Saturday, March 5, 2011

9 First Five Pages Workshop - March, Entry #5

Young Adult Science Fiction by Liberty Gilmore

Your first Hack is always the Appearance Patch. Do it any other way and you’re dead.

That’s the first thing a Hacker will teach you, if you manage to track one down. Not easy, but I managed. I was eleven years old. I had less than twelve months to master a Patch if I wanted to be a Hacker. I did it in three weeks.

Link, my mentor, said it was some kind of record. He gave me my codename because of it. Blitz. The fastest Hacker since Scope set the bar three years before. Scope the most powerful Hacker in the world. Scope who a year ago stopped using a Patch and revealed his true face to world, too powerful now for even the White Hats to touch.

Scope who I’d been in love with since I was twelve.

Today I was going to meet him at last.


It was a risky strategy, crashing the party. The White Hats couldn’t touch Scope, but they would be crawling all over it, looking for smaller fish.

I was a smaller fish, but not the smallest. I figured the sheer amount of Hackers trying to get close to Scope would protect me, should something kick off. It was simple mathematics. Probability was in my favour, along with the fact that some of the Patches were so badly coded an Admin Officer could have spotted them.

‘There are a lot of players here,’ Zapper said.

He was viewing the crowd with a mix of admiration and apprehension, a frown creasing the brow of his Patch in a way that was achingly familiar. Zapper’s coding was good, but it lacked subtlety. Every time he frowned or smirked it was like I was looking straight at the Real him.

‘Good,’ I said. ‘Keeps us anonymous.’

‘You sure this is a good plan, B?’

I wasn’t. But it was the only plan I had. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to meet my idol.

‘It’s just a party, what could possibly go wrong?’

‘I kinda hoped you wouldn’t say that. That’s like inviting God to prove a point.’

‘No God in here,’ I said. ‘Just Programmers.’

‘But who controls the fate of the Programmers?’ Zapper asked, raising his eyebrows so high on his head I thought his eyes might pop out.

‘Whatever, Zap, let’s just get moving. Don’t want to miss the party.’

Zapper looked momentarily unwilling, but after a second he shrugged and got to his feet, holding out a hand to help me. I took it and pulled myself up beside him. His hand felt rough and warm in mine, its shape as familiar and unfamiliar as it was possible for one object to be.

I inclined my head towards the building. Zapper nodded and we set off towards the music.

Scope’s house was at the top of a gentle incline that raised it above the rest of the world in a way that said: look at me. The grass circled the hill in bands of rainbow colours and the building itself shone like Aztec gold. Balls of light illuminated the grounds. I thought they were just free-floating lamps, but closer inspection revealed them to be miniature suns, working models of nuclear fusion that gave out light and heat. An impressive piece of coding. I had to marvel at the brazenness of it.

As we progressed up the path from purple grass, to blue, green, yellow, orange – each colour bringing us closer to the house until we reached red, which bordered the high wall that separated the inner gardens of the house from the wider grounds – the music beat down on us, louder and louder. The thud of bass echoed in my head, so loud it almost drowned out the rest of the tune. I liked my music that way – vibrating inside your whole body so you could feel the rhythm in every cell. I scanned the air for its source and saw drifts of code illuminated in the night sky.

‘What music can you hear?’ I called to Zapper.

‘Electro,’ Zapper said, working some invisible deck, ‘my favourite. Guy’s got taste, I’ll give him that.’

I shook my head and laughed, delighted. ‘No!’ I called. ‘He’s got skill.’ I pointed to the sky. ‘Look at the algorithm – he’s coded the music to draw from our own minds. We’re all hearing our favourite tunes.’

Any reservations Zapper might have had about attending the party fell away.

‘Dude,’ he said, filling that single syllable with meaning in the way that only a certain sort of guy can. ‘That’s cool.’

‘I told you we had to hit this party.’

‘Okay, you were right. Just a shame everybody else had the same idea. We might have some trouble getting within a hundred yards of the Big Man, never mind close enough to drool on him.’

‘Shut up!’ I said, face flushing dark red.

Zapper punched my arm then grabbed my hand and dragged me through the gates.

‘Come on,’ he said. ‘I’m sure with your skills you can cook up something to get his attention.’

‘I doubt it,’ I said.

Zapper gave me The Look. The same look he gave me whenever I downplayed my Hacking abilities.

‘B, you could see the music,’ he said, touching my cheek in an affectionate, brotherly way. ‘That puts you way above most of the morons here.’

‘You saw it,’ I said.

Zapper drew up close to me, like we were dancing together, and whispered into my ear.

‘Only when you pointed it out, B, I’d been looking for it for a few minutes before.’

His breath was warm on my neck, his lips pressed against my ear soft. He smelt musky – of skin and a faint hint of body spray. I closed my eyes and soaked him in, because when I opened them I could see the numbers that made him that way far too easily. With my eyes closed, with Zapper, I could almost believe it was real. We’d danced like this in the Real world, which helped. Even though the Patches made our bodies different sizes, different colours, different shapes, we were still Zap and Blitz, Marshall and Keira. I could let myself believe it was the same thing.

And tonight I wanted to believe the illusion, live it. Because it was as close as I would ever get to the real Scope.


  1. Wow! This is a great opening. I promised myself I would read and go straight to bed, but I had to post. I like the strong setting cues, the deceptively simple entrance into a complex world, and the smooth flow.
    The only thing that distracted me a little was the short back and forth about God and 'Who controls the programmers?' It felt slightly too philosophical for the moment...but maybe that's what you want.
    Anyway, I definitely want to read this story! Great hook.

  2. Hi Liberty,

    Okay, you've got me hooked. You had me from the first line. You've built the world right from the get go, and you've done it with authority. As a very minor point, the capital letters threw me a little bit. Not sure why. Are they necessary? I can see White Hats and Appearance Patch, but does Hack and Hacker need it?

    As a more major issue, while I loved the first section and loved the voice and the world building, in the back of my mind, I felt like a lot of it had been done. I perked up when I got to the second section: "It was a risky strategy, crashing the party. The White Hats couldn’t touch Scope, but they would be crawling all over it, looking for smaller fish." WOW. Immediate peril, world-building, voice, the whole package. If you start there and weave the stuff from the first section in, I think you'd have an even stronger opening.

    What do we know? I don't know that I want to speculate on your world yet. They are obviously in some type of VR, which is monitored and controlled by the White Hats. Why? I want to keep reading to find out.

    Who is Scope, why has she loved him since she was twelve? I want to keep reading to find out.

    Why is Scope so powerful that even the White Hats leave him alone? Again, eager to keep reading.

    Why does she seem to love Marshall if she has stated that she loves Scope--and how is loving Marshall as close as she can get to the real Scope? That confused me, and the line about the real Scope threw me. I'd keep reading and would love the idea of some sort of love triangle and confusion between realiting and VR characters, but the bit about as close to Scope as she will get would need (for me) to be explained in the very next line.

    Otherwise, this is awesome. Love it.


  3. Yay! You totally hooked me. I love this and want to read more. Great job! :D

  4. Really liked this. The "Matrix" spin-off still feels very fresh and new. I'm still a little foggy on the mechanics of the world they're in, but it's interesting enough I can suspend disbelief and enjoy the story.

    The only thing that sort of tripped me up was all the capitalized terms.

    I'd capitalize Hack the first time, or put it in italics, then I wouldn't bother to afterwards. Your first [i]hack[/i] is always the "appearance patch."

    And Zap/Zapper starts calling her "B" I forgot her nickname was Blitz. Then throwing in her real name gave me too many names to keep track of for her.

    If you get this published you'll have to ask ACP to post about it here so I know what the title is.

  5. I also loved this, the world and plot (so far) felt unique to me. And I'm a sucker for a good sci-fi! What did I get out of these first pages?
    1. Our MC is gifted and prone to throwing herself head on into danger, but still vulnerable. LOVE THAT. Already like Marshall. Not sure about the "brotherly" line, as it felt a tiny bit forced though. Let their relationship show itself naturally. So right off the bat - great hook, great character, intriguing story. Nice.
    2. Ah but those worlds that only exist in our head. As much as I loved your world, I was already a touch confused. Perhaps illustrating what a White Hat can do would help? IDK if it's possible to throw one in there yet though... Also perhaps a touch more on who Scope is and what he had done or can do. Just a taste would be enough. Though for all I know that's coming up next.

    I would definitely keep reading.

  6. Very cool premise! I don't think you need the top part and very little of that info needs to be woven in to the party scene. But starting with crashing the party is much more immediate and you have plenty of details there to draw the reader in.

    I don't mind all the capitals, it tells me this is a different world than the one I know and live in.

    I'm just confused about Zapper and Blitz's relationship (both here and in the Real World). Maybe I'd be less confused if I hadn't read in the top section that she has loved Scope since she was 12. So, are they friends, dating, what?

    Great world-building!

  7. Amazing world-building! So hard to NOT try to explain it all at the beginning and just let the reader soak it in. But it makes for a stronger world, so great job!

    I was a little confused by Zap's and Blitz's relationship, too. I'd drop the brotherly line if she's interested in him. And yeah, the loving Scope thing made it confusing, too . . . felt like she was playing with Zap. And I liked Zap enough that it made me like her just a touch less.

    I agree about knowing a little bit about why Scope is so great. Actually, there are a lot of things I'm not getting yet, but I'm trusting you as the writer that the explanations will all come. Great piece!

  8. I enjoyed this - which is saying something since I'm picking when it comes to science fiction.

    I, too, was confused about Zap and Blitz's relationship when she keeps saying she is in love with Scope because it seemed to me that she was interested in Zap, too.

    I don't think you need the beginning section. Zap hinted at most of it anyhow, plus she mentions Scope several times and we can infer the rest.

    Great job!

  9. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for all the comments! I promise I will find time to read and comment on all of the other entries in the next couple of days.

    To answer the confusion about Zap and Blitz's relationship - they are meant to be best friends. Zap has unrequited feelings for Blitz, but she's not interested in him in that way.
    She does love Zapper, but in a best mates way, if that makes sense!

    Her love for Scope is a bit like being obsessed with a celebrity - she hero worships him because he's the most powerful Hacker. A lot of the story is about what's 'real' and what isn't, and whether or not she really loves him is something I intend to explore.

    I'm so glad to have got so many positive comments! I've been in a bit of a writing slump with this one, and you've really given me my motivation back :) x


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)