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Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago
Now now citizens, forget all you may have heard about behind the scenes issues with these duels. As you can see, both contestants are right here with burlap sacks tied over their heads, just as it should be! Remember, the theme for these was humanity colonizing a new planet. And the vote may now begin!

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago
Story #1 Pre drop nerves always sucked. Today was no different for Private Bell of the U.E.S.C. “Heh, at least today I'm not dropping alone.” Running a hand through his short, blonde hair Bell took a deep breath. Nervously he brought up his in-pod display to see how long before it would be to go time. Seeing that there was less than twenty-five seconds left Bell grimaced. “Hopefully nothing went wrong. Suddenly he heard a slightly robotic female voice speak up. “Do not fret, the odds of the pod disintegrating upon reentry are less than ten percent. You should be fine.” In a panic, Bell whipped his head around forgetting the A.I was using on board speakers to communicate. “Wait there’s a chance this thing could-” The rest of his question was cut off by a loud alarm sound and the sudden rush of free fall. The on-board A.I did nothing to help his panic, when ever so softly she muttered something that turned his panic into outright fear. “Well, that is not good.” After a few seconds that felt like eternity, Bell felt his pod smash into the ground. That was to be expected, what wasn’t however was the impact jarring him free from his restraint. Bell let out a small grunt as he smashed into the door of his pod face first. Almost as if it was responding to Bell’s action, the pod groaned before it fell once again. Now not secured he bounced around his pod. The last thing he saw before darkness overtook him was ironically enough his helmet coming towards his face. ‘-ke up! I repeat, unknown forces inbound. You need to wake up!” Bell let out a pained grunt as he forced his eyes to obey his command and open. Groggy, but aware enough Bell unhooked his P17 rifle from the dented walls of his pod. With a quick glance around he found his helmet and shoved it on. “You in here, Bryn?” Receiving a soft affirmative hum, Bell pulled himself to a standing position. Well, that was one less thing to worry about. Flicking his weapon's safety of he spoke. “What's going on?” Bryn was quiet for a moment before she began her report. “An error occurred and your pod landed at an unknown location. Furthermore, signs of life are quickly approaching. ETA in ten seconds. They do not have information chips. This points to natives. Caution is heavily advised.” Taking a moment to formulate a plan, Bell was silent. It would take too long to change from his recon to combat armor. He would have to make do. With a deep breath he kicked the door to his pod. To his horror it failed to open. With more desperation, Bell kicked with all of his might. The door flung open, but Bell had overextended. Falling forward he heard a squawk of surprise. The next thing Bell knew there was a sharp pain in his side. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, Bell rolled through his fall rising at the end to his knee. Turning towards where he though the squawk came from, Bell let loose a controlled burst of plasma. He was rewarded with the sight of some kind of human like bird clutching a spear crashing to the ground. Before he could relax, Bryn was yelling in his helmet. “There was at least fifteen, you need to move now!” And so, still on his adrenaline high Bell did just that. Bell was tired. He had been moving as quick as he could for about an hour. The adrenaline was long gone and his wound was throbbing in pain now. Bell only stopped because the dizziness was becoming unbearable. Collapsing, Bell heard Bryn say something. He had missed it, man would it be nice to just close his eyes and go to sleep. “Damn it, stay awake. I need you to fire your weapon into the ground to heat the barrel. Use this to cauterize your wound. Sluggishly, Bell moved to follow. He was unsure as to why an angel was yelling at him, but who was he to disagree. He felt his weapon kick more than he heard it. Using what strength remained, he held the red-hot barrel to his wound. The pain was unbearable, and Bell found himself blacking out. Bell forced his eyes to open, he was getting tired of losing consciousness. Quickly he looked around, apprising if there was any danger. Satisfied he was safe for now he sat up. “So, on a scale from one to ten how screwed are we?” The fact that Bryn took a while to answer did not fill him with confidence. Eventually she answered in what was her best attempt at a nonchalant tone. “With the new information, I would estimate your odds of survival are less than ten percent. This is taking into account not only your injury, but also the appearance of here-to-unknown life forms. There is also the fact that I can only guess where allied forces are. They are for sure out of communication bead range.” Bell took all this in, before he sighed heavily. “Well, shit. Okay then what should be my next move?” Grunting in pain Bell fought to his feet. Making sure to secure his riffle he waited for a response. The fact Bryn was so slow to reply did not fill him with a large amount of confidence. “Head west, off to your right. My best estimate has the rest of your unit that way. Link up and get medical aid.” With a small nod Bell started to head in the indicated direction. He traveled in silence for a while. Every small sound forced him into high alert. In an attempt to calm his fraying nerves, Bell decided to start a conversation with his companion. “I’m a little foggy, mind telling me again why we are on this planet?” Bell could have sworn he heard a small scoff, but Bryn answered any ways. “This is the planet known as Darn. This is to be the first planet colonized by humanity. This planet was chosen due to its now confirmed ability to naturally host life. It was decided that terra-forming any other planet was too high risk and expensive to be worth the odds of failure. Your unit is to scout planet side, and secure a foothold for further reinforcements.” With a soft hum to confirm he had heard her, Bell moved in silence once more. The sun was getting low however and after a quick discussion with Bryn, Bell chose to stop for the night. It took a little bit longer, but eventually he found a suitable cave. Removing his helmet, Bell let out an exhausted sigh. The speakers on his helmet crackled to life before the voice of Bryn came out. “Rest, I’ll keep watch through the helmets camera. I’ll wake you up if I notice anything. II wish I could just run scans, unfortunately I was using your drop pod sensors to do that.” It was at this point that Bryn noticed that Bell was already asleep. With what only could be called affection, Bryn muttered something that was only heard by herself and the wind howling outside the cave. “I promise, you will see home again. No matter what.” With that she turned her attention away from the part of her in the helmet and focused on the part that was still safe on Sleipnir. Bell slowly felt himself coming back to the land of the living. Letting out a soft yawn, Bell stretched. Quickly however his situation rushed back to him, killing any positive feelings after a good sleep. After confirming that nothing had happened from Bryn, Bell made to start moving again. This came to a halt when he heard what sounded like a horn of all things. With zero hesitation, Bell carefully began to head back towards the safety of the cave. “Analyzing sound data. Complete. Closest match, hunting horns used in medieval times. ETA based on noise levels, less than five minutes.” Bryn was not helping Bell to calm down with that information. With a deep breath to try to calm his nerves, Bell found a good enough firing position in the mouth of the cave. True to her guess, a group of those bird-like aliens arrived a little under five minutes later. Holding his breath and praying, Bell hoped that they would move on. Unfortunately, however they pointed right at his cave and began to move his way. Bell had a moment of clarity when he realized that this cave was the best place to sleep nearby so of course they would check it. Letting out his breath, Bell fired at the bottom of his breath. The first blast of plasma caught the lead creature square in the chest. The rest of his party scattered and hid behind anything they could. There was a sound of metal on rock as an arrow ricocheted off the ground close to him. Staying as calm as possible, Bell fired off another shot. He was unsure if he had hit his target, but they were now keeping hidden. This was broken as one suddenly stood and rushed back the way he came. Bell was about to fire on the fleeing creature when a wave of arrows pushed his head down. “It is likely, that being was sent to retrieve reinforcements.” There was definitely a tinge of worry to his A.I companions voice. Bell raised his head to acquire a target, but was quickly forced to lower it again as another wave of arrows soared by. Bell knew he could fire randomly but he had a limited charge on his rifle. If that went out it would become useless. After a moment of rushed thinking, Bell came to a conclusion. This was his Stamford Bridge; all he could do was stall as long as possible. Maybe this would buy his unit time to really dig in before they headed that way. Casually Bell asked a question that had been at the edge of his mind but had been unimportant until now. “Well, Bry since our odds look worse and worse, mind answering a question for me? You are an experimental A.I, as close to fully human as we’ve gotten. What made you choose me to be your partner?” Bryn did not answer, and for a moment the only sound that could be heard was the arrows digging into stone nearby. Finally in a soft, warm tone Bryn spoke up. “After analyzing the data, I surmised that you were the most likely to die alone or be left. I am named after Brynhildr, and I strive to live up to that name. I am here to make sure you get to Valhalla. No one left alone.” There was another lull in the conversation, unfortunately this was enough time for reinforcements to arrive for his hunters. With a quick glance, Bell saw at least fifty more incoming troops. With a resigned sigh Bell hopped to his feet and began to fire wildly. Several shots landed. The price of this was a handful of arrows burying themselves in his chest. Bryn really started to panic; Bell was injured but still alive. The hostiles were getting closer but she was almost done. There! With as much urgency as she could manage, Bryn yelled at Bell. “Lift your head I need to see them through your camera!” There was a moment of nothingness. Then another, until slowly Bell raised his head. With the data needed she let out a relieved sigh. Data complete. Beginning bombardment from U.E.S.C Sleipnir onto designated area. There was a series of eight, distant, deep thumps. There was a moment of peace before the eight explosions tore through the ranks of the hostile natives. Then there was quiet. A soft chuckle came from Bells lips. “Well why didn’t you do that before. Unfortunately, that won't save me.” The reply was soft but came swiftly. “It took me awhile to hack the ship, and I could only take control of navigation and fire control. That was all I needed. Now for your seconded part, actually it will. They have already started dropping the quick response force to inspect what they fired upon. They are under the impression that this was their A.I doing it, so they need boots on the ground.” Bell let out a little chuckle before he spoke. “I am about ninety five percent sure that is illegal.” Bryn replied in a voice that was light, and free. “It is only illegal if I get caught. Now rest, I’ll handle the communication bead when they get in range.” His eyes getting heavier and heavier, Bell did have to agree. Some rest sounded fantastic.

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago
Story #2 Cold steam hisses through your pod as you awake from your deep slumber. Your whole body feels numb, dead, needing to be revived. With your eyelids heavy, you can only make out strange silhouettes beyond the fogged glass—red lights. There’s a moment you can’t breathe. Two. Your lungs don’t work. Two needles shoot up your spine. The sharp penetration, cold liquid forcing itself up your back. The soft embrace of deep slumber. *** “Sir, we’ve lost EES Unity” The cold statement pierced through the chaos of the control center. Men and women of Earth’s Expansion Initiative, the finest officers of the world, momentarily halt their activities. All had family on board. Admiral Tora stood up, an old man groaning underneath the weight of his accomplishments. “Last signal?” “Just outside Perseus Sector. Data is coming in as we speak… Yes, the ship’s control system sent us this.” The hologram appeared before the admiral, showing him first their exact location, just six jumps beyond the human frontier in the Pleiades. Its mission was to cross the deep dark and venture to the rich stars in the Rosette Nebula, a grand voyage that would entrench humanity in another arm in the galaxy. “These are the thermal sensors of the Unity. Multiple contacts at two-sixty.” The hologram showed the ship as it traversed deep space at near lightspeed. The three-kilometer-long bow with its six thousand seedships underneath. They held all personnel in cryostasis, ready to be dropped at any planet. Then it turned, looking over the ship in the specified direction. Five trails of emission were visible, speeding at the ship at impossible speeds. “EM overlay available. At this point, Unity tried to ping the unknown contacts and the essential crew was awoken.” The view became richer, showing the contours of the approaching ships. Each perfectly spherical save the exhaust of their propulsion systems. As the Unity’s ping approached, the surface broke into a half-moon shape, pieces of the ship reassembling at light-speeds. The hologram visualized the ping breaking off the ship’s surface, refracting in ways that never reached back the Unity. Then the enigmas started to board. *** You awake in shock. You’re still in your pod. It opens, blue liquid flowing out and into the multiple drains, dragging you with it. To your left and right you see rows of your comrades undergoing the same, falling to their hands and knees, some retch, empty bile mixing with the blue, others faint. Recent memories are vague, but their effects weigh harsh on your mind. “Welcome to your destination, colonist.” A soothing woman’s voice comes out of the speakers, its tone just even enough to tell it’s artificial. “You’re in IS876AX, an until recently undiscovered star system in the Rosette Nebula. Its sixth planet has shown to be habitable to your species. Please familiarise yourself as we will make planetfall in six hours.” You force yourself up. Your muscles feel weak, far weaker than in any simulation you’ve been through. You look up. The man in front of you simply kneels. You just can’t place his face, but you feel as haggard as he looks. There are deep holes in his chest where cybernetics had been taken out for cryosleep. “What the fuck is going on?” he asks you. “No clue,” you reply. “Hey, remember the red lights?” “Of course I remember the fucking red lights.” He spits out more blue bile. “Can’t forget dying so easily. Name’s Clyde by the way.” *** “We need to send in our fleet immediately!” The voice came from the left, where all the EEI marines were seated. Captain Brent bellowed his declaration with the same fury he boarded pirate ships. “No, we don’t know what happened! Can’t go in blind.” Opposing him sat Chief Officer Drobi. The man had made his career surveying and planning mining operations beyond the frontier. His corner was one of the few who remained seated, but his voice still soared above the shouting. “Easy to say when your daughter ain’t on board,” the Captain replied quieter, well-compensated by the increased vehemence. The remark emblazed the table. “Silence!” Admiral Tora cut through the discord. “Chief Officer Drobi is right. We can’t follow the beacon blind, knowing fully their technological capabilities far exceeds ours. Petty Officer Kadan, what is your conclusion?” Everyone’s gaze fell upon a man at the far right. Kadan looked more comfortable in his books than among company, especially military. “First contact team has multiple hypotheses,” he started... “Give me the most likely one.” “Very well, it’s a lure. They know as little of us as we do of them. I expect them to be fully aware of the civilian nature of our ships. If we were to send in our military, the chance is high our ships will be destroyed just as easily, allowing them to invade our systems with ease.” “And if we don’t?” “They’ll retrace our ship’s steps. Poke us until we have to respond. These guys aren’t friendly.” “Then we have to do it,” Admiral Tora declared. “Chief Drobi, I want our best routes by next week. Captain Brent, go to Earth. We’ll need reinforcements. Captains, ready your crew for deep space operations. Our fleet needs to be blue within a month. All dismissed.” *** Only half of the colonists recall the red lights, with fewer still remembering anything beyond them. It’s dismissed as a cryostasis nightmare, a short power outage allowing the depths of your unconscious to momentarily awaken. But you’re here now and there is a job to do. In the first hours, you find your shift, a group of thirty explorers to find the best location to start the settlement. You don your suit and look at the readings one last time. Isaac 5, as you’ve started calling it, is a pangea planet. One large continent that spans from pole to pole. It’s humid, with increased temperatures and heavy rainfall stimulating native plant growth. Sensors have deemed the atmosphere breathable, and many rivers provide opportunities for freshwater. Your seedship had been chosen to settle in the east, where arid swathes interrupt the sea of green. “Don’t forget your filters, last sucker to fully trust a scan lies ten feet under the dirt of god knows what planet,” Clyde yells. “Clyde, got your weapons locked and loaded?” Chief Jonah shouts, eyes following the checklist one last time. “Chief, there ain’t any on the whole goddamn ship,” Clyde responds. “Manual must be outdated then. Got any intel on the fauna?” “None our scans picked up. Must be still microscopic-” “Or extinct,” Clyde interrupts grimly. “Alright, we’ll see them up close soon enough anyway, supplies?” “Enough to last a month.” “Shuttle?” “She’s roaring for a ride, the missus missed us!” “Hey, you,” Clyde pokes you in the ribs. “Easy there, it ain’t my first rodeo. Something always goes haywire. Still,” he pauses, showing his scars.”I’m here, only missing a few bits and pieces. I’ll pull you through whatever. Just cover my back.” “Healed nicely. Still, can’t shake the feeling something’s real fucked,” you respond. “Yeah me too, but there’s no way back but forward. What a dumb fucking name, Isaac.” “Got anything better? “Nah.” *** The shuttle shakes and stirs through the atmosphere. You’re strapped in your seat, clenching the straps that hold you in place. Looking outside the window, you see only bright red flames flaring across the glass, obscuring the planet from any preview. You still have to trust those damn scans. Then the ground pushes up against you. Your stomach flips over as the boosters slow your descent. It isn’t long before you’re halted completely, the glass obscured by brown sand. “Alright, let’s get a move on people,” Jonah orders. “I need some eyes. People, wait for the all-clear. Clyde, take point.“ He takes you to the front of the hangar, past the gear, the vehicles, and the groups of explorers caring for them. “Trust me, it’s better to be first. Put on your filter.” He hands you a helmet, green with a dark visor, and walks on, his boots on metal leaving a decided pace to the front. “Alright.” You hear Jonah’s voice somewhat smothered through the speakers of your helmet. “Test 1-2-3. Do you copy?” “Move to another frequency, this one’s jamming,” Clyde responds. “Copy that.” The voice comes through much more clearly now. “We landed on a relatively open plateau, good view from here. I need you to clear the ground and air before we can move in. We got hip height fern-like flora and several trees. The site’s clear of fauna, but remember containment protocol. You’ll be cleared in five minutes. Good luck out there.” “Roger, keep the shuttle steady for our return.” The containment doors open as you approach. One nod to Clyde and you enter the room. The room goes dark and the pressure drops, activating your suit. The muffled hiss of the room is coupled with the rhythmic pumps of your tank. “Ready?” “Ready.” The floor lowers, sucking in air and light from the outside. It’s bright, far brighter than earth. Jonah did not lie about the plateau. You stand atop a massive mountain, with the western ridge dropping down 10 kilometers to a green sea of trees, plants, and grass. The plateau itself is large enough to fit a city. A dark green from ferns, with a few trees standing tall and proud above all clouds. “It’s beautiful,” you mutter. “Alright let’s get working. Let’s see… temperature 24 degrees, Jesus, it must be scorching hot down there, air as indicated safe a few trace molecules. I’ll send them in for further study later… you alright Clyde?” Clyde hadn’t moved a hair since the descent. “Yeah, I just need a few moments to reorientate myself. Where’s the sand?” “Sand?” you ask. “Obscured the windows,” Clyde replies. “Thought we’d be landing in the arids.” “We’ll ask Jonah when we’ll get back. Come on, need to clear the ground first.” After a few more tests, the platform comes to a halt. The ground was rocky, solid enough to build a base. You both move to clear the plateau, both hoping to be back by nightfall. *** The human combined second and third fleet jumped towards the Nebula from a wide angle. The combined might counted fifty battleships and forty battlecruisers each one escorted by thirty destroyers and five cruisers. A reserve of ten carriers and a hundred auxiliary ships brought the total amount of manpower up to a million. At its head stood admiral Tora, racing full speed towards IS876AX. “We’ll be leaving hyperspace in two hours, Sir.” “Thank you, cadet. Are all ships in position?” “Yessir. “And have our scouts returned?” “We’ve heard nothing. Both ships and probes were destroyed immediately.” “Very well, finish it as blind as our fathers that started the journey. Mobilize all ships in an hour. We’ll be dead or victorious by the end of it.” *** The familiar drop in pressure makes you lower your guard, letting out a sigh that had been stuck for the past hours. The clear had gone smoothly, with no adversities. After an extensive protocol, you’re allowed entry into the ship, immediately greeted by extensive applause from your crew. You feel hands clap on your back and you’re bombarded by questions, the main one being how it was. “Absolutely fantastic, you should’ve seen it. A peak as high as Saturn’s spacestation, a sea of plants, fucking three moons. We’re going to put a lot of resorts out of commission once our job is done,” you tell every detail, which continues with ever grander statements until dinner. There you spot Clyde in a heated but hushed discussion with Chief Jonah. Clyde seems twitchy, ready to jump at every small sound. Jonah acts cold and distant, quite obvious in wanting as much distance between the two as possible. “Tell us about the ridge again man, does it go all the way down the planet’s core?” “Not now, I got to go,” you quickly dismiss, leaving towards the two. There Jonah turns towards you. “Thank god, you’re here. Can you please tell him to calm down and that nothing happened.” “I’m telling you, fucking everything happened. It shouldn’t this hot or this green. How the fuck do you explain the dust? Nothing fucking adds up.” You watch Clyde intently. His left eye rapidly twitches and as he continues his tirade, something behind it bulges upwards towards his forehead. He stammers a few more words, takes a step forwards, and pukes up a slithering mass. You yell, jumping back as you watch him shake uncontrollably on the ground. *** The fleet popped out of the bubble and for a moment everything was dark. Then massive explosions illuminated the system. The sun had been encompassed in metal, and every planet was turned a porous ball of massive installations. The Enigmas were ready, hundreds of thousands perfect spheres surrounded the fleet. Screams of casualties and damage reports filled the control center. Tora blocked them out, the bigger picture required to get out of the killzone. “Every ship full speed ahead! Plan Delta-Three-One. Leave all our mines behind us. At that moment, Tora could only watch his display as the Enigmas worked inwards from the flanks. The destroyers stood no chance as piercing lightbeams ripped through their armor at ease. At any moment, dozens unlucky to have their reactor hit exploded in a fiery ball. Others simply went dark, desperately limping behind the main force before being subsumed into the masses of pursuers. The battleships held, thick shields deterring most of the attacks. Their heavy armament whined into motion, shooting back until their coils overheated. Tora felt deep satisfaction at every destroyed sphere. “Formation Armadillo!” With the high speeds, the ships were less maneuverable. But the battleships came to the sides, forming a wall of steel that guarded the lighter ships inside. The battlecruisers moved up front, spearheading a gap in the besiegers, their deadly guns making them perfect for the task. Meanwhile, the carriers had ejected their full fighter taskgroups, skirmishing the Enigmas at the very back with limited casualties at both sides. *** “The ship’s infected. We have to run!” you roar the few survivors towards the front. The mass had spread quickly, filling the air with sour spores that activated a hidden sickness. Half of the survivors fell almost instantly, another dozen were lost soon thereafter. With only five remaining you run towards the doors, smashing them open. There’s no time to get any protective suit. So you have to hold your breath during the decontainment. The floor lowers only too slowly. *** “Sir, we have lost our rearguard!” The situation had become dire. As the fleet moved throughout the system, the speed of the enigmas became only too obvious. Tora had only one option left. “Ram that star!” *** The sky became filled with explosions. The floor barely halted as huge dark shapes approached. Then the world turned fire. ***

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago
Only votes in response to this post will be counted.

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago

1

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago

I'm going to have to go with Story #2. Story #1 seemed to have a lot more continuity errors that I couldn't overlook and some of the stuff just didn't make sense to me. I thought he was in a cave? Wouldn't it collapse if orbital strikes hit the area?

As far as story #2, I was just as lost, mainly due to two different stories that didn't seem to add to each other. Either of the stories would have been good if those words that were wasted on the split perspective were devoted to one story. Regardless, each of the parts of the perspective were interesting enough to earn the vote over story #1.

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago

He moved to the mouth of the cave before firing upon the aliens, and the story later describes him ducking down to avoid arrows so I assumed that he left the cave and hid behind a rock when engaging them. In any case, the battle certainly didn't happen inside the cave.

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago

Story #2

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago
#2 please and thank you.

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago

Story 1

It was more fun to read and actually followed the prompt. The prompt was about humanity colonizing its first planet, whereas humanity had colonized half the galaxy already in Story 2.

Loser's Bracket Vote

7 months ago

I vote for story 1. 

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago
d

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago
Thank you.

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago
No, thank you

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago
I vote 1.

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago

Story 2.

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago
Story 1.

Loser's Bracket Vote

6 months ago
Commended by mizal on 12/8/2021 9:47:43 AM

This will likely not be of interest to anyone who isn’t deeply interested in sentence structure and the rhythm of prose, but here’s a thing I wanted to say about sentence style, using these stories as examples:

 

“Pre drop nerves always sucked. Today was no different for Private Bell of the U.E.S.C. “Heh, at least today I'm not dropping alone.” Running a hand through his short, blonde hair Bell took a deep breath. Nervously he brought up his in-pod display to see how long before it would be to go time. Seeing that there was less than twenty-five seconds left Bell grimaced.”

 

When I read this passage, the first thing I noticed was that the sentence rhythm was quite similar for every sentence.  The author uses some participles to try cumulative structure (“Running a hand…”; “Seeing that there was…”) but because the author didn’t comma after those clauses, the sentences all feel really staccato.

 

Compare:

 

Running a hand through his short, blonde hair Bell took a deep breath.

Running a hand through his short, blonde hair, Bell took a deep breath.

 

Seeing that there was less than twenty-five seconds left Bell grimaced.

Seeing that there was less than twenty-five seconds left, Bell grimaced.

 

Putting that comma in, the rhythm of the sentences shifts to the end of the sentence, putting a more interesting stress on “Bell” and “breath” and “left” and “grimaced”; without the comma, the sentence sounds flat.  This effect is exacerbated by the first three sentences, which are pretty simple sentences, rhythm-wise; the first sentence has an implied subject (“nerves sucked [for the U.E.S.C. soldiers]; the second sentence has “was” as the verb, and “today” as the subject, keeping the protagonist character to the end of the sentence.

 

These are tiny little effects, but they add up to create a less interesting stylistic effect.

 

 

Compare:

 

Cold steam hisses through your pod as you awake from your deep slumber. Your whole body feels numb, dead, needing to be revived. With your eyelids heavy, you can only make out strange silhouettes beyond the fogged glass—red lights. There’s a moment you can’t breathe. Two. Your lungs don’t work. Two needles shoot up your spine. The sharp penetration, cold liquid forcing itself up your back. The soft embrace of deep slumber.

 

So here, you have all different sentence rhythms and structures.  Sentence one hits us with two interesting ideas right away—the cold steam and the awakening, followed by a periodic sentence for sentence two (that numb, dead, needing to be revived is interesting and different from the pattern of the first sentence, and notice how that list hits us with two one-word adjectives (numb, dead) and then mixes it up with the present participial phrase “needing to be revived.”—that’s really mixing things up.)  The third sentence makes a cumulative move (“with your eyelids heavy,”) and has the comma there for the brief pause, and uses the em dash for a longer pause.

This longer sentence is followed by a much shorter sentence (“There’s a moment you can’t breathe”) followed by a single word:  “Two.”

Then in a really good move, we get what looks like fragments but what is actually a sort-of disassembled cumulative sentence:  “Two needles shoot up your spine. The sharp penetration, cold liquid forcing itself up your back. The soft embrace of deep slumber.”  The first of those clauses is a complete sentence—that’s the independent clause.  The rest are incomplete sentences, serving as the dependent clauses.  (Actually, I would probably prefer “penetrating sharply” rather than “the sharp penetration”—but I think it works well as it is.

Students always ask me if authors actually think about these things when they write or if I’m just having a grammar wank.  (They don’t say it in those words.)  The truth is this:  writers feel this stuff in their bones even if it doesn’t ascend to their conscious decision-making process.  You look at a paragraph and you feel the rhythm in there, and then later people can come and point to stuff and say why it’s cool.  But that’s completely secondary. 

How do you get good at this sort of thing?  You read a lot, and you read everything.  Read aloud.  Listen to recorded books that have a good narrator.  All of the explicit grammar instruction probably isn’t going to help.  It’s pretty much just go out there and devour page after page of all different styles, even ones you find challenging.