Joined: Sat 26 May 2012, 17:24
Location: the first star to the right and straight on 'till mid-afternoon
Been writing. Would like critique. It seems that on the internet, when one posts and asks for constructive criticism on anything literary, you get either "OMG taht is lyk so kwel!!111!" (my... my brain just exploded from typing that...) or the thousand-word rants of people who have something negative to say about every sentence. Oh, yes, there are plenty of people who actually do
give helpful critique, but usually only within the niche of whatever the work itself is about.
I figure that, since everyone here probably knows at least something about language and would therefore be able to catch the awkward word usage and phrasing that I'm somewhat infamous for among my beta-reading family, perhaps you would provide a happy medium. This is the first half of the prologue of the first of two stories, which are actually fanfictions. You don't really need to know anything about the game on which is based to understand it, though. I know I have show-don't-tell issues, and my paragraphs do tend to run away from me (Chapter 1 is the worst - this part shouldn't be too
Prologue – The Greatest Minds of a Generation
The man’s pale, clammy hands shook with a dull horror, fingers hovering over a chaotic sprawl of disjointed letters. He was half-frozen in a state of shock, eyes glued to the monitor. On the screen before him, thousands of lines of pixels were arranged in a rather peculiar manner. At first glance, they were spread randomly across the screen. At the second, their line-by-line order became apparent. It was an image of pure chaos, and yet somehow, it easily coalesced into familiar shapes. Even those shapes weren’t particularly ominous, really… but somewhere in the depths of the man’s mind, beyond the reach of any hacker or programmer, a long-dormant part of him recognized each one. Every individual pixel was just a fragment of a fragment, a piece of vital data that might just answer his questions. But as the man’s eyes scanned the screen, and his organic brain underwent the exhausting and yet instantaneous task of deciphering it, he found himself with more questions than he would ever know how to answer.
The pixels, said the visual centers of the man’s cerebral cortex, were forming letters, which were forming words. The language centers proceeded to decode and translate the words, giving each a meaning, a blip of identity, and rearranging them into meaningful thoughts. These thoughts were then processed by the memory centers of the same cerebral cortex, run through an inefficient mental database in a search for significance. These pixels made these shapes, these shapes represented these words, these words represented these ideas.
The man read the document.
A man and woman behind him looked over his shoulder. They were concerned. The second man opened his mouth to speak, but the woman shushed him - it was the first sound she had made in some time.
Words. Lines of data. Information. Not so plain, so obvious, as a string of ones and zeroes. The man’s brain was unused to such vaguely-identified data. In fact, it was unused to simply existing. For so long, information such as the words on the screen had followed a very, very different process in order to be rearranged into meaningful bytes of information. And switching from data processors and silicon chips to nerves endings and brain tissue was bound to give any sentient being a headache. But the man didn’t notice. His attention was solely on the information that was being displayed to him. It was a single file, recovered from the near-wasted hard drive of an old Aperture Science Innovators computer.
It was from the employee database. And it had his name on it.
They had told him never to access the employee records, or he would die. Come to think of it, they told him that about most things. He’d been such a fool to believe them, such a… a moron. But no. In this case, it was rather obvious why they had forbidden it.
The man was still frozen in the computer chair. He didn’t know what had overcome him, what had caused him to sit down and press the ‘on’ button and start typing furiously. They had only just gotten the computer working, and no one knew how to operate it. Except him. And he couldn’t remember how he knew – computers were completely foreign to him on this side of the screen. But the moment he sat down, the moment that black screen with its command prompt appeared, like a long-lost friend, all he could do was type. Files, folders, databases filled with precious information from the glory days of the facility… everything was at his fingertips. And it was all so very, very familiar.
And then he had found it. He didn’t know what had inspired him to open the folder in the first place, what force had encouraged him to scroll down, down to the middle of the employee list. Down to the Ps.
But the entry that he was reading, the snippet of data that he had found… well, he knew exactly why he had found it so intriguing. After all, it was his name. Right there, in plain sight. Really, it wasn’t a very common name, to be honest. And the rest of it… it all seemed so familiar.
Date – February 9th, 1991
NAME: Pendleton, Wheatley O. (The O. stood for Oswald, to his eternal chagrin.)
ID#: 85356295141 (The first eleven digits of pi. Backwards. He had considered it a good omen.)
CLEARANCE: Indirect B-Level (Meaning that he was neither in an orange jumpsuit nor running the place.)
GENDER: Male (Good to see they hadn’t messed that up.)
AGE: 29 (He had graduated from MIT at 16, and gone on to very, very rapidly [through accelerated programs and literally constant study – by all rights it should have been impossible in the time frame, but he was never one to let that stop him] earn doctorates in computer science, physics, and quantum mechanics. At 24, he was approached by an Aperture Science associate and offered a job. If only…)
DATE OF BIRTH: [REDACTED] (Fair’s fair – he barely remembered it himself.)
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bristol, England (He’d studied in America, and then never left. But he never lost the accent.)
HEIGHT: 6 ft. 3 in. (He was tall, but thin. Gangly, really. That fact, along with his rectangular, ‘frameless’ glasses, disheveled red hair, and fondness for argyle sweaters and pocket protectors, only served to emphasize his *ahem* individuality.)
WEIGHT: 190 lbs (For a company with a cake obsession, the employees didn’t eat much of it.)
BLOOD TYPE: O negative (The universal donor. He’d given blood to the Aperture Science Blood Bank every month for years… until that one time it turned into gasoline for a week. After that they’d advised him against it.)
EMPLOYMENT: Sector 17 [Artificial Intelligence Production/Implementation] – TRANSFERRED [Psychotechnological Attribute Omission-Enhancement and Intelligence Transfer Program / Psychotechnological Reversed-Trait False Equilibrium Transfer Initiative] (His team had reached so many milestones… The variables involved in AI programming were astounding, but they never gave up. They would spend weeks graphing, calculating, and finally coding… at least until…)
TEST CYCLE: completed [ERC maintenance] (Every month, a certain number of hours of testing were mandatory. He had ‘gotten out of it’ most months by volunteering for Extended Relaxation Chamber maintenance duty. Not all of the test subjects were employees, after all. It cleared his conscience, but it wasn’t particularly interesting… at least not until the beginning of the end, when so many had gone missing. Rick had decided…)
COMMENTS: Subject is skilled, bright, and nosy. Suggest constant surveillance for extent of Catharsis/Libra Projects due to excessive morality. Do NOT suggest involvement in GLaDOS project. High IQ makes subject ideal for direct participation Libra #P729. Irreplaceable intellect – do NOT recommend A-level direct participation in Catharsis/Libra so long as cooperation remains high. Do NOT recommend indirect participation in aforementioned projects due to subject’s counter-productive ethics. (It was unethical. Not that most of the things that Aperture did were ethical, but those projects… they were wrong. Just wrong….)
FAMILY/FRIENDS: none (One of the questions on the application form had been “If you were to disappear tomorrow, who would miss you?” No one, of course. His father had left, his mother was dead, he was an only child, and what real friends could a child prodigy have?)
STATUS: under surveillance (This database obviously hadn’t been updated after…)
IQ: super-normal  (Super-normal? He was a bloody genius!)
“I was a bloody genius!” the man shrieked, jerking back in his chair and toppling it. He fell to the ground, landing none-too-softly on his back. The woman reached forward to help him up, but he jumped immediately to his feet, backing away from the computer slightly. She touched his arm gently.
The man looked up at the woman, her face sympathetic but questioning. She hadn’t read the file yet. Could she read, he wondered, or had time and her slight case of serious brain damage taken that from her along with her voice? He righted the chair, and then lowered himself cautiously back down onto it, scooting it closer to the desk where the computer sat. The other man stepped forward, squinting to read the screen. His eyes widened.
“Hold on. You said you were an artificial construct…”
The man in the chair had put his head in his hands and was perfectly still. It was almost a minute before he responded. “I thought I was.”
“But… this here says that you…”
“I… I think I was. I was. I know I was. I remember. I was a genius… and they…” He raised his head and clenched his fists, his expression one of pure, unbridled rage. “All this time. All this time, I lived – if you could even call it living – in fear of her. But it wasn’t ‘er. She was a victim. We all were. He did this to me. I was a genius, and he made me an idiot!”
It’s a funny thing about the human mind. It’s not a computer. It’s not made of silicon chips and wires and circuit boards. The data it processes doesn’t come in ones and zeros. Nothing is clear-cut – nothing is definite. The human brain is not black and white, but a consistent shade of gray. There is no IF/ELSE sequence to determine one’s train of thought, no passwords required to access a restricted file, and no Recycle Bin. No delete button. No hard drive to be wiped clean and reformatted. Everything stays put, perhaps buried in some long-forgotten tangle of nerves, but unchanged.
The human brain cannot be programmed to forget.
And so he remembered.
So. Yes. Comments? Critique? Please? Maybe a 1-to-10 rating of how cheesy it is?
_________________I am a conlanger, a scuba diver, a belly dancer, an introvert, a reader, a writer, a gamer, a Superwholockian, a pianist, a clarinetist, a sailor, a CGI artist, a singer, a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hope-er, a pray-er, and a magic-bean-buyer. Who are you?
Edit: Substituted a string instrument for a French interjection.