Sci Fi Short: Screaming Woman Farm (1409 words)

KiraAnn

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Joined
May 6, 2019
Messages
112
Location
Texas
I finally have a start on a story that I am somewhat satisfied with. Please do not spare any criticism. This is about a sixth of the planned length.

The Martian Ranger Company E Lounge was a bit busy with most of the day shift squads and support squads represented. Privates Riley Jo Diakite and Chad Brown proceeded directly to the auto-bar. Diakite got her debit card into the machine first, and snagged a bottle of Schiaparelli Gold pilsner and held the door open for Brown. He selected an Indus Red, quickly twisted off the cap and drank deeply.

“Come on, Brown! Move!”, said a Ranger behind him.

Diakite responded, “Come on, get of Clarke’s way – others are thirsty too.” She pulled Brown off to the side and they turned around, backs and elbows on the bar. They assessed the room while drinking their beers.

“Hey, there’s Bennet in the corner.” Brown pointed with his bottle at their squad leader, half hidden in a booth against the far wall. “Let’s join him”.

Diakite looked thoughtful, and said “Hmm, I don’t think so. Look at him. He’s not gulping down his beer and not joking with anyone like usual. I don’t think he wants company right now.”

Brown looked more closely, and noticed that their Senior Corporal Neville Bennett was just staring at the tabletop, occasionally sipping from his beer. Strangely, he did have two small empty glasses on the table. He muttered, “I guess so.”

They drank their beers quickly, upholding their reputation as having learned from Bennett, the Company’s reputed best guzzler. Brown got the second round while Diakite sauntered over to a table with three Rangers. They enthusiastically invited the pair to join them. A moment after Brown brought new bottles, Captain Édouard de Carré came into the Lounge. He waved down the few rookies who started to stand with his right hand; his left was occupied by a fifth of some whiskey. The CO headed across the Lounge toward Bennett, but in a roundabout way. He greeted several Rangers by name, asking about their children, or some minor life crisis.

The Captain finally reached Bennett’s booth and set the bottle down before sliding in opposite the Corporal. Bennett opened the bottle and poured two very stiff drinks. The two men saluted each other then downed the drinks. The Captain poured them both another and they repeated the little ceremony. De Carré stood up, clapped Bennett on the shoulder and left. Neither had spoken a word.

Diakite and Brown looked at each other, and told the three they were with they would meet at dinner. The two Rangers got up and sauntered over to Bennett’s booth.

“Can we join you, Corporal?”, asked Diakite, all militarily correct. Bennett just waved them into the booth. “Are you all right?”

“Chad, go get a couple of glasses,” ordered Bennett listlessly, in his gravelly bass voice. “I’d better not drink this whole bottle by myself. And I’m good – it’s just 14 June.”

After Brown got back, Bennett poured drinks for all of them. “Cheers.”

Ever the nosy one, Brown queried “What was all about? With the Cap’n, I mean.”

“Just something we do on 14 June,” came the response. Bennett kept looking into his empty glass, then filled their glasses again. Even for him, this was drinking a lot quite rapidly.

Before picking up her drink, Diakite quietly spoke “What’s so special about the 14th, Neville?”

Bennett paused a moment, then downed his drink before replying. “Worst case of my career.” He seemed reluctant to talk. Then he continued, “It was seven years ago. A wellness check that went bad.”

Brown spoke lightly, “Don’t tell me you had a gunfight.” He chuckled.

Bennett glared at him for a moment as Diakite said bitingly “Chad, shut up, man!”.

Bennett started speaking, “Like I said, it was seven years ago. The Captain was the Company First Lieutenant then; been here only a couple of months. I had my first squad, two good men. Rafael Orsini and Julio Alvarez.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I was called to the Officer of the Day’s office at 08:20. Since routine comms were reviewed and sorted starting 20 minutes earlier, I knew it was a mission. I was hoping it was an out-of-towner; I had not led one since becoming a squad leader.

Lieutenant de Carré waved me in before I could knock. “I have a mission for you, Corporal Bennett. Two, possibly, depending on the first. I’m not hopeful.”

“Yessir. Thank you, sir,” I replied trying to suppress my excitement.

“Don’t thank me yet, Corporal. First is a wellness check at a farm 100 klicks north on the Cassini Road. Sister of the farmer has been trying to contact him for two days. It’s been four since she last talked with him and his family. Wife and two children. You know what to do if it turns bad, yes?”

“Call in forensics and start an investigation, Lieutenant.”

Justement. I fully expect it will turn bad, Corporal. It has been too long. I am getting a forensics team ready on stand-by. Now, if it does resolve nicely, then proceed to the station in Cassini. They have a prisoner ready for transport to Schiaparelli Prison. Sergeant Wu is readying a van for your squad.”

“Yessir, wellness check, call forensics if needed then pickup a prisoner in Cassini,” I summarized his instructions.

He handed me a thumb drive, saying “This has the original request and everything Company A could find out about the farm. Carry on.”

I took the drive with my left hand and stepping back, gave a quick salute. As I walked out, I drew out my PDA and paused in the outer office to alert my team. Then, I hustled to don my leathers and grab my go-bag.

Ten minutes later, the squad – Junior Corporal Orsini and Leading Private Alvarez - met me at the Company garage. I looked them over, making sure they had on camouflaged leather suits. “Listen up! First thing is a wellness check 100 kilometers north. We’ve got a van getting ready, so let’s go,” I snapped the words out.

I saw Sergeant Wu looking at a tablet, checking things off, so I figured the van by him was ours and headed over.

Following along, Orsini began talking, in his nasally baritone voice.

“I’m looking forward to this. Been wanting to run one of those new vans up to its limits.”

Alvarez asked, “How are the new ones different, Rafael?”

Orsini said “It’s half a meter skinnier but over a meter longer: two and a half by seven and a half. Same height, though, but better batteries and motors. They say it can hit 150 on rough terrain.”

“Wow, nice!,” said Alvarez.

I interrupted, “Orsini, you ain’t no goddamn race driver and the Cassini Road ain’t no fricking race course! Stick to procedure – 100 kph max.”

“Neville, come on, man. Let me run ‘er out.”

I just glared at him, and almost ran into Sergeant Wu. Damn it, way to look sharp, boy! Being ten centimeters taller and twenty kilos heavier, Wu just reached his hand out and stopped me. Then gently patted my shoulder, thrusting the tablet in his other hand at me.

“This is yours, Bennett. Fully charged, two weeks rations and weapons on board. Sign here.”

“Thanks, Huang. I’ll bring it back in one piece – promise.”

He grinned as he replied, in a fake sotto voce, “Not if you let Orsini drive.”

Already inside, Orsini leaned out and flicked his fingers off his chin. Wu laughed and walked off to other duties.

I climbed in and closed the hatch. “All right, Rafael, you can drive, but keep it under 100. Let’s get moving.”

Orsini took the driver’s seat and carefully pulled into the garage’s airlock. Alvarez used the remote console, and got the airlock cycling. When it was open, Orsini pulled out at a sedate 25 kph, then sped up to 45 as the van hit the first feeder road east. The Company E MP Station was on the south side of Tikhonravov colony, so it took some 20 minutes to weave through town. Orsini took it up to 100 as soon as the outer streets of Tikhonravov were passed. Alvarez and I read through the material the Lieutenant provided. We tried to use the GPS coordinates to pull up a map of the farm, but the maps for Tikh were crap and neither Alvarez nor I could get anything of use. Sitting in the copilot seat, I punched in the coordinates so we would have some clue when we got there.
 

sule

Gnu Member
Joined
Feb 14, 2020
Messages
265
This is just an amateur's opinion, so feel free to take everything I say with as much salt as you desire.

My main problem with this part that you've shared with us can be summed up in two words: Nothing happens. Everything you have here reads like set-up. The first half in the bar doesn't even feel necessary and, in this reader's opinion, was far too long even if it was necessary. There is way too much time spent on two characters getting drinks and looking around a bar. My instinct is that the story can start at the break where the first person narration comes in because it truly felt that the first section added nothing to the story (in fact, I felt that it detracted from the story by killing my interest: nothing was happening and there wasn't even a promise of something interesting happening until you got to the break).

This problem in some ways persists in the first person section, because again it feels like a whole lot of set-up. Just get to the story! Especially if this is a planned short story, you should not require so much set-up. A short story does not have space for a frame story that then transitions into another story that starts before the story truly gets going then meanders through a checklist of everything the protagonist does before getting into a conflict. In my opinion, a lot of this could have been summarized. For instance, unless Sergeant Wu is an important character later on you could replace much of the back part of this section with something like, "Having received our instructions, I picked up Orsini and Alvarez at the Company Garage then headed out on our assignment." If it is needed, they can have the conversation about the van and the speed limit while driving.

My overall opinion is that the story needs to start closer to where the trouble is brewing. A writer doesn't have the luxury of slowly setting up their conflict (unless there is an underlying sense of foreboding which, for me, there was not) because readers will lose interest if they perceive that their time is being wasted. Most readers, when they pick up a story, are looking for an excuse to put it down. A writer's job is to make sure they do not find that excuse.

Some line level stuff that bugged me, then I'll let you go.
“Yessir, wellness check, call forensics if needed then pickup a prisoner in Cassini,” I summarized his instructions.
I don't like dialogue attribution that tells the reader what they should have already surmised. We don't need to be told that the character summarized the instructions after reading the character summarizing the instructions; it's a waste of words.

“Yessir. Thank you, sir,” I replied trying to suppress my excitement.
I guess I'm personally not a huge fan of "telling" dialogue attribution because I didn't like this either. I would have liked to see an attempt to "show" this sort of emotion instead, or just cut the attribution completely (we know who is talking, after all).

Following along, Orsini began talking, in his nasally baritone voice.
This could just be me, but I have no idea what a "nasally baritone" would sound like.

TL;DR: The frame story part of this section didn't work for me and in some ways actively hampered my enjoyment of the story. The first person section had more promise, but also meandered for far too long with things that, to this reader, seemed entirely trivial and could have been summed up in a couple of sentences. I would have preferred for the story to start much closer to the actual point of conflict, because everything that I read here felt like set-up without a definite promise of what the reader was in for. In its current state, I worry that this story will lose readers fairly early.

I am intrigued by what your story appears to be promising, I only think that you could have gotten to the actual conflict a lot faster.

Keep writing.
 

Wayne Mack

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Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
611
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
It sounds like you have a plot line intended for your short story, but it doesn't quite begin within the excerpt shown. I am more of a discovery writer, so I usually do not have any of the details worked out when I start writing and I am frequently going back to earlier sections to add in the details as they become fixed in my mind. I hope it won't sound off putting to suggest that you may want to finish the story and then resubmit an updated opening for critique. Please keep writing!

Some of my personal reactions to the section provided.
* I felt overwhelmed with the number of character names thrown at me in both sections. After trying to keep the characters in section one straight, it feels disappointing that the two initial characters are not likely to be in the remaining story. Do Lieutenant de Carre and Sergeant Wu need to be different people or even named? It would be nice, instead, to hear a little more detail on Corporal Orsini and Private Alvarez; they seem almost non-descript even though they will be significant characters in the story.
* I felt that the switch from third person to first person was quite jarring and it me a little while to realize that it was also time shifted from the first. It did not read like retelling a memory.
* I did not feel the world described was believable. It was not until the very end that I found out that Mars was still airless and not terraformed. Given the presence of marines, indicating some underlying danger, and a lack of air, I do not understand how it is practical to have a farm an hour outside of the city, nor why city buildings would not be under a common dome or similar structure.
* The orders given did not seem logical. Why would the primary mission be to go a short distance to check on a farm and then, if there is still time, go on a two week trip to transfer a prisoner? I would really expect the two to be reversed. Primary mission is to transfer the prisoner and then do a simple check along the way.
* I found it hard to believe that the soldiers would not check the maps and plan their trip until after they were on the road driving. Note: Checking the maps before leaving would provide an opening to describe the environment.
* If this is to be a military fiction, I would expect to read a more detailed description of the van as well as a lot of description of the weapons available.

I hope this does not sound overwhelming or discouraging. All of the above can be easily fixed as you gain an understanding of the world you are creating. For me, it is an expected part of the writing process to go back and flesh out details as I continue writing. I am sure once you complete a first draft, you will have a lot of ideas that you can backfill in and I think that will result in a more satisfying opening. As I said earlier, keep on writing! It will all sort itself out as you go along.
 

KiraAnn

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 6, 2019
Messages
112
Location
Texas
I can see that I had left out a few important details.

First off, these characters are part of a military police unit, along the lines of the late 19th century Texas Rangers or even more like the same period Northwest Mounted Police. So, with Mrs still a hostile environment, checking on the status of a detached facility - the farm - becomes a high priority. Transporting a prisoner who has already been caught, tried and sentenced is not a great priority. They don't care whether the prisoner spends that time in a jail in Cassini or a large prison facility in Schiaparelli.

Second, I am aware I need to "get to it" a lot quicker. I actually had concerns about that but after some time just commenting here and there, I wanted to get something posted. ;)

Third, I wanted to try writing a flashback and it seemed logical to me to switch to first-person for that part.

So, a "Take 2" is pending. Stay tuned, same bat-time, same bat-channel!
 

msstice

200 words a day = 1 novel/year
Joined
Mar 27, 2020
Messages
185
My comments in bold

The Martian Ranger Company E Lounge was a bit busy with most of the day shift squads and support squads represented. Privates Riley Jo Diakite and Chad Brown proceeded directly to the auto-bar. Diakite got her debit card into the machine first, and snagged a bottle of Schiaparelli Gold pilsner and held the door open for Brown. He selected an Indus Red, quickly twisted off the cap and drank deeply.

“Come on, Brown! Move!”, said a Ranger behind him.

Diakite responded, “Come on, get of Clarke’s way – others are thirsty too.” She pulled Brown off to the side and they turned around, backs and elbows on the bar. They assessed the room while drinking their beers.

“Hey, there’s Bennet in the corner.” Brown pointed with his bottle at their squad leader, half hidden in a booth against the far wall. “Let’s join him”.

Diakite looked thoughtful, and said “Hmm, I don’t think so. Look at him. He’s not gulping down his beer and not joking with anyone like usual. I don’t think he wants company right now.”

Brown looked more closely, and noticed that their Senior Corporal Neville Bennett was just staring at the tabletop, occasionally sipping from his beer. Strangely, he did have two small empty glasses on the table. He muttered, “I guess so.”

They drank their beers quickly, upholding their reputation as having learned from Bennett, the Company’s reputed best guzzler. Brown got the second round while Diakite sauntered over to a table with three Rangers. They enthusiastically invited the pair to join them. A moment after Brown brought new bottles, Captain Édouard de Carré came into the Lounge. He waved down the few rookies who started to stand with his right hand; his left was occupied by a fifth of some whiskey. The CO [I got confused by the different monikers this character has. Perhaps use one consistently] headed across the Lounge toward Bennett, but in a roundabout way. He greeted several Rangers by name, asking about their children, or some minor life crisis.

The Captain finally reached Bennett’s booth and set the bottle down before sliding in opposite the Corporal. Bennett opened the bottle and poured two very stiff drinks. The two men saluted each other then downed the drinks. The Captain poured them both another and they repeated the little ceremony. De Carré stood up, clapped Bennett on the shoulder and left. Neither had spoken a word.

Diakite and Brown looked at each other, and told the three they were with they would meet at dinner. The two Rangers got up and sauntered over to Bennett’s booth.

“Can we join you, Corporal?”, asked Diakite, all militarily correct. Bennett just waved them into the booth. “Are you all right?” [The mention of Bennett's action here confuses us as to who the speaker is]

“Chad, go get a couple of glasses,” ordered Bennett listlessly, in his gravelly bass voice. “I’d better not drink this whole bottle by myself. And I’m good – it’s just 14 June. [Perhaps better phrased as 'it's 14 June, is all' or something along those lines]

After Brown got back, Bennett poured drinks for all of them. “Cheers.”

Ever the nosy one, Brown queried “What was all about? With the Cap’n, I mean.”

“Just something we do on 14 June,” came the response. Bennett kept looking into his empty glass, then filled their glasses again. Even for him, this was drinking a lot quite rapidly.

Before picking up her drink, Diakite quietly spoke “What’s so special about the 14th, Neville?”

Bennett paused a moment, then downed his drink before replying. “Worst case of my career.” He seemed reluctant to talk. Then he continued, “It was seven years ago. A wellness check that went bad.”

Brown spoke lightly, “Don’t tell me you had a gunfight.” He chuckled.

Bennett glared at him for a moment as Diakite said bitingly “Chad, shut up, man!”.

Bennett started speaking, “Like I said, it was seven years ago. The Captain was the Company First Lieutenant then; been here only a couple of months. I had my first squad, two good men. Rafael Orsini and Julio Alvarez.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ [Not clear about this divider. Probably not needed.]
I was called to the Officer of the Day’s office [two "office"s: awkward] at 08:20. Since routine comms were reviewed and sorted starting 20 minutes earlier, I knew it was a mission. I was hoping it was an out-of-towner; I had not led one since becoming a squad leader.

Lieutenant de Carré waved me in before I could knock. “I have a mission for you, Corporal Bennett. Two, possibly, depending on the first. I’m not hopeful.”

“Yessir. Thank you, sir,” I replied trying to suppress my excitement.

“Don’t thank me yet, Corporal. First is a wellness check at a farm 100 klicks north on the Cassini Road. Sister of the farmer has been trying to contact him for two days. It’s been four since she last talked with him and his family. Wife and two children. You know what to do if it turns bad, yes?”

“Call in forensics and start an investigation, Lieutenant.”

Justement. I fully expect it will turn bad, Corporal. It has been too long. I am getting a forensics team ready on stand-by. Now, if it does resolve nicely, then proceed to the station in Cassini. They have a prisoner ready for transport to Schiaparelli Prison. Sergeant Wu is readying a van for your squad.”

“Yessir, wellness check, call forensics if needed then pickup a prisoner in Cassini,” I summarized his instructions.

He handed me a thumb drive [I'm not for technobabble, but I feel having a mere thumb drive here is a bit jarring. We have settlements on Mars and we're still using thumb drives?], saying “This has the original request and everything Company A could find out about the farm. Carry on.”

I took the drive with my left hand and stepping back, gave a quick salute. As I walked out, I drew out my PDA and paused in the outer office to alert my team. Then, I hustled to don my leathers and grab my go-bag.

Ten minutes later, the squad – Junior Corporal Orsini and Leading Private Alvarez - met me at the Company garage. I looked them over, making sure they had on camouflaged leather suits [We're on Mars, and we wear leather? I don't know.]. “Listen up! First thing is a wellness check 100 kilometers north. We’ve got a van getting ready, so let’s go,” I snapped the words out.

I saw Sergeant Wu looking at a tablet, checking things off, so I figured the van by him was ours and headed over.

Following along, Orsini began talking, in his nasally baritone voice.

“I’m looking forward to this. Been wanting to run one of those new vans up to its limits.”

Alvarez asked, “How are the new ones different, Rafael?”

Orsini said “It’s half a meter skinnier but over a meter longer: two and a half by seven and a half. Same height, though, but better batteries and motors. They say it can hit 150 on rough terrain.”

“Wow, nice!,” said Alvarez.

I interrupted, “Orsini, you ain’t no goddamn race driver and the Cassini Road ain’t no fricking race course! Stick to procedure – 100 kph max.”

“Neville, come on, man. Let me run ‘er out.”

I just glared at him, and almost ran into Sergeant Wu. Damn it, way to look sharp, boy! Being ten centimeters taller and twenty kilos heavier, Wu just reached his hand out and stopped me. Then gently patted my shoulder, thrusting the tablet in his other hand at me.

“This is yours, Bennett. Fully charged, two weeks rations and weapons on board. Sign here.”

“Thanks, Huang. I’ll bring it back in one piece – promise.”

He grinned as he replied, in a fake sotto voce, “Not if you let Orsini drive.”

Already inside, Orsini leaned out and flicked his fingers off his chin. Wu laughed and walked off to other duties.

I climbed in and closed the hatch. “All right, Rafael, you can drive, but keep it under 100. Let’s get moving.”

Orsini took the driver’s seat and carefully pulled into the garage’s airlock. Alvarez used the remote console, and got the airlock cycling. When it was open, Orsini pulled out at a sedate 25 kph, then sped up to 45 as the van hit the first feeder road east. The Company E MP Station was on the south side of Tikhonravov colony, so it took some 20 minutes to weave through town. Orsini took it up to 100 as soon as the outer streets of Tikhonravov were passed. Alvarez and I read through the material the Lieutenant provided. We tried to use the GPS coordinates to pull up a map of the farm, but the maps for Tikh were crap and neither Alvarez nor I could get anything of use. Sitting in the copilot seat, I punched in the coordinates so we would have some clue when we got there.

It's a great start. Some tightening of language here and there, but sounds like the start of a good old fashioned off-world SF Adventure, perhaps of the space-western genre. I had fun reading. Do keep going, and post more as you go! As a note on technique, we perhaps don't need the first part, because it looks like the main action is the story in the story. i.e perhaps you can just tell the story straight off?
 

Cosmic Geoff

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 14, 2012
Messages
441
I will make some overall comments rather than doing a line crit. The opening scene could be cut down a lot, as there seems not mucth intrincically interesting in some off-duty soldiers having an drink. Unless some significant personality clash is going to develop, which does not seem to be the case. And there are rather a lot of names for the reader to take in.
There seems little reason why a military-style force would be needed on Mars, so that needs to be explained. Asides from the airlock, there is little evidence of a Martian environment. And thumb drives seem a bit anachronistic. Given the time that may elapse before we colonise Mars, by the time we get there, electric trucks may be capable of finding their way to a given location there without any human intervention.
All this is something you could fix by starting the story in the right place and changing or adding some details.
 

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