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Long Way Down (Fiction)


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#1 Offline Legolover-361

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Posted Oct 13 2011 - 09:44 PM

Long Way Down“Sure is a long way down,” the tourist remarked, his voice slightly fuzzy over the radio.Reeves shook his head in disagreement. “Only for cowards,” he quipped, tugging on his rope to be sure the stake was securely in the ground and then turning to the edge of the cliff. And tourists, he wanted to add, but didn’t: bad tour guide etiquette. “Don’t forget — the Valles Marineris Exploration Outpost, VMEO, is right below us. So we’re not too far from help.”Despite his earlier words, even without looking down Reeves knew the tourist was right. It rather was a long way down, he thought as he swung himself over the edge (much to the tourists’ amusement and bewilderment). The ground was at least a few kilometers below him now, at most several; all that kept death at bay was the rope. A good, thick one it was, synthetic material — he’d forgotten what it was called, only remembered that in the low Martian gravity it was sufficiently safe, and thus he wasn’t afraid.On Earth, Reeves weighed one hundred sixty pounds, wet. On Mars he weighed about fifty-five pounds. Big, big difference. Except the tourists never seemed to get it.He sighed, shook his head again to no one in particular, and began rappelling down the cliff. In his peripheral vision he caught a glimpse of the tourists’ heads, poking out just over the edge to watch his progress; saw a few rapidly draw back in fear; said into his helmet’s radio, “Please don’t fall; even in a fourth the gravity of Earth’s the landing’ll hurt. And terminal velocity doesn’t change, either. Just sit tight and wait. You’ll get a nice, safe lift ride down when I’m at the bottom.”The heads drew back. Almost grimly, Reeves grinned and continued his descent.Step, crunch, slide, and the cycle restarted. He tried not to look down — he’d done it before, two Mars-years ago, when the Martian Visitors’ Colony had just started up, and nearly gotten sick in front of twenty wannabe Martian citizens. Not the best way to promote that moving to the Red Planet was “out of this world!So he concentrated wholly on the movement of the slides and where he placed his feet, perhaps a tad obsessively, but it helped keep him from thinking of the long, long drop beneath him.This went on for a long time.He came into sight of the VMEO and, according to his helmet’s HUD, one hundred meters from the ground when he finally slipped up.It was a small mistake, as far as mistakes went, but Fate pounced on it. Reeves slipped, his gloves slipping off the slides, and began to fall; jerked back upward as the rope held. For a moment Reeves swung out over the abyss, his feet kicking in empty air; then he spun back around, slapping against the cliff with a clank! as his suit collided with Martian rock, right elbow first. He scrabbled for a grip, managed to steady himself, and grasped the slides, his hands clammy underneath his gloves.For a minute he hung there, gasping, swearing under his breath.That was close.In the suffocating silence that followed, over his own madly beating heart, Reeves caught a faint hissssss...He threw a quick glance at his HUD — saw the air pressure number slowly ticking down — swore again. He could feel a faint air current over his right elbow; raising it to his faceplate, he saw the edges of a small opening in his spacesuit fluttering in the small breeze.Words floated through his head, that tourist’s: “Sure is a long way down...”Slowly, trying not to let fear interrupt his careful movements, he moved his hands off the slides and onto the rope. Then, crunch by crunch, he moved down until the rope held him up.Now was the tricky part. He took a step forward (or up?) and then leaned back, so that as he settled into a horizontal position with his face toward the pale red heavens, the rope holding him there. Then he reached into a waist pouch with his left hand, awkwardly grabbed an air patch (he wasn’t very good with gloves), and slowly, being sure not to make any sudden movements that could cause him to swing away from the cliff again, raised his right arm and placed the patch over the leak.The suit was partially inflated, so the surface gave under Reeves’s pushing. He grunted. Gritting his teeth, he raised his right arm a little higher and managed to cover the rip with the patch. He couldn’t tell if the hissing had stopped; his heart’s frantic pounding still filled his ears, deafening.So he glanced to the HUD to see the suit’s air pressure reading steady. Reeves took a deep breath, released it in a long, slow exhale. His heart was still beating a mile a minute as he pressed down on the patch once more and moved his hand from the makeshift seal.Nothing.Well, that was that.“Sorry, folks, for the silence,” he said into his radio, resuming his climb; “I had some — uh — technical difficulties, but I’ll be down in a minute.”And that, ladies and gentlemen, he added mentally, is why I’m climbing down right above the VMEO. Long way down, indeed.* * * * *This was meant as nothing more than a quick writing exercise, mainly meant as practice for a more casual style of writing. I think it turned out well, though, granted, this doesn't tell a very important story.Thoughts?
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#2 Offline (Daedalus)

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Posted Oct 14 2011 - 12:16 AM

*Incoming Transmission* As a short story, it falters somewhat. There isn't much of a plot, and less of a conclusion. But since writing a plot-heavy story wasn't your goal, those things don't matter. What does matter is that you pulled off the casual writing. At least I think you did. The writing was nice, fluid, and I didn't have much trouble visualizing what was going on. I also liked how you slowly teased out some things-- for example, the fact that Mars was the setting, and the fact that the main character was wearing some type of suit. So I think you accomplished your goal. Well done. ;) *End Transmission*
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9:30 PM

My headlights illuminate a large white gate,

closed and locked, admission blocked—

A thousand spiders crawl up my spine.

With chattering teeth I brave the chill

and approach the gate. Gunshots and guffaws

crowd my senses—distant, yet near.

Phobos and Deimos sing in my ear,

and I hunch my shoulders to shoo them away;

unsuccessful, I fumble for keys in a tight denim pocket—

A thousand spiders crawl up my spine.

Noises draw near, elicitors of fear.

I find the ring and unsteadily bring

it out. Sticking my arms between wrought iron bars,

I find the padlock. I take a deep breath and send up a prayer.

I insert the key and try to give it a turn—

A thousand and one.


#3 Offline Xomeron

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Posted Oct 14 2011 - 01:13 AM

Only problem: Mars is closer to one third than a quarter. 38% precisely. Just nitpicking; other than that, I liked it.
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That being said, thag thag thaggity thag thagness.

-Rover

"A memo was sent to Astaria asking if it would at all be possible to make a flying goat."
"The Astarians responded that making a goat fly would be trivial; making it land safely would be another matter entirely."

#4 Offline Legolover-361

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Posted Oct 14 2011 - 07:10 AM

*Incoming Transmission* As a short story, it falters somewhat. There isn't much of a plot, and less of a conclusion. But since writing a plot-heavy story wasn't your goal, those things don't matter. What does matter is that you pulled off the casual writing. At least I think you did. The writing was nice, fluid, and I didn't have much trouble visualizing what was going on. I also liked how you slowly teased out some things-- for example, the fact that Mars was the setting, and the fact that the main character was wearing some type of suit. So I think you accomplished your goal. Well done. ;) *End Transmission*

You're right, I wasn't planning on giving it a real plot, and this was mainly an experiment with a more casual writing style. I'm glad you think I pulled it off.

Only problem: Mars is closer to one third than a quarter. 38% precisely. Just nitpicking; other than that, I liked it.

I thought I'd read somewhere that Mars was about one-fourth the size of Earth... Oh well, it's not too big of a deal. I can fix that later.Thanks, though!

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#5 Offline Jedi Knight Krazy

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Posted Oct 16 2011 - 09:07 AM

Space is scary, and you managed to capture that really well in what would be a mundane anomaly on Earth. I've been repelling a couple times, and the worst thing you get from a slip like that is a bruise, a scratch, or maybe a concussion if you bump your head on the rock. A couple of gripes:I'm not sure that an experienced rock climber would panic like Reeves did when he slipped.Technicality: he apologizes for the silence when he never actually turned his radio off, unless it got bumped in the slip. The tourists would have heard all his swearing :) (unless it's like a walkie-talkie where you have to actively transmit a signal)I disagree that teasing out facts like location and plot-critical items add interest. Because at least the fact that they're on Mars is completely scene-changing, once I find that out I feel like I have to back up and read the first paragraph again. If the characters know something, I feel that as a reader, I should know it, too.You keep bringing up the low gravity of Mars, but you also mention repeatedly that the main character would still die from the fall. Why bring it up more than a couple times?You spend most of the story foreshadowing a fall, but the most danger he's in is from a rip in his suit... seems a bit odd to me.

Edited by Jedi Knight Krazy, Oct 16 2011 - 04:29 PM.

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#6 Offline Zaxvo

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Posted Sep 23 2012 - 09:38 PM

Hey, it's Zaxvo from the Short Stories Critics Club! Your short story has been randomly selected for a free review! You claim you don't tell an important story, but to be perfectly honest, when I reached the end your quick little exercise, I exhaled out of relief. I was literally holding my breath in suspense, eagerly reading to see what happened. Your writing was just that good that I found myself emotionally invested in this random martian tour guide I knew next to nothing about. That is brilliant writing. Give yourself a pat on the back, you've got some great talent. From the way you open the story, introducing the protagonist, Reeves, and his daily struggles with those darned tourists, to the moment he falls and discovers the rip in his suit, you slowly, carefully, surely get the reader interested. And they're hooked and need to find out what Reeves does. Well done. Personally, at the time I thought that the way Reeves survived is a bit of a Deus Ex Machina, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. Perhaps adding in a line about how whatever corporation the runs VMEO mandates carrying patches, out of safety concerns? :/ I dunno. It felt, at the time, like a really trivial solution to a life-threatening conflict. Maybe he drops the patch kit? :P For the drama?Other than that, I have no negative feedback for you. This is simply one of the most engrossing short stories I've read in a long time. Well done.
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