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18 June 2012 @ 01:02 pm
The Real LJ Idol: "Going Backwards"  
Going Backwards
real lj idol | week 30 (prompt 3) | 820 words
Note: This story relates to a previous LJ Idol entry. If you haven't read the other story, I suggest doing so first.


I don’t know where I was when it started, but I sure as hell was there at the end.

It found me.

There'd been rumors running in the background: a rising trend in anti-intellectualism, a surge in self-righteous posturing on the part of preachers and politicians. Coffee-house talk was that something big was coming. Some said Cultural Revolution, others said martial law. Both ideas were crazy—this was America, those things didn't happen—but even if none of it was true, we suspected that parts of it weren't wrong.

A friend in telecommunications sent me an email just days before it happened:

"Trouble. Broadcast media shut down, scientists next. Document everything and hide it. Sorry we didn't—"

I couldn't reach Alan after that, not even the next day. I tried calling him, I went by his house, but no one was there. I drove past his office, which no longer looked the same. A few armed guards were standing watch out front, and a stream of slow, unsettling smoke drifted from the roof up to the sky.

There was nothing in the news about it—nothing at all. Every paper had the same Associated Press story on the Chinese government destroying all U.S. satellites, taking down the broadcast grid as a result. The rest was all filler about weather and elections overseas.

I took Alan's words to heart. I typed the details of all my research projects into a computer, and printed them out. I added my associate's notes, my Ph.D. thesis, and even the files from the guy across the hall. I passed along Alan's message as I went, but no one seemed to take it seriously, so I worked my way through everything I could. I met a few colleagues from other offices for lunch or coffee, to try to spread the word. We stuck to fast food and takeout—things that could be eaten on the go. We walked where we couldn't be spied on or heard, and I told them what I knew and asked them to make sure the warning got out. Who knew how much time we might have left?

It was a Tuesday when the government came. They shut down power to the entire city area, then swarmed over our Research facility like an army of vicious, single-minded ants. I saw colleagues killed as they tried to flee the building. The rest of us were rounded up and hauled out the back, with the government's henchmen setting fire to everything in our wake.

They shoved us in buses and drove us to the military detention center. No one was allowed to speak during the trip, and the buses were filled with the sounds of random sobbing. I rode quietly, despite the edginess inside me. The man next to me was from one of the downstairs labs, and he kept jiggling his leg and grinding his teeth.

They processed us at the detention center. I was quizzed on my background and a slew of irrelevant personal details, then led to a small cell in the building's basement. We were clearly being treated like prisoners, but what had we done? No one would tell us, and those who kept asking were killed—put down like rabid dogs. I saw the look of anguish on the face of my team-member, Janice, as she lay dying from the bullet-holes in her chest. God, would anyone even tell her family that she was dead?

No one else I knew was killed, at least I don't think so, but we never left our cells after that and the basement was too loud for talking. My associate, Phil, was the only one of them I ever saw again…

They tell me I'm one of the lucky ones. I run one of the collection depots for the Science And Technology Elimination Department now, taking in found remnants of ideas and machines from Before. After so many years of inventing and building new things, I'm reduced to destroying them—except for the few the government takes away.

I'm lucky because I'm still alive, the over-sergeant reminds me. Most of the others aren't, not just my friends and coworkers but scientists from all over the country. I'll never know how many are gone.

All my years of studying and training made me a target, but they also gave me the knowledge to judge the danger or benefit of the things people bring in. I hate doing the government's dirty work, I hate helping the hypocrisy and lies. Sometimes I want to tell everyone the truth, but who would listen, when the official story's been sewed up so tight?

So I keep my mouth shut, and run my part of the system. As long as I behave and do what the government tells me, everything will be fine.

If not, they've made it clear that they know exactly where my parents and sisters live.

LJ Idol voting for this round is open to all current season participants. Details here.

themysteriousgthemysteriousg on June 18th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)
I really like your writing. I've only read a few pieces but they are very well crafted without being overwrought. Have you done longer form or submitted any short stories anywhere?
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 18th, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
What a nice thing to say!

I've only recently begun writing original fiction, after seven years of fanfic (and before that, NO fiction at all). Some of the fanfic stories are longer by comparison, but thus far I am a short-form writer. My longest ones are only 5K-8K words, and by contrast, I excel at the 100-word drabble form. One might see that as a curse!

After writing about 20 very different stories for The Real LJ Idol, the previous one in this universe prompted several people to say that they thought the idea would make a good book. Once in a blue moon, people mention the possibility of writing a book, but to have three of them say that independently was a jolt. It really made me think about the idea!

So nothing so far on the professional level, but with the support of really wonderful readers on LJ I'm actually (for the first time) considering it. :)

Kristenpixiebelle on June 19th, 2012 03:08 am (UTC)
I'll be a 4th. You should make this idea into something bigger. Consider it. Go for it.

I loved this piece.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 19th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! Who would have thought that the thwarting of a hated prompt would open so much possibility?
A Sentient Being: Fairyalien_infinity on June 19th, 2012 04:23 am (UTC)
I'll be a 5th; you should totally make this into something bigger!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 19th, 2012 10:38 pm (UTC)
Hee! I think you were the second person of the original three, actually, and you get bonus points for encouraging me to add onto this universe. Thanks for your support!
cindytsuki_no_bara on June 18th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
the really creepy bit is at the end, the "i hate doing this but i have to because otherwise my family's dead", plus the keeping-your-head-down-and-going-along-to-get-along ("as long as i behave and do what the government tells me..."). interesting to see the prequel, i guess, to the first story.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 19th, 2012 02:48 am (UTC)
the "i hate doing this but i have to because otherwise my family's dead"

Yes. The parts before, the government raids and killing of various people who either struggle too much-- or, later, know too much-- is frightening enough, but the idea of buying people's compliance with threats is worse.

In thinking of this as if it were part of a book, I'd actually want it to be interleaved into the middle. That first story shows what the "now" is, but there are questions like, "What happened to Dad and why won't Mom talk about it?", that we see some answers to in this story. He might be dead, or he might be caught like this man, trapped by wanting to keep his family safe.
Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.n3m3sis42 on June 19th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
I really like this universe and I'm glad you're revisiting it.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 19th, 2012 10:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm so used to the "short-form" that I tend to think in terms of really establishing an idea and implying how far it extends... because that one story is going to be it.

It feels dumb to say this, but the idea that, "Wait! I could work in that universe and expand it from different angles" isn't really one that would have occurred to me on my own. I'm so glad other people suggested it!
Ellakiteellakite on June 19th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
In the words of Goethe:

"Where they start burning books, they will soon start burning people."

It has happened before. It can happen again.

Please follow up on this. I think you will do the concept justice.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 20th, 2012 12:44 am (UTC)
Re: Fascinating.
Thank you-- what a nice thing to say!

The first story was written so unexpectedly, but as soon as my husband tossed out that filled-in version of SATED as an acronym, I knew that that was an idea I could really run with.

And make it seem scarily possible. :0
whipchickwhipchick on June 20th, 2012 12:37 am (UTC)
The world fills me with revulsion - well-written!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 20th, 2012 12:45 am (UTC)
Thank you!

You were one of the people who encouraged me to keep exploring the universe of that first story, so I appreciate your comments very much!
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on June 20th, 2012 07:09 am (UTC)
Wow. The poor narrator.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 20th, 2012 08:05 am (UTC)
The first story hinted at this a little, with the boy's father who was a computer programmer and now gone, and with the way the mother never talked about it. You could sense that the father might be dead, or effectively imprisoned, and that neither outcome was good.

I was trying to explain the Cultural Revolution to my daughter over the weekend. The idea of how it was applied was so awful that you wish it were fabrication. But no. People can be incredibly sociopathic in their choices when they feel that what they're doing is 'justified.'

Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on June 22nd, 2012 08:36 am (UTC)
m_malcontentm_malcontent on June 21st, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)
Fanfic is cool....but you have a gift for creating your own memorable characters, it's not as simple as why be an interesting angel when you can be a God....but really with your talent, why not be both.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 24th, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
That's a wonderful way of looking at it! And very nice thoughts, too.

Thank you!
alycewilson: Alice hidingalycewilson on June 21st, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
The scary thing is this sort of thing DID happen in China when the communists took over.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on June 24th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
Exactly! I think people there had no idea what kind of viper they were welcoming into the nest when they chose that path.

There was such an anti-intellectual movement when the communist party took power that they got away with killing some of the country's best and brightest people. And while I don't think that's just around our corner or anything like that, the increasingly anti-intellectual tone in our country scares me, too.

I think of all of those people who re-elected Dubya because they wanted a president who was "just like them" (well, apart from being rich and everything). To pick someone to run a country (theoretically) in part because he is NOT smarter than you are is, well... incredibly stupid thinking. It's a spiral of irony. :0
alycewilson: falling down rabbit holealycewilson on June 24th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
For sure, though, there are different kinds of "smarts," and I think one underestimates the American electorate at one's peril. But I didn't understand that reelection either.