Static is a key player in this scene, though.
So yeah, I reworked that scene wherein Tedis and her dad drive out to investigate an apparent UFO landing site and have unfortunate interactions with both an extraterrestrial THING and a pair of trigger-happy bomber pilots. Various things have changed and I will not bore you by enumerating them; if you’re up for reading a pile of text that you maybe kinda already read… here’s the actual scene for you.
Slightly under 2K words after the jump:
Tedis braced a hand against the truck roof as they careened around a pothole. The land was getting rougher and more irritable as White Ridge leaned forward into the mountains; any moment it would shrug them off entirely. The road squeezed through a wind-carved channel so narrow it would’ve snapped off side mirrors for any less experienced driver, and then tipped them down a steep hairpin turn. Suddenly ahead of them the bottom of the world fell out.
The Gully was sheer-sided and impossibly deep, a gash welling up with shadow across the buzzing white-gold flat. The road tumbled down towards it and finally crowded up against its razor edge, where it was compelled to remain for several hundred dizzying feet until the bridge let it cross over.
Tedis always felt better about this stretch when her father was driving, though it meant she’d be first to know if a tire slipped. Forehead against the glass, she looked down — she could hardly help it. She could see straight to what was generally regarded as the bottom of the Gully. It was deep today. The sullen cloud always roiling down there had sunk especially low overnight, uncovering damp moldy smears of orange and pink on the cliff bases. [this is one of the descriptions I reworked. Landscapes, environments, directions: I don’t have a good handle on them even in the real world, let alone a fictional one.]
The truck turned sharply, tossing a plume of clean silvery dust over the edge, and stopped on the bridge landing. Ghavan leaped out and Tedis followed dutifully.
She cast an uneasy glance at the bridge. Despite the huge bolts that anchored its arm-thick iron cables into the stone, the bridge always seemed frailest from here. From a distance it looked still and straight as a needle; but from here she could see it sag heavy in the middle, could watch it twisting and writhing with every gust of wind, could hear its overborne cables groaning up shivery echoes of echoes of a sickly yellow. And the slivers of wind the cables sliced out of the air were a clashing pink today, which she could almost see flapping and snapping in the air like ribbons. She tugged her coat collar up to her ears.
Ghavan pulled the camera out of its leather case and checked the film compartment.
“You don’t have to come further,” he told Tedis. “If you feel safer in the truck, keep the shotgun and wait here for Andar. Those military planes can’t do anything until he’s got Lillie set up, anyway.”
“That’s it?” Tedis asked. “Dad, you can’t go out there by yourself looking for an extraterrestrial — thing — with nothing but a camera and your heirloom peashooter.” [peashooter. perhaps this word was a bad decision. Are there legumes on this planet? I don’t know!]
“I’ll only be ten minutes. Would you rather I take the shotgun and leave you the ‘peashooter’?”
Tedis chewed her lip and glared over the truck roof at the row of stone pillars in the middle distance. Once she was far enough in, really, not knowing was worse than knowing.
“No, fine,” she said. “I’m going with you.” She ducked through the shotgun strap and signaled her resolve with a tap of fist to chin. Ghavan smiled — only a little; even Tedis barely saw it.
“But — you don’t think a Beast is going to get into the truck or something, while we’re out —”
“Ten minutes, Pyim.” [or some kind of diminuitive, feminine term of endearment. I’ll come up with one.]
Billa’s voice garbled out something from the truck’s radio. It sounded urgent. Ghavan leaned through the truck’s window. “Say again, Billa?” he asked. The radio sizzled gently. He waited a few moments and asked again.
Then, instead of Billa, a voice with a clipped Kaiasfil accent barked a reply.
“This is Kilo-Aerlig-two-six-hundred,” it said. “Hornet Delta-Victor-five-niner has been ordered to vacate airspace [static] radio interference. Who is this? [static] by the bridge landing?” [this is my new [static] strategy, i think.]
“I hear you, two-six-hundred. This is Ghavan Hendrick, callsign Tango-Romeo-Alpha. Yes, I am parked at the bridge landing.”
“Andar [static] fifteen minutes,” said the voice. “We are coordinating [static] visual on the object [lots of static] at that time, Tango-Romeo-Alpha. Do you copy?”
Ghavan and Tedis looked blankly at each other.
“I do not copy, Kilo-Aerlig. Say again?”
“Andar [static] weapon in fifteen minutes. [Emphatic static] on the object prior [static] in your vehicle [static] safe distance at that time. Do you copy?” [Dibs on Emphatic Static as a band name.]
“Do I understand I have fifteen minutes to investigate before returning to my vehicle and coordinating with Andar?”
“Affirmative. [Several seconds of static], Tango-Romeo-Alpha. Over.”
“… Understood, Kilo-Aerlig.” Ghavan frowned. He cycled frequencies, hailing first Billa and then Andar, unsuccessfully.
“Safe distance from what?” Tedis asked.
“Lillie, of course. Got to move the truck out of her range, or when she blows she’ll blow its wiring too. Apparently they think I don’t know that.”
“You set all this up on the telephone an hour ago,” Tedis said. “Right?”
“Yes, but they’re triple-checking. They’re Flatlanders on government payroll.” He patted her shoulder. “Come on. Ten minutes, with five extra; we’ll get what we can and be back before Andar.” [this revision gets Ghavan … a little better. He’s a cover-all-bases, make-a-thorough-plan-and-stick-to-it guy, much more than a let’s-do-something-reckless-and-make-it-up-as-we-go guy – as the previous version of this scene kinda suggested.]
He made for the hill; she hurried after him. [In my revision, I got a better bead on the tech level in this world too: electricity yes, computing no not really. which, according to my husband the electrical engineer, means probably no transistors and therefore no “portable” radios as we’d think of the term. Ghavan’s truck has a radio built into it.]
The pillars were a landmark, visible against the sky from the far side of the Bridge. They stuck up from the hill rather uncomfortably — like ribs from a butchered carcass, Billa often relished pointing out. Tedis thought of them instead as a row of giants standing in file to watch all the coming and going below: this mental image was slightly more palatable. The five huge stones capriciously balanced atop a line of weather-carved stone pedestals would be their heavy misshapen heads, and they looked every moment as though about to topple right off. It was uncomfortable to stand too close.
The walk was less of a walk than a climb; the hill was rough and steep. But with each other’s hands to lean on Tedis and Ghavan managed it quickly. They paused only a moment in the shadow of the largest pillar to catch their breath and bearings, and to glance down at the truck looking tiny as a toy below them. Then they skated quickly down onto the sand pit, getting sand into their boots and not bothering to mind very much because ahead of them lay the crater.
The sandy hollow was almost unrecognizable. The ____[some kind of bush] bushes that dotted it, which should have been buzzing with fresh blooms this time of year, were blasted and black. Black rays of scorched sand fanned out across the sand a hundred feet wide and at the center of the burst, a glossy pit of hot glass crackled out the remnants of some immense heat. The air rippled and shimmered.
And in the bottom of the pit, tipped over in the ash, was Something.
Billa was right; the thing must have once been a rocket, to have survived such a fall and fire. But it looked to Tedis like nothing so much as the vacated cocoon of some colossal insect. It was all cylindrical sections so thin and white they looked like eggshell, its split pieces empty, their smooth hollows gathering blown sand. There wasn’t enough of the thing. It was no more than burst mechanical skin loosely strung together by wiring like entrails. Something had cast it aside and struggled off elsewhere.
This would have been frivolous speculation if not for the tracks. They’d softened somewhat but still looked bright and obvious against the black. They meandered in muddled loops around the crater, then made off towards the crest of the further dune and disappeared.
Tedis realized she had still been treasuring a tiny hope that all of this was a big silly misunderstanding. Now that hope disintegrated like a flake of ash under a breath.
Ghavan raised the camera and clicked the shutter twice.
“So it’s mobile,” he said calmly. “Probably quadruped. Small. That’s good news.”
The wind was full of sounds that demanded Tedis’ attention. She looked eastward, and between the last two pillars she could now see the two tiny criss-cross shapes of large planes streaking their trails of cloud across the sky. And there was Billa’s plane too, dropping low eastward, about to cross in front of the white double-line. Rarely was this sky so full of men and engines — surely that’s all it was.
“Not great news, mind you,” Ghavan clarified. He lifted his sunglasses and squinted at his watch. “This will probably be more challenging than we thought. I want to look over that dune and see where the tracks lead; then we’ll head back to the truck and try the radio again.”
Tedis followed, despite her misgiving. The pillars always keened a little, she reminded herself. The wind in their weird hollows made them sing and buzz sometimes. And the planes, of course, hummed in scarlet. Rhythmic scarlet and yellow. Surely that was just the planes.
The tracks scratched a perfectly straight line over the crest of the sand dune, but then instantly disappeared amongst boulders and ___bush. Tedis watched from the top of the dune while her father poked calmly around the rocky ground, apparently finding nothing. He backed up, took a photo of the end of the trail, then raised the camera along the tracks’ implied line and snapped a photo of the horizon. It was unlikely that anything with feet should manage to make a straight path through the flat, though, so whatever the thing intended, it probably did not actually make it directly to the Gully Narrows.
Billa’s plane probably should not have been over the Narrows either. But it was. Dropping low and heading south as though to do another pass over the crater; certainly nothing that could be considered ‘vacating airspace’.
“Tedis, look,” Ghavan said.
“Yes, what is Billa doing?” she said, shading her eyes and squinting. “They told him to get out of the way, didn’t they? He’s really not.”
The sharp edge of her father’s voice cut her attention immediately from the sky. She looked around, and froze.
Something was lumbering clumsily through the boulders. Something large as a Beast, that seemed all backwards knees and headless shoulders and long insect-like legs pumping relentlessly up and down to that buzzing scarlet and yellow rhythm that now droned loud as a storm siren. Though it had nothing resembling a head or face, Tedis felt certain the Thing was looking at Ghavan. It was coming right towards him. [We are all in agreement that Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog, while impressive, is absolutely terrifying, right? This is like that probably.]
Tedis’ voice caught in her throat. Her brain dropped into her stomach, taking her heart out along the way. Panic rang in her ears.
Whereas Ghavan stood still, raised the camera, and clicked the shutter.
The click of a shutter and whirr of a film advance should not have been so horribly, shatteringly yellow-loud. The Thing stopped at the sound, and with a rasping growl it crouched amid its folded legs like a spider about to strike.
Ghavan took a step backward. The thing immediately unfolded, rose smoothly to Ghavan’s eye level, and charged at him.
Tedis’ body reacted before her mind did. She lifted the shotgun she’d forgotten she was holding. No chance whatsoever of aiming well, but if the thing could hear a camera shutter, it should certainly hear this. Gripping as hard as her suddenly weak and sweaty hands could, she pumped the gun and fired into the air.
The blast reached her strangely muffled, as though her ears were stuffed with wool. But the Thing heard it clearly enough. It dropped into a crouch again. A couple of articulated knobs on its lumpy back swiveled and twitched in her direction. Then it pivoted, stood, and came straight for her.
She turned and ran.