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Harper J. Cole
May 15th, 2015, 08:57 PM
All,

Time I posted something, I think!

This is an excerpt from a scifi novella I'm working on. It comes about halfway through. The premise is that the crew of a spaceship have come to a previously unexplored world (original, I know! :-\") where there's evidence of an intelligent civilisation, now vanished. The main character, head technician Flora Cartwright, has fallen down a shaft and finds herself beneath the earth.

It's my first serious attempt at storytelling. I'd appreciate feedback on any grammatical blunders, clunky narrative or other awfulness I've slipped in! :tongue:

Edit: when I pasted my text in, it got seriously mangled, with numerous spaces going missing. I think I've fixed it now.

HC

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Flora didn’t move for some time. She tentatively felt her arms and legs; no breaks, plenty of bruises. Not much point in waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Pitch black it was, and pitch black it would stay.

She tried her other senses. Beneath her was flat stone; standing up and reaching above her head yielded nothing but air, which felt heavy but breathable. Calling for help gave her the sense that she was in a large cavern. Her cries yielded no response, soon fading into silence.

She felt sick, heartbeat out of control. Was this what had happened to the Matans and their dwellings, swallowed by the planet? There was no escape; her frantic attempts to clamber back the way she’d come were foiled by the dirt, loose and treacherous.

They’ll come looking for me, she reassured herself. Even if they didn’t hear me fall, they’ll investigate and find the hole, and … yes! Of course!

She had forgotten about her wristband, which would have no trouble communicating even at this distance. It could also put out a 10 candela light. Cursing herself for letting panic cloud her thinking, Flora felt for the light control.

Nothing.

She tried communicating with her crewmates: again nothing. The device felt intact, but must have been damaged by the fall.

The brief wave of relief she’d felt collapsed at once into nothing. Sinking to her knees, head in hands, she fought for calm. She needed to assess her situation rationally, not emotionally. What should she do? Just stay put, she decided. She couldn’t explore without light,and it would be easier for them to find her here.

Flora drew in deep breaths, settling down for a long wait. At least she was free to move her limbs; things were better than they had been in her dream. And she would escape.

Have faith, Flora …

After a moment’s thought, she felt around in her pockets. She had a screwdriver and two spanners. The screwdriver was probably too big for mending her wristband, but why not give it a go?

Pushing all negativity from her mind, she got to work.


* * *


‘God, look how far down it goes! And her life signs show ‘no data’. Do you think she’s … ?’

‘No way of knowing. But ‘no data’ simply means that her wristband’s broken or out of range. I suggest you read up on the basics of our hardware, Grace.’

Hunter peered down the shaft. Her light wasn’t strong enough to see the bottom. ‘Well, there’s nothing for it but to go down after her. Bala’s the best qualified; get her out here with some hiking gear.Call the doctor as well.’ While Annie contacted the ship, she and the others tested the nearest tree trunk to make sure that it could bear the weight of a human.

Hang on in there, Cartwright. No deaths on my conscience, please …


* * *


As Flora worked on her wristband – she had managed to open up a slender panel – she gradually became aware that the cavern was not completely silent. There were sounds all about her, almost imperceptible at first, but seeming to become louder and louder once she noticed them, until they saturated the whole chamber. They were hard to define at first – a hint of a murmur, a hint of a hiss – and she wondered whether there could be wind blowing down here. But she felt none on her skin. She paused her work and focused all her mind on listening. Presently, she was able to recognise the sound, and that recognition horrified her.

It was breathing.

Soft, slow inhalations and exhalations were coming from all sides; close behind and distant ahead. Flora was surrounded. The sound stayed at a steady volume but infiltrated her ears more and more as she listened, until it seemed to be rasping inside her brain, and she would have run in spite of the dark if only there’d been a path that could offer any hope of escape. But they were everywhere.

Her imagination, unbidden, conjured up a thousand hideous forms the creatures might take; all predators, all hostile. Whatever they truly were, they must be cruel; sadistic, even, as they surely knew perfectly well where she was but made no move towards her.

‘What are you waiting for?’ she demanded, but her voice was little more than a faltering whisper, which did nothing to interrupt the flow of the breathing; in … out … in … out … the perfect rhythm continued, and it hit her suddenly that though the sounds emanated from a myriad points all around her, they were all in synch with each other. A million creatures, all inhaling together, all exhaling together.

Impossible. But real.

Girding herself with every last erg of resolve she had left, Flora returned her attention to her wristband. She had two choices as she saw it: to try and take action to improve her situation, or to sit there with her fingers in her ears and pray. She chose action, and was rewarded. After five more minutes of working at the innards of the band with trembling fingers, she found a loose connection, and affected a temporary seal. A beep confirmed that the hardware was functioning again. She summoned light at once.

And let out a scream!

There, no more than a yard to her right, was a face, nearly human, emerging from the wall. She instinctively lurched away from it, but knew full well there would be others behind her. Her light, upset by the motion, flickered wildly, vanished briefly then returned at half power. She forced her gaze to rest upon the apparition.

The face was on its side, and appeared masculine. Two large eyes were almost closed, twitching slightly as if their owner were dreaming.The nose was large by human standards, the mouth small, the forehead sloping back into a long skull. There was reddish hair on the head and a full beard on the face. Moving her light to the right, she saw a sturdy, muscular body. The whole creature seemed to be stuck on the wall, parallel to the ground.

She dared to edge in for a closer look. The skin colour was uneven, with blotches of white and grey. The grey areas looked almost metallic.The hair and beard spread outwards from the head like a halo, and seemed to flow into the wall, turning brown and wooden, creeping along the walls like branches of a tree. Or roots maybe, old and gnarled. Following one of these upwards she found that it widened and flowed seamlessly into the leg of a female some two yards higher up.There was no telling where the roots ended and the people began.Turning her attention back to the male, she saw that three of his ribs on one side had torn through his skin and embedded themselves in the soil behind him. They were not made of white bone but a gleaming metal.

She could faintly see others at the edges her illumination. It was a sickening scene. ‘Cartwright, can you hear me?’ she jumped when Hunter’s voice came from her wristband, then felt a rush of relief. She felt for the response button, unable to take her eyes of the creature in front of her.

‘Captain, yes, I’m here.’

‘Thank God.’ The signal was poor but the relief came through loud and clear.‘We lost your signal for an hour, it only just came back. Bala’s on her way down. We can have you out of there in no time. Are you fit to move?’

An hour. Was that all it had been? ‘I’m fine, I can come up. But I think the rest of you might want to come down.’ She regarded the ghostly face in front of her. It looked slightly less frightening now that she was no longer alone. But only slightly. ‘There’s something here you’ll want to see …’

Silence
May 15th, 2015, 10:09 PM
Interesting story. Would like to read more of it.

R. Mountebank
May 16th, 2015, 10:00 AM
Very cool. Well written, with good pacing. Interesting cliffhanger.
Only minor nitpicks. Semicolons could probably be replaced with commas most of the time - I guess that is just preference though.

"Soft, slow inhalations and exhalations were coming from all sides; close behind and distant ahead"

Could drop part after semicolon or tweek it slightly. To me it hinders the flow of the sentence.

Awesome nonetheless.

Cheers

Harper J. Cole
May 16th, 2015, 02:38 PM
Thanks, guys. :)

You're right, I do overuse semicolons. Sometimes I reread my work and find them cropping up pretty much once per sentence. I'll make trimming them a priority when I edit my efforts.

HC

Brian A Seals
May 18th, 2015, 12:46 AM
Hey, Harper. Allow me to chime in.



As Flora worked on her wristband she had managed to open up a slender panel she gradually became aware that the cavern was not completely silent. There were sounds all about her, almost imperceptible at first, but seeming to become louder and louder once she noticed them, until they saturated the whole chamber. They were hard to define at first a hint of a murmur, a hint of a hiss and she wondered whether there could be wind blowing down here. But she felt none on her skin. She paused her work and focused all her mind on listening. Presently, she was able to recognise the sound, and that recognition horrified her.

It was breathing.
that


After reading this, my wild imagination made me think that, the pit she fell into was the stomach, of some huge beast!

You may want to change the line, "It was breathing", to "They were breathing", if you don't want there to be some confusion. If you're comfortable however, with the reader not catching up immediately, feel free to leave it. There's really no right or wrong answer, in this case.


Moving her light to the right, she saw a sturdy, muscular body. The whole creature seemed to be stuck on the wall, parallel to the ground.

I got confused here, for a second. If he's stuck in the wall, he would be perpendicular to the ground, not parallel. "Parallel" makes it seem like he's lying flat.

Other than that, I don't have too much in the way of constructive criticism. You seem to like using sentence fragments in your work, and there's nothing wrong with that, if the choice is deliberate. If not, think about combining sentences that begin with "But" and "Or", with the previous sentence. Like I said, there's no right or wrong, here. You're free to break the rules, as long as you're aware that you're doing it.

As for the work generally, I was intrigued by the humanoid creatures stuck in the wall. I'm genuinely curious about their origin, and that's a good sign, in my book. I was also delighted to see, that you seem to be writing about an all-female group of soldiers. Or maybe they're explorers? Anyway, just that alone has piqued my interest. Submit more, as you like,

-B.

Harper J. Cole
May 18th, 2015, 08:28 PM
Thanks Brian, :)

I wasn't too pleased with the "it was breathing" line, I'll probably change it to something less vague.

For the 2nd line, I think parallel was the right word, as I'm picturing him laid out with his whole body about four feet above ground level, if you follow me. I guess I'm not doing my job properly if my meaning didn't come across, so again I'll look to change it.

The human members of the crew are female, yes (there's a few robots aboard as well). Most sci-fi characters seem to be male, outside of works by feminist authors like Russ or Tepper, so it was a chance to do something a little different.

HC