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The Rising Star - Chapter 1: Zeus

by Alexshaw 

Posted: 31 January 2006
Word Count: 2614
Summary: First chapter of "The Bright Ones: The Rising Star"
Related Works: The Rising Star - Chapter 2: Work • 

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Sire Firebrand felt the dawn light of one of Zeus' many artificial suns play across his closed eyelids and his dream began to disappear. His mother was there, speaking to him, they were on the train, and he was only ten. His mind rose to consciousness, pulling him away from this precious moment. He clung on and tried as hard as possible to grasp some meaning he may be missing before the dream was gone. His alarm was sounding and there was a weight on his chest. The dream shattered as reality poured in and he flailed his arm to jab at the snooze button.

Sire retracted, groaning inside his cocoon of warm sheets, blocking out the rest of the world. It was seven in the morning and he had not slept well. The bed he now lay in, so incredibly cosy and inviting, had just hours before seemed a cold and uncomfortable slab where he lay staring at a white ceiling, locked in the frustration and boredom of insomnia. The weight that had settled on his chest attracted his attention and he opened his eyes, staring into two unblinking sea-green orbs. His cat, Bastet had appeared on top of him. She purred and curled up for a snooze. Sire groaned and whispered the correct keyword.


Bastet flickered and disappeared, re-materialising instantaneously on his breakfast bar, her image glitching. She was supposed to walk about like a normal cat so her hard drive was probably on the blink again. Sire slithered from his bed, wiping the crust from his eyes and biting back a dull headache. The automatic heating kicked in and his chilly little apartment began to warm up.

He was a tall and slim young man of twenty-one, strong and agile with undeniable charisma. He was also fidgety and unfocused. He had intense dark brown eyes and long, lank, spiky brown hair. He crossed to where Bastet was washing herself and stroked her warm head as she butted his hand affectionately. To have a real cat in his apartment would be totally illegal, so he’d had to make do with this vintage hard-light model. If restored to full working order she would be indistinguishable to a real live black cat, but for some reason he had never figured out, Sire and technology did not mix and every time he got her fixed she’d start playing up again almost immediately.

His apartment was a metal box, about five metres wide and the same deep. It was just one of countless other boxes, laid on top of and beside each other in the Ponos district. This was where you lived if your wages fell into the bottom bracket of the Olympian hierarchy. Sire earned just enough to pay rent, eat and take a home study course in Media. His living space was a personal, silent rebellion against the world outside. His small and precious book collection was locked in a floor safe for security. The walls were decorated with posters of famous leaders, musicians and movies, though he had carefully placed drapes around to cover up the more controversial ones in case uninvited guests stopped by.

On the wall in front of his sofa-bed hung his third most prized possession (Bastet being his second), an outdated but sturdy video screen. Since he had no cinematic implants he was obliged to watch movies the old fashioned way, and this was one of his true pleasures in life. He was a lonely young man, but deep down, he relished that fact.

Sire showered and dressed quickly in the uniform of his trade; dark grey overalls and hardwearing leather boots and gloves. He was a messenger and delivery boy for Hermes Interplanetary, though he only worked local delivery and had not been off Zeus for years. Sire had used his savings, and the small windfall his mother had left him when she disappeared, to attend college. He had shown promise, but the money dried up too soon. Without the delivery job - at first part time - he would have found it impossible to pay his rent. In order to afford the tuition fees, he had to work more and more hours and had little time to study, so he slept less to keep up. A year and a half into his course, after nearly killing himself nodding off in traffic, he decided he had had enough. He pulled out and went full time as a delivery boy, hoping to save up enough to go back and complete his studies. That had been two years ago. He had saved a fraction of what he needed and felt more hopeless than ever before. It was a situation he could not possibly win; hence his final, grudging acceptance of the third-rate home course he was taking.

Sire had never really been very sociable but this turn of events had left him more isolated than ever before. The handful of good friends he had made in school and college had jetted off to all corners of the solar system and rarely came back to his area. If asked to name one true friend he was still in regular contact with, he would have been stumped. It seemed he could only make friends on an intensely personal level. Passing acquaintances were all well and good, but he could not trust the fair-weather friends with the kind of person he really was. The same was true for him in love. This left him looking back on a series of lost opportunities and misgivings about his awkward personality. Still, he clung to his principles and held out hope that eventually he would meet someone who would understand his contradictory nature.

He folded the bed away, and worked out as usual, in the way frustrated single men tend to do. After weight training, skipping and press-ups he attempted meditation for a while. He tried once again to calm his mind. A few seconds of total blankness was all he had managed so far, after years of practice.

Sire's mind was a maelstrom at the best of times, and whenever he pulled something from it, several other thoughts usually came too. While he was running through a list of the day's clients, he was also usually deciding, in detail, what he wanted to eat tonight, playing a random song in his head, remembering famous movie quotes, observing the body language of others in the room, and jiggling his right knee impatiently. While an ordinary person might find it taxing to get used to thinking of nothing at all, Sire found it downright impossible.

He breathed out slowly, and tried to envision total blackness. He managed to drift peacefully in his mind for a full eight seconds, before rapid images and thoughts began drifting into his head unbidden. Music began to play above the low whistling wind he usually focussed on, and the blackness became white, with grey spots which swirled and bounced dizzyingly. Sire's eyes snapped open.

He had been training himself for nearly a decade in various martial arts and philosophies, though none of the files he had searched through could teach him effective self-restraint or inner calm. Most of them were heavily controlled by the Olympian Board of Classification, OBOC, and he strongly suspected some of the key tenets and principles had been diluted.

He recalled something his mother had said about 'When the pupil is ready, the master will appear'. In this case he hated being the exception to the rule. He had been ready for what felt like forever, and he had met nobody who could teach him anything new.

Sire sat eating a bowl of cereal on the sofa-bed with Bastet curled up beside him, watching the news with the volume low. He paid no attention to it and as he stroked his automated little companion let his mind drift back to his fading dream. Why had he dreamed about his mother? He had not seen her in four years and he could feel a tension in his stomach when he thought of her. Something was there. One grey and chilly morning he had woken up to an empty apartment to find her savings and door key, neatly arranged on the kitchen table. He wasn't really very surprised. She had always taught him to look after himself, but he did worry about her. He still had no idea where she had gone. She had left no clue as to her whereabouts.

Sire recalled the train in his dream. It had been the day of the accident. Was he supposed to focus on the events of that day or specifically his mother and what she had said to him on the train?

Glancing at his watch, Sire realised he had drifted and he was going to be late for work if he didn't move now at top speed. He nuzzled Bastet’s head and whispered the deactivation code. She yawned and disappeared as he shovelled the last of his breakfast down, grimacing at the aftertaste of the synthesised milk, grabbed his flight goggles and snatched his keys off the table. Looking around the apartment he suddenly shivered. Today was not going to be the usual punch in, punch out, boring routine. Something was about to happen.


Stepping out into the morning light, he surveyed the cityscape on his doorstep. He was on a platform a mile and a half above the planet's surface, with the apartment complex reaching away into the distance above, below and on both sides. The rows of huge bullet-grey apartment blocks stretched on for miles. After a hard day's labour, countless low-end workers would be slotting themselves neatly away from the late evening to 8am before going off to their jobs again to repeat the process.

Sire opened his garage and rolled out his beloved air-bike. It was an old fashioned, Kittyhawk 3000 manual model, adorned with the badge of his employers, Hermes Interplanetary. He dreaded the day when Zeus outlawed manual travel altogether and he would have to get a boring sleeper car which would carry him on invisible rails to his destinations, though he knew the day was not far off. Sire hopped on and fired up the engine. The battered machine rose a foot into the air, sputtered and grumbled into activity.

Still pondering his dream, he waved the garage door shut adjusted his goggles and edged his bike to the end of the ramp, surveying the gridlock a few feet before him. Cars hung in mid-air, bumper-to-bumper, containing irate drivers who were more likely to give him their daughter's hand in marriage than a place before them in traffic. It looked like the usual manoeuvre was required. He inched forwards, gritted his teeth and dropped into space, simultaneously gunning his engine and pointing his nose up.

The engine stalled and puttered into silence.

Sire's heart leapt to his throat and the world shot past him as he plummeted downwards past every street below his apartment. Panicking, he wrenched down on the pedals. His bike was still not responding. If he didn't get it started within ten seconds then street cleaners would be sweeping his charred remains off the city floor and down a storm drain. As he plunged through the air he saw the frightened faces of the people sat in their traffic jams rush by. Falling vehicles, or 'lemmings' as they were called, were an occasional, grim occurrence in the city of airborne traffic, and the general public still seemed unable to tear their eyes away from the horrendous crashes. Sire roared at his bike and kicked the firing pedal. The Kittyhawk roared back and its beast of an engine charged into life, jerking Sire violently as he climbed back up the way he had come. Children in the backs of cars cheered as the bike rocketed up to the sky, while their parents glowered at the idiotic cowboy driving it. Sire looped around the air-jam level with his front door and followed it eastwards on his way to work.


It was a fine morning in the nearby Perseus district. The sun soared overhead, bouncing on and off the buildings below. The sky was a brilliant pink-orange hue. Amber clouds danced in from the horizon, and the city was a mass of shimmering silver, glinting in the morning light. Here and there, multicoloured smoke mingling with the clouds painted vibrant streaks across the sky. Never had pollution looked so magnificent.

From the surface to the highest building on Zeus the air was filled with a never-ending planet-wide network of interconnected queues. Each person was waiting their turn to squeeze through a tiny gap in the distance where the traffic lights occasionally gave them the chance to get onto yet another congested street or roundabout under construction. As a delivery boy, Sire could skip most of the queues entirely and drivers all around him glared enviously as he sped past. He wondered how people had coped back in ancient times when their roads were confined to the ground. He glanced down at the four road levels beneath this one, and ten above, all equally congested. There was an obvious reason why people stuck to the mid-air markers passing for streets up here - if you didn't want an awful crash and a pile-up which would create yet another air-jam, you stayed in your lane and shut up.

Sire swept down over a busy market square. It was an open-plan mall that attracted the attention of almost every inhabitant of the Perseus sector not actively at work at this point, mostly shopping mothers, their angry looking babies, and slacker school children, skipping class.

The youngsters wandered around with their trousers round their ankles, sporting boxer shorts down to their knees. Vast exaggerated labels protruded from the back of their t-shirt collars. Huge chains with steel balls on the end dragged behind them and tripped up passers by. Many wore contraptions over their heads allowing them to watch sixteen Templenet miniscreens at once. Astonishingly, air-boards were still fashionable, though mainly as an affectation. Few modern teenagers were capable of actually landing a trick, though they did often attempt them while standing with their friends by the fountains in the market squares. The tricks were executed in a lazy way that requires no commitment and little risk so when the kids bailed they didn't fall down so much as land clumsily on their feet and, to their minds, looked less of a fool. The kids waved complex gang signs at each other and eyed their friends' fashion statements nervously in case a new badge for the disenfranchised appeared.

Sire took a detour and flew down over the Perseus food courts barely five feet above the heads of the crowd. This was his favourite place to fly through in the morning. It was where everybody in this area went to eat, no matter what time of the day it was. Cooking smells wafted up and set Sire's mouth watering. He could discern spiced chicken and flatbread, saffron rice and blackcurrant ale, marinara sauce and pecan nuts, flaming scotch bonnet chillies, roast beef and sesame oil. All the flavours and textures of the mass of interspersed cultures inhabiting his planet combined into one glorious odyssey for the taste buds. It was what Sire loved the most about his troubled people; the way they came together to cook.

He was making good time. If he took just a few more short cuts he might not be quite so late for work. Aiming his bike at a worryingly narrow alley, Sire grinned and jammed down on the accelerator.

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Comments by other Members

paul53 [for I am he] at 07:56 on 02 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Alex and welcome to WW site and this group.
You asked for "Go on! I can take it!" which, depending on the respondent, can often be a right eye-opener - so
I'll be as gentle as I can.

There is not much wrong with the construction of this story. It is presented well and contains few of the more common errors usually found in new writing. This is a good thing as you have surmounted many of the obstacles others usually trip over.

If I had to make a comment for improvement, it would be one based on a section in Stephen King’s excellent how-to book “On Writing” where he asked someone what a redraft actually entailed, as was told “reducing it by ten per cent.”

Though I enjoyed reading this, there was a certain amount of waiting for the story to catch up with my reading of it. I think this piece needs tightening up, primarily with removing extraneous words [being as succinct as you can without losing necessary detail] [note “necessary” as detail can be as full as a paragraph with a few well-chosen phrases], then removing any parts that could be missed [and one of the hardest things for a writer to do is deletion as the words set down are his/her creations].

The only way I know of getting this right is to read as much and in as many varied styles as you can, and step back from what you are reading to consciously see how other authors do it – but be prepared to see bad bits as well, for even established authors knock the occasional “that’ll do” off to pay the mortgage.

An example of a redraft:
Sire Firebrand was having his last dream of the night. There is a moment when we are about to wake up but are still technically asleep. Often, in that short span of time, the dreams we have are suddenly so much clearer.

to something like:
Sire Firebrand’s last dream of the night: that moment of awareness when technically still asleep. Often, in those brief moments, they appear clearer.

Less is more in prose as well as poetry. More words might appear to draw the reader in, yet often they have the opposite effect – that of being a thicket the reader has to press through. Be tight and direct.

Also, I don’t really know why, but I want SF to be markedly different. Duvets, alarm clocks and breakfast cereal pulled me back to “now” rather than kept me in the presented future. Thin space blankets with the same Tog? The alarm function on his ubiquitous palm-sized comm device? His tasteless nutri-bar?

Alexshaw at 09:15 on 02 February 2006  Report this post
Thank you Paul. You are the first person who has been honest with me and actually shown me how I can improve it.

I will be as thorough as I can in condensing it down.

Regarding the familiar objects. That was intentional. One of the things I dislike about Sci-Fi is the renaming of familiar objects. Sometimes a spade is just a spade. I will look carefully at every single reference as I re-edit my book and rename a few of them in a manner in-keeping with the world but a certain familiarity is, to me at least necessary.

Once again, thank you. I have been having a hard job of even getting my own family to read this, let alone critique it.


sazzyjack at 10:00 on 02 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Alex,
I think Paul has hit the nail on the head as far as what you need to do to improve this work. It does have a lot of potential, and with a bit of efort and quite a bit of tightening up, you could really have something here.

The story itself is fascinating and your future world is well constructed and thought out.
I personally liked the familiar items, as I think you have included enough other detail to portray this world as futuristic.

Hope this helps,

Alexshaw at 10:08 on 02 February 2006  Report this post
Thank you very much Sazzy.

I shall tighten like never before and re-submit this chapter tonight.

It may only be about ten words long in the end, but they will be the most gripping ten words ever written.


toshi at 11:49 on 02 February 2006  Report this post
HI Alex,

I think I have read the old version, and won't have the benefit of your new tightened version!

I liked the story so far and I thought your description of the "roadways" and near "bike accident" was a good expansion on what is a quite a familiar idea in films, but not so often "seen" in writing. You introduced Sire well, and made him into an already interesting character with a difficult past which will impact on the story later.

So all in all a very promising start!

I did think the chapter tailed off a bit at the end. There was a lot of discussion of Sire's problems at the start, and then the incident on the bike. Might it have been better to have ended the chapter just after the bike incident, as it did not seem (at this stage anyway) that the final section was actually leading anywhere storywise?

It's pretty daunting uploading new work onto one of these sites, as I well know, especially if it is a work you have completed already. If it is any consollation, I feel my writing has improved quite a bit even in a few months. Without any feedback, it is almost impossible to evaluate your own work. So I hope this proves to be a good experience for you too.

Incidentally, both the names Sire and Firebrand appear in the book I am currently uploading onto this site. I can't for the life of me remember how I invented those particular names. Perhaps we were inspired by the same source?

Best wishes

PS On the whole I agree that there is not much point in making up names for familiar objects, especially if - and this is not yet clear- the world of your book is derived from Earth to start with. After all you might as well invent a whole language like Tolkien ended up doing. On the other hand, it doesn't hurt to throw in few new names for things, as it does present a sort of instant flavour for a sci-fi story!

Nelly at 16:16 on 02 February 2006  Report this post

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond. How are you enjoying sci fi? We have some excellent writers lurking on these boards.

Rather than be specific to the upload as a whole I see there are some simple errors repeated throughout the piece. A good edit will sort these out.

The main thing is your sentence construction; you need to find ways of condensing what you have to say and to clarify the meaning.

Take a look at the word 'that’, sometimes it can add to the sentence, but it can also get in the way. When you go back over this, be absolutely one hundred percent ruthless with justifying the need for it. Unnecessary qualifiers can also be eliminated from the upload; words designed to add meaning, but just take it away.

Also if we haven’t changed P.O.V or there is only the one character at that point of the story, you don't have to refer by name, this avoids repetition and reads easier on the eye.

Hope it helps and I’m looking forward to reading more.


Alexshaw at 22:39 on 02 February 2006  Report this post
Ok, this piece has now been carefully trimmed and subtly re-ordered in places.

If you have already read it you might not notice much difference but I believe the pacing is better and there is less extraneous exposition.

I still have not changed the more familiar items. Everybody needs a snooze button and the best thing to eat for breakfast when in a hurry is cereal, even if the milk is hidiously synthesised.

I have been writing this book for five years now and it has changed so much that the first few chapters don't even have a single word in common with the original draft. It may change further in future, but I'm fairly happy with this as it is. It's just such an important chapter to pin down because if you bore, confuse or patronise your readership in the first few pages you lose them forever (as well as everybody they would have told nice things about you).


Patsy at 02:14 on 25 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Alexshaw,

Sorry I'm so far behind in reading this! Shall attempt to catch up on everyone as soon as I can, so bear with me! Didn't read any one's comments, so sorry if I repeat anything.

I like this, it is unique, and it caught my attention right away. Very cool world you came up with here.

Things to consider:

Sire Firebrand was having his last dream of the night
first dream? if he is having trouble sleeping?

The only other thing I picked up on was that you give us a great deal of detail right at the start. Maybe try spreading some of this out a bit? Maybe while he is driving in to work, he could think of some of these things from his past, seeing things along the way that remind him of these past events? Such as his near brush with death on the bike reminding him of the time he nearly died in the accident with his mom? Maybe the mall and food court could remind him of when he used to eat there with his friends when he was in school? If you tie these scenes of description in with information about him, both will be even more interesting to the reader.

Very nice work :)

Alexshaw at 22:24 on 26 February 2006  Report this post
Thank you patsy.

I have been taking on board much that has been said of these chapters. I've worked hard on reducing qualifiers and the word THAT (I never knew how much I overused it)

More importantly in order to make Sire more Likable yet remain true to his character I made a new addition, his cat.

Any lonely person would be likely to want a pet, even if it's only to have another heartbeat in their home. In the world of Zeus that would be hard to keep, not to mention cruel, as essentially Sire himself lives in a cage.

So I took advantage of the advanced technology and made him a hard-light, holographic cat. This should hopefully show a softer, slightly more vulnerable side to him and a secret need for company that should endear him a lottle more to my readers.

The cat has other relevence but you'd have to read on to piece it together.

Terry Edge at 03:55 on 25 June 2006  Report this post

Okay, just a few quick comments and I'm sorry if this is rather abrupt. There are some good ideas in here but you really have to do a massive revision on this if you want it to work. You need to cut and cut and cut. This piece is basically one long Tell, and on two levels - setting and character. Setting Tells mean big info-dumps which abound here. Character Tells mean we never really cars about the character- because we only care when we discover them for ourselves. Here are just a few examples of character tells in this piece:

He was a tall and slim young man of twenty-one, strong and agile with undeniable charisma.

It's no good you telling us he has 'undeniable' charisma - we will only agree it's undeniable when we see you Show us it.

He was a lonely young man, but deep down, he relished that fact.

Sire had never really been very sociable but this turn of events had left him more isolated than ever before. The handful of good friends he had made in school and college had jetted off to all corners of the solar system and rarely came back to his area. If asked to name one true friend he was still in regular contact with, he would have been stumped. It seemed he could only make friends on an intensely personal level. Passing acquaintances were all well and good, but he could not trust the fair-weather friends with the kind of person he really was. The same was true for him in love. This left him looking back on a series of lost opportunities and misgivings about his awkward personality. Still, he clung to his principles and held out hope that eventually he would meet someone who would understand his contradictory nature.

This is a long series of flat statements - the kind of thing you might get away with when writing an obituary column, because the readers will already know the character and will accept a reporter-like summing up of their life. But fiction readers want the story; they want the experience, the magic, the feeling of all this stuff you're telling us.

Sire's mind was a maelstrom at the best of times.

Again, we need to see this in action. 'Maelstrom' could mean he just obsesses about shopping lists.

Similarly, with the setting details, you need to drip feed this in to the story. Nothing much actually happens in this piece. I'd strongly advise heavy revision and aiming to reduce this section by at least 75%.

Go for it; show us the true heart of the story you're telling here.


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