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Freeborn, section of Chapter 2

by AdaB 

Posted: 09 September 2012
Word Count: 1609
Summary: The survivors of an alien invasion of 110 years before go to market in order to free slaves, captured from the aliens, the 'Capborn' or Captive Born.

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The morning after the raid it was market day and the generally nocturnal Rats were up before midday with their backpacks stuffed with things to trade: alien vegetables, portable pieces of technology like fuel cells and scraps of metal to be made into knives and tools.

Matthew yawned. He had had hardly any sleep, having been up since dawn fiddling with the Troll head in the area of the crumbling entranceway he grandiosely called his workshop. Unlike his reading, electronics was not something he could do in tallow candlelight, even with difficulty, so he came up here, where the roof had caved in and sunlight streamed onto Art Deco tiles. But despite the good light, the Troll's synthetic head remained stubbornly inactive, loose wires sticking out of its neck so so many veins and sinews. Perhaps it would not work, detached from its android body? Or perhaps the Arocind technology was too far beyond that of the humans, but Matthew never gave up that easily.

Putting the head down on the workbench, he heard the clanking sound of people coming up the stairs - rusted and seized escalators - from the tunnels below. It was a good thing they hadn't gone with the plan to rip up the stairs and replace them with lightweight ladders, he reflected with a wry smile. Okay, so it might have made it more difficult for the Trolls to get in. On the other hand, dragging huge, heavy packs up from the depths of the tunnels would not have been easy.

He grabbed his bag and threw some unwanted pieces of equipment and some handmade knives into it, for selling later.

"You look knackered," said Jemmy, as his head appeared at the top of the stairs, framed by an absolutely enormous backpack.

"Thanks, you look... what the hell are you carrying?" exclaimed Matthew.

'Troll parts. I went back for them after I gave you the head. I thought to myself "Why waste good technology when its going begging?"'

'So you've got in there...."

'Legs, torsos, bits of wire, arms. Really useful stuff. Should get a good price for it.' Jemmy lumbered across the hall, his body straining like Atlas supporting the sky.

Matthew was sure he felt the floor shake momentarily and gave the floor tiles a nervous inspection as if, any second, Jemmy was about to disappear through the floor, propelled by the weight of his load. 'And can you manage that?' he said, 'Its a fair walk to the market.'

Jemmy replied with a withering look and continued his ponderous progress towards the door. Matthew might have been the unchallenged leader of the Rats, but when it came to sheer physical strength, Jemmy was definitely his superior. And Jemmy was not one to be bashful about his talents.

'I just hope we've got enough, ' said Matthew, doing a quick, mental inventory of people and goods.

The market was in an old warehouse that had survived the Invasion pretty much intact. The Freeborn had repaired the holes in the roof with woven branches and vines, ensuring that the market could not been seen from the air, and entranceways had been disguised to look like impassable barriers. A few ragged, Freeborn children kept watch.

Although few Patrols had ventured this far south of the River in years, the Freeborn were naturally cautious: Who knew when the Arocind might suddenly revive their passion for extermination and finish what they started? In the early days, they had killed humans in their millions. No one really knew why they stopped, or even if they had, for sure. Perhaps they run out of a sufficient number of targets to make it worth their while?

By the time the Rats arrived, the market was bustling. It was just as well the Patrols did tend to ignore this area, given the amount of noise they were generating. There were people from other City shelters: the Wild Dogs, the Ravens, the Diggers; And people from the villages outside the city: Green Village, Stone Village, Hobbittown - in the bits of countryside that had not been strip-mined or sealed in alien domes.

Goods were piled up on blankets that were spread across the floor: cheese and flour from the countryside, metal and electronics from the City, weirdly shaped, alien vegetables and grains from the scavenging raids; cured animal skins, woven cloth and knitted garments. There were even a few retrieved items of canned food and dusty bottles of wine, from before the Invasion, displayed on a low table: unobtainable riches gazed upon by ragged admirers.

The journey from the Western Shelter had not been a quick one as Jemmy had not been the only member of the group to be over-laden. Everyone had done their bit, hauling as much as they could carry to the market, and they were now eager to start trading.

Matthew ignored the hubbub in the busiest part of the market, and after instructing his men to start laying out their goods for sale, he went to the furthest corner which had been fenced off and formed into makeshift pens. Large curtains of rough cloth and aging polythene had been tied to the tall, metal fences of the pens to deter prying eyes. A group of vicious-looking men stood guard, their weapons at the ready.

They recognised Matthew as he approached and grumbled menacingly as he pushed passed them and marched straight up to their leader: a bear of a man who would have given Jemmy a run for his money, one Olaf Sumners.

Olaf had dealt with Matthew before. Their exchanges never exactly friendly, but lately the vaneer of civility was thinner than ever. To Matthew, Olaf's business was despicable; To Olaf, Matthew was just a mark, a 'do-gooder' who allowed sentimentality to rot his brain. Who but an idiot or a lunatic would pay such a high price for virtually worthless stock? He was practically asking to be ripped-off. Which naturally made him Olaf's best customer.

An oily smile on his pockmarked face, Olaf pulled back one of the curtains to reveal the contents of the pens. Matthew barely glanced inside. 'How many?'

'Six, including four females.'


'All six caught this week, healthy and de-tagged. This one...' he opened the pen door and reached inside, 'would be perfect if you want a little "fun"".' He dragged his hapless victim from the pen by her shoulder: a woman, barely four foot tall, dressed in a torn and stained white bodysuit; an adult, despite her diminutive size. She trembled as she was manhandled in front of her prospective purchaser, and winced in pain when suspended by wrist-restraints from a meat-hook, sobbing, but silent.

'I'm not into your kind of "fun", I told you before' Matthew snarled, avoiding the woman's pleading gaze. Doing business with the slave-trader always made him feel slightly sick, but he had no intention of letting Olaf know that. 'De-tagged, you say?'

'Thoroughly.' Olaf spun the woman round by her waist, causing her cry out as he revealed a large, circular burn between her shoulder blades. 'See, completely fried. You heard what went down in Croydon the other day? Geezer brought home some pretty little Capborn fluff he found wandering about. Didn't know where she came from or nothing. Halfway back to the shelter 'Whoosh', the Trolls took them out. Miles out from the nearest Zone. No way that's going to happen to me - That tag's not telling no one its location.'

What Olaf lacked in morals or brains, he made up for in survival instinct, and the blistered, weeping wound on the Capborn's back certainly could indicate a deactivated tag. Still, Matthew had to be sure. He wouldn't put it passed Olaf - possibly under the pay of one of the Rats rival Shelters - to deliberately pass a tagged Capborn onto them and get them taken out by the Trolls. After all, the risk to Olaf or the market from an untagged Capborn was relatively small, this far out from any Patrol Zones, but the risk to the Western Shelter was huge. They were barely a stone's throw from the Arocind Colony Dome itself, and surrounded by Patrol Zones on all sides.

'I need to inspect the merchandise,' Matthew said coldly.

Olaf nodded as he threw himself into a chair. 'Be my guest.'

The 'merchandise' appeared to be around thirty years old, her features obscured by mud and grime and her white-blonde hair matted and tangled. His stomach tightening, Matthew pressed his thumbs into the woman's wound, causing her to yelp. She fought against her restraints., bucking and twisting as she did so.

'Hold still!' Matthew ordered 'Or it'll hurt even more'.

Whether it was something in his voice that told her he cared, or the threat of worse pain, the woman's frantic struggles ceased. She continued to cry, but without the previous intensity. Still no words. The poor thing probably couldn't speak, Matthew reflected sadly, as he felt the bony processes of her spine. He counted down from her neck - T4, the fourth throacic vertebrae. There was the hard circle of a tag, about ten centimetres across, and the attachment bolts either side.

'I'm so sorry,' he whispered in her ear, as Olaf was preoccupied with something stuck in his teeth, 'this is going to hurt'.

He pressed his fingers hard into the wound, around the edge of the tag. She screamed and then collapsed, still hanging from her restraints. Matthew felt for the tell-tale web of wires coming out of the tag, like the legs of metallic cranefly. There were none. The tag had been de-activated.

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Comments by other Members

Manusha at 09:16 on 28 September 2012  Report this post
Hi Anna,

Sorry that your work has been waiting so long. I hope to have a read this evening after work.

Manusha at 22:51 on 28 September 2012  Report this post
Hi Anna,

What I really like about this is that you obviously have a very lucid vision of this world. It clearly comes across in your writing. A story needs a clear setting and you certainly provide that. I can feel lots of history in this story. In this, and the previous chapter, the Arocind (great name) remain a mystery that I want to know more about. Once again you only hint about them (which I think works really well in these early chapters) and that in itself whets my appetite to read on. How did they conquer the Earth? Who the heck are they? What do they look like?

I think one of the problems a writer faces is how much do they need to explain about their fictional world? Perhaps it’s even harder in sci-fi because so much can be different from the norm and the writer might feel the need to explain every detail about their created world. They did that because of this, they had to do such and such because of this, that, and the other. It’s a fine balance because some explanation has to be there, but if there's too much it can end up feeling you're reading a justification of the world that the story is set in rather than the story itself.

For example: The first two paras of this chapter are free from explanation and I began settle into the story. The third goes into an explanation of why they hadn't replaced the escalators with ladders. It wasn’t something I felt needed explaining and it drew me out of the events that were actually happening. The fact that the escalators were rusted and seized told me enough at that point. There are a couple or so other places where I thought you didn’t need quite so much explanation to tell a particular scene.

He had had hardly any sleep,

It’s certainly grammatically correct, but to me, a double ‘had’ always appears clumsy in prose. Perhaps you could reword the sentence.

He had had hardly any sleep, having been up since dawn fiddling with the Troll head in the area of the crumbling entranceway he grandiosely called his workshop.

If you read that out loud you might find that it’s a bit of a mouthful. Perhaps you could rearrange this with some punctuation or even split it into two sentences.

and sunlight streamed onto Art Deco tiles

Great reminder of the ordinary past of this ruined world. ;

electronics was not something he could do in tallow candlelight,

Think you could drop ‘tallow’.

out of its neck so so many veins and sinews.

Do you mean ‘as’ or ‘like’ so many veins and sinews?

Perhaps it would not work, detached from its android body?

No comma needed.

Or perhaps the Arocind technology was too far beyond that of the humans

The Arocind have been around for 150 years so wouldn’t he know if their technology was beyond humans by now?

framed by an absolutely enormous backpack

Think you can absolutely drop ‘absolutely’! We might say that in real life but it’s not needed in prose.

In the early days, they had killed humans in their millions. No one really knew why they stopped, or even if they had, for sure.

Great hook.

A group of vicious-looking men stood guard, their weapons at the ready.

What does ‘vicious-looking’ look like? It’s rather abstract and doesn’t give me a positive image of how they appear.

weirdly shaped, alien vegetables and grains from the scavenging raids

That something is ‘weird’ is subjective and doesn’t tell me anything of the actual shape of the vegetables. Are the grains also alien and weirdly shaped? If not, you need a comma after ‘vegetables’.

He wouldn't put it passed Olaf

You need ‘past’ here. 'Passed' is the past tense of 'to pass'.

'I need to inspect the merchandise,' Matthew said coldly.

The use of the adverb ‘coldly’ doesn’t tell me anything about Matthew’s motivation. Why did he say it coldly? I don’t believe he feels cold about it, but you're not telling me how he really feels. I would like more of his internal dialogue, his thoughts and emotions. I need to feel them with him so I can empathise with his situation and feel emotionally involved. It’s the emotional attachment the reader feels for the character that gives a story depth, not just what happened and then what happened next. Sure, the facts are there, but without the emotional dimension the reader can feel detached as though reading a newspaper story.

'I'm so sorry,' he whispered in her ear, as Olaf was preoccupied with something stuck in his teeth, 'this is going to hurt'.

Using the conjunction ‘as’ changes the meaning of this sentence. It reads that Matthew whispered because Olaf was preoccupied rather than while he picked his teeth.

like the legs of metallic cranefly

Lovely visual image.

To sum up, I don’t think you need to worry too much on explaining all the details of your world straightaway. The world is pretty clear already without too much detail and you have the length of a whole novel to develop the entire panorama. But perhaps you could develop Matthew and his internal world. Involve the reader in his internal dilemmas, his frustrations, his vulnerability, his hopes and fears. It’s hard to empathise with a stranger, but it's different with a friend. Friends open up and tell us things about themselves. Let Matthew open up to the reader. Once the reader feels for the character you’re there. They will care about the story because they’ll care about what happens to him.

Regards Andy


Sorry, I meant 110 years!

Jennifer1976 at 10:06 on 04 October 2012  Report this post
Hi Anna,

I think that you set this scene up very well in your last chapter because I already feel like I am right in the story with Matthew. You paint some nice pictures with your writing, for example
[/the roof had caved in and sunlight streamed onto Art Deco tiles]

I really liked this image and I also got a clear picture of the market place too

I thought that you described Olaf well too. I could definitely picture him, and hear his voice (to me he sounds like and East End villain) and I disliked him immediately, both in personality and looks.
[/An oily smile on his pockmarked face]

There were a couple of phrases you used that I didn't feel you explained enough, but I think that Andy has touched on them, for example the [/weirdly shaped vegetables], but that is a minor point and I felt on the whole that this chapter was very well written.

I also thought you dealt well with Matthew's difficulty in detagging the woman and how difficult this was for him, and by ending with this scene you have set up the next one nicely. I look forward to reading more!

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