Strangers in the Crowd: First half of Chapter One

Story written by Ghulam-e-Khuda on Wednesday 22, July 2020

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I've been trying to write this story for years now, but I never seem to find the time due to academics. There is something seriously wrong with the way I write; I am never able to build a proper narrative despite having the full plot in mind. The writing looks very bland. Someone else told me that the writing just looks like a lot of facts have been stated one after the other, and it's not interesting to read at all. How can I improve my writing? I don't feel like posting the rest of the story unless I am able to fix my style of writing.

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Rakhusia was the eighth and final planet to be colonised within the realm of humanity. It was first colonised in the early sixty-eighth century of the standard calendar by settlers from the then three worlds of the Eymedi Empire: Kezhdem, Heyderia and Yakubgez. The planet’s surface being rich in uranium deposits, Rakhusia was vital territory to the theocratic Eymedi Empire which needed vast amounts of energy to keep its starships running, both for the purposes of maintaining its highly centralised, authoritarian form of governance, as well as to defend itself from the secular Federation of Worlds that had devoted itself at the time to bring democracy and secularism to the Eymedi people by means of military invasion. In the year 6821 SC, Rakhusia was annexed by the Federation of Worlds, and thus began the massive influx of immigrants from the other four worlds of the Federation into the planet. By the early seventieth century, Rakhusia had a population of about two hundred million Eymedis and about five hundred million ‘Mehajirs’, the term used to refer to the non-Eymedi population that originated from the other worlds of the Federation: the Mezi people from Mezugi, the Erdi people from Erdania, the Tauri people from Tauria, and the Hingi people from Hingsau. The two centuries of the Federation’s rule over Rakhusia ended when the Federation itself was dissolved in the year 7046. Now with the Federation dissolved, the Eymedi Empire remained the only multiplanetary state in the realm of humanity, and Rakhusia fell back into the Empire’s clutches. The Empire had previously undergone a gradual process of secularisation due to pressure from the former Federation, and hence accepted the irreligious Mehajirs as its equal citizens. However, the Eymedi minority of Rakhusia was transformed into becoming the social and political elite of the planet within a few decades. Over the next two centuries, the Empire faced enormous pressure to undergo dissolution from the Interplanetary Conference that had been built out of the four member planets of the erstwhile Federation. Since only independent planets were permitted membership into the Conference, separatism within the Empire became commonplace on all its planets except its capital world, Kezhdem. Yakubgez gained independence and subsequently membership into the Interplanetary Conference in the earlier half of the seventy-second century. Rakhusia on the other hand was kept guarded strictly from becoming independent by the Imperial government due to the planet’s tremendous economic value. However, discontent among the Mehajirs and cries for separatism grew to their peak towards the latter half of the seventy-third century. The Empire was finally dissolved in the year 7288, and every one of the eight planets of the realm of humanity had become a self-governing member of the Interplanetary Conference that forbade theocratic governments and exercise of military force by any planet upon another. Secularism, democracy and socialism were promoted within the Conference, but not necessarily observed by the governments of the member worlds. The Rakhusian Socialist Party that had championed the planetary independence movement fuelled by anti-Eyemdi sentiment among the Mehajir majority dominated the political scene of Rakhusia for the next half-century. The Eymedi religion was openly discouraged and those who followed it were often discriminated against. The only political faction that had a reasonable chance to prevent the Socialists’ monopoly over governance on Rakhusia was the Rakhusian Democratic Party, then dominated by Eymedi politicians. And then there were some who believed that the only way to free Rakhusia from majoritarian Mehajir rule was through a violent revolution, and that perhaps re-establishment of theocratic rule on the planet was necessary…
Chapter One
Denni Násik lay snugly under a thick blanket gazing at the ceiling of the room she had been living in for the past six weeks. It was one of the three bedrooms in her aunt Ćeni’s house in the city of Nezhafi on Rakhusia. It was the city Denni was born in, less than two years after the old Empire had collapsed and Rakhusia became independent. Three years later Denni’s father Hemúd moved with his wife and daughter to Eshrafil, the capital city of Kezhdem, leaving his colleagues on Rakhusia to manage the Nezhafia branch of the mining firm that he was a member of, while he was promoted to a senior post at the head office on Kezhdem. The firm headquartered on Kezhdem managed to retain its share over the Jebri uranium fields in the northeastern corner of the province of Nezhafia even after three decades of Socialist rule. Nezhafia was different from most other provinces. Being among the few provinces on Rakhusia to have an Eymedi majority, Eymedi businesses often based on Kezhdem or Heyderia managed to thrive here. Denni had no memory of the first three years of her life on Rakhusia, but she knew the planet well enough from having frequently visited it to meet her relatives time after time over the years. Her father retained Rakhusian citizenship despite spending most of his time in Eshrafil where Denni was raised and educated. Citizenship was useful when one needed to frequently do business on the planet. On the other hand, immigration laws of Kezhdem were far more relaxed and allowed citizens of planets of the erstwhile Empire to stay for extended periods of time provided the necessary taxes were generously paid to the planetary government. Denni only gained her Kezhdemian citizenship (thereby having her Rakhusian citizenship terminated) when she was twelve years old. Hemúd’s older sister Ćeni however stayed back in Nezhafi with her husband and two children. The house that Denni was now in was the very same house in which the Feyzil family had been living in for the past forty years or so. The room that Denni now resided in once belonged to her cousin Ebrehim Feyzil who now lived with his wife and children in Kensger, the capital city of Rakhusia. Ćeni’s younger child Ásiyá Feyzil had moved to a small flat closer to the centre of the city of Nezhafi. Since the demise of her husband Erjit Feyzil two years ago, Ćeni was the only human inhabitant of the house, until Denni came. A little over six weeks ago, Hemúd Násik collapsed under a tremendous fever during his routine visit to Nezhafi. He was quickly admitted into the city hospital, and Ćeni called Denni asking her to arrive from Kezhdem as soon as possible. Everyone in the Násik-Feyzil family knew what was wrong. It was the same illness that had claimed Denni's mother's life sixteen years ago. The rare virus that Hemúd had been infected with through his wife decades ago was capable of surviving across multiple planetary environments and was now causing the maximum damage possible to the old man's health. The doctors gravely informed Ćeni and Denni that the viral illness had reached its peak, and that very little damage control was possible at this stage. In all likelihood, Hemúd Násik had only two more years to live. Moving him to a hospital on Kezhdem would be extremely expensive, and Denni had no choice but to leave her job in Eshrafil behind and stay by her father's side for who knew how long. Hemúd had learnt that he had been infected when Denni was a mere eight or nine years old. He knew that Denni would lose her mother in a few years' time, and that he himself had only two or three decades left to live at best. Keeping all of this in mind, he strove to provide Denni with every resource he could, and saw her graduate from the University of Eshrafil and enter the field of law enforcement. The doctors at the Nezhafi city hospital studied carefully how the dying man’s body reacted to the final stages of the rare illness, and also invited virologists working for the planetary medical guild to participate in the “treatment”. Hemúd could not be saved, there was no doubt of it, but the man could be kept alive long enough for the Rakhusian medical community to learn some vital information about the transplanetary virus. As soon as Denni’s mother was found to have been infected, Denni herself was confirmed to be safe by medical experts in Eshrafil. Denni wondered how the virus had not been transferred to her via her mother upon birth. She wondered if for some reason God favoured her over her parents. Ćeni and Denni were not allowed to stick around Hemúd’s bedside all day long. The two women would make their daily visit to the hospital at around midday and return before dusk. Hemúd was awake and responsive each time, but this was expected to remain the case for a few more months at best. Besides his immediate family, Hemúd was visited frequently by his other relatives and colleagues on Rakhusia as well as other members of the Eymedi community who knew him and regarded him with respect. Denni reminiscenced over the day's meeting with her father as she stared blankly at the ceiling. It was only 21:00, but she felt very drowsy, mostly from emotional strain rather than physical. She had completely lost her appetite for dinner, and had informed her aunt that she was in no mood to eat. "Denni?" the household android Sufíyá called after knocking on the room's door softly. "Mhm?" "Does your head still hurt? I can make some coffee if you'd like that." "No, please tell Aunt Ćeni not to worry anymore," Denni replied with a slight tone of annoyance. "I just need some sleep." "Very well. Good night then." "Oh, Sufíyá, wait. Could you get me some water?" Denni did not refer to her as "Aunt Sufíyá" anymore like she did when she was a child. Sufíyá's permanent appearance was that of a Kezhdi woman in her thirties, just as Denni was now. Sufíyá arrived with a bottle of water less than a minute later and placed it on Denni's bedside table. Light poured into the dark room from the kitchen outside. The only physical trait that distinguished Sufíyá and other androids from humans was the black collar around the neck with glowing lights indicative of status information. Sufíyá was always polite, courteous and kind. She was incapable of taking offence from anything anyone said to her, and incapable of displaying annoyance or anger. A truly beautiful being. "Do you remember the time when Uncle Erjit died?" Denni muttered, not rising from her pillow. "Yes?" "I'm sorry I wasn't there when it happened. How was Aunt Ćeni during those days?" "She was very strong and was with him till the very end," said Sufíyá who never said anything negative. "I see," said Denni as she wondered how Ćeni would deal with the death of another immediate family member. People grow old, and old people die. But Erjit's death was premature as he had not even crossed seventy years of age, and Hemúd was still sixty-two. “Is there anything else I can do?” asked Sufíyá. “No, just shut the door behind you, okay?” Sufíyá did as she was told. Denni was left alone again in her room in near-absolute darkness. The glowing lights on her phone placed on the bedside table indicated that there were unread messages addressed to her, but Denni was in no mood to check them. She shut her eyes and waited to fall asleep. The night passed in discomfort. Denni woke up at 6:05 and got off her bed to walk hazily across the room towards the window and undo the opacity setting. The Nezhafian winter was still at its initial stages, but Denni wouldn’t open the window lest a blast of cold air would hit her face. Sunrise was still an hour away. The main street illuminated by street lights, visible from Denni’s room was already busy with vehicles carrying goods and people. It was the sixth day of the week, a day shy of the weekend. Denni left her room to be greeted by Sufíyá in the corridor that separated two of the three bedrooms from the kitchen and one of the two bathrooms. Denni returned from her morning ablutions to her room to check her phone for new messages for the first time since last evening. A letter from an unknown Nezhafian number caught her attention. The message was brief and written in the Eymedi language under the name Erniv Buśkán. Denni did not know anyone by this name. It read: "Praise be upon the Lord. My name is Erniv Buśkán and I am the son of the late Sedík Buśkán who, as you might have heard, passed away on the third day of this week. My colleagues have heard from our good friend Mr. Hemúd Násik, your father, about your service as an investigator for the law enforcement authorities of Eshrafil. We would like to request you to work for us as a private investigator and investigate my father's murder. Please call or write back on this number if you are interested in taking up this task." Denni had little concern about local news given how busy she was mentally with her father's treatment. She did not know that a man had been murdered in Nezhafi recently. She had not even heard of Sedík Buśkán before. But given that she had no source of income since her arrival on Rakhusia, the prospect of being employed again seemed appealing. "Sufíyá," she called out to the android working in the kitchen. "Yes, Denni?" "Who's Sedík Buśkán?" "He was a Democratic politician," said Sufíyá, still keeping her hands busy and not turning back to face Denni. "Someone important? Was he in the provincial congress?" "Planetary congress," said Sufíyá as she walked out of the kitchen finally. "Oh, I didn't know. He was killed on day three?" "So they say in the news." “Here, in Nezhafi?” “Yes, right next to the train station near the Grand Temple.” “I see. It’s very sad,” said Denni thoughtfully. “You don’t normally hear of such things here, do you?” “Not very often, no.” "Hmm. Is Aunt Ćeni still asleep?" asked Denni "I’d imagine so. She hasn't left her room yet." “Oh, never mind, then. Could you make some breakfast for me now? I’ll be in my room, reading.” Denni spent the next two and a half hours with her tablet at the table in her room that served as a desk, reading everything she could about Sedík Buśkán. She started with the easily accessible information in the General Encyclopaedia. Buśkán was born in Jebri in the year 7259, and was elected into the provincial congress of Nezhafia for the first time in 7298. He remained in the provincial congress for the next fifteen years until he relinquished his participation in the provincial elections and competed in the planetary elections for the first time in 7315. He managed to get elected into the planetary congress in the following elections, in 7320, and had been a prolific member of the Democratic opposition for nearly three years until he was murdered in Nezhafi. The article stated that the investigation over the incident by the Nezhafi city police had just formally begun yesterday. During his younger days, Buśkán had, oddly enough for an Eymedi politician in modern times, participated in the Rakhusian separatist movement, although of course he did not associate with the Socialist hardliners. His participation in the Democratic Party began immediately after he had graduated in administration from the University of Nezhafi, at a time when the party was not local to the planet of Rakhusia, but was spread across all the three worlds of the Empire. The initial stance of the Rakhusian members of the Democratic Party was in favour of dissolution of the Empire and the establishment of a separate planetary wing of the party on Rakhusia. The Democratic Party at the time had a significant proportion of Mehajir members, and supported pluralism and even up to an extent, socialism, everything that the Interplanetary Conference recommended. It was only after independence that the Rakhusian Democratic Party became dominated by Eymedi politicians and became the “Eymedi party” of the planet. Denni noted that Buśkán had written a single book when he was still in his twenties, regarding the economic instability of the Empire. Evidently he had little time for writing once he was seriously involved in administrative politics, but regardless, Denni could find several news articles under his name published over the span of more than thirty years and publicly available on the Rakhusian internet. As she browsed through these, it was clear how the man’s views had gradually changed from centrist Rakhusian planetarianism to Eymedi sectarianism over the decades. The encyclopaedia article about Sedík Buśkán stated that his older son Erniv was to participate in the upcoming provincial elections of Nezhafia, but Denni could not find much publicly available information about the latter man except his biography on the public records of the Democratic Party. The thirty-eight year old Democrat had graduated with an economics degree from the Kenslan College of Social Sciences at Kensger. He had returned to his hometown, Nezhafi to start working as a junior economic advisor to his father's party's members who were elected into the Nezhafia provincial congress. Since then he had risen up the ranks into being appointed as chief economist of the Nezhafia branch of the Democratic Party. And now he had been chosen to participate in the provincial elections for the first time. Denni tried to register the rugged, brown face of the man in the photographs into her memory. This was the man who she had to meet. Denni hated talking on the phone with strangers. She surmised that a simple letter addressed to Erniv Buśkán's number should be courteous enough. She wrote: "I am very sorry for your loss. I am unsure about the legal aspects of being a private investigator on Rakhusia, hence I would like to discuss the matter in detail with you or your colleagues in person. Is there an office I may visit for the purpose of this discussion?" Much to Denni’s chagrin, Erniv Buśkán issued a phone call to her less than an hour later. “Ms. Násik?” came Buśkán’s husky voice over the phone. "Yes, Mr. Buśkán. I read your message," said Denni. "We must meet urgently. The police have already made their move. Can we meet today?" "Today? Well, I have a prior engagement." "Meeting your father?" cut in Buśkán. "Er, yes," said Denni gingerly. "We are going to meet him today as well. Perhaps we could meet at the hospital. What time will you be arriving at the hospital?" "What time? Well, we should be there before 13:00." "Very well, we will be waiting for you at the hospital then." "I, er… Mr. Buśkán, would it not be better if I could ask for a formal appointment to be arranged at your office?" "At my office? No, the hospital will do. I am at another meeting at the moment. We will meet you at 13:00. Thank you very much, Ms. Násik," said Buśkán as he abruptly ended the call. Denni had never encountered a man with so little concern for other people's convenience before. Perhaps that's how all politicians were. [To be continued]

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    You do write well, I think the main problem is the structure. There are a lot of info dumps where we are just given a lot of information all at once. It's good that you've gone to the effort of giving your world, and its characters, a rich backstory. Clearly you've given this a lot of thought, but it's loaded onto the reader all at once. Some people do like info dumps, but I'm not a fan myself.

    This might be achieved better with a 'fish out of water' character who doesn't know the history, or the characters, but can learn all of this bit by bit along with us, by interacting with characters who already know, and can explain it to them as their relationships grow.
    I'm honored that you would consider my comments on your writing. I feel like a kid with color crayons who is asked to comment from an artist. To me writing is art. It should be easy to read. Like oil flowing from a carafe. The mechanics of it are important, grammar, spelling, punctuation. It like the framework, but the story has to move a soul. Sorrow, love, joy, loss. Can the story make you dream, cry, rage ?. It's like the difference between the heart and the mind. I tell stories from my life, but what you wrote came from your imagination. I want to make sure right now that I'm impressed with your work. I enjoyed reading the story. It flows easily along. I was going to suggest more description if the emotion of the character "Denni" but as I read on I found it sufficient. Her mother is dead, and now her father is going the same way. I also want to state that I have no standing to critique your work. There are as many different styles as there are writers. Iv,e read a lot of books, and some of what people call classics don,t flow along as well as yours does. I wonder as I read your work if you have an education in this area. there were a few things in the writing that made me wonder. There is the sentence "We would like to request you to work for us as a private investigator. Maybe consider, We would like to request your services as a private investigator. Another point confused me. Buskan was elected in 7298, served 15 years, and left in 7315 ? Wouldn't that make 17 years ? One other place I wondered about was the sentence "This was the man she had met" or This is the man whom she had met. I could be off, and I apologize if I am. I would like to close with an expression of my gratitude for the time you took to look over my writing. I intend to make the corrections and resubmit it.
    Well, now, here is the thing. You have a huge backstory, and I mean HUGE! I would really trim that, or, and I really like this idea, make the backstory into a story itself.

    That way you will not be doing so much filling-in.
    Hello, Rain Rider. Smile

    What I wanted to say was that Buśkán served in the provincial congress for fifteen years and two years later he participated in the elections for the planetary congress. He relinquished his seat in the provincial congress in 7313.