks, the beads of sweat pricking his forehead, the way he swallowed before every sentence. Why hadn’t he left the visual off?
“I’ll make the next performance, darling,” he offered. “I promise.” Inspiration hit. “I know, I’ll take the children – no, I’ll take Godfrey by himself – to the leisure complex later tomorrow after lunch. We can have some much needed father and son time.” He rocked back on his heels and gave his wife an expansive smile. “You and Sofia can have a spa afternoon and join us for dinner. How about that private restaurant on level 306 sound?” Apart from expensive, he thought.
“You’ll give Frey an entire afternoon of your time?” He could hear Lydia try to hide the doubt in her voice. Ungrateful bitch. He stomped on the thought and stretched his own smile further. Any further, and my head will fall off.
“Of course! Well, several hours, certainly. Have Marietta bring Godfrey across to the lab for fifteen-thirty. No wait,” he thought for a moment. “The DNA sequencer will only just be finishing a run by then. Better make it sixteen o’clock. He and I can catch a game or maybe a holo-vid at the complex and meet you and Sofi for, say, twenty-thirty?”
Lydia gave a wan smile that didn’t reach her ash-grey eyes. “A game, Henry? Darling, this concert meant something to Frey. He’s practiced that Franti operetta day- and night-cycle for months. The entire station must have heard him. He…”
Something inside Starkov snapped. Just how many times must Lydia criticise him?
“He forgets where the money for his music lessons comes from. Who pays for his instruments, Lydia? And his tuition? What about Sofia's linguistic sessions? I cannot simply drop my research like a... a dock-worker’s trousers.” He sucked air in through his gritted teeth. “Without my research, Godfrey and Sofia would be living planet-side, studying in some two-credit state school, with mudballers who have never even left their home planet. They'd be relying on your father’s so-called generous allowance for even the most basic extra-curricular activities.”
He thrust his right hand to join his left, behind his back; gripping them together to stop himself from shaking. “Please understand, darling, in order for our lives to run smoothly, my work does, and must continue to, come before childish music recitals.”
From the lab he could hear the ping of the sequencer as it finished an analysis. Time to end the call and get back to work.
Starkov gave Lydia a curt nod, ignoring the stab of guilt as Lydia flicked her end of the comms unit off.
He straightened up from the console and wiped his forehead. We’re almost there. Mapping an alien genome – we’re so close!
Godfrey might not get it now, but he’d understand when he’s older. Papa’s work must come first.
Word count: 707
Original piece: "Day 13 - Antagonist Backstory (Starkov) - CONTEST ROUND"