Option Two

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OK, team:  Here’s the second novel option!  Let me know your vote via FB or WordPress message.  Thanks so much for reading. I am really appreciative of your time and support.   My application deadline is Tuesday, August 9, fyi.

I, the Body is a young adult novel pitting a band of renegade teenagers against the global corporation controlling virtually all natural resources in the 2080 post-apocalyptic world of Telemerica. Perrin I, a sixteen year old linemate, grows up toiling in the sky-born tetherlines that discharge carbon dioxide into the outer atmosphere on a planet Earth largely denuded of trees. The energy conglomerate Teletual selects Perri to participate in its groundbreaking disembodiment training, touted as the last, best hope for humankind’s survival on a planet growing increasingly inhabitable for human life. In the course of her training, Perri and her fellow trainees discover an awful truth about the dark past of Teletual, setting an epic conflict in motion. The future of humanity hangs in the balance.

*****

01.01/80:5am

I don’t recognize my hands today. Yesterday, it was my forearms, although when I turned my palms up, the scars reminded me. But today, my fingers on the entryboard look like someone else’s. A girl’s? A girl who’s not me, anyway. And when I type, I don’t feel anything, no sensation, except in my brain. It’s as if the letters are thrown up onto a blank screen in the back of my mind, and they stick there. But my hands, my fingers, my tendons and blood, are not part of the process.

 I don’t know why I’m not elated.; I expected to be. I know will be. But when I began the training, I thought it would take longer. They said a full remapping would last about a year, that you might notice some foreshadowing at around six months. I only got here three weeks ago, and already I am demonstrating Phase One capacities. I guess I am an Adept. Self-loathing is a strong motivator.

 There’s the gong – I gotta go for training. Happy New Year.

***

 Dr. Renfrew leaned forward, sliding the paperwork across the steel desk with fingertips only, his right hand tented like a claw.

“You should be proud of Perrin, Mr. and Mrs. I,” he said. “The selection process for young adult remapping is extremely rigorous, particularly so for girls . We could fill the program ten times over with equally qualified applicants, and yet somehow, we must choose. Perrin’s excellent progress in her first month with us only confirms the efficacy of our standards.”

“Yes,” stammered Margade, “in fact, we wondering about that, sir.” She glanced cautiously at Ewan, who was staring at the random images projected on the windowscreen, one ankle crossed on the opposite knee, his free foot twitching like a small electrified mammal. “Just what is it about Perri that sets her apart, in your eyes?”

Renfrew smiled tightly, his eyes masked by the windowscreen’s reflection in his goggle-like lenses. “I am not familiar with individual files, Mrs. I. Even if I were, our selection algorithm is, of course, proprietary. While you are no doubt eager to know more about your daughter’s qualifications, I can only divulge that all successful applicants to Teletual possess a unique constellation of qualities–intellectual, perceptual, genetic, personality, and biographical–that make them particularly well-suited to our training.”

Ewan turned his gaze from the windowscreen. He leaned in towards the desk, tilting his head to the right to try to see around the glare on Renfrew’s lenses. “Biographical?” he asked.

Renfrew swung his shoulders towards Ewan, chin ticking upwards mechanically to meet the bigger man’s gaze. “Yes,” he responded. “Each candidate’s personal biography…life experiences, relationships, family and social history, major life events and so on comprise a certain pattern that is…useful…to Adepts in facing the rigors of training.”

Ewan recrossed his leg, free ankle and foot twitching again with renewed intensity. “Such as?” he asked stiffly.

Margade placed a restraining hand on Ewans’ knee to calm the restless tic. “It’s alright, Mr. Renfrew,” she murmured in as soothing a voice as she could muster, “my husband was only curious, is all it is. It being such an honor, and Perri always just, well, an ordinary girl…some might even say a bit of troublemaker. “ Her eyes darted nervously at her husband. “ We sure never expected one of us to be chosen for something like this; we’re just lineworkers, bottom grade after all, ”

Renfrew studied Ewan thoughtfully for a moment, taking in the rough-hewn hands, the coiled physical intensity, the thick, leathery neck and shoulders. Something about the lineworker’s set jaw gave him pause, and he opened the file folder marked “I, Perrin” and slowly leafed through the pages.

Renfrew considered the documents before him. “One sees that.   One sees…much of interest.” He closed the file and stacked his hands neatly on top, as if to say, “we’re finished here.”

“He’s not gonna tell us lineworkers nothing, Margade,” growled Ewan, reaching painfully for the chunky gray sweater slung across the back of his chair.

Although a pale, frail little woman, Margade was not easily deterred. She placed her two hands, palms up, on the edge of Renfrew’s desk in the gesture of supplication typical of her grade. “It’s just that we have other children, Mr. Renfrew, see?” she whispered. “If there was anything in our biography, anything we could know that would better the boys’ chances, anything we could improve—“

Renfrew cut her off with a dismissive wave. “As I said, Mrs. I, our algorithm is confidential. There is little one can do to alter one’s past, after all.” He rose stiffly and maneuvered past Ewan to the door, indicating the interview was now concluded. “Thank you for entrusting Perrin to us. You can look forward to bimonthly progress reports and of course, the visit at Festivaire.”

***

12:12/ 80:12am

First chance to journal. Two days here, and nothing but a parade of orientation activities, rules, handbooks, tours. You get your TeleCard in the morning and it takes you right through the day, leads you around, tells you where to stop and what to pay attention to, when to push a button to open an interactive lesson, or run to the next exhibit.   If you are late or skip something, you get a little electronic pulse in your ear that corrects you. It makes your teeth rattle for a second. Growing up on the lines, I’m used to pain, but this is stranger than a tetherburn. The handbook says we just get mild corrections, but that if a “significant correction becomes necessary, it can incapacitate the student.” Noted.

The training facility is like a space cruiser, which I guess is kind of the point. It’s all passageways with a million turns that bring you right back to where you started, although it’s hard to tell because the images on the windowscreens are constantly changing. You can walk around for an hour and not know where you’ve been, or even if you’ve been anywhere at all. Your GPS chip only lights up when you’re back on your home corridor.

 I haven’t seen another human soul, but I know they must be here somewhere. Weird. I expected there would be freshman class or something, some group of us going through the training together.

 So on to the thing I’ve been avoiding: We are supposed to record an “intake reflection;” I really don’t want to think about it, but if I don’t do the assignment, I’ll get one of those ear zingers. The scene with Mother and Dads was pretty gruesome. She couldn’t stop talking, fussing, tucking my hair behind my ears. “I love your hair,” she said. “Remember how we used to braid it every morning before school? And Dads would always tug it on his way out to the lines, for luck? Do you remember, Ewan?” Dads just grunted. His words are all used up these days, burned out of him. If he says five sentences in a day, it’s a theatrical event. Thank god they made Quarry and Niall go to school instead of coming along for the big goodbye. I don’t know if the boys understand quite what happens here; they’re still concrete-phase. But the windowscreens would have scared them.   Quarry would have picked a fight with some virtual kid on the screen. Niall would have cried, for sure, and I hate that.

 I am also supposed to record if I have any commitment regrets in my initial days, if I have felt homesickness, lassitude, or an overwhelming urge to repatriate. Nope. “Please record any emotions whatsoever,” my TeleCard further directs me. So: Anger, disgust, entrapment, despair. Not with TeleTual. With Perri I.

01:08/ 80:8p

So weird. TeleCard today guided me down this passage I’d never seen.   Then it just stopped signaling. No assignment, just left me standing in this bay with blank windowscreens all around. I held my palm up to the chip reader to activate the screens: nothing. Talk into Card: nothing. Figured I’d just wait for something to come on the screen. Mostly, it’s been remapping exercises: images of home, my family at breakfast, the water, the sky, just the stuff you do and see everyday. Lots of images of the lines, lineworkers hovering in the cables, the wind buffeting them into their tethers, the tethers searing through their gloves when they try to secure a line-mate who’s been blown loose. I refuse to give in to those. It feels like the screen wants me to remember Grandad, going up into the lines and never coming home again, just vaporizing. It wants me to remember Teddy on his first day, suited up and heading into the altitude chute, his eyes hard, determined, bitter at 13. I won’t remember him, though. They can incapacitate me with a hundred-thousand-million ear zingers, but I can’t remember Teddy. I know they are probably reading this anyway, but still, go ahead and zap me because I really don’t care.

 I just stand there in the bay, no impulses from the Card, no signals from my Chip, thinking, “What the fuck?” when the lights go out and the bay door buzzes and slides shut, and the whole room sort of rumbles. The screens crackle and light up. Huh. Service interruption. We had them all the time at home, but I thought TeleTual was immune – after all, they own it all: the lines, the transverters, generators, filtration plants, everything. Must be a pretty big event out there to mess with the grid. I shiver to think of Dads up in the lines.   At least I don’t have to worry about Quarry and Niall yet, but Quarry only has one more year. He’ll be just like Teddy: Going up with clenched fists and grinding teeth.

 So now I’m locked in, which doesn’t really matter since I don’t know how the hell to get back to my own bay until my Chip reboots anyway. The windowscreens are pure static. This is annoying the life out of me, when all of a sudden one of them snaps into focus. Only it’s not the usual memory screen or color image of Old Growth Landscape, it’s showing another bay. And there’s a guy in there, big shouldered like a lineworker, but also skinny, like a teenager who hasn’t grown into his frame yet. The image is murky and soundless because of the service interruption, but he’s moving around, bobbing and spinning in this rhythmic way. His back is to the windowscreen, and I step in for a closer look. He spins around towards the screen and even though the image is grainy, it’s easy to see the flash of white teeth stand out against his dark skin. His eyes are closed, and he’s smiling.

 Just then, his eyes fly open and he claps one hand up to his ear. My right ear starts ringing, too, the zing penetrating down the back of my throat and into my gut, more intense this time than the one or two others I’ve been corrected. I crumple down to the ground, my eyes still on the screen. The guy is holding his ear, his mouth a grimace, but he’s still moving, still dancing. The bay rumbles and the juice powers back up just as I pass out. When I come to, I’m back in my own bay, a bandage on my ear and a headache that makes a lineburn look like a papercut. My TeleCard is flashing. I pick it up and read, “Personal correction/Renfrew: 01.08/80:9am.”

*** 

 Renfrew navigates from the front offices through the maze of grates and hatches that lead into the training facility for Unprovens. Wordlessly, he commands the windowscreens to run him through the I file again, and images begin to flood the walls as he proceeds through the corridor: The open sky, the earth viewed from above—filmy, cirrus clouds giving way to occasional glimpses of brown landmasses swimming in vast blue oceans; lineworkers dangling on their tethers; the grip of two hands loosening, a glove slipping off, diagonal burns across a girl’s forearms and wrists. Renfrew adjusts his mind back further into the file, and the screen fills with more images: four children at play at the water’s edge; Ewan and Margade I exchanging rings in a wooden chapel, long abandoned; Ewan I sitting at his father’s bedside, holding the old man’s scarred hand, singing softly; Ewan’s father as a young man, wearing a foreman’s helmet, pouring over engineering plans for the initial pipeline, a few scruffy trees still visible through the window over his shoulder; Ewan’s great-grandfather, racing through an Old Landscape Forest, leaping through the fork of a pine trunk and disappearing from sight; roots of trees, branches, leafing out towards the sky, literally breathing oxygen into the atmosphere.

“Enough,” thinks Renfrew and the windowscreens revert to their usual fare: TeleTual facts, quotes from Leadership, images of sun, clouds, sky, water.

01.11/80:4am

So it happened pretty much the way it’s described in the Big Manual. Card woke me up around one o’clock this morning with the message: “Dress for download. Status: immediate.”   Luckily there’s no difference between the uniform for day and night here; except what’s clean. New intakes wear the same drab tan pants and tank tops until we clear the first level of training, when we graduate to white, or blue, or red. Each level has its own color, which would be useful information if I had ever seen anyone other than Dancer Boy on the Windowscreen during the service interruption the other day. I couldn’t tell what color his uni was anyway.   I don’t know where they keep us all hidden. I splashed some water on my face to wake myself up and caught my reflection in the silver blue light of the mirror. I am still embodied, still me, Perri, high cheekbones and freckles, cowlick curling over my forehead, haunted eyes. I pulled on a fresh uni and brushed my hair into the regulation pony tail.   My chip lit up – you know it’s booting when you get this tugging sensation in your sinus; at least, that’s how I know, maybe it feels different for everyone. My security door slid open, I followed a maze of right and left turns until I arrived at a set of dark glass doors at the end of the corridor. The windowscreens were tuned to a nighttime sky: stars, wispy clouds, moonlight, and I felt a pang. Of homesickness, I suppose, not for Mother or Dads, not for the boys, but for the cold embrace of dark air, the distant promise of sparkling stars. I haven’t been out of this building with its white walls, its stainless steel fixtures and poured slab floors, for over a month now. I hadn’t counted on missing the outside.

The black glass doors slid open as I arrived and Card instructed me to wait at the threshold. The light in the chamber ahead was soft and low, like in a home, not at all like the cold, blue tubes that light my cubicle or the passages of TeleTual’s training facility. I could make out an old-style upholstered couch, squishy and deep, like the one in my grandmother’s living room, a couple of overstuffed chairs, a big sturdy table with boxy wooden chairs. Where did they get this stuff? I thought all artifacts from the Last Era had been lost to flooding or fires.

 “Not all was lost,” a voice penetrated the gloom. “Of course, we have to preserve key artifacts that link us to the past.” A lanky man with shockingly pale skin and colorless eyes stepped forward from the darkness. He wore the bold red color of a Finalist, in a more formal and ceremonial style than my simple uni.   “Perrin, I am Director Doctor Renfrew. I have the privilege of conducting your first transfer session. Please come in.”

 Something in me balked, some primal instinct didn’t trust this wraithlike man in red. An image of blood on snow came unbidden to my mind, immediately followed by a light buzz in my left ear that made me shake my head in irritation.

  “Please, call me Director R,” he said, gesturing for me to enter the room. “I’m glad to see you are tolerating correction well. Many intakes have a much rougher time of it.”

 TeleChip insisted I walk forward. I stepped into the room. “It’s no so bad,” I said. “I’ve felt worse.”

 Dir. R’s loud cackle took me by surprise. “Touché, Perrin, touché. I daresay you have indeed, if the scars on your hands are any indication. Please select a chair. This interview should take approximately an hour, if you are able to cooperate.”

 “Why wouldn’t I be,” I asked, taking a seat in a large, boxy armchair covered in a soft, deep blue fabric.

“Much depends on you, my dear, and how deeply your identity has imprinted on the body. We’ve really no way of knowing that until we begin these transfer sessions.” He came and stood over me, looking down at my bowed head, my exposed shoulders. I was terrified. And thrilled. It was about to begin.

6 thoughts on “Option Two

  1. Love both….think you have some great characters and would certainly read on to find out more in both stories. The visual images evoked by your descriptions are more intriguing for me in #2 but perhaps due to drama of the setting as more other worldly. I seriously think you could make a go of either. Which characters do you “like spending time with” more? What an exciting prospect for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Both. Seriously. Will call with specific comments. We have a committee of 4/ myself, Jim, Judy and Parry in a split decision … unanimous, however, is your skill with word pictures, ability, ease of expression, insight. We all want to see both come to print … only a matter of which first!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just read the 2nd offering,which is intriging, and makes me feel apprehensive. interesting–but scary. I’d be happier reading the first story.I really want to follow it through!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like version two! I am intrigued to find out what happens, so hopefully the denouement arrives in a later posting…or in a book I have to buy. I know it’s too late to change the outcome, which path did you follow?

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    1. Hi, Peter. First of all — so nice to see you, even if only in cyberspace! How are you and how’s life? I’d love to catch up. Re: the story, for the purposes of my application, I went with the first piece (Hopeless Hill), only because I’m farther along in the plotting. But I’ve been buoyed by people’s comments on the piece you like — I like it, too, just have a lot more work to do to sort it all out. I plan to write both stories at some point. Thanks again for reading. xo H.

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