Every so often I have a piece of short fiction that I believe is worth sharing with the public, but which doesn’t find a home with a publisher. I will on occasion publish one of these pieces here, accompanied by a conversation on what I like about the piece and what I think its weaknesses are. You are welcome to join in the conversation in the comments section.
by Kyle Aisteach
“I’m moving behind Titan. Hopefully I can– Nope. I’m hit. Primary drive system down. Secondary… Secondary failing, too.” // feedback // “And I’m in the gravity well. Search and Rescue, this is Bravo bomber B-15102, Colonel Irene Cross, callsign Vulture, requesting recovery.”
“You still have your Tango escort, Vulture?”
“Negative, Scar. Lost the last one about five minutes ago. Search and Rescue, please respond. Situation urgent. Repeating. This is Bravo bomber B-15102, Colonel Irene Cross, callsign Vulture, requesting recovery at Titan, urgent. Estimating 3 minutes to burnup.”
“Vulture, punch out.”
“Bravo bomber B-15102, to Search and Rescue, please respond. Search and Rescue, please respond.”
“Negative, Scar. I’m in the gravity well. I’m hitting this moon with or without the bird.”
“Hang on, Vulture, I can be there in two.”
“Negative, Scar, proceed on course.”
“Colonel, that’s not a survivable crash.”
“Proceed on course, Scar. That’s an order.”
“I can be back on target in five minutes.”
“Earth may not have that long. Billions of people. I’m one woman and you’re flying the last operational bomber. You have to take out that weapons platform. Confirm!”
// garbled //
“Scar, confirm! Confirm!”
“Confirmed. Proceeding on course. Good luck, Colonel.”
“Search and rescue, situation critical, please respond. Scar, do you still have your Tango escort?”
“No. Hellcat had to punch out.”
“Well, then, nail that base for all of us.”
“Look, Scar, I know I’ve been hard on you, but it’s because you’re a damn good pilot, and when you focus you can do amazing things. So just relax, slip in there, and hit them before they see you coming. Skin temperature rising. I’m in the atmosphere.”
// silence //
“Bravo bomber B-15102, to Search and Rescue, trajectory equatorial. Please respond.”
// silence //
“Just keep talking, Vulture.”
“Not much to talk about, Scar. Just burning up here.”
“Tell me. Why ‘Vulture’?”
“Needed a callsign. Didn’t believe in leaving anything behind.”
“Vulture, I have– What the hell is it? It’s huge!”
“Just relax, Scar. You’re a small bird, and they’re looking toward Earth. Skin temperature sensors failing.”
“It’ll be O.K., Vulture. Once you’re– Wait– Three contacts. Five. Fifteen. Multiple– Ahead– Behind– Jesus! Those things are fast!”
“Scar, take the shot when you’ve got it!”
“This is Scar, Bravo bomber B-69138, to any surviving Tango fighter. Under heavy fire. Close proximity to primary target, approach 9-1. I could use some help, kids! Whoa! This bird wasn’t build for this! Are you there, Colonel? Hang on! This is Scar under–”
// silence //
// silence //
“Search and Rescue, this is Bravo bomber B-15102. Colonel Irene Cross. Serial number 1ST421D. Going down.”
Copyright ©2011 by Kyle Aisteach.
All rights reserved.
This story had its first incarnation in 1994 as a short scene written for a directing class I was taking in college. At that point it was staged with a woman sitting in a chair on a bare stage, illuminated only with a pinspot on her face. The other actor was an offstage voice. I subsequently adapted it to be a fully-animated scene for a class on writing for animation, but somehow I felt that it lost its impact when the audience was able to see what was going on.
I came back to it in December of last year, after reading an exhortation to authors of prose fiction to avoid “voices in the dark” — the phenomenon where there is dialogue exchanged with too little description of the scene and the action, leaving audience unable to picture what is going on. I’ve always been fond of deliberately breaking the rules. Now, I don’t do so for the sake of breaking rules. Rather, I believe we must know why rules exist and what affect is created by breaking them. In this case, I WANTED that “voices in the dark” effect, to give the reader the impression that they’re hearing echoes of voice-only communication from a battle that is long-since lost. To that end, I believe I was successful (though you are, of course, free to disagree).
This story, however, has several things working against it. First and foremost is, obviously, my decision to break the “voices in the dark” rule. I complicate that by not attributing the dialogue, forcing the reader to slow down and think about who is speaking (and often having their assumptions proven wrong). Again, I very much like this effect for this particular story, but it’s one that really irritates some readers.
Also, this story is SHORT — too short even for many of the publications that specialize in flash fiction. Most of the places that would ordinarily have gone for something like this simply wouldn’t consider it because it fell below their minimum word count.
Another problem the story has is that different readers respond to the deliberately withheld information differently. I had several people when I workshopped it tell me that they expected a twist ending (such as a reveal that the pilots weren’t human) and were disappointed when there wasn’t one.
The lack of surface plot and the fragmentary nature of the tale is also off-putting to people who don’t read a lot of flash fiction or who don’t swim in the literary-experimental waters frequently.
Ultimately, fixing any of these “problems” would have fundamentally changed what I was trying to do, and so I opted instead to leave well enough alone, even though the result is an unsold story. But, here it is, free of charge, for you to enjoy (or not). Let me know what you think!