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It's a Long Way Down · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
No End
There was a flash, and then I was falling. I reached out my hands to grasp the nearest platform, a green-toned stone held in place by a thin membrane of dull gray attached to countless other similar platforms. With a loud thud, I made contact. Unfortunately, I was going too fast to get a good grip. Seconds after clutching to the edge and digging in, my fingers began to slip. Desperately, I tried to reach out for something else, but before I knew it, I was again falling. Less than a minute later, I made impact on another platform five hundred meters below my target, the air leaving my lungs and most of my bones snapping from the force of impact.

I shut my eyes and fought back the tears swelling in my eyes, faint memories of a Mobius strip flashing somewhere in my memory, yet its meaning was something I could not quite put together yet. Something about it felt important though. Why though was something I needed more time to ponder on.

“Come in! Are you okay?” a deep, gravelly voice echoed from somewhere in my helmet. I was too dazed to bother figuring out if it was coming from the left or right speaker, so I ignored that and quickly moved on to the next thought, which was less about the voice and more about damning my luck for missing the target. I had been so close in that last jump. If only I had been able to hold on tighter...

“I’ll live,” I replied to the voice’s question, wincing and gasping as I moved my muscles, only to be racked by pain the likes of which I had never before felt. The fall had been far too much the suit’s antigrav systems to handle properly—not that the system had been as effective as they should. Where I didn't seem to have real consistency to its gravity. Up, down, left right—none seemed to hold any real meaning, each constantly shifting at a moment’s whim as if under the control of some hyperactive toddler with a television remote control.

“Readings say you have injuries over sixty percent of your body. Worse of them is your leg,” said the voice over the comms. “You must exercise more caution next time. The suit may be nearly indestructible, but you certainly are not.”

“Tell me something I already don’t fucking know!” I snapped back, taking deep breaths to calm myself as the suit began pumping me full of painkillers. I could feel the small needles punching holes around my neck, their liquid coursing through my body, leaving the sensation of something hot traveling down my veins. Almost instantly, the worse of the pain vanished, leaving only the worst of it, albeit greatly dulled.

I gave myself a minute to reorient my senses. Despite being face up towards what would have been considered ‘down’, I was instead facing up into the ‘sky’, or its closest approximation in the insane realm. I could still see the towering titans far off in the distance. Those faceless and nearly shapeless humanoid things; blobs of black swarming all over the heaven, traveling to and fro like packs of ants moving from one resource to the next. They lacked all the finesse of actual ants though, as their movements were haphazard, almost random. Staring at the thousands of shapes was mesmerizing, and aside from ants, their hurried movements made me think of animals being herded by some unseen taskmaster. I wouldn’t have been shocked to hear the crack of a whip far off in the distance.

Seeing the sky left me feeling queasy, so I looked to my left and spotted the end of the ‘platform’. Gathering my strength, I scooted over just enough to peer over the edge. Below me was an endless expanse of cyan that looked to be eternally vast. It didn’t matter where I looked, there was nothing but the void greeting me. The only thing that broke the emptiness were two dancing orbs of radiant and pure white. They shone down upon so their surroundings so fiercely and mercilessly, that just being in the general direction of their rays made the skin behind my UV plated visor burn as if I was inches away from an open flame.

Despite being inside a hermetically sealed suit, there was a constant and droning sound in the environment. Something between a very heavy and distorted guitar chord and an old foghorn from back when the fog was a genuine threat to sea vessels. It was soft enough to not be harmful to my ears, yet loud enough to possibly give me headaches if I stood around long enough doing nothing. Most telling, perhaps, was the fact that my external audio receptors were set to their lowest possible settings. Had I had my receptors in full operation mode, the sound would have no doubt been debilitating.

After finally accepting my situation, I tried to stand. Though my body was weak, my suit did the bulk of the work, the actuators pulling on the thick plating and ensuring that the joints moved freely and separate from my muscles. As the suit worked, the nanites pumped into my bloodstream before my departure began to attend to the worst of the injuries. Traveling faster than my mind could comprehend, they mended my broken bones and sew back the torn flesh. But even in their tireless haste, it would be minutes before I would be fully healed. It would then be a full hour before the pain would stop entirely.

“Readings say you are now five-hundred meters away from the target. Can you still reach it?” the gravelly voice asked, the communication signal staticky, but understandable.

“I can try to, but I don’t think I’ll have luck the way I came.” I looked up at the massive structure before me. To call it a ‘tower’ would have been the easiest description, yet a tower it really couldn’t be, because its roots traveled hundreds of miles into the sky, ending on gnarled tendrils that dug themselves deeply into the ‘ground’. The sky itself seemed to be made of the same material as the ‘tower’, albeit in a darker shade of brown or gray. Some parts had blooms of green and blue something that seemed to sway to some kind of wind pressure as they sprung forth from massive cracks. Other parts of the sky looked to be made of some kind of metallic substance that duly reflected the white light from below me, almost acting like unfathomably large spotlights.

“Do you see any method to accomplishing the task?” the voice asked me, its tone distant, cold, and calculated.

“That’s a negative,” I replied solemnly. “Tower doesn’t look like it has access. Gravity is also constantly shifting on my end. Climbing looks as if it would take days, and while the suit can certainly last that long, I don’t think I can.

“I see,” the gravelly voice said. “The goal must be accomplished. You know what has to be done.”

I dreaded hearing those words because the only thing that came to mind when I heard them was unimaginable pain. How many times had I gone through it? How many times would I be made to suffer it? It didn't matter, it had to be done. There was just no getting around it.

“Will it stop hurting sometime soon?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, that is an answer I cannot provide at this time.”

Of course.

“However, the process does become less painful the more it is performed.”

with a heavy sigh, I resign myself to my destiny. Still, a chill grows in the back of my spine.

“I will begin the procedure. Are you prepared?” the gravelly voice says.

“I will never be prepared,” I reply.

The voice says nothing to that. Deep down, I hope whoever’s on the other side rots in hell, but more than likely it is just some AI programmed to complete the mission regardless of cost. It wasn’t uncommon for us to get assigned such things, especially when our assignments could take months or years. No sane person would stick around that long, especially based on some of the shit we see on a daily basis.

“Preparing the Lucifer Drive System. Standby for teleportation.”

Teleportation… something that I had once thought to be fantasy made real thanks to technology. It was supposed to be quick, instantaneous even; a flash of light, a poof and energy, and you were elsewhere! The final answer to the age long question of how to transport materials. Before it was perfected, the only way to get anything from one place to another was to physically move them. Back when distances weren’t as great, it wasn’t too big a deal. But as humanity's horizons expanded beyond Earth, transporting goods from one end of the known universe to the other became nearly impossible.

Yet teleportation as I knew it wasn’t something the common folk knew about. I pray to whatever gods are still out there that they never know about it.

“Teleporting now.”



There was a flash, and suddenly it was dark. In front of me appeared to be some type of mirror. I saw myself in it, but my eyes were closed. Before I could think anything of it, the image vanished out of existence, and a lurching in my stomach told me I was falling. I braced myself just before I hit something. the fall itself hadn't been too severe, but it was something I would never get used to.

I looked around and instantly felt familiarity hit me. It was the same old dark place, with no doors, no window, and no way to leave. It didn't take long for me to spot familiar figures in the black.

Once upon a time, I had believed that someone would come find me. Of course, I had been naïve back then. This was before the truth had been made clear to me. You couldn't just move one thing from one place to another physically. It was impossible. The only way to accomplish the task was by sending out the particles that would eventually form the new physical object. But since matter and energy cannot be destroyed or created, the old had to wind up somewhere else. Memories, thankfully, weren’t tied to the same system. Every time I teleported, more and more memories remained, for you couldn't just create something out of nothing without a part of the old imprinting itself into the new.

I walked up to the figures. It was on that closer inspection that I realized that many of them were corpses. Some of the bodies were still inside their suit, while others had climbed out only to die of starvation and exposure to the void. One or two still lived, but they just sat there rocking back and forth, mumbling incomprehensible nonsense to themselves. I had to wonder just how long they had been stuck in the dark for. They saw me but said nothing. I myself could understand why. I had knowledge of this place, but that knowledge existed solely within the newer selves. My knowledge was also limited to this miserable place and its ‘safe’ space. What lay beyond was as much a mystery to me as it was to the other versions of myself.

There was a yet another buzz above the void. I look up to see two me's floating in the air. One of them disappeared while the other fell. A loud snap accompanied his landing, one that I couldn’t help but wince at. My doppelgänger screamed in agony, at which point instinct kicked in. I rushed to him, “you okay?”

“My God-damned leg!” he shouted. “I fucking broke my leg!”

I moved around to get a better look while he spouted streams of obscenities. I was too engrossed trying to get a good look at my other self that I didn't notice another buzz filling the void. My doppelganger looked up just in time to see another of my doppelgangers land chin first on him. More snapping sounds filled the air, indicating broken bones. The me I had been tending to went limp almost immediately upon impact from the new me. He, in turn, started screaming in earnest. I backed away from the scene wanting to look away but being unable to for fear that something else might happen. I still couldn't get used to the sight despite already having seen it hundreds of times before.

Yet another buzz filled the void. Just as before, two me’s floated in the air. One disappeared and the other fell. This one landed on top of the other two, crushing them with a sickening splat. He rolled off the pile, seemingly unharmed, and stood up. His eyes went wide on seeing me, his body shaking as he took in the sight before him. He yelled in terror, backing away and tripping on his own feet. He kept his eyes on me for the longest time before once more standing and running away. He fled into the black beyond.

There was shifting in that darkness. Something massive was waiting. I heard a blood-curdling scream erupt from my other me, followed by a flash and the sound of thunder. A dismembered arm flew in my direction, landing a few inches away from my feet.

Poor bastard, his suit had detonated. At least it had been a quick death. Though that just begged the questions of what he had seen exactly.

“We don't go into the void,” one of the other me’s, one who had discarded his suit long ago and looked to be nothing but bones and stretched skin, said. “It lies there, waiting. We don't know what it is, but it's much better to sit here and starve to death than to face it.” The other me chuckled as he turned his head back to his inner thigh. “You are welcome to wait here or set your suit to self-destruct. Or you can brave the black and see what should not be seen. Either way, it doesn't matter. You're going to die.”

I took a deep breath and steeled myself. I had to know what was beyond, especially if it was really that bizarre. I was already a dead man anyway, and any information I gathered before then would eventually wind up in my copy. It might go to him as a dream, or it might to him as a memory, but it would arrive sooner or later.

Maybe then, I would find some way to break the vicious cycle of death and rebirth. Break the strip, finish the mission, and go back home.

I stepped into the void. Something there instantly took notice of me. I could feel it slithering in the murk, yet I could not see it yet. Something instinctual told me that it was far too unfathomable for my mind to comprehend, that it would take decades—maybe even centuries—for a mind as feeble as mine to really wrap itself around it. It was almost like asking an ant to explain the nature of God. it drew closer, it's very presence turning my blood ice cold.

Finally, I saw something, and it was utterly incomprehensible. Blood began to pour out of my eyes as my head began to grow larger and larger form the pressure now entering into it. My every bone began to twist, and my very skin began to melt right off. I felt something unbelievably hot in the center of my chest, growing and expanding.

The last thing I recall what's the image of a Mobius strip, a set of familiar yet alien words filling my head to the point of bursting…



There was a flash, and then I was falling. I reached out my hands to grasp the nearest platform, a green-toned stone held in place by a thin membrane of dull gray attached to countless other similar platforms. With a loud thud, I made contact. Unfortunately, I was going too fast to get a good grip. Seconds after clutching to the edge and digging in, my fingers began to slip. Desperately, I tried to reach out for something else, but before I knew it, I was again falling. Less than a minute later, I made impact on another platform five hundred meters below my target, the air leaving my lungs and most of my bones snapping from the force of impact.

“Come in! Are you okay?” a deep, gravelly voice echoed from somewhere in my helmet. I was too dazed to bother figuring out if it was coming from the left or right speaker, so I ignored that and quickly moved on to the next thought, which was less about the voice and more about damning my luck for missing the target. I had been so close in that last jump. If only I had been able to hold on tighter...

I shut my eyes and fought back the tears swelling in my eyes, faint memories of a Mobius strip flashing somewhere in my memory. The words “no end to Infinity” were now very clear to me. A haunting and blighted reminder my very existence...
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#1 ·
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It's been a while:

Since I last took part in a Writeoff, so I don't remember if there's some protocol when it comes to discussing basic English language issues. But this story has lots and lots of them. Some are really interesting--I could see the phrase "the worse of the pain vanished, leaving only the worst of it" working in a Romance language, for instance, but comparatives and superlatives don't function that way in English.

As for the story itself, I'm not quite sure what happens. There seems to be some of the old "Think Like a Dinosaur" teleportation going on, but then I don't see how we get from there to the Mobius strip part of the thing. And with the story's setting being so undefined, I was left just scratching my head at the end. Sorry, author...

Mike
#2 ·
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Okay, an immediate issue: “ … the nearest platform, a green-toned stone held in place by a thin membrane of dull gray attached to countless other similar platforms.” First, “green-toned stone” doesn't scan well. Second, I have no idea how to picture this. The best I can come up with is a sort of bouncy castle/drumskin landscape with bits of stone embedded in it. Clearly this isn't the case, since the narrator falls again, so I have no idea what the scene actually looks like.

“Where I didn't seem to have real consistency to its gravity. Up, down, left right—none seemed to hold any real meaning, each constantly shifting at a moment’s whim as if under the control of some hyperactive toddler with a television remote control.”

Cute metaphor, but I'd rather see this actually happening rather than just have it recounted to me.

Also, why is the narrator trying to move if most (or even some) of their bones are broken? I'd accept this if it were a neat way demonstrate some special healing power, but as it is, it just reads like they're stupid.

“Despite being face up towards what would have been considered ‘down’, I was instead facing up into the ‘sky’, or its closest approximation in the insane realm.” Again, a confusing sentence. And not in the fun unheimlichy scifi way. It's just obscure. It doubles back on itself too many time. If you want to communicate uncertainty, it's better to be clear about it. For example, you might say: “Facing up towards what, fifteen minutes earlier, had been the down, I …” And later, when looking around. “In every direction, a void. Upwards …”

We get a paragraph about sound. It's interestingly creepy, but I can't help but think it should come before the visual description, since it would be evident first. Perhaps that just nitpicking, though.

Later we get a discursive bit about teleportation. Here, there's the opposite problem. Your audience are all but guaranteed to know what teleportation is. You don't need to spend time telling us stuff like, “The final answer to the age long question of how to transport materials.” It's fluff, and you'd do better to cut it out. It would be far more effective to just show us the narrator's negative reaction to having to teleport.

The teleportation isn't working. I presume it's meant to be horrifying, but violence in it quickly becomes silly. Do people in the future have bones made of twigs or something? And when a dismembered arm goes flying by, that's more Happy Tree Friends than Alien.

“Something instinctual told me that it was far too unfathomable for my mind to comprehend.” Yes, that is what unfathomable means. Redundant.

And to the end.

The final twist is servicable, if not that original. But it's obvious from a mile off – or more specifically he moment where you invoke the Möbius strip. It also goes on for too long. Yo'd do better just ending on the first paragraph.

Your beginning scene is very odd. And the fact that it's not clearly described makes things even more bewildering. The big problem here is that it reather steals the thunder of the teleportation scene. You might do better to make it something more banal.

Clearly you want the experience to be an unpleasant one. Hence the horror. But there are better ways to do that than LSD imagery and bones snapping every time someone looks at them. (Oh, a crib from Lovecraft's weaker horrors that never goes anywhere.) The bit with the other selves sort of works (though it's never explained why this happens), but it's let down by cartoon violence.

More generally, all this means you're not managing your tension well. We start with mad stuff happening, progress to mad stuff happening, and end with mad stuff happening. With horror, surreal or otherwise, you want to build tension, start off with something superficially normal, then slowly dial it up as you progress.
#3 ·
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Well, that was confusing, both in a good way, and a bad way.
In a good way because I'm pretty sure you wanted to have your character being confused about what was happening to him and you managed to do that pretty well. I was kinda experiencing his confusion as I was trying to figure out what was directly happening to him.
In a bad way because the context lacks details for me. I don't really get what is this man mission, I didn't understand where he was in the slightest.
That's why I think with a bit of rework, mainly explaining the context and the background of your story, will really help it to make it shine brighter. As it is, it's too confusing to get something from it.
#4 ·
· · >>Garnot
“I see,” the gravelly voice said. “The goal must be accomplished. You know what has to be done.”


Er, well, no, I don't see, and I don't know. Sorry, but this one's a nonstarter for me. I have no idea what I just read. Too much exposition and technobabble in too many different directions, not enough hook, never any character or basic information to give me a grasp on what might be going on.

The one part I did manage to get something out of, maybe, sort of, was a concept of a cloning teleportation system, and this... place... is where the originals from the teleporter entry get dumped... somehow? Maybe? There are monsters swimming around in space? Is this hell? I don't know, that concept is interesting and has potential, but it needs an actual story written around it to be effective.

Confusion and mystery are overrated, and pretty lame techniques to rely on. Clearly tell the reader what's going on in your story, make your actual content interesting and open enough for anyone to follow, and you'll find your writing is much more effective!

Between that issue and the poor technical skills, I'd guess this is a fairly new writer. In which case, welcome! Don't be scared off, keep reading, keep writing, and you'll improve in no time. Thanks for writing, and hope to see you back soon!
#5 ·
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Lots of description in the beginning, but I hard a hard time of getting a picture of what was going on.

Some grammatical wonkiness that made figuring things out more difficult than necessary as well, but this could be fixed with editing.

Good descriptions, but some missed opportunities here, as well. For example, in place of "leaving the sensation of something hot traveling down my veins" you could be "feeling like someone was pouring molten wax down my veins"

The situation is definitely an intriguing one, once we start to get our bearings. Some sort of interdimensional explorer?

"Lucifer drive system" - now that's not exactly a name with good omens.

So we're going with the teleport creates copies situation? Interesting that you follow the copy.

The bookend works, considering the prompt, but we're still left in the dark of just why he's there in the first place.
#6 ·
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A definite case of lacking context to make things really click. Primarily that I don't understand the nature of this loop. The teleportation purgatory thing makes a bit of sense, but I'm not sure why he's looping it.

That said, much like The Mist ending from the minis round a little bit ago, I have to caution about treading certain ideas unless you've got a super good take on them or are just using that idea as part of a grander story. In this case, the thing immediately coming to mind is a certain movie about magicians known as The Prestige, which covered sorta similar territory, but managed the horror of the situation a lot better. If you haven't seen it, check it out!

You disconnect action a bit in weird ways. For example, I was stuck trying to figure out whether the bone snapping at the beginning was literal or metaphorical for a very long time. Don't do that! Make it clear when something extraordinary happens that something extraordinary happened.

Also, I saw someone else mention it, but yeah, the violence actually got a little comical to me. The extremeness of it (and the number of broken bones, for real) just interact a bit weirdly. It isn't really visceral, so you're left as an observer, and, as an observer, it just makes me think about gibbing people in a game.

Anyhow, ultimately, I do think there is workable material here, but I think you need to tie it into a stronger, more cohesive story.
#7 ·
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>>Ranmilia
"I'd guess this is a fairly new writer"
I've really lost my touch. I'm probably one of the oldest writers still active in the writeoff. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother