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The Howl in the Dark · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Honed in the Dark
Willis felt his stomach drop as the troop paused at the lip of the canon. The Martians had many flaws but vision wasn’t one of them. The bore of the cannon was wide enough to swallow a motorway and sank so deep into the earth that it’s base was lost in shadows. A small, bright orange elevator cage sat at the edge of the pit, dwarfed by the construction but comfortingly human.
“Alright, sir?” Sergeant Hobs cut in, clasping a hand on Willis’ shoulder. “Done your sight-seeing?”
Willis gave a shaky nod. He’d of course seen images of the cannon. There wasn’t a human alive who hadn’t been glued to their TV screens to witness Mankind taking the fight to Mars. Still, seeing the cannon in person was something else. One had to wonder how humanity had survived the wrath of creatures capable of building on such scale.
“Yes… yes, I’m alright.” He hurried forwards, almost overbalancing in the low gravity, to catch up with the rest of the team. “It’s just a little overwhelming.”
“Heh, you should have seen this place when we were first landing! The Martians may be dead but their air-defence worked just fine.”
Willis tried not to think on that too much. The Martians were paranoid buggers, their underground cities were ringed with lethal defences, automated turrets, deadfall traps, half-functional robots and other cruel and inventive traps. The orbital cannon, however, lead right into its heart. Perhaps the Martians had not considered a counterattack when building their super-weapon, perhaps they’d no longer cared.
Within a few moments the team crowded into the elevator and it began its slow descent.
“Did you see much fighting?” Willis asked, clutching onto the railing as the cage rattled and jolted.
Hobs let out a bark of laughter. “No, the Navy boys stole all the thunder, bombing the place from orbit. Then again, war is better boring. That’s what my grandfather always used to say. He spent a month being shot at by Martian Tripods rather than fighting the Boers like he’d thought; I guess he’d know.”
“You’ve seen no action?” Willis asked, surprised.
“Oh plenty of that. The Squids loved their traps, but there was no army waiting for us.” Hobs shrugged, if he was disappointed to come millions of miles to guard archaeologists then he didn’t show it.
Willis started. “They have traps inside their own city?”
“Yup, crazy bastards.”
“Perhaps.” Willis frowned. “Who can say what their motivation was?”
They settled into an uneasy silence as the car continued to descend. Before too long, the infinite gloom parted and the elevator came to rest above a pile of rubble. A mesh walkway lead into a huge rent in the barrel of the canon.
“You blasted your way in?” Willis enquired, as they disembarked.
“Not us.” Hobs shrugged. “Friend in the Navy said it looked like the cannon burst.”
The party of scientists and soldiers hurried forwards. For a dozen meters they walked through shattered machinery, propped up by the occasional shiny I-beam. The rent opened into a vast atrium and the party paused.
“Holy…” Willis murmured, staring wide-eyed. Shattered buildings, broken machines and dead bodies were spread as far as the eye could see. “How?”
“Ever seen a breach in a spaceship?” Hobs said, softly. “The air pulls everything towards the hole. Imagine that happening to a city.”
Willis shook his head in disbelief. “They destroyed themselves. They destroyed themselves trying to kill us. Why?”
Hobs snorted. “Well, answering that’s why you boys are here, isn’t it? It’s going to be an easy answer, I can show you all you need.”
“Show me? How?” Willis exclaimed.
Hobs just smiled and placed a hand on Willis’ shoulder, spinning him in place. A titanic inscription was carved into the wall. In Willis’ broken understanding of Martian it read ‘Those honed in the dark, devour those that grow soft in the sun.’
“Monsters, the lot of them,” Hobs declared. “They killed their planet, they tried to kill ours, and in the process killed themselves. We’re better off without them.”
Willis frowned. He stepped forward to the edge of the rent, pointing his torch at the wall and brushed aside the dust. More writing appeared. “Those that know nothing but darkness, can only extinguish the light,” he read, voice faltering.
“And what does that mean?” Hobs demanded.
“I can’t imagine.” Willis craned his neck back to take in both the titanic inscription and the scrawled graffiti. “But it seemed someone disagreed.”
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#1 · 1
· · >>axxuy
There are quite a few unfortunate typos. In the first sentence "cannon" is written as "canon" and then mankind takes a fight to Mars rather than a flight. No wonder the Martians attacked. Also, formatting and style guide is your friend. Shame, really, because I kinda liked the plot.
#2 · 2
It feels too short. Yes, it's a minific round, but it just runs into the word limit and stops instead of trying to give us a conclusion. It doesn't work as a minific, I think--I want to read the novel this feels like it's from.

"Taking the fight to Mars" looks right to me. It's talking about going from fighting Martians on earth to fighting Martians on Mars.
#3 · 1
· · >>PinoyPony
The lack of spaces between paragraphs made this difficult to read.

It wasn't helped by phrases like "and sank so deep into the earth that" right before "almost overbalancing in the low gravity."

Yes, I see that "earth" isn't capitalized, and so is intended to mean "soil" or "dirt" rather than the planet Earth, which is a distinction that probably isn't usually that big a deal... except that this scene is set on Mars.

The very first sentences were very confusing. "Willis felt his stomach drop as the troop paused at the lip of the canon. The Martians had many flaws but vision wasn’t one of them." This leads me to believe that Willis is a Martian, and that he has above-average eyesight. And the next sentence tells me that the scene is taking place on Earth, and the one after that tells me that the cannon is under construction.

None of which are actually what you're saying.

The reference to tripods and the Boer war make me think this is set around the turn of the 20th century, and related to War of the Worlds. Which completely changes the tone of the entire story, but isn't revealed until the very end.

This story could have been really good, if not for a string of unfortunate word choices right at the beginning, some setting confusion, and abrupt lack of any ending. I'd definitely be interested in reading something like this cleaned up and polished a bit. You know, with an ending, too.
#4 ·
· · >>Hap
I hesitated on leaving this comment, for it wasn't anything critiquing or especially helpful. I don't like nitpicking too much, but here it goes.

My one question, if anyone can answer it- what connection does this have to the prompt? The closest guess I can get is "Honed in the dark, replacing "howl" with "Honed". Any closer insight?

Again, as an echo, the piece is missing an ending, though I'm with you on the fact that minifics are hard to handle. 750 words is too little to make something elaborate... which I think the writer here was trying to do, but ran out of space.

...I might be reading too much into it.

Also, minor addition, if it helps,
[The Martians had many flaws but vision wasn’t one of them." This leads me to believe that Willis is a Martian, and that he has above-average eyesight

I think the writer means vision as in accomplishing dreams or feats, such as a massive cannon. It would make sense since the writer is trying to portray the Martians as a arrogant, pompous race (At least according to Earthlings), bent on ransacking the Earth.

All in all, marvelous play!
#5 · 1
Ha, yes, I figured that out. But not until I got a couple of paragraphs in and had to retroactively change literally everything I thought I understood about the setting and characters.