Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Imaginary Stories: Chapter One (** Draft **)

Chapter One: A Dream Of Flying

"What would Daedalus have done differently, had he known what was to come? What could he have said to Icarus that might've set his son on a safer course? Though legend has it that the heat of the sun melted the wax holding Icarus' wings together that day, we've long known the fallacy inherent in that story. As Icarus climbed higher and higher upon his newly formed wings, after his father had warned him of the danger, the temperature around him in fact plunged, just as he himself would, moments later. No, the moral of that story had nothing to do with science, and everything to do with a son's unwillingness to obey his father. And in that sense, Icarus lives on..."
- "A Dream Of Flying", Coming Of Age Tale, Sanjay Majmudar (Born: 1990), Published 2006

Had Elizabeth Lee been born a half-century earlier, she would surely have been the sort of student who spent most of her class time with her arm thrust straight up, desperate to have the teacher pick her to answer whatever question had just been asked of the group. Nowadays that was hardly effective at getting anyone's attention, though, as all eyes, even those of the instructor, tended to be pointed downwards as the lesson progressed. Instead, Elizabeth tapped her responses as quickly as she could into the back of the book that sat in her lap, knowing that some impersonal bit of software written ages ago was recording and analyzing what she'd typed, as well as that of everyone else in the room. Not only were her responses being evaluated instantly for correctness, but in the case of any wrong answer, patterns were being sought electronically that might indicate where she'd gone astray.

"You wish," she muttered, and then realized she'd said it loud enough to be heard by those seated closest to her, and drawn several of their amused gazes in the process.

Without looking up, and at the same low level as her previous mild violation of classroom etiquette, she offered up, "Nothing to see here, folks. Move along." She was rewarded, if that was the right word for it, by a snicker from Linus Morgan, seated in a squishy chair a few feet behind her and to her left. Whether he was laughing at her or with her, Elizabeth couldn't be sure, but she didn't really care all that much anyway.

Maths, Sciences, all of the Literatures, even History; none of them really challenged her anymore. She'd come to realize that her fifteen year old brain was becoming her greatest asset lately, even if it wasn't the part of her that the boys seemed to notice first. Boys like Linus, for example. You wish, she thought, but this time had the sense to keep her mouth shut.

Laurel Allen stood in front of the class, silently monitoring the results her students were entering. This section of the material, dealing with fairly dry historical data that the students were busy analyzing and interpreting, was pre-recorded, which freed Laurel to focus her attention on the sea of icons glowing on the lectern in front of her. She hadn't yet been a teacher long enough to completely quell the curious voice within her that asked, "How did we ever gauge our pupils' understanding before we had instant feedback available?" As a student herself only a few years earlier, it had all seemed completely natural, as it had to a couple of generations of pupils before her: as you learned something, you were immediately and continually quizzed on your understanding of it. But now that she stood on the other side of the machinery, she could see the beauty of it and wonder how education ever worked without it. In the absence of that feedback loop, after all, how would she have known in October that Sanjay Majmudar was slipping behind in his comprehension of Chord Theory? Would she simply have lost him, then, as each successive Trigonometric concept had further collapsed that shaky foundation in his mind, all for want of a little extra coverage? Or would she have been expected to be a mind-reader for each of her students? And what? Held court over a class of three or four students at most?

She was roused out of her reverie by a pair of flashing symbols on the display in front of her. Not surprisingly, Liz Lee's avatar - a paper lantern - was blinking green, as she'd just gone up over the 98% mark once again. That's my girl, Laurel thought, and not for the first time. Elizabeth Lee was the favourite student of every teacher this year, it seemed.

More worrisome was the red circle around Peter Osborne's triangular-shield icon, flickering on and off in a successful attempt to get Laurel's attention. She reached out and tapped it, and read the resulting analysis that temporarily obliterated her status board. Young Mr Osborne, it appeared from the answers he was providing, had somehow gotten it into his head that the Literary Revolution had preceded the Industrial! That would certainly explain why he was struggling so badly with some of his conclusions at the moment. Laurel scanned what the education software had come up with as a corrective strike, tweaked it slightly to make it more likely that Peter would get the point without feeling stupid, and OK'd it with a quick tap. Her class status board re-appeared, with Peter's avatar now encircled in yellow instead of red. She knew the results of her action would be popping up on his display instantly, so she looked up to try to catch his surprised reaction. C'mon, Peter, she thought, work it through.

Within half a minute or so, Laurel got an appreciative nod back, though Peter never lifted his eyes. If all went well, he'd get back on track shortly and she'd handle the next crisis to show up on her board. I love my job. And she did!

Hours later, on the grass outside their school, several of the students from Miss Allen's class gathered for the customary end-of-day debrief.

"Favourite question?" Linus Morgan asked the sky above him, as he lay flat on his back on the lawn, but his three companions knew the question was really aimed at them.

"How's your COAT coming along?" Peter Osborne said, causing Sanjay Majmudar and James Hancock to laugh.

"No, you brain-dead amoeba, I mean favourite question asked in class today! Like you didn't know."

Sanjay said, "OK, I'll play along, Mr Morgan, sir. Ah, which subject would you be asking about, sir?"

Linus regarded his friend cooly, as if unsure of just who was playing whom. "Let's go with Romance Literature, since you strike me as the romantic type."

"Oooh," crooned James, "should we leave you two alone? Because, you know, young love doth all but blot out the sun!"

Sanjay stroked his chin, feeling the few whiskers there that he couldn't help but wish would hurry up and multiply. "Well," he said, "I still get particularly interested every time Lesbian Lit comes up, so I guess you know which one was my favourite today..."

"Ah, good old Marianne Crowe, circa 1920..." sighed James. His friends grew quiet as they all shared a moment of reverence.

"What I really want to know," Peter said, finally breaking the silence, "is how your God damned COAT is coming along."

"Since you asked so nicely," Linus responded, sitting up, "I've got forty nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine lovely little words written... but I can't seem to decide on the last one! In fact, I'm starting to believe that final, perfect word may just take me as long to arrive at as the first forty-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine did! Happy?"

"In other words, you still haven't started it," Peter replied, the tone of his voice showing his disapproval with each word.

"Well, that's certainly one way to look at it, yes. But I prefer my version."

Without any amusement in his eyes at all, Peter said, "Ladies and gentlemen... my friend, Peter Pan!"

"You're all wet, old chum," Linus said. "You're on the wrong track. You've got hydrogen in your zeppelin. Your wires are all crossed, and you're --"

"Yeah, I get the general idea," Peter interrupted. "So why don't you tell me and my two esteemed colleagues here just what it is you're working on that's actually going to usher you out of childhood at long last."

Linus stood up abruptly, feigning alarm. "Wait a second," he exclaimed. "How do I know you're not an international spy, here to steal my brilliant idea of a story and take it back to your homeland? What kind of a name is 'Osborne', anyway? It sounds... Canadian!"

Sanjay chose that moment to follow Linus' earlier example, and sprawled out on the grass. "I wrote about two hundred words last night. But I think I may have gotten my protagonist into a situation he can't get out of."

"So kill him off!" James rasped, with typical quickness.

"That's not really the effect I'm going for," Sanjay said. "I mean, he has to triumph in the end, otherwise it sort of..."

"Undermines the point?" Linus offered.

"Exactly! Although, perhaps 'triumph' is too strong a word. I suppose it's more a matter of vindication."

"What's he being vindicated for?" asked James, showing actual interest.

Sanjay swallowed hard, hoping it wouldn't show from where he lay. "For betraying his father."


cjg said...

I like it. Actually, it is the best story I've read here. I look forward to seeing more!

Kimota94 aka Matt said...

cjg: Thanks for the compliment. A piece of fiction of that length usually takes me a couple hours to write, and yet that little snippet required several days, quite a few re-writes, and still isn't right yet. I'm sure you'll get to follow the rest of the story... just not anytime too soon! (Stupid vacation only being five weeks long....!)

Anonymous said...

O_o a cliffhanger...