This is my entry to the second round of the NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction 2019 Challenge. A yearly competition for writers from around the world (over 3700+ of them) to create a 1000 word short fictional story in 48 hours based on 3 random prompts – a genre, a location and an object.
My entry in the first round was The Altar of Alang which you can read here. For anyone planning to take part in the competition, or just interested in writing, I’ve included below a bit more detail of my experience of taking part.
Warning: this story contains some adult language, not one for the kids.
Amy was a vet; she’d need all her experience if they were going to survive the next 10 minutes.
“Hammer, Hammer, Hammer!”, squawked the intercom, alarm bells clanging. Bleary-eyed, Amy fell out of her hammock, “Mike, are we hit?”
She could feel the ship accelerating hard, turning to escape the deadly Hammer missiles. She heard the chittering sound of the flack cannon, their last-ditched defence. Instinctively she braced.
The cannon almost succeeded, all but one missile downed. The colossal impact of that last warhead reverberated through the ship, a terrible howling howl. Amy was thrown hard against the ceiling, she floated, dazed in the dull red glow of emergency lighting. “Mike?”
No response, she tapped her comm-patch. “Mike, what the hell is going on?”
She ran her hand across the wet membrane of the ceiling, the ship’s heart was beating fast.
“Amy, you ok? We’re hit, portside, stern,”
“No shit! How?”
“Raiders, they were hiding in the debris.”
“Where are they now?”
“Still hiding in the belt. I’m heading for open space. We’ll see if the bastards have got the balls to follow.”
“Ok, I’m going to check the damage”, she said, patting the beating membrane, “Hang on old girl, I’m coming.”
The lights flickered back on as did the anti-grav and she floated down grabbing her toolbelt.
Days like this made her regret joining the fleet and becoming a vet. Her peers on earth, lived in luxury, patching up overprivileged pups. She was a galaxy away, buried in the belly of a bio-mechanical beast. Once a state-of-the-art warship, now the old girl just ran supplies. Battered, beaten and obsolete.
Stepping out of her cabin, she looked along the ship’s spine. Its skeleton formed the superstructure, scarred flesh walls testament to its time on the line. Along the spine nerve pulses glowed rhythmically. Good, Amy thought, nothing fatal.
“Get a move on, looks like they’re not giving up.”
“I’m on it,” she said, sprinting down the corridor. She didn’t need to run far before she slipped on the dark blood bubbling out of a large wound. “Dammit!”
“What?” inquired Mike.
“Not sure, it’s bad, she’s haemorrhaging into the central cavity,”
“Shit, that explains why we’re losing power.”
She tapped her collar and the transparent bio-suit slid tight around her, “Alright girl, let’s take a look.”
Pulling a hypodermic from her belt she jammed its long spike into the laceration. The ship groaned and shuddered catching her off balance, “Steady girl, shhhh”
The relaxant took effect instantly and the wound opened. A rush of air confirmed her worst fears. She stared through a three-foot wide shrapnel strewn gash at the inky blackness of space. “Fuck!”
“Bad, they’ve taken a chunk out of her. She’s bleeding out.”
She could see a cocktail of red boiling blood and blue biofuel trailing into space, blood in the water.
“Get it sorted, they’re hot on our tail”
“Should have stuck to pups,” she said, bending down to crawl into the slit.
Something moved. A piece of shrapnel twisted, unfolded, and on fast skittering legs started towards her. Three more spiders appeared from where they had been feeding. She scrambled back, “Oh fuck!”
“What now?”, Mike said, with an exasperated sigh.
“Fucking spiders,” she screamed, “I hate spiders.”
“Get it sorted, we’re dead in the water, they’ll be in range in 4 minutes.”
She reached for the cauterising gun on her belt, set it to burn-projectile and fired. The white-hot plasma bolt melted through the first spider like butter. Another crawled up to take its place and prepared to pounce. Amy fired again, nothing. She shook the gun, it was recharging. She looked up in horror to see the arachnid launch itself at her face, she screamed, the gun falling from her hand.
“Amy! We are out of time!” Mike barked, fear in his voice.
Eager jaws gnashed at the thin helmet of her bio-suit; red lights flashed across its HUD. “Just”
She grabbed the spider and twisting, wrestled it to the floor, it flailed angrily. “One”
She fumbled for the heavy hammer on her toolbelt, “Fucking”
With all her might she bought the hammer down, “Minute!”
Before she could turn, the next spider was on her back, teeth digging deep into her shoulder. She groaned in agony, tearing it off and pinning it, the hammer came down again. Another satisfying Crunch!
The last spider hesitated, staring at her with calculating intent. She dived for the gun, shooting instinctively from the hip. The bolt missed, burying itself into the ships flesh. The ship twisted in pain, sending them tumbling. Amy was first to her feet and had a boot on the thrashing beast before it could react. Crunch!
“Time!” she bellowed.
“2 minutes, they’ve got two Hammers locked on.”
She switched the cauterising gun back to freeze-beam and crawled into the wound. With deft skill, she cauterised the arteries and stemmed the leaking biofuel. Laying on her back, covered in blood, she looked out at the Raiders ship a pin-point glinting in the void, “We should be good, punch it!”
“It’s good, but it’s going to take 50 seconds to prime the engines,”
“Shit, how long have we got?”
“Not long enough, 30!”
She shook her head; through the trailing cloud of blood and biofuel she could see the Raider moving in for the kill. They just needed twenty seconds.
She looked down at the gun, turned it in her hand and an idea formed. Switching the gun back to burn-projectile she took aim at the raider and fired. The white-hot plasma bolt shot into the void. It would never reach the Raider, it didn’t need to. With a blinding flash, the trail of fuel ignited. The panicked Raider swerved forced to break off its attack.
“What the fuck was that!” yelled Mike.
“Just get us out of here,” Amy moaned, exhausted she sank into warm blood. The wound on her shoulder ached, it would leave a scar. It looked like they’d both have another scar and another war story “Ok old girl, let’s get you patched up.”
I’d totally forgotten about the competition until I saw a tweet that mentioned round 2 was at the weekend. I’d somehow just filed it away as the end of September. It didn’t help that we had a busy Saturday out with the pup, swimming at Saltdean Lido. So it was with some trepidation that I woke up on Saturday morning to read my prompts. I thought the prompt god’s had been kind to me when I saw Action & Adventure / A Warship / A Hammer, little did I know.
With only a couple of hours in the morning, I started dredging for ideas. Got back later in the evening picked up where I left off. It was about 9pm in the evening, shattered I’m looking at a proverbial trash can of screwed up rejected ideas. Every one felt like a poor copy of some scene I had seen in an action film, ranging from the ancient world through the golden age of sail, US Civil war, WWI & 2, contemporary through to science fiction. I’m looking at the clock tick down, a day gone and literally nothing to show for my efforts.
I circled around and fished back out a vague idea about a ship auction. Thirty minutes later I think I beat it into something pretty compelling. Navy seals, the auction of a Warship to dubious organisations. It had tension and legs. I went to bed with about 400 words, I was up and running.
Next morning. I’ve got most of the day to get this sorted. With the skills I’ve picked up over the last couple of months, should have the first draft done in a couple of hours. I re-read what I’ve got, it’s not action, it’s a stone-cold thriller. Worst I can’t twist the scenario into action, given its covert premise. It needed more action more cowbell!!! I’ve got 18 hours and I’m back to square one, watching the seconds tick away.
Back into the trash can to pick over the rejected ideas. One of the first I’d rejected was the seed of this story. I’d originally thrown it away as unnecessarily convoluted, I really just wanted to write something a little more contemporary, relatable. i.e. with the widest appeal. Inspired from Lexx, Peter F Hamilton’s The Night’s Dawn Trilogy and Farscape I hoped it was a little bit of different take on a Warship. More importantly, it was a vehicle I felt I could deliver a 1000 words of fast-paced action with.
Four hours late, I’ve got draft #1. I’ve spent half of that time arguing with Wen about the cheekiness of the opening line. Let’s just say there will be a big “I told you so” in my near future. That aside, I’ve got a thumbs up from Wen, just. Over to the family, for a 2nd opinion. It’s mixed reviews, my Sister is analysing every word and scratching her head, sci-fi is not her forte or war references. My fast-paced action story has taken her 20 minutes to read and re-read, oh god! I knew I was taking a risk, I didn’t realise quite how much.
Another 4 hours of editing. Counting spiders in and out (I still think one might have got away), looking up synonyms for “wound”, removing swear words (let’s just say Amy had even more of a potty mouth), Trying to put some backstory around it without adding 500 words of world-building, 30-minute argument about relaxing in blood pools and explaining I hadn’t just made up the phrase “blood in the water”. At the end of which I’m down to 2.5 hours but I think I’m done.
Check the submission guidelines, it needs a Title and Tagline, f***, I forget every single time! Another 30 minutes later I finally press the button, I’m done! One way or another, only time will tell. I haven’t made any of the mistakes I made previously, I suspect I’ve made a brand new set. I look forward to the feedback. My gut feeling is it’s going to be a Marmite piece (love it or hate it), dangerous ground for a writing competition.
Next day, it’s the morning after read through. First, pass with fresh eyes, it’s OK. Second pass I spot an absolute howler, literally. In a 2:30am last-minute edit, based on feedback that there was a lot of “screaming” I went in with my trusty thesaurus. Finding an easy “scream”, I’ve looked up an alternative, “howl” that’s good! The job’s a goodun, no need to check it, just submit. If I hadn’t been half asleep I might have spotted the ” … terrible howling howl”. That’s right a howling howl, because yeah that’s a thing! Damn, oh well, maybe the judges will think it’s some clever attempt at alliteration, rather than a failure of vocabulary. The chances are it’s not the only howler.
Cover image courtesy of: Joel Filipe