Climbing the Cell Tower

Ditto looked up at the main cell phone tower and shuddered. Just think of it as stairs, he told himself. And don’t look down. Yeah, right. And they were stairs. Of a sort. Really steep. And no walls to enclose them. Just open air. At least it was all behind him at the beginning of the climb: the lake, the valley, and all that open air.

Genre: science fiction
Opening scene: yes
Author: anonymous
Hover over text removed and text added below to see reasons for the suggested changes, as well as overall comments.


Original Scene

Ditto looked up at the main cell phone tower and shuddered. Just think of it as stairs, he told himself. And don’t look down. Yeah, right.

And they were stairs. Of a sort. Really steep. And no walls to enclose them. Just open air. At least it was all behind him at the beginning of the climb: the lake, the valley, and all that open air.

The breeze was ruffling his hair, and it was hot for late August. Must be 90 degrees or more, Ditto thought as he placed one foot on the first rung and hoisted himself up. His other foot found the next rung and he climbed that one—and the next, and the next, and the next. Just keep going, he told himself as he got higher and higher off the ground.

To distract himself, he stared at the leaves on the branches he passed. Maples and oaks, mostly. Not long now before they start turning, Ditto thought as he reached the first switchover point. He tried not to cling to the metal stanchions as he moved to his left, from one side of the tower to the next.

Just stay focused on the matter at hand, was Ditto’s next thought. Find out what’s gone wrong with the cell phones. With the land lines down, this is our last link to the outside world.

Well, that wasn’t really true. They had the ham radio. But with that, they were just as likely to reach Singapore as Buffalo or Albany. Still, there was no telling what would happen to radio once the cloud reached the northern hemisphere. Sure, it would take another month or so to get here. But then it was likely to stay for a while. Hopefully only several months rather than years—but it was a really big cloud. And filled with God only knew what. Vaporized ice and rock from Antarctica, sure. That and whatever weird stuff that asteroid was made of.

Doctor Nick kept telling them the latest reports—though how he stayed in touch with his colleagues was a total mystery, what with the Internet coming apart like a tattered spider web. He said the Earth’s core was shrinking. Getting denser. That the space rock had set off some sort of chain reaction deep in the mantle. And that was why the water was rising—not from the tsunamis from all the earthquakes that the impact had set in motion like a string of dominoes. And if Doctor Nick was right about that and the politicians wrong . . . there wouldn’t be any going back to “the Before Times.” New York and Los Angeles and probably all of Florida as well. Pretty much all the coastlines around the world. They were gone. Under water.

It was a good thing Auntie Jules had called and insisted he come back to Lake Halcyon for the weekend, that the summer workshop he’d been attending at Harvard Business School would still be there on Monday. Otherwise, he probably would’ve gotten caught in the stream of refugees from the coast.

Of course, they’d known the rock was coming. Known for a couple of weeks. Astronomers had finally spotted it, a really dark object high in the noonday sky coming straight towards Earth at some humongously high speed. They’d said at first there was only one chance in what? . . . a million it would actually hit us. Then it was one chance in a thousand. Then a hundred. Then fifty. Then all the headlines—not just the tabloids—were screaming ROCK TO HIT EARTH!

They’d known it was traveling faster than anything in the solar system could have achieved—so it had to be interstellar in origin. Maybe even intergalactic—whatever that might be! But nobody had imagined that its density was some ten times greater than a normal asteroid—or that it would penetrate the crust like that.

The caw caw caw of a crow jolted him out of his train of thought and dove through the corner of his eye to his right. Ditto swiveled his head instinctively to look—and caught a glimpse of Lake Halcyon stretching those seven narrow miles to the west of him. Terror set his pulse to pounding and turned his mouth to sandpaper, even as he squeezed his eyes shut.

Nothing to be afraid of, he repeated to himself. I’m not going to fall. NOT GOING TO FALL. But his hands had glommed onto the metal stanchions and would not let go. Worse, his knees had started trembling, and the sweat on his palms were making his hands slip.

Count back by sevens, he told himself. Hundred, ninety-three, eighty-seven—no that was wrong—eighty-six, seventy-nine, seventy-two, sixty . . . five . . . and his heart had calmed a few beats. Ditto swallowed. Dared to open his eyes and focus on the nearest tree to his left. Managed to wrap his left elbow around the metal post. Wipe his right palm across the seat of his coveralls. Then reverse and do the other palm.

Ditto peered upward. The antenna array was only about ten feet above his head. I can reach that, I can. It looked okay. Nothing obviously wrong. No sign of lightning or storm damage.

Just a few more rungs, and he was there. The platform beneath the array was about ten feet across. Not as big as he could have wished for, but at least it was solid metal under his feet. Not a grid. So he could set his toolbelt down and not have to see how far up he was.

Ditto unfastened the access panel, and examined the wiring. It looked intact. Next question: Was it plugged in? The bottom of the tower was getting juice. What about the antenna here? He took out his voltmeter and placed the probes across two contacts. The needle swung all the way to the right. Good. Next question: Was it getting a signal from the satellite? Or were they on their own?

Maybe we should’ve gone to their main office in Chakiwa and insisted they send a crew out here, Ditto thought as he switched the meter to amps and started checking current flows. Then I wouldn’t need to be up here in the first place.

But the news out of Chakiwa wasn’t good. Sitting smack dab on the Thruway, Chakiwa had been flooded with refugees even worse than Lake Halcyon and its sister town, Jubilee. And when food stocks had dwindled, looting had followed. The reports now said vigilante groups were “patrolling” the streets and shooting anyone out after curfew. Sure, Governor Abergale had declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard—him and at least forty other governors—but it wasn’t doing a whole heck of a lot of good. At least Colonel Bucky and thirty of his guys were guarding the Notch south of town, and making sure no more refugees got into Lake Halcyon.

Suggested Revisions

Ditto looked up at the cell phone tower and shuddered. Just think of it as stairs, he told himself. And don’t look down. Yeah, right.

And they were stairs. Of a sort. Really steep. With no walls to enclose them. Just open air. At least everything was behind him at the beginning of the climb: the lake, the valley, and all that open air.

The breeze ruffled his hair, and sweat trickled down his temples. Must be 90 degrees or more, Ditto thought as he placed one foot on the first rung and hoisted himself up. His other foot found the next rung and he climbed that one—and the next, and the next. Just keep going, he told himself as he got higher and higher off the ground.

 

To distract himself, he stared at the leaves on the branches he passed. Maples and oaks, mostly. Not long now before they start turning, Ditto thought as he reached the first switchover point. He tried not to cling to the metal stanchions as he moved to his left, from one side of the tower to the other.

Just stay focused on the matter at hand, was Ditto’s next thought. Find out what’s gone wrong with the cell phones. With the land lines down, this is our last link to the outside world.

Well, that wasn’t really true. They had the ham radio. But with that, they were just as likely to reach Singapore as Buffalo or Albany. Still, there was no telling what would happen to radio once the cloud reached the northern hemisphere. Sure, it would take another month or so to get here. But then it was likely to stay for a while. Hopefully only several months rather than years—but it was a really big cloud. And filled with God only knew what. Vaporized ice and rock from Antarctica, sure. That and whatever weird stuff that asteroid was made of.

Doctor Nick kept them informed on the latest reports—though how he stayed in touch with his colleagues was a total mystery. The Internet was shredding like a tattered spider web. Nick said the Earth’s core was shrinking. Getting denser. The space rock had set off a chain reaction deep in the mantle. That was why the water was rising—not from the earthquakes and resulting tsunamis the impact had set in motion like a string of dominoes. And if Nick was right about that and the politicians wrong . . . there wouldn’t be any going back to “the Before Times.” The coastlines were gone. Under water. New York and Los Angeles and probably all of Florida as well.

 

It was a good thing Auntie Jules had called and insisted he come back to Lake Halcyon for the weekend. She’d said the summer workshop he’d been attending at Harvard Business School would still be there on Monday. Otherwise, he’d have gotten caught in the stream of refugees from the coast.

Of course, they’d known the rock was coming for a couple of weeks. Astronomers had finally spotted it, an obscure object high in the noonday sky coming straight towards Earth at humongously high speed. At first they’d said there was only one chance in what? . . . a million it would actually hit us. Then it was one chance in a thousand. Then a hundred. Then fifty. Then all the headlines—not just the tabloids—were screaming ROCK TO HIT EARTH!

 

The object was traveling faster than anything in the solar system could have achieved—so it had to be interstellar in origin. Maybe even intergalactic—whatever that might be! But nobody imagined its density was ten times greater than a normal asteroid—or that it could penetrate the crust like that.

The caw caw caw of a crow jolted him out of his train of thought as it dove past the corner of his eye. Ditto swiveled his head instinctively to look—and caught a glimpse of Lake Halcyon stretching those seven narrow miles to the west of him. Terror set his pulse to pounding and turned his mouth to sandpaper, even as he squeezed his eyes shut.

Nothing to be afraid of, he repeated to himself. I’m not going to fall. NOT GOING TO FALL. But his hands had glommed onto the metal stanchions and would not let go. Worse, his knees had started trembling, and the sweat on his palms were making his hands slip.

Count back by sevens, he told himself. Hundred, ninety-three, eighty-seven—no that was wrong—eighty-six, seventy-nine, seventy-two, sixty . . . five . . . his heart calmed a few beats. Ditto swallowed. He dared to open his eyes and focus on the nearest tree to his left. Wrapped his left elbow around the metal post. Wiped his right palm across the seat of his coveralls. Then the other palm.

Ditto peered upward. The antenna array was ten feet above his head. I can reach that, I can. It looked okay. Nothing obviously wrong. No sign of lightning or storm damage.

 

Just a few more rungs, and he was there. The platform beneath the array was about ten feet across. Not as big as he could have wished for, but at least it was solid metal under his feet.

 

Ditto unfastened the access panel, and examined the wiring. It looked intact. Next question: Was it plugged in? The bottom of the tower was getting juice. What about the antenna here? He took out his voltmeter and placed the probes across two contacts. The needle swung all the way to the right. Good. Next question: Was it getting a signal from the satellite? Or were they on their own?

Maybe we should’ve gone to their main office in Chakiwa and insisted they send a crew out here, Ditto thought as he switched the meter to amps and started checking current flows. Then I wouldn’t need to be up here in the first place.

But the news out of Chakiwa wasn’t good. Sitting smack dab on the Thruway, Chakiwa had been flooded with refugees even worse than Lake Halcyon and its sister town, Jubilee. And when food stocks had dwindled, looting had followed. The reports now said vigilante groups were “patrolling” the streets and shooting anyone out after curfew. Sure, Governor Abergale had declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard—him and at least forty other governors—but it wasn’t doing a whole heck of a lot of good. At least Colonel Bucky and thirty of his guys were guarding the Notch south of town, and making sure no more refugees got into Lake Halcyon.


Critique

Overall: This scene has many strengths—good world-building, reasonably high tension because there’s a lot at stake for the protagonist and his world, solid grounding in the POV, and well crafted sentences. I like the sensory details and feel sympathy for Ditto. I also like the challenge his world is facing and would want to read more. However, the scene is weakened by being entirely within one character’s head.

Craftsmanship: Fairly good. There are many sentence fragments, but that’s a stylistic choice and the fragments work well. Most of the suggested changes are smoothing and making sentences more direct.

Setting & Sensory Details: It’s easy to see the surroundings. Sounds and visceral are included (the crow, bodily sensations of fear). What could be added: odors, more visual detail about the immediate surroundings of the tower, and tactile detail such as the sweat on his temples. Also, the metal on the tower is likely to be hot and have rough patches of rust that Ditto would feel.

POV: We are definitely inside Ditto’s skin. We feel his terror over being so far off the ground, without the author ever saying “he’s scared of heights”.

Dialogue: None.

Tension: We are concerned for Ditto’s safety. He’s doing something dangerous that scares him, and he could take a misstep, fall and either die or hurt himself badly. That’s a long way to fall.

Opponent: The opponent is Ditto’s fear and the physical challenge of the tower.

Conflict: The conflict is between Ditto’s desire to climb the tower and diagnose the cause of the cell phone silence so he can fix it—versus his fear of heights.

Problems:

  1. The scene is basically exposition. Fairly interesting, but exposition nonetheless. We’re inside the hero’s head the entire time. The author uses Ditto’s thoughts to explain what has happened to the world, and the challenge that he and his friends are facing.
  2. There is no resolution to the scene: We never find out if Ditto succeeds, fails or quits in his purpose of fixing the cell phone service.
  3. There is no sequel: We do not see Ditto’s reaction to his success or failure on reaching his goal, his consideration of next options, and decision as to what he will do next.

Suggested solution: Devise a scene between Ditto and one or more other people with conflict. Show the moment when their world changes irrevocably, which is generally the best place to start a story. It could be Ditto and his friends, arguing what to do about the situation. Or it could be Ditto and opponents, such as “bad guys” taking advantage of the social upheaval. This would raise the tension and build a more interesting scene with conflict.


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