It's my week to host here at Unicorn Bell, so you know what that means: long form crits! Send me up to 1,500 words of anything and I will throw red ink at it. Email unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com!
So far, I have one submission from a YA scifi called OPERATION DAFFODIL:
“The number one rule on the theater of operations,” said the Viper to Tag on his first day in the Holding Hall, “is to avoid getting shot in the torso. Here, here, and here.” He tapped three critical areas on Tag’s netskin suit. “Your job isn’t to show how high-thinking you are. You, boy, are to keep your head firmly on your shoulders and not anywhere else.”
“I am the brain, You and everyone else, even the General of the Army, are my hands. Listen to my words, and you will not go OoC easily.”
And so Tag had, and in his three years serving in VirtuWar, he’d only been out-of-commission once. Such was the nature of the Viper’s advice. The incident that took Tag out hadn’t even involved a connection to one of the three points. Instead, an Asiatic grenade had blasted a boulder at the base, leaving the other half to land on Tag. He had vaporized almost instantaneously, dumped right back in the Holding Hall in his netskin with the Neuroreader hooked to his head displaying his homeostatic functions on the screen. >>Unclear. Blasting a boulder at the base would result in a pile of rubble, I'd expect.
HEART-RATE: 155 bmp.
“The ugliest OoC since VirtuWar’s invention,” fellow private Cavalier told him when the others returned to the Holding. “Can you imagine how you might have looked pre-V? Flat like a pancake, I suppose.”
Vree was unzipping his netskin. He shook free his wavy hair as he lifted the Neuroreader. “A lightyear off, Cav. He’d be a splatter of guts and slivers of bone. Pulverized. A stain in the ground.”
None of them could begin to wrap their heads around the idea of a human being reduced to stain in the ground.
It could be possible, thought Tag, unzipping himself and signing out of the system. There was no cap to the gruesome pre-V. It could be possible.
“Enjoy the time, Tag,” his friend Ran had said, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “We’ll miss you for four months.” >>why's he going to be away for four months?
“Who’s going to watch your back?”
Ran shrugged as if it hadn’t crossed his mind yet. “Cavalier, maybe.”
Tag didn’t mention that Cavalier was no scout. Cavalier was as slick as gunmen came, but he was no back-watcher.
That had been something, going OoC over some fallen boulder. Certainly not something he wanted to repeat.
The Viper had more or less the same thought. Just as Tag was about to step into the rewinder that would erase the last few hours of fighting Asiatic soldiers and deposit him back home, the masked strategist stopped him. >>why would they erase his memory? that makes no sense.
“If I give you A+B=C, boy, then you must learn how to derive A+C.” >>What does this have to do with getting crushed by a boulder? or with Cavalier?
“I’m sorry, sir.”
The painted slits stared at him long and hard. “Go,” the Viper said at last. He pushed the boy into the rewinder tube. “Return a little wiser.”
That had been a year ago. A lot could happen in a year when a war could be won in six months and three thousand people could die in a week. >>if this is a virtual war, why is anybody dying?
Now, Tag crept forward, staying low to the ground. The sun was beaming down on the parched, cracked earth, baking it to a yellow dust that covered the front of his netskin like sulfur. Sweat tickled the nape of his neck, but he dared not to scratch. The Asiatics were like cats. They picked up anything and everything.
In the distance, shots sounded as softly as popping a soda tab.
Tag waited for the shooting to stop. Then he tapped into the Umbilical embedded in his ear.
He had barely finished the thought when Cavalier replied.
Everyone in the pod heard the word. They waited for the green from their co-commanders.
Green? Tag thought to Forbes.
Green, agreed Forbes
Tag tapped into the entire pod. Now.
With the hardest part of the job done by Cavalier’s crew, all Tag’s division had to do was crawl to the top of the hill. Within minutes, Tag heard the rain of Forbes’ fire from the west rim of the valley. By the time his soldiers reached the north rim, all that was needed of them was to neutralize the twenty Asiatic soldiers that remained from a company of fifty-five.
Easy. The elevation made it impossible for the Asiatics to aim as accurately as Tag knew they were capable of.
Lingo, a decent marksman but far from Cavalier’s level, took down the last one, completing the operation in 5 minutes and 1.19 seconds.
After he’d punched the status and outcome of the mission into his wrist band and sent the results back to HQ, Tag approached Digweed, the only one who had suffered a contact point. “You okay?” he asked, sizing up the flashing red nick on the tip of the boy’s ear.
The thick-set boy lifted his visor and spat into the dust. “Yeah.”
“How much horse-power did you lose?”
“5 HP.” He spat again. “Like missing a chunk of ear would slow me down.”
“You’ll regenerate by the next assignment.”
Forbes came over, cradling his visor under his arm. His white blonde hair was sticking up all funny.
He clapped Digweed on the shoulder. “Tag’s right. 5 HP is nothing.”
The rest of the pod, including Cavalier’s soldiers, had received Tag’s notification of END MISSION and were streaming in all along the rim. They had heard Forbes. Forbes had a great voice—strong, confident, and reassuring. Tag’s voice was just normal in on the other side, which meant it translated just normal in the system. >>so did they come because of the notification, or because of Forbes saying 5HP is nothing?
“So what’s on the roll tonight?” asked Forbes when all the boys had convened.
Technically, they were supposed report right back to the Holding Hall, but neither Forbes nor Tag enforced that much, and the others appreciated the short breath of downtime before being hurtled back into the dull mundaneness of reality.
Cavalier moaned. “Don’t remind me. I have study for molecular bio. Did you know I hate—”
“You hate molecular bio as much as you hate girls that give confusing signals,” Vree finished for him dryly. “Sucks for you, Cav. I’ve got myself a date.”
“What’s she like?” Everyone wanted to know. >>LOL. These are boys, right? They want to know if she's hot, not what she's like.
“Witty, sweet, funny.”
“You’re just describing every semi-decent girl in the universe,” grumbled Cavalier. He to Tag. “What about you?” >>Needs a verb.
“Yeah, what about you, Tag?”
He shrugged. “The usual. School. My sister’s school play is tonight.”
That piped Cavalier’s interest. “Is she hot?” >>there you go. "Piped" is the wrong word... piqued?
Tag felt himself choke.
“Man, Cav,” said Ran, shaking his head. “His sister’s ten.”
“Well,” said Forbes, placing his visor back over his head. His blue eyes were crinkled beneath the clear glass. “We should sign out now.” >>These (young, high-adrenaline) guys were killing time in virtual reality, where anything's possible, and all they did was chat a bit? Seems unlikely to me.
“Nice, clean work on the missions today,” added Tag.
The two commanders waited until everyone but themselves and their back-watchers—Vree for Forbes and Ran for Tag—had evaporated to nothing in the air.
As Forbes whistled while readying his sign-out, a glint amid the dust of the valley below caught Tag’s eye.
Strange. “I’ll be out in a minute,” he said slowly.
With a wink, Forbes saluted Tag just as his sign-out passed the system. Both he and Vree broke into tiny particles, as the others had, leaving Ran and Tag on the rim.
“What is it?” Ran asked as he approached Tag’s side.
Without words to explain it, Tag felt uneasy. He knew that Ran felt it, too, from the way his friend pulled out his katana from his Inventory. Ran almost hadn’t made the cut for the 61st Battalion because of the sword. It was a wicked looking thing—three feet of curved steel, black from generations upon generations of use—and Randal Juubei had insisted on carrying it with him into the system. It took a month just for the Council to clear it, and another to program it into the database so that its lacerations translated into loss of HP. >>"lacerations" are the wounds it leaves, not what it does. Also, if they honestly felt uneasy why didn't they call for backup? They're part of a military team, not loners.
Now, Ran swiped his katana through the air, following Tag without further question—because something was off, they could feel it—climbing, skidding, grappling down the sides of the valley. To Tag’s dismay, they kicked up a lot of dust, but as soon as the dust settled the glint became all the more clear. >>Does Ran really want to be holding a drawn katana if it's that tricky to climb down the valley?
When his wristband said that they were 14.21 meters away from the object, Tag saw it for what it was; an Outdated. The tip of an M-16. >>how does one spot the camouflaged end of a muzzle from 45 feet away?
All across the battalions, the Asiatics were well-known for their camouflage skills. “Small tricks,” the Viper had told Tag dismissively, and yet it was these small tricks that made them near equals to the United Provinstate soldiers on the theater of operations. It was these small tricks that made it possible for the Asiat to leap up like a sting-ray from the sea-bed that very moment. Caked, yellow dust fell off his netskin in pieces. It rimmed his eyes and mouth in gold.
Ran was fast to leap in front of Tag, but the Asiat was faster to press the trigger.
Being a world-builder, that's what I will jump on first: what you're showing me doesn't add up. If this is a virtual war, so what if a boulder falls on you? Reboot and hop back in. It also seems like a really pointless way to fight a war, unless what you're fighting over is itself virtual. So a big question already is: why are we doing this?
And if Tag, Ran, etc., are in no actual danger, why should the reader be worried about whether they succeed or not? For that matter, what are they doing? Training? Playing a MMORP? Fighting WWIII?
Second thing I'll jump on is character: I haven't really met Tag yet, by the end of this, partly because you throw a lot of names out there and partly because he's not doing anything distinctive. The narrative voice is generic and bland, too, so Tag is coming across as a non-specific guy. Which is not particularly interesting, I'm afraid.
I get the feeling this is the first chunk of your novel? Tell me right off what's at stake, why it's vitally important, and what the cost of failure is. I need to know why I want Tag to succeed. You don't have to explain the entire universe -- it can be as simple as: we need to secure this position or the main servers will go down and if I get shot I'll be laid up with a head-splitting migraine for weeks. And I'm worried that mom's boyfriend is cheating on her. Or something.