Sci-fi

Schema

July 16, 2019
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Average Rating: 3.2
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The hand painted sheet metal sign says “Schema”. I push open the faded white door and hear the ring of a bell. I step into the dimly lit doorway, hoping to escape the oppressive afternoon heat. A wave of cool air rushes upon me and I feel immediately relieved. Desperately in need of a drink I look towards the bar. I blink. I blink again. Something is off but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Maybe I’m just a bit tired, maybe it’s the heat. Everything will be fine once I get a drink and relax. I step up to the bar and not so much sit, as fall onto the emerald green stool. "Greetings, traveler!" the bartender says. "You're our first Earthling since, eh, that Jesus guy!" I laugh. Not like a great joke belly laugh but the kind of laugh you make when you didn’t quite understand what was said but knew that the speaker was trying to be humorous. “What can I get you?” He says. “We have a fine assortment of…” I stop listening to his words, his voice is… different. I can understand him fine, but the noise that comes out when he speaks isn’t talking. Maybe I’m not saying that right. When I talk I am expelling air past my vocal cords and producing sounds that I can attenuate and modify using my mouth, tongue and lips. That is not what is happening here. The noise that comes out of the bartender’s mouth is not that. It’s tinny, and flat. Maybe it sounds like a speaker from an old drive-in movie. You know, the old one that you would take off of a pole and hang on your car window. I can clearly see his mouth move as he goes through his list of potables. My senses suddenly sharpen, I begin to really focus on the bartender. Everything is wrong. Not like he has three heads wrong, just a little wrong, just slightly off. The way his face moves as he speaks, the way his face shows emotion, but not the right emotion. The way every single hair on his head and face seems to be locked into place. I realize that he, it, has stopped speaking. Now he, it, is just staring at me, or through me. I playback my arrival here through my head. I speak.

“You said first Earthling… uh… something. What did you mean by that?”

“It has been approximately 2000 years since the last Earthling visited this establishment sir.”

This time I actually laugh. The bartender cocks his head and looks at me, I would say quizzically, but again, the emotion is not quite right. It’s too weird. I stand up and begin to turn and make my way back towards the door. That is when I notice the other patrons. When I had stepped through the door into the dark interior my eyes had not immediately been able to discern that there were others here. I had heard conversations but could not make out who, or, as I now realized, what, was speaking. Now that my eyes were adjusted I could see quite clearly. The interior of the establishment was large. Much larger than the exterior gave a hint at. The bar was on the right inside the entrance, the left side was empty, save for an old style cigarette vending machine, the type with the pull knobs. Continuing past the bar and vending machine were diner style booths. Hundreds of them, as far back as I could see. Each booth was occupied. Not a single recognizable being, save the bartender, was seated at any booth. There were green skinned beings with 3 arms and translucent beings that seemed to have no appendages whatsoever. There were multi-tentacled beasts of every size. Remember the movie Men In Black? Remember when Will Smith’s character walks into the MIB HQ for the first time? It was a whole lot like that. I slowly started to back towards the door. I tripped over my own feet and promptly fell to the floor. At this point virtually every conversation stopped. I would say all eyes were upon me, but I am not sure that all these beings possessed the requisite eyes to make that statement true. The bartender made his way around the bar and offered me a hand. “Sir, are you okay?” he said. It was then that I noticed he had no legs. His torso continued down from his waist area and then abruptly ended. He was supported by a harness type assembly suspending him between two motorized wheels. I was not at all sure that I wanted to touch the proffered appendage and I slowly began to scoot backwards across the floor on my butt. The bartender speaks again “Sir, is there a problem?”

“Just get away from me… don’t touch me…” I managed to blurt out. I was scared. It wasn’t the same fear as, say, being mugged. I have been mugged, twice actually. Kind of an initiation into living in the city. This fear was not that fear. This was deep down in my gut, existential fear. I was in full flight mode. I’ve never been a fighter, I couldn’t fight my way out of a proverbial wet paper bag. Running away was my first and, really, only instinct. I had to get out of there. I finally managed to get my feet back under me and I stood up. I was still facing the bartending… thing? He, it, spoke again, “Sir, please calm down, you are agitating the other patrons. Come back to the bar and have a drink. We pour only the finest spirits available in the multi-verse. I am sure we have something to suit your tastes.”

I barely let him finish his sentence. I turn and break towards the door. I reach out to push the door open and immediately crash into it. It has a rather obvious sign stating “Pull to Open”, but in a fit of poor design there is a handle that clearly looks like it should be pushed. My mind is still shocked and reeling. I can’t decide now if I am angry for poor door design or scared of what I know lurks behind me. I grab the handle and pull. Nothing happens. Nothing. The door does not budge even the slightest bit. “Sir” The voice behind me says “You know you cannot access Class Beta or higher realms without swiping your access badge.” I pull the door again, harder. I put all of my strength into the gesture. Still nothing. I feel a pressure on my shoulder and see the bartender’s hand. He effortlessly turns me towards him, “Class Beta and higher realms require you to swipe your access badge.” He is gesturing to a grey plastic square with a small, blue, glowing light in the bottom right corner. It’s too much. I feel a tingling starting in my legs. A lightness in my head starts to dim my vision.

I scream and sit up. I’m in a bed, my bed? Was it a dream? No. No. it’s a bed, but it’s definitely not mine. I look around the room I am in, it’s very dark but I can make out the white walls and some assorted furniture, and a figure seated in front of me. I stammer, “hu…heeello…?” The lights snap on as the first sound escapes my mouth. The room is very ornately decorated. Straight out of some Victorian Era mansion. Rich dark wood, plush red velvet, and gold piping adorn virtually everything. There is a man sitting in the middle of the room. It would probably sound better or be more believable if I told you he was in a suit and had an official air about him. None of that is true though. He is wearing a tan bathrobe, a white V-neck t-shirt. Green plaid boxers and leather sandals. I know this guy, but I can’t place him. I know I have seen him before, my mind is running through all of my friends, and friends of friends, how do I know this man? It hits me. It’s The Dude. Uhh… 90’s movie character, The Big Sadowski, or Lebronski, or something like that. “Greetings sir, you had a bit of an accident out there. Rest assured though sir, you are fine now. All of our tests show that you have no lingering medical effects. We did find a small tumor developing in your pancreas. Much too small for your doctors to have seen. It has been taken care of and you have been inoculated against other cancerous diseases.” It all comes rushing back to me. The weird bar, the wheeled bartender, the things occupying the booths. All of it rushes back in and I am suddenly scared again. I try to jump up and bolt again but I can’t. “I wouldn’t try that sir, we had to place a temporary limiter on your high level motor functions to keep you safe. Continued efforts to run away will result in the loss of further functioning.” I try again and immediately fall limply back to the bed. I try to yell, maybe a yell for help, or just a yell of frustration. Either way, no sound escapes my lips. “Please sir, just relax. You are in absolutely no danger here. We have only taken these measures to prevent you from injuring yourself. As soon as we trust that you are able to control yourself in a rational manner we will release the limiter and you will be free to move as you please.” The Dude continued speaking. “It seems we have a bit of an issue. YOU are not supposed to be here. Now, I know that that is probably fairly obvious to you, but we have systems in place specifically to prevent unauthorized access. I am going to relax the limiter now and allow you to speak. I am going to ask you a few questions and then we can decide what course of action we need to take from there. Does that sound okay to you? You may speak now.”

“Yeah. I guess.” I managed to croak out. It’s not like I had a bunch of other options.

“Good.” Said The Dude.

Except it wasn’t really The Dude. It looked like him, to a tee, but his mannerisms and voice were not right. I was not familiar enough to know exactly what he should act or sound like, but I knew enough to know that this wasn’t it.

He continued, “Go ahead and sit up. There is a pitcher of water and a glass on the table directly to your left. I am going to trust that you can take a drink without attempting anything that will require further limiting.”

I sat up and looked at the man again. It wasn’t The Dude. Now it was Doc Brown. I was confused, I could feel the fear creeping back in. My face must have shown it.

The man spoke again. “I am attempting to present to you an image that will calm you. If this will not do, please let me know and I will attempt to adjust as necessary.”

“What is going on here? Where am i? Who are you?” I asked these questions in a very aggressive tone. I was confused and scared, but more than that, I was now getting angry. I was being held in an unfamiliar place, with a man that wasn’t and I was beginning to want, no, I was beginning to need answers. The anger was beginning to override the fear and confusion.

“Those are all very good questions and I promise that they will all be answered. First though, I would like to ask you a few questions.” Said the Doc Brown man.

“Why would I answer any of your questions?” I said. “I am being held against my will. I have no idea where I am, and I am fairly certain that I, moments ago, saw some things that were not of this Earth.”

“Those are all fair points, and I want to address them. I, or should I say we…” At this point he gestured around the room’s ceiling. I glanced up and around and noticed that the top of the room appeared to be some sort of hologram. I could not see anything beyond the representation of the room, but I could tell that it was just that, a representation, not an actual continuation of walls or a ceiling. I also, suddenly, felt that I was being watched. “…are most interested in how you came to be here. We would be happy to share as much information as you care to know. But first, we need to know how you came to be here. We, first and foremost, must ensure the security of Schema. That is why we have placed the limiter on you, though it pains us greatly to do so. We know that you do not belong here, and we know that you are not a hostile agent. We know these things and yet we are still perplexed. A human has not set foot in this place in more than 2000 years. Getting here is no easy task, and yet here you are. So, please, we just need to know how you got here. After that, we will answer anything you care to ask.”

“This doesn’t make any sense.” I replied, fear starting to bubble up again. “You know how I got here. I walked in the front door.”

“That can’t be sir.” The Doc Brown man said. “The “front door” as you so casually called it, is a dimensional gate. It is not even supposed to be visible unless you have an access card and even then, on this planet, it must be a Beta level card or higher.”

“Wait.” I interrupted. “I’ve heard that before. Beta level access card. What is that? I have no idea what that is or what you are talking about. Dimensional gates, access cards, you are not making any sense to me. I was walking down the street, I was thirsty, I looked across the street and saw the sign and the door and I walked in. That’s it. I didn’t wave a badge or a card or even see any sort of security gate. I was thirsty, I saw a pub, I walked in.”

“Again sir, that is just not possible.” The Doc Brown man said. It sounded like a bit of fear had crept into his voice. “We have security measures in place. They appear to still be in place. This area, this “pub” as you called it is a highly restricted dimensional nexus. If it is not secure this dimension as well as any dimension with a direct connection to this one, could be at risk of destruction.”

“Look, I cannot tell you anything else. Street, thirsty, pub. That is it. I don’t know what a dimensional nexus is. I don’t know anything about your security. I’m just a public paratransit supervisor. I have no Beta level access, I have nothing but a few bucks in my pocket and a bus pass to get back and forth to work.”

The Doc Brown man looked at me thoughtfully. He drew a breath and was about to speak when the door opened. A young man walked in and approached the Doc Brown man. As he drew near I began to notice the same things I first noticed on the bartender from earlier. A, not emotionless, but wrongly emotioned face, a tinny voice, this time speaking a language that I did not understand. The Doc Brown man’s face suddenly shifted. Something the younger man had said surprised the Doc Brown man. He glanced at me and spoke back to the younger man thing. The younger one quickly turned and exited the room. “Well sir. It appears that we have solved one mystery and opened up yet another. Can I ask, what is your birthdate?”

“July 10th, Nineteen Sixty-two.” I replied. “Why?”

“And, what was the location of your birth?” He asked.

“I was born in a tiny little town called Burns, Oregon. Again,” I asked, “Why?”

He smiled and laughed excitedly, as if I had just told him that he had won the lottery.

“You, sir, are the first of your kind. Quite frankly, I am surprised that you have not come across one of the gates earlier. On the day you were born, in Burns Oregon, a dimensional nexus was opened at exactly 1:00:09 AM, also in Burns, Oregon. This was a new nexus and it was intended to bridge this dimension with two other, theretofore, unconnected dimensions. As you may or may not know, an orbital nuclear device codenamed “Starfish Prime” was set off that night, at exactly that time. We were, surprisingly, unaware of this test and it created an unfortunate side effect. Fifty-Six pounds of biomass of unknown composition were ejected from one or the other of the two new dimensions and ended up, here, in this dimension, in Southeastern Oregon. We were able to abort the opening but not before this biomass had made its way into our dimension. We were able to track, what we thought was all of it. It was rounded up and studied and then destroyed. Apparently though we did not get all of it. At least enough made it’s way to where you were being born and managed to infect you. We do not believe it was enough to classify you as a different species, or even to set off warning alarms. Just enough of the biomass contaminated your newly born body to alter your perceptions and allow you to see dimensional gates and nexi. Again, we are quite surprised that you have not seen or entered one of these gates already. There are a dozen or so here on Earth and you had to have noticed them, and with your altered DNA profile access to any of these gates would have been as simple as you said. You could have walked up and opened any of those twelve doors at any time.”

I laughed. “That might be the craziest shit I have heard in my life, and I have family that watches Fox News. So, I am to believe that I am some extra dimensional oddity. That I can not only see things that no other human can, but that I also have unfettered access to these dimensional gates?”

“That is the precise and simple truth sir.” He replied.

“Okay.” I said. “If that’s all true, what am I supposed to do now?”


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I'm interested, but some repetition, and I need to understand the protagonist better.
naricorn rated this work:

July 22, 2019, 3:36 p.m.

I read this the day after you posted it but never finished my review, sorry! Anyway, interesting story. I think the first paragraph is way too huge a chunk of text for my taste. I don't know if that was intentional, but it may be turning away new readers. Not that I know your analytics' bounce rate, but just a guess.

*The first paragraph, while I'm at it, can be significantly cut. The descriptions are evocative (who doesn't know the feeling of walking into a cool room from the heat outside?) but not entirely necessary, especially because they slow down our progress to the point. Where is the narrator coming from? What's the narrator trying to do? It could be fine that he doesn't know, but the POV follows his inner thoughts pretty closely, and I have a hard time believing that he just doesn't think about his situation. (I don't think I'm explaining this very well. Basically what I'm trying to say is he should either know what he's doing, think he knows what he's doing, or question why he doesn't know what he's doing.)

*I liked the "Not like a great joke belly laugh..." part because it showed the protagonist's voice in the way he explains things. However, you start veering a bit when you make all those comparisons and clarifications that it begins to feel like rambling.

*There! You say "play back my arrival here." Actually play it back for us, or maybe we can see it before he gets to the bar.

*This got weird really quickly, which I'm not opposed to! I do wonder if it would work better and be more suspenseful with more hints that things were wrong, so it wouldn't be so completely out of the blue.

*Yeah, I'm seeing it more and more as I re-read. The narrator makes a statement like "I was scared." Then he clarifies that statement by contrasting with another, like "wasn't the same fear." Then he drives home the point that they're not the same, like "this fear was not that fear." It can get repetitive.

*I also want to know exactly *what* the protagonist finds weird about the situation. Obviously, a lot of it would be upsetting to me. To my knowledge I don't know that we're in contact with aliens. Does he? Is the weirdness factor just their grotesque appearances?

*Laughed at the "in a fit of poor design there is a handle." Nice work, finding humor in the ordinary things.

*Maybe there should be a section break after he knocks out.

*Again with the contrasting to set something up. I'd prefer you just give it to us straight. I'm referring to the "None of that is true though" part when you describe the man. You could just play up how out of place he looks against the decor, which already sets that tone.

*"I asked these questions in a very aggressive tone" "I was confused and scared" "I was now getting angry" - these don't really do anything to help me identify with and feel for the character. Try describing his actions as a result of those emotions or how he feels because of them.

*Okay, here I see he was walking down the street and saw a sign. We should know this much earlier. Where was he heading? Was he on his way to something? Who is the narrator? How old is the narrator? Has he not once felt like something was wrong with him?

Interesting premise! I'm excited to read more.

Cliches Show Don't Tell Originality Passive Character Character Motivation

Comment Rating: 5.0

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xwingblue:

Thank you for the feedback. This is the first thing I have written since high school, 30 years ago. It was more an experiment to see if I still had any creativity in me. I may do some editing based on your suggestions and some other things that I felt were not quite right after a few readings. Thank you again, have a wonderful day.

so many possibilities
van rated this work:

Aug. 4, 2019, 2:52 p.m.

Super interested in the concept. The idea that any bar, coffee shop, hell, even public bathroom, could be a portal to another dimension/world has a lot of possibilities. I'm not sure if this is the whole piece or just the start of a greater story, but if it's just the start, it'd be cool to see where you take this world. I hope you don't mind some suggestions while I'm following the spirit of a workshopping site...
First off, I suggest working on grammar before anything else. You need to break the first paragraph more, especially when someone new begins talking. You do a good job of this in the later part of the story.
Also watch out for tense consistency. For example: "the kind of laugh you make when you didn't quite understand what was said but knew that the speaker was trying to be humourous." Your story is in present tense, so I suggest changing "didn't" to "don't" and "knew" to "know." Also "it would probably sound better or be more believable if I told you he was in a suit and had an official air about him." Change "was" to "is." These are just some examples.
The last major grammar error I noticed were comma splices and missing commas. Once you fix the grammar of the piece, the story will read much more smoothly and professionally, and your unique perspective and voice will really start to shine.

Ok, grammar's kind of boring (but super important I know), so more fun stuff to focus on (in my opinion, anyway!) is adding more detail to description. For example, I'd like more detail when the protagonist describes how the bartender feels "off." Less telling, more showing. Instead of telling the reader his face moves in an odd way and doesn't show the right emotion, describe if he blink too often, or not enough. Or does his smile not reach his eyes? Is every feature of his face rigidly still, even when he talks? Does he look more like a doll? Those kinds of observations. I was a little confused on what you meant by "off," so maybe describing it more will present a more engrossing image. I really liked the "not like he has three heads wrong" description. I liked most of your descriptions, actually, including the part where you describe the bartender's voice to a speaker in an old drive-in movie.
Also, I think you should set up the scene earlier. Who's the protagonist? What does he want? Until he freaked out, I thought he knew he was in an alien establishment, like he was a space explorer or something. Why does he go into the bar in the first place? I know you answer this eventually, but earlier would let the reader care and get invested in the protagonist more.
I like your voice. It's strong and confident. You know what you want to say and you do, which is awesome.
Also I LOVED that, out of every calming figure out there, the alien chooses The Dude and Doc Brown. Amazing.
I also like how polite the aliens are.
I think it'd be really interesting if you started off this story showing the event that the Doc Brown alien described to the protagonist, where the dimensional nexus openeid in Burns Oregon and the biomass went to our world. It would help visualize that big chunk of information the alien gives. Also would add some suspense to the initial bar scene.

Plot Voice Show Don't Tell Grammar

Comment Rating: 5.0

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Interesting concept, needs a little work
beco99 rated this work:

July 27, 2019, 5:20 a.m.

What a cool concept. I like the limbo/purgatory style of the nexus that the protagonist enters, and it makes sense that he would be so bewildered by it all. You have nice descriptions and it's easy to visualise the place. I'm a little unsure of who the protagonist is though. We don't really know anything about him. He's just a guy who needed a drink, so maybe we could build a bit more of a picture of him too.

I think you need to break up that first paragraph into smaller ones. It'll be easier to read and follow. Each time someone different speaks there should be a new paragraph, even if it's only one line. You do it later in the piece, so it'd be good to do the same with some of the longer paragraphs.

Another thing that I noticed was that you change between present and past tense in your descriptions. At the beginning you are using all present tense -'I push, I feel, I blink' but then you start mixing both past and present in the second long paragraph, then it's all past in the next, and then you go back to present again. I would say it's also easier to follow if you maintain consistency and pick one. I'd have it all in the past, but that's just me:)

This excerpt has a few issues in it with the past perfect tense (had done sth) - 'When I had stepped through the door into the dark interior my eyes had not immediately been able to discern that there were others here. I had heard conversations but could not make out who, or, as I now realized, what, was speaking. Now that my eyes were adjusted I could see quite clearly.' It sounds better as 'After I had stepped/When I stepped... ...my eyes weren't immediately able to... ... I heard conversations... ... Now that my eyes had adjusted...' The past perfect helps us realise which action was first when there are multiple past actions. It's not always necessary if the chronology is clear, but when it's used in the wrong place, it kind of confuses things a little.

I quite like the pop-culture references you use in this piece - ' a speaker from an old drive-in movie, The dude, and Doc Brown' were nice additions, as the aliens or whatever they are were trying to create an image that would make him comfortable, but the reference to the scene from Men in Black seems a little lazy. You should just describe the scene rather than quoting or copying from another story.

There are quite a lot of bits and pieces that can be cut or edited down to make the writing more concise - 'I feel a tingling starting in my legs' - my legs tingled. 'Much larger than the exterior gave a hint at.' - ...the exterior hinted. 'I asked these questions in a very aggressive tone.' - I asked aggressively.

A few other sentences can probably be cut altogether - 'Kind of an initiation into living in the city.' and even the sentence before about how he's been mugged is unnecessary.I think you express the definition of fear well before it. These following sentence seems more related to his life in the real world, not this nexus of space time he finds himself in now.

There is a little repetition with the descriptions of patrons, bartender, Doctor as 'he, it' 'Doc Brown man' 'man thing' which is a little jarring.

Make sure to double check for missing commas or superfluous ones - 'Those are all very good questions and I promise that they will all be answered.' - and or but need a comma before them if they are followed by a subject - ..., and I promised... If the subject of the second part is the same as the first, both the subject and comma can be omitted. - 'He drew a breath and was about to speak...' is good but if you changed it to 'he drew... , and he was...' it needs the comma.

'A, not emotionless, but wrongly emotioned face, a tinny voice, this time speaking a language that I did not understand.' This sentence is not a sentence as there is no verb. They are two subjects/objects. Better is 'I saw... ...a face, and I heard... ...a voice. You can make these noun phrases into objects and give them a subject and a verb.

Overall I did enjoy the piece and I'm very curious to know if the protagonist has any other abilities that come with being infected by that strange biomass and how that will lead to him having some potential future adventures. I'd like to know more about the main character in general but I'm very interested to see where this story goes. Good job!

Diction Grammar Sentence Structure Concision

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