Monday, February 13, 2012

5 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Mezher Rev 1

YA Science Fiction
Revision #1
Helene Mezher

Survival is the substance of Pangaea. No outdated code of ethics or modern law holds more importance. My family abides by this rule with unparalleled determination, but our success robs time from the others.

Shoulder to shoulder, my brother and I slog through masses of Middlers and Standards, their faces set in grim lines. A swarm of multicolored Ozones, they head towards the trains before the seats fill. We try to squeeze between bodies, but it is like walking through sludge. The rank odor of sweat clings to the air, stealing my breath before it comes. Tor falls behind and I grab him by his backpack, hauling him to my side. He looks at me ruefully before accepting my outstretched hand. Twisting through the crowd, we never break our bond.

We pass through blocks of towering buildings until we reach the looming gray of Tor’s school. The second he sees his friends sitting on the school steps, he drops my hand. Biting back a sigh, I drag Tor into a less populated alley and crouch to his level. In the dim morning light, he grows smaller, frailer, his eyes less steely. The ill-fitting Ozone does nothing to hide the jut of his collarbone. I try to imagine what he will look like in five years, but our future smudges at its edges. I can’t get a job, not when there are thousands vying for the same opportunity. Knowing the future, having one is the utmost luxury.

My throat tightens with an unspoken need. I swallow hard and strive for lightness. “So you want green apples today?” I tease, poking his belly.

He giggles then throws his arms around me. “You’re the best, Zanny. Reiya’s not half as fun as you.”

I think of our sister and how she chose beauty sleep over our company. “That’s because she’s more concerned with her looks.”

Tor nods, solemn as the gates at our side. “I bet she wouldn’t remember Mommy’s request either.”

“Ah, the fava beans. Thanks for the reminder, little T.” I kiss his forehead in jest. Squealing, he rubs it with mock disgust and grins mischievously as only nine years old can. Like an anchor, his expression reels me home while holding me prisoner to a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams. My family’s requests will always trump my own.

The warning bell blares, a welcome interruption to the pang branding my stomach. “You need to go,” I say.

His grin vanishes, but before I can muss his floppy hair as goodbye, he joins his friends. Kids charge the school, swallowing my brother in a black blur of Standard Ozones. A line of small forms ascending the steps, they almost resemble products chugged from some sort of educational factory. Glass inlaid with solar panels covers these factories, reflecting the incongruous glob made by our shadows across the city.

As their childish figures distort in the glass, so does mine when I venture in the direction opposite my school. To the food depot of choice. Towards my errand, the roads darkened by storming clouds, yet I don’t lose sight of my path.

Time to take my family’s due.

Once I enter the market, everybody stares at me. I give a friendly wave to the store owner and smile. His frown deepens into a grimace, but after a few minutes, he turns to the Middler at the counter and they resume their conversation. His action thaws everyone else; they pay no further attention to the scruffy girl strolling through the aisles. In their minds, Standards like me cannot afford the price of fresh food. They think that I am wasting my time, that I have come to drool over what I cannot have, but they are wrong and I will be long gone before they realize it. Silently thanking my mother, I rub the hidden pockets she sewed into my Ozone.

At the produce section, I look around. I weigh the apples in my hands and when no one is watching, stash them in my pockets. I move to the vegetables and on my tip toes, search for the ripest fava beans. While searching, I knock over the assembly and apologize to no one in particular. The shoppers lift their noses and turn their backs while I promise to return the beans to the stand. When I straighten, only half have made it back to the display.

The store owner’s gaze snaps onto mine. He knows. My hands drop to my sides, stinging.

“You…” He says, his voice echoing in the sudden silence of the store. Everyone fixes their eyes on me, the person who does not belong. The person who steals another’s livelihood for her own. I used to be one of you, but the words lodge in my throat, a broken bridge of time dividing our classes. “Come here. Let me see what’s in your hands.”

I do not obey. Before he can alert the security, I bolt from the market, shouts and mingled oaths trailing after me.

Darting down the stairs and through the masses, I know that I take the risk for more than my family. The feeling of my hair flying through the back zippers of the Ozone lights my nerves on fire. Hot blood pumps through my veins, pulsing with adrenaline, and I am alive, so alive. Nothing can stop me.

After seven flights of stairs, I pause to take a deep breath and raise my eyes. My pursuers glare down at me, unable to squeeze through the cracks between the throng of bodies separating us. Floor after floor of food rises above me and I am glad that the nearby ration depots are conglomerated in one towering building. If they had separate spaces on the street, the owners might grow to recognize me, even through the warped plastic facemask of my Ozone. And no thief would survive pursuit from a body hunter.

Out in the open, too many eyes find me, the Standard who does not fit with the granite columns and carpeted floors. Sucking in my breath, I continue my exit. The cache of food rubs against my belly, chanting not enough, not nearly enough, and I have no answer. Among these delicacies, there is nothing for me. Lagging is not acceptable.

Leaving the food depot, I make a sharp left and blend into the crowd, keeping my head down for cover. Inevitably someone bumps into me and I stumble, almost falling into the street and tripping over the train tracks.

Overcrowding: the price of modern medicine and scientific advancement. A price only those with money can pay but something of which we all are aware. A price my family paid and continues to pay in sweat.

We will never have enough and this cycle will consume my life before I get the chance to live it. The stolen food seems heavy in my pockets, the burden of a hope too silly to be consequential. If only…

The moment I spot them at the Forum on my way home, my mind blanks, concern overriding the usual worries. Policemen patrol the area, scouring for members of the anonymous group that reminded us of our frailty. Posters depicting Tyme as a ticking time bomb plaster the city’s columns of engraved laws. White against reinforced steel, they hold their own, a presence the policemen cannot remove without causing a scene.

That doesn’t include my thievery though.

As if he heard my errant thought, a policeman looks at me, examines my bundled form. My mother once told me that the grace of my movements tends to attract attention.

Not the good kind.


  1. This works much better!! The details are excellent and so is your character.

    The only thing I'm not sure about is the massive tone shift between the opening and her conversation with her brother. In a way, it works. It shows how different they are from there society, but in a way it's very jarring...

  2. Hi Helene,

    I like much of this revision -- and still feel completely intrigued with the world and your voice -- but I feel as if the interaction with the brother feels like too much of a device to get us to *like* her before we get in. It doesn't feel necessary or nearly as compelling as the rest. I believe you can easily get the same sympathy going by showing us some of what she is thinking and concerned with while she is engaged in the later action. All of this is good backstory for you to know, but we don't need any but tiny slivers of it.

    Great job though -- looking forward to seeing where you go from here.


  3. Hi!

    I really like what you've done here. I feel like the initial scene does a really good job placing us in the world and setting up who your MC is in a fresh, original way.
    I don't think it needs to be as long as it currently is, though...
    These two lines: "He looks at me ruefully before accepting my outstretched hand. Twisting through the crowd, we never break our bond." I LOVE them because I can visualize it perfectly and it makes me love both of them (and says so much about how important the family connections have to be in this society). So, I don't think you need the conversation beside the school. At the moment, it doesn't seem important enough to take up that critical space in the first few pages, and I feel like you're trying to fit in too much about the little brother's character (concerned about friends, solemn, playful, etc.) Right now, it jumps through each of those emotions too quickly I think, and those things can easily come out more gradually with the rest of the story.

    On a smaller note, I love the way you smoothly describe what an Ozone is when you talk about whether the shop keepers can recognize her through the plastic, but I love if that type of thing can come earlier because when you mention them in the very beginning I don't have any idea what they are, so that slowed me down trying to envision what you were talking about. Multicolored Ozones covering the thousands of noses underneath?

    But, really, your writing is so strong and this world is so rich. Great job!

  4. Really good revision. I think that you can get that same effect with the brother by having her do something protective that he doesn't actually see, instead of the rote conversation. I like the tone, and am curious about "tyme". Look forward to reading more!

  5. Love the new opening scene--I definitely feel more immersed in the environment. I especially like the descriptive clauses about the setting, like "blocks of towering buildings" and "white against reinforced steel."

    I agree with Martina and others that it feels a bit on the longish side. I think what needs to be trimmed are some of the one-liners "Time to take my family's due." or "The person that steals another's livelihood for her own." or "Lagging is not acceptable." Not all of them necessarily, but I think you would get the double benefit of tightening up the scene and lending greater punch to the one-liners you do leave in, if you trim most of them out.

    The conversation with Tor didn't strike me as jarringly as it did others. I kind of liked getting a feel for her family make-up. But it did read a bit clunky to me, especially compared to the smooth richness of the rest of the scene. Not sure you need the part about the fava beans or remembering mother's request. If it's not important to the plot, I'd 86 it.

    Also, I had a bit of difficulty with the characterization of Tor. It seemed off to me that a boy who's old enough to worry what his friends will think if they see him holding his big sister's hand would still be young enough to giggle. To me, the disparity made it hard for me to picture him. And one more teeny, tiny thing about Tor--I read in an agent's tweet recently that "mischievous grin" in all its various configurations is overused, so I think it might be getting dangerously close to the realm of cliche. (I use it myself all the time, which is why I remember the tweet so vividly.)

    One more thing: I would move her reflection about overcrowding to before she goes to the supermarket. It's too long-winded of a thought for the middle of a chase scene, I think. Plus, it's an important factor to setting, action, and character motivation, so I think it needs a place up toward the front.

    Great work, though! You've really set a great tone here.


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