Tuesday, May 26, 2009

#19 1000 Words

TITLE: In the Shadows of Darkness (working title)
GENRE: Science Fiction

The air was stale, carrying a taste of a day old smoke and metal. Smoke, in space. Outside the pinhole window, the stars and blackness laughed. The filters were old here, no doubt predating new regulations and dodging inspection for decades. A rusty hum cantering in the rafters begged the question if the outpost’s guts had ever been cleansed. It was one of the many things that made it an ideal locale. The grit in the air, the texture, was reality, unlike the tasteless vacuum of galactic politics.

Scrapes against the metal bar and chairs against the grated floor, even the hiss of the open and closing airlock door, drew barely a stir from any present. The bar was dim and eyes minded their own concerns.

“Debium flux. Did you hear me?”

Knuckles rapped on the table.

She looked up from across the way, arching a brow over the edge of dusty glass. Her companion rolled her velvet eyes, dancing them across the ceiling and all the walls before falling back to her face.

“Archon, really. I’ve been talking about this for ten minutes.” Her mouth frowned as it formed the impatient words, and she indignantly ruffled her blue hair. Her face, impish and stern, was flushed with excitement as much as irritation. “What the shit do you keep me around for?”

“You know, Colt. We all know.” This voice was gentle. The man at the other side of the table ran a finger along the edge of his plate as he spoke.

Colt spun on him and narrowed her eyes rapidly to slits.

“Do I, Jacob? ‘Cause sometimes I really wonder myself.” Colt sighed and slid the light pad across the table to rest in front of the silent Archon. “I need another.”

Still mumbling, Colt got to her feet and wove her way through crowded tables towards the center bar. A few men barked at her passage, receiving a flick from below Colt’s chin and a well placed middle finger in reply.

“Answering her would require so little effort.” Jacob Gradient leaned his chair back on two pegs, running a hand over the back of his skull. He needed a shave, again, and a bath. Places like this always made him desire nothing more than to scourge the top layer of skin from his body. He turned his dusky eyes on Archon. “So now you’re not even answering me?”

“We don’t need Debium flux. There are enough spare parts in the gut of the Helios for her to arm a damn legion.”

Archon tipped the glass back and poured the murky liquid down. It burned. Outwardly, none were the wiser. She could have been drinking water, not lexium. Lexium made most boys cry and most men used it to clean core drives. She tapped the glass against her bottom lip. To her, it was any other liquid.

“They say this new flux can enhance accuracy by over three percent,” he said, reaching out to take the flask of lexium off the table. He knew Archon saw him, but he slipped it into the inner pocket of his trench anyway and folded his arms over his chest. “So it does have some legitimacy.”

Archon turned to face him fully, setting the empty cup in the center of his plate.

“And when have you known me to miss?”

The two watched each other in a short silence until a grin finally tugged at the edge of Jacob’s lips. Her gaze didn’t break or flinch; it simply waited for the truth. Hazel eyes reading everything about him, seeking any tick or hint that might give away a lie or whatever else he might try to contrive. He knew better. Between them there were no secrets, no deceptions. His eyes traced the black line, a subtle imperfection, which marked the iris of her left eye. A few strays of her copper-blonde hair drifted across her cheek. And though he longed to brush them away, he dare not.

“Extremely infrequently, Captain.”

She shrugged her shoulders then, settling her back to the support of the chair.

“We don’t need Debium flux.”

Jacob nodded. The tone finished that conversation.

“At least answer her next time. She’s foaming at the mouth at the prospect of getting to paw Debium technology. I’m sure she’ll sulk for days.” Jacob picked up the light pad, running a finger along the screen. The page turned, sending Debium flux and Colt’s hope away to the ether of the database. The next item, however, paused his hand. He touched his chin instead, his brow creasing. “C-class impulse grenades are on the market now.”

“You seem surprised.” Archon’s eyes were tracing the walls over the room. They would be leaving soon.

“These are dangerous.”

“So is Debium flux.” Archon glanced back at him, her expression disinterested. “Why does it matter? Everything for trade in the ring is dangerous. Everyone who deals in the ring has questionable motives.”

“We should secure them. The price is still low. They’re fresh.” Jacob handed her the pad. “Look.”

Archon took it from him and gave the pad a quick glance over. He was, of course, correct. Any military technology, particularly explosives, fetched high prices out here. The grenades were indeed under marked. Someone needed to purge their goods, and quickly.

“Colt would be upset. I just told her no. She’d claim I was playing favorites among the crew.” Archon chuckled.

Jacob was not amused.

“If these get in the wrong hands…”

“You can’t save the universe.” Her voice was sharp and the moment of good humor gone. She tossed the light pad on the table, hard. The image fluttered, blue lines breaking across the screen before the static settled. “That’s not our job.”

“No, it’s not.” Jacob’s cheeks flushed and he ran a hand roughly over the shadow along his jaw. “Not anymore.”

Archon’s top lip twitched with annoyance, but before she could counter his remark, gunfire screamed from the airlock.


  1. This didn't really do anything for me. I thought Debium Flux was a person at first. There's too much dialogue and not enough action, or descriptions. I have no idea where they're at, or what they're doing, or why they're discussing what they are, and maybe that's explained later in the story, but it didn't make for a very good start.

    I also have a problem with gunfire 'screaming'. Guns don't really scream, they roar. Rattle. Thunder. There are a lot of different words you could have used there, and 'screaming' just didn't do anything.

  2. The first paragraph wasn't enough to really keep me reading . . . but I did. You might consider starting with this - "You Can't save the Universe." Her voice was sharp and the moment of good humor gone. She tossed the light pad on the table, hard. The image fluttered, blue lines breaking across the screen before the static settled. "That not our job."

    Why? This draws me in . . . somewhat. This also sets up the character as not wanting to save the Universe, or maybe she does.

    Unfortunatley, you need to hook the reader (i.e., agent) quickly. Start out with a bang! Draw the reader in with the first paragraph.

    Also, why are they on the ship? What's their purpose in life? What's to make me want to read more?

    On a more positive note, you definitely set up the conflicts between the characters, but you needed something more before dropping into all the dialogue. The reader has to want to read more.

    Lastly, 'stars' and 'blackness' cannot laugh. They might be able to mock by their vastness, but not laugh. : )

    Good luck.

  3. Not hooked. Too much dialogue at this point and not enough action.

  4. I am purposefully not reading everyone else's comments, so forgive me if this is repetitive. The first few sentences were interesting, but they became useless as the focus changed to something else. It wasn't until the second paragraph that I got a real sense of the tone, a feel for what was coming. Debium flux was confusing, until much later. The way it's worded here seems to indicate a name of a person, not of a thing (and I was thinking Debium would be a great name for a person, but anyway). You introduce the girl, and then you have her walk away while the other two companions chat. It would have been better to leave her out or make her a mere footnote. If she's more important than that, then more is needed to make it that way. Once the conversation starts, the pace drags on rather slowly. I get a sense of what these two speakers are like, but there's not enough to keep me intrigued. In fact, I didn't get interested to read more until the last line. This work has promise, since I can "see" the place you're building. It just needs a bit more umph to make it spectacular.

  5. First impressions are the flow is choppy and the detail is overdone.

    The reader should not be confused as to whether something is a person, ship, or a thing.

    The dialogue isn't too much, it just doesn't flow of seem realistic.

    Consider the following as a possible example of the attantion it needs.

    Colt spun around, "Do I, Jacob?" Averting her eyes, she pushed the light pad across the table.

    Archon glanced down briefly and looked up.

    "I need another," she said, narrowing her eyes as she rose. ...

    Other things tripping me up were porse such as "What the shit do you keep me around for?", "...blackness laughed."

    Unfamiliar sayings or associations will trip up the reader.

    Good luck!

  6. I didn't read the comments before I started, but decided to see what others pointed out--and they're right on.

    Too much dialogue.

    Hard to catch on to characterization.

    Interesting writing style, however. That I liked.


  7. I couldn't orient myself in this piece at all. A few things that added to my confusion: A pinhole window? If it's the size of a pinhole, it wouldn't be a window, it would be a pinhole. Stars and blackness can't laugh, and if they could, I'm not sure I'd know what that meant. Good, bad? With a 'rusty hum' you have a visual word describing a sound which doesn't really work imho.

    Eyes can't mind their own concerns, people can. Likewise, a brow can not arch over a glass, but a person can arch their brow. I hope to heck her companion doesn't have velvet eyes, and that said eyes don't dance on ceilings, because unless you mean for that to be a really creepy image, you might want to re-word. Maybe get yourself a good book on grammar so you can understand why these sentences are structured incorrectly.

    Sorry to say I didn't get through the full thousand words.

  8. The beginning definitely is in the wrong place. I didn't get much further than the first two paragraphs and in only that space thought, the second para belongs in front of the first. Establish the scene then embellish it.
    But really, if you dialogue into a beginning it should be something that keys the reader into a situation. Preferably one of action.
    I see somebody already commented on guns screaming but you lost me on mouth frowning. At that point I just could not warm because I knew if there was one mouth frowning there'd be more. A frown is a forehead. A poor old forehead cannot do much. It can crease, it can smooth and relax or it can frown. A mouth can do lots of things. It's luckier. Lips can purse, pout, break into a smile, be licked in nerves.

    The reason people haven't like the dialogue is you try and involve the reader with personalities the reader doesn't know. It's like eavesdropping halfway through a conversation at a table nearby. The POV just doesn't exist too soon.

    Hope I have helped a little. Good luck.

  9. I did read the others first this time because I wondered if it was just me who was confused or thrown by this. I agree with most of the comments but I did find the characters and situation interesting, so with some fixing up, I'd keep reading.

  10. Sorry to say I was so confused, I couldn't get hooked. It seemed as if there might be an interesting story somewhere, but I couldn't tell whose and how many POVs were happening.

    There's intriguing and then there's incomprehensible--and most of us are too lazy to attempt to figure out incomprehensible.

    Yah, I know the advice is dump the reader in the middle of the action and show don't tell, but in this case, you've got to put some ground beneath our feet. Who or what is debium flux? Who's got the blue hair? What is all that roaming eyeball stuff and why? How many people are in this scene, actually.

    IOW, clarify for us, let us get onboard first, then set the story to Zoom :-)

  11. You've got some interesting descriptions, but a lot of them are in the passive voice, which deflates the effect.

    I agree about the dialogue, but I think the bigger issue is what's happening. Who are the key players? What do they want? What is the story about?

    Without knowing that, it's hard to build tension or reader empathy. It's just a meeting in some bar in outer space.

  12. Not bad. It's not really my genre, but I'm interested.

    The sentence "Her companion rolled her velvet eyes, dancing them across the ceiling and all the walls before falling back to her face." struck me as a little too quirky. It seemed like you really wanted the descriptions to be unique, and they distracted me.

    The phrasing of "Outwardly, none were the wiser. She could have been drinking water, not lexium." didn't quite work for me. Maybe something more along the lines of "It didn't show. For all the others saw, she might as well have been drinking water instead of the lexium." Just an idea.

    When I got the the words " “No, it’s not.” Jacob’s cheeks flushed and he ran a hand roughly over the shadow along his jaw. “Not anymore.” " I was hooked. I MUST have more.

  13. It would be unfair of me to say I would not read on since I would not read any sci fi that is set in space (I get claustrophobic just reading about spaceship confinement). However, if you apply your poetic talent that you have shown here to your advantage instead of to reader confusement then I think you might appeal to the your target audience.

  14. I love SF but I agree with others that you should start with "You can't save the universe." It's a great hook. You're starting the scene too early and there is nothing really in the first section to hook me until then.

    As to the writing, it's decent but I think you're trying to hard to find original metaphors, but the ones you have used are far-fetched -- they don't make sense or create a clear image in my mind's eye. Stars and darkness laughing just didn't work nor do I think a hum can be rusty or canter nor gunfire scream.

    Good luck!

  15. I think there's too many characters in this opening scene. We're being introduced to your world, but there's no main character to identify with or to view the story from.

    I honestly wasn't able to read as closely as I would have liked because I didn't know who I was reading about.

    If you pick a pov character and rewrite the scene with this person in mind and don't deviate from it, then I think it will be less confusing, and the other characters in the scene will feel more distinct and fleshed out, because they're from one specific person's pov. Right now, the narrative feels very distant. More like a camera pulled very far back into the scene instead of a close up where the action is.

    Get us invested in the character and why their problems matter.

    Scenes with many characters are generally difficult to write, especially for an opening. Readers get easily confused with so many names being thrown about so early.

    Hope this helps. :)

  16. I really liked the first paragraph, but then I was lost - totally confused. I had no idea where we really were, why we were there, who these people are ( if in fact they are people - velvet eyes raised some concerns, or even what was being discussed until I was nearly at the end.

    I agree that there were too many variables here, not the least were the POVS.

    I would like more orientation before being dropped right in the dialogue. I suspect that SF (and Fantasy) are problematic in that regard because of the world building that has to be done.

    You created some interesting word images, but I noted some oddities eg mouth frowning, that dragged me out of the story.

    Having said all that, I think that the premise has promise.