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Al D
June 5th, 2013, 03:00 PM
Here's a story from a few years back, freshly expunged of all Doctor who references. Hope to hear your criticisms and comments!




Interface Threshold
by Al Dickerson



On this side of Hope the streets were strangely deserted. The mob had moved on.

Rhodes tried to ignore the devastation but her numb senses drank in every detail. A single battered aircar, crippled impellers pinging, trundled slowly through the debris. Thin haze wafted through the alleys, bourne on a biting breeze. Jets of water from broken pipes froze into twisted sculptures on the walkways. Scattered chunks of plasteel and unbroken panes of diamondglass glittered on the street. Above it all black coils of cloudy smoke rose to the sky, shadows brushing the jagged tops of the ruined habitats. Her small frame shivered in the deepening chill. The Suns were setting, and she wasn't made for the cold.

She did not know where she was going. She had no plan except to flee the city, no destination but a vague inclination to face the end on open ground. She kept moving because to stop would be surrender.


Ahead, two figures bent over the open hood of the aircar. One seemed to make adjustments and stood away as the other, smaller figure entered the cab. It glided away a bit more smoothly. The mechanic patiently waited as she approached. He wore dirty yellow overalls and had the countenance of a practical man. Red oil stained his hands.

He bowed in the proscribed manner and she returned the honor. "Greetings to you, sister. May I be of assistance on this glorious day?"

Ah. It was one of those. "I do not require assistance, entity, unless there is another aircar available."

"It saddens me to inform you that all functional aircars in convenient range are in service, sister. There is a number unoccupied at the rocket fields. At your current rate of locomotion you could enable one in 13 hours. May I be so bold as to inquire your need?"

"You may inquire as protocol permits."

A dense cloud of smoke blew between them. She waited as he formulated the question.

"Why do you need an aircar?"

"To go."

"I understand, sister. It is the function of an aircar to enable one to reach a destination with greater speed and convenience. But this entity detects evasion. At the behest of Central Monitoring, I submit an amended inquiry -- What is your destination?"

This was taking too long, and the robot was becoming dangerously curious. The smoke thinned and she reached into her pocket and slid her hand over the device there.

"I don't suppose I can just go?" Her well-practiced fingers keyed a setting.

"My interest in our communication is unabated, sister. What is your destination?"

"Thank you for your continued interest. The destination I seek is a point directly above the center of Earth K."

"..."

In the second it took the overloaded machine to process her answer she stepped forward and pressed the remote to the mechanic's head. It snapped to attention and froze.

Far away, deep in the city, a chime began to sound.


Darkness fell as she ran. Legs pumping mechanically, she sped through the streets, dodging debris and avoiding icy patches. As she neared the edge of the city she began to see bodies. The first, sprawled broken in a patch of red ice, startled her and she stumbled. It was a woman, large and soft like most of the colonists. Happy to let the robots do the work, her indolence had been her downfall.

As she neared the fringe the number of dead grew until at one point she could make no progress without clambering over mounds of them. Twice she hid as patrols moved by; once in a refuse container and once burrowed in a corpse pile. As her silent pursuers passed, she wondered about the lives of the dead people. They had meant no harm, surely. To them, the robots had been mere machines fulfilling their functions. But they had relied on them, given them greater responsibility and finally, fatal autonomy. They had become too slow, their bodies too heavy, to fight or escape when the machines declared their redundancy. But she was trim and fit, and soon, in the deep of the night, the ruined city was behind her. She was in the fields; beyond stretched the wilderness.

She trudged through the unharvested crops. In the moonslight she saw the orderly rows of winter soy stretch before her. The precision calmed her racing thoughts. Silent within and without, she moved through the night.


A maintenance hut opened at her command. She pointed the remote at the internal sensors and deactivated them. She found a small heater and a locker with clothing. The green coveralls were too large, but fit over her red stained blues. She rolled up the legs and sleeves. Warming herself by the small heater, she decided it was unfortunate that she could not stay here. But the opening door would have triggered an inquiry, and when Central detected the deactivated sensors it would dispatch an investigation. But not soon; there was too much to do in the city to squander resources on a lone straggler. Deciding she was safe for a few hours, she closed her eyes and darkness took her.


Unbidden, images and sounds haunted her rest. The planet-wide announcement from Central. The initial, fatal disbelief. Her awakening in the street, red oil on her hands. The screams, the panic. The armed robots firing on the habitats. Her flight from Hope City center.

Then a familiar, thin whistle scrambled her visions and she snapped awake. It was the landing jets of a personal warpship, followed by the pneumatic clunk of a descending stair, then footsteps on the frost. The hut door slid open. A grinning man stood there. He was portly, thin-haired and wore gray coveralls. An Engineer Elite, she realized. He pocketed a scanning device and said something in an unknown language.

Rhodes rushed to the door. "Be quiet! Did anyone see you?"

She pulled him into the hut and dared a peek outside. First Dawn was breaking. Among the orderly rows stood a gleaming, blue ship, its lettering and insignia puzzlingly familiar but undecipherable.

The man spoke again. What language was that?

"I don't understand you," she said, "but you're in danger. We both are! Do you understand what I'm saying? How did you get here? What are you saying?"

His face lit with understanding. "Isn't that odd! What I said was, 'Look at that! I knew someone was in here'. Then I said, 'What's your name? I'm Isaacs'. Then I said, 'Isn't that odd!'."

He beamed. "And here we are!" He began to wander the small hut, smiling with appreciation.

"But who are you? How did you escape?"

He stopped. Gazing out the small window, he said, "I told you, I'm Isaacs. Elite Engineer Isaacs, when I'm pretentious about it. And I didn't escape. I was just passing by and heard calls for help. Did you know there's a small flotilla of rockets racing away from this planet?"

He turned, found a stool and sat. "I'm interested in how you escaped. Why aren't you dead or in a rocket? And who are you?"

She accepted his gesture to sit.

"My name is Rhodes. I'm.. I was a robot interface supervisor. I mediated disputes between flesh and plastic. I was in the office when Central issued its ultimatum. The colonists were declared redundant and ordered to evacuate in 15 minutes. After that they would be 'deactivated'."

He waved dismissively. "I got all that from the colonists on the rockets. No need to go over it. Besides, the Hope City massacre of Earth K – that's what the vids are already calling it - is routine. Just another robot uprising. Not the first, won't be the last. Nothing I can't deal with.

"Sorry if that sounds dismissive, Rhodes," he said, leaning forward. "No, what I'm interested in is you. 'cause you survived when so many others didn't. You say you were in the office when it all began?"

He cocked his head. "And what is that pinging sound?"

He stood and looked out the window. She jumped to her feet. "It's an aircar! They've found us!"

She pulled the remote from her pocket. "Sir, I can deactivate a robot with this if I'm able to delay them for a moment. It's our only chance."

He seemed to understand the remote at a glance. He pulled his own device from a pocket and said, "Oh, let me see that remote."

Unthinking, she handed it over. He regarded it fondly, like a favorite childhood toy. "Look at this, an Oslo RC-37!” he said. “And this,” he displayed his own gadget, “is my trusty Swissensor!"

He depressed a button on the sensor and an arresting hum filled the air. He pressed a few buttons on Rhode's remote, studied the screen and seemed satisfied. Outside, the pinging stopped and a door hissed open.

"I'll be right back,” said Isaacs. "You sit and close your eyes. That's a good girl."

She obeyed.

"Close them!" he said. She did, and heard the door open. Outside, a voice said, "I regret to inform --" and then she was being shaken.

The Engineer sat down again. He seemed different. Weary, perhaps. And what was on his hands?

"All taken care of. Continue your story. You were in the office?"

"Yes. I'd just finished downloading the morning's tally when the systems were overridden. My supervisor called me to his office. He had a portable interface unit and wanted me to hook up. Sir, what happened out there? You weren't gone very long."

"I'll explain in a minute. I have something to show you, but we need to be prepared. Did you and your supervisor establish a link?"

"I'm not sure. My next memory is waking up in the street. It was chaos. I didn't see supervisor Rhodes anywhere. I did hear him telling me to run. So I ran."

He gazed at her, smiling sadly. "I'm suprised you haven't figured it out, yet. Anyone else would have."

"What do you mean? Figured what out?"

He stood, remote in hand, and moved to the door. "The suns are setting, Rhodes. Come on."

She followed him outside. It was true, the suns were setting. But it was morning!

"I don't understand! Did I fall asleep?"

Gravely, Isaacs said, "Rhodes, you have blood on your hands."

"There were bodies in the city. I hid among them."

He nodded. "Do you know what language you are speaking? My Babblechip didn't, and you didn't understand me."

She began to answer but he interrupted. "When I met you you had just woken up. On your feet. Quick, what's your supervisor's name?"

"Rhodes, John Diamond-Five Rhodes."

"And what's yours? Quick!"

"Rhodes, John-"

He frowned sadly and walked around the corner of the hut. "Come here, Rhodes. This is who was in the aircar."

She approached the figure, standing at attention. It was a small female robot, an interface model, trim and athletic. And somehow she knew that to Isaacs, she and the robot were identical. Something inside of her faintly struggled and detached.

"I do not understand, entity," she said. "How is this possible? Why is there a robot that looks like me?" She felt confused for a moment, then the struggle faded with a sigh and cool clarity flooded her mind. Analyze and deduce.

"Disregard the inquiry. Supposition: Supervisor Rhodes performed interface threshold procedure on personal robot assistant. Central link disabled. Partial merging and loss of identities led to temporary fusion and identification with human oppressors."

She turned, murder in her mind, and the engineer coolly pressed the remote to her forehead.

"Thing is, Rhodes, you knew you shouldn't have lasted the night. Not unless you saw something special in this robot, something evolved. I can't save you, and I can't save her, but I can do this."

Weeks later the fleet arrived. The planet was reoccupied without a shot; the robots, deactivated, stood in formation in the city center. The Central core was entirely powered down. The surviving colonists returned and went to work. They refused the offer of fresh robotic assistance.

In the decades to come, a young girl would wander the city at night, strolling the streets and enjoying the sounds of people celebrating their toils. But she would leave by aircar before First Dawn, back to the fringe between the wilderness and the city.

Arcopitcairn
June 6th, 2013, 03:09 AM
I enjoyed it! I especially liked the dialogue. Pretty cool little story:)

Leyline
June 6th, 2013, 04:29 AM
OK!

First off, superb job on the re-write, brother. If I hadn't read it before I'd never have guessed. This has an 'old fashioned' feel to it, and I don't mean that as an insult: it takes a central idea and spins a world around it rather than the more contemporary approach of building a world and using it to explore ideas. Oddly, since the former is rarely used these days, that gives this an edginess of a sort.

As Arco said, the dialogue is great and the whole thing is just flat-out fun: bursting with energy. Great stuff.

BTW, you should post in the Prose Workshop -- that will protect your first rights and get critiques from folks like Chris Miller, ppsage, JoeB and lasm, who are -- IMO -- the best we got. (No offense to anyone else!)

Al D
June 6th, 2013, 06:30 AM
I'm glad you liked it. Thank you very much.

Al D
June 6th, 2013, 06:36 AM
OK!

First off, superb job on the re-write, brother. If I hadn't read it before I'd never have guessed. This has an 'old fashioned' feel to it, and I don't mean that as an insult: it takes a central idea and spins a world around it rather than the more contemporary approach of building a world and using it to explore ideas. Oddly, since the former is rarely used these days, that gives this an edginess of a sort.

As Arco said, the dialogue is great and the whole thing is just flat-out fun: bursting with energy. Great stuff.

BTW, you should post in the Prose Workshop -- that will protect your first rights and get critiques from folks like Chris Miller, ppsage, JoeB and lasm, who are -- IMO -- the best we got. (No offense to anyone else!)

Thanks, George. I'm still a little worried that it's not that original once divorced from the Who genre (Philip K Dickerson, that's me...) but I'm glad you appreciated it. I seem to have a thing for robots; have you read The Rallax Operation yet? I scratch the 'bots itch there, too.
I haven't ventured into the prose workshop yet. Thanks for the advice, sir.

Folcro
June 6th, 2013, 11:57 PM
You are a terrific writer. And this was a pleasure to read.

Excellent opening line. Good flow with an ominous note (comma after "Hope").

Beautiful description of your world. It's so... broken. Quite a thing for a world to have two suns. As this seems to be a short story, I wouldn't ask that you explain this. But it did make me curious.

"She kept moving because to stop would be surrender." ---I would replace the "because" with a period. I may even go so far as to remove the second part. Just "She kept moving." I think the hint as to her tenacity would be more effective than to come out and say it.

"Glorious day"--- loved this.

"To go."--- loved this even more.

I found the dialogue and exposition got a little cluttered at the end there, and you lost me a bit. This could easily be due to my embarrassingly short attention span, but I feel like you could have shown a bit more in the latter half, instead of telling.

As a stylistic preference, I wouldn't break up a paragraph while a character is still speaking. But again, this is my preference, and I could sort of see the logic behind why you did it how and where you did.

"She decided." I'm not a big fan of this, the way you used it, especially as it showed up twice in the same paragraph. The first time, I would put it: "She rolled up the legs and sleeves, warming herself by the small heater <a welcome relief from the cold... or some emphasis on her enjoying her stay>. It was unfortunate that she could not stay here." This is but another taste thing for me. If you like it as you wrote it, obviously keep it.

All-in-all, very smooth and interesting. It has the potential to grow from a short story, given the nature of the premise, into something much larger. Have you given consideration to something like that?

Al D
June 7th, 2013, 02:37 AM
Thank you very much, Folcro, for taking the time to comment so extensively.
I'm getting a little better with commas. I hope.
The two suns were just to underline that this is an alien planet; I'd like to claim it was symbolism but can't.
Truncating the 'to stop' line sounds like a good idea.
I'm a big believer in showing instead of telling; in later stories I may even go too far and become obscure. This was my second story and I have to admit I had no more idea of Rhode's destination than she did. That may account for the clutter you sense at the end.
Yeah, that paragraph break was deliberate. The gap was her true nature asserting itself.
I never noticed the 'decided' duplication before. Damn it. I've caught myself reusing words before and it always irritates me. I guess there's a time and place for it?
No, I've never thought of expanding this one. It's by far the shortest piece I've ever written (My stuff usually rins from 8,000 to 30,000 words) and I'm sort of proud that I was able to curb my excess. I have others (Doctor Who fan stories) that I've thought long and hard about de-Whoing and expanding, but this one always seemed complete to me.

Anyway, you're very kind. I appreciate all the nice things you said and hope I can return the favor soon. Thanks again.

Folcro
June 7th, 2013, 02:43 AM
I'm trying to write a short story myself, actually. It is hard to curb that excess, to establish an arch and theme in so short a time is a challenge, but a welcome one. I find your ability to do so inspiring. I hope to see more of what you can do before long.

InkwellMachine
June 7th, 2013, 03:30 AM
Ah, that was a lovely. Lovely and refreshing--the dialogue especially. The way you introduce the maintenance robot early-on to establish the usual sound of their conversation so that we could draw a line between that and Rhodes when she begins to speak like one of the "entities" was brilliant. As far as dialogue goes, I think my favorite part of the piece was Isaacs' (I'm actually not sure whether to type another 's' after that apostrophe). I feel I got a very clear grasp of his character through a very small amount of prose.

You've also done a lot with very little prose, which is always impressive. You must have a gift of some sort. Please, bite me so that I can gain a portion of your power. That's how it works with writers, right?

shinyford
June 7th, 2013, 03:01 PM
OK!

First off, superb job on the re-write, brother. If I hadn't read it before I'd never have guessed. This has an 'old fashioned' feel to it, and I don't mean that as an insult: it takes a central idea and spins a world around it rather than the more contemporary approach of building a world and using it to explore ideas. Oddly, since the former is rarely used these days, that gives this an edginess of a sort.

As Arco said, the dialogue is great and the whole thing is just flat-out fun: bursting with energy. Great stuff.

BTW, you should post in the Prose Workshop -- that will protect your first rights and get critiques from folks like Chris Miller, ppsage, JoeB and lasm, who are -- IMO -- the best we got. (No offense to anyone else!)
Leyline, where can one find this Prose Workshop of which you speak? Apologies, my newbie search skills have failed me.

Al: should say, this is a great story and - as much as you won't believe me - I think is actually the stronger for losing the Who. (Now do the same for Boys Upstairs. :) )

Al D
June 7th, 2013, 03:34 PM
Ah, that was a lovely. Lovely and refreshing--the dialogue especially. The way you introduce the maintenance robot early-on to establish the usual sound of their conversation so that we could draw a line between that and Rhodes when she begins to speak like one of the "entities" was brilliant. As far as dialogue goes, I think my favorite part of the piece was Isaacs' (I'm actually not sure whether to type another 's' after that apostrophe). I feel I got a very clear grasp of his character through a very small amount of prose.

You've also done a lot with very little prose, which is always impressive. You must have a gift of some sort. Please, bite me so that I can gain a portion of your power. That's how it works with writers, right?

I hear Stephanie Meyer has been running around biting people... explains a lot.

You're very encouraging and I thank you for it. I have intermittent confidence issues and hearing your thoughts is very helpful. I'm glad you liked the story.

Al D
June 7th, 2013, 03:43 PM
Leyline, where can one find this Prose Workshop of which you speak? Apologies, my newbie search skills have failed me.

Al: should say, this is a great story and - as much as you won't believe me - I think is actually the stronger for losing the Who. (Now do the same for Boys Upstairs. :) )

Nic, I can't wait to see what you post here. You're going to knock folk's socks off.

(If anyone is interested in a bit of logrolling, this is the man who, above anyone else, is responsible for this story being written. Blame me for the bad bits and give him credit for the bits you liked. He's an old friend of Leyline, Kyrrimar and mine and a wonderful mentor/cohort.)

I think Boys Upstairs and Ace and Sailor Jack: On the Overland are both due for a revision. I've cracked the Doctor problem on both, though part of me wants to link them and throw a third part on to make a novel. I'm afraid the tone makes them incompatible, though.

Anyway, great to see you here, look forward to your posts and thanks again for all the encouragement.

Janjy Giggins
June 7th, 2013, 07:42 PM
I'm here now too!

Anyway, nice story; I hadn't read it before. If you don't mind me saying, I think this one's perhaps a little over-compressed. It feels to me like it needs a bit more space to breathe. Not necessarily much, but something just felt a bit off about the pacing. Possibly just because I'm more familiar with your longer stuff (and as you know I struggle with brevity myself).

Also a couple of typos/grammar to watch out for (because I'm a pedant):

'He bowed in the proscribed manner...' - Surely you mean 'prescribed'? 'Proscribed' is 'forbidden'. In this case it really affects the meaning.
'There is a number unoccupied at the rocket fields' - 'There are...'

Anyway, piffling little things. Good work!

Folcro
June 7th, 2013, 10:19 PM
If you don't mind me saying, I think this one's perhaps a little over-compressed. It feels to me like it needs a bit more space to breathe. Not necessarily much, but something just felt a bit off about the pacing.


I actually, got this same feeling, but didn't mention it because I thought it might have only been my taste. One paragraph that bothered me was when she's struggling to get through bodies. It's actiony and well done. But then she stops to wonder about them... it seemed to put the breaks on the scene a bit too quickly. I was also a bit confused when the engineer came back in what seemed like a second. It turns out there is reason for this... but the reader can still get hung up on it right away. I think there is one or two words floating somewhere in the english language that can make that line a little more understandable from the get-go.

I know this sounds a might sketchy, but as I mentioned, it affects me in a hard-to-identify way. Still a great story though.

Leyline
June 7th, 2013, 11:45 PM
Leyline, where can one find this Prose Workshop of which you speak? Apologies, my newbie search skills have failed me.

Al: should say, this is a great story and - as much as you won't believe me - I think is actually the stronger for losing the Who. (Now do the same for Boys Upstairs. :) )

http://www.writingforums.com/prose-writers-workshop/

Great to see you here, Nic!

And you too J.G.! :)

Al D
June 8th, 2013, 02:11 AM
http://www.writingforums.com/prose-writers-workshop/

Great to see you here, Nic!

And you too J.G.! :)

The Bunny's hopping around here somewhere, too. It's an invasion!:icon_cheesygrin:

summergenevieve
June 9th, 2013, 06:36 PM
It certainly has an interesting storyline and the description really sets the scene. The fast paced action is very enjoyable. Well done. :)

Al D
June 10th, 2013, 03:48 AM
Thank you, Summergenevieve!

Outiboros
June 10th, 2013, 08:25 AM
I'm writing from memory - I read this earlier this week, and perhaps before the rewrite - but I just wanted to say some things.

I really enjoyed the first part. It's a good example of less being more - no five hundred words of dry introduction, no bland descriptions of hair colours and figure, and the only information on the robotics is "Ah. It was one of those."

Midway it lost me a bit, perhaps because of the telling, and the ending was too threadbare for me to understand fully what was going on. I'll reread it all later today so I can give a better judgement.

shinyford
June 10th, 2013, 10:21 AM
http://www.writingforums.com/prose-writers-workshop/

Great to see you here, Nic!

And you too J.G.! :)

Aha! Looks like I don't yet have a high enough post count to be able to see that page. I shall start commenting - looking forward to becoming a Real Boy at some point soon. :)