Thursday, January 14, 2016

Talkin' Heads #25

TITLE: Alpha Shift
GENRE: Adult - Science Fiction

Captain Akajima is the captain of engineering, and he’s suspicious of a shuttle that’s docked with their ship. Captain Dana is captain of the Marines on board.

Captain Akajima loosened his collar to stay relaxed for—

A watch stander turned to him. “Captain, a part of the shuttle is opaque to our scans.”

“You’ve double-checked it?” Akajima rose from his chair without haste and stepped down to that station.

“Yes sir. No matter what wavelength we use at what angle, it stays dark.”

Akajima stared at the cylindrical shape on the monitor as if he were staring down a bull about to charge. “That’s a life pod.”

“Yes sir.”

He signaled Captain Dana to join him. In the time it took her to stride over, a pulse started beating in his neck. “Any reason for a life pod to be opaque to our scans like that?”

She bent over like a hawk spying a rabbit. “No. A life pod needs to be open to scans, so anyone inside can be rescued.”

“Does it seem modified at that end?”

“I can’t say.”

Sweat formed on the watch stander’s brow. “Sir, it is consistent with the end of a boarding ram.”


  1. Right off the bat, I'm confused by the first line, 'Captain Akajima loosened his collar to stay relaxed for - '. The dialogue is inconsistent with the other clues , such as the captain being "relaxed" and "without haste," and then 'staring down a bull about to charge.' The reference to a farm scene, a charging bull, doesn't seem to fit in a high-tech space captain's persona. The plot does seem to be moving forward, from an inconsequential speck on their monitors to a mysterious threat.

  2. I am interested in your names. "Akajima" is very different from "Dana." Where are they from? Why does the watch stander not have a name?

    I am also a little confused by the first line. Why does he want or need to stay relaxed?

    The two similes, "as if he were staring down a bull about to charge" and "like a hawk spying a rabbit" seem a bit forced. Both seem more threatening than curious or nervous, which is the primary tone I'm getting from their dialogue. This could be a misread on my part, too.

    However, I do have questions, as a reader, I would like answered, and this is one of the goals of writing--to spark interest. First--what is this "life pod"? How did it dock? Why is it invisible to their scanners? By accident or intentionally? Is it someone wanting help or someone wanting to harm them?

    Good job!

  3. Lots of potential here for drama.

    I think you could really increase the tension by making Captain Akajima’s reactions more focused and more consistent. When he rises “without haste,” he doesn’t seem concerned or curious, so we, the readers, aren’t worried or engaged either. If this pod has the potential to be a threat, I’d expect him to react more firmly and decisively. Or maybe he’s trying to keep a calm demeanor for his crew, while he’s freaking on the inside.

    You don’t have to tell us Captain Dana is striding over. It slows the scene slows down. Just have her there. Speed things up and it will raise the intensity:

    “He signaled Captain Dana to join him. A pulse started beating in his neck. ‘Any reason for a life pod to be opaque to our scans like that?’”

    I agree that the pastoral-sounding similes using bulls and rabbits feel out place in outer space. What reaction are you trying to convey with the bull simile? It might work better if you give us Akajima’s reactions instead—his mouth went dry, he felt the blood drain from face, his pulse quickened.

    And it isn’t clear what Captain Dana is bending over.

    Hmmm… wonder what that pod is hiding?

  4. Interrupted dialog, fine. Interrupted thoughts, sure... Narrative interrupted with other narrative? I'm not sure I see the point.

    I'm a little confused by "a pulse started beating in his neck." Is it *his* pulse? Was it not beating before? Or do you mean that it quickened? My pulse is always beating in my neck... it's when it starts beating in my head that I know things are tense.

    I don't think it's a bad scene. The dialog seems natural for the environment, but the bull and rabbit references seem odd in space, unless this is being recounted by a farmer. I do question whether you need all of the dialog; some of it seems to be there just to space things out to allow for positioning of characters. For example, I think you could take out Akajima's question about double-checking the scan and have the watch stander just offer the wavelength dialog, ala: "Captain, a part of the shuttle is opaque to our scanners, no matter what wavelength or angle we use."

    Further, echoing Mary, beyond removing the part about Dana striding over, you could just have her walk over on her own initiative and offer the dialog, "A life pod needs to be open to scans..." without wasting the space on Akajima's question to her.