#26 Still Bullet Time

It’s a fast city, Amsterdam. Cyclists, on their battered bikes, weaving through pedestrians, bells ringing and crashes averted at the last second. If feels young, even though its old. And there’s no mid-life crisis in sight; it wears the tourists’ khaki shorts pulled up high and the socks in old leather sandals in knowing irony. The coffee shops and the red lights summon tittering people, alive with the feeling of freedom and not-quite-safe pleasures. It has what people call, an ‘atmosphere’.

But we took it slow. We were bullet time. Detached from the rest of the world as it revolved around us in a blur. We had our own world. We had each other. We were tourists yes, but we walked to our own tempo, following the rhythms of each other’s feet. And we haven’t stopped. We still walk to our own beat. We’re still bullet time.

#25 Looks Like a Smile


She just wants to play, she’s only three. She has a favourite ball, it’s still just about yellow, despite all the scuffs and the dust. Really, it’s still only just about a ball, it’s certainly not round, it probably wasn’t designed for feet like hers. She throws it around anyway, up in the air, along the ground, towards anyone who she thinks might want to play too. And who wouldn’t want to? She’s beautiful. Her eyes sparkle with a mischievous intelligence and when she reaches out for you, it is as though you’re being blessed.

She throws dirt up in the air just because she can and she knows she won’t be told off, not with that smile. It looks like a smile anyway. It’s certainly easier for us to think that way. Because she’s chained. Tethered to a wooden post with metal links. Still, it looks like a smile.

#1 Break Lights

Alarm.

Shower.

Teeth, shave, dress.

Out the door, into the car. Horns blaze, traffic stationary. Phone on the passenger seat, screen lights up: ‘Office’.

“Hello?”

“Where are you?”

“Traffic.”

“Again?”

“Yes.”

“Get up earlier.”

“Okay.”

“When you arrive, my office.”

The line goes dead.

From behind, sirens. An ambulance. Pull out behind, follow it through. Phone, back on the passenger seat, screen lights up: ‘Debbie’.

“Hello?”

“Hi.”

“I didn’t think… You said… You called.”

“Let’s talk.”

“Yes, thank you.”

A pause, just static.

“I’m…”

Break lights.

Chris awoke to the sound of beeping, not his alarm but something new. He smiled. The lights were different too, white and too bright, not the warm yellow of his bedside lamp. His smile grew.

“Young man.”

A police officer.

“Lets talk. You were driving, on your phone. Someone died.”

The words fluttered through his mind but all they meant was change. Chris laughed.

(and) A New Challenge or 150/150

In the week, when I wrote Welcome Back, I had intended to call it ‘Welcome Back and a New Challenge’ but the welcome back part of the post felt like it was enough on its own. So, today is the new challenge. What is this new challenge I hear the three of you ask, well, I am calling it 150/150. Simply put, it is my intention to write a 150 word story each day for the next 150 days, (it would be more accurate to say publish a 150 word story each day, I’m sure there will be days were I write more than one to give myself a buffer). This will mean I should finish around September 12th, I’m going to give myself a little leeway in case of unforeseen circumstances, but the 150 stories will be written.

My reason for doing this is simple: I want to write more. I shall be starting my dissertation soon and so I want to build a habit around writing, but I also want to give myself something to do as a break. 150 words isn’t too daunting, its enough words to tell a story but few enough to limit the time pressure. Having said this, it is also a real challenge. It can be hard to get an idea down to so few words, and that’s when I have an idea in the first place, I’m going to need 150 of them after all.

The first story is Break Lights, I hope you enjoy it and all that come after.

Achieving January

So, as I have previously mentioned, I am attempting to write a novel. As I have also previously mentioned, I have struggled to get back into the writing of said novel since the exam period. In the last post I just linked to, I signed off by saying I had an idea that I was going to go and write down, here is that idea:

 

It isn’t my best. It turns out writing is really hard. For the first half of the first half of this year, I was strict with myself, making sure I was writing a certain amount every week. Not only did this increase the quantity of stuff I was producing, but the quality was higher too. Annoyingly, practice does seem to make perfect, or at least, practice makes the average standard higher.

Today though, really-truly-actually-pinky-promise-hands-on-the-keyboard-ready-to-type-today, I am going to start again. I almost certainly won’t write a great deal, it’s been so long since I was properly in my Achieving December flow that I’m going to read through what I’ve already got before starting something new. But, it feels good just to be doing something.

In this vain, today I am posting the first scene for AD, (both literally the first scene of the novel and the first scene of the story I have posted). It is a first draft, (although as I submitted it as part of a piece of coursework last year it might be slightly more polished than most of my first drafts), and I know there are things I want to change about it. Regardless, I’m putting it up in its current state as part of efforts to get back into writing it.

I hope you enjoy.

 

January

I’m going to die. In 333 days, I’m going to die.

I count it out again, whispering aloud to try and get the figures right. I need to find the mistake. Surely there has to be a mistake? From now until the end of November is 333 days. That can’t be right. The paper shakes in my hands. I’ve only read one line, the DOD, 30/11/2007. It must be a typo, everything else seems to add up. I know there are more words on the page, but I can’t read them. Everything is starting to move. It’s like I can feel gravity for the first time. Like it has suddenly got stronger and my legs can’t take it. They crumple. I’m on the floor, still holding tight to the file as if doing so might change something.

‘Can I help you sir?’ The girl from the desk is standing just to my left. She’s pretty. I’d thought that as soon as I’d seen her. She has this long auburn hair that flows down over her shoulders and rests on her chest. I’d felt guilty for looking earlier, but I couldn’t help it. Her uniform, a cold grey knee length dress, had bulged invitingly where the hair fell and, compared to all the other staff here, who seemed to be old, glasses wearing, librarian types, you couldn’t help but stare. I’d even joined the longer queue at Hall 8 reception to get to speak to her. Some guy in front of me had been telling her jokes, her giggle was amazing and I couldn’t wait to hear her voice. When I got to the front though, the words barely came out. Why was talking to girls always so hard?

In the end all I managed was, ‘Rodgers, Joseph Rodgers’, like I was the world’s shittest James Bond impersonator. She’d been sweet though.

‘Aisle 272’ she’d said. ‘Don’t be nervous lovely, I’m heading down that way myself in a bit. I’ll come check you’re getting on okay.’

I’d walked off berating myself for being so awkward, determined to think of a funny joke in case she really did come see me later, she’d called me lovely after all. I knew she probably called everyone that, but I’d wanted to hold on to it nonetheless. Now though, I’m sitting, quivering on the floor, unable to get up. I don’t feel in any way lovely and none of the cracker jokes I’d remembered from last week will come back to me. All I can do is stare at her. Her badge says “Hi, my name is Catherine and I’m here to help”, but I know no one can.

She stares right back at me, expecting an answer, an explanation of why I’m on the floor. I can’t do it though, I can’t bring myself to say anything, not even a lie. My mind is too distracted by the tension building inside me. My arms start to shake, like they always do when I get angry. Mum used to laugh at me when it happened, which only ever made it worse. She’d joke that the chicken look wasn’t great and I should probably stop flapping my arms around before I took off. I used to get so annoyed with her I’d storm away and calm down in my room. I guess that was the point. But Mum isn’t here now and she hasn’t made a joke in a while anyway. I’m on my own.

As I realise this, the need to lash out gets ten times stronger. This anger is too close to fear to be contained. I know it isn’t Catherine’s fault at all, but I need to do something. I want to yell at her, scream. Ask why she has done this to me. Ask why she wants me dead, why she is waiting till the end of the year, why she doesn’t just slit my throat as I sit here helpless on the floor. I can’t ask her any of that of course. Not because she wouldn’t have a clue what I was going on about, not even because I know that none of this is her fault, it’s just because I’m not ready to say it out loud. If I do, it might make it true. But, I do need to scream, scream at anyone about anything, it doesn’t matter what. And she is here, young and pretty Catherine is standing here, cannon fodder for my rage.

‘This whole system is fucking archaic! Haven’t you people heard of the internet? It took me two fucking hours to get here today. Do you know how difficult it is to use public transport on New Year’s Day? It’s shit. It’s all shit. Why can’t I read this at home?’ I thrust my file towards her and she takes it, looking confused. I don’t want her to read it, but I can’t hold it any longer, like it’s fire in my hands. They are tingling, almost as if it really had burnt me. My whole body just feels wrong. Like getting my Date has changed something inside me that I don’t know how to fix.

‘I’m sorry sir. Please try not to get angry. I know it’s a pain, but I don’t think there is anything I can do about it. I’m just a trainee.’

She looks right at me, still helpless on the floor, and I can sense her worry. She really is very pretty. I know from down here she is bound to look tall, but her legs seem to be endless and her smile seems so inviting. She bends down, eyes full of concern. They’re brown, I’d noticed that at the desk, but now I’m closer I can see there is so much more to them. They have rings, some golden, some flecked with green. They remind me of tree trunks. From here, I can even see down her dress a little, the top of a cream and black bra is just on show. And I don’t care. Not about the bra, or the smile or even her eyes. She works for the Archive Ministry so she is part of this. She may not have set my Date, she probably didn’t even type it out, but she is one of them. I’m going to die and she is smiling at me and that can’t be right.

‘Sir’, she leans in, offering a hand I can’t bear to touch. She is too real. ‘Can I help you up? I can show you to a private room if you prefer, you could give this a proper read?’ She holds my file out towards me.

‘I’m fine. I don’t need your help.’ The coldness in my voice isn’t intentional, but I can see it offends her all the same. I push myself to my feet, holding on to the metal shelves behind me, still unsure if my legs can take the weight.

‘Can I get you some water then?’ I can’t stand the fact she is still being nice to me. It’s like I’m a child she’s mollycoddling.

Or a dying person she is trying to comfort.

The anger drains away as quick as it came.

‘Yeah, thanks.’ It’s all I can muster.

‘I’ll only be a moment lovely. You just wait right there.’

She’d called me lovely again. Me, this pathetic mess, holding on to a shelf for support while she treats me like some invalid. I can’t stand it. I breathe deeply, trying to steady my legs. I’m not sure it’s worked, but after thirty seconds or so, I take a few tentative steps down the aisle in the direction she went in. Now I’m trying to find someone in it, I notice properly how big this place is. I’d seen on the signs that there were 867 aisles in Hall 8, which is just one of 14 in the Archive Ministry. I’d come in at the main entrance on the Strand, just past the Adelphi theatre, but I’d had to take a lift down to the Halls themselves. They’ve all been built underground. Some right under the Thames. It makes them feel like crypts. Around me, millions of files are stacked, one for every person in the country. Most are far bigger than mine, filled with details of lives already lived. I can’t think about that now though, so I start to run.

As I get to the end of 272, I see Catherine. She is in the main corridor, heading towards the reception desk and holding my file in her left hand. How could I have been stupid enough to give it to her. She might look. She might see. Then she’ll know and it will all be real.

‘Catherine.’ I call out to try and get her attention, but she’s a way away and clearly can’t hear me.

‘Catherine.’ Louder this time, I need to get that file back and she’s almost at the water fountain. She still doesn’t hear though. ‘Catherine!’ I practically scream at her as she stoops over, starting to fill a plastic cup. She turns in a fright, dropping my file and the half filled cup. The papers, now drenched, sit loose on the floor.

‘You scared me.’ She clutches at her chest, her voice a little squeaky. She seems afraid. ‘Is everything okay?’

‘Yeah, yeah, everything’s cool, super cool.’ Super cool? Who says super cool? Weirdos, that’s who. She’ll realise something’s wrong if I keep this up. I need to be calm, normal, not a freak.’I just realised the time that’s all. I really should be getting off.’
My fake composure clearly isn’t working, she’s still looking at me like there’s something wrong. I can tell she’s still a little scared too. That’s probably what happens when you yell at a girl in a public place.

‘Okay then.’ She tentatively looks away from me and down to the papers on the floor. ‘I’m sorry , I got these all wet when I dropped everything. I can get you a fresh copy if you like? Just give me five minutes and I’ll go look you up on the computers.’ She starts to turn, to head back to the desk. ‘What’s your name again? Joseph wasn’t it?’

I panic. She’ll definitely see if she does that. She’ll know I’m little more than a corpse waiting to be made. ‘No.’ The volume has come back into my voice, composure gone. ‘Don’t do that.’

‘I’m just trying to help sir.’ No more lovely for me then. I guess that’s another byproduct of shouting at girls, they become less inclined to be friendly. ‘You can take the wet copy if you like.’ She shoves my file into my arms and, without waiting to see if I’m holding it, turns and stalks back to the desk. I can see that she is talking to one of the other archivists, pointing me out as the source of the commotion, but I don’t care. Sure, earlier I’d had wild fantasies of telling her a joke, getting her number, maybe even going for a drink where I’d get served immediately without showing ID and impressing her further with my wit, but none of that is important now. All that matters is that I have my file and my Date and that no one else knows.

#

Going Analogue

img_3204I’ve always wanted to be more creative. My drawing ability reached its peak when I was about 7, nothing I drew was particularly good, but it looked like a 7 year old had done it. My drawings still look like a 7 year old did them, which is a bit embarrassing for a 23 year old. I’ve never been able to sing, when I auditioned for a part in the school production of Around the World in Eighty Days, the pained expression on my music teacher’s face made me feel so guilty I stopped. My dancing makes most Dads look like they should audition for the Bolshoi and the less said about my musical abilities the better.

I’d like to think that my writing isn’t bad though, and I’ve always been proud of it, but in many ways, I think photography might be what I’m best at. I have no real technical skill, but I can frame a shot, (look out for tomorrow’s Sci-Fi Saturday for an example). I’ve always felt this has stood me in good stead in my writing because I can frame a scene in my mind as I write. Today’s post though isn’t about writing at all though, but photography. More specifically, it’s about a camera.

My loving and very patient girlfriend bought me an amazing present a few months ago that I’ve been waiting until after exams to build: the Lomography Konstruktor build your own 35mm SLR camera kit. Yesterday I sat down and made it. It took me around 2 hours and I filmed the whole thing as a time lapse. I couldn’t be happier with the result, (of the camera at least), and I’m looking forward to seeing the photos themselves whenever I fill the roll of film and get it developed.

Although my first camera was film, like most people of my generation, I’ve pretty much always been a digital only photographer. More than this, again like most in my generation, the majority of my photos are taken on a smartphone. I do have a micro four thirds camera which I love, but day-to-day, my iPhone does all my photographic heavy lifting. This is fantastic in almost all ways; my phone is always with me, the camera is just a swipe or a tap away and it is remarkably good quality. Basically, it is instant and good enough. When I move up to my proper camera, the quality jumps up a notch, but the instantaneous nature remains. I can see the result of any shot almost as soon as I take it. If it is out of focus or under exposed, I can make a correction and try again. Even if I don’t quite get this right at the time, with editing tools available at my finger tips, I can improve things after the fact. There are problems with this though.

With everything being instant, it is very easy to not spend the necessary time thinking about a shot before taking it. In the past, with the expense of getting prints, it was necessary to make sure what you were committing to film was just what you wanted. Now, given digital cameras essentially allow for an infinite amount of photos to be taken, you don’t need to take so much care. I think this is a shame.

I have over 16000 photos in my library. They form a record of my life that I would be crushed if I lost. But I hardly ever look at them. There is just too much noise, (hopefully not in the pictures themselves). Also, a lot of them are distinctly average. Many probably aren’t even as good as that. This is in many ways a good allegory for writing, both mine and others, (okay, so this post might be a little bit about writing). It is easy to commit thoughts to paper now, or, more pertinently, the binary memory of whatever digital device I’m carrying at the time. This is great, it means I don’t forget ideas when I’m on the go and makes editing easy, but, like with the photography, I think something can be lost too. Why take the time to make sure every word and phrase are constructed just as they should be when it is so trivial to go back and change it later? How do you avoid the temptation to skip the editing process entirely when it is so easy to share your thoughts with the world as soon as they have spilled out of your brain, through your typing fingers and onto the screen? Instant and good enough.

Thoughtless and mundane might be another way of putting it. I never hand write anything, I hate my handwriting, (I can’t read it a lot of the time), and I love my iPad Pro, it suits me, so I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the written word being just that: written. What I do think though, is just because the world has become digital, doesn’t mean the good practices of the analogue world should be forgotten.

And this is why I’m looking forward to playing with my Konstruktor camera. I’ll have to think about each shot carefully, (film is even more expensive now than it used to be thanks to Mr Supply and Mrs Demand). I’ll have to be patient before seeing the results, so I’ll get to think about what they might mean. When I do get the film developed, I’m sure I’ll want to scan the best pictures so I can add them to my digital library and when I do, I’ll be taking the time to look at them again properly, remembering the moment. I’ll be getting more from those 30 photos than I might from the next 500 I take digitally and it is this care and thought I want to carry forward into my writing.

Achieving December, (or at least May)

I haven’t written a post in a while. A month ago today I published In Pursuit of Perfection, the post I consider to be my first, (there was one before it but then it was almost two months later that I actually started trying to stick to a regular schedule). In that post I said I was going to aim for publishing something here twice a week and, in general, I’ve been pretty good with that. Exams have got in the way over the past week or so though, (my time as an undergrad is now done!). I’ll remedy this pretty quickly, once I hit publish on this very post in fact. What I am finding harder is starting work again on my novel.

As a bit of background, I first came up with the concept for this novel, (with a working title of Achieving December), well over a year ago. It might even be two now. For about six months the ideas existed only in my head, not a strategy I would recommend as I assume I thought of some good things in that time that have now drifted out of my memory, I just can’t remember. After a while I adopted a strategy I now stick to, taking a note on my phone any time a thought strikes me, even if I think it might be completely ridiculous. Then, last semester, in the autumn of 2015, I took a YA creative writing module at Uni and decided that I’d write the opening couple of scenes as my submission. I think I might write something separate about that experience at another time, needless to say Achieving December underwent a dramatic transformation in that time. The result however, was that by early January I had 4000 words and two scenes. I admit, this is a very small percentage of a novel but I was proud.

I certainly hadn’t finished there though. By mid January I’d probably doubled that word count and as in the semester I have just finished I was taking a creative writing module called the Independant Project, in which I could write almost anything I wanted, I started being able to dedicate what I’d call Uni-time to the novel without feeling too guilty. The work, after all, would be going towards my final submission. This is where a brief description of Achieving December might prove handy. Set in an alternate present, the world of Joe, my protagonist, is largely the same as one any 16 year old boy from the UK would recognise. His life revolves around family, girls and school. There is one, fairly notable, difference; everyone has the ability to find out the exact date of their death. Joe’s so happens to be the 30th of November. The novel begins on New Years Day.

The most pertinent aspect of all this to this specific posts however, is the structure. Each chapter will be a month, starting with January. I feel it is important to have goals in your writing to serve as a form of motivation. Sometimes, however much I love to write, it can feel a chore and setting myself definite targets helps me push through the sticky patches. It helps that I am highly competitive, particularly with myself. My specific goal for Achieving December was to write a chapter a month, keeping up with the chronology of the story. This way, if I do stick to the plan, I will finish my first draft at the end of November, coinciding with NaNoWriMo, which, if you don’t know what it is, you should go and look up immediately, (at least immediately after you’ve finished reading this of course). The coursework and exam period has thrown a right spanner in the works however.

I always expected that my writing would have to take a back seat over the last few months, it couldn’t be any other way, but it means I’m now at least a month behind my own schedule. Since the end of March, I’ve written about half a scene, adding maybe 1000 words. I certainly want to finish the novel, and I’m still aiming to hit my November deadline, but picking it back up again is hard. In February and March I felt I had real momentum, I was averaging 2500 words a week, not massive amounts, but a figure I was pleased with given the demands if Uni and my job. Now though, the thought of switching apps to finish that half written scene seems rather daunting. This post is probably only as long as it is because I’m putting off working on other things and I keep coming up with excuses in my mind for why I shouldn’t start now, why I should begin next week, next month maybe.

In this instance, I feel I need to ignore my brain and follow my typing fingers. I’m sure that what I produce in the first few days or weeks won’t feel up to scratch, but that’s okay. The longer I take to begin, the harder it will be, and I’m actually quite proud of what I’ve produced so far so don’t want to let it drift away. A big part of the reason for me writing this post is as motivation. It might only get read three times, (thanks for the I-don’t-know-how-manyth-time loving and very patient girlfriend), but I’ve put it out there now, I’ve told the world I’m going to start work again, so I will.

In fact, I think I might even have an idea now. I should probably go and write it down.

Humanity, Exceeded: #Part 1

As previously posted, I’m going to start a new series called Sci-Fi Saturdays. This is the first proper post in that series. I hope you enjoy!

I’ve always been interested in technology, (I imagine I’ll write about it here before too long), and in recent years my reading has revolved more and more around dystopia and sci-fi. The first book I read of this kind was Orwell’s 1984 and I still go back to it around once a year. This is my first attempt to write in the genre.

In a speculative paper written by Dr. J. Storrs Hall, ‘On Certain Aspects of Utility Fog‘, the scientist outlines his ideas for utility fog, a vast cloud of nanobots, and how they could change the world around us. This was my inspiration for CreBots and the new world they have helped to create. I also took note of an interview with Storrs Hall from io9, in which he said that the virtual reality possibilities of utility fogs were what excited him most.

Virtual reality has all the buzz in the technology industry right now, so I wanted to examine what would happen if it went from gadget to lifestyle, from consumer product to state tool. This is just the first part of my attempt to realise this world. I’m imagining it, and have it planned out as, a 10 to 20 thousand word story. This is only the first 2800. So I hope you enjoy this installment of Humanity, Exceeded , I’m looking forward to writing more.

 

Humanity, Exceeded

I step outside. At least, it looks like outside. It could still be inside. Maybe I’ve been outside all the time and now I’m just moving to a different place. Who can tell? It doesn’t really matter anyway.

As usual, cars pack the streets, the air thick with their fumes. It feels dense enough to chew, to swallow, to choke on. I adjust my mask, careful to make sure it covers my nose as well. NewGov sent round an Image only last week telling everyone that in the last two years, pollution has been cut in half. It’s bollocks. They send round a new Image almost daily, trying to convince us of something or other. It’s just propaganda; inescapable, virtual reality, propaganda. Today’s image had been all about the dangers of having sex with another human and the benefits of CreSex. It’s been a while, but I don’t remember too many dangers. CreSex is good; you can have who you like, when you like and do whatever you like. Last night I went oriental, the night before I made myself some Scandinavian twins. It feels just the same as real sex, better even. Physically. You can programme the bots to tingle, or massage, touch just the right spot. But they can’t say no. Not unless you tell them to. Without the work beforehand, getting to know someone, chatting them up, going on a few dates maybe, it doesn’t really feel the same at all. CreBots don’t make you feel wanted. A few diseases and unexpected pregnancies are worth it, whatever the Images say. I just wish I could get a few more girls to agree.

At first, when NewGov had started sending out the Images, people had protested. It was a step too far they’d said, an invasion of privacy, an attack on civil liberties. But soon enough, most people quietened down, gave in, accepted the Images as part of life. I can’t say I’m any better. There isn’t much point fighting against it really. At the push of a button, the Creative Ministry, or CreMin, can light up an Image in front of every conscious person in the country and show them whatever they like. It’s why I prefer to be unconscious. Or at least out of the real world.

As I walk into town, most people seem to have adopted my strategy. Blank faces greet my gaze, not quite dead but without much life. Some seem lustful, probably watching ads. There aren’t many faces to look at though. People don’t go out anymore. Why would they? Almost everything can be done, purchased, experienced and, most importantly, consumed from the comfort of your own home. But I’ve run out of tokens and the only place to get more is at the TokMin collection point. They insist on DNA samples to ensure tokens aren’t given to a CreBot avatar. There had been an unfortunate spate of murders when they first got rid of money. The killer would create an avatar of their victim and collect the tokens on their behalf. I lost a few friends to that scam.

Apart from my fellow token-seeking Londoners, the only other people around are ministry workers. They stroll down the streets, knowingly superior, their pinstripe suits and frilly blouses like armour against the world. What they are actually wearing is anybody’s guess. I still prefer real clothes though, even if almost everything else in my life is fake. Today, I’ve teamed my usual scruffy hoodie with my usual scruffy jeans, the latter of which have been getting just a little too tight in recent weeks. Prolonged periods indoors with nothing but cartons of CreMeat to consume tend to have a negative effect on the waist line.

A tall Japanese girl appears in front of me as I walk down the street. She’s trying to sell something but I’m too distracted by what she’s wearing to notice. To be honest, it’s more about what she’s not wearing, which is almost everything. Other than a pair of the smallest lace pants, she is completely naked. Young, with dark hair that flows almost to her hips. Small tits, but perky. Flat stomach, long legs and a perfect white smile. She looks unnervingly like the girl I’d made for myself the night before. NewGov swear they don’t have access to you private creations, but no one really believes that.

I try to suck in my stomach. It’s an unconscious reaction. I want her to like me. Obviously it’s pointless. She’s programmed to flirt so it doesn’t matter what I look like, but some things don’t change and if a pretty lady shows some interest, real or not, I can’t help but try to impress her.

‘Hi there Ben. Want to have a look?’ She holds up the newest communicator from Atwood Inc. It’s just a piece of glass with a small circle visible at the top right where the camera is.

‘I don’t have enough tokens.’ The communicator is almost completely transparent. Through it I can see a nipple, slightly magnified by the glass. She obviously senses where my gaze really is and puts her other arm across her chest. She doesn’t want me distracted.

‘My records show that you are due 1000 tokens this month, you could put half down as a deposit and pay the rest in twenty four monthly payments.’

It starts to rain. Her bare flesh gets wet almost immediately and I can see goose bumps stand up on her skin. My cheeks flush. Why are my ads always naked? What does that say about me? I refocus on the communicator, twenty four months isn’t that long. I’ve been planning on saving some tokens and moving to a better area, but I can just use the CreBots to redecorate, freshen the place up a bit.

‘Okay then. I’ll take it.’ The communicator in her hand instantly turns into a larger screen showing the details of my token allowance. The “1000” disappears and is replace with “500”, underneath an instruction to pay Atwood Inc. 100 tokens a month appears.

‘Thanks Ben.’ Both her arms drop to her waist, one thumb loops around the top of her pants. ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’

I can think of too much. I look over her body. If you try, you can forget they aren’t real, that they’re just ads. You learn to enjoy it.

‘Oi! Watcha think you’re doing?’ The man whose coffee I had just spilled clearly wasn’t impressed. ‘Don’t think you can walk around out here like it’s that CreWorld of yours. Open your eyes for once.’

I try to look taken aback, like I have no idea what this man is talking about, but the surprised ‘O’ I force my mouth to make isn’t really convincing and my eyes, which I know are glazed and red, tell everyone the real story plain enough.

‘Junkies”’the man spits at me in disgust as he walks off.

Some of the coffee is on my hoodie. Looking around to make sure no one is watching, I bend down and suck it off. Real caffeine, amazing. I stand and immediately start to feel hot. I know my cheeks must be turning red. My left eyebrow is twitching infuriatingly, a cute nervous tick Mum always used to say, bloody irritating in reality. The man, clearly a ministry worker, hadn’t even tried to get me to pay for the spilt drink, he’d just marched off, assuming I wouldn’t, or couldn’t pay. The truth is that he is absolutely right. I haven’t even bought myself a real coffee in over two years and the Cre stuff isn’t worth drinking. But knowing that everyone else can see how low I’ve sunk makes everything far worse.

‘It’s not my fault!’ The world already thinks nothing of me so why does it matter if they hear me shouting in the streets? ‘Everyone uses it.’ Like we have a choice. I might be shouting in the street, but I’m not crazy enough just yet to say something like that aloud where anyone might hear.

I continue into town, still fuming, but silently. The Creators have been busy since I last ventured this far out. From the third story window of my rented studio flat in Moore Gardens I can see some of the changes, but further into the centre it is all a bit more obvious. Down this way it used to be a row of 1950s, cheap terraced housing with shops on the ground floor. As a kid I’d often walked down here on the way back from school. Most of the shops had been boarded up even then, London had never really recovered from what they’d called the “financial crisis”. I’d hated those history lessons, all economics and boring politicians. What I really cared about was getting a few snacks from Mr Jones’ place before I got home, especially when Mum was on one of her healthy eating kicks, and he didn’t go out of business till a couple of years back. It looks so different now though. The front of the buildings rise up like Roman temples, all white columns and shining marble. Carvings of microchips and old tech like TV’s sit at the top. I’ve even heard some of the modifications go inside here too. My place is a little less spectacular. It looks a bit like a town house from the old films, neat little windows with boxes of flowers growing outside. It’s just a skin though. Occasionally, if a cluster of bots all fails at the same time, you can see the old building underneath. Crumbling brickwork and rotting wooden window frames. Sometimes I wish we could all just see the truth the entire time, but even the small glimpses we used to get happen less often now. The Ministry of Progress make regular updates according to their Software Streets plan. It might have been nearly 125 years since the war, but I still can’t believe people can stomach a government policy called the SS.

Near the centre, I can see into a few more buildings, their interiors seem almost as nice as the outsides. Some of the big hotels are decorating properly again. Authentic Chic they call it. I’ll never be able to afford to stay in one, but I love the idea of having real things that just look like they are. I turned off all the CreBots in my flat last year, I thought it might give my life a bit more purpose if I wasn’t always surrounded by projected images. I can be such a pretentious wanker sometimes. The rotting floor boards, damp riddled walls and mouldy carpets soon made me think twice. I left the broken window just above the sink though. A brick had gone through it during one of the last big riots. The one Dad died in. He’d stopped going to the protests years before, it’s why him and Mum split, she hated that he’d given up. But that day, he’d felt the need to go. The month before I’d told him that I was moving out of the house we shared, that I wanted to live in the present, with the CreBots he’d banned from the home. The riot started a week after I moved into Moore Gardens.
The last of the big hotels behind me, the only buildings in the very centre of London are the ministries. TokMin is tucked away behind the rest. To get there I walk past several other NewGov buildings, all with their own CreBot fronting. EduMin has numbers and the alphabet spiralling up the columns that guard its doorway. HealthMin is shaped like a big cross, made to look red. GovMin, where all the politicians work, has virtual copies of books fluttering around the entrance like an old flock of birds. The biggest though, rising up from the site of what was once Trafalgar Square, is CreMin. The facade changes colour with the time of day and sometimes, if important dignitaries are coming, they even make it change shape. Most of the time though it’s just a large, rectangular sky scraper. A hundred foot aerial sits on top, broadcasting the signals to all the state controlled CreBots. They’d first pumped them out from here too. I still remember the information leaflet we were given in school just before assembly.

CreBots, Your New Best Friends.

Exciting news! Very soon you will all get to experience CreBots!

Starting next month London will be filled with lots of tiny robots, too small for you to see unless you have a microscope.

These little robots will help you in many different ways. You will be able to use them to play games, help with your homework and let you pretend like you are in far away places. Best of all, you will be able to make your very own CreFriends, who will always be ready to play and do just what you say. Almost like real friends, but better!

Imagine all the fun you will be able to have when every break time can be filled with trips to amazing places with perfect companions!

Your parents or guardians will be getting information packs of their own, so you can ask them or your teachers if you want any more information. Just don’t forget to tell them how excited you are about CreBots!

And I had. That day I rushed home and showed my parents the leaflet, with its gold writing on bright red paper and promises of adventures and perfect friends. They hadn’t seemed so convinced. Sitting at the kitchen table, a pot of tea between them as usual, they were both frowning at a large, ring bound, book. Neither seemed to have noticed they hadn’t drunk anything, the cups left abandoned on the counter by the sink.

‘They’re meddling with our lives. It’s not right.’ Mum said. She picked the book up, slammed it shut and threw it back down onto the table, making the whole thing shake. The piece of cardboard that we used to keep under one of the legs to stop it wobbling came out.

‘Careful Mum!’ I ran forwards and replaced it. ‘Why are you angry?’

‘It’s nothing dear.’ She had smiled at me briefly before looking back at Dad. It wasn’t a normal look though, her eyes seemed sad. And wrinkly too, I suddenly saw how much older she had started to look. All the protests and late night meetings seemed to have turned her into Granny overnight.

‘We can’t do anything.’ Dad carried on the conversation as if I’d never come into the room. His voice was flat and I couldn’t quite associate it with the cheerful and mischievous person I knew. ‘This has been coming, you know that. We went to the rallies, we did our bit, we just have to accept it now. What else can we do?’

I ignored much of the rest of the conversation, annoyed they’d forgotten me. Plonking myself down at my usual seat, I noticed the front cover of the book they’d been frowning at. The cover read: “CreBots: What you need to know”, but not in gold like on my leaflet so I looked away until I could show Mum and Dad my better version. Instead I stared down at the tabletop. I used to spend hours sitting there, just looking and stroking the surface of it. The graining of the wood, the coffee stains from mugs that had still contained real coffee, and even the pen marks from where I’d scribbled on it as a toddler. They had always seemed to me to form a kind of map. It had been a world of its own, of my own, and now this leaflet seemed to promise that it might come to life if only I could make my parents see.

‘Why are you two so worried?’ I still feel a slight sense of embarrassment at how hard my younger self had tried to sound mature, like I knew best. ‘They talked to us about it more in assembly. They explained everything. We even had a man in a suit come in. He said he worked for the government. Miss Bell obviously didn’t like him, but no one likes her, so that doesn’t matter. He said that it was going to make everyone’s lives better. He said that it would make things easier for our parents. Isn’t that a good thing?’

They didn’t speak. They didn’t even look at each other, just down at the table. I could tell though that they didn’t see the possibilities in its graining that I did.

‘Everything will be alright.’ I cannot believe I actually said those words. They still spiral around in my head whenever I think back to that moment. I knew nothing.

Sci-Fi Saturdays

So this is just a quick post to say that I’m planning on starting a new series called Sci-Fi Saturdays.

Since I was a preteen I have tended to read fantasy novels, the stories of Trudi Canavan and Robin Hobb probably being my favorites. The reason I like these books is that as well as their fantasy elements, they also have political bents. In recent years, it has been a natural evolution of this inkling of mine for political stories that has led me to start reading a bit more sci-fi.

Over the course of the last two terms at Uni however, I have been studying them in more detail. Now, I want to try and write my own. My plan is each Saturday, (or maybe every other), to write some kind of sci-fi. This may be a full story or just part of one. They may be 10,000 words, or a six word tweet. I’m just going to see how it goes. I may even end up doing a few reviews or just posting some general thoughts on the genre, particularly as its my current intention to write on the subject for my masters dissertation.

My first post will be tomorrow. I’m quite excited about starting this so I hope all three of you who are likely to read this will enjoy!

Out of the Frying Pan… and Into the Studio

Yesterday I had an amazing opportunity to record a couple of scenes of my radio script, Out of the Frying Pan. This was arranged by my creative writing tutor at uni, Jane Purcell and her friend Chris Wallis, an experienced radio director and producer. The student union runs a couple of radio stations and it was in their studios that we got to record the scenes.

I was excited anyway as this was my first time in a studio but Chris’ experience made all the difference. He introduced himself with stories about the industry and the people he’d worked with; apparently name dropping is quite intimidating! In the studio though, I felt like I was getting a real taste of what it would be like to be doing this for a living. We spent maybe and hour and a half on my piece, recording around 3 minutes worth with two, very talented, young actors. At some point I hope I’ll get the files so I can post them, I’m quite eager to hear the final thing myself!

What I found the most interesting part of the day however, was seeing how my writing can be a fluid thing. I’ve always had the idea that once I’ve finished with something, it becomes a static object; it’s done. This just isn’t the case. The beauty of language is that every person will interpret any collection of words in their own way. They will say them differently, think about them differently, attach different meanings to them; and seeing that happen before my eyes was amazing.

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To start, we read through the scenes of my script that we would be recording, (1,2 and 4), and immediately, hearing it out loud in that setting, I realised I needed to make changes. Some of this was just about meshing scenes 2 and 4 together without 3 in between, but a lot of it was hearing other people say my words and concluding the dialogue wasn’t as natural as it could be. Chris of course had suggestions, but he took mine on board too and, in tern, I listened to what the actors thought. This collaborative process in motion was not something I had been expecting but was certainly useful. Even after two read-throughs and a couple of minutes of furiously scribbled edits on my copy of the script, we had something that sounded much better.

It didn’t finish there.

I’m not sure how many takes we did, double figures probably, but I made additional notes and changes on my script throughout. The first few of these were technical and largely about trying to recreate the confined conditions of a landing module stuck in dense Siberian forest as best as possible in a recording studio on the first floor of the SU building, just off the A1 in central Hertfordshire. We sat the actors down, moved them together to share one mic and even chucked the screen portion of a green screen over them both.

Other changes though, came from the performances. As we recorded and as the actors got into the roles, certain lines felt like they needed to be altered and in certain moments, the tone didn’t feel quite right, so that got changed too. (A before and after picture of my edits on one of the pages of my script is the header image of this post.) Making these changes, doing edits on the fly and then expressing my thoughts to Chris and the actors, became a brilliant lesson. It was in explaining how I saw Pavel as a worn down and resigned father and Alexei as an over excited child, frustrated by his father’s restrictions, that I realised I needed to think like this no matter what I’m writing.

When I was creating the characters, at least after a couple of drafts, I had imagined this parent-child relationship, but I’d never had to express it before. Once I did, I instantly felt I knew my characters better and how they would walk, talk and think. In future, I’m going to do this for any character I write. I might not have actors to talk to on those occasions, (so, loving and very patient girlfriend, expect lots of boring lectures on the convoluted motivations of maniacal, evil professors or whoever I’m writing about), but I can at least think how I would express it in the imagined situation that the character was to be performed.

More than this though, more than the lessons I’ve learnt or conclusions I’ve drawn, I massively enjoyed hearing words I’d written being lifted off the page and given a life of their own. I very much hope this isn’t the last time this happens, if I didn’t have motivation to pursue my writing before, I certainly do now, but even if it is, the experience was fantastic.

Hopefully, the final thing might even sound good too.