|*weeps into cell culture except not literally because biohazard*|
Thank you all for your patience and superb entries! We continue to be super happy that you lovely internet people submit to our crazy little contest week after week. YOU'RE AWESOME!
Without further ado, BEHOLD THE WINNERS!
Sara Codair's The Final
Mars: This piece pretty much sums up all group projects (I hate them so much), and I was right there, sharing Gretchen's irritation with her teammates. The world building was interesting, but felt a little shaky, and the thing that shook my suspension of disbelief the most was that she turned her teammates into chihuahuas (because Chihuahua is a breed of dog with origins specific to a country on Earth; if this is an Earth AU, that's fine, but it doesn't seem to be thoroughly established as such). I do, however, like the idea of mathematical-based magic; I can only assume it operates on the theory that everything in the universe can be quantified? (It's cool either way.)
Si: *screams internally as she reads the story and relives memories of college* Man, DO I sympathize with Gretchen! You've captured the maddening chaos of group work with other human beings perfectly here, down to the idiotic, pointless little tussles that ruin a perfectly good project. Why yes, I have FEELINGS about group work >.>. The description of Gretchen's rage is excellent. I enjoyed the line "Equations danced across her eyelids; she solved them effortlessly. " the most, great image! I think the story would flow a bit more smoothly without "but Ricardo and Jack broke up last night and Felecia was still trying to seduce Pi.", as I think their situations are shown very clearly in the following paragraph. Amusing and satisfying ending. Well done!
Sue Denim's Along the Briny Beach
Mars: The image that first comes to mind upon reading these thirteen (+ four (title)) words is a whole bunch of bodies lying on the sand, eyes open, lips blue, skin bloating, and clothing cracked with salt and sand. It's a very poignant and evocative handful of words here, though I would have liked a little more context on how these people died. That said, I do like the shortness of the piece, and if it were too much longer, the punch would be lost. I like the little alteration in the punctuation of the prompt--this entire piece goes to show that a little can go a long way.
Si: This single-line story works very well for me. I can feel regret, decisions made wrongly, a path chosen that leads to doom. Too often these sorts of single-line stories can feel overdone or unemotional, since we know almost nothing about the situation, but I feel here we have a great poignant hint at a much larger story. It appeals to me because of the twin emotions of regret--they could have turned back--and tragedy--by not turning back, they have lost everything. Intriguing, great job pulling that off!
"What should we tell Earth?" Dr. Markova asked.This has to be my favorite set of lines in this piece; it captures how futile and hopeless the journey of A Shot In the Dark is. (It took me a while to realize why they set a collision course. I'm not sure why they didn't try to slingshot back home, though.) Initially, I was very confused by the three-part structure here; the breaks made me think each part was at a different time and place. The piece would have felt more cohesive to me in a linear pattern; it would have given it a more cohesive feel. Either way, the despondent tone rings clearly throughout the piece.
Si: I LOVED this piece! What an intriguing idea--a desperate, burn-the-ships research crew following a forlorn, faint hope to save Earth's humanity in the form of the Signal, only to find at the last minute that the Signal doesn't mean hope, but instead is a harbinger of the doom they are trying to prevent. The way the worldbuilding info is slipped in worked for me--we get a taste of the situation to pull us in, then an interesting backstory that makes it more interesting, and finally ending with the twist and conclusion. You hold back just enough cards in each section of the story to keep the readers reading, and it's not easy to do that so well done! I wonder how Earth is holding up and what might happen once Earth realizes there's no signal coming back--no successful rescue. Excellent job!
It was too late to turn back -- for all of them. Three weary explorers stared out the porthole as the spacecraft *A Shot in the Dark* hurtled toward Comet 266P/Christensen.
"Collision course set," announced Michelson as the main rocket engine died. "That's the last of our fuel."
Dr. Grigori stared out at the stars.
"What should we tell Earth?" Dr. Markova asked.
Michelson shrugged. A world now plagued by climate shifts, mass extinction, and natural disasters too numerous to list needed hope, not more bad news.
It had started decades prior. A mysterious radio signal from the stars. "Wow!" writ large in the margin by a grad student. Astronomers worldwide tuned to 1420 MHz, but heard only silence. For decades they wondered: was the Signal merely radio noise, or the first evidence humankind is not alone?
The mystery deepened: the Signal returned, and Comet 266P/Christensen was pinpointed as its source, but against expectations, the Signal showed hints of advanced intelligence. So billions of dollars in venture capital funded *A Shot in the Dark* -- a one-way mission of discovery. Investors dreamed of alien technologies to save the world and pad their bank accounts. If successful, the crew would be hailed (whenever future investments could fund a rescue mission) as heroes by a world desperate for hope.
But just before arrival, Dr. Grigori made a horrifying discovery. "The Signal is not from the Comet; the comet's halo merely reflects and amplifies it."
"From where?" Michelson asked.
"Are you familiar with the Gaia Hypothesis?" asked Markova. "That Earth is essentially a single, unified organism?"
"Decades of pollution," muttered Grigori. "Neglect. Abuse."
Markova looked grim as the Signal played over the speakers. "This Signal," she explained, "is the death rattle of Planet Earth."