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Old 07-13-2009, 02:09 PM
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Default Titan

My first swing at a science fiction, just to be clear, it's about humans living on Saturn's sixth moon, Titan. how or why this human civilization is here is the largest mystery hanging over the reader as they start reading this book. this first chapter is a little over 1000 words. or 2000... i forget.

i like to give and receive detailed critiques, but if you dont feel comfortable picking through the whole thing i can learn just as much from an enlightening paragraph or two. i have problems with multiple versions, but im pretty sure this is the up-to-date one.

here it is, show no mercy.


Part I: Awakening

Life is like a treasure chest. Sometimes the contents are too valuable to be trusted in any hands. It could corrupt and destroy, and could be used to fulfill one's own selfish ends. Some, though, may just want to cherish the treasure with the ones they love. How does one keep the balance between harboring greeds and genuine appreciation? It may seem hopeless, even impossible, and those with the responsibility may decide that some things... just have to be buried.

Chapter 1- Michael

When I was 6, I wanted to be a construction worker. At 10, I dreamed of flying transports from city to city. Still yet at 16 years old I was determined to throw myself into salvage work out in the wilderness. Now at 20 years of age, I realized that I would never have had the upper body strength for construction, the patience to last me through days of flight, or the perserverance to survive in Titan's harsh deserts. I had completed my formal education five months ago with record grades, and still I find myself at a loss for my future course. I know nothing more of who I will become than of who I am today.

James has always wanted to be a geneticist. It seems to be the only topic of conversation he has to offer these days. He constantly informs me of what he learned that day, even though I completed the same courses he is enrolled in now and clearly recall the information. Though the dream I had four years ago faded away as I matured, James seems much more devoted to his research than I was to the salvage effort. I assumed that his dream will fade much as mine did, but every day I doubted that assumption, and think now that perhaps James has found his calling. I wished to be happy for him, but simultaneously I notice an uncertain apprehension for myself. James has found his way, and I have not.

Today, Father said he wished to speak to me when we returned home from the memorial service. I tried not to think much of it, even though I had a clear idea of what it was he wanted with me. However, I was not very successful in this endeavor. As the speaker went on about the life of the late Third Elder of The Commerce, I did nothing but stare at the decorative ceiling of the auditorium and anticipate returning home. The Elder was my mother's uncle, but even the fact of relation was not enough for me to keep focus. I just wanted to go home, talk to my father, and get it over with. I should have been reflecting on all the things the speaker was bringing to light, all of the great things the Elder accomplished in his journey to further the joys of our society. This is what the observers of the celebration of death should be doing. My acknowledgement of what I should be doing was still not enough to bring me back to reality. This is why I failed to pay attention to Cassandra.

"Michael, are you listening?" she whispered for what might have been the second or third time, bringing me back out of my thoughts. She was sitting in the row directly in front of me, staring at me with suspicious blue eyes. I glanced down my row to see if my family was noticing my conversation. Of course not, for they were doing what a good citizen would: paying attention.

"Yes, of course," I said.

"Before I asked you?"

I chuckled quietly. "No," I admitted. Accomplished, Cassandra smirked and turned her head back to face the podium, her blonde curls bouncing. I scolded myself and then focused on the speaker. For the rest of the remembrance, he spoke of his later years and the unseen work he accomplished within the halls of The Commerce. Of course he did not go into great detail, but he did touch on how he proposed Intercept's new Frontier Station, which is now complete and headed for observation in the heliosheathe. He continued on about how we all hope this new station will shed new revelations about our universe, and how we have this Elder to thank for this great gift. It finally ended after an inspiring conclusion pointing out that his adventure's final chapter is now complete. I did not like to think I was being impatient, but I was aching to get out and have this impending conversation off of my mind.

On the way home, James asked Mother the kinds of questions about our great uncle that were not answered during the remembrance. Unfortunately, Mother did not have very detailed answers for him either. Our family did not know him intimately. I was unsure of whether or not I should regret that. While he was part of our family, being close to a member of The Commerce is unwise. Detachment is the only way to make logical judgments. Mother started telling James the stories she did know while I looked out the tinted window. The capital is truly astounding compared to some of the other cities in our hemisphere. The tall, glistening buildings stood out against the murky orange sky. As always, however, I found my eyes drifted away from our city and up towards Saturn and her beautiful rings. The majesty of it all dominated the vista, and made me wonder what kind of intriguing experiments Intercept is conducting on the stations within its atmosphere. They have never disclosed any of their operations to the general public, but sometimes I have wished that they would. The people could benefit from exciting discoveries, unless perhaps there were no exciting discoveries being made.

When our car finally docked into our apartment's port, I took a deep breath and opened the hatch. Father gave me a discreet glance over the top of the car, and I released that deep breath. I was too old to be so anxious over such trivial things. Children are taught from an early age to control their mind and never speak out of turn, whether against someone or against themselves. I tried to clear my mind as we walked to the door, and I followed my father downstairs to his office.

Father's office was adorned with many misty-glassed frames of achievements and accolades for his work in bioengineering. His most prized award was from twenty years ago, for his discovery of a new mutation. It resulted in an entirely new synthesized crop, one that offers mass amounts of protein, something our harvests do not produce easily. My father's desk was in the back section of the office, with a large window encompassing the entire wall. I could see a good portion of the capital from the fantastic view. This is what I always enjoyed about my father's office. I took a seat from the computer station and placed it in front of his desk. Father sat on top of his desk to make the conversation seem more casual. He had just shaven his beard and mustache to seem more presentable at the remembrance, so the only hair he had left was on top of his head, graying brown and bushy. It looked strange to me, and would probably take some getting used to. I took my seat, and he began.

"Michael, it has been quite a few months since your release and graduation," he began. I was correct in my guess about what this conversation would entail. He loosened the tie around his neck before he went on. "Your Mother and I have begun to worry about your passiveness of late. I know it may seem intimidating, but you never made an effort to find a career, even though you have all the proper markings from the Institute for any career you could imagine. Why are you unemployed?"

"Father, I just think that there could be more opportunities for me in other places. I want to see what the other cities have to offer," I stated.

"You mean you want to leave?" My father sighed. "Michael, there is a multitude of opportunities for you here. Distance from the guidance of your family is unwise."

"Guidance from my family is unneeded at this point in my life. I can choose any path I want, I just want it to be the right one."

"Look, Michael, there are no bigger offers than right here. This is the center of the whole world!"

"The matter has nothing to do with the size or importance, but whether or not I will be content. It may sound as if I worry only about serving my own interests, but if I apply for a career I am not devoted to, how could I possibly hope to serve my community to the fullest of my ability?"

Father sat in silent thought for a moment. I had brought up a valid point. "What about Intercept?"

I groaned and curled my lip. "Intercept?"

"Why not? Your markings in those areas are phenomenal!" he exclaimed.

"All of my markings are phenomenal, Father," I said matter of factly.

"Yes, but you enjoyed those subjects," he said emphatically. "Quantum mechanics, space-time, all of your cosmology professors commended you highly. Even more than your other professors," he added before I could correct him again. He put his hand on my shoulder and said "Look, Son, all I ask of you is to consider a worthy career with Intercept. Think about what you could accomplish! I know you may feel that nothing here can satisfy you, that there must be something more out there. But trust me, Michael, every youth feels that way at this point in their life. Your doubts are not about what this world has to offer, they are about your apprehension for your future. It is merely a phase, and it will pass as soon as you realize that whatever you do choose will be a worthwhile path, because you will give it your all, Michael."

I thought of the idea, working in Intercept. All I know of their work is their primary objective, to seek life or the prospect of life on other planets, ideally to find a perfect home for our people. Not that Titan is a terrible world, but it has a dangerous climate, and some areas are too dangerous to begin inhabiting. There are many beautiful things on Titan. However, what if there were things even more spectacular somewhere out in space? I wanted to see them if they existed. I wanted to help discover them. But I still was not sure if I could make this my life.

"I think . . . I will consider this. For you, at least," I told Father.

He smiled and seemed satisfied with the conversation. "I am positive that whatever decision you make will be the right one for you, Michael."

He rested his hand on my head for a moment and then left the office. I took a glance out the window to see the city at its darkest twilight. Night was closely upon us. I headed up to the main floor to continue on up to my quarters when I overheard Mother.

"So? How did it go over?" she asked.

"I think he may be interested. He said he would consider it," he said. He continued talking, but I continued up to my floor. I considered it dishonest to eavesdrop on their conversation, and I did not particulaly enjoy hearing them talk about me anyway. When I got to my quarters I slumped on my bunk and tried to think. James was in the shower now so I would have to wait for him before I could sleep. Intercept might not be so bad after all. It sure is different and exciting, being in space and conducting important experiments, making revealing observations. Who knows? Maybe I could discover a new planet for us all.

I felt my thoughts drift into each other, each one becoming more bizarre and surreal. I then heard the shower stop before I could fall asleep into dreams. I forced myself up and into the hallway to wait for James to get out of the bathroom. About three minutes later I kicked the door for him to hurry up and get out.

"Okay, okay, have some patience," he said as he exited the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. I undressed and turned the shower on. I continued to imagine what life would be like at Intercept as the hot water poured over me. It was almost like being wrapped in a blanket on a cold night, except somehow. . . I could not find the words to describe the sensation. I never could. There are some things that are just beyond human comprehension, and we do well to learn that at an early age.

If I wanted to join Intercept I would of course have to enroll at the Academy. Four more years of lessons and teaching. I could not be entirely sure of how I would take that. Sure, the Institute became so much simpler in my later years, even if my fellow learners struggled. But the Academy is far more advanced, they make the workings of the universe their life. I could not begin to imagine that, living and breathing of the foundation of . . . everything. However, the idea was so astounding, it seemed too good to give up. The more I thought about Intercept the more appealing it became. I never noticed before, but the minute complexities of quantum physics were always an interest of mine, and that is an attribute that could aid Intercept immensely. I tried to avoid such high opinions of myself, but as I grew older it became apparent I was on a higher plane than most of the other youth. The only friend with whom I found delight in having intellectual discussions with was Isaac. He had turned in his application to Intercept the moment we graduated.

That was when I truly realized that all I really had to do was submit my application. It would be gold to them, I manifest all the qualities they ever look for in an applicant. With the revelation that the only thing standing between me and the universe was a silly piece of paper, it seemed official. I was going to join Intercept.

After I had finished my shower and dried off, I went back to my room and laid down on my bunk. I almost laughed in spite of myself, for now that I had actually become excited about everything Intercept had to offer, I could not fall asleep. My mind was buzzing with thoughts and aspirations. Someone knocked on my door. "You still awake?" James said from the other side.

"Yes . . . still awake," I answered. The door shot open but James did not enter. He merely stood framed in the doorway.

"That memorial got me thinking," he said.

"About what?"

"The speaker kept saying about how his life's adventure was complete, and the final chapter was finally written down and the story was finished."

"What about it?"

James furrowed his brow, as if in deep contemplation. "Well what if there was an epilogue?"

The idea was intriguing. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, what if his death was not actually the end of it all, what if there was something after it?" James said. He had that cautious tone he always had when expressing his thoughts. He had never exactly been comfortable sharing ideas as I always had been.

I laughed a little. "Like what, James?" The idea was indeed interesting, but a little absurd.

James' shoulders slumped, the signal that he had given up on this train of thought. "I never really thought about that. I am not sure what it would be." James turned away and walked back to his room. The door closed. James' willpower and conviction behind his ideas was always weak. He was much more content listening to others than presenting his own thoughts. Almost as if he thought they were inadequate. I decided that tomorrow I would try to talk to him about this. He was rapidly growing up, and this is something he would have to overcome for adulthood.

I suddenly stood back from my thoughts and looked at myself. I had never really thought of myself as a teacher figure, a brother that helps his younger sibling develop and feel sure of himself in life. Looking back, this was exactly what I had always done, I was always looking out for James and never even noticed it. Realizing that I had always been able to help James gave me confidence that I could take care of myself at Intercept. I had confidence in myself that I was not at all making the wrong decision. With that pleasant thought, I found myself at peace. As I pondered James' notion further and tried to hypothesize what could possibly come after death, the indisputable end of all things, I nodded off to sleep and was carried off into the dark night, wrapped up in my dreams.

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Old 07-14-2009, 11:49 AM
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I like your quick and brief way of describing things without losing important detail; it really matches your character well. He's very believable as a person, he actually reminded me of someone I knew. You also had me interested in the plot very early in. I liked the idea of looking at a planet while living on a moon.

That said, the only thing I could find to really pick at was that you were switching tenses throughout your piece, grammar wise. You might want to take a look and make sure your present and past phrases all fit together the way they should.

Other than that, it looks like a really strong start to an interesting sci-fi.
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Old 07-14-2009, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by WrittenEscape View Post
That said, the only thing I could find to really pick at was that you were switching tenses throughout your piece, grammar wise. You might want to take a look and make sure your present and past phrases all fit together the way they should.
that's actually my biggest problem, i cant seem to stay in a constant tense. it just seems so awkward for me in 1st person, i keep literary past for narration but once i drift off into Michael's thoughts there are some parts where it just seems so much more natural to do it present tense... i did manage to fix some of the parts in here already, but i guess theres still some i havent caught, lol.

thanks a bunch for the comments!
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Old 07-14-2009, 09:04 PM
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I really like the concept.Very original in my opinion.

Also you got me interested in the story very early on.Its very interesting.You kept me wanting to ead.

I Didnt see much wrong.Also Very good character devolpment.
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Old 07-15-2009, 12:12 AM
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I like how Michael's character is very constant, yet still believeable. I also liked the way you describe things, like Bearing pointed out previously. :] I hope to read more soon!
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Old 07-21-2009, 01:48 PM
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here's the second chapter, about 3000 words, i hope that isnt too long. i edited this only once, and pretty quickly at that, so definitely keep your eyes open for stupid mistakes, and also, i'd definitely appreciate all your opinions on where the story's going and how it's presented. thank you!

Chapter 2- An Unordinary Event

"What is it, Ensign?"
"The radar, it keeps showing an anomaly."
"What kind of . . . that?"
"Yes, right there. Its trajectory is off."
". . . Someone get Josiah, he needs to look at this."

"Mind over body, Michael. Come on now, wake up," Mother said as she passed the open doorway. I looked at the clock and groaned in response. It was only 13:00, and I wanted so badly to stay in bed, even though I knew today would change my life.

Today is the 21st anniversary of my birth. I am immensely relieved that I had no reason to anticipate this date, for today I am submitting my application form to the Intercept Academy. I cannot even imagine how I would have felt had I reached this point without a clue as to my future, and I need to bring myself to thank Father for that one day. Had it not been for him, I never would have stopped to think about Intercept. So now I can calm myself and enjoy the day, rather than remain captive to the grip of apprehension as I once was.

After I showered, I headed downstairs for the morning meal. It was still quite early, so Mother was the only one working in the kitchen, getting things ready. I wanted to help relieve some of her burden, but the best I could do was decide to feed myself. I would have offered to help with all of her chores, but she knew that I had a very important errand to run. I popped some bread into the heater and leaned on the island counter. The reflection of the cold metal surface reminded me again that I needed to shave. James lost my shaver, as ignorant and careless as he is, so I needed to find it or pick up a new one before it gets out of control. Knowing James and his absentmindedness, I should probably decide on the latter.

"Did James come home yet?" I asked as the heater bell ringed. James had spent the weekend on campus for an important project. It had to do with artificial amino acids or something. I did not remember exactly what he had said.

"No, they comprimised one of their samples. Half their work was lost, he should be coming home tomorrow."

"Too bad," I muttered as I munched on my toast. I was too jittery to eat anything else, too nervous. I would not be eating at all if it were not for my better logic telling me I needed food. I did not exactly comprehend my anxiety. I knew I could get into the Academy, students with far lower marks than mine were ushered into its golden halls in the past. I reminded myself not to let this get the better of me.

Now or never. I said good-bye to Mother and left the house. It was still quite dark outside, so the walkways were cast in the usual deep, stormy orange. The clouds were thick and unrevealing today, covering the entire sky. I glanced over the side of the guardrail, to the streets I could see below me, and the cars streaking back and forth. Father needed the car today so I needed to get to the shuttle station for transportation to the Academy. I looked to the lights that lined the walkways for direction to the nearest one. West Avenue had a fairly recent station I did not know about. I decided to use that one, even though it was not the closest. I did not know if this was merely an attempt at stalling, or if it really was just curiosity to see the new station. I would enjoy the walk anyway.

Whenever I had troubles I always looked to the sky. It was strangely calming for me, even when its heavy clouds veiled the entire view. Still, I had to tear my eyes away from it whenever I came to a junction, or just to make sure I was headed the right way. To my disbelief, my old feelings of doubt began to resurface as I gazed upward. What if they already had what they needed? What would I contribute? I might end up just being dead weight. I might even get halfway through term and realize this is not what I want. That would be absolutely terrible. I could stop that from happening now. I could go home. It would be better to back out now than to realize my path is the wrong one. It would be too late to turn back then.

No, I knew better than this. Father said any course I choose is the right one, because I chose it. That should tell me right there that it is indeed what I want to do. I would not have come this far if I had any doubts that actually mattered. With that problem settled I looked up again at the sky that betrayed me. It usually provided solace for me, but this time it only reminded me of my past conflicts. It had only existed for an instant, but I could tell it was still there. Dormant. Ready to surface again and strike at my integrity. I could only tell myself that I would be ready when that happens again. I have to be prepared, I have to tell myself that this is what I want and stand by it. If I keep sabotaging my own thoughts about Intercept, what else could these thoughts affect in my life?

At that moment, something very unusual happened.

I was at the intersection between Washington and Cunnings, a few kilometers off from the West Avenue shuttle station, when the walkways began to tremble. It was barely noticeable at first, but the tremble became more violent until the walkway beneath my feet was rumbling, throwing me off balance. I stumbled to the guardrail and hung onto it. My mind became blank. I froze, as best as I could when these horrible rumbles were rocking me every which way. Nothing like this had ever happened. My mind withdrew, and I just stood there, clinging to the guardrail. It was the smartest thing to do.

Then the area around me became brighter. For a moment, I unfroze and looked toward the sky once more. A small portion of the clouds had bulged and parted, revealing a blinding light screaming through the atmosphere. It left a brilliant trail followed by smoke as it hurtled down and down. It was . . . the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. I expected it to only last a moment, it seemed like this glorious event would end as suddenly as it began, but that did not happen. The object continued to streak across the sky, spreading its magnificence through the entire vista.

I felt something unknown to me. I was unable to describe it. It . . . was just completely beyond me. My head started spinning. I felt swelled up inside, some kind of sensation filled my entire being. It was incredible. Exhilarating. It all came crashing down as I realized the fate of this flaming object. It was growing larger. Which meant it was drawing closer. The rumbling was becoming more intense, until it seemed that everything around me was bouncing up and down. I could not help but stare at the amazing light as I stood my ground.

The object passed over me.

My eyesight went white and my hearing was drowned out by the raging noise from it scraping through the air. I could feel the heat all around me, so much so that I could swear it was just a few feet above me head. But as soon as the intensity of it all started to fade, and my eyesight returned, I squinted behind me to see it rocket a few more miles away before a a massive cloud of dust and debris burst into the air, causing the greatest tremor of all to blast me off my feet.

I hit the hard, unforgiving metal of the walkway and felt pain. It was a mild pain, but it shocked me. I had not felt any sort of physical pain since I was a child, when I fell and scraped my knee. My forearm throbbed for a moment, for I had tried to use it to stop myself from falling. I thought about getting up, but I just lied there, letting my mind swirl. Trying to comprehend what had just happened. I was breathing heavily. Everything was surreal, I felt as if I were in a dream. My memory still burned with the image of that object, and I felt that it would never leave me. What was it?

Something in my pocket began to vibrate. It felt pathetic and insignificant to what I had just experience. On the third vibration it clicked that someone was calling me. I quickly grabbed for my phone and answered the call.

"Hello?" I said automatically.

"Michael? Michael, you will never believe this, this is incredible!" James stammered.

"I saw it."

"The whole ground started shaking and then this thing crashed into the park, I was right there, Michael! I saw it crash! I can see it right now!" James' voice was barely recognizable now. He was completely out of control, he seemed insane with excitement.

"James, just calm down, I'm heading over right now." 'I'm'? Since when do I use contractions? It was improper . . .

"This is incredible, just incredible!" he ranted.

I ended the call, and began running to the shuttle station. The Academy would have to wait for now. I tried to even my breath as I ran, but eventually I to stop and rest my hands on the guardrail. I was still breathing heavy. I had to calm down and get a grip. I inhaled with my nose and exhaled through my mouth, slowly, trying to control my breathing. With a final strong exhale, I finally had control.

My body was now calm, but my mind was still in a state of chaos. Everything I knew seemed to be thrown out the window with such a simple but extraordinary event.

I continued to run and in about three minutes I reached the shuttle station. There were people walking about the station, but there was an eerie stillness. I could tell other citizens were just as confused as I was. I continued on to the shuttle in a dream-like state, still wondering about the object. Everything I did seemed subconscious, going up to the booth, reaching for my clip, paying for the ride, boarding, taking a seat, and by the time I reached reality again I was at the entrance to the City Park.

Startled, I looked around for a bit, and I saw cautious onlookers to the steady column of smoke rising from the center of the park. It must have landed in the lake. I felt like I was doing wrong when I entered the park, because no one else dared to venture in while there was such a strane object in its vicinity. I told James I would be there, though. I had to go find him. I called him again, but when he picked up the phone, I could hear his voice a few meters to my right.


"Michael! There you are," he answered. He walked past the trees with this absurd grin plastered all over his face. His eyes were huge.

"We should get out of here, James, come on." I was worried about him. He was in worse shape than I was.

"No, no, you have to see it, Michael!"

"James, no. We need to go," I urged.

James started to say something, but it was drowned up by the engines of several aircrafts that had just appeared. We both stared up to see the ships. They were jet black with the yellow labels and symbols that told us they were Intercept vehicles. They moved quickly for the impact site, and soon they were out of our site, though we could still hear their engines beating in our heads. James just looked at me with his wide eyes.

"This is the best day ever."

I grabbed him and practically dragged him out of the park. I tried to act serious and responsible, but inside I was exactly like James. Intercept ships! They must have come directly from the orbiting station! But if Intercept was here, that definitely meant this was serious. Suddenly I worried about what James had seen. As we exited the park to the streets where pedestrians were pointing to the sky exictedly, I asked exactly what James had seen.

"It crashed on the shore of the lake, so there was not much fire except for the flaming bits of the thing that detached and fell through the park," James explained with furrowed brows. "It looked like some kind of satellite, maybe. But primitive, you know? It looked nothing like the models we saw before on the net. I was close enough to read some of the markings, but they were strange."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I could read some of the symbols, but there were a lot of unfamiliar ones. At best, I think part of it might have said something like 'Voyager', whatever that means."

Then, the speakers that dotted the ground level streets emitted a tone, the signal that an announcement was about to be made. The announcer, an elderly man with a very rough but still clear voice, began his message:

"All citizens please do not approach the impact site. Investigations are presently being conducted concerning the event that recently occurred. Please, do not be alarmed. We have been informed by Intercept that the fallen object is an outdated satellite due for repair that malfunctioned. The satellite fell out of orbit. There is no reason for alarm, thank you."

"See that, James? Everything is fine," I tried to reassure him.

"That was Intercept's? It makes no sense, why would they use those kinds of symbols?"

"No one knows what they do up there, they could have their own language for all we know. It would certainly contribute to their secrecy."

"I guess so," James muttered, and as usual, he gave up on his thought that seemed to have reached a dead end.

"Look, I have to submit my application into Intercept, alright? Go straight home, I promise this will be quick."

James agreed, and when we returned to the shuttle station, he went back home and I resumed my journey to the Academy. I took a seat in the shuttle and waved to James as the door to his closed and exited the station. I sat for awhile and waited for the shuttle to fill up. My head had begun to slow down a little. I was thinking clearly once more. It was just so . . . it was crazy. A silly word, but yes, it was crazy. The whole ordeal. I had trouble believing Intercept would let this happen, but it was due for repairs. Maybe they were unable to reach it in time.

"Michael!" someone said. I looked up and saw Cassandra and Isaac boarding the shuttle.

"Hi. I suppose you two caught word of what happened."

"Oh, of course we did. Everyone is talking about it. The only people who know nothing about it must be living somewhere out in the wilderness," Isaac said with his usual dry tone. He took a seat next to me and examined his short, bright blonde hair in the adjacent tinted window, running his fingers through it.

"Well it is very exciting," I said.

"Everyone is getting too emotional about this. If you just step back and realize the odds of something like this happening, you would realize it could happen at any time. The only reason any attention is being put towards this is because the satellite landed in the middle of the city. It could have landed anywhere out in the deserts, and then no one would even care." Isaac seemed very firm about this. He obviously was not thrilled by this event, and was slightly annoyed with those who were. The shuttle started moving.

"This is not exactly the typical satellite you know." Why did I say that? "I heard that a few people saw strange markings on the outside of it, and it looked very old and primitive." I did not dare to mention my brother.

Cassandra, who was seated on the other side of me, leaned over and gasped a little. "What does that mean? The announcer said it was one of Intercept's older models. That would it explain why it looks so primitive." It made sense. I would have to ask James about it when I got home. He would be able to tell me just how primitive it looked.

"It means," Isaac began, "that Intercept has its own operations that we cannot begin to guess at."

"Lucky you," Cassandra said. "When you get into Intercept you can find out everything." She laughed a little. I had forgotten. Isaac submitted his application to the Academy immediately after we graduated from the Institute. He knew he would be joining Intercept ever since I have known him. "What do you have, Michael?"

I stared at her blankly before I realized she was talking about my application letter. I had been fiddling with it ever since I got onto the shuttle and never even realized it. I would have preferred not to say this in front of Isaac. "My application to the Intercept Academy."

Cassandra's eyes widened. "Wow, how fantastic! I feel happy for you. You should get a dormitory with Isaac."

"Yeah, that way we would avoid having to make new friends," Isaac said, then chuckled. I was glad he was looking forward to my prospective attendance. "So you are heading there now?"

"Yes. That satellite distracted me for awhile."

"I am positive it distracted a lot of people," Cassandra said. "We were going to see the new fountain show, but it might be cancelled now. Would you want to come if we can still go?"

"No, sorry. I promised my brother I would return home as soon as I dropped off my application. Have a good time, though," I said as the shuttle docked in the station. We said our good-byes and parted ways. I could see the Academy's main spire sprouting up above all the other buildings in the city. This was it. I reached the walkway that would lead to the Academy. All my worries and wonders about that object left me. The excitement, the questions James had about the symbols, all of its mysteries faded away. I noticed that the pedestrians in this area of the city appeared more official. A few were wearing the blue military uniforms the students of the Academy wore. I would be wearing that soon.

I would. My confidence was back. I was no longer wondering, I was confident again. I was going to join Intercept. It would be official now. I was now within the Academy's square, and I could see the large glass doors that led to the arched, golden hallways within. My future was beyond those doors. Every step brought me closer to my destiny. My future had nothing to do with that satellite, and as soon as I realized that, I forgot about it. I went inside. Isaac was right. The excitement I was feeling right now, that was real excitement. I handed my application form to the man behind the lobby counter. The excitement everyone was feeling right now was temporary. It was a chance occurance, it could have landed anywhere. I left the Academy. It happened so quickly. I could see the column of smoke was now absent from the sky. It was gone from my memory. That burning image of the falling object was now blurry as well. Now I knew that, just it had happened to me, the memory of this unordinary event would fade from the minds of the citizens. It was no longer important, it was not relevant to their life. The unordinary things are not what matter. What builds one's future is what does matters.

And slowly but surely, as the days passed . . . we had all forgotten.
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Old 07-29-2009, 07:51 PM
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Okay, here goes my critique, I'm just gonna throw things out as I see them.

I think it makes more sense to say you put bread in the toaster, not the heater. I know you're trying to stick with the narrative of the story, but that threw me off a little. Also,

The reflection of the cold metal surface reminded me again that I needed to shave. James lost my shaver, as ignorant and careless as he is, so I needed to find it or pick up a new one before it gets out of control.
'it' should be beard, otherwise it's your shaver getting out of control.

There's a couple more typos, but I'm a bit pressed for time and can't quote them all. Like, 'the heater bell ringed' the 'toaster rang'. The last word in your bit should be 'matter', though, not matters.

Other than that, good stuff! I liked your description of the crash, quite well done. Was I supposed to know who Cassandra was? Because I couldn't remember her being mentioned before.
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Old 07-29-2009, 09:35 PM
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Excellent! Precise writing, it seems you are immersed in your story, things click together like pieces in a puzzle.

Few tenses off, some grammar, but a quick edit would take care of that. My biggest critique would be about some repetition of words. You could cut out or make some parts more efficient with words, reducing the load on the readers.

When our car finally docked into our apartment's port, I took a deep breath and opened the hatch. Father gave me a discreet glance over the top of the car, and I released that deep breath. I was too old to be so anxious over such trivial things. Children are taught from an early age to control their mind and never speak out of turn, whether against someone or against themselves. I tried to clear my mind as we walked to the door, and I followed my father downstairs to his office.
On one hand, it's a slow part of the story, so longer sentences make sense as you set the scene. The other hand, you see "deep breath", "minds" and "against someone or against themselves" too much.

The storyline is precise and looks like you have practice getting it all together. The writing itself is in character, calm, but a little cluttered.

Let's see some more of this story!
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Old 08-07-2009, 10:50 AM
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thanks for the advice! and yes, WrittenEscape, Cassandra appeared briefly in the first chapter. i'm debating whether or not to post any more of this. see, chapter 4 turned out pretty bad, and needs to be rewritten. but i'm trying this new thing where i press onward to the next chapter, regardless of how the last one came out. so i could either break my vow and rewrite the chapter (which would make me feel so much better), post the chapter as is, or not post anything at all. what do you guys think?

Chapter 3- The Academy

"The data is buried deep and keeps retreating deeper."
"You better get it before it disappears forever."
"The probe recieved notable damage from the rings, sir. We may not be able to."
"The rings damaged the data?"
"No, just the outer hull, but it caused internal damage as well, forcing data into the back-up streams.
"You lose countless data with every failure, so I suggest your team start thinking of new ideas."
"My team is baffled, sir. It is very different and backwards compared to our technology."
"Then the best course of action would be to include some fresh blood, Josiah."
"Yes... sir. I will do my best."

"Two hundred and fifty-four systems, one life-sustaining planet. You have to find it," Professor Josiah Rowans informed me as he stroked his light beard. We were in the farthest holodome, so as to avoid any inconvenient interruptions. I thought I could see the subtle smirk on his face through the darkness, but the countless projected stars above my head glared my vision.

"This is it?" I taunted as I observed the holographic systems above me. Professor Rowans and I have grown surprisingly close during my few months of internship. I would not dare banter like this with any of my other professors, but that was probably because they would be more inclined to bury me with so much work I would not see daylight for weeks. Josiah has a unique way of teaching. He finds a lesson in everything. He somehow manages to make me learn something spectacularly new to me during everyday conversation. It seems almost like a side thought when he does it, as if he is not primarily focused on my education at all.

"Your arrogance will cost you with this one," he shot back. "Timer set now. You have ten minutes."

I turned my attention back to the dashboard of the pod I was currently sitting in. All its glowing colored lights activated to blink at me incessantly, almost tauntingly. But perhaps it was just because I was in a taunting state of mind. The board's timer jumped from zero to ten, and the test began. I tried to think of any ways that would accomplish my goals quickly. The usual tactic would be to search for surface temperatures that could maintain liquid water, but seeing as I was only given this short amount of time, Josiah was either expecting me to be impossibly fast, or to think differently. Options raced through my head, but none were efficient enough to allow me to finish within the alotted time. Close to eight minutes left, and I am wasting time contemplating strategies. Sometimes Intercept astronomers only have an instant to target an opening window, I had to do better than this.

First thing I had to do above all else was lessen the amount of manual work, and with that thought I now had my plan. I would do both, work fast by thinking differently. I used the pod's controls to circle around and up the track for a clear aerial view of the projection, then tapped open the targeting interface. I searched for each system's center of orbit, and once every star was locked in I set the computer to monitor the light intensity. Then I set a second monitor to observe the gravitational pulls. While I waited for the data, I allowed myself to drift. Sometimes I could fool myself and make it seem as if the stars were really not projections, and that I was floating along in space without suffering. Just admiring the beauty of the sparkling stars. James had once asked me if there was any state of being beyond death. If I could answer him now, I would tell him it would be very much like this.

The information I desired tumbled into the data banks, and now I could eliminate systems without planetary masses in the Prime Zone. Watching the light intensity, I was able to see the orbiting planets and moons pass by the sun from fixed locations. Then by combining it with the gravitational wobble of the sun, I could judge the distance. If all candidates were outside the Prime Zone, I erased the system from the projection view. Now there were only five prospective systems left.

Six minutes left on the clock, but the hard part was over. I figured out how to condense large amounts of work into a few minutes of time. The computer had made the imprecise observations, now I needed to draw this out in my head to find the perfect match. Josiah had known better than to allow the on-board calculator. He really wanted to test me. I tried punching numbers displayed on the info board into my head's imaginary calculator. Bolometric luminosity of the system's star, divided by the Sun's, square root that, equals the radius of the Prime Zone...

I brought up the interactive version of the projection within my pod, and relished its beautifully blue holographic glow, just a few inches away from my face. When I had enough anticipation of my impending victory, I tapped a planet within that system, the one that lay directly within the Prime Zone, and confirmed the calculations in to the data banks to initiate the ending sequence.

The projection disappeared and the dome's lights switched back on to reveal the stark white panels slowly retracting back in to place. The pod automatically circled back down and docked on the floor of the dome. The door popped open and I hopped out, triumphant. Of course, like always, once I touched ground again I longed to be back among the stars, even if they were not at all real. Illusion is not always so bad as we are told, as long as it is handled in a responsible manner.

"I must say, I am impressed." Josiah walked back into the dome.

"I would like to attribute sheer luck to my success. It was coincidence that the first system I picked was the correct choice for analysis."

"That was really meant to break you, Michael. I did not quite expect you to pass this test." He laughed, clearly thinking his little test had been inadequate.

"Why would you not expect me to pass?" I was a little confused. Josiah had always been confident in my abilities.

"I designed it so you would notice the pressure. So you could accept that you might not succeed. This way when performing the real analysis, you can learn to accept the possibility of failure and press onward before our window is lost."

"So what does my passing tell you as a teacher?"

"It tells me I think my student has surpassed my ability to teach. You constructed a more efficient way to solve a problem that I intended you to fail. I believe there is no more I can teach you, Michael," he said. No, this was truly impossible. I almost resented myself. Four months at the Academy and I land myself an internship with the Head of Research. Just a few months later and he is already speaking about ending it. I kept accelerating through all my courses, like an adolescent popping out of every pair of trousers his mother buys him after each growth spurt. I absorb knowledge too easily, too quickly. I did not want to end my internship at all, I still felt there was still so much to learn. "That is, as your Professor," Josiah finished.

"What?" My silent brooding was cut short.

"I would like to offer you the position of my personal assistant, Michael.
Would you accept? I promise it will not interfere with your normal curriculum."

He could have said I would be locked in a laboratory for the next three years of my life and I would have accepted in an instant. "Of course I will."

Josiah clapped his hands together and smiled slightly. "Excellent. Drop by my office after your classes are done and I will show you our next project together. For now, go back to your dormitory and prepare for your next class."

I nodded and exited the Dome. The ceiling lights that lined the hallways were slightly dimmer than the Dome's lights, so I had to allow time for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I had full view of the shining halls of the Academy. Memories flooded back into my mind from my first brief visit here. I walked in to the main lobby, filled with its grand golden pillars, just to submit my application form to the man behind the counter. Of course it was now much more crowded, most wearing the same crisp, blue military suit I was wearing now. Higher ranking officers wore red, and most of the professors often wore lab coats even during classes.

I reached the elevator and tapped for the 17th floor. As the platform rose slowly, then rapidly accelerated, I thought about the offer Professor Rowans extended to me. Assistant to the Head of Research? Astounding! I could only begin to imagine the things I would see within the Academy's research labs. What kind of new advancements would I witness? Sure, Intercept may not keep all its exciting discoveries here on Titan, seeing as the orbital station is much more secure, but there would indeed be amazing things to behold.

The elevator reached my floor, and I exited to allow others to board the platform. I turned to the right, walked down four doors and palmed open the entrance to my dormitory. I had to gather my materials for my last classes of the day. Unfortunately for me, these courses were not remotely interesting for me at this point. I heard too much about genetics from James back home, and geology and physics were all too easy. When I entered the room, I was surprised to see Isaac sprawled over his bunk, sheets twisted between his limbs.

"Isaac, are you alright?" I asked cautiously. He stirred a little and muttered something inaudible. I walked closer and tried to nudge him awake. "Isaac, you are going to be late for your next class." I looked at the clock and my stomach seemed to drop, for he was already late if I remembered his schedule correctly. "Isaac, wake up!"

My louder tone finally managed to snap him back into consciousness, at least enough for him to make semi-comprehensible conversation.

"Huh...? Yeah, awake, right. Yes." Isaac sat up and rubbed his eyes before swaying a bit. I was worried for Isaac, his behavior was strange of late. I used to spend much time with him, but now my internship conflicted our schedules. We had grown distant. I had concluded that the year had been rough on him so far. He was not exactly taking well to his selected courses. Nuclear and subatomic physics can be quite demanding at points, and spectroscopy is even worse.

Of course, I had also taken these courses and tried to help him from time to time, but I decided that perhaps my desired department at Intercept would begin to drift away from these topics, and dropped the classes. I wanted to observe deep space and make revolutionary discoveries, be involved in the outer rim launches. Spectroscopy would be important, but I had already learned everything from the text. Isaac, on the other hand, was content staying in the research labs. He told me countless times that if there were no revolutionary discoveries being made at home, it would be impossible for any revolutionary discoveries to be made elsewhere.

By the time Isaac had collected himself and rushed out the door, I had marked Josiah's office on my pad's campus map. It was standard issue, a simple touchpad small enough to strap around your wrist. It was programmed with necessary tools to make life at the Academy a little easier.

The next hours of my day were considerably uneventful. Normally, I think I would have thought my classes to be rather intriguing, but I felt as though this was insignificant compared to what was approaching closely. The next three courses flew by quickly, and I could barely retain what was said about various mutations, cryovolcanoes, or tidal locking. I would look back at the notes I had mindlessly jotted down before bed tonight.

Before I knew it, I was outside the Academy and across the plaza, heading for the Administration building. The plaza was bright today, birds chirping, perched atop the central fountain. Students were studying under the shade of leafy trees. They were rare in the capital, and I had spent much time under their delicate branches. I enjoyed being outside, but I walked at a quickened pace. I had even set a timer on my pad just to make sure I arrived in optimal timing. Taking the southern path from the plaza, I noticed the walkways became emptier. In this part of the campus, everyone remained inside to finish their work.

The Administration lobby was covered with a lovely red carpet, and the decorative ceiling glittered. I approached the woman at the desk to request direction to Josiah's office, but he was already in the room.

"Michael, right on time," he said as he entered the lobby from one of the doors in the back. "This is your first visit to the Administration building, is it not?"

I nodded in response, then said, "It is very beautiful from what I have seen."

"Indeed it is. You see those up there?" he asked as he pointed to the glittering ceiling. "Those are methane crystals from the mines just outside the city. Quite an involved process in creating what you see here. They are more than they appear, however. These line the ceilings throughout the entire building and provide the main power source. If everything holds up for a few more months, the crystals will be installed into the Academy as well."

I acknowledged the information silently, as I always had. We both had an understanding that he would teach, and I would learn, knowing that it would serve me well at some point in the future. I followed behind him silently as he led me out of the lobby and back out to the plaza. From there we took the eastern path that led to the research labs.

"Michael, remember back to the simulation in the holodome. What was the purpose of your mission?"

"I was to understand that I must accept defeat ahead of time in order to--"

"No, no," he interrupted me. I was taken aback for a moment. It was improper to cut off a thought before it was complete. "I mean, what is the purpose of searching Prime Zones? Why do we look for other planets that could sustain life?"

I thought while we walked down the shady path. The clouds had grown thicker now, so the need for shade was significantly lessened.

"Well, as a race we wish to spread throughout the galaxy."

"Yes, but why are we looking for another home? What is wrong with Titan?"

"There is nothing wrong with Titan. Yes, we live in a harsh environment, we have to build our cities as protection, to keep us warm, but it is a lovely place. We are just not comfortable here. As humans, we want to live, not just survive. Why do you ask this?"

"Well, Michael, there are other reasons, perhaps more selfish, even." The thought of our life's dream being selfish was unpleasant, but in all liklihood very true. "Years ago we would have claimed it was our manifest destiny, back in the days when we believed we could inhabit Gliese 581d. We thought we could spread our happiness throughout the universe. But now as we delve deeper and deeper into space and still find no matches, I believe our motives have changed."

"Why have they changed?" Suddenly I realized something thrilling. Josiah was confiding in me. I started slowing my pace, for I wanted this to play out to its full extent before we reached the labs. Sure enough, Josiah met my pace.

"I just told you why, Michael, pay attention. I believe what you want to know is what our motives have changed to. The prospect that we may never find another planet has started to sink in. We are aware that many years after you and I have passed away, very different people may stand where we once stood. Who knows who they may have become?"

"What do you mean? People have always been the same." I nearly blurted it out. I could see the doors to the research lab and I knew that once Josiah realized we had reached our destination, he would stop this chain of thought and prepare to show me our project. He was very easily distracted anywhere outside the labs and classroom.

"I mean that we are not sure that will always remain the case. People can change, Michael, or at least it is speculated. Recently the Commerce has been retracting many of the older sanctions, sometimes replacing them with new ones. The point is, Michael, things are changing, perhaps not rapidly, but they are changing. I believe that now we search for another home in the hope that we may ensure our civilization will never decline."

He finished just as he palmed the security panel to open the doors. I was unsure whether it was my manipulation that resulted in the perfect timing, or if Josiah was perfectly aware. The latter thought made me uncomfortable, because if this were the case, then everything he had just told me was very serious. He lessons used to be casual. This time, he wanted to make sure that I understood, rather than confide in that silent understanding. This one was planned. It was very unlike his usual behavior. We had entered the building now, but there was no lobby at the research labs. No wasted space, only laboratories back to back.

"Now, Michael," he started as he led me past windows filled with scientists operating smooth, metallic machinery. "What I am about to show you is not for others in your classes to know. You may remember something about what I am going to show you."

He palmed another panel and a door opened to reveal a very large room, lined with walkways to form different levels to the room. Each level in turn was lined with monitors. The center of attention was in a low part of the room, on the ground floor. Josiah led me down the stairs to the pit, and I was startled at what I saw. A group of people were crowded around a battered metal object, tactfully removing layers and discarding them.

"Henrick, what happened?" Josiah asked. Henrick Shepherd. Head of Intercept. I was in the same room with him. How was I in the same room with Henrick Shepherd? Why was he landside in the first place?

"Another one of your stream failures, Rowans," he said in a low, gravelly voice. I was shocked by his gray curly hair and beard, for the images always depicted him younger, with rich, dark hair. "We hoped it would be awhile until the next one. Is this your fresh blood?" He was looking directly at me. Josiah did not even bother to answer him. He merely shed his lab coat, donned a pair of lab glasses. It made me wonder what kind of relationship these two had. You always answer your respected superiors.

As he made his way to the table, Josiah glanced at me and said, "I apologize, Michael. I did not expect this to happen." I stood for awhile, wondering what I was to do now, until I really noticed the damaged metal object Josiah and the other scientists were focusing on. It almost looked like a . . . satellite.

"Sir, is this--"

"Yes, it is, and we still have not managed to crack it open," Henrick told me directly. "The blasted thing hurtled through the rings without being totally obliterated, but the information is just too hard to reach. Right now we are trying our best to hack away at whatever mess its programming has become. We know the data is still in there, though."

"You mean the systems are failing?" I asked as I looked at the data stream monitors. I tried to act professional, for I was speaking to the leader of scientific developments.

Meanwhile, Josiah and his team were frantically trying to counteract the data failure by fusing what looked like circuitboards back together. They were welding! I had not seen such an outdated procedure in my life! James was right, this was no Intercept machine. That was when a strange clarifying moment occurred. A realization of sorts, one that I could not sort out now, not in this chaotic environment. It was so very different. I had never been around people like these. There was too much . . . energy. I did not quite know how to explain it.

"Fifth back-up system just shorted! How many of these things are there?"

One of the technicians shouted.

"We do not want to find out," Josiah shouted back.

Henrick continued telling me the situation, in a louder tone now that they had started welding. "You see, every time a data system fails, it rewires as much as it can to the next back-up system. Every time this happens we lose vital data. At first we had problems with the interface, just trying to figure out how to extract the data. By the time we found a proper method we were on the second back-up system. We count ourselves lucky it still holds out after all these months. Only a matter of time now . . ."

"What if you just went straight to the end? Find out how many back-up systems there are, and then work backwards. Find the order of priority, and then there would be no need to chase the data before it disappears to another system. You can let it come to you, and be ready to extract it as the leftover data is being redirected."

"The programming is much more complex than that--" Henrick started.

"No, wait, what did he say?" Josiah said as he raised his glasses off his eyes, his face slightly blackened from welding. "Of course! We should have done that from the start. The initial diagnostic had not covered all the systems, we were only concerned with how to get our hands on the data in the first banks. When the first failure happened the full diagnostic was interrupted." His eyes widened, and he ordered one of the technicians to run the diagnostic again, this time all the way through, ignoring any failures. "Once you finish that, do exactly what Michael just said. Come on, Michael, time to go back to your dormitory."

The technicians instantly started throwing orders around. Josiah removed his glasses and picked up his lab coat from the chair he had thrown it carelessly upon. He gave a pointed look at Henrick as he guided me by the shoulder out the door, and Henrick said, "Told you some fresh blood would do us good." I did not understand the exchange.

"I am not sure whether I did something right or wrong," I told Josiah as we left the research labs. "It was just a comment, I had not meant to cause such a commotion."

"No worries, Michael, I believe you did something very right." He grinned broadly and patted me on the shoulder.

I was glad to have the reassurance, but this experience haunted me for the rest of the night. I tried to focus on my studies, but I kept wondering about the satellite. It was really more like a probe than a satellite, though I kept calling it that. I wanted so badly to tell Isaac, his head in his own books, and ask him his own view on these developments. He had believed there was nothing special about the object that flared through the sky on that day. If only he knew how much attention it was getting from Intercept. The Head of Research and the Head of Intercept himself were there in the labs, frantically working to salvage any data.

It must have been dreadfully important. The realization that I may have made a suggestion that they had not already thought of was extraordinary. I almost considered myself unworthy. I should think of it as a great achievement to this effort, to discover the origins of this mysterious object. The reason why I did not think like this was because I had made another realization in the lab. One that I knew everyone else in that room had already made a long time ago. It was this realization that I knew filled the lab with a sense of urgency. Why they decided to keep the object at the Academy rather than have Commerce agents inspect the cargo as they flew it to the station. It was why they were working so hard, why Josiah made me promise that I would tell no one. The realization was monumental, and it filled me with a strange quaking feeling. Something in the back of my mind was burning, causing my throat to constrict and my heart to pump loudly.

We were not alone.
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Old 08-11-2009, 12:18 AM
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Before i begin i feel compelled to tell you this is my first critique here, and my first post outside of introducing myself. I would love to be helpful but i'm still yet to learn how to give a good critique, so I apologize if this isnt helpful.

I like the foreshadowing you've put into it. I'm not sure if this is what you intended, but from this sentence "They have never disclosed any of their operations to the general public, but sometimes I have wished that they would." I had the idea that intercept was hiding something, and from the end of the first chapter I can see your character joining intercept and making a discovery of what their hiding. what is it? I haven't a clue! but, its something nagging at my mind and is whats making me want to read more.

Your characters are a little vague at this point, but it is the first chapter so I know you'll probably build them further in later chapters.

Apart from that, well I have nothing more to say. I enjoyed that chapter and will read the rest soon, Rightnow, its a history assignment for me!
And thats what they would do; Hide, Or face the bombers...

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Current project: - Echo Ninteen.

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I rate out of five cookies!

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Old 10-04-2009, 12:38 PM
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Hey folks. It's been awhile, mostly because I haven't had a computer. I decided to come back and post another chapter, this one in particular since it's a rewrite and I need to see if it's any better.

So if any previous reviewers can stop by and give it a look, that'd be fantastic. And if any new readers would like to give their comments on the previous chapters I can always use as much help as I can get Thanks everyone

Chapter 4- Everything Changes

"Sir, we have a warning notice from the IA research labs with no report attached. Dismiss?"
"Does it have a tag?"
"Just a number stamp, 2342. It looks like a mistake, sir."
"No, this is no mistake . . ."
"Should I dispatch investigation? Peterson is in the area."
"No, no, have Waters on stand-by."
"Notified. But why Waters? His jurisdiction is . . . sir, is something wrong?"
"Close down your station and follow me to my office, Underlay."

"Michael? Michael, wake up!" Josiah whispered into my ear. I checked the time with heavy eyelids and found I had only gotten a mere four hours of sleep. I was surprised by his visit, but not at all upset. A visit by Josiah was always welcome at any hour. I rubbed my eyes and looked at Josiah's sweating, blackened face. "You have to come with me."

"What happened?"

"When we get back to the labs, Michael. Just follow silently and do not ask questions." I did as I was told, and we snuck out of my dormitory without awaking Isaac. We rushed down the darkened hallways, and when we reached the elevator, Josiah urged my past them to the stairwell. I did not understand. Seventeen flights of stairs rather than a high-speed elevator? "Michael, we cannot be seen," he said, clearly sensing my objection. Why did he want to avoid the platform monitors?

The darkness hung over the empty plaza, covering us from any unwanted eyes. Josiah's paranoia made me wary as we made our way to the labs, though I had no other reason for suspicion. This must have had something to do with the probe. Perhaps maybe they had extracted the data, and now Josiah wanted me to participate in the triumph? This would not explain the secrecy. Surely an event as large as this would warrant public announcement . . . unless there was nothing extraordinary about the probe at all? No there had to be something special, Josiah would never act out like this over trivial matters. Whatever was going on, I was about to find out.

After a few minutes of silent night, opening the probe's lab door was a sensory overload. My eyes burned from the fantastic raging lights of the frantic monitors that lined a room filled with the sounds of loud voices and furious welding machines. I could feel the static in the room once more, but it was so much more than before. Every man in that room was edging on victory, waiting for it, aching for it, I could sense it. Josiah once again led me into the heart of the lab, and all the commotion ceased, and became silent. Like a cold stab, I realized I was the center of attention.

"Give me an update," Josiah said.

"It worked," Henrick announced to my enthrallment. "The last two backup streams have been purged, so if for some reason the data fails to stream into our systems when the current backup fails, it will be lost forever. All that work for nothing."

"It will work," Josiah assured him, and I knew, the rest of the team as well. They all needed the reassurance, for all the work they had accomplished thus far. I needed it. I could not bear to be the one at fault for any permanent failure.

The minutes passed, almost into hours from what I can remember. I sat in the labs, watching, waiting. Technicians were maintaining the systems to make sure it was prepped for the moment of truth. Josiah was mingling here and there along with Henrick, whom I started to wonder about. How long has he spent down here in the labs? How long as he abandoned his responsibilities at Intercept to oversee this project at the Academy? For that matter, just how important does he view this project that he is willing to forsake his duties? I already knew the possible outcomes of the extraction, and I could not envision myself doing what he has done. Has he foreseen something I have not?

"System failure, data stream initiating," the main technician, Garrison, informed. Then after a few moments, "We have reception!"

The energy in the room exploded into joyous cheers, and suddenly I was surrounded by a flurry of congratulatory hands and shoulder pats. They viewed me responsible for the success, even though they had done all the work. It was finally at this moment that all of my anxious doubts about my life were purged for all time. Father was completely right; I did not need to fear. I was right at home here. They accepted me now, and I was truly one of them. I looked for Josiah, for I had thought he would have been the first to commend and approve of me. But he was not here; he was staring intently at the main monitor, along with Henrick and two technicians. Soon, the energy died down, and I joined the rest of my fellow colleagues at the main monitor to behold what we had discovered.

I thought Josiah would be happy. I thought we had made a great discovery. All I saw on Josiah's face was bewilderment.

"Sir," Garrison started. "The mapping trajectory has point of origin coming from beyond the belt." Then after scrolling coordinates, "From beyond the inner core, actually."

"Probes do not just pass through the middle of the sun," scoffed another technician.

"No . . . point of origin is Earth," Josiah corrected.

All of the energy vanished. Every excitement fled from our minds. Our triumph was replaced by the tension of a rubber band about to snap. I doubted the results as much as everyone. "This could not have come from Earth; the atmosphere is ravaged with radiation. It has to be a mistake."

"This data is fully intact. There is no mistake whatsoever, you made sure of that, Michael. This came from Earth," Josiah confirmed rather quietly. His face was set, his expression dark. I had never seen Josiah look like this. He turned his attention back to one of the smaller monitors that still displayed the incoming data while Garrison left his seat to check the power levels. Josiah quickly turned around and told Henrick, "Get us an image of Earth, right away. Not from the databanks, I want a real, live image."

Henrick did not nod, nor even show any sort of acknowledgement. He clearly resented being ordered, and I think he might have reprimanded Josiah had he not been just as confused as all of us. To make up for his resentment, he ordered a technician to fire up the observer instead of doing it manually. "Garrison? Garrison, where-- oh, nevermind, Mitchell! Raise the platform!"

An opening in the ceiling appeared, and a floor in the front of the laboratory gave way to a massive instrument, aimed directly at the opening and to the night sky above. It only rose halfway before it shuddered and stopped.

"Garrison!" Someone shouted, as Garrison ran as fast as he could towards the probe before being tackled by Josiah. His body hit the ground hard, but as soon as he could rise to his feet and escape Josiah's reach, he extracted a pager and began to send a transmission. Heading toward the exit, he was blocked by Henrick, who slammed his head into the nearest wall, sending him crashing to the floor, unconscious.

The rubber band had snapped. The scene played through my head a thousand times in a matter of seconds, over and over until it finally sunk in that an ancient crime really had just occurred, that acts of violence were committed between three men I had considered my colleagues just moments ago. This could not have happened. The room was silent, and every single person in the room was staring at Garrison's limp body, even Henrick himself, sickened by what he had just done. No one could find words at a time like this, so when a shrieking alarm cut the shocking silence in half, everyone jumped. The laboratory flashed red exactly three times as every door to the laboratory slammed shut, locking us in.

Josiah leaned down to Garrison to retrieve his pager. An invasion of privacy. Unforgivable. "He requested The Commerce for a lockdown, effective immediately. He was unable to finish his message. . . the last fifteen transmissions over the past six hours have been to the Commerce Department of Investigation. He was reporting every step of our progress."

Henrick Shepherd and Josiah Rowans locked eyes in an understanding that I have never witnessed between them before. Something changed. Garrison was involved with something that we knew nothing of, and I wanted to know what.

"We need to override the lockdown before they send an agent here," Henrick boomed, shoving a technician out of the way. "But first we have to cut off all transmissions. We can't let them know we reversed the lockdown."

"Josiah, what has happened? Why did you attack Garrison?" I asked him. Josiah left Henrick to ordering the men, directing them in the overriding process.

"Michael, you need to listen to me carefully. The Commerce has been lying to us." I laughed in response, and then Josiah grabbed me violently by the shoulders and slammed me against a wall. "Michael, I need you to stay with me. The Commerce has been lying to us from the start. This probe came from Earth, and in a few minutes we're going to see exactly what Earth looks like for the very first time in our history, because people like Garrison have been tampering with our data, making us believe things that aren't true. Garrison has been working for the Commerce, and he, just like many others I'm sure, acted on orders to hinder our attempts to find life on other planets." Josiah released his grip on me to walk over to the telescope. He crouched down to show me an unplugged cord. "He pulled the plug on the imager, tried to stop us from seeing Earth as it is. We don't know why they did this, we don't know for how long, all we know is that Garrison's messages to the CDI prove it."

The lockdown doors lifted, and immediately a technician continued with the imaging process. The main monitor lit up with a beautiful glowing blue planet, marked with green landmasses and swirling white clouds. The image was astounding, it took my breath away. It exhibited every sign of a Prime Zone planet. But this image of the planet was a distinct contradiction to everything I learned about Earth. It was not just what I had learned, it contradicted fact. Earth is uninhabitable; the levels of radiation would kill any who try to set foot on its surface. The planet should be gray and desolate.

"Josiah. This isn't true." My language had become just as loose as Henrick's and Josiah's. We were all upset, and we had more important things to worry about than watching our speech. Henrick just hurt a man who was working for our conspiring government.

"CDI vehicles approximately five miles away, they're sending the agency!" Henrick started shouting. The Commerce was here. They could explain all of this, I knew they could. If we just told them what we found they would give us reason to believe everything was just a misunderstanding. There was no cover-up, there really is no life on Earth, this probe is damaged and broken, the data cannot be trusted. But Josiah could see the desperation in my eyes as soon as Henrick spoke these words. I had to do something. The doors were open now.

"Michael, no--" Josiah tried to stop me, but I stepped back from his reach and sprinted out of the lab. "Michael!"

Out the door, through the long, narrow hallway. I could see the glass exit, lockdown barriers no longer visible as they had undoubtedly been just moments ago. As I ran, I could see a dark haired man hit the ground. He wore a formal white shirt, hugged by the black drop harness that allowed him to land safely from the hovercraft above. If I could just get to him, I could explain everything. Everything would be all right. Josiah's shoulder rammed against my lower back, and he fell on top of me, quickly dragging me into the security room just before the exit of the building. From there, Josiah locked the entrance doors, and I sat on the floor, utterly defeated.

"Why are you doing this?! If we just tell him what's happened he'll let us--" was all I managed to yell at Josiah before he wrapped his arm around my neck and clamped my mouth shut with his hand. With the other, he answered the intercom that the man outside was now buzzing, unable to open the door.

"May I help you?" Josiah asked in a pleasant tone. It made me sick. He could fool this man into thinking everything was fine, but he couldn't fool me.

"My name is Agent Richard Waters, I am here on behalf of The Commerce Department of Investigation." He said, craning his neck to try and see the man on the other end through the door. but Josiah was knelt down and hidden. "We received a distress call, accompanied by a lockdown request. What is the current situation?" It was only one man outside, but he was my salvation. He could make everything normal again. I wanted him to tell me it was all an evil lie. The Commerce has never done anything wrong, because if that were true then everything would change. And that can't happen, nothing changes. I knew, though, that it was hopeless. A man was hurt. Violence. Privacy was infringed. Josiah and Henrick were convinced of something that had to be horribly false. I hoped with every inch of myself that it wasn't anything that couldn't be reversed.

Josiah had to think for a moment before responding. I knew what this meant. It made me feel even worse, and as horrible as it may have seemed, I wanted to do the same thing to Josiah that Henrick had done to Garrison. Because Josiah was about to lie. "We had a power failure. Our experimental methane energy system backfired and shorted, causing everything to fail. We had a moment's notice, so one of our technicians tried to request assistance before our internals malfunctioned. We needed the lockdown to contain the resulting gas leaks."

"Do you require assistance?" Waters asked. His voice was crisp, from what I could tell. The sound of the hovercraft engines not so far above the other end of the intercom made his voice hard to distinguish. But I could tell he was a man of business, and he was here for a very specific reason.

"We would not let you in even if we could, the gas is very deadly. Our technicians are handling the situation in their isolation suits. Everything is under control."

Richard Waters was silent. I thought that maybe he did not want to be dismissed so easily. He knew something was wrong, and that gave me hope. If he refused to give up, I could find a way to tell him. But he relented, ending with "If you need any support, contact us immediately."

Josiah killed the intercom and released his hold on me. I peeked above the dashboard as Josiah drew away from me, ashamed of what he had to do to silence me. I saw Waters activate the magnetics on his harness and lost all hope when he was ripped off the ground and back to his craft. I did not know what to think anymore. All I knew was that Josiah had just done something outrageous.

"Why did you lie to him, Josiah? Why would you do that? He could have helped us!"

"Help us, or help you, Michael?" He asked with a pointed look. His eyes were squinting at me, beady and suspicious. "Do you really have all of our interests at heart, or are you looking for a way out? Are you that selfish that you just want everything to go back to the way it was? Well it won't, Michael! The truth is out now,and you can't stop the truth!"

A feeling rose up inside me, a feeling I could not control. "I don't care! This is ridiculous, this whole thing! We're supposed to trust the Commerce, they watch over us, they make sure our lives are good and simple!"

"At what cost?" He said, slightly hysterical. I saw Josiah's grief. He felt betrayed by The Commerce. "At what cost do we need to be happy, Michael? Forsaking scientific progress? Denying society of truth? I never want to be a part of whatever happiness you think that is, Michael, not now and not ever."

"Why do you have to say that they're lying to us?!"

"Why can't you see that they are?!" His whole face was red. His eyes bulged out of their sockets, and veins throbbed on his neck and brow. His mouth was opened wide, screaming at me with all his might. My racing pulse and flushed face told me I had done the same. A word reached out to me from the depths of my memory, back to when I was a child. It was a time where such actions were forgiven and easily corrected. The word was anger. And along with that word, others flooded from my memory. Hate. Rage. Fury. I had all kinds of irrational . . . feelings. I did not like these feelings, I wanted them to go away. Less than an hour ago everything had been so simple, and I wanted it to be like that again. I didn't care that The Commerce had been hiding the truth about Earth from Intercept. I didn't care why.

All I knew was that I could no longer trust this man. We had come to a point of no return. Even though his face had calmed now, and I could see the signs of deepest apology about to surface, I didn't want to be here for it. I didn't want to forgive Josiah. I wanted an outlet; I wanted these horrible feelings to go somewhere, feelings that were crushed when I was a child. These feelings had resurfaced, they had made me scream and yell, and do things I never wanted to do again. I'd seen them make others do horrible things. I needed to get away. But my mind, it was gone. It had retreated into some deep part of me, trying to recover from the monumental shock of everything that has happened. I could not let rational thoughts control my actions, for there were none present. There was only one thing I could rely on now, and that was pure instinct.

Before Josiah opened his mouth to admit his apology, I bolted out the room and outside the building. I ran and ran into the night, across the empty plaza and beyond. I did not want to go back to my dormitory. I knew Josiah would think I was a danger, a threat, so he would be looking for me. But now I knew I could tell no one of this. If I wanted to remove myself, and truly attain a state of normalcy, I had to pretend this never happened.

As I ran, my body screamed at me to stop, but my instinct refused. It kept me going. The anger, hate, rage, and fury all dripped off of my body along with my sweat. I wanted to tell myself that everything was perfect, that nothing changes. But my adrenaline opened up my mind, cleared my vision, and I realized painfully . . . that deep down that everything Josiah said was true. I denied it as much as I wanted, but it was true. I allowed myself to let go of my reluctance to accept reality. I admitted the truth to myself: The Commerce lied. That much was simple enough. And in this simple admittance, I realized that nothing is as perfect as it once seemed, that everything changes.

I didn't know where I was running to. I was only running away from that horrible place, putting it as far away from myself as I could. I knew one day I would have to return, I would have to face Josiah once more, armed with the knowledge he forced upon me. It was only a partial knowledge, though. It was one piece to a terrible puzzle, a brief glimpse of an intricate web, and before I faced Josiah again I needed to know more than he did. I needed to discover the whole story behind The Commerce's lies.

I needed the truth.
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