Monday, September 15, 2014

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Fife Rev 1

Name: Dustin Fife
Genre: New Adult Science Fiction
Title: The Nexus

Quincy Sturgess—dead. My wife and child—gone. Humanity is without intellect. What else must I suffer to atone for my careless comment? But I can’t give up. Quincy died for this.

Journal Entry from Gene “the Ancient,” dated four years after the Genetic Apocalypse.


July 12th, 2246

President Akram of the Malkum marched down the hallway, traveling with the vitality of a much younger man. People would guess him to be half his age. Or less, for the man was 243 years old. Frozen in time. An immortal among mortals.

Akram cleared his throat.

Spencer Burton flinched, nearly spilling his potato chips. Akram tightened his fist. After centuries, he grew tired of people like Spencer—men who coasted, waiting, reacting. Two-hundred years ago, when the world was at war, Akram acted—releasing the virus that crippled human intellect.

The world was quiet now. He had saved humanity.

Spencer stood with a grunt. “Sir.”

Akram nodded toward the door. “Custodial closet?”

“Yes, sir.” Spencer waddled to shift his massive frame.

“I assume you didn’t summon me to inspect maintenance records.”

“No, sir.”

Spencer hobbled into the room. Akram followed, brushing aside cobwebs.

“Sorry about the dust.” Spencer hacked. “This room probably hasn’t been touched for centuries.”

Akram coughed, side-stepping a toppled shelf, empty cleaning bottles, and a desiccated mop. The stale air smelled of molding carpet and insect carcasses, garnished with a dash of mouse crap.

Akram scowled. “I hope this has a point.”

“You’ll want to see this, sir.” Spencer pointed to the vent.

“A vent?”

“It’s what’s behind it that’s interesting.”

Spencer fumbled with the gridded cover before dropping it with a clank. “Sorry,” he muttered under his breath. Wiping his face with his shoulder, he shone a flashlight down a dirt tunnel.

Akram crouched, and cocked his head. The light disappeared into darkness. “What the hell?”

“It’s about 100 yards long. It leads to a room with computers, electrical cords, blueprints,” Spencer wheezed, “journal entries. But the strangest thing was the newspaper clippings. These clippings—they’re centuries old.”

Akram raised an eyebrow.

“And…” Spencer grabbed a spiral-bound notebook. The wires were bent, and the cover had nearly separated from the binding. The faded ink bled into the yellowed pages. Spencer thumbed through the book and pointed to text.

April 18th, 2042. The rebellion begins.

Akram blinked. Sergeant Drakes—had he been right after all? The man possessed evidence of a rebellion—one that began shortly after Akram released the virus—one that had remained dormant.

Until now.

For weeks, Malkum soldiers had combed the planet for these rebels, based on nothing more than Drakes’s testimony. But this tunnel changed everything.

“It seems that Sergeant Drakes was right,” said Spencer.

Akram shook his head. It couldn’t be. The whole story was too unlikely. And he’d worked too damned hard to see the world fall to ruins again. Another rebellion meant more war, and more war meant death.

He thought of those he’d chosen to forget. Over centuries, the sting of their deaths hadn’t diminished—Paul, Jeanine, Skyler.

And Adam Gianni.

Ancient friends and family members who had died in the war—killed by weapons developed using his damned research.

War wouldn’t come again.

His mobile rang. It was his secretary. Akram looked at his watch. 8:05. Dammit.

“Hello?” he said.

“Mr. President, I’m calling to remind you—”

“Yes, I know.” Akram rubbed his eyes. “Cancel my meeting with the council. Apologize for my absence.”

His secretary paused. “Uh…sir?”

“Tell them something urgent has come up.” Akram hung up. There would be hell to pay later. His relationship with the council was already precarious. But this was far more important than petty politics.

Akram stood. “How long have you known about this?”

“Couple days,” Spencer said.

“Why haven’t I heard anything before?”

“We…” Spencer rubbed the back of his neck. “We wanted to be sure.”

Akram’s eye twitched. As Spencer shifted his weight, he resembled an elephant side-stepping a rodent.

Akram charged toward the hallway. “Where’s Sergeant Drakes?”

Spencer followed, struggling to keep up. “At level one, sir.”

“I want to see him. Now.”

“Yes, sir.”

“In the mean time, search the tunnel and room for anything that will help us hunt down this rebel group. Do a background check on everyone who worked here 200 years ago. Search security personnel, scientists, janitors, everything. And double the number of men searching for this rebel group.”

“Um sir, I believe we’ve exhausted recruits from Fahrquan.”

“Then recruit outside Fahrquan.” Akram stopped walking, bending toward Spencer. “I want a hundred choppers in the sky in one hour.”

Akram turned and marched down the hallway.


Akram stopped and lifted his head without turning to face him.

“Sir, did you want us to destroy the tunnel?”

“No. Let them think their secret is safe.”


Cole lay on the grass, gazing at the rising sun. The orange light peaked over the evergreens, casting long shadows across the meadow. He inhaled the crisp morning air. Something hummed in the distance—like cicadas, only deeper. And more ominous.

But what—?

Suta jumped on his back.

“Get up, Coe.”

Cole grinned. “It’s Cole. Collllllllllla.”


“No. Colllll.”

“Coe…” The boy cleared his throat. “…el.”

“Close enough.” Cole spun and lifted the little villager. The boy giggled.

“Wets count,” Suta said.

Cole chuckled. “You wanna count, huh?”


Suta hovered above him. The sunlight reflected off his green eyes and illuminated his olive skin in warm light. Like the rest of the villagers, dirt caked his tattered clothes.

“Alright,” Cole turned to lay face-down. “Let’s count.”

The boy jumped on his back. Not for the first time, Cole half-regretted teaching the boy to count this way. It had been fine when he could only count to ten.

But now?

“You ready?” Cole asked.

The boy wrapped his arms around Cole’s neck.

“Not too tight,” Cole said. His voice sounded like a frog with a cold.


Cole began doing pushups.

“One. Two. Free.” Suta giggled. “Faster, faster!”

“Four, fife, six.”

“I’m getting tired, buddy.”

“Seven. No yer not. Eight. Nine.”

“It hurts!” Cole said.

The boy giggled. “Ten. Weven. Twelf. Faster, faster!”

Cole pushed faster.

Suta squealed. “Tenty. Tenty one. Tenty two.”

“Twenty,” Cole shouted.

“Tee-wenty free. Tee-wenty four.”

Sweat began dripping from his face.

“Firdy. Firdy-one. Firdy-two.”

Never once had Cole failed the boy—as high as he could count, that’s the number of pushups he did. But Suta was learning to count faster than Cole’s body could keep up.

“Fody-free. Fody-four. Fody-five.”

Cole would wait a bit until he taught him to count by two’s and three’s.

“Sixady eight. Sixady nine. Seventy.”

Cole paused at the top of his pushup.

“Go wazy bones.”

Cole laughed.

“Seventy-one. Seventy-two…”

Cole began gasping. How high would the boy go today?

“Jump it!” the boy said.

Cole leapt with his hands, clapping between pushups.

“Seventy-nine…” The boy paused. “Ummm…”

“You can do it, buddy.”


Cole laughed. The boy knew the pattern—another ten pushups would be guaranteed.

“Eighty-nine!” Suta clapped. “You take a break now.”


  1. Hi Dustin!

    This is still a strong piece, and I think the little cuts you made has strengthened the piece, especially the first scene. This is getting to a very tight, streamlined place, and that’s wonderful. Nice work!

    I really only have three things that I think could be tweaked to make the piece stronger.

    The first thing is the decreasing the distance in some places in the scenes. What I mean is that in one paragraph we’re in the hallway, then in the next paragraph Akram is clearly in a doorway clearing his throat at someone else, but I don’t know when that happened. It’s as if we’re watching Akram walk, then we’re given a description of him, then suddenly we’re back watching him and now he’s in a doorway. As far as I know, though, we never stopped marching.

    I think you miss an opportunity here to get more into Akram’s head wholly, rather than stopping to put us in his head when we need information. This would mean using your great description to describe what Akram sees and hears a little more. That description you give us when they enter the tunnel? It’s fabulous and evocative. Use it in the hallway, use it in the room that Spencer is in (I don’t even know if he’s in a room), and use it to describe Cole (I have no idea how old he is, what he looks like) and Suta. Immerse us into these scenes a little more.

    The second thing is perhaps thinking through the technology a little more. I’m confused by the mobile and the choppers. If Akram stunted human intelligence right after 2042, then I can at least understand why technology hadn’t yet progressed since that point in time. But 2042 is 30 years in our future. We’ve come a long way technologically in the last 30 years, and I expect innovation to move exponentially in most cases. Basically, I want to be able to tell we’re in the future without a date. Or give me a reason why we’re using technology from 2014 in 2246. If the mobile and the choppers are more technologically advanced then ours, then show us how.

    The third thing is more tension in the second scene. The second scene still doesn’t, in my opinion, connect with the first scene. Something humming in the distance doesn’t mean anything—it could be nothing, and that’s how it’s treat in the scene as far as we can read (Cole doesn’t give it more than three sentences).

    I think there are a few ways you could give the second scene more tension. I’m not sure when the choppers arrive, but you could cut the scene a bit to arrive at that moment faster. I feel like these pages with Cole are meant to show us he’s a good guy and to show us the kind of life he’s living before everything changes. But you do a really good job of that in about a page’s worth of time. You don’t need to have Suta count into the 80s for us to understand Cole’s a decent dude.

    Another thing giving Cole a goal in those first pages with him. You did a fantastic job giving Akram a goal in the first scene—find the rebels, stop the next war before it even starts. But what about Cole? At the very least, I want to know within your first five pages how he’s connected to the rebellion. I think that would bring some tension and conflict to the second scene.

    In summary, I think what I want the most is a bit more worldbuilding. I want to feel like I’m in the future and that this book is science fiction. I would also like the second scene to feel as developed as the first scene, so we’re meeting both Akram and Cole equally. What I think you’ve done the best job of right now is making Akram be really, really interesting. He may be the antagonist, but I’m really interested in following him through this book. I want to know what makes him the antagonist because he doesn’t seem bad. He has regret! He has determination. He seems like an AMAZING antagonist, and that is really hard to do.

    I’m looking forward to next week. There are a lot of great things happening here with this rebellion, finding their tunnel, and Cole potentially getting captured or something. Good luck!

  2. Hi Dustin,

    This is coming along. I do wonder, however, if you need a lot of the dialogue tags: he grunted, hacked, coughed, etc. Use these sparingly. The story seems interesting.

    I do want to know more and would keep reading. I'm curious about the loss of intellect. Intellect is the ability to reason and figure things out, as I see it. I wonder what it really means. What effect does it have on this world?

    I'm curious to know how Cole's world interacts with that of Akram's.

    I also think you can shorten the counting game. Coming after the scene with Akram and the tunnel, it's a breath of fresh air and we get the idea that Cole seems like a good guy.

  3. Hi Dustin,

    Great job with this first scene. It is much tighter, and much clearer. I understand the stakes better, too, and what the story will be about, which is great. The virus that cripples intellect is fascinating. But it makes me wonder – to what extent? To what degree? How important a character is Spencer – if he doesn’t come up again, I think you can start the scene with Akram looking into the tunnel, and diminish Spencer’s role. We have too many details I think – unless it matters later – who has evidence of the rebellion, etc. You could simply write, well I’ll be damned, General x’s theory about a rebellion is right – or some such. Is the timing of the discovery of this tunnel – which is clearly very old – too coincidental with the news of a rebellion? Just a thought. If so, he can look at the tunnel, and suddenly connect the pieces to the bits of information he’s heard in reports, and realize there is a rebellion going on right under his nose, or something like that.

    The second scene with Cole is a nice change – but there is far too much counting. And unless this boy is crucial to the story – we don’t need to see him right now. Focus on Cole walking to work or to farm or whatever, have him think about how his back hurts from giving who this boy is piggy back rides or some such if you want to show us what a good guy he is, and then the menacing helicopters converging overhead or whatever else you have in store for him. Connect him to the first scene more forcibly, sooner, and with more danger and intrigue.

    I can’t wait to read next week’s revision!

  4. Hi Dustin,
    I really admire the revision that you have done on this piece, and it is a lot more streamlined. The amount of imagination that has gone into creating this world and complex plot blows me away.

    Jessica’s comments were spot on, IMO. I still wondered about the loss of intellect. What does that mean? If there is a council, then there must be some thinking...I am trying to imagine what a world without intellect would look like, what would be stunted. Maybe the loss of intellect would slow down the technological growth that we would assume would happen in 200 years, but it’s not clear.

    One of my main pieces of feedback for this piece is that I’m not sure what to pay attention to. Quincy Sturgess? Adam Gianni? Drakes? The rebels who are looking to start a war? And then how do Cole and Suta fit in? I also am not sure if Akram is a likable protagonist. I have not bonded with you want the reader to like him right out of the gate? I wonder if other readers share this experience.

    Spencer remains a conundrum to me. I am not sure whether he is an ally or a complete loser. On the one hand, he drives Akram crazy--I got that--but on the other hand, he seemed to know what was going on and he seemed like he was loyal to Akram. I’m not sure whether to like him or not, although I’m also not sure yet if it matters.

    You are the tour guide, and if you want to present a bunch of people, mysteries, and complexities because you will eventually help us to understand how they fit together, I understand that sort of thinking. I still felt frustrated as a reader that I couldn’t figure too much of it out. Might just be my immersion in middle grade literature.

    Would be happy to bounce around ideas on facebook and am looking forward to seeing what you do next!

  5. I agree with Melanie, I don't actually like Akram. He seems competent but rigid. Obviously you want a character arc with your characters, but you don't want to make them too unlikeable in the beginning. On the other hand, I immediately bond with Cole.

    I still think there are a lot of names and even if they are important later on, are you certain they have to introduced by name now?

    Everything else I would've said has already been said. This is a strong piece and definitely tighter than before.