He should not be here.

Paul Benedict struggled to continue running on a smooth grass field as sleek outbound trains zipped beside him and transport ships thundered above. In neat lines, millions of people walked away from the burning structural fragments that descended from a nearby Tree, a five-kilometer-high conical archology. The fragments broke through a layer of clouds and thumped against its hyper-white sloped façade. Bright red explosions highlighted the clouds from the other side.
He was the only one traveling towards the danger. What was he thinking? He kept his focus a meter from his feet to avoid staring at the Tree’s destruction, and fought the urge to return home.

He reminded himself, more as a distraction, that he needed to collect data from the aliens destroying his planet. It was a noble, selfless act, so he kept running. In the distance, the Tree fragment whistled and crashed into the ground and shook the earth under his feet. He stopped, petrified as a dust cloud rose.

What was he doing? He shouldn’t be here. No, he needed to be here. For his family. For everyone. The data could save lives. What if he died in the process?

His Visuals, a neural-optical interface that projected images in three dimensions directly to his visual cortex, flooded his view with data on translucent virtual panels. The transit system warned him to step away from the rail and walk on a designated pathway. The hazards recognition program highlighted the velocity and trajectory of falling objects and warned him to evacuate the area. His family watched his view and showered him with messages telling him to be careful. His medical interface ordered him to relax and breathe.

“Breathe.” He had forgotten to breathe!

He took a deep breath and exhaled. As he stepped forward, his Cellular Infinity, the genetic mutation bio-nanotechnology and controller of his Utopian existence, prompted the largest warning in his Visuals. “Danger – Consistent atypical utopian behavior. Unable to stabilize chemical and hormonal levels.”

He stopped. If he retreated, he would keep his privilege of immortality and a perfect life with his family, if the aliens didn’t kill them. If he continued forward, he would face mortality but could potentially protect his family against the aliens, if the aliens didn’t kill him. He brought up the icons of his wife, Amaryllis, and his daughters, Statice and Lily, before him.

Through a conscience communication interface called Audials, he Audialed to his family, “I received the final warning.” Chills ran through his body. He shuddered at every explosion and rumble in the distance. He needed their words to motivate him.

Amaryllis’s face appeared and replaced her icon. She Audialed, “You can do this. We’re watching your surroundings for real dangers. Just follow the path. They’re attempting to negotiate with one of the scouts right now. This is our best chance at getting any viable data and interaction with our leaders.” Her calm composure contradicted her high heart rate.

Statice, the older, leaned forward. “You have sixty seconds after the final warning before the drones abduct you.”

As always, he expected straightforward advice from Statice.

Lily’s eyes gleamed as she stepped in front of Statice. “We have faith in you Dad.”

As always, he expected emotional encouragement from Lily. It was exactly what he needed.

He nodded. “I will.”

He moved the images aside to his peripheral view. Amaryllis prescribed a path through Visuals, and he sprinted towards the base of the attacked Tree.

After sprinting for three kilometers, he reached a dusty area of rubble and craters. Blood mixed with dirt painted deformed pieces of metal. The air burned his nostrils. For the first time in his life, he coughed and heaved, spitting saliva and stomach fluid. Also for the first time in his life, he sweated. White dust clumped on his forehead. He tilted his head back to scan for falling debris. A layer of clouds flowed around the Tree with several openings that revealed the damaged upper levels and several airborne Crimson scouts.

This was insane!

Amaryllis Audialed, “You’re clear from above. They stopped cutting into the upper levels. You have to keep going, honey.”

Paul gulped.

He continued into the building lobby, where thousands of people evacuated in organized lines. People carried on with casual conversations unrelated to the attack, while others laughed and shared food. Not a single hint of fear or a sense of urgency.
How were they able to remain calm, even with Cellular Infinity? He couldn’t smile, knowing that the killer aliens were right above them or that part of the Tree might crush them to death. His arms shook and he crossed them in front of his chest to stabilize them.

Several strangers took notice as they gazed at him. With care, he weaved his way around the crowds and entered an empty elevator returning upward. Through Visuals commands, he directed the elevator to rise to the four-hundredth floor, the location of a Crimson scout. He leaned against the doors, away from the window, and the elevator rushed him upward.

As he approached the upper levels, several moments of vibration slowed the elevator down, causing its alarm to go off. He screamed at every ring, anticipating the elevator would fall at any moment. With a slow shuffle, he looked out the window towards the Tree’s glowing blue central energy core and found debris falling from above.

He jumped back. The elevator stopped and opened its doors. Turbulent wind and black smoke rushed into the elevator. He covered his ears as a louder repeating alarm pierced his eardrums. Again, he coughed his lungs out.

8 thoughts on “Variance

  1. Douglas Hazelrigg says:

    Love me some Sci-Fi!

    For the most part it’s well-written but parts are hard to follow. I got that the Tree is some tall structure, and that it’s under attack. But why are the people just walking from it? I know there’s a good reason for this, but the narration states it as if it’s normal.

    I would not provide the description of the Audial at this point, only show it in use. You can provide a bit more detail later. The description is a bit too “omniscient narrator”… in other words, you’re telling is instead of showing us.

    Paul sprints for three kilometers? 3K is usually considered middle-distance, so unless this guy is an android or some sort of future superhuman, it’s a bit far to sprint. I think. 🙂

    I really want to know why the people are so nonchalant as aliens are attacking them 🙂

    • Josen Llave says:

      Douglas, thanks for your review! I’m glad you had a question of my story’s “Utopian” behavior. Just like I’m describing now, that they’re chemically forced to be totally peaceful, happy, and everything positive, I have to find a way to translate that into my story and make it more understandable.

      I’ll make the description of Audials more subtle and straightforward, with a more effective showing description.

      Also, Utopians are in a way superhuman through genetic mutation, so yes, I do have to find a way to convey this effectively. But it’s awesome that you caught that detail! Love it!

      Thanks again for your review. This will help make my first page more powerful and interesting! =D

  2. Tayci says:

    I did enjoy it and I was interested in what Paul was doing and about the world, but there are a few things.

    I agree with Douglas. There’s too much information too close together.

    [Statice, the older, leaned forward. “You have sixty seconds after the final warning before the drones abduct you.”

    As always, he expected straightforward advice from Statice.

    Lily’s eyes gleamed as she stepped in front of Statice. “We have faith in you Dad.”

    As always, he expected emotional encouragement from Lily. It was exactly what he needed.]

    You showed us the daughters personalities by what they said so you don’t have to repeat the description of what he expected.

    I also didn’t realize he was moving towards the Tree. I actually wasn’t sure where he was going just that he was going towards the danger.

    I’m not sure what his motivation is. I understand he wants to protect his family, but why just him? Why is he the only one willing to risk his immortality to save them when everyone else is pretending like it didn’t happen.

    Again I did like it.

    • Josen Llave says:

      Tayci, thanks for your review! Yes, there’s redundant sentences that I can cut out, which I’m sure there’s more of that throughout the book. I’ll keep an eye out for that to keep the pacing going.

      That’s good that you weren’t able to catch what his motivation is. I’ll have to make it clear and believable of why he’s the only one of millions who’s willing to risk his life to do something. Like Doug’s review above, I haven’t made it clear about “Utopian” behavior, which is total peace, love, and all that happy stuff. So I’ll have to fix that and make it understandable.

      Thanks again for your review. This will help make my first page more powerful and interesting! =D

  3. Ash says:

    Hi! I like the idea that Paul is the only one rushing towards danger. I instantly want to know why. So the hook is definitely working for me. I’m just feeling a bit like I just got dropped off at the climax by mistake.

    There is so much already happening and the pacing is so quick that I don’t feel like I’m getting a good grasp of what’s actually happening. Things are vaguely explained before zipping off to the next tidbit. Because some of the details are sort of glossed over, these pages start to read like a giant mixing pot of classic sci-fi tropes. Aliens are attacking, but I don’t know why or how. Paul needs to “collect data” that could “save lives”, but again, I don’t know why or how. There is an almost hive mentality going on with the other residents in this utopian-esque world, yet Paul is immune in some way. No why or how. We learn that humans are immortal, but Paul faces mortality if he “continues forward”. Again, no why or how. Add to the mix a whole slew of sci-fi jargon, not all of which is explained (e.g. cellular infinity; while it likely pertains to immortality, the why and how are still absent). I’m cool with waiting to learn some of these things, but you’re giving me too much to process all at once.

    The details you do provide, I really enjoyed. Like the tree and neural-optical interface. You did a really good job of describing how the audials worked. And being able to visualize Paul using them helped me momentarily sink my feet into the world.

    Specific nitpicks:

    “He should not be here.” -This isn’t strong enough, IMO. I find out just two sentences later that there are loads of people about anyway, so it sort of nullified that opener.

    He says he keeps his gaze down to avoid looking at the tree’s destruction, but he literally just watched it fall. Why avoid looking now? Is there another reason he’s keeping his gaze down perhaps? Also, I didn’t initially realize he was running towards the tree; I didn’t realize that was the “danger” he was referring to.

    “He reminded himself, more as a distraction, that he needed to collect data from the aliens destroying his planet.” -This is so nonchalant, almost like the aliens have been here for a while. Was that your intention? Or are they only just attacking? If the latter, consider adding ships in the sky as the Tree falls or something. Show me the background.

    “It was a noble, selfless act, so he kept running.” -This is very telly. Plus, who thinks like this? I’m noble and selfless, so I’m going to save lives by collecting data, which could get me killed. I’m sorry, this just isn’t ringing true for me.

    [Lily’s eyes gleamed as she stepped in front of Statice.
    “We have faith in you Dad.” As always, he expected emotional encouragement from Lily. It was exactly what he needed.
    He nodded. “I will.”] -It’s not clear what he’s responding to. Why is he saying “I will”?

    I didn’t understand why Paul’s trembling hands would be cause for notice when the attack was beyond everyone’s notice.

    Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. This all probably come off a lot more negative than I intended, so I just want to reiterate that I did find it interesting. There is definite conflict, and I can tell he has a goal. I just found it difficult, and this might be a personal failing, to really feel drawn into the story, because I don’t have a good-enough grasp on the world yet. I felt like I was just skimming the surface. Backing up your starting point might help with this. Find a smaller conflict (maybe pertaining to a specific sci-fi element) to start with. I would pick something that really makes your story unique, and let the reader wade deeper from there. Hope some of this is helpful. Good luck!

    • Josen Llave says:

      Thank you for your review Ash! You are absolutely correct. There’s a lot put into the first one-thousand words, so there’s a need to move some aspects elsewhere so that I can lead the reader through more important things. I’m considering introducing Audials later where it would be used appropriately. Like the other reviews, I have to address properly why Utopians are the way they are, being absolutely positive, loving, and perfect so that this is easily understood from the get go.

      I love the focus on details listed in your nitpicks. This is really important because someone walking down the aisle at B&N looking to buy a book, might randomly pick this up and think the same thing, only to put the book back down. Not looking forward to that, so yes, these details are crucial if I want to attract as many readers as possible. Being that you were already hooked, improvements would definitely seal the deal.

      Again, thank you very much for your valuable feedback and your time.

  4. Bret says:

    This was a very interesting read; I would like to read on to find out more.
    There seemed to be a lot of detail, which could easily distract or lessen the impact, added into this first chapter. I might have started off with ” After sprinting three kilometers..” and get the reader into a more intense sense of action immediately. You have interesting detail, but I might weave some of that into subsequent chapters.
    Nice work, though, keep it up!

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