Critique Group – Ninety Seconds

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Ninety Seconds – by Bokerah

UTC: 0820 23 November 2162

Somewhere Over the Equator

Pacific Ocean

 

One million, two-hundred fifty-six subscribers.

Trace Williams grinned. He would get a bonus for crossing that seven figure mark. The last incentive paid for the move-in cost of living six months in one of the four, semi-circle-shaped studio apartments situated inside the space elevator counterweight.

Even as a bachelor, it was prohibitively expensive, but living there had increased his social media presence ten-fold. It was the first time anybody had generated a daily vlog from above GEO—or geosynchronous equatorial orbit—before, and it had rocketed him to the top of the social media trending lists. So far, perpetually cold toes and maintaining his relevance had been the only negative results. Although, living on the ceiling had taken some getting used to.

He scrubbed his hand over his face, pushing his dark hair back from his forehead. Procrastination had eaten up most of his morning. He’d made coffee, sorted through his email, cleaned up his HabPod, studied the curvature of the Earth’s atmosphere from his work desk, packed his bag, and then spent an hour in the kitchenette vacuum-sealed tomorrow’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was still early, but less than an hour to departure. He couldn’t put it off any longer.

He paused the live stream sunrise cam and spoke to the empty room. “AVA?”

“Yes, Trace.”

“Call Mom.” He took a sip from his antique NASA mug, thinking absently about adding something stronger to the creamy mix.

“Priority?” The disembodied, female voice answered in tones specifically modulated to be soothing at all times. AVA—or the A.W.A.R.E. Virtual Assistant—was a bonus of living in a technological marvel. Even so, she shouldn’t be so calm about his request. A.W.A.R.E. tech was too smart for its own good sometimes. “Trace?”

“No priority,” he said, finally. He didn’t want to start the conversation with an upset mother in the middle of an adrenaline-fueled meltdown brought on by inadvertently choosing the wrong priority.

Ava answered with two, monotone beeps. The line started ringing almost immediately, the vibrato sound piped through each of the dozen speakers in the room.

On the second ring, a woman answered. “Hello, Trace? Is that you? I saw your number.”

“Hi, Mom.”

“Are you in the hospital again?” She coalesced in the center of the room as a three dimensional bust.

“No, that was a one-time oops.”

“Life-threatening oops,” she countered. Her image flickered. Communications between his apartment and Houston weren’t always dependable.

Welcome to the 22nd century. Dropped calls are still a thing.

“I told you not to go to the Sea of Tranquility for Spring Break,” she was saying. She was never going to let that go. It’s not like he’d died… or even had come that close.

“I’ve managed to keep out of the hospital since.” Trace examined his forearm and the thin, railroad track scar that followed his radius bone. Crater jumping in a Solar-powered four wheeler hadn’t seemed that dangerous, but self-directed triage in a Medical pod wasn’t as sophisticated as the care rendered on Earth’s surface. His ratings had shot through the roof, though. It was still his highest viewed ExperiVid since he launched his travel channel. A little blood in the lunar dust had paid his adrenaline junkie bills for months.

“Where is it this time?”

“Mom, I’m going to—”

“I’ll be a basket case,” she interrupted. She always worried. That wasn’t anything new. “Okay. Tell me. I’m ready.”

“Space diving off of the Venus station,” he continued. His viewers should really enjoy that, even if his mom didn’t. “At least I’m not hang-gliding off of Olympus Mons.” But only because he hadn’t been able to get the right clearance. Yet. The paperwork was a nightmare. But he didn’t mention that part.

She gasped, and her eyes widened. “That’s what’s next, isn’t it?”

He shrugged, but couldn’t stop the slow smile. She’d caught him. “Depends on the paperwork.” It would be a spectacularly unique view of the ferrous planet, but a football field’s worth of red tape blocked the way to the red planet.

“You look so much like your father when you smile like that,” she whispered the words. She cleared her throat. “Actually, you act a lot like him, too.” Tears polled, and her eyes turned glassy.

“I’ll be okay, Mom.” They’d had the conversation a dozen times. It never got any easier.

“I know, I know. It’s not that I don’t understand it. I just…” Her voice trailed away. “You’re missing out on some of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.” She meant a wife… grandkids. They’d been through that part before, too.

“I’ll get there when I get there. I’m not ready yet.” Though, he hadn’t met many singles above GEO. He hadn’t been out on a date in months.

“I know you don’t have to let me know before you do these crazy stunts, Trace, but I’m glad you do.” She laughed and wiped at her eyes. “Though, sometimes, I think it might be easier if I found out about them along with the rest of the world. I might not worry quite so much.”

He tilted his head. “We can do it that way.”

“I might never hear from you then.”

“I’d find the time.” He didn’t know whether it was true or not. He stayed busy. She shook her head slightly. She knew the truth, and so did he. He probably wouldn’t.

“When do you go?”

He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Soon.”

“Love you, bub.”

“Love you, Mom.”

The call ended, and her 3D image dissolved.

He wasn’t sure what waited for him at Venus Station, but space diving above the Venusian atmosphere surely wasn’t as dangerous as hang gliding on Mars.

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11 replies

  1. Wow! It took me a little getting used to to understand what and where was this happening, but once I got the hang of it I was very intrigued! 😀

    One quick thought:
    > Tears polled, and her eyes turned glassy.
    ~ Did you mean, “Tears pooled”?

    Otherwise, I really enjoyed this — and that’s coming from a non-avid sci-fi reader. So, good job! 😀 Keep up the hard work!

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  2. Interesting but I would work on making your main character more likable, for want of a better word. I love sci-if so it’s not the genre. The story drew me in but I didn’t really care one way or another about the main guy. He seems shallow if the only reason he risked his life was for more views. If it was a book I wouldn’t keep reading.

    That being said, I like the premise and descriptions you present. Just need to have a better understanding of Trace.

    I few notes:

    ‘The last incentive’ sentence in first paragraph is a bit long and could be cut in two. There are quite a few instances where the sentences got long and hard to follow.

    Vacuum-sealed should be vacuum-sealing

    ‘It was still early, but less than an hour until departure. He couldn’t put it off much longer.’
    Could be easier by compacting thoughts into one sentence.
    Even though it was early, he couldn’t put off making the call any longer.

    “Priority?” the disembodied voice answered…
    I was say asked instead of answered there.

    Don’t get what you meant by the ‘Even so, she shouldn’t be calm…’ sentence.

    All said, I enjoyed the beginning of your tale but shorten your sentences and try pulling us into who Trace is better.

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    • I think I’ve figured out an easy way to give his “job” a bigger purpose. Though, he’s basically doing what daily vloggers do to make money. It’s his daily job, so it’s not so much that he’s *just* a thrill-junkie, but it’s easy to toss in a detail about his mom that’ll make his job matter even more. Thank you for pointing out these errors!

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  3. One of the best things I’ve seen on here. The setting and characters immediately sucked me in. I’d be interested to continue reading a story that started like this.

    The only thing I noticed that could be changed was, “…and then spent an hour in the kitchenette vacuum-sealed tomorrow’s breakfast…” I’m not sure the wording is right here. A better alternative could be “.. and then spent an hour in the kitchenette vacuum sealing tomorrow’s breakfast..” or “and then spent an hour in the kitchenatte, vacuum-sealed tomorrow’s breakfast…”

    Altogether, it’s an intriguing piece. Also, Trace is a great name.

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  4. Your writing is expressive and lucid for the most part.

    As another commenter noted, I had trouble relating to Trace. I thought his motivations were shallow. Simply put, I didn’t like him.

    I always have a hard time getting into a story when I don’t like the main character early on. I might give him a few more pages to get me interested, but I’m not sure.

    It might help if you give a hint of a more noble purpose as early as possible. Right now he seems to be nothing more than an thrill-seeking attention junkie.

    I wondered if calling his mother was your way to give him some heart, but it actually worked in the opposite way, since he was really doing it to assuage his guilt.

    I would probably skip the call completely. It’s really a dialogue dump to give the reader more information about the past. The story didn’t advance at all. Nothing happens but thinking and talking.

    Others have already caught a few issues I noticed. Here are a few more:

    “it was prohibitively expensive.”

    If it really was prohibitively expensive, then he couldn’t have lived there.

    “pushing his dark hair back from his forehead”

    I doubt that he would be considering the shade of his hair at this time.

    “He couldn’t put it off any longer.”

    There is no antecedent for “it.” Since Trace knows what “it” is, then so should the reader. Motivations for all actions for the point-of-view character should be known by the reader.

    “Even so, she shouldn’t be so calm about his request. A.W.A.R.E. tech was too smart for its own good sometimes.”

    These two sentences seemed contradictory to me. If she shouldn’t be so calm, then why was she? If she was so smart, wouldn’t she know not to be calm?

    “of an adrenaline-fueled meltdown”

    Who would have the meltdown? The mother? Is worry fueled by adrenaline? That seemed odd.

    “she was saying” This choice of imperfect tense jolted me. Why not “she said”?

    “The paperwork was a nightmare. But he didn’t mention that part.”

    Since he did mention it in the next breath, maybe delete this.

    “ferrous planet” – Maybe “ferrous terrain” to avoid repeating planet in the next line.

    My advice is to establish a purpose for Trace that is more than thrill and attention seeking and then move into the action necessary to carry out that purpose. As it stands, as I mentioned before, nothing really happens in this opening except thinking and talking about past thrills and future ones.

    I know this is quite a negative review, but that happens sometimes. You have good writing skills. That’s undeniable. I trust that you will use your skills to produce some excellent work.

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  5. Trace seems like an interesting character, and you have a cool setting, so I’m interested for sure.
    The one thing I’d suggest is raising a question. Right now, there’s nothing I’m really wondering to keep me reading. (The setting and character are enough right now, for me, but likely not for others.) I’d suggest adding a little mystery, or maybe foreshadow the inciting incident. Because I was interested, I likely missed any writing errors you made. (The more bored I am, the more I’m going to notice those things.)
    Good work.

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  6. Disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of very specific times in a story, because they feel artificial to me. BUT, I know plenty of good authors and readers who like that much detail, so go for it.

    I found the lead-in a little bit incongruous:

    Very specific: “UTC: 0820 23 November 2162”
    Very vague: “Somewhere Over the Equator”

    If the location had included a lat/long, a height (whatever geosync is in miles, maybe?) and the phrase “Geosyncronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO)”, it would help me get into the setting quicker.

    FWIW, I kinda like shallow adrenaline junkie characters…esp. ones who jump off of space stations. 🙂

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