Monday, November 21, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages November Workshop - E. Lawrence

Author: Elanor Lawrence
Title: Simulate
Genre: YA dystopia

When I open my eyes, I’m in Paris. The Eiffel tower is ahead of me, a stark contrast to the white skyscrapers around it. It seems smaller than when I saw it last. Maybe the skyscrapers are taller.

There are people all around, most of them dressed in the traditional flowing garments. When I look down, I’m wearing one, too. At least it’s purple. Purple makes everything so much better.

Darius, my squire, is standing next to me, staring at the satellite map on his wrist. We’re at one end of a plaza with the Eiffel tower at the center, surrounded by a narrow strip of gardens and fountains. After that are only more of the boring white apartment buildings, just like back home.

 “What do I have to do?” I ask. Normally I research the mission before I leave, but this time I wasn’t allowed to know anything. That’s the whole point of this test: to see how quickly I can adapt.

 “They’ve given you very little to work with,” Darius explains. I shift my weight from foot to foot. This isn’t a normal mission, where I can try again if I fail. The results of this test actually matter to me. It’s not like last mission, where I spent half an hour exploring a Scottish castle before the operators realized I wasn’t fighting the battle. This is a special test, trying to force me to care. As if fighting all America’s battles isn’t hard enough.

“We’re the only ones here,” Darius continues, staring at the satellite map on his wrist. It’s disguised as an antique piece of jewellery called a watch, but really it shows the position of every human in the area. American soldiers are blue. European soldiers are red. Ordinary citizens are grey. Right now the screen is covered in grey with two little blue dots and absolutely no red. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that this assignment was easy.

Darius and I start walking so we won’t seem as conspicuous. “You have to contact someone on the 27th storey of the Animate Art building.”

See? They’re being purposely vague. I’ve never been to the Animate Art building before, but I know all about it. They program the different styles of virtual reality there, all the ones the government deems appropriate. At home, that would mean top security, but here Animate Art is nothing but entertainment.

In America, virtual reality is a way of war.

 The building looms on the other side of the square, not as tall as the others but at least three times as wide, taking up one whole side of the plaza. Windows stare at us, hundreds of them in endless columns and rows. All of them are blank, with the sky blue one-way glass blocking my attempts to see inside.

I don’t even glance at Darius to ask for a hint. The operators are looking for signs that I’m still fit to lead these missions, so I can’t show anything that looks like hesitance. They’ll be watching my every move.

“We’ll bluff our way in,” I say, staring at the triple doors in the center of the building. “Give me the pass cards.”

“It’s Saturday,” Darius responds in a monotone.

I let out a deep breath, trying not to let my irritation show. How hard would it have been for them to tell me what day of the week it is? Back home it’s Monday, but since it’s the weekend here, all the Europeans will be on holiday and the automatic doors won’t accept Level One pass cards.

 “Alright. Let’s be maintenance workers.” Darius pulls a tool bag out from under his cape and hands it to me. It’ll still be hard to break through the doors, but this will give us a disguise.

Gripping the tool bag in sweaty palms, I walk over to the imposing triple doors. Off to the side is a computer panel that lights up as we approach.

“State your number and intention, then scan pass card,” the door instructs, the panel turning red to indicate where I should place the card.

I read the identity number off the top of the box and hold the surface up to the card scanner. It blinks green and states, “Please proceed.”

The first door slides open. Darius and I hurry inside, turning towards a panel on the wall. At my command, Darius unscrews the panel and hands me the forging tool. There are two more glass doors we need to get through before we’re actually in the building. This one should be pretty simple to open. The second layer of a European security system is notoriously easy to crack.

I guide the forging tool through the circuits, switching wires and polarizing electrodes. It’s a routine job, really.

An alarm blares. Beneath my hands, the wires glow bright red.

OMGoodness. The Europeans finally changed the code.

“Out. Now,” I order. Darius grabs the kit and dashes behind me out of the building. Right behind us the doors slam closed; a second later and we would have been sealed in.

“Scan initiated,” the computerized voice intones. The building hums gently. The security system is scanning for life forms. Unless our contact has some sort of cloaking device, he’ll be found and disposed of.

I’ve lost the mission.

I close my eyes, willing myself not to cry. I, Astrid K-937, smartest girl in the entire world, don’t lose. This can’t be happening.

Then, miraculously, it doesn’t. “Scan complete,” the building informs us. “No intruders detected.”

“Check your map,” I say, turning to Darius. “Where’s our contact?”

“Twenty-seventh floor, just as planned,” Darius says.

I can’t imagine how he escaped the building’s notice—cloaking devices aren’t standard—but I’ll take whatever I can get. I haven’t lost yet. Now all I need is a way to get into the building.

The doors are already out. The walls are brick and steel: impassable. The windows are covered in sensors so that if the glass is broken another alarm goes off.

Was the window open before? I search through my memories, trying to remember, but I’m drawing a blank. I don’t think it was.

The contact must have opened it for me. Somehow he managed to evade the building’s detection and open a window, which means that he must have special European authorization, yet the blue dot on Darius’s satellite map means that he’s an American.

Could the contact be a traitor? The thought makes my heart beat faster. The operators are all sitting back home with bated breath, waiting to see what I’ll do. Try to find another way inside and waste precious time? Or head in through the window, perhaps straight in to a trap?

“Give me a smartchain.” I face the window. Darius fumbles under his robe for a smartchain and hands it to me. As soon as I touch it, the cord takes a DNA sample from a dead skin cell, processes my preferences, and turns purple. I love it when it does that.

Taking aim, I swing the rope around a couple times and let fly. The pronged end latches onto the windowsill, sending tendrils through the atoms and joining itself to the building. I grab the other end and climb up, hand over hand, my feet against the side of the building. Below, Darius holds the rope steady until I reach the windowsill.


  1. I think you're zeroing in. I'm definitely intrigued, and I love that she "fails" and is scrambling... it's a good action hook, I think.

    The only thing that really tripped me up was the "I close my eyes, willing myself not to cry. I, Astrid K-937, smartest girl in the entire world, don’t lose. This can’t be happening." Is she being facetious? Unless she's used to being the smartest or has been talked up as the smartest (in which case, maybe I'd like a touch of that shaded in... maybe that's why she's been so bored on the other cases? Am I just misreading your previous groundwork?) this just struck me as awkward. Can't imagine anyone referring to themselves like this outside of Big Bang Theory-styled uber-nerds, and I saw her as more "tough-secret-agent" type.

    Anyway, that's nitpicky. I think this is a solid sample here. Great job.

  2. Hi Elanor,

    This version sounds more suspenseful than the previous two, so I think that's a good thing. (Isn't this fun!) Agree with Cathy that the action was a good addition. Nothing to get your blood flowing like a blaring alarm.

    Beyond that, I'm having a hard time connecting with your protag. I like bumbling underdogs better than cocky supergirls, so when she called herself the smartest girl in the world, it sounded kind of like arrogance gone to seed. At that point, I wouldn't have minded if she failed and they nailed her hide to the wall, just to teach her a lesson. : )

    I liked that I knew for sure that this was a test, and that there was a lot riding on her performance. Wasn't sure about the part about saving America. That confused me. If she's an out-and-out agent, then why would she need the test? If she's an agent-in-training, I don't know if I'd trust her with the fate of America, unless she's just referring to what she'll be doing in the future.

    This is totally off, but I'd kind of like her to pull out a gadget (perhaps something that she's been concocting in her spare time at the dead of night which would show how brilliant she really is) that would give Darius (who I do not like) a jolt and give her an access into the building that no one had foreseen. Then I'd like to see her surprisingly humble in the face of his annoyance. (I live to annoy Darius.)

    One more thing. I was confused by calling Darius "squire." Didn't get this at all.

  3. Hi Elanor,

    I agree with what Beth said about this revision having more suspense, which was wonderful. The alarm and the fail were great additions.

    Actually, I like Darius, but this version seems to hint less at his personality than the prior one. I think you could freshen up the dialogue between him and Astrid to hint more at his personality and their relationship.

    This version read quicker because you got to the action quicker and then that action was suspenseful. It makes for a stronger opening.

    I agree with Cathy about the most intelligent girl quote. If you need that as part of the story, you might want to set it up better.

    Finally, your first sentence is a bit flat to me. I wonder if you can come up with something a bit stronger and more intriguing, but still something deep from Astrid's perspective?

    Great job on your revisions!

  4. I think the thing about Darius is that he seems so impassive (monotone). Maybe it's because he's tense, though.

  5. Arg.... I'm having difficulties with Darius b/c the MC really likes him (as a friend, like it said in my original version) but he's being really monotone here b/c he's acting as her test supervisor. Normally he's an awful lot nicer, but since this mission is a test he has to be really stiff and monotone. I'll try and work on this in my next revisions.

    BTW, I can't thank all of you enough for the wonderful comments. This has really helped me so much and I'm much more confident in my work now, and much better at accepting criticisms and making them work.

  6. Hmm. I'm now really interested in seeing what happens with your final version. I haven't anything to add to the comments above but I do feel 'OMGoodness' and 'I, Astrid K-937' are lapses into valley-speak that are a bit out of tune with the rest of the way she speaks. Also, I'm not sure about 'squire'. I see your problem - perhaps (be interesting to see how you solve this when I reach your 'final' version') you could be more explicit about his role?

  7. Purple makes everything so much better. --> Purple makes everything better.

    Agreeing on the Darius-squire bit. Why not try “Secondary” or “Aide” (Secondary sounds better in this context)

    After that are only more of the boring white apartment buildings, just like back home.
    -->Beyond them, ...

    “What do I have to do?” I ask. –> I wait a moment, then I cock a quizzical glance at Darius. “What do I have to do?”

    I shift my weight from foot to foot. --> I catch myself shifting nervously from foot to foot. I force myself to stop.

    It’s a routine job, really. -->It’s a routine job, really. My hands move automatically, guided by muscle memory. (Describe what your character might be thinking of right now…hands are focused, mind isn’t…this will add to story)

    “Out. Now,” I order. Darius grabs the kit and dashes behind me out of the building. -->
    “Out! Now!” I snap, but Darius doesn’t wait for the order. He grabs the kit and dashes behind me, out of the building.

    I, Astrid K-937, smartest girl in the entire world, don’t lose. This can’t be happening. --> This can’t be happening. I’m Astrid K-937! I’m _supposed_ to be the smartest girl in the world. I’m not supposed to lose. I can’t lose!


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