The Suit is powerfull. A mech for some, body armor for others, always unique to each person who wore it. Those who wear it, hear the words “not original user, booting basic mode” As a joke, your sergeant gives you The Suit and the first thing you hear is: “User detected: Welcome back, Commander”
Carol had won the envy of the entire base by receiving the job of cleaning the Suit between uses. She would proudly enter the bunker with her soft cloths and polish, and tenderly buff away every scuff of dirt that marred the paint. Every single time, she held her breath with the anxiety that the Suit had been scratched, and she was relieved when her love revealed that it had magically held its integrity through every bombardment. No one knew where it had come from, but it had become the pride and joy of the military, and she was its sacred Keeper. She often joked that the Suit took up so much of her time and attention, she didn’t have any affection left to share with another human being.
The master sergeant was considered to be the best pilot, which earned him more missions in the Suit than anyone else. However, unbeknownst to any of the higher ups, the cumulative effect was beginning to degrade his psychological resilience, and he was growing resentful of anyone else who touched what he was increasingly beginning to consider his own. Every time he donned the Suit, he thought about defying commands and never returning to base, certain that no one would be able to stop him if he turned renegade. Only the uncertainty of running from the military with no objective to follow kept him obedient, and his ache was a dark secret.
Brooding, he hung around to watch Carol work on his beloved Suit, and his heart stung with jealousy when he saw how tenderly she touched the metal. When she opened it up to wipe down the leather interior, he couldn’t stand it anymore; it was worse than walking in on a spouse in the thralls of another lover. He clapped his hand on her shoulder, roughly squeezed down, and growled, “You ever worn it?”
“No.” Carol winced and looked away, not daring to try to free herself. Something in his eyes didn’t look right, and she decided that it would be best to slip away as quick as she could before reporting him.
He lowered his mouth down next to her ear, and whispered with his lips brushing her skin, “Try it.”
“I’m not authorized,” she replied, tilting her head away. She scanned the bunker for anyone else to call out to, but it was lunchtime and the place was empty.
“Do you mean to tell me that you can repeatedly strip the Suit bare, and not feel the impulse to climb inside? Go on and try it, I won’t tattle.” His other hand seized her upper arm, his fingertips digging in deeply enough to leave bruises. He pushed her forward, banging her head against the interior.
“Here, I’ll even tell you what to expect,” he said, turning her around and holding her in position with his forearm, as he kicked her legs to get her to step inside. “Don’t worry when you hear the words, ‘User unknown: booting safe mode’, because it does that for everyone. Then it will squeeze tight for a moment before it releases like a breath of air, and you’ll feel like you aren’t wearing anything at all. Operating it is intuitive, so you’ll get the hang of it.”
He had completely lost his mind, Carol thought as she met his eyes. She was certain that he wouldn’t actually try to close her inside the Suit, knowing that it would give her the ability to turn him into a smoldering crater in a heartbeat. He was likely trying to get her fired, and that she couldn’t allow under any circumstance.
“Let me go,” she ordered, hoping that her voice sounded strong and commanding. “I’m not authorized to use the Suit, and I will report you for misconduct.”
“You think I care?” The master sergeant grabbed Carol’s chin and glared into her eyes. “You’ll have a fatal accident long before you report anything to anyone.”
The look of sheer malevolence on his face caused her to panic, and before she knew it she had hit the button to close the Suit. The master sergeant abruptly pulled his hand back with a cuss, and through the visor Carol could see that his wrist had been cut deeply, nearly severing his hand. She stayed very still, shocked and scared, wondering what she should do to get herself out of the metaphorical fire she had just jumped into. Then the interior of the Suit sprang alive with lights and a breeze of circulated air, as a computer voice spoke,
“User detected: welcome back, Commander.”
Carol’s heart stopped.
Now she was really in trouble.
I rewrote the intro three times before I was finally satisfied with it.
All told, it took me about an hour to write those 774 words, and one person in particular described this story as, “just the prompt redone with more words added to it”. Lol.
I’m definitely in the camp that a well-written piece doesn’t need to be explained, so I want to make it clear that I’m not explaining the story itself, but rather my thought process behind it. I’m answering the question as to why it took me an hour to write this.
I made several changes to the premise of the prompt to come up with something that I personally liked. For starters, the main character is not ranked in the military, but instead holds a civilian job on base. Instead of a joking sergeant, I made that character a villain with a higher rank, but nicely situated in the middle, so he’s still very much subjected to protocol and orders. Frankly, the characters implied by the prompt struck me as boring, so I made them more interesting.
And, of course, I had to mentally model the world they lived in. Very little of this step gets written down, but it’s essential to give a sense of solidity to the story.
Then the characters needed motivations and personalities. I personally feel that this part was rushed, and if I were writing this as a novel, I would come back and agonize over it before publishing, especially with my master sergeant character. Since this was written for Reddit, I didn’t have days to devote to that much nit-pickiness.
Finally, the writing itself. I wanted to take a direct approach that was compelling and easy to understand, which took a couple of false starts before I found my groove. Rather than aiming to look awesome and gain lots of immediate kudos, my goal was to create something that subtly wriggled into your brain so you found yourself randomly thinking about it two weeks later, wondering about the characters and what happens to them next. This would be the book that you initially pass over, then end up buying later because you can’t get the first chapter out of your head.
Which, on the surface, looks a lot like, “just the prompt redone with more words added to it”.
Ultimately, I feel that this was a successful story. I did not expect people to find it as engaging as they did, and the theories the readers came up with has me humbled with the strength of their creativity. As I told my husband, “Now I’m guaranteed to disappoint them if I write more!”