To read this story or to participate in this writing event, you only need a free account.
You can Login with Facebook or create regular account
To find out what this event is about click here

Jerry L. Mercer's picture


By Jerry L. Mercer in Teleport Us

How It Rates

Voting for this event has ended
Once you have read this story, please make sure you rate it by clicking the thumbs above. Then take a few minutes to give the author a helpful critique! We're all here for fun but let's try to help each other too.


Sustenance is a story of a small group of Earth colonists held in virtual slavery on an earth-sized moon orbiting around a large planet. The colonist are forced to mine a valuable ore, denzinite, necessary for the construction of starships. The miners are assisted by indigenous people, humanoids called Dagi, to help mine the denzinite. A cargo ship comes regularly to collect the ore and bring minimal supplies to the miners. The moon is arid and without oceans or rivers, so the colonists must rely on SolVesCo's high tech water collectors/dispensers and the regular supplies for survival.

Due to an unknown catastrophe back in the Solar system, the SolVesCo cargo ship is late and supplies are rationed drastically. Finally the water dispensers stop providing water. Carl Maxim a young miner, tries to find out why the supplies have stopped but is unsuccessful. After several weeks, Carl, exhausted and dehydrated, collapses and is taken underground to the home of his Dagi friend. The Dagi reveal they have the answers to the miners' problems.


Old Ranch Hand's picture
Old Ranch Hand February 5, 2013 - 5:28pm

Interesting story.  Not too much and not too little for sci fi.

Jerry L. Mercer's picture
Jerry L. Mercer from Greenbank on Whidbey Island (Washington) is reading Knights of the Sea February 5, 2013 - 7:53pm

Thanks. I tried to meet the contest requirements and provide an entertaining story. I think I achieved my goals.

Jakerc's picture
Jakerc February 5, 2013 - 7:34pm

Good surprise in the story!  A lot of parallels with the corporations of today and how the will use the cheapest labor available to protect their profits!

Jerry L. Mercer's picture
Jerry L. Mercer from Greenbank on Whidbey Island (Washington) is reading Knights of the Sea February 5, 2013 - 7:51pm

Thanks. I guess I achieved my goal for this story.

krrip's picture
krrip February 8, 2013 - 2:18am

Cool story Jerry' I haven't read Sci-fi for a long time. Guess I'll have to start reading it again.

Carolyn Mercer's picture
Carolyn Mercer February 5, 2013 - 8:51pm

I am not a scifi fan but this story held my interest and another great story Jerry.


Kean's picture
Kean February 6, 2013 - 7:34am

I enjoyed it. Did you get an 'A' from Rufus?

Jerry L. Mercer's picture
Jerry L. Mercer from Greenbank on Whidbey Island (Washington) is reading Knights of the Sea February 6, 2013 - 12:15pm

Rufus would have claimed I cheated!

Thanks for your reading.


freemand's picture
freemand February 6, 2013 - 2:58pm

Good story - nice start to the scifi arena

Bob's picture
Bob February 7, 2013 - 6:52am

Who said watching the Twilight Zone was a waste of time? Great story! Should we expect the full length version soon?

kmorelock's picture
kmorelock February 7, 2013 - 1:25pm

Heat, desert, admirable characters.  I like it.

George Westergaard's picture
George Westergaard February 7, 2013 - 3:51pm

I haven't read science fiction for a long time.  Maybe i should start again.  this is a great story.  I hope you expand it or have a sequel or two.  The concept is a good one.

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. February 7, 2013 - 6:34pm


There's a great deal happening in the story, probably too much for the length of work you have here.  I going to bet you ran into the 4k limit either literally or mentally while writing.  You did a decent job setting up Feggari and its environment as a harsh, arid world, but I really couldn't get a good feel for what the mining town itself, the mines, or the Dagi's homes looked like.  For that matter, I have no idea what a Dagi looks like. (Humanoid? Bug eyed monster?)  It would be nice to have at least some sort of description to work with, even if it is just a phenotype akin to lizard like.

The other thing that bothered me was the transition between events.  As I said, you have a great deal going on in this story and the 4k limit does heavily restrict what you're able to do with each event, but things seem to happen a little too fast.  Carl moves from one point in the story to the next so fast that you can barely get a feel for what's going on before the next event happens.

You can see this in the sequence between the Dagi revealing themselves and the arrival of the transport ship.  That whole section feels like it happened by fiat more than anything else.  In fact, that whole ending feels rushed, as if you were running out of time to write and got in a hurry.  

Rewriting that section to cover what happened from the ship's crew perspective, rather than saying, this is what happened would work much better.  Taking that route, you could imply most of the event described in the "A convoy of floating ..." section and pickup with the Captian discovering his ship commandeered by the Dagi.  Much more dramatic effect for much less effort.  ;)

Either way, I liked the story!  


Jerry L. Mercer's picture
Jerry L. Mercer from Greenbank on Whidbey Island (Washington) is reading Knights of the Sea February 14, 2013 - 4:20pm

Thanks. I am primarily a novelist. To me the 4000 word limit required brevity in places I would have liked to expand further, but I did get in some description of the Dagi (humanoid, luminescent eyes). It was necessary also to move the story along after establishing the location, setting, primary characters, and plot. I felt I met the contest requirements fully and it wasn't necessary to go into much detail.  

Grumpea1's picture
Grumpea1 February 8, 2013 - 7:14pm

Like the idea,sounds like another of the humans treating humans and a Native Species as just cheap labor.

Teresa M.'s picture
Teresa M. February 9, 2013 - 2:48pm

"Some comedic scientist with a smattering of Greek and no creative thought had named the sun, the planet, and the moon." That brought a smile to my face. (o: "recycled liquid waste ... dispensed from the dispensers" did not. >o: I liked the overall concept. With a background in language learning and cross cultural communication, however, it always bugs me that all the original inhabitants of new worlds discovered have to end up speaking the language of the author in order for everyone to communicate. Extremely colonialistic.

Jerry L. Mercer's picture
Jerry L. Mercer from Greenbank on Whidbey Island (Washington) is reading Knights of the Sea February 14, 2013 - 4:24pm

Well, Teresa, I could have used the Dagi language, but then I would have had to include a lengthy dictionary fo interpretation! The Dagi didn't mind learning English. In fact, it became a popular past-time underground. They were more forgiving than Earthlings.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep February 10, 2013 - 12:53am

The storytelling in this story is very old school. Reminds me of my dad's sci-fi books I read growing up. You were very meticulous in describing your world. It was very easy to picture the the planets and the structures in my mind. No so much with the Dagi, since the only description I remember was "human-like creature."

I think this story has room for improvement. In my mind, it starts off slow and pretty remains slow the entire time. The beginning doesn't really reach out and scream "READ ME!" since the first 800 or so words are about a water dispenser. I really think that can be condensed down a bit so the reader can move on.

It's really hard for me to like anybody in your story: Everybody is too passive. This story could really using some punching up. I wanted to see Carl in some direct conflict. Instead, he's pretty much a bystander. One can argue that he doesn't really do anything except get his Dagi friends to solve his problems for him. I wanted to see the strike. I wanted to see revolution. I wanted explosions!I think with some proper trimming of other sections that don't affect the outcome of the story, there'd be more room for the conflict section of your story. I know the 4k limit is a big burden on a story with a scope as big as yours has.

I hope this feedback helps.

Jerry L. Mercer's picture
Jerry L. Mercer from Greenbank on Whidbey Island (Washington) is reading Knights of the Sea February 14, 2013 - 4:30pm

Thanks, Ethan. Yes, 4000 words isn't a whole lot as far as creating a whole new world, characters, setting, plot, conflict, etc. I guess I am "old school" but if that makes me a little like Robert Heinlien, Arthur Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and others, I would be ecstatic. By the way, Arthur Clarke's "Sentinel" had much less in it than Sustenance, yet they made a movie based on it: 2001 Space Odyssey!

Al Blankenship's picture
Al Blankenship February 24, 2013 - 8:01pm

Finally got around to reading Sustenance I thouraly enjoyed it.


Matt Hebert's picture
Matt Hebert from Vermont, originally, now in Dublin February 28, 2013 - 3:11pm

You seem to enjoy the writing and the storytelling, which comes across really well in the piece. Good for you.  :)  Carl is a clearly written, if two dimensional, character and could be a strong one. 

As far as the story goes, I was able to stay with you up to the point Carl gets taken down to the Dagi's home. From there, the disbelief couldn't be suspended any more. It's hard to imagine in 120 years that the Dagi, who are intelligent, powerful, compassionate and well equipped, never noticed that the humans on the surface were suffering, that they weren't there by choice.  It's seems a very simple thing that they do learn very simply in the end. That turning point is the heart of your story, and it doesn't get its due.

The Dagi speak English like the Indians in old Westerns, but I bet they'd be more consistent than they come across here.  "That sound bad, Carl. That sounds not fair."  The humans they were listening to don't seem to speak this way.

And just to point out what's probably an oversight, the first instance of the name of the town is inconsistent with the others.  On the first page, you say Sovetown and later it's Sovecotown.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) March 1, 2013 - 1:27am

This has bags of potential.  I like the idea of having that kind of class tension at the heart of the story, and it would work better as a longer piece – with a slow build-up of rage.  It’s not sci-fi, but I’d recommend Germinal by Emile Zola which features at its core a society of miners striking for better pay and conditions.  This is a very human story and I really like that.  Its elements of sci-fi are unmistakable, but the conflict at the heart isn’t reliant on those elements, which again I really like.  I’d like to see more conflict, you build up Carl’s rage so well at the start, but he calms down far too quickly during the confrontation.  I like the idea of the Dagi, seen as primitives but far more advanced than the humans they work alongside.  The resolution is achieved a little too cheaply, there is little conflict and everybody sees sense almost immediately.  With a much longer story, you could build on those moments wonderfully well, and give a lot more weight to the conflicts between the miners and those in charge.  I note from your comments that you are primarily a novelist, and I think you have rather a better basis for a novel than a short story here.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations April 26, 2013 - 7:57am

Hi Jerry,

Congrats on winning an author review - and I'm also playing catchup on any winning entries I didn't get to read!

A glowing gas giant - sounds like a small sun? And the true sun would do more than give : "and an occasional splash of thermal radiation from the system’s sun". Is the satellite spinning? When the satellite is directly between sun and planet, there would be no night, but when opposite side of planet, then ecclipsed and on side away from gas planet, total darkness! The astrophysics needs to be carefully thought out to make it sound realistic.

You perhaps go overboard in describing the history of Feggari. It's referenced, described, and then you give the chronology. Seems a bit too much! Be sparing. You don't, for example, need to mention "1200 colonists" twice!

It would help if you spelt out how much water is recovered from the air, and how much is delivered, otherwise it's hard to rationalise why the water is rationed!

Ultimately, this is a classic tale of corporate power (greed!) versus a dependant populace. But I think you make it too easy - mental powers for the Dagi, Remington's capitulation, even the dismissal of Arthur. (Who doesn't seem that bad a leader) You also fall into the trap of making your narrator a hero, despite seeming to lack all heroic abilities! This might not be hard - if he reads / views about life on other planets, he would become rebellious - what do the other miners watch?

You kind of lose the tension you built up - the slow starvation, the impossibility of earning enough to make passage. If you can maintain that tension, if you can make the taking over a struggle, even if you can make the Dagi a little less sophisticated, you should have a good story here!

P.s. Are there no woman on Feggari? Carl was born there - where are his family?


terribleminds's picture
terribleminds May 12, 2013 - 10:16am

Hey! Okay. Time for review.

The good news is, I think this story is well-written, particularly in the sense that it utilizes clear, forthright language. That’s not an easy task, honestly, and I’ve read a lot of work that doesn’t fit that bill.

Also good: the fact that the tale mirrors some real world concerns in terms of corporate rulership and human investment.

My ultimate worry is that the story feels, like the water mentioned at the fore of the draft, very tepid. As the saying goes, there’s not much THERE there, you know? The arc of the tale is less an arc and mostly a straight line gently ascending, which is not a particularly engaging narrative shape. Carl’s a good character and Yarma seems like a great character in waiting, both with strong potential, but they don’t have much to do here. Feels like could be better if the complications are amped, if the internal emotional troubles mirror the larger physical ones, and if the story jumps right into an inciting incident/conflict.

As it stands now, the story suffers from a lot of exposition and wheel-spinning. Almost like it fits into a larger narrative—which can be fine IF it fits into a larger narrative, but this is a short fiction and needs to stand on its own to justify its existence.

Good story. Hope you plan to take it to the next level!

-- Chuck