Short Story: Screaming Woman Farm, Take 2 (1408 words)

KiraAnn

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 6, 2019
Messages
112
Location
Texas
As promised, Take 2. I left out the attepted flashback, and used the "present day" squad.

At 08:10, the Ready Room of Company E, 3rd Law Enforcement Brigade was humming with early morning talk amongst the five squads present. The fifteen Rangers, the colloquial term for the 3rd Brigade, were wearing short black jackets over rust-red fitted jumpsuits. As they waited for their assignments, they sat about drinking coffee or tea, and snacking on various sweet-rolls or croissants left over from breakfast. Four squads had been dispatched so far, and the remainder was ready to be doing something. The squad leaders all sat around a larger table near the Dispatch Sergeant’s desk, who kept glancing at his tablet from time to time.

Diakite and Brown saw their squad leader get up in response to a call from the Dispatch Sergeant. After talking with the sergeant, Bennett pressed his thumb to the tablet. Diakite and Brown looked at each other, then Diakite downed the last of her coffee as Brown stuffed the rest of his sweet roll in his mouth. He, too, downed his tea and took their dishes to the dishwasher.

Bennett walked toward his squad. His 181 cm, 105 kg bulk looked clumsy yet somehow, he guided his way past heaps of “go-bags” and feet sticking out in the way. Diakite and Brown had their gear up before the Senior Corporal got there.

Diakite stated “I have your bag and Chad has your exo-suit. We’re ready.”

Bennett just grunted and taking the go-bag from her, slung it over his shoulder. Reaching for his exo-suit, he rasped “Let’s go, Rangers!” and lead the way to the hallway door.

Five minutes later, they were buttoning up the hatch on the Martian Surface Excursion Vehicle as the underground garage lift took them to ground level, Diakite taking the controls. Exiting Company E’s Post, they got on Olga Parovina Boulevard and turned east, away from Tikhonravov Colony. After ten minutes had passed, they reached the “Y” where Cassini Road split left, and Syrtis Road kept straight east. The MSXV250 turned north and accelerated to 100 kph.

Bennett, in his gravelly voice, spoke “I’ve loaded the GPS coordinates, so you can bring that up, Diakite.” She merely grunted in acknowledgement as she triggered the GPS heads-up display. “Brown, get into your exo-suit and take over from Diakite.”

Brown’s melodious baritone voice came from the right-hand seat “Right. So what is the mission, Corporal?”

“Standard wellness check. You know, make sure the farmer and his family are still okay,” came Bennett’s reply. “Lessee. Hydroponics farm started by the Williams parents more than 25 years ago. Both Michael, the brother, and Amber, the sister, had gone to U of Mars, with the sister staying there. Two years ago, the parents retired to Marsport – naturally! – and set up a family corporation with shares owned by them and the siblings. Michael runs the farm. He and his wife, Sara, have two boys: David, age 6, and Ronnie, age 3. No one else lives on the farm, except temp workers at harvest time. Closest neighbor is five klicks north with another one seven klicks south. Lots of financial stuff here, but who gives a sh*t.”

Just over an hour later, Brown stepped on the brakes as a farm with its radio tower and a road came up on the left.

Bennett, now sitting in the right hand seat, rasped, “Ain’t it. Wrong side of the road.” He pointed at the GPS, showing their destination still ahead and to the right. “Git going and keep it below 60. That must be the southern neighbor.”

Brown grudgingly complied. Another radio tower was seen to the right, but no cutoff road yet.

When the radio tower was abreast of them, Brown asked, “Where the bloody hell is the road?”

“Keep your shirt on. It’ll be along any minute now.”

The van kept creeping past the radio tower.

Finally, Brown snarled “f*ck this!” and yanked the wheel right, and accelerated.

The van quickly reached the side berm and bounced up, then nosed over, with the ground falling off making the drop more like 40 centimeters than 15.

Bennett had time for one word “Asshole!”.

Behind Bennett, an incoherent yell came as Diakite was thrown on her ass. She had been right behind Bennett.

The van hit. Hard. Brown had the van still doing at least 50. The shelves behind them were losing items in a loud racket. Brown finally obeyed the physical demands of his seat restraints bruising his body and slowed to a gentle 35 kph or so. The van settled into a gentle rocking motion as he drove cross-country and started up a 50 meter ridge.

Grabbing his seat belt, Bennett muttered “¡Pinche pendejo!”, his gutter Spanish from his South Texas youth never forgotten.

Diakite, on her knees, simply held onto her seat with both hands while glaring at Brown.

“Damn it! Stop at the top, Brown,” Bennett hollered, his head still aching from the ceiling. “I’m thinkin’ you’ve screwed us.”

A few moments later, Brown slowed then gently stopped the van. As he applied the parking brake, Bennett nodded his head forward at the three klick crater before them. The radio tower was behind the opposite rim.

“Dumb-ass. Now look there,” Bennett pointed to the left. The cutoff road branched off into the larger semi-buried crater locals called Dobrynskoye. The road was a klick and a half farther. “Get back there and start pickin’ up your mess.”

Managing to scowl and look sheepish at the same time, Brown silently moved to the back and started cleaning up. Bennett took the driver’s seat and Diakite moved up beside him. Bennett began backing the van down the small rim they had climbed. Then, he drove along the side of Cassini Road until he got to the cutoff. The rim of Dobrynskoye was worn down there, and the cutoff lead past rubble into the crater’s bed. Bennett stopped as soon as the farmhouse was visible. He and Diakite looked the farm over.

Diakite said “Looks like six partially underground fields, twenty by 100 meters.”

Bennett grunted noncommittally, noticing movement out past the fields, stretching further into the crater bed. Focusing there, he soon made out the robots feeding the water separator. Then, he focused back on the farmhouse. He said, “The lights are on, but I don’t see any movement.”

That did not really concern him. Farmers on Mars rarely had to go Outside with underground fields and tunnels connecting them. “Typical farmhouse: oversize garage, large first floor, with two smaller floors above.”

Diakite noted, “Satellite dish, two line-of-sight dishes. I guess they are pointed to the neighbors.”

Bennett replied, “Yeah. Looks like it.”

Diakite spoke up again, “The garage looks open, Bennett.”

He zoomed in on the garage. “Nah, it’s just shadows.” Bennett sighed, and thought for a moment. “Brown, you done back there?”

“Yes. All picked up and restored to their rightful places,” Brown said coming up behind Bennett.

“All right, let’s go on in,” Bennett said. He closed up on the farmhouse.

“Brown, get the recorders going, and start scanning radio frequencies. Let’s see if they are broadcasting anything. Diakite, with me. Make the squad push on channel 5.”

They all buttoned up their helmets and Diakite started draining the atmosphere. Bennett grabbed a couple of stunners, handing one to Diakite. “Chad, when I call you, bring a blaster.”

“Yes, Corporal.”

Diakite and Bennett walked up to the front airlock with twin hatches. Looking at her, he waved her to the main hatch and stepped back. She began pushing the alarm button and banging on the hatch.

Bennett switched to the primary hailing frequency and began calling “Williams Homestead, this is the Rangers. Please open your main hatch.”

After three attempts, Brown interrupted, “Corporal, I’m picking up something you need to hear. Channel 27.”

Both of the Rangers outside quit trying to get a response from the farmhouse and switched to channel 27. Terrible screams filled their helmets. Horrifying, bloodcurdling, gut wrenching screams going up and down in volume with pauses for air.

“sh*t!” Bennett said. “Squad push! Brown, you recording, right?”

“Right!”

“Ok, I’m calling a life-threatening situation. Forcing entry. Brown, get over here with the blaster.”

Their helmets continued to play the wailing from channel 27, as Bennett stepped up to the security code panel and punched in the day’s emergency code. His stunner was drawn, as was Diakite’s. Before the hatch opened, Brown was up with them, his blaster leveled at the waist.
 

sule

Gnu Member
Joined
Feb 14, 2020
Messages
265
I'm sorry to say that I mostly have the same problem: it took too long to get interesting. For me, it felt like there was too much setup at the beginning that kept the story from getting to the action quicker. I didn't think there was very much action (or character development, or foreshadowing) in the beginning scene at the station.

Are you continuing to write beyond this? Have you made progress on the rest of the story? More importantly, have you written the ending? I'm asking this for two reasons: First, I hope that you haven't fallen into a rut of revising and rewriting one piece of the story while avoiding writing the rest of it. The problem with that is you end up polishing something that essentially exists in a vacuum because it doesn't yet lead into the rest of the story. Second, oftentimes by completing the entire story it gives you more of a sense of how the story should be told; how the story ends can inform how the story begins, which makes it a lot easier to revise. You may find that you can skip huge swaths of your beginning by mentioning the important details later, after you've gotten into the action.

Keep writing.
 

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
611
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
I am still having a hard time engaging with this story. I'll take a stab at why this is. I feel the story is being done from an exclusively third-person omniscient view and fails to provide a point of view character for me to identify with. This leaves me not feeling any concern with the characters on a potentially dangerous mission. I think it also causes the presentation of certain items out of expected sequence in order to get into the plot earlier. Having a third-person POV would allow information to be revealed to the character in a different order than in which they actually occurred.

At 08:10, the Ready Room of Company E, 3rd Law Enforcement Brigade was humming with early morning talk amongst the five squads present. The fifteen Rangers, the colloquial term for the 3rd Brigade, were wearing short black jackets over rust-red fitted jumpsuits. As they waited for their assignments, they sat about drinking coffee or tea, and snacking on various sweet-rolls or croissants left over from breakfast. Four squads had been dispatched so far, and the remainder was ready to be doing something. The squad leaders all sat around a larger table near the Dispatch Sergeant’s desk, who kept glancing at his tablet from time to time. [This seems to be inconsistent. At first five squads are present, then four of them are already dispatched. Given that this is the final squad, I would assume that the health check is the lowest priority task. Also, having 15 people for a single shift seems to imply a pretty heavy policing need, assuming 24x7 coverage probably needs 5 shifts.]

Diakite and Brown saw their squad leader get up in response to a call from the Dispatch Sergeant. After talking with the sergeant, Bennett pressed his thumb to the tablet. Diakite and Brown looked at each other, then Diakite downed the last of her coffee as Brown stuffed the rest of his sweet roll in his mouth. He, too, downed his tea and took their dishes to the dishwasher. [I would like to hear the ranks of the various personnel as they are introduced. Also their full names, as it gets confusing later when they are called by different names.]

Bennett walked toward his squad. His 181 cm, 105 kg bulk looked clumsy yet somehow, he guided his way past heaps of “go-bags” and feet sticking out in the way. Diakite and Brown had their gear up before the Senior Corporal got there. [Including a physical description of only one of the characters seems odd. Either describe them all or none. I am having a hard time understanding why go-bags and feet are sticking out if the rest of the squads are already dispatched.]

Diakite stated “I have your bag and Chad has your exo-suit. We’re ready.” [When did Diakite get up and get equipment? Why would should know what equipment to get? Who is Chad? I would expect the lead to brief the squad before leaving.]

Bennett just grunted and taking the go-bag from her, slung it over his shoulder. Reaching for his exo-suit, he rasped “Let’s go, Rangers!” and lead the way to the hallway door.

Five minutes later, they were buttoning up the hatch on the Martian Surface Excursion Vehicle as the underground garage lift took them to ground level, Diakite taking [took] the controls. [They exited] Exiting Company E’s Post, they got on Olga Parovina Boulevard and turned east, away from Tikhonravov Colony. [Are they leaving Tikhonravov Colony or is it a separate colony from the one where they are stationed?] After ten minutes had passed, they reached the “Y” where Cassini Road split left, and Syrtis Road kept straight east. [I thought they were on Olga Parovian Boulevard, not on Syrtis Road.] The MSXV250 turned north and accelerated to 100 kph.

Bennett, in his gravelly voice, spoke “I’ve loaded the GPS coordinates, so you can bring that up, Diakite.” She merely grunted in acknowledgement as she triggered the GPS heads-up display. “Brown, get into your exo-suit and take over from Diakite.” [Why didn't Brown put on his suit prior to leaving? If they don't know where they are going yet, how did they decide on which roads to take?]

Brown’s melodious baritone voice came from the right-hand seat “Right. So what is the mission, Corporal?” [I can't see the Corporal not telling his team what the mission was before leaving.]

“Standard wellness check. You know, make sure the farmer and his family are still okay,” came Bennett’s reply. “Lessee. Hydroponics farm started by the Williams parents more than 25 years ago. Both Michael, the brother, and Amber, the sister, had gone to U of Mars, with the sister staying there. Two years ago, the parents retired to Marsport – naturally! – and set up a family corporation with shares owned by them and the siblings. Michael runs the farm. He and his wife, Sara, have two boys: David, age 6, and Ronnie, age 3. No one else lives on the farm, except temp workers at harvest time. Closest neighbor is five klicks north with another one seven klicks south. Lots of financial stuff here, but who gives a sh*t.” [With two neighbors nearby, why haven't they checked up on the Williams? Wouldn't the team have some intel on when last contact with the family occurred?]

Just over an hour later, Brown stepped on the brakes as a farm with its radio tower and a road came up on the left. [This is confusing because it comes up out of order. They would see the road first, then hit the brakes.]

Bennett, now sitting in the right hand seat, rasped, “Ain’t it. Wrong side of the road.” He pointed at the GPS, showing their destination still ahead and to the right. “Git going and keep it below 60. That must be the southern neighbor.”

Brown grudgingly complied. Another radio tower was seen to the right, but no cutoff road yet.

When the radio tower was abreast of them, Brown asked, “Where the bloody hell is the road?”

“Keep your shirt on. It’ll be along any minute now.”

The van kept creeping past the radio tower.

Finally, Brown snarled “f*ck this!” and yanked the wheel right, and accelerated. [This makes no sense. Why turn off the road? If they were traveling slowly on the road, why speed up when going off road?]

The van quickly reached the side berm and bounced up, then nosed over, with the ground falling off making the drop more like 40 centimeters than 15.

Bennett had time for one word “Asshole!”.

Behind Bennett, an incoherent yell came as Diakite was thrown on her ass. She had been right behind Bennett. [I would expect Diakite to seated and probably belted.]

The van hit. Hard. Brown had the van still doing at least 50. The shelves behind them were losing items in a loud racket. Brown finally obeyed the physical demands of his seat restraints bruising his body and slowed to a gentle 35 kph or so. The van settled into a gentle rocking motion as he drove cross-country and started up a 50 meter ridge. [This seems out of order. The van already went over the berm and Diakite was thrown out of her seat. There seems to be no reason for Brown going cross-country at high speed for a routine job.]

Grabbing his seat belt, Bennett muttered “¡Pinche pendejo!”, his gutter Spanish from his South Texas youth never forgotten.

Diakite, on her knees, simply held onto her seat with both hands while glaring at Brown. [Is Diakite in her seat of out of it?]

“Damn it! Stop at the top, Brown,” Bennett hollered, his head still aching from the ceiling. “I’m thinkin’ you’ve screwed us.” [Why would Bennet think this? They haven't observed anything problematic as yet.}

A few moments later, Brown slowed then gently stopped the van. As he applied the parking brake, Bennett nodded his head forward at the three klick crater before them. The radio tower was behind the opposite rim.

“Dumb-ass. Now look there,” Bennett pointed to the left. The cutoff road branched off into the larger semi-buried crater locals called Dobrynskoye. The road was a klick and a half farther. “Get back there and start pickin’ up your mess.”

Managing to scowl and look sheepish at the same time, Brown silently moved to the back and started cleaning up. Bennett took the driver’s seat and Diakite moved up beside him. Bennett began backing the van down the small rim they had climbed. Then, he drove along the side of Cassini Road until he got to the cutoff. The rim of Dobrynskoye was worn down there, and the cutoff lead past rubble into the crater’s bed. Bennett stopped as soon as the farmhouse was visible. He and Diakite looked the farm over.

Diakite said “Looks like six partially underground fields, twenty by 100 meters.”

Bennett grunted noncommittally, noticing movement out past the fields, stretching further into the crater bed. Focusing there, he soon made out the robots feeding the water separator. Then, he focused back on the farmhouse. He said, “The lights are on, but I don’t see any movement.”

That did not really concern him. Farmers on Mars rarely had to go Outside with underground fields and tunnels connecting them. “Typical farmhouse: oversize garage, large first floor, with two smaller floors above.”

Diakite noted, “Satellite dish, two line-of-sight dishes. I guess they are pointed to the neighbors.”

Bennett replied, “Yeah. Looks like it.”

Diakite spoke up again, “The garage looks open, Bennett.”

He zoomed in on the garage. “Nah, it’s just shadows.” Bennett sighed, and thought for a moment. “Brown, you done back there?”

“Yes. All picked up and restored to their rightful places,” Brown said coming up behind Bennett.

“All right, let’s go on in,” Bennett said. He closed up on the farmhouse.

“Brown, get the recorders going, and start scanning radio frequencies. Let’s see if they are broadcasting anything. Diakite, with me. Make the squad push on channel 5.” [Wouldn't they have checked for communications before even deciding to send out a wellness check team? Wouldn't they have checked with the neighbors first? If the neighbors were also radio silent, wouldn't that have lent more urgency and wouldn't they have checked with the first farmhouse?]

They all buttoned up their helmets and Diakite started draining the atmosphere. Bennett grabbed a couple of stunners, handing one to Diakite. “Chad, when I call you, bring a blaster.”

“Yes, Corporal.”

Diakite and Bennett walked up to the front airlock with twin hatches. Looking at her, he waved her to the main hatch and stepped back. She began pushing the alarm button and banging on the hatch.

Bennett switched to the primary hailing frequency and began calling “Williams Homestead, this is the Rangers. Please open your main hatch.”

After three attempts, Brown interrupted, “Corporal, I’m picking up something you need to hear. Channel 27.” [Why wouldn't they have waited for the radio scans before leaving the vehicle?]

Both of the Rangers outside quit trying to get a response from the farmhouse and switched to channel 27. Terrible screams filled their helmets. Horrifying, bloodcurdling, gut wrenching screams going up and down in volume with pauses for air. [If the family has been silent for long enough to require a health check, then why would they be still be in a state of screaming now? Why haven't the neighbors, with direct communications, haven't heard this?]

“sh*t!” Bennett said. “Squad push! Brown, you recording, right?”

“Right!”

“Ok, I’m calling a life-threatening situation. Forcing entry. Brown, get over here with the blaster.”

Their helmets continued to play the wailing from channel 27, as Bennett stepped up to the security code panel and punched in the day’s emergency code. His stunner was drawn, as was Diakite’s. Before the hatch opened, Brown was up with them, his blaster leveled at the waist.

I feel the story may be rushing ahead too quickly to get to the reveal of what is behind the door. I feel the reader's tension could be improved by properly introducing the characters, giving them a briefing on the situation, and then having them speculate on typical, albeit wrong, reasons for a health check. Perhaps, a simple satellite dish outage or something more sinister such as a containment malfunction or even a suicide situation. Giving some plausible explanations would increase the shock value when something else is finally revealed.
 

msstice

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

At 08:10, the Ready Room of Company E, 3rd Law Enforcement Brigade was humming with early morning talk amongst the five squads present. The fifteen Rangers, the colloquial term for the 3rd Brigade, were wearing short black jackets over rust-red fitted jumpsuits. As they waited for their assignments, they sat about drinking coffee or tea, and snacking on various sweet-rolls or croissants left over from breakfast. Four squads had been dispatched so far, and the remainder was ready to be doing something. The squad leaders all sat around a larger table near the Dispatch Sergeant’s desk, who kept glancing at his tablet from time to time.

To be harsh, while this reminds me of the SciFi adventures I read in my childhood, it feels "pulpy" to me. I think this is because a lot of names and descriptions are being thrown at me in a very factual manner. It read a bit like a stage setting for a play. This is a very personal opinion and more of a feeling. I could not find a concrete suggestion for a different way to start the story. Perhaps, this description can be slipped in more subtly somewhere else.

Diakite and Brown saw their squad leader get up in response to a call from the Dispatch Sergeant. After talking with the sergeant, Bennett pressed his thumb to the tablet. Diakite and Brown looked at each other, then Diakite downed the last of her coffee as Brown stuffed the rest of his sweet roll in his mouth. He, too, downed his tea and took their dishes to the dishwasher.

Are these actions vital to describe? Do they add to the atmosphere? To the plot? To the character development? For my writing I try to follow the maximum that each paragraph should advance at least one of plot, character or backstory.

Bennett walked toward his squad. His 181 cm, 105 kg bulk looked clumsy yet somehow, he guided his way past heaps of “go-bags” and feet sticking out in the way. Diakite and Brown had their gear up before the Senior Corporal got there.

Perhaps there is a genre where this kind of precise clinical description of people is normal. I recall this style from what I would characterize as pulp. I personally don't like it so much.

...

The rest here was similarly slow going for me. Perhaps this is a very different style from what I like to read now. There is a lot of detail that I don't believe adds to the story. I liked the last version better - hard for me to say why. In this version, the only interesting line for me was the one where the screaming is described. I suspect, again, the writing could be made a lot more compact, and we could get to the inciting incident much quicker and then spend more time with the tension there.

Keep going!
 

DanielOwen

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 30, 2021
Messages
48
Their helmets continued to play the wailing from channel 27, as Bennett stepped up to the security code panel and punched in the day’s emergency code. His stunner was drawn, as was Diakite’s. Before the hatch opened, Brown was up with them, his blaster leveled at the waist.

For me, this is the first line. It's where the story actually starts, or at least the closest thing to a beginning you have.

Your scifi piece reads like it wants to be either action/adventure or some kind of military fiction. Either way, jump straight to the action. Nobody reads military fic to hear about soldiers taking their plates to the dishwasher or getting lost on the road despite their fully-functioning GPS system.

There is room for character development in the break room later on (if it's needed - if this is a short, it might be totally unnecessary), but I'd suggest that we first see these characters doing what they are good at: being Rangers doing their job. Likewise, there will be plenty of space to introduce the other Ranger squads and the base and so forth later, but to toss it all in right at the beginning leaves us struggling to work out the salient points. Also, if the Rangers are supposed to be professionals, they're terrible at it.

Currently, we establish the squad as fairly boring people who bicker about directions and cause accidents while driving, during which their gear falls off the shelves of their van (presumably because it's not properly stowed) after one of the squad disobeys an order from the squad leader and drives incredibly badly. They arrive at a farmhouse for a wellness check on some locals and don't think to try to radio the place until they're right outside? Presumably that would be the first port of call for any sensible system. The squad seems a bit dull and kind of incompetent. Maybe that's intentional and the point is that they're into something way over their heads, but if that's the case they need to make up for their incompetence with character, and presently they don't.

The dialogue is somewhat leaden, and involves a lot of characters telling each other things they both already know:
“Standard wellness check. You know, make sure the farmer and his family are still okay,”
“Looks like six partially underground fields, twenty by 100 meters.”
“Typical farmhouse: oversize garage, large first floor, with two smaller floors above.”

The only point of dialogue like this is to tell the reader things, which always feels awkward.

There is quite a lot of stuff like this:
Exiting Company E’s Post, they got on Olga Parovina Boulevard and turned east, away from Tikhonravov Colony. After ten minutes had passed, they reached the “Y” where Cassini Road split left, and Syrtis Road kept straight east. The MSXV250 turned north and accelerated to 100 kph.

It's fine, I guess, but doesn't mean anything to me. The narrator POV gives very little feeling to the setting - the characters live and breathe here, and have opinions and feelings about these places, and those are the details and ideas that will bring the places to life. The narrator here doesn't have any such opinions, which leaves them as just a dry list of place names with no context. Likewise with the vehicle referred to by its model number - doesn't mean anything to me, and certainly doesn't give me a picture of the van in my mind.

I feel like your description could use less dry detail and more personality, if that makes sense. Take the van, for example. Don't give us a model number; instead show us dents and scratches, decals on the side, kill-marks, patch-jobs and the driver's lucky keychain hanging from the rearview.

With the screaming coming over the radio, I did find myself wanting to know what was going on, but I felt like I had to wade through a lot of not-very-relevant content to get anywhere near it. Then the excerpt ends just as the first interesting thing happens.

I'd advise shifting the point of view to one of the characters and sticking with that - it's more intimate, gives everything some perspective and gives the reader a point of access into the story. Describe things as that character would experience them and don't be afraid to show us the personal touches that will make your Mars a real setting where real people struggle to survive. That will give your story a place from which a reader will care about what happens next.

Keep at it!
 

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