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Doc_Thom
April 29th, 2013, 10:52 PM
A highly developed nation

Chapter 1

The silver hum of the engine was always more piercing on these early morning flights. The jet’s smooth parabola was describing the downward arm of an arc for the otherwise unconcerned passengers; each one restful or restless, or arrested entirely by the airline’s complementary tranquilisers.

On the upper deck the seats were arranged in booths – singly or in pairs - and in one of the solo booths Erika submitted to the tumbling montage of her thoughts which had stolen any chance of snatching some rest over the three hour flight. She gently tapped the side of her visor to scroll from the darkened setting to see whether any of the channels were serving anything that might drown out the chattering of the other passengers. After scrolling once through, and halfway through again, Erika took the visor off and rubbed her eyes. Breakfast would be served soon – she could smell the hochmeat patties being warmed – and so she lay back and let the cabin chatter wash over her. Three weeks of working abroad were enough to make the sound of her native tongue a surprisingly welcoming aubade.

The cabin crew executed their duties with the usual grinning indifference of repetition, and soon enough the magnetic restraints were on, then off, and the plane was emptied of its cargo like so many gently irradiated portions of fruit. Erika lined up with the others in the terminal in front of the luggage requisition chutes, and in turn pressed her wafer-thin PID against the sensor and waited the 10 seconds or so while the silent machines efficiently dispensed her luggage. Her face, exquisitely rendered in holographic form, flashed up on the monitor while she waited, framed with unimportant minutiae like her flight and ticket numbers, full name and age. For a moment, the sight of her title of Doctor reminded her how uncomfortable she was using it, particularly when travelling; too often she had been called to the aid of a sick passenger only to have to shamefacedly admit that she wasn’t a ‘real’ doctor. Dr Erika Palmanen felt it was worth the risk though; anything to avoid using the ugly, generic gender-neutral title of ‘Borgare’ which had become de facto official for government workers, if not yet for the population as a whole.

Onwards to the customs desk, and the retina scan and finger prints. Erika stooped her tall frame to the scanner to rest her chin on the ledge, brushed her straight blonde hair back, and winced as the laser spat its little gobbets of photons at the back of her eyes. The tranquilised few who had been administered their antidote chemical wake-up call were by far the brightest of the column of passengers filing through the almost entirely automated airport. It was consequently noteworthy when an officious looking gentleman entered the corridor from an unmarked door up ahead and approached one of the passengers – a man in his twenties, scruffily dressed in frayed trousers and a baggy t-shirt with shoulder length blonde hair. Typically for men and women his age he wore a fashionably oversized visor, almost permanently in public, which rendered him deaf to the first request of the official who had waited patiently for his approach. Erika was too far away to hear the conversation, but saw that once the young man’s visor had been switched off, he offered no resistance to the official, and headed obediently towards the almost invisible door, and the grip of a second official. Erika had approached closely enough to catch sight of the jet black colour of the first official’s shirt cuff, as his outstretched arm closed the door behind him.

Erika knew. Erika knew the semaphore of the black cuffs. Erika knew why the young man hadn’t resisted. Erika even knew why he hadn’t simply slumped suddenly against the polished wall and floor, to be ignored by all but the waiting black cuffs behind the door. Not here, not now; and she knew why.

----

The airline’s manicured hochmeat and pastry breakfast had been well enough made, but wasn’t quite enough to make up for a week of bad cooking and conference room sandwiches. Erika stopped briefly in one of the twenty or so shops and restaurants lining the route to the subterranean train platform, and picked up two bags of dried fruit from a display by the tills. She pushed aside the hard foreign currency in her bag to find her PID, and handed it to the aproned cashier. The man - middle-aged and statuesque in a squat, prehistorical way – gave Erika a broad smile of recognition; all twinkle-eyed and with a face full of creases. Though Erika didn’t immediately recognise the man, she was a frequent enough flyer that she was used to a more than impersonal reception by the few staff that inhabited this city of aviation. From her outbound flight she vaguely remembered the man’s square head and olive skin and receding black hair – a Kurdistani she guessed – and smiled back as he deftly waved his hands towards the screen before him in the necessary shapes and waves required to appease the gods of commerce.

She patiently waited for the PID to be handed back, hand outstretched, but then came a pause. That fermata of fellowship between her and the good natured cashier was depressingly familiar, and Erika cursed herself for having passed over her ministry PID rather than her own. She knew perfectly well the symbol that had flashed on her former friend’s monitor, the rays of light that had fed the weeds now choking his smile.

Erika quickly took her PID and the fruit, and packed them into her shoulder bag as she strode away. She shouldn’t be ashamed, she told herself. She knew the rationale behind the Policy; she spent enough time in foreign countries trying to convince groups of people of its merits, while they politely suppressed their varied shades of distaste. It worked socially, and had worked economically before those damned numbers had escalated, and took her stress levels with them. These tiny splinters of people’s distrust had been pulling away at the base of the once mighty oak of her certainty for six years now.

-----

They were playing Schöenberg in the elevator to the train platform, but serialism wasn’t really a morning thing for Erika so she slipped on her visor again and tuned it to a radio station playing something more palatable. There were two or three minutes before the next high speed train to Copenhagen, and so Erika sat on the hard platform seats and reached into her handbag for one of the bags of fruit. In the ensuing battle with the thick bioplastic packaging, the fruit beat a hasty but successful retreat into every corner of her handbag, and so she sat picking sweet shards of banana and mango until the train almost noiselessly floated on its magnetic rails along the platform.

The flight had landed at 5 am, and so there were few passengers of any kind – holiday makers nor commuters - with which to fight for space in the train carriage. As the train accelerated to the 400 km mark, a knife of adrenaline and longing stabbed at the pit of Erika’s stomach; three long weeks without seeing her wife, and the blooming abdomen, leavened with their first child. Two months into the pregnancy and Erika smiled broadly, her head rested on the window, at the thought of how noticeable the bump might be. Fitful sleep erased the rest of the hour and a half journey from the island airport in the Baltic to the centre of Copenhagen.

A bitter wind was blowing in the city centre, but there was mercifully little distance to walk to the vast car park under the Tivoli Gardens. The trees were bare, and the park was in that lull between the Halloween and Christmas fairs when thousands of families would come to scream their way through a day - on occasions out of enjoyment. The low, bright October sun was turned into a glitterball by the buffeted branches, and Erika paused at the entrance to the car park sorely tempted to wade through the sun spots to one of the park’s benches where she and Caroline had whiled some afternoons when they had first dated at University.

Doc_Thom
April 29th, 2013, 10:57 PM
Well. That did NOT copy and paste well.

Doc_Thom
April 30th, 2013, 04:37 PM
Ah, there we go.

I should add that I have not written anything in the past, beyond some scribbled comic verse. Having had some ideas going around my head for stories for a while, I decided to give some language shaping a go!

This is set some undetermined time in the relatively near future.

Velex
April 30th, 2013, 06:01 PM
That's quite a detailed world you've made!

The mention that plane seats could be double or single seemed irrelevant.

I started to feel left out because Erika would mention little things she knew, but they were never shared with the reader. Like about the cuffs, the Policy, and the difference between a PID and a ministry PID.

Doc_Thom
April 30th, 2013, 06:27 PM
That's quite a detailed world you've made!

The mention that plane seats could be double or single seemed irrelevant.

I started to feel left out because Erika would mention little things she knew, but they were never shared with the reader. Like about the cuffs, the Policy, and the difference between a PID and a ministry PID.

Hi Velex, thanks for taking the time to read and respond, much appreciated!

I plan that many of the details will become clear as the reader reads on. Would the lack of full explanation at this point put you off reading any more do you think? The PID or personal identification device is a bit of a work in progress ... PID is a bit clunky, as is 'personal identification device'. I should perhaps give it a brand name, and then explain what one is ... I'm imagining some sort of credit card sized think that combines phone, passport, credit card etc.

I take your point about the plane seats, and while you're right that it's irrelevant to the story as a whole, I was trying to flesh out the detail of the setting, and making it clear that Erika was travelling alone.

Velex
May 1st, 2013, 12:36 AM
No, I'm not put off by any lack of explanation. However, I have to ask; Do you know that everything you've written is explanation?

Jarklor
May 1st, 2013, 05:12 AM
Wow! Cool!

Powka
May 1st, 2013, 10:59 AM
No, I'm not put off by any lack of explanation. However, I have to ask; Do you know that everything you've written is explanation?

I'm new to this. Is it bad? And why? Thank you.

Belderan
May 1st, 2013, 11:45 AM
I thought this was well written and I enjoyed reading it. A couple of niggles for me was the lack of explanation regarding the black cuffs paragraph - I realise you are probably going to explain it at some point but I feel that it needs a bit of "fleshing out" now as your reader may or may not remember it later on (if that makes sense). Also not sure the use of "semaphore(?) of the black cuffs" works for me in that I assume your trying to convey that they cuffs are a message in themselves but its a tad confusing. I'm not saying all your readers are going to be "average" but I would be a bit careful not to use words that need a bit of explanation in the context. Not sure that's come across quite right.

Velex
May 1st, 2013, 02:24 PM
I'm new to this. Is it bad? And why? Thank you.

Bad? Why might it be bad, do you think? Perhaps I should ask; what's good about explanation?

Skodt
May 1st, 2013, 05:16 PM
It is a slow read. What I mean is your sentences are awfully wordy, and that makes for a slow moving pace. It is still well written, but I find myself wondering to much about the actions Erika sees, and then couple that with the slow moving pace and I find myself teetering off into my own imagination. Your words are large and used very close to one another. I always like to remember a quote...
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”Not to say your word selection is bad, or overly complicated, but it causes the reader to slow, and when I slow down my flow is turned off. Just remember for every wordy sentence and description there is something shorter and quicker that can be used to replace it. I don't think you should re-write to my specifications, but this is my opinion on the matter.

Powka
May 1st, 2013, 11:10 PM
Bad? Why might it be bad, do you think? Perhaps I should ask; what's good about explanation?

No, you didn't understand. I really don't get it -- why is explanation bad, or good? Does it break the story? I don't seem to grasp this.

Velex
May 2nd, 2013, 01:14 AM
No, you didn't understand. I really don't get it -- why is explanation bad, or good? Does it break the story? I don't seem to grasp this.

Explanation is neither good or bad. It's necessary for most stories. However, most of the emotion of a story comes through character thought and dialogue and action, so generally you want to explain as little as possible, so to provide the reader with the most emotional experience for her/his time.

Doc_Thom's story suffers from lack of thought, action and/or dialogue. However I wasn't sure if he knew this or not; perhaps he only wanted feedback on how to improve his descriptions. I would otherwise tell him that in each of the scenes he describes; the airplane, the luggage terminal, the customs desk, etc, Erika should have a conversation with someone, seriously mull over her thoughts, or take some sort of plot related action, so we can learn about her, and start advancing the story.

edited in action, because Skodt is correct.

Skodt
May 2nd, 2013, 02:26 AM
^ Disagree. There are plenty of stories with little to no dialogue at all in them. Each story has a way to progress the story, and conversation doesn't always win.

Velex
May 2nd, 2013, 02:49 AM
Actually, I've changed my entire critique to this; Where's the plot?

Doc_Thom
May 2nd, 2013, 10:03 AM
Sorry for the slow response to this thread guys - it's been a busy week in the lab so far.

Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment, much appreciated.

Velex, I take and understand your point about the slow pace of the plot. In my mind I'm playing the 'long game' with this story, and taking some time to establish the world which is set some time (50-70 years?) in the future. So far, we have had some of Erika's thoughts, though I agree not in direct quotes. There will be plenty of dialogue, but when travelling alone as Erika is here, I don't believe she would have many conversations.

Skodt, I also take your point about the use of long words. I'm afraid this is a reflection of my speaking style - yes, I'm a bit of a wordy prick! I love the English language, and choosing precisely the nuanced word I want, but completely accept that this might put people off and make the text too stodgy to get through.

Thanks again.

namesake
May 2nd, 2013, 05:35 PM
I liked the story. However, stories can be idea generated, plot, or character driven. I have written all at one point. I agree though generally explanation is a bad part practice; since the hook of the story is at the beginning pages where you setup the world, and it is not interesting to some people probably since even when a lot of science fiction is not character driven even a lot of the time. Supposedly, I read it somewhere. To play it safe I'd usually acquise to what people ask.