Thursday, December 09, 2010

New Beginning 813

Ion studied the other travelers. The fat man who overflowed from the seat beside Ion was sleeping, his head leaning back against the seat, his mouth slightly open in a snore. A student sat across from Ion, a thin young man whose glasses were barely visible above the volume of poetry held close to his face. Two old women sat by the window, talking in low voices.

Any of them could be informers. At least one of them probably was.

And one was Ion’s contact.

The train, already slow, shuddered to a halt. No one moved. Ion glanced out the window—bare fields, grass, trees in the distance. No station. Trains stopped for no reason—to wait for another train, to meet a schedule, to let a cow cross the track. The train is tired, Ion thought, and suppressed a smile.

But that was a dangerous thought. It could sound like criticism. Trains don’t tire, he corrected himself. They function perfectly, like all the efficient systems designed by our great leader.

It was a good habit, correcting subversive thoughts. Not that anyone was listening to Ion’s thoughts.

At least, he hoped not.

"What was that about the train being tired?" It was the student. He had put down his book and was looking at Ion.

"I uh . . . you heard--?"

"I heard it too," one of the old ladies said. "So you have a complaint about the train?"

"It was a joke," Ion said. "I would never . . . "
Damn it, he thought. If only my contact would give the watchword I could give the countersign and--

"Complaining about the trains?" The other old lady. "Our great leader will reward us for eliminating you."

"I would never speak ill of the trains!" Ion declared.

"Engine, engine number nine."
It was the fat man. And the watchword!

Thank God, Ion thought. "If the train goes off the track . . . Shit."

Opening: Lisavark.....Continuation: Evil Editor


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

Ion nervously glanced at the other passengers again. Fat and lazy man still sleeping? Check. Student that likes poetry and so is wearing glasses? Check. Gossiping old women? Check.

All personalities matched their appearances, and none of them an obvious telepath.

A telepath would, after all, be wearing exotic clothes and a turban. There would be a large jewel in said turban, and it would be wrapped around the telepaths head, as turbans often are.


Snake charmers wear turbans, telepaths are notoriously proud to be bald.

Ion cursed. He hated it when his subversive thoughts corrected him.


"Hey! What are you thinking about?"

The voice broke into his train of thought. There was a shudder and a gasp, and his eyes focused back on the great leader, staring up at him. She didn't look happy.

"What are you thinking?" She asked again.

He slumped down, exhausted. "The train is tired," he said.

"The what? Jesus, you're useless."

With a sigh, he rolled off her, sank into the mattress and stared up at the ceiling.

"God," she went on. "What a weak performance. Again. I should call you the three-thirty express. Heck, I should have married your brother when I had the chance. He was twice the man you are."

That was it. He was on the next train out of there. The cow had really crossed the line this time.


Soon the reason for the delay became apparent. A burly soldier threw open the carriage door, followed by a pale woman whose well-tailored suit marked her as an agent of the secret police. Ion assumed set his face and mind to a perfectly loyal blank, as he had practiced so many times before, but the agent hardly glanced at him. Her eyes locked on the student instantly and her face froze in a rictus of horror. "That's the one. He's reading...McGonnagal". The soldier nodded and shot the student dead.


He wasn't sure however because of self criticizer that had been implanted in his brain. It would be activated tomorrow or so he'd been told. Maybe he was self correcting thoughts as the thoughts came to him because the criticism bug had been activated early to see what he really thought. That would give him big trouble because he was to stop his random thoughts tomorrow and couldn't control them just now. And peace in Asia was threatened. Crap, he was the Minister of Defense and the world, his world was listening.


* * *

In the control room, the strain was showing on Blezi's face. It was his responsibility to suppress any news of the Great Leader's passing, and prevent the country from imploding into the power vacuum. His team were constantly monitoring, desperate to keep things under control.

"Well?" Blezi said. "What was he thinking?"

They both stared at the grainy picture projected on the wall from a tiny camera hidden in a train carriage.

"Well," replied Blezi's trusted lieutenant, "he stared out the window for two hours not thinking much at all. Then he thought a bit about cows. And the how the train must be tired."

The two soldiers looked at each other.

"Bring him to me!" Blezi demanded. "We have found our new Great Leader!"


Evil Editor said...

More unchosen continuations:

One of the eldery ladies smiled at him with approval. He at first did a double take wondering if she could be his contact, but when she shook her head and pointed across the isle, he knew she was a reader. She looked sweet and charming, but the leaders readers were dangerous beings who could play very agressive mind games.

His contact was as tired as the train, or dead. He glanced back at the blue-haired nightmare and now she and her friend wore secretive smiles.

Ion made like a lion and leaped from the train, running up the tracks toward the cow. He didn't want to be dead too, but he already was in his mind. Without his contact, he was terminal, he just hadn't stopped creating little puffs of steam yet. The old ladies couldn't follow him now, but there would be others who could.
He wondered what he'd done wrong for them to send one of those mind reading monsters after his electical contact. The man had been a top engineer. Now he would be the top of the menu. Even now Ion's mouth watered thinking how the slightly overweight fellow would taste grilled.

The leader allowed no waste to take place in NewHopE. Somehow the young ones didn't even know Long Pork had not always been served with such flair. Ion had to aquire the taste for the dish himself. He wished he could have stayed on the train for at least one good meal, without finding himself on the chefs Grade A list.

Hearing the birds tweeting he ducked into the swamp. Those birds had eyes which meant the old ladies could still see him if he stayed on the tracks. The swamp was freezing cold, but it meant the alligators would be moving slow, if at all. At least that was a lucky break.


Criticism was dangerous because it led to self criticism which was a public shaming of self and tomatoes were thrown at the public self critical meeting. The tomatoes weren't juicy ripe soft beefsteak tomatoes. They were hard little green baby tomatoes that stung like blazes when they were propelled from sling shots. And OMG! The Criticism Police were making their way through the car. They shook the sleeping fat person awake. He was in trouble for critical dreams, the latest in a new stream of legislation that was being tested.
The fat person wiped the drool from the side of his face as he struggled to wake up. His punishment would take the form of extreme weight loss. And it wouldn't be pretty. He clearly was a French fry addict of the worst sort.


Evil Editor said...

You claim trains stop for no reason and immediately list three reasons. Otherwise it's intriguing. You might try putting the description of the passengers after "And one was Ion's contact." We'd probably find the descriptions more interesting if we already knew that the people included informers and a contact.

Anonymous said...

I'd use less verbiage on the descriptions of the other passengers. Ion is glancing around -- bing bing bing.

And I'm confused as to why Ion corrects his thought crimes when he's about to meet this "contact."

none said...

The second time Ion corrected his thoughts, I started wondering if this was going to be a feature of the book. Because, yanno, it annoys the heck out of me when characters backtrack all the time :).

Ellie said...

I agree with EE about the no reason/reason confusion. I also found the descriptions of the other passengers irritatingly vague. I wouldn't want anything longer than what you have, but more vivid imagery would be helpful. "Fat man" doesn't tell me if he's a corpulent businessman or a gone-to-seed drunk.

I also think inverting their descriptions and placement re: Ion would be helpful. To wit, "Beside Ion, a sleeping fat man overflowed from his seat; across from Ion, a student..." -- having their placements in the middle of the description gives me whiplash because I'm thinking about them, then Ion, then them again.

That rather ticky-tack bit aside, I am intrigued and would definitely read on.

flibgibbet said...

Overall, I found this very compelling. I actually like the set-up----the nonchalant descriptions of ordinary passengers followed by the big reveal.

Think you could tighten this by eliminating some of the echoes. Instead of "his head leaning back against the seat" how about "leaning back,"? Instead of "across from Ion" how about "across the aisle"? You use "At least" twice, and use "thought/s" four times in succession.

My only other nitpick is with "The train is tired". I read that twice and am still not sure what you mean. Do you mean the train is as tired as everybody else? Or do you mean it's worn out, like every other bit of infrastructure in this world? In any case, I don't know why this would cause him to smile---even if he's smiling ironically.

It reads very 1984 to me, and I find that a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I don't get this thought police thing. If your thoughts can be read at any moment, how could you expect to have any secrets at all, including "I'm about to meet a contact". And your contact is going to be thinking the same thing, so that doubles your chance of being discovered.

And wouldn't it be dangerous even to wonder whether or not your fellow travelers were informers? Wouldn't you always be running into people who said "And just why are you worried about informers?"

I'd stop reading if that wasn't explained very quickly.

Also, the description of his fellow travelers is flat because we don't know why he's interested. I'd move it out of the first paragraph. Then you'd have a stronger start:

"Ion studied the other travelers. Any of them could be informers. At least one of them probably was."

Now we know why Ion is studying them - he is looking for signs that someone is not what he/she seems, and now a little description can work well. Is the fat man [insert description] really sleeping? Is the student [insert description] really reading? And those two old women by the window - what are they saying? And which one is his contact?

Evil Editor said...

The thought reading takes place in the continuation. It's not part of the author's opening.

Dave Fragments said...

I used to work for the Federal Government and I always had to deal with the public. I can tell you what I tell my friends who scream and cry and weep and do all sorts of {crap} about Political Correctness.

An example: A Santa just lost his job for joking that he knew where all the naughty girls lived. he said this to adults who asked why he was so jolly.

If I had voiced anything objectionable to the public, I would have been demoted or fired. That included ethnic jokes, most nasty political jokes, blond jokes, vulgarity and whatever else might offend.

And the first people who would complain were those who carried on to my face about political correctness. They told me the evil jokes and then scolded me for not laughing. I kid you not. They were the first to complain about any slightly errant service by a salesperson or a waiter/waitress or a clerk or anyone that didn't behave they way they thought they deserved to be treated. Then they complained to my face that I said nothing capable of offending and would not laugh at their nasty jokes. Then they turned around and complained about everything because they could find fault with everything. Again, I kid you not.

ION has learned to think twice before he speaks. ION has learned not to think certain things without internal reproach because those thoughts might pop out of his mouth. ION has learned to listen without reaction. ION has learned to keep his emotions off of his face because they betray his thoughts.

There are things wrong about this opening but not about the situation it wants to portray. The thought police are out there, waiting to be offended by even bland and unoffensive speech.

Anonymous said...

A Santa just lost his job for joking that he knew where all the naughty girls lived. he said this to adults who asked why he was so jolly.

That is frakking hilarious.

fairyhedgehog said...

I liked this as it stands, but the "At least, he hoped not" to me implied that it would be possible for someone to listen to his thoughts. If so, then I wondered how on earth he could ever hide from an informer.

Evil Editor said...

On the other hand, he seems to know that at least one of those four people is an informer, yet he says no one is listening to his thoughts. To me this implies that he's joking to himself, saying, Man, things are bad here, but I hope they haven't gotten so bad you can't even think critically.

Evil Editor said...

On the other other hand, the name Ion is the MC in Face-Lift 845, in which a dragon is creating a zombie-like army and some people can perform magic using amulets, so perhaps he's hoping the informer isn't someone who has magic abilities including mind reading (although as I understand it, if you use magic you turn into a zombie, so you'd probably use it more sparingly than just reading the minds of people who happen to be sitting near you on a train.

none said...

Because people like to control other people, Dave, and for many PCness offers another means of control. Doesn't mean they believe in any of it. Just a tool.

If you honestly think nobody had to watch what they say before PC, then you really do need to put on a woman's body or a black person's and go out into the world.