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Last Call · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Stars In Silent Witness
The stars were mere blurs of light, constantly spinning around and around and—

Instinct broke in, the trained reflexes of simulators and drills that overrode the blurred sensation of awakening. One hand moved in this direction despite the sharp pain, while the other arm moved that way, and the spinning slowed, then stopped. Stephenie sucked in another breath and held it for a while, just listening to the hiss and click of her spacesuit systems.

I’m alive.

Her only view of the engagement had been little more than a graser crew would normally get, but since their only task in combat was to manually fire the weapon in the event that battle damage cut them off from central control, and they had needed to fire far more than she had ever practiced…

The explosion should have turned her into chunky salsa, and being blown out through the ship’s grav drive wedge would have only mixed the whole gun crew into an indescribable paste, but other than a brutal bruise on her left arm, she was still in fair shape, so the ship’s power had died before the explosion. The skinsuit had some red lights on the heads-up when she gave a sharp nod to bring it down on the inside of her helmet visor, nothing too serious. She toggled the open suit frequency and listened for the warbling sound of other suit beacons, but the only thing she could hear was her own beating heart.

Her eyes flickered to the HUD display again, to the yellow light next to COMM and the red light on BEACON. Without communication, it did not matter which side won the ongoing battle. A rescue shuttle of either side would not be able to pick her skinsuit out of the scattered wreckage, and she would drift until something critical broke down in her suit. Or herself.

“Any vessel, this is Ensign Stephenie Greenhaven of the Grayson Navy requesting assistance. My beacon is broken, so you’ll have to home in on this signal. Please respond.”

Her voice on the damaged comm was still clear, but since she was unable to pick up any transmissions, even the interstellar hiss of static, most likely the antenna had been sheared off in the explosion, and the only way she could talk to anybody would be if they were only a meter or so away. It was still worth a try, so she set the message to repeat endlessly, listening to it in the background as she tried her best to focus her thoughts.

An hour later, she turned the volume down.

Watching with the bare eye for starships in the vastness of space was futile, unless the ship passed close enough for the shimmer of the drive fields to be visible. On the vast scale that battles tended to, the probability dropped considerably. After another hour…

Three hours later, she had taken just watching the distant stars. The system primary was far enough away that she did not have to polarize the visor at all, so the bright starlight stood out in sharp pinpoints. At some time during the last few hours, she had even managed to pick out the closest primary star, a brighter spot that still cast a large enough hyper shadow to prevent her wounded warship from slipping away before being destroyed. There were millions of other humans on the worlds around that star, most of whom probably never even knew there was a battle, let alone that one of the survivors was looking back at them.

After five hours, she closed her eyes. The intrinsic velocities of starship combat would have flung her suit and the few pieces of wreckage she could still see far out of rescue range. The suit would quietly go about its job of protecting her from the endless vacuum and cold until it ran out of power in a few weeks, but by then…

There was enough power for the damaged RCS to make a small adjustment to her delta-v, but without knowing where a rescue ship might be, the only thing that would gain her would be to make her position completely lost instead of only hopelessly lost.

At twelve hours, she had turned down the comm volume so far that her repeating voice was a bare whisper.

At fourteen hours, she turned off the volume and just listened to the silent stars.

At eighteen hours, something touched her on the shoulder.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Miller Minus
Okay, this is the mandatory SciFi entry, and in the SciFi the lost in space sub-genre.

It’s a bit lackadaisical TBH. Not much happens. We don’t really get enough information to root for the heroine. It’s more of the kind “time drags slowly on, until…” the problem being that nothing is said in the story about what the … stands for: we don’t have enough information to figure out what the final twist is about: it could be an alien wanting to devour the astronaut or it could simply be a small meteor bumping off. So, it fells pretty flat. Ooch.

Fairly generic stuff. Too generic to be really memorable.
#2 ·
· · >>Miller Minus
Yeah, pretty much +1 to everything Mono said.

What I want to add is that we're sorely missing some backstory on the battle itself, because that could be an efficient way of fleshing out both the setting and the character.

What prompted this battle? Who's fighting? What's at stake for the MC? Were they gunned down in an heroic battle? Were they deserters? Were they being chased by the enemy? These kind of details can go a long way to make things feel real. Which is really my main issue. This story exists within the confines of its wordcount and does little to take me into its universe.
#3 · 2
· · >>Miller Minus
Despite how much I respect Mono and Zaid, I will have to disagree here.

For what this is, it did a great job. Yes, it could have used backstory, but that would have completely wrecked the tone. No, we don't get the most amount of information on the protagonist or the final twist, but in a way, I like it better without. You talk about the scale of the battle, how unlikely it is to even see a ship, let alone be found by one. And by not giving us info, you further hammer the small, insignificant, hopelessness that the protagonist is feeling.

I will, however, have to agree with Mono on one aspect: not really memorable. Memory of stories, for me, comes from the dramatic. From the intense. And, honestly, this type of story with this tone does not have that.

I also think that, your last line there, well, it should never have been put in. While I love a good, optimistic ending, I feel this story would have benefited more from not having something touch her, from removing the last line. However, I like the 18 hours. The 18 hours is good. Just make the second to last line 18 hours.
#4 · 1
>>Zaid Val'Roa

And I'm with Matthew over here, so we can officially play doubles ping pong now.

What I like to do with a story that I feel is missing something, is imagine what it would be like if it was there. Even if this story had its word count quadrupled, and we got a perfect idea of the battle, what the hell would it matter to the core of the story? The fact that she's lost in space,trying to contact anyone just to save her from a monotonous demise, the gradual march of time uncaring of her plight. None of this needs a spacefight. Hell, I might even say that the battle raging on doesn't need to be there at all.

Actually, no, I take that back. I'm applying my rule but in reverse now. And without the battle, there's nobody she can call, and her frantic pleas into the ether added too much tension of the story to remove it. So I think the level we're told is actually right on the money!

Overall, this is one of my tops. Good job, Author!
#5 ·
well written.

no idea what the ending's saying. there's no buildup that leads me to expect anything, so I can't tell if the twist is supposed to be relieving/horrifying/humorous/religious/whatever. It's just a twist and it happens. She's alone she's alone she's alone she's alone she's alone.... wait she's not!

it could mean anything. and I think there's exciting ways to leave part of a story up to the audience's interpretation, but not when it's 100% subjective. and I think the problem here is that the story goes to so much effort to show everything that's happening, with the stars and machines and little details. there's no time to think. in a horror story, there'll be a lot of holes in the information, because it tricks the audience into filling the gaps with their imagination, letting them scare themselves. but with this much detail, I'm placing my complete trust in the fic to lead me, to show me what happens next.... but then it doesn't. the result is disappointment.
#6 ·
Every time I start to wonder what's going on, the story explains it. Well, on the detail level, I should say, jargon and such. I'm not getting lost. But I don't know the first thing about this epic space battle going on. Not that I need to--the story isn't about that. But a little context helps, particularly toward answering things like: Is this kind of thing unusual? What are her prospects for being found? If it's the enemy who finds her, would death be a preferable fate? She doesn't seem to have any concern for her crewmates, since she's rather circumspect about her situation instead of lamenting injured or possibly dead friends.

So her antenna is broken, but antennas are pretty simple things. Unless you imagine some really high-tech subspace thing, I guess. But she's floating in a bunch of wreckage. She can't try to grab a random oblong piece of metal and jam it in the antenna port?

Maybe I'm just from a different engineering discpline, but when I see "delta-v," that means a change in velocity, or an acceleration. So her suit is altering the delta-v... it wants to speed her up or slow her down, but only incrementally? To what end?

The last line is so ambiguous as to be meaningless. This could be a piece of space junk (conveniently not hitting her at incredible speed), a rescue vessel, a spirit of death. The point is, you haven't shown her getting emotional about anything, so there's no reason for me to, either. She's resigned to her fate, seemingly uncaring. Yeah, I can imagine those different meanings for the ending, but I really don't know that she prefers one over the others. Academically, she'd favor being rescued, of course, subject to my earlier comment about the enemy finding her (which is personally the interpretation I have). But I really can't treat this as a triumph or a tragedy or anything. It's just there.

Had you actually gotten me invested in her fate, this might sit pretty high, but as it is, it's an upper mid-tier for me.

I guessed authorship right based on the rubrik of guessing Zaid and georg for the best-written ones that I didn't have any other clues for.