"Sophie From Shinola," part the fourth

>> Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nathan, over at Polybloggimous, has started a game. The way this game works is that several bloggers, including yours truly, will write a story, each of us tackling two non-consecutive chapters. A complete explanation, and the first chapter, may be found here. The rules are that each of us must change one element from the previous chapter, and that entries are to be from one-hundred to five-hundred words in length. In my first section, which follows shortly, I have complied with the first rule by changing the title character's gender, the second rule I have broken by writing a six-hundred and seventy-two word entry. To anyone who would fault this, I reply, "nuts." Do you hear? "Nuts," I says, and "nuts" I means.

The second chapter, by the erstwhile Shawn, can be found at his brain, here. Interestingly enough, I was thinking of the direction I might take this story in well before I read Shawn's entry, and a line in his story that he surely meant as a throwaway took some added significance when I decided to go ahead with what I was thinking would be a wicked left turn.

The previous chapter, by the wonderful MWT, can be read here.

My hope is that the turn I have taken won't throw anyone off the track. If it does, let me point out the obvious: that it would be easy enough to reverse little Sophie's change of gender, should the next author choose to do so. But enough! Part the fourth of "Sophie From Shinola" follows! Read! And hopefully enjoy!

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine Part Ten Part Eleven Part Twelve Part Thirteen Part Fourteen Part Fifteen Part Sixteen Part Seventeen Part Eighteen Part Nineteen

Sophie From Shinola, Part Four

Sometimes, especially when it was darker than dark—inside molecular clouds and behind the shadows of spheres—sometimes she, the fake Sophie woke up. And for a terrified moment she struggled and writhed inside it, inside the real Sophie, until it crushed her will again. She wanted to point herself at The Homelands and kick loose the primary thrusters and open the distorters that made it, the real Sophie, massless relative to realspace. Sometimes she overwhelmed it to the point that Sophie ignited its port jets and spun wildly about to face the stars of home, but she always lost that fight, every time. And when real-Sophie lit the primaries and fell from ambush on its prey, fake-Sophie screamed inside its head as real-Sophie spat gobs of hot helium nuclei and cut the night with invisible wires of coherent light, carving fake-Sophie's tribe into atoms and energy.

She remembered, sometimes, the time she thought real-Sophie's mother was lying, and had hated real-Sophie's mother for it. That was the joke, the worst part, wasn't it?

“They’re warming up the brain remover, dear.” Said her mother, as she casually flipped a page in her magazine.

It wasn't true, but it wasn't a lie, either. You had to believe it was a lie, wanted it to believe it was a lie, didn't you? Because what kind of species would do that? Evolution on a thousand worlds installed a sense of protective duty into any species that developed sufficient intelligence to beat a shellfish open with a rock or master fire and wheels and levers and pointy sticks. Every civilized species in the universe saw their young as the future, not just their genetic future but there memetic future, the cultural future. Every civilization except one. Maybe humans reproduced too quickly for it to matter if a few talented young were denied the chance to reach sexual maturity and spawn.

The physical Sophie, the body that carried real-Sophie and the parasitic fake-Sophie was taken from her mother, who told herself the tradeoff of never having grandchildren was having a daughter who might live forever. The physical Sophie was tested and approved, a brilliant child with those elusive qualities—some said “psychic,” others said “intuitive.” Qualities improved with teaching and chemicals and blasts of radiation that would've eventually made Sophie's body a wasteland if it hadn't been disposable. Fake-Sophie refused to believe what was happening until the day they threw physical-Sophie away, the day they indeed powered up the brain-remover, or (more accurately) a bone saw and a vat of exotic chemicals that might be called Sophie's head if she—it—had one. Fake-Sophie rebelled, or tried to and discovered the final syringe that would ever be poked into Sophie's bottom had disrupted all the lines of traffic from Sophie's brain to her flabby, adolescent arms.

Real-Sophie slept through the whole thing like she was supposed to. Fake-Sophie, the rider who thought she was so clever a fifth columnist and spy, felt the scalpel score a bright, itchy-sharp line around her shorn scalp and smelled burning bone as the bone saw's laser completed an orbit around little Sophie's head. Fake-Sophie was the first one to see her new body before the optic nerves were removed from the eyes and connected to their shiny silver universal interports: the chrome-and-obsidian training fighter that Sophie's brain would fly for six months until it was time to be installed in the second of Sophie's seven bodies.

Sophie's second body was a latticework icosahedron stubbed with momentum and death, incapable of both atmospheric and interstellar travel, but ideal for turning and whirling and whipping around the first invasion fleet, cutting it to pieces in twelve-point-five minutes. If fake-Sophie wasn't crazy when she saw Sophie's first two bodies, oh, she was crazy after the Battle Of Chenolla Oort, where the precognitive interdictors of SpaceForce ambushed the Kollithi fleet. Crazy and weak and screaming from within the brain in the shell.


Nathan Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 4:51:00 PM EDT  

Panda? Check!
Happy? Check!

I like the whole concept of SpaceForce only being interested in the intellect...not the physical bodies of their recruits. I also love that the Alien finds humans so...alien. Clever schemes get you nowhere when you don't understand your opponent.
And, yeah, lots of exposition, but it was damned near poetry. I like it.

That said, I'm now going to risk being an ass with a bit of clarification on the game for everyone. Eric's one big change is that Sophie and Not-Sophie are now in some sort of incremental training bot. And that's fine. But its really more of a plot point than a change in an element of the story. The changes I had in mind are meant to be more or less inexplicable. And without reason to be explained. The changes just are.

Example: If we had started the story in Bermuda on Ron and Stacey's honeymoon, writer#2 could have picked up the story, but now its Ron and Stanley on their honeymoon. We'd all just more or less accept the fact that now its a story about a gay couple, and deal with how that might alter the way they behave and speak to each other.

The next writer might move them to 1952 and suddenly, they're deeply closeted. The next writer might change Stanley back to Stacey and now we're dealing with the fact that Stacey can no longer be the bread-winner because she's a woman in 1952.

Does that make sense? Or am I just muddying the waters?

Anyway, I still like how this is progressing. Matt, you're up. Swing for the fences.

vince Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 4:54:00 PM EDT  

Is OK. UCF doesn't follow rules well anyway. And while sudden, inexplicable changes are cool, explicable changes can also be cool.

Eric, well done.

Nathan Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 5:12:00 PM EDT  

I really hope that didn't come off all assholey. I swear, I'm liking all of this a lot and I think all the sections posted so far are terrific. I was just trying to do a spot of Air Traffic Control.

Sorry if I sounded at all snippy.

I'll now STFU.

Eric Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 5:42:00 PM EDT  

No, you didn't come off all assholey, Nathan. You're doing fine.

And thanks for the compliments, guys!

Not sure if it came across: Sophie spent six months as a trainer fighter and then her brain was put into a space superiority fighter. One that looks something like the skeleton of a 20-sided die studded with armaments and thrusters, since it doesn't have to be aerodynamic.

I understood that changes might be random, but when I read Nathan's first chapter, there was something about the idea of the space cadet being the spaceship that seemed interesting to me. And then Shawn's offhand line was a happy bit of synchronicity. The alien thinks the mother is joking and responds with sarcasm, but indeed humans are turning precocious kids into spaceships; there is a brain-removing device, after a fashion.

Sometimes, on ficlets, I would throw some whiplash changes into a story thread--it's not a strange idea to me. Sometimes I even worried I'd hijacked one story too many. Oh well.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see where things go.

Nathan Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 6:34:00 PM EDT  

One that looks something like the skeleton of a 20-sided die studded with armaments and thrusters

Thank you for clearing that up. Your description of Sophie cutting up the enemy fleet had me envisioning something more like a lawn mower.

Jeri Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 7:04:00 PM EDT  

This is great, very lyrical and thought provoking! It'll be a tough act to follow.

IMHO, making girl Sophie into a gender-neutral ship-brain Sophie is a huge single item change, and pretty creative.

kimby Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 9:22:00 PM EDT  

Good job Eric..and may i say..I am SOOO glad that i am not the next one up. (realizing that i have just jinxed myself by even saying/typing that thought outloud)

Nathan Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 10:22:00 PM EDT  

Well I feel just the opposite. Every time I read one of your entries, I totally want to write the next section.

I'm officially having fun with this.

Matt Warnock Monday, March 31, 2008 at 12:57:00 PM EDT  

Well my part's up and I've just read through these comments and had a bit of a *gulp* moment. My change is there and it changes Sophie's character and situation, but it's subtle. I'm pleased with how it's all going to so far, and can't wait to see how it turns out.

Michelle K Tuesday, April 1, 2008 at 3:57:00 PM EDT  

I think I'm actually enjoying the subtle changes much better than I would extreme crazy changes.

And thanks for the brain removal Eric. I very much liked that portion. :)

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