Ch. 1

For the Critters workshop and writing SF/F/H in general.
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Ch. 1

Postby crit33281 » Thu Apr 20, 2017 3:48 am

link if you prefer - ... -chapter-1

A clink of ice cubes, and the pop of a cork filled the air with bourbon. The drinker poured himself a glass, only momentarily hesitating with a flourishing twirl before knocking down his concoction. He grimaced, squeezing his eyes and pressing his lips in a contorted expression which indicated he was not accustomed to engaging in such cavalier amusements.

He poured himself another.

Outside the office window, a gargantuan river chopped the milky reflection of moonlight into rippling folds. Even in the middle of the night, the moon was so bright that almost every inch of the bay was covered in creamy glaze. Sailboats bobbed up and down in rhythmic cadence, waiting nervously to be released from their moors. During brighter hours, wealthy benefactors with gaudy sunglasses and promiscuous secretaries would be taken onto the water to be courted by business partners eager for an investment. A yearly charity dinner held by the waterside gave old men the opportunity to talk too much about themselves, and helpless victims the excuse to get brazenly drunk, lest they die from the onslaught of lifetime achievement awards. Once upon a time, a girl set her shirt down by the riverbank, and beckoned her boyfriend into the water with a naughty grin.

A stone path wound up the riverbanks and past a stately sign embossed with gold that read 'Teracom Inc., est. 1986.' Were it not for the imposing cut of granite that bordered the sign, the cursive lettering might have seemed tacky, but the placard was so dignified and stoic, that one could only stare in awe at its regal invitation. Further up the hillside sprawled a lush expanse of vegetation. Manicured grass sloshed back and forth in the night breeze like tiny emeralds, and weeping willows stood at attention, casting a foreboding array of shadows over the ground. Hedges weaved between trees in serpentine spirals, and untamed coils of ivy clung to an iron fence standing guard over the entrance way. In the center of campus stood a stone angel crying tears of sorrow into the fountain beneath. Clasped wings intimated her pain, and longing eyes stared at her own reflection in the water pool. She pulled a cloak closely around her bosom, possibly from shame, or perhaps the midnight air was a touch cooler than usual.

For all the greenery that stretched wildly beyond, the inside office looked comparatively tame. A handsome cherry bookcase leaned against the right wall, stacked with esoteric manuscripts only a handful of eyes had seen, much less understood. An expensive leather sofa, complimented with a matching chair that looked more like a throne added some gravitas. Light from a pair of brass desk lamps shimmered dimly in the thick of darkness, silhouetting an antique grandfather clock that ticked restlessly by the doorway. Here and there, photographs commemorating meetings with foreign dignitaries, celebrities, and heads of state decorated the walls. Sticky notes and scraps of paper stretched across the office desk with hurried scrawl in mental seizure. Several recorded blurbs of Internet passwords, while others contained cryptic messages only to be understood by their creator.

"Tuesday meeting - 9 am. Tara. Pick up milk."

Less direct was, "Take downtown. E-train. Remember oxygen. Call Mika."

The wrinkly diagram of some imagined molecule was paired with a piece of scotch tape and a crude arrow pointing to it. A reminder to, "Be careful not to use this one."

Hieroglyphics of a hundred math calculations covered every inch of office space and creeped onto the ceiling. A sticky graveyard lay crumpled in and around a tin waste bin. They were the pile of rejects who, for whatever reason, just weren't quite wall material.

A dark blue pen sat carefully positioned on the center of the desk. Radiant gold metal encircled its diameter, and ornate swirls hatched its sides like chain mail. After years of being habitually rubbed, pressed, and twisted over contracts, documents, and plans of every kind, it's polish twinkled gloriously in the moonlight . The initials "D.S." engraved its length in sophisticated font.

The man stood expressionless in front of the window as though he had only now noticed the gargantuan river flowing outside his office. Snapping out of his trance, he backed away slowly, shoulders hunched with burden. Sitting behind his desk, he unclasped his laptop and basked in the pale ambiance of electronic light. Massaging his temples up and down, he needed to close his eyes while his mind chewed on the seed of an unpleasant thought. His meticulously organized desk indicated that he was a man of uncommon discipline, but his loosened tie implied that he had afforded himself a small reprieve under great duress. It would be a stretch to call him attractive, but calling him ugly wouldn't be the first word that came to mind either. Dark black hair matched his chocolate eyes, though his nest of eyebrow hair gave him the look of a large owl. His nose was straight, and every so often his thick plastic glasses would slide down his nostrils until he pushed them back up with a casual flick.

Just a click and a scroll later and he was reading a bolded email at the top of his inbox.

Monday, March 26, 2016:

Subject: Teracom Organizational Changes

We are excited to announce a set of leadership and organizational changes that will enhance the vision and culture of innovation that has made Teracom the leader in technology and pharmaceutical development it is today. Creativity, a quest for understanding, and above all else, a commitment to the public good have been cornerstones of our Teracom mission since the day our company was founded. Through the passion of our company's founder, Mr. Damien Strahm, Teracom grew from a budding dream to the household name it is today. Our projects have ranged from the development of next generation Cybersecurity software, to the innovation of IED detection technology, and to the frontiers of alternative health and medical treatments. Our pledge to the safety of our armed forces, and the health of the public have transformed the lives of Americans everywhere.

Just like a husband and wife share joyous triumphs and survive the lows of defeat together, so too have Mr. Strahm and this company built their lives together. But just as a husband and wife may wake up one day, only to find that they are two entirely different people, so now must we go our separate ways. It is with a heavy heart, that the executive board has motioned to remove Mr. Damien Strahm as CEO of Teracom, inc. Though we will always cherish the dedication and passion that Damien poured into his work, we have reached a crossroads where his vision and the vision of the greater company are now divergent from one another. This was far from an easy decision to make, but ultimately we owe it to our clients, our employees, and the American people who benefit from our products every day, to lead our company in positive new direction.

Mr. Levi Akenfield has worked at Teracom since our company's infancy. As a young college graduate, Levi led the design of Operation Halo, one of the largest missile defense systems of its time. From there, Levi branched into other areas of work, expanding our chemical research department into one of the largest cancer treatment facilities in the United States. New frontiers such as smart drugs, artificial intelligence, and portable nuclear fusion technology are concepts that Mr. Akenfield has continued to develop. His relentless pursuit of the new and previously unattainable has helped make Teracom a leader in next generation tech. It is in his hands that the executive board has chosen to place our company's trust as our new CEO.

May this decision bring a new age of health and prosperity to our great family.

Cydni Lipton
Executive Coordinator of Communications and Outreach

Damien looked up from his laptop with so little emotion in his face that he didn't look quite human. Totally still, not even the rise and fall of his chest was visible. His only movement was the slow rotation of his finger tip around the cusp of his liquor glass. Pouring himself another, he polished off the drink with calm finality.

Without warning, his face contorted into rage, and the vacancy that had filled his eyes widened into unhinged mania. With speed that only a man who just lost his life's work could possess, he took his liquor glass in fist, and wordlessly chucked it against the wall. Thousands of tiny shards exploded in every which way, settling to the floor with a cacophony of light clicks. In a sweeping arc, he stretched his arms to the side and swept his computer off of the desk, stomping on the monitor with bloodlust that bordered on insanity. When the desk flipped over next, the surface cracked with a deafening snap, and its drawers cascaded out in a tumult of spare office supplies. Not even the photographs would be spared, split in half over the bend in his knee, and vaulted into every corner of the room without rhyme or reason.

There was beauty in his madness. Most people remain trapped by the confines of modern decorum, never able to fully surrender themselves to raw emotion. The nirvana of fury that now devoured him was a once in a lifetime episode. Such was his anger that he tore books off the shelf in a ritualistic trance, muttering incantations of curse words like he was casting a spell.

A signed box set of the Feynman Lecture Series on Physics received a few parting words. "Fucking bastards...Those mother fucking bastards..."

"I built this company!"

The eighth edition of "Advanced Strength and Materials" whipped across the room and slammed into the wall with a slam.

"Levi goddamn Akenfield couldn't find his ass in a pile of his own ****!"

He had creatively decided to light a computer programming textbook on fire this time, throwing it in the garbage can to burn, apparently unconcerned with the thought of potentially committing arson.

"And that bimbo. Cydni Lipton? How the **** did that ass hat even get hired here?"

A paper on the development of IED jamming systems was ripped in half.

"She spreads her legs a couple times and gets promoted to what - Coordinator of Communications?"

Some poor copy of Hawking's A Brief History of Time plowed through the office doorway with a smash, crushing the glass window with ease.

"Spread your legs a couple times and I guess they create some bullshit job title for you."

The next was stomped beneath his foot. He twisted it around like some kind of insect.

At last, in a final climax of fury he drunkenly stumbled over to the side of the book case, and with a mighty push, propped the shelf on its corner. It pestered briefly, unsure whether or not it wanted to come down or return back to its origins, until at last the entire structure swooned with a mighty fall, and crashed down in an enormous explosion of destruction. Despite being so large, the case bounced slightly off the ground, writhing up and down with dusty ripples, and knocked the few photographs still remaining on the walls down with violent vibrations. The sound was deafening, raking the air with a disorienting ring, and the dust was so heavy that dirty film hung suspended like tiny dew drops.

Damien stepped back, gasping for air. Sweat dripped down his face like icicles melting in July sun, leaving his hair wet and flattened in an untidy mess. He loosened his collar while examining his work, giving pause when he saw that his bottle of Maker's Mark had miraculously weathered the storm. His glass may have been destroyed, but the bottle would suffice, however crude it may be.

Bourbon in hand, he swayed down the hallway from one side to the other, as though navigating a ship. He lost his footing over some invisible object, and tripped into the wall. A swig of whiskey and wipe of his sleeve later and he was off to the races.

Winding through the office complex at night was strange. Where daylight once illuminated the busy churn of employees buzzing to and from their desks, nothing but the occasional screen saver indicated that any human had ever lived there. Hours before, a symphony of keystrokes filled every room, while junior associates made plans for happy hour around the coffee maker. Only the occasional whir of a computer monitor made any clatter now. An uncomfortably sterile odor still permeated the air, the mixture of chemical cleanser and freshly opened printer paper. Ebony darkness covered everything, thick and foreboding, writhing unseen in the murky void. Ahead, a fluorescent lightbulb flickered on and off, artificial, cold, and lifeless.

At last, Damien stopped in front of a rather ordinary looking doorway, and indeed for anybody else it would have been unremarkable, but this was not a mere doorway. In the center sat a shiny copper sign engraved with the words "Levi Akenfield." He rattled the handle a few times, but the door wouldn't budge. A sturdy kick sufficed, though he lost his balance and fell over clumsily on his backside. The light was hard to find at first, and more than one finger was stubbed before he fumbled into a nearby lamp.

There was a rather ugly painting of a duck running away from a small child hung on the wall, and which Damien felt probably looked better with the lights off. He threw his empty bourbon at it. Depth perception notwithstanding, the bottle connected with its intended target, leaving a large gash down the center canvass. Definitely an improvement.

With all the confidence of a man who had just polished off his handle of whiskey, Damien stepped in front of a gorgeous mahogany desk sitting proudly in the center of the office. Ornate rose buds and intricate etches of ivy climbed up the desk legs to an opulent design of thorns and leaves on the desk top. Such attention to detail and painstaking care could have only been the product of a master carpenter. A fine piece of furniture like this may very well have been a wedding present, or a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation.

He unzipped his pants and pissed on it. A dramatic exit for a dramatic ending.

The elevator wasn't really slow, but Damien pressed the button to the ground floor impatiently, thinking that it would respond more quickly to his repeated prods. When it didn't, he slumped in the corner, staring emptily at the elevator lights.

His chariot had arrived.

After the doors closed shut, the downward lurch brought back to the surface an unpleasant mixture of today's lunch and the Maker's Mark. Somebody else's mess to worry about. Steadying himself against the railing, he wobbled back and forth in an alcoholic dance, as drunks often do. At last the doors opened with an aggravating ding that seemed much louder than during the day time. However, confused his stride appeared, he fondled the keys to his BMW with purpose, caressing them thoughtfully between his fingertips like he was touching his lover's face. He walked towards the exit.

A security guard with a belly so large it poured over his pants sat behind a desk near the door. Not all of his hair was gone, but so little remained that it would have been smarter to just shave off everything and accept defeat. His fingers were like sausages, rotund, and as thick as they were greedy. His wife, a plump but good natured woman of forty years, believed that he wore an ugly looking mustache because it made him feel confident.

"It may look a bit dated, but Bob just needs to look official for his job," she told the ladies the local salon.

He didn't tell her the real reason, which was that Misty, his favorite hooker, told him that it made him resemble Rhett Butler, "but better looking, and more manly."

His eyes were bug eyed behind his computer screen, pretending to watch the security monitors, but actually watching a young girl of questionable age take her top off on pornhub. It wasn't until he smelled the pungent scent of alcohol that he saw Damien approaching, and he jumped with a start, fat cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Ignoring the keys in Damien's hand, he asked, "Good Night Mr. Strahm. Late night at work, eh?"

"It certainly has been." The slur of his words was as obvious as his reticence.

Still he pushed. "I was, uh, awfully sorry to hear about the news today. You know I've always loved the work you've done at this company!" There was so much eagerness it was almost pathetic.

"Only man at this company that knows what he's doing, I always tell them. Knows how to steer this ship, I say."

"Fuck off, Bob."

Damien left Bob behind, striding outside into the ether. It was starting to rain now, and the moonlight became subdued behind the menacing strokes of lightning that illuminated a tower of cumulus clouds. Static filled the air with tension, waiting on moment's notice to erupt like a powder keg. With every passing moment, the moon slipped deeper behind the thunderstorm while darkness stalked behind, snapping at its heels.

Sprinkles turned into rain. Rain turned into a downpour. A downpour turned into a monsoon. Within minutes, Damien's expensive shirt clung to his body, and his pants soaked all the way through to his boxers. Every time he took a step, an audible squish of fluid spurted out from his shoes, the weight of his body wringing out water like a dishtowel. His hair clung to his forehead, and droplets of water perched onto his eyebrows, stinging his eyes as they slipped down to the point of his nose.

None of that mattered anymore.

His BMW beeped excitedly for his keys, and with no concern for the expensive leather seating, Damien sat down and slammed the door shut. It was a beautiful machine. Powerful, and irresponsibly fast, yet it's engine purred delicately. An intersection of art and precision.

The day when he bought it had been sunny and warm, back when he was little more than a boy, before money lost its luster on him.

He had just sold the new A3G missile defense system for apache helicopters to the army. The design put Teracom on the map, and years of poverty, of being teased for his thick coke glasses and his hand me down clothes, were all put to bed. Cashing that first check had meant more to him than just a wad of cash. All the people who had called him worthless, who had spat in his face, who had called him a loser could go stick it up their ass. He had made it. Nothing ever felt so good as when he cashed that check.

When he walked into the dealership, the first person that he saw was a man of about thirty, dark hair slicked back with gel, a cigarette hanging lazily out of his mouth. He was leaning back nonchalantly in his chair, reading a copy of Sports Illustrated, looking like he had always dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but settled for car salesman instead.

When Damien approached him, the man didn't even bother to look up from his magazine. Flipping to the next page, he crossed his ankle over his left knee in a listless manner that suggested he didn't care whether or not his boss found out that his lunch break technically ended fifteen minutes ago.

"Kid," the drawl was out of place in Central New York, "I'm on my lunch break. If you're looking for a car, you gotta go see Hank out back."

Damien was undeterred. "I have money."

He still wouldn't look up. "Of course you do, and I got a date with Kate Winslet tonight too." To emphasize the sarcasm, he gave the Sports Illustrated a little flip, as if to show there was nothing more to say on the matter.

Damien pulled out a thick wad of cash, folded in half with a rubber band, and threw it onto the salesman's chest. He jumped, his cigarette falling out of his mouth in surprise, and looked Damien in the eye. "

What's the most expensive car you have?" Damien asked.

That was then, and this was now. None of that mattered anymore, But still - he was going to miss that car.

With a click of the shift, he put the car in drive and peeled out of the parking lot, engine screaming under strain. Faster and faster it traveled, accelerating through the storm as though it were just another spring morning. Rain drops slammed into the windshield, high beams barely able to project more than a few feet into the night. There was little time to react when the entrance gate popped into view, but it didn't matter. Damien slammed the accelerator all the way to the floor, and barely slowed down as he burst through the gate with a screech and the crunch of twisting metal.

The car sped toward the dock on the river, anointing the air with the scent of burnt rubber, and all the while Damien's eyes remained serene, never veering from the river ahead. It didn't take long for the car to reach the dock, rattling up and down as the wheels turned over and over again across the wooden planks. Here and there the wood snapped in an explosion of splinters, and the causeway twisted this way and that, groaning under the stress.

The BMW reached the end of the dock and flew through the air like a winged chariot. For a time it seemed like the car might just fly away into the night, and that all tragedy and pain could be avoided. Perhaps Damien would sleep warmly in his bed. Perhaps he would start a new company, develop some new drug, and save countless lives. Perhaps he would walk into work tomorrow morning and take back what was rightfully his. But all hope evaporated when the car fell out of the air and crashed down into the water.

Just before the car hit the water, in a fraction of a second, Damien managed to look into his rear view mirrored for one last look at the world before the end.

He was not alone.
Name: Kyle Tierney
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Joined: Wed Apr 05, 2017 10:23 pm

Re: Ch. 1

Postby crit19292 » Thu Apr 20, 2017 11:00 am

I could not determine what type of story you were telling. It read like a gothic horror, but what happened was more like poor soap opera (not science-fiction, but week-day morning). I lost interest because I could not tell what I should be interested in.

Let me say that you have a good style of writing. I know a number of people who want to write that way. The joke however is that none of them read stuff written that way. A lot of clear description is very good, but that does not a story make. Background is also very good, but again that does not a story make. What I look for, and what gets me hooked, is the possibility of a good story. Your writing did not present that.

Damien did not connect with me. The first reason was that the writing did not make him important. Everything else was described in detail, and he just became another piece of the scenery. The second reason was that his actions appeared staged. For a clear-headed individual who had directed a major company for a number of years, he came across as weak and simplistic in thought. He definitely did not present himself as someone worth being interested in.

You have a good writing style. Let me commend you on that. My suggestion would be to focus your thoughts on a real story with meaningful action, and not well-crafted prose simply used to paint a picture.

I hope this helps.
I will not deny myself having my opinions.
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Name: Roby Ward
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Re: Ch. 1

Postby crit33281 » Thu Apr 20, 2017 1:01 pm

Thanks a bunch!
Name: Kyle Tierney
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Apr 05, 2017 10:23 pm

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