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The Endless Struggle · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
Show rules for this event
No Choice
—down the air vent. I slid rapidly through the ductwork and into darkness. The artificial gravity meant I was falling more than sliding, but this was the only way I could move faster than it.

On my way down, I prayed to every deity I'd ever heard of. Religion was the only hope I had remaining, because nothing rational could possibly save me. The odds of escape were exactly zero.

The slope of the duct slowed my descent a little, but I hit the base painfully hard with my tailbone, bruising myself again. The force was enough to dent the aluminum beneath me. Wincing from the pain, I squeezed my head down so I could fit into the only opening. I crawled into darkness.

It was fascinating how automatic my actions felt. It was more like watching a movie than participating. The Academy taught us there's a subconscious autopilot inside everyone, but only soldiers and victims of trauma will experience it. Left hand, right knee, right hand, left knee: no thought required. There was only one direction to go and only one thing to do. Anything else was certain and horrible death.

I saw a trickle of light filtering through a vent in front of me. I punched it until it popped open, squeezed through the opening, and fell onto the mess hall table. I rolled onto the floor in time to witness the horrible portent of blinking lights drifting through the ceiling.

It would have been beautiful in any other circumstance. The aerial twinkling led the mist like the headlights of an acidic bulldozer, and I had already seen what that bulldozer could do. When the mist would touch solid matter, it would mix it, like a fork swirling two kinds of frosting together. Clothing, carpet, metal, and flesh would slowly knot into a ragged mass that reeked of chemicals.

The first time I saw the carnage was mere minutes ago, but the memory felt distant. I had arrived at the bridge after the mist had done its work. The adrenaline gripped my heart the moment I saw the looks on my crew's faces.

What remained of their faces, anyway.

The monster floated faster than I could run, so I beelined for the nearest exit. I knew the science lab was a dead-end, but my legs moved of their own accord. The telltale nails-on-a-chalkboard sound of nightmare pithing bulkhead followed close behind.

The laboratory I entered housed the purpose of our mission. It was a very simple device with no moving parts that required no energy input. It consisted of a metal platform filled with trillions of atomic nanotubes. It was supposed to work like an antenna for antineutrinos. Theory suggested antineutrinos could travel faster than light, but only if regular neutrinos were blocked entirely. Once we got far enough away from the Solar wind, the thing would activate on its own.

It worked, but not as expected. Nobody anticipated it would summon an alien being, or whatever this thing was. But the laboratory was undeniably the source of the creature. This place looked and smelled even worse than the bridge. Clara had been in the lab when it activated, and I averted my eyes from her corpse. Bizarrely, the device itself was completely untouched.

Finally, I turned around and saw my executioner. The pretty lights hovered around me, then the mist followed. If it were a quick death, I could accept it, but feeling it seep into my eyes and skin was worse than being burned alive. I needed to escape the agony. I let myself fall backwards onto the platform, because I had to. I had no choice.

Forty-two seconds passed in an instant, but in the wrong direction.

Now I was standing in the hallway next to the bridge, with an healthy body gripped by panic. It truly was the past, except for my memory. The gaping hole of the duct was in front of me. The mist was getting closer.

What could I do? Either I jump into the shaft, or do anything else and die horribly. This hallway had no magic platform to stop the agony. Perhaps I could let myself die this time, but I needed the choice the platform would offer me. Ironically, doing anything other than jumping would take my only option away from me.

So, I crouched and hopped into the gaping maw of my only escape, trying not to think about the futility of it all as I tumbled—
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#1 · 3
· · >>Trick_Question
The aerial twinkling led the mist like the headlights of an acidic bulldozer

Had to reread this sentence a few times and I still can't visualize it.

It's an interesting concept, that this guy repeats the same scenario over and over simply because it's not death and he has the choice to avoid death. That seems to be it, though. An interesting bit of sci-fi. I didn't really see much personality in the main character, other than his non-chalant attitude about the events around him, which sort of makes sense given what's happening. I'm sure someone will enjoy the sci-fi bits, because I felt a little lost with antineutrinos and stuff and felt the explanation of what was happening was a bit too infodump-y. This story didn't do a whole lot for me, though.
#2 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
Really, really good in my opinion.

I see nothing wrong with this story and I feel strongly that it deserves to medal. It's a puzzle, a paradox, and a horror scenario all in one. Really engaging.

Not a terribly helpful comment but it's all I can say.
#3 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
Infinite loop of horror and torture! But if the protagonist is retaining memories as the physical body is reset, that means that the mind is not entirely physical and perhaps there is something to pray to after all. OTOH, if the narrator’s body can be bruised “again,” and the physical changes are cumulative, damage or exhaustion will end the loop soon.

The hyphened loop is starting to be noticeable as a gimmick. No downcheck for that, just pointing it out.

Being comfortable with SF trappings and conventions, I could accept this story on its own merits. Good job, Author.
#4 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
Interesting concept, one of coming back through time but not enough to escape certain death but…

What I don’t get is that if the guy gets into a sort of time loop, then there must be one more "him" each time he closes it. The way you describe it is non sequituur to me: I would expect the ship to be full of "him"s.

So yeah, the premise is nice, and the execution correct, but I think there’s a fundamental flaw here.
#5 · 3
· · >>AndrewRogue >>Trick_Question
I have very little to criticise in this story, save what I have already covered here regarding time loops and dashes: >>QuillScratch

That said, I'd like to take a paragraph to talk about an issue specific to this story's loop and that but of punctuation: the time loop actually occurs elsewhere in the story. This is really important, because it means that (unlike Faux Pas de Deux, where there isn't necessarily a sharp break from future to past) there's even less of a reason for you to have that disconnect between the sentences! You really want those two fragments to flow nicely from one to the other, and I honestly think that dropping the dashes would serve you really well in this context.

All that having been said, I'd like to congratulate you on this story. While I think Faux Pas de Deux is more interesting in the way it presents the time loop as a foreground element of the story and discussion, I think that this story held my interest better, was very well written, and just did a remarkably good job all-round. And I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't commend you on the following sentence:

Forty-two seconds passed in an instant, but in the wrong direction.


That sentence alone makes me love this entry to pieces. That, my dear author, was on point.
#6 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
very good, i liked it, other than the dashes

8/10
#7 · 2
· · >>Trick_Question
>>QuillScratch is right regarding the punctuation on this one, as well as the placement of the link.

That said, while I generally enjoyed this, I have a fundamental issue with the story's pacing itself. Basically, you're selling the story as a thriller, but it really doesn't have a thriller's pacing. Once you understand the nature of the time loop it makes more sense, but, before that, it just kinda sucks away all the suspense that you feel you should be having. To that end, I'm not sure the time loop itself being a reveal is the right idea. I kinda suspect you might be better served to lead with the loop and then reveal the inevitable hopelessness further in.

Also, some of your similes and metaphors are weird.

Still, good fun.
#8 ·
· · >>FrontSevens
Retrospective: No Choice
(I had no choice but to post this retrospective)

Nopony guessed me for this, probably in part because I suspect few of the regulars had it on their slates. :derpytongue2:

I am ponifying this one and publishing it, after I expand it and fix things. It's meant to be a minific but the 750 limit was really tough to do with this much stuff going on, internally (for the character) and action-wise, not to mention the descriptions of the monster and the other physical elements.

>>GroaningGreyAgony >>QuillScratch >>Shadowed_Song >>AndrewRogue
(tl;dr: BOO DASHES)


Yeah, I realized the dashes were really bad for giving away the time loop at the beginning, but I didn't have time to figure out how to do it properly before I submitted (I was really, really tired and had stuff to do tomorrow).

The current fix is it starts with, "I tumbled down the air vent, sliding rapidly through the ductwork and into darkness.", and it ends with, "So, I crouched and hopped into the gaping maw of my only escape, trying not to think about the futility of it all as I tumbled down the air vent..." with the ellipses there ending the story.

>>FrontSevens
I didn't really see much personality in the main character.


It's a minific in first-person, and who the character is isn't important to the story I'm trying to tell. This is more of an experiential-piece than a character piece.

...too infodump-y. This story didn't do a whole lot for me...


I agree with it being telly. Part of that is the length constraint, and part of it is the nature of the story itself (see below). Either way, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it.

Also, if you're the pony who bottom-ranked mine, I love you too! :raritywink: <3

>>GroaningGreyAgony
OTOH, if the narrator’s body can be bruised “again,” and the physical changes are cumulative, damage or exhaustion will end the loop soon.


"Again" from the character's perspective. I hinted at this with "uninjured body" just before the bruising.

>>Monokeras
What I don’t get is that if the guy gets into a sort of time loop, then there must be one more "him" each time he closes it. The way you describe it is non sequituur to me: I would expect the ship to be full of "him"s.


I'm not sure this is what non sequitur means usually, but your meaning is clear. Anyway, the story doesn't have him going back in time physically. He ends up back exactly where he was and the only thing that changes is his memory of the previous loops. I think the story's pretty clear about that, but I might be able to add more hints in the expanded version. I don't want to do too much hinting, though, because this style of writing is already necessarily telly.

>>RawCringe

Thanks to you too. :twilightsmile:

Alright, that wraps it up. Now I just have to decide if this story will be a Tragedy, or if I'll Deus Ex things with an epilogue chapter featuring Star Swirl. I'm leaning toward the latter, unless I get feedback saying that's awful.
#9 · 1
· · >>Trick_Question
>>Trick_Question
Actually, no, I didn't bottom-rank your story. I put it fifth from the top. So, uh, love you too, I guess, rarity wink, heart.
#10 ·
·
>>FrontSevens
That was much higher than most! (And I didn't actually think you bottomed me, and even if you did I wouldn't care. I was trying to be silly.)