'Tongue-tied' - A WIP Extract
A flavour of Book #2 for you to savour.
Whilst my first manuscript (‘debut novel with series potential’) is battling it out in the agent-fortified query trenches, I’ve done what any creatively-driven masochist should do and jumped straight into writing a second novel. This work-in-progress is now 30kWords long. Below is a draft scene extracted from this WIP, which I’ve plotted to occur about 20% of the way through the story.
N.b. This may change. The scene could move or disappear into the ether.
Also, please be aware I’ve used this initital draft to veer into experimental territory with regard to dialogue. I’ve made a reasonable assumption that if a segregated group hides away for a bit, then a creole or pidgin of sorts will emerge/diverge from their originally inherited mainstream language. So I’ve tried to aim linguistically for a literary spot halfway between ‘Clockwork Orange’ and ‘1984’ in the invented language stakes.
Aim for the stars, why not! Or suck your breath through your teeth if you’re one of my critique partners…
Apparently planet-bound Venusians and Martians need agony aunts – or uncles – and an army of counsellors to understand each other, but I’m hoping comprehension of this extract will come far easier to you, dear reader.
I do hope I haven’t strayed too far. Please tell me what you think - in language I can understand.
Until next time,
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Today’s language class is different. Different room, different teacher. Granny has replaced Suleiman. I pause in the doorway when I see a third person already sat opposite the single desk. Not a pupil, not a teacher. Definitely different. A real-live off-planet Rebirther. Their paleness and shock of platinum hair contrasts sharply with a lifetime of darker Panoptiki pigmentation and neoDesert drabness. I can’t imagine how they’ve journeyed to our isoCommune from their orbital refuge. Or why.
Granny beckons me to sit at the desk, saying: “This is your new language tutor,” without further explanation or introduction. She’s grown fond of springing unexpected tests on me to gauge my reaction. This is her biggest surprise yet, a challenge for even her favourite pupil – ‘the best Sustainer student on the Lake’.
The stranger remains silent until I’ve sat down. Then they speak in fluent and angry tones, perhaps masking their fear. I recognise some words from my classes with Suleiman. Granny steps closer to the desk, her hand raised, and they attempt to raise theirs in reflex, instantly silent. Only then do I notice their wrist ties, a metal hawser looping under the desk. That’s also different – but not unexpected, given what they are and the decades-long tribal enmity which exists between us.
It’s difficult to guess their age. I know from my lessons that the preternatural youth all Rebirthers crave means the usual physical signs are a deceitful determinant. They’re perhaps several years older than me, despite the smooth flesh and lithe low-grav limbs. They also appear to be a woman from what I can see. Again, it’s hard to tell. Modding is part of the Rebirthers’ warped credo. A healed cut on their left cheek remains livid, the eye socket above it darker than its mirrored orbit. Perhaps from still trying to wield upstairs privilege. Their eyes, of course, are green. A distinctive brilliant-cut emerald green.
They could never be one of us, even if shaved, sun-browned and clothed. But I’ve spent months preparing to be one of them, now mid-way through a multi-week course of sharp needles and obscure tests. I was always the exception. Special. Burdened with my birth-defined destiny. Now I’m striving to be different. To be indistinguishable in looks, voice and behaviour from this, the Sustainers’ sworn enemy.
Granny nods at me to start the lesson and I greet the stranger with the phrase I’ve been taught, now painfully aware my studied accent bears no semblance to reality.
“Was is point o’ this snarky deal, sis?” they reply, arms pulling on the wire, their arrogance intact despite the restraint. Their skin is dirty, despite their factional obsession with eradicating germs and filth. They peer into my eyes, noticing how they aren’t green enough. “You moddin’ for ‘Birther action? The market shutup downstairs? I gonna need my threads back to be groomin’ that room. Fash me?”
My answer is hesitant in the face of their vulgarity and they know it, flashing bright white teeth with their mocking laughter. I try again to match their coarseness, attempting to undo my own cultural restraints: “You splicing that body oneways, or be forkin’ both sides?” I ask, probing for any kind of conversational connection.
“I ain’t here for some bi-pride jerkin’. Youz wantin’ to prod my nouns, then us flowin’ is in the knowin’.”
Their words come fast, taxing my comprehension. I struggle to make unstilted conversation: “We got orbits to burn an’ payload to waste, sis. So wanna jive ‘bout stuff us sisters like to cut?”
“‘Us sisters’? Youz unripe. I wanna jack my suit back and launch outta this craphole, you stayground dirtwipe.”
Out of the corner of my eye I see Granny’s fists bunching. Not a collaborator or defector then. More a disposable asset. “No poss, sis,” I blurt. “Maybees you talk nice wiv thee and I – then… then we sort you smooth deal.”
“Ha. I only talks reeel nice if you slick me some of that pukka smell you got. I not dripped hydrox since my burndown.”
“I smell phero coz I’m good girl. You… You splice same and we seez. Tag is Ada. Youz…?”
“Rightz, Ada…. I keen your jist. I’ll scratch ‘n’ match for being ‘good girl’. Wanda is the tag. Am tiptop tight for real. All genuine retained.” Her body twists sinuously as she speaks, a snake trying to hypnotise its prey. Her eyes roam over my face and chest. “I be slantin’ you wanna itch me on that truth, Ada-babe. You slippin’ first-time wiv that lush we-she skin?” She tries to part her hands and it’s too easy to imagine them gliding over a tattooed body, too soon to consider her motives.
A loud intake of breath from my teacher helps me ignore her vulgarity, even as her pupils dilate, the interlocked facets of her bejewelled irises somehow rotating. This lesson needs to get back on track with my custom curriculum: “I cravin’ yourz ‘Birther jive, Wanda. Shootin’ for satspace - native level.”
“Realz? Backup that downstairs accent, Ada. Youz am-dram newbie, for sure!” As her laugh reverberates around the small, bare room, tattooed breasts echoing her lungs, her hand forms a fist and she tries to punch my hand. I jerk back in reflex. No, it’s just a friendly greeting. Too late, Wanda looks at me oddly, her tone lower: “I be nicey-nicey, but you hit whalefail on that greetz, sis. An’ your seeballs ain’t match even press-go green. Your genies scream outer lockside to me.” She leans forward, her wrist ties digging deep. “Any ‘Birther be spottin’ you fake-make in clicksecs,” she concludes, snapping her fingers in my face, green eyes aglow with her pride-filled rejection.
My stomach sinks. She’s right. I’m failing, losing even a captor’s advantage. Granny has remained motionless, her eyes narrowing, lips pursed. Then she tilts her chin up with raised eyebrows. Go on.
I play a trump card, widening my eyes and jutting my face towards my unhelpful tutor, scrabbling for the right words: “Should I be needin’ to doubletap this… this top-rank deal?” I reply. “Pin this, sis. You teach straight and you get big tub o’ hydrox and… and your threads back intact. Soak a whole cycle, no messin’.”
Her eyes widen. “Hot hox and some smells to wipe all my jazz?”
I swallow. “We see two-eyes on that.”
“And your boss lady here? She also jumpin’ in our cool jar?”
Granny’s eyes are ablaze, but she nods. What she knows about large Dewar jars is a translation too far, too soon. I still have plenty of studying to do. Language is an essential key to unlock my new identity. One of the hardest to gain: foreign phrases, a strange accent, odd nuances of tone. The phrase ‘false fakin’ is dead ticket’ rears up unbidden. Ending up ‘outer lockside’ isn’t my goal.
I begin weaving myself into Wanda’s brain with mere words, my mind embracing her individualistic dirt, negating my natural disgust at her inbred hedonism, even if I need to respond in kind, cajoling her into co-operation. I ingest her movements and overt eye contact. Hand gestures will have to wait and I’ll need to ignore whatever else she might know, what she might tell me; trying to ignore her brazen physical displays. At least for now. Suleiman and Granny have both said there’s far more to impersonating a Rebirther than language. I’m beginning to understand what they mean. Granny also keeps reassuring me that whatever I say or do in these classes she knows isn’t really me. It’s theatre, an act, a necessary part in a play which she must direct. It feels better being forgiven before I even begin. But my stomach is still churning from the words I say; what they might mean; the concessions I must make to my real self. This new persona I’m creating isn’t me. It must never be me. For the remainder of the exhausting hour, I focus on replicating the basics, immersing myself into the Rebirthers’ vile world, aided and frustrated in equal measure by a naked green-eyed monster called Wanda.
She finds it amusing at first, manifesting her innate arrogance at my cultural ignorance. Her chiding of my poor comprehension is as testing as her crude argot. Then she grows bored and tries to be playful, in ways only a ‘Birther can. Observing her antics with Granny present is excruciating and I’m grateful her hands are tied. Then she tries to be curious, spouting unnecessary questions which I can’t reply to. Granny halts them with a single slap to Wanda’s wounded cheek, re-opening the cut, proving Rebirthers still bleed red. Wanda cowers, spouting more words I’ve yet to learn. I try to ensure no overwrought emotions affect me; absorbing my real feelings, noting context and association, all the while continuing to study my trapped tutor’s vocalisations, memorising her reactions. The time might come when I’m inside Wanda’s natural habitat upstairs, with no gravity and nobody to support me. I hope I’m clothed, not floating naked in a habsat, like an untethered embryo in a shark tank.
The noon bell chimes and Granny whispers into my ear, “Good, Ada. Very good.” I can read Wanda better now: her hopes that I’m a sis to ‘gel-wel’; mistaking my eagerness to imitate her foreign ways as flattery.
I lean forward to wipe spit from the corner of my latest tutor’s mouth with my thumb, decorating her chin with a cleaner smear. She flinches but remains silent, my accompanying smile triggering a flicker of the same. She needs to trust me as much as I her, but I can’t risk diluting this useful Rebirther template with generous acts. For her to change too much whilst I change too little would mean more than failure. It would be fatal. There must be no semblance of mercy in my heart – neither for wilful Wanda, nor anyone similarly sequenced and imprinted.
So, when I brush my fingers across her pouting pair of wholesome buds, I should only care to know if those lips are real. They appear too perfect, their redness matching the dried blood I’ve still left on her cheek. She’ll wash that away later in the hot bath she craves, using water that’s been endlessly cycled through the bodies of her factional foes, including mine. As if she’s reading me, she tries to bite my thumb. But her eyes are wide and the snap of her teeth quickly morphs into a smile. Yes, she’s only playing again. I’ve got so much to learn. For our next lesson, Granny’s inflicted pain and my kindness may be sufficient incentives for us to let her hands move as freely as her tongue. I want that to happen more than I feel I should. But it will help me.
My own constant, my pole star, is that ‘real is relative’. I hope I won’t have to strive too hard to be her perfect replica. I hope my eyes will be green enough and my body’s necessary adornments will be acceptable but reversible. I hope straining my brain, until it’s unfamiliar even to myself, won’t warp the truth of who I truly am. After I bury my subconscious core deep within me, failing to conserve it properly will risk being cast into insanity when I return from my mission. If I return. Exposing any chink of the real me to those upstairs would mean a fate beyond my imagining. My teachers had pushed it into me again and again until my sleep became a series of sweat-soaked nightmares. A prisoner being poked until incapable of remembering the truth; until I’m begging for a quick and merciful end, even if proffered the obscenity of a false rebirth.
That will be Wanda’s fate after I’ve extracted every gestural and linguistic nuance from her Rebirther body and head. Granny doesn’t poke prisoners into acceptance, she just re-pots them. There’ll be a ‘cool jar’ and its squawk box sat in her lab, waiting to be labelled ‘Wanda’. Once I’ve talked her tongue dry and there’s no more angry, or pleading spit to smear, Granny will claim and drain her Rebirther brain. Those emerald eyes will be gone, the luscious lips redundant – for speaking; for eating; for what I’ve yet to learn about pressing them against another’s skin. Only her now familiar voice will remain of her former self. Then, once our infrequent conversations cease, she will be left to vainly scream into an infinite chasm of loneliness; her fears and desires more naked and vulnerable than the body and brain from which I’ve squeezed every useful drop of my enemy’s putrid essence.
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