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Separate Ways · She-Ra Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
Caught Between Confusion and Pain
Not many appreciate what I do. They are most certainly thankful for it, but they do not understand. Few do. I once hypothesised it may be due to the presence of magic and the abundance of those capable of wielding it. When almost every kingdom has a magical Princess doing magical Princess things, not many people appreciate the beauty in science.

But that’s okay. I appreciate it. It makes you understand there is beauty everywhere, and potential for greatness.

“Fright Zone Log: Day Twenty Eight,” I whispered into my recorder, just loud enough for my voice to be picked up.

The little machine was gathering the small pieces of metal I had left as bait. With a swift motion, a lock of hair took out a pencil and small notepad from my pockets. The scrapbot scurried adorably across the floor, picking up whichever pieces it deemed acceptable while discarding the rest.

“I have managed to locate one of the scrapbots I stumbled upon when I first arrived a the Scrap Yard. It is currently preying on chunk mound three,” I said, doing my best to prevent the excitement in me from making me squeal and scare away the test subject.

“It seems they favour wires, microchips, and scraps of metal presenting no more than forty percent rust. Perhaps they possess a rudimentary mechanism to clean the more damaged pieces for reuse.”

My voice lowered to a happy gasp as I watched the scrapbot pick up and turn around an old piece of computer equipment. This one was remarkably similar to the one I first found when I arrived at the Fright Zone. It had little external alterations or signs of enhancements.

As I made a detailed diagram of the robot, I thought back to the name of my new home. I was more than a bit disappointed when I found out that the Fright Zone was called the Fright Zone. I had initially thought it was the Freight Zone, which made sense seeing how the whole place was essentially a loading bay. Although, I suppose that would be too obvious.

I do not understand what is supposed to be frightening about this place. There is nothing to be afraid of industry and technology! It’s actually kind of cozy when you get used to it. It reminds me of… Dryl, in a way. Less purples, more greens, though. Hopefully the robots are taking good care of everyone. It was a good thing I wrapped up my experiments before leaving, I wouldn’t have wanted to make the trip back and forth between the Fright Zone and Dryl so often.

Although, I suppose I could still go back one of these days. Just to see the status of the lab. And check on everyone back home. Also, pick up a few data drives, I could really use—Suddenly, the scrapbot started making a series of noises, and all thoughts were pushed aside in favour of careful observation. It would not do to miss any information.

The scrapbot had extended a flexible limb from within its metal carapace, and after a few fake starts, it ignited a blue flame.

“A welding torch!” I squealed knowledgeably. It seemed it was going to start making changes to itself. “It must have been running on some sort of base programming to know what to do to improve their performance and durability, cross-reference it with a list of possible applications for each material, and then chose what to do based on an optimised output. I wonder how it makes that choice, though…”

I scratched my chin in thought as my hair updated the diagram of the scrapbot. If I managed to figure out the thought process of the artificial intelligence, perhaps I could find a way of enhancing Emily’s self-preservation subroutines! The potential for new knowledge had my mouth watering already, but I had to focus. I needed to finish the observation stage first.

Maybe I could pry one of them open later at the lab. I’m sure Catra could help me get one or two for further analysis. Perhaps another one to play with Emily.

I kept observing the process of self-modification of the scrapbot, taking notes of all noteworthy incidents. After few minutes, the scrapbot had attached a curved piece of metal to the rear of its open storage compartment. A rough estimate told me it would allow it to carry an approximate fifteen percent additional scrap components. Wouldn’t want to leave anything valuable behind, I suppose.

Once it was done, it went back to searching through the pile for anything it deemed suitable. I noticed it moved at a faster pace than it had done before, with movements that were more forceful yet swift at the same time. How peculiar.

“Ah!” I exclaimed in illumination before covering up my mouth with both hands and one lock of hair. The scrapbot stopped its actions and looked around in alert. I remained immobile once more, hoping to go unnoticed, for what seemed like longer than it must have been. I didn’t want to risk taking my chronometer out of my pocket.

After another lapse of dilated time, the scrapbot went back to scavenging in the pile of junk and spare parts and I let out a long—but quiet!—sigh. Brimming with excitement, I brought the recorder closer and started speaking, “It appears the scrapbot feels more comfortable knowing its cargo is more secure, which means it can move more freely without risk of losing something. Fascinating.”

It made me wonder how these scrapbots came to be. Surely they all began their life cycle as a standard model, and their environment and the materials available to them would forge—Hah!—that in which they’d become.

“The scrapbot is a creature of constant change, defined by its power to adapt,” I whispered into the recorder as I watched my test subject finish with a pile and move on to inspect chunk mound two. “This has been a most productive observation session. Entrapta out.”

Creatures of change indeed. Certainly not the only ones.

I smiled as I stored the recorded in one of my pockets. I was just about done with the diagram and I could get back to headquarters before lunch. Catra wanted me to look over the diagrams of some old weapon projects and see what could be salvaged and how I could improve them. Plus, Scorpia wanted to see if her tail could beat my hair at prehensility. The data may be insufficient, but it all pointed towards an overwhelming victory for me.

The scrapbot seemed satisfied with its haul. Turning around, it started to walk away, stopping occasionally to rearrange its cargo or to examine a random piece of metal on its way. My smile deepened as I wished the little robot the best.

Change was good. Change was natural. It was an undeniable part of life, and all one could do was to adapt. I had adapted. Just like the scrapbot had done. Besides, I hadn’t really changed all that much, even my wardrobe was still the same. And I was still helping my friends through the power of science. And not only my friends, but The Horde as a whole! The modifications I had made to the plasma rifles had reduced kickback by twelve percent and the number of shoulder injuries had gone down to unprecedented levels! Catra had even given me extra lab space because of that. It felt nice to be helpful.

It was good to know that, no matter how my circumstances may change, I could always rely on science to help me and help others. Reassuring, even. Science was evolving and ever changing, too, but it was also honest, it never lied to you and it let you know the truth about the world. It expanded our knowledge of the universe, of history, of everything, and as it did, it opened new avenues for future investigation. Science would never be done, it would never stop, or abandon you.

My thoughts were interrupted once more when a noise caught my attention. I looked back at the scurrying scrapbot and saw that it had found another scrapbot. This one was smaller and it appeared to be carrying less bits and pieces of discarded tech. Both machines exchanged a short series of lights and noises before my test subject pulled out a large piece of metal and gave it to the other scrapbot.

It was a good thing they were too far to hear me gasp in glee. These robots were simple , and I expected them to be programmed with basic survival skills, but if they were capable of showing kindness and generosity towards another one of its kind, then they must possess a rudimentary sense of solidarity amongst its ilk. I wondered if they also got some sort of individual gratification from showing kindness. Perhaps they shared some sort of hivemind, where the collective benefited from the well-being of every component! This required further studying!

Another glance showed that the new scrapbot had received the piece of metal and was now rubbing itself against the test subject in a clear show of affection. A few noises escaped me. Mostly of the D’aw variety. I was sure I had a silly smile on my face, but I didn’t mind, it wouldn’t affect the data anyways.

I watched them walk around for a while before they scurried down a hole on a wall and into wherever that led so they could keep doing whatever it is scrapbots did when they weren’t scavenging parts. I furrowed my brow in thought. That was actually an interesting thought, just what did they do with their time? It was worth pursuing that lead, it may prove to be interesting. Maybe they’d go find more of their own kind and share their findings and have a good time together.

A laugh escaped me. Not that I did much to hold it back. I think I’d like to see that. Maybe I could ride Emily down into the sewers and blast a few holes to find the scrapbots’ nest. Or hive. Or however they lived. Perhaps they burrowed. I should take a camera. Maybe Scorpia could come with me, she could hold the camera.

Maybe some other time. I was feeling impulsive, but not that kind of impulsive. This mood was… different. Like that time she’d programmed her computer to print out the results of an experiment, but she was on the other side of Dryl at the time and couldn’t check on it because that computer had to be isolated from the grid to properly run the experiment.

“Personal Entrapta Log,” I said into the recorder, “I wish they hadn’t left me behind…” The words died in my throat as the little device hung limply from my hair. I wasn’t sure what compelled me to start recording, but I knew I had a thought worth noting, so I pushed through. “I miss them sometimes. When I’m not working on research. I just… I know I was not quite like them, but I thought I was useful. I thought they thought I was useful. Perhaps I could’ve done more for them, I could’ve… I should have found the time to do more experiments, then I would’ve been of use… Then they wouldn’t have left me.”

I noticed another lock of hair was patting me on the shoulder. I held a hand out for it to grab and brought it closer to my face, gently rubbing it against my cheek.

“I’m better know, I think,” I said, as I felt my smile coming back. ”I’m doing better. I can do more research now, and I’m certainly of assistance to The Horde. My research is benefitting so many people, I’m still doing a difference. I hope Adora, and Glimmer, and Bow, and everyone else will be happy for me.”

Looking up at the overcast skies of the unsuitably named Fright Zone, I smiled. “I’m fine. I can focus on science. I can help those who need me.”

And that was okay. Because I was okay.
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#1 · 2
I think I like this story more for what it aims to do than what it actually accomplishes.
I love introspective pieces, character analysis and the like, plus the parallels with the scrapbot were fun. Ultimately though, it all feels very surface-level. I mean, yes, Entrapta felt abandoned by the other Princesses and she feels at home with the Horde. So? What exactly is being told beyond that? How is that being used to further her character? There's that bit where she feels she wasn't useful to the Princesses and that's why they left her, and how she now feels useful to the Horde, but again, it's just... brought up and never explored in depth.
I don't know, am I alone in this? Maybe there is a deeper theme I'm missing, but right now the story is nice but that's really it.
#2 · 3
Alternate Title: No Cat, No Cradle

Okay, so this is more a mood piece than an actual story. In another way you could think of it as a character study, but there's kind of a big problem with that, which I'll get to.

I'll get positives out of the way, though, because despite some big issues I have with this entry it's very adept at one or two very specific qualities. For one, it's written with a real sense of warmth and humor; I say that in the sense that it's very peaceful, like fishing out at sea on a calm cool day, and yet there are occasional hints of not taking things too seriously.

If this entry took itself too seriously (which it comes dangerously close to at the end), I wouldn't like it.

But in terms of finding a tone and sticking with it, I think it does a good job. It also does a good job, at times anyway, of capturing a normally emotionally enigmatic character at an emotionally trying time. Entrapta is as morally grey a character as the show has given us so far, and as the title here suggests we get an Entrapta who is unsure of herself. I like moral ambiguity, and I especially like morally grey characters confronting said ambiguity, so by all rights this should be a win for me.

But sadly, I can't say that.

Now, in fairness, this is the shortest entry of the lot; it just barely makes it past 2,000 words. But what exactly happens in this story? Not much, really. Oh, having a story that's mainly internal, about a character's internal struggle, isn't bad on its own. But I feel like if you're gonna put Entrapta in this mental state then you should back it up with more substance in the action. The fact that Entrapta doesn't interact with anyone from the Horde here only makes the lack of action more conspicuous.

And then there's this line, which even on a second reading I have an issue with:

“I’m better know, I think,” I said, as I felt my smile coming back. ”I’m doing better. I can do more research now, and I’m certainly of assistance to The Horde. My research is benefitting so many people, I’m still doing a difference. I hope Adora, and Glimmer, and Bow, and everyone else will be happy for me.”

Actually, upon revisiting this entry, this line strikes me as even more questionable than before. It's clearly a self-contradiction, and I'm 99% sure the author was aware of this, but that presents a whole new problem. How does Entrapta feel about her old friends? How does she justify working for the Horde while still apparently caring about her old friends? Why does she think they'd be proud of her for working for the enemy?

This ending bit raises way too many questions about Entrapta's character to function well as an ending. It's a contradiction that could work, if it was explored, but it's not, so we're left scratching our heads.

I would highly recommend not leaving this as is, dear author. I say that because of all the entries this round, this one deserves the most expansion. It presents a good starting point for a more fulfilling character piece that I think you could really do something with.
#3 · 2
If I could suggest one thing to change about this piece that would instantly make me like it significantly more with minimal impact, it would be diversifying your punctuation.

This is just good advice in general, imo (the impact punctuation has on tone can't be overstated!), but in this piece in particular it seems very important to get your choice of punctuation right. In this piece, you're attempting to capture Entrapta's inner monologue, and generally speaking one would expect such a voice to be somewhat in line with the way a character speaks. Entrapta's lines in the show are written and delivered with a manic energy and a distinct lack of focus, which I don't think is particularly well reflected in your punctuation. Let's take a look at some examples:

A few noises escaped me. Mostly of the D’aw variety. I was sure I had a silly smile on my face, but I didn’t mind, it wouldn’t affect the data anyways.

There are plenty of places in this piece where the full sentence break between connected sentences isn't used badly, at all, but I do think it's overused (especially when trying to build Entrapta's voice, which I would have expected to flow more, hiding its uncertainty rather than presenting it in its tone) and when something is overused, the weakest examples stand out more. This is definitely one of them: that second sentence is very much an unnecessary aside, and I'm not all that convinced by it, but at the very least it would feel much more at home as a parenthetical than as a sentence of its own.

I've included the last sentence for a quick grammar check-up: that last comma is a comma splice! Since we're talking about how we might use punctuation to link sentences together more, I figured it's worth briefly pointing out places where you've linked sentences together in not-so-great ways. Here's how that passage turns out:

A few noises escaped me (mostly of the D’aw variety.) I was sure I had a silly smile on my face, but I didn’t mind; it wouldn’t affect the data anyways.

(Up to you whether you want to use a dash, semicolon, or a colon at the end there. I'm trying to challenge myself to use semicolons more because I always fall back on the other two when I probably shouldn't, which is why I defaulted to that!)

In the words of legendary musician DJ Khaled: anotha one!

My thoughts were interrupted once more when a noise caught my attention. I looked back at the scurrying scrapbot and saw that it had found another scrapbot. This one was smaller and it appeared to be carrying less bits and pieces of discarded tech. Both machines exchanged a short series of lights and noises before my test subject pulled out a large piece of metal and gave it to the other scrapbot.

This example is less obviously an issue, but I wanted to bring it up in its entirety because... well, take a moment to read over that paragraph and think about the pacing. It's very... stop-start, shall we say. The relative brevity of the sentences gives the paragraph a sense of distanced observation, in this case, and while I get that that might make some sense in context, we've got to remember that this is Entrapta. Entrapta might observe from afar, but she's not emotionally distant from her observations: in fact, one of the reasons her character works is that she's often so caught up in her observations that she doesn't notice the things other characters might consider much more important.

It's also just a bit dull to read. As a general piece of advice, changing up your sentence structure is the single simplest tool you have that will help to keep your readers interested. Punctuation is key to getting this right, imo.

So how do we make this better? I'm going to focus on those middle two sentences, because they're the ones that are crying out to me to be linked in some way: they both serve the purpose of introducing the new scrapbot, after all. But this isn't quite as quick a fix as just "slotting a different bit of punctuation in there and calling it a day". Oh no. We're going to have to change the words a bit:

...and saw that it had found another, smaller scrapbot, that appeared to be carrying...

This is certainly one way of fixing it, as we'd now have one big sentence in the middle of the paragraph and a lot more variety in structure. But if you're not keen on that (and I'm not super keen on it myself), I'd like to propose something that keeps more of the original structure in place without all those annoying sentence breaks:

...and saw that it had found something different: another, smaller scrapbot, that appeared to be carrying...

A tiny change, but one I think improves the paragraph immensely.

Honestly, author, I know that this comment so far has basically just been me whinging about punctuation, but the takeaway from that is simple: most of the technical problems I've found with this story are fixed with a bit of spring cleaning, which is exactly what you'd expect from a piece written under tight time constraints. And look at the benefits, here: one quick editing pass not only clears up any remaining problems, but also gives you a chance to fine-tune your character voicing. Definitely worth it, author.

Above me, Raisin brings up some points about the content here, and by and large I agree. This piece doesn't really have much of a punch, and it's built so much around Entrapta's observations of the scrapbots that I definitely expected more to be made out of that as a metaphor (or whatever). You edge towards that idea, but I think I'd just like to see more commitment: without that, the piece seems to be lacking in purpose, especially given the unaddressed contradictions of the closing paragraph that Raisin notes (I'm less convinced it's handled poorly, given Entrapta's pretty poor track record of understanding that people she likes are enemies, but I do reckon it could be explored in more depth than it is here. We're left relatively unsatisfied, as it is.)

All in all, like Raisin says, this is a fantastic starting point. I'd love to see what this grows into, author. Do keep us posted!
#4 · 3
Overly-long last minute review activate!

It's always a risk to make a story out of a single character contemplating their life. At least part of that, I think, is because narrative works best on multiple levels, weaving them together, playing the physical, the metaphorical, the conceptual, and the emotional off against each other. If you've only got the one level, the medium doesn't really work.

Fortunately, this story clears that first hurdle. For one level, we've got Entrapta going about her business and studying robots. For the other, we've got a deep dive into Entrapta's character (squee!).

But the point of having two or more layers is to have them interact. And here … they don't really do that. At least, not enough. The emotional journey here is mostly bunched up at the end, which make sit hard to weave it into robot-watching strand because they don't really share much space. The result is that a lot of stuff seems to come out of nowhere. For example, Entrapta suddenly lurches into melancholy near the end. Why? She just does. It's arbitrary.

Okay, now, you could say that she does so because she sees the scrap robots looking after each other, which makes her think of her own friends, which leads to the sudden realisation that they're not with her. The problem is that the story doesn't draw this connection. In an introspective fic, this is exactly the sort of place where you could follow her thought processes. And on top of that you've got three paragraphs between these two events filled with other stuff, which weakens the link even further.

From there, a couple more things pop up. First of, she decides she's okay again. Again, this just happens. Second, near the end, we learn that Entrapta's motivation is …. helping people. This really comes out of left field. The big issue is that we've seen none of that in the show. By all appearances, show-Entrapta is motivated by a childlike, amoral curiosity, a need to understand and control. She's shown as largely indifferent and ignorant of the effects her actions have on others.

This doesn't mean that you can't add a moral dimension to her character – one of the goals of fanfic is to expand upon what we see in the show. But since it is a big change, it needs a lot justification. It needs groundwork. We need to see why it doesn't become apparent in the show. We need to see how it connects to the behaviours of the character we've seen. Once again, it's a matter of connections. And this story doesn't give us those connections, so this event, too, seems arbitrary.

That's it for structure, what about voice? There's both good and bad here. Let's start with the bad.

A lot of the time, the voice is often off. The most common problem is that it often feels like a third person voice with the pronouns changed. Entrapta has picked up a weird habit, it seems, of describing her facial expressions instead of displaying emotion. You get stuff like “I furrowed my brow in thought”, which doesn't seem Entrapta-ish at all. (Even in third person, this way of doing things can seem a little stilted when compared to free indirect.)

Now, I don't really blame you for this. That most imbecilic form of show-don't-tell, the idea that you should write facial expressions instead of emotions, has a lot to answer for. It's repeated by people who ought to know better far too often, so it's easy to fall under its spell. Right. Enough of S&S Soapbox Hour. Let's get back to the review.

I do want to flag this phrase here: “Like that time she’d programmed her computer to print out the results of an experiment.” This is difficult to parse. It seems like it's actually referring to Entrapta in the third person … was this fic written in third person and then converted? Because that would explain my earlier problem.

All that said, however, sometimes the voicing here is really good. Take, for instance “The modifications I had made to the plasma rifles had reduced kickback by twelve percent and the number of shoulder injuries had gone down to unprecedented levels!” That sentence is so Entrapta. More of this, please.

And how about this beauty? “Science was evolving and ever changing, too, but it was also honest … it would never stop, or abandon you.” This is even better. It expands on Entrapta's character is a way that's consistent with what we've seen. And notice what is does: It connects two things we've seen in the show: Entrapta's love of science, and her pain at her friends' apparent betrayal.

And what a serendipitous segue into final thoughts that is. Because the main takeaway here is connection. Tie things together. Unify things that look unrelated. Follow the roads of implication. That's your route to improving this story.