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Swaps pt 2

by scarborough 

Posted: 15 July 2005
Word Count: 2257
Summary: the story continues; incarceration and rescue...

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

They put us in separate cells; that suited me fine, in a way; I was getting tired of this bickering. It was like being in a bad marriage, or something. I had to admit, though, there wasn't much in the way of hope. To prove this point to myself, I surveyed the layout of my prison. It was clean enough, with white plastic-coated walls and floor, and a small window about a foot above my head that let in plenty of light, but was completely unreachable. It was about ten metres square; just enough space to pace about in and feel restless. The door was made of iron, with huge hinges set into the wall. It had no handles on the inside. It gave me the impression of some kind of converted bank vault. There was a security camera, as well, set at about the same height as the window, just above the door. I waved at it, then felt like a dick. I bet every fucker who comes in here does that, I thought.

My brief inspection over, I sat back down on the bunk, which was attached to the wall beneath the window. not much more to do now, I thought. I suppose I just wait to see what they do. It occurred to me that I had no idea at all what to expect; despite my nonconformity, before the rather catastrophic and abrupt ending to our little revolutionary escapades that day, I had never actually got into any kind of trouble with the law. Criminal activity was getting rarer and rarer, these days, what with the omnipresent fear of being Swapped. There was a lawless underclass, which consisted of the terminally violent, the oddballs and the just plain useless, who were completely unconcerned about the Social index, but they just lived in the scum zones, the no-go redevelopment schemes which were really just big dumping grounds. And anyway, they were more lawless and uncontrolled than criminal. Criminality implied forethought of some kind. Natasha, our leader, had been in favour of trying to use these discards in our plans, but even she had been unable to come up with any realistic ideas to make a huge bunch of idiots do anything useful. Hope lies in the proles, I believe someone once said. Not if the proles are all idiots. The Copyrights made sure that that was exactly what they were. No, the only criminal activity would be groups like us, working in an organized and unseen way to try and bring down the system. This, of course, was pure speculation; I wondered if there actually were any more resistance groups, if perhaps we had been the only one? It seemed unlikely, but there was really no way of knowing. The whole point of being a revolutionary in this monitored society, was that you had to figure out some way of going undetected. We had managed it through living on the outskirts of the redevelopment schemes, where the standard security devices were pointless. We had also tried to base ourselves near power stations and factories; we had a base near Port Talbot Steelworks, Swansea's very own industrial badlands, as we figured that this probably interfered with tracking devices. John, the main tech guy in our group, had worked on their tracking satellites, and knew that despite the constant refinements in the technology, they couldn't monitor in areas of high industrial activity. This was something anecdotal I had heard, as well; if you ended up in a factory, there was no way that you were ever getting out. They couldn't monitor you properly, and as a result they never knew how the hell you were doing. This meant that the Copyrights would only send you into the Factories if they'd given up on you. Maybe that's what they'll do with us now, I thought. It seemed as plausible as anything else they could do to us.

It was some time later before anything happened. Maybe four hours, maybe six, maybe ten; I couldn't tell. I only knew that I had just managed to completely redefine all my previous notions of boredom. It had always been a state that I'd held a particular loathing for, and avoided above all things. If I'm honest, though, I had failed, quite a bit. Indeed, in my bleaker moments I attributed my involvement in the resistance to nothing more than a particularly bad bout of ennui. One that had lasted for a rather impressive three years. But at least with that one, I'd had TV.

This was something else. I'd read, somewhere, that if the mind doesn't have enough stimulus to keep it interested, then eventually it starts to hallucinate. I can tell you now, it doesn't. If that was the case, then by the time that I out of there, I would have been tripping my nuts off. There was nothing, no weird lights, sounds or any of that supposed interesting feeling of lightness that unwashed idiots tell you is just there for the taking if you only hack off your frontal lobe with this axe. No Buddhist tranquility, either. Just boredom, in its pure and uncut state. I'd even stopped feeling self-pity. Something of a first for me.

So dazed was I, that when the first explosion happened, it barely registered in my consciousness. It was fairly distant, I suppose, and maybe that's part of it. Still, in any ordinary situation, I would have reacted a little quicker to that trained group of armed men and women that came storming into the cell. To be fair, I think I'd probably worked out what was going on when half of that door melted. Still, it was all just a little bit too exciting for me to cope with straight off. It felt a bit like waking up too fast. One of the armed men grabbed my arm, and said something. I think it might have been "come with me if you want to live"¯.

All a bit gung-ho, but what can you do? That wasn't the time to be picky, after all:

It was about fifteen minutes later, when we had been rushed out of the complex past a series of decoded or disabled security doors and cameras, that I finally got some kind of composure back, and started to demand things from my rescuers. "who the hell are you?"¯ I yelled at the nearest one.

The man sat in the chair next to me, a grizzled, grey but healthy-looking chap who looked like he went skiing a lot, and had probably run motivational courses at some point in his life, grinned, and said "we're the resistance."
oh great, I thought. Here we go again.
"And where are we going?"¯ I decided that acting outraged was the best policy here.
"To Safe House. We'll have more time to talk there"¯. He flashed what was supposed to be a reassuring smile at me, and turned away to look at the road again. I hate those kind of smiles, I really do.

One thing I had to admit from the start, though, they were good. Damned good. I tried to imagine our bunch of hysterical idealists and paranoics pulling a move like that; well, I'd seen what happened when they tried. Maybe this lot were on to something. Might actually have a hope. Ah well, whatever.

"nice car" I observed. My patriarchal companion glanced across at me.
"what did you say?" he asked.
"it's a nice car, this. Yours?"¯
He kept on driving, staring out at the road ahead.
"No. but the owner will never know it's gone."¯
"Why not?"
"They were Swapped ten minutes before we took it."

After half an hour or so of driving, we ended up at an old jetty on the riverside. Three other cars driven by various of our rescuers had already pulled up, and were being briskly covered over by their drivers and a few others who, obviously, had been waiting here for us to arrive. After tarpaulins and the like had been thrown over those, and ours, one of the outhouse doors was opened, to reveal three more cars, completely different makes, I could tell in the darkness.

My driver tapped me on the shoulder. Made me jump a little, I'd kind of forgotten he was there. "you're going with her now", he said, pointing to a grey-haired woman who was busy giving orders to a group of resistance people around her.

Maybe it was the suddenness of this all, but I couldn't even think of something sarcastic to say. Suddenly, a thought struck me. As I was walking to the car that was obviously hers, I turned back to look at the old man.
"where's Sarah?"
"Oh, is that her name? You'll see her soon."¯

And then it was off driving through darkness again. Along country lanes, I suppose.
"Are we going to Safe House?" I remember asking.
"In time. We have to get you swept first. You may be carrying tracers"
"You're very good at this, you know. Is there some school, or something, you resistance folk go to?"
Well, I wasn't expecting that for an answer.

What can you do, stuck in a car with a conversationalist like that? I found myself wishing I was back in the motorway with Sarah; at least you could wind her up, get her to react. This woman was all tight-lipped, and buttoned-up, totally focused on what she was doing. No fun at all.
I resigned myself to silence.

We arrived at another location, an office in town, I noticed, with some surprise. Surely this place was right back in the center of danger?
Ah well. I wasn't really in a position to suggest a change of course.

We pulled up into a garage at the back- very fly, all motorized doors and clean, sterile walls. My tanned driver had a remote, which surprised me. This was obviously a place they came to a lot.
"Get out," he said.
"This is Safe House?"

Twenty minutes later, we were sat in what looked like some kind of boardroom. There were about a dozen of us in all; me, Sarah, the frosty women and the tanned man, and a bunch of other chiseled-looking resistance types. I began to feel a little intimidated by their obvious, well, professionalism. It made our group's efforts look a little paltry. That black commando look was practically a uniform, for Christ's sake. Sarah seemed to be feeling the same way. Worryingly, though, I thought I could see hero worship in those bright little blue eyes of hers. That'll be trouble, I thought, I just know it.
The tanned man broke the silence. "I expect you're wondering who we are, and why we've brought you here," he said, with that same infuriating, patrician smile.
"It was beginning to prey on my mind, yes" I replied, trying my best to sound glib.
"well, let me put your fears to bed. I'll tell you why we've taken you, and left others behind in that place." his face was impassive, and i felt a twinge of guilt at the thought that we were somehow better than the other dead-eyed souls we saw in that place.
"We couldn't rescue everyone. but someday we will" and there it was; that same intelligent determination I'd seen in Natasha's eyes, that had made me realise I couldn't just call her a kook and walk away. damn it, he'd got me believing too. but I wasn't going to give in to his spiel, not just yet. you want my enthusiasm, you work for it, fucker.
"That's quite a claim" I said. "care to back it up?"
He smiled at that. "I can see you're not going to let me get away with anything. and I hope I can back it up. let me start by telling you that we know you were involved with a resistance cell before. and we knew what you tried to do."
"really? you know all that?" impressive, i thought.
"We're intercepting transmissions between the Copyrights. we heard about the raid you mounted. we also heard that you'd been reported as captured, and you were scheduled for execution."
he let that hang for a second, between us. I looked at Sarah, and saw disbelief written across her face. fair response; why kill someone when you can wipe them clean and use their body for something else?
"thank you so much," she said. "but I don't understand. Why would they kill us?"
"that's what we want to find out" he said. "we assumed that they must have been rather scared of the both of you, and so we decided you could be useful, and that it was worth the risk breaking you out."
So they were hoping we were really competent rebels. I almost wanted to laugh, but held it back; i guessed some of this group didn't share his optimism; the woman that had driven me here certainly didn't, and was staring at me with a look that could strip paint from walls. the rest seemed dubious, unsure of us yet. there were two of them who seemed to share their leader's conviction; I could see a fervour in their eyes. It made me nervous; I'm not happy with the thought of being trusted that much. I cleared my throat, looked for the right response, but then Sarah spoke up, her voice ringing with pride.
"We'll do what we can."
Silly girl, she'd always felt under-appreciated.

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Comments by other Members

Nelly at 23:12 on 15 July 2005  Report this post
Hi scarborough,

I enjoyed reading through this, I quite like the voice of the narrator, it has plenty of personality, which really comes across as I read through. I do like the idea of your world; I always enjoy tongue in cheek dark alternatives such as these.

The other characters are clearly different. I can feel each of their voices as such and this is a really good thing.

There are a number of grammatical errors throughout the piece. The most common seems to be use of capitals or lack of them. A new sentence begins with a capital. Also, and I suffer from this as well, start speech with a capital unless it is part of an ongoing sentence and is not the first quotation mark.

In example,

"thank you so much," she said. "but I don't understand. Why would they kill us?"

Could be changed to,

"Thank you so much," she said, "but I don't understand. Why would they kill us?"

Very good upload, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more.


paul53 [for I am he] at 08:42 on 16 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Scarborough,
Only just caught your upload as some[? many?] of us are no longer getting our promised Email Notifications. Posting a note in the group thread'll get it noticed sooner.
I'm going to skim through "Swaps pt 1" first to refresh my mind before I look at this as it has been a long while. More later.

paul53 [for I am he] at 12:26 on 16 July 2005  Report this post
Don’t be put off by any criticisms. This is a good story with a well defined setting. Any points raised are the same ones agents, publishers and editors skim-read for – and if they find them they usually reject the manuscript for the next one on their overflowing pile. Despite wearing smiling human faces, they aren’t there to give anyone a creative writing course, though they will give time to obvious talent. The trick is managing to capture their eye when they’re glancing through their hundredweight of mail.
I’ve noticed that when you get into telling the story [the flashbacks in part one, the further explanations in part two] that there is little [or nothing] to comment upon. It is there you find your literary feet, so concentrate of how well manage to you carry this off. You not only tell the story well, but you do so lucidly and concisely.
Trouble seems to arise when joining one section of a story to another with the necessary narrative to move the plot along. The best analogy I can think of here is that you are extremely adept at cutting out the pieces for a fine suit of clothes, but you now need to pay greater attention to your sewing them together.
Colloquial style:
I can see why you want to create a warm, intimate writing style for this, but writing is not exactly the same as verbal storytelling. The little snippets of the author in part one along the lines of “when I can be bothered” and “This is taking some time. What the heck. You may as well know the whole story. It’ll make things easier for later on.” are comparable to a verbal storyteller down the pub pausing a good story to greet a passer by, go to the toilet, order another drink, etc.. Momentum and attention is lost.
Let the hero become known by what he does, not by what he says.
Writing is about suspending the reader’s disbelief, it is about capturing their attention and then keeping firm hold of it. Think of being a juggler and keeping those balls in the air, because as soon as you drop them the readers are turning away for the next entertainment. Too much colloquialisms in first person narrative - though inserted to draw the reader closer to the hero - will often achieve the opposite: they will lose sympathy with the hero, or even come to dislike him.

They put us in separate cells; that suited me fine, in a way; I was getting tired of this bickering. It was like being in a bad marriage, or something.

The semicolon is the hardest piece of punctuation to use correctly; two in one sentence is usually a sign that the structure could be improved.
Try: “They put us in separate cells; that suited me fine - in a way. I was getting tired of this bickering.”
Also: It was like being in a bad marriage, or something.
You are the author, so it is up to you tell us just what it was like, not what it might be like. Lose the vague “or something,” or else share the hero’s search for a simile by saying: “It was almost like …”

It was about ten metres square; just enough space to pace about in and feel restless.

Put this sentence between “I surveyed the layout of my prison.” And “It was clean enough,”
As it reads, it could be the window that was ten metres square.

Criminal activity was getting rarer and rarer, these days,

“was continually shrinking” – “was becoming increasingly uncommon” – “Crime statistics had continued falling, almost to the point of rarity” – sometimes you have to sacrifice brevity for correctness.

"Who the hell are you?" I yelled at the nearest one.
The man sat in the chair next to me,

Where are we? Last I knew we were rushing out of the building, maybe into waiting vehicles. It is “the chair” that threw me. Change to seat?

Always start fresh speech with a capital; give each fresh speaker a new paragraph to avoid confusion.
If using saying “blah” or said “blah” insert a colon. So: I said: “blah”

"nice car" I observed.

“Nice car,” I observed.

That black commando look was practically a uniform, for Christ's sake.

This last one will be unpopular, but here goes.
Mocking religious beliefs by trivialising them into expletives is almost “de rigueur” these days, but by doing so you risk losing a sizeable percentage of your readership. Conversely, swearing only loses you a handful.


scarborough at 22:25 on 16 July 2005  Report this post
thanks for the comments; it's nice to get honest criticisms from a fresh perspective. I suppose having ways of improving pointed out is the point of participating in a group like this.

On the religious thing, I'll take what you said on board. A friend of mine who's currently in seminary in Spain keeps pulling me up on stuff like that, so I guess I've got no excuse! I hope I didn't cause anyone any offence. I guess it's a fine line to tread between describing someone objectionable and just being objectionable yourself.

paul53 [for I am he] at 12:35 on 17 July 2005  Report this post
Take heart - you received relatively few points compared to some of us.

On the religious point, I'm not even sure it is a case of offending folk. Post Salman Rushdie's Fatwah and 9/11 it is more a case of the Christian faith being such a safe target that authors risk being challenged to take a pop at Islam instead if they dare.

On learning one's craft, I read recently that the average time between taking your writing seriously and getting published [properly, I mean, not internet or vanity] is ten years. Some lucky whatsits get it straight away. Others such as me take longer. I took my writing seriously about 35 years ago. The trouble is, I had too many other interests to give it the attention it deserved. I still do. I joined this site back in '73 for a while, but then left. Back again since February this year, I can honestly say my writing has improved greatly in that short time, not only because I am giving it time and attenton, but also because I am daring to let my peers criticise its workmanship. Better them than a publisher, editor or agent.

Will I ever get published? It would be nice, but I've also reached the age when I don't really care as much as I should. My Showcase page says: "Interested in representing / publishing me? Go get your running shoes on."


Patsy at 20:44 on 17 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Scarborough,
I'm still playing catch up with everyone. Just now read this, plus the first half.

This has a kind of Matrix feel to it, with the human-as-pawn story. I like it. You have a good feel for this world, and I can visualize it very easily. You have a great back story going with how the world got into this state, and why people are trying to change it. The only thing that might me missing is a specific bad guy to hate.
Sometimes this type of story can benefit from a target. Is there one man pulling the strings in this society? Is there someone who enjoyed setting your main character up to fall? A head of the copyright division where he lives? I tend to think in cinematic terms though, and if you are going for a different feel, ignore me :)
I really liked it. Looking forward to seeing what happens.
Patsy :)

scarborough at 22:03 on 19 July 2005  Report this post
cheers for the comments. all suggestions and corrections gratefully received and appreciated...

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