Contest #185 shortlist ⭐️

On the Pulse of Tomorrow

Submitted into Contest #185 in response to: Write a story about someone who doesn’t know how to let go.... view prompt

67 comments

Fiction Speculative Sad

This story contains sensitive content

“You can check by gripping my wrist, you know.” 


The doctor looks at me like I’m something quaint, like a moth-eaten teddy; something that one used to hug, but now needs consigning to storage. 


“To measure the pulse,” I circle my papery wrist, pressing my thumb to the blood flowing, tapping an almost imperceptible stream. 


“Ah yes, of course.” He nods like he’s remembering something he was once told, perhaps as a joke, on his first day at med. school.


“Well no need for that now. I’ve got all your essential stats right here, courtesy of the graft.” He waves a hand in the direction of my right bicep. The Smart Patch they fitted nearly a month ago is invisible; a secret and silent doctor, monitoring me 24/7. He smiles broadly, in what is presumably supposed to be a reassuring way.


“No, I wouldn't want to interfere with your privacy; your physical space. These days we try to keep hands-on contact to an absolute minimum. It’s better for doctors and of course patients this way.”


I remember the doctor at the care home, gently closing your eyes, the practised hand stroking the lids shut for their long final sleep and blink the memory away. 


“Do you have any questions about the procedure? It’s really nothing to be worried about. The Smart Surgeons will ensure it all runs, what was the saying, with those old timepieces?”


“Like clockwork.” 


“Yes, exactly! Although didn’t those old watches always run down?” He lets out a burst of laughter which echoes around the empty ward, stripped of everything but him, me, and the one screen. 


“Well no worries about that today! Chief surgeon AI-da will be overseeing the procedure. As soon as it’s complete, the Smart Patch will fully activate, commencing operations formally completed by the redundant,” he looks briefly lost for words, shifting from one foot to the other, “er, the redundant part.” He finally manages. 


“Now, you take it nice and easy David, and when your Smart Patch and AI-da are ready to begin, your Hear-Speak will let you know.” He gestures to the implant lodged in my right ear. 


The screen, previously dark, flashes to colour. Lines of text appear: Elevated levels of Cortisol detected; attendant spike in blood glucose. Recommended medical intervention: tranquilliser and insulin administered in 3 minutes, should levels fail to stabilise. 


“Doctor, no!” I blurt out, gripping the rails at the side of my bed. “I can manage this; I’ve learnt breathing exercises to deal with stress. I don’t need a tranquiliser!” 


“Of course,” he soothes, making for the door. “The nanobots will only deliver the drugs if there is a medical need. Now do try to relax. If you like, I can check in on you one more time.” And he closes the door quietly behind him. 


It’s only when he’s gone that I realise I forgot to ask any questions. But I can’t let that trouble me now. I have less than two minutes to try and lower my stress levels, or the nanobots will deliver the drug and I’ll only know the dark when it slips about me, pulling me under. Breathe David, I tell myself: long, deep breaths. In: one, two, three, four, five; and out: one, two, three, four, five. In through the nose: one, two, three, four, five; and out through the mouth: one, two, three, four, five. Again. And it helps: my breath, that old familiar; a rhythm that has rocked me throughout my life. Here, in this alien place, it is the comfort of the known, still performing the daily miracle of turning air into breath, breath into life, deep in my lungs. 


I’ve managed it. The screen closes its beady eye; the lines of text vanish into reassuring nothingness and I silently thank those relaxation classes I stumbled into months ago at the care home. They didn’t seem to bring much respite at the time, unless you count staring vacantly at my feet while others did the breathing exercises a help, but perhaps they’ve finally come in handy now. Yes, my hand’s not shaking. I look at it swiping over the imperceptible Smart Patch. It's supposed to be seamless, and I certainly can’t see a crease or a wrinkle of skin, let alone a scar. But I know it’s there; I can almost sense it pulsating with my data. Soundless blips are instantaneously zipped to the screen with its invisible eye trained on me; to my smart fridge: door now locked, barring me from all my lovely creamy, fatty, artery-clogging favourites. And of course, inevitably, my health insurance has been automatically updated with my vital stats: my premiums will go up, again. And for tomorrow, my Smart Car has the schedule in place: pick up at 8am, when I’ll be ready to check out, this one final procedure complete, finally having crossed the finishing line; my destination: brand new me. 


I remember other finishing lines. A water-logged playing field. A school sports day in March. The other boys all lined up, hands on scabby knees, waiting for the whistle. And from the sidelines, the blast ripped across the grass, a summons to run- and we did. Elbows out like mug handles, shoes claggy with mud. Each stride was exhilarating pain. I forgot to breathe, forgot to pace myself; I only knew I was the closest to the finishing line, was upon the finishing line, was over the line- I’d won! Heart thumping, blood in my ears, whole body shaking with the effort; I’d gulped down air feeling, for the first time, with every fibre of my small being, the thrill of a win, yes, but also the thrill of being alive. 


I’d sat down afterwards, head between my knees, a little sponge, letting the rain-soaked earth seep into me. I was dizzy, with elation or exertion, I couldn’t tell- probably both; but I knew I needed to rest. Clear signals: body to mind. Blood a speeding messenger, delivering its missive: sit!- to my befuddled brain. That was then; this is now. Which signals will Smart Patch or AI-da send me? Will they bother at all? Perhaps the nanobots will just release the anaesthetic when they’re ready to go. No need for a countdown, an old-fashioned: 3-2-1. It’s not like I didn’t sign up for this; my Insurance made the stipulation and my digital fingerprint is on all the forms. If they want darkness to descend in the swirl of a Smart magician’s cloak, well they’re the conjurors now, not me. 


It didn’t use to be like this. It used to be me with magic at my fingertips, for I’d touch you and you’d quiver, a string stroked by a bow. And oh what music we made. Those nights, under the stars; me, a poor boy, wishing for the diamond necklaces strung on night's throat; wishing I could reach up and pluck one down, clasp it about your lovely neck, and see how you outshone the lights of heaven. Not that you needed jewels; we didn’t even need the stars. I would have found your lips, drank your breath, even if the earth had heaved and we two had fallen into an abyss. 


That first kiss: where the bee sucks, there suck I; heart hammering like it wanted to knock down every door I’d ever shut; blood roaring like an orchestra in my ears. The sounds of love: hammering, roaring, music on full blast. I look about the ward and can only wonder, at the clear digital silence. It is like someone has come with a big bag, opened it up and put all the sounds inside, snapped it shut and left. There’s no hum of machines, no shuffle of shoes; if AI-da is here, she is as silent as the grave


No, I lie, there is a noise: the click of the door opening; the doctor is back again, just as he promised. He begins to parrot a spiel; perhaps this is his role, although he seems pretty redundant, if truth be told, given Chief Surgeon AI- da will be running the show with her team: Smart Patch and the nanobots. Perhaps he’s part of the package, paid for by my monthly premiums: a salute to the bygone days, offering a comforting patter, even if he won’t take my pulse or listen to my chest. I struggle to focus on what he is saying, trying to keep the rhythm of my breathing while I glance at the screen behind him. 


“So there’s no need to feel anxious at all, David. This is the last procedure: the final great overhaul.”


I nod, his words setting me adrift, not hauling me in at all.


“And after this, the Smart Patch and nanobots will be able to fully navigate this old ship of a body.” He nods, as if appraising my paper-thin skin and silver hairs and deducing an old steamer, long since destined for harbour. 


He seems to be building up to a grand oration and I wonder if he is just voicing the Hear-Speak in his ear. I seem to remember this speech from the Insurance blurb I had to read and sign weeks ago. When the rep. explained that as I now no longer had someone to care for me, and as I was of an age where I would place more demands on my Insurance than supply could possibly meet, I would have to, please, press my fingerprint to the screen, agreeing to the procedures listed: a Hear- Speak implant; a Smart Patch graft, an infusion of nanobots…the list went on. I’d closed my eyes and pressed. 


Here, in this ward, the doctor’s still droning on. I grip the rails, feeling the bed rock beneath me.


“This great storm of life: age, disease; it is over. Ours will be smarter sailing, on the high-wi wave of the future.”


I remember other waves. 


Our last holiday, pushing your wheelchair, well pulling it in reality, across the beach. You were so light, but still we stuck in every ripple of sand. Right down to the shore where the little waves lapped over the wheels and I half thought we should just keep going. It was easier here, the sand compacted from the tide; the chair picking up speed of its own accord. The thought crossed my mind: I could push right on, let the waves cover me and you. Yes, we could have stepped into the tide, and accepted that there was no wave, no medical miracle, which would break in time for you. Better to let the surf pound and render us back to the particles we came from; to mingle with the sand. 


Instead we stopped, watching the boats far out on the horizon, specks which seemed stationary and devoid of purpose compared to us: watching, holding hands, feeling the twitch of your pulse, your life force, trembling, but insistent still. 


I collected your Death Certificate two weeks later and to the wider world you are gone. We are steeped in surveillance, but your presence goes unnoticed by all but me. For what can detect an invisible shadow, cast by no light, possessing no form? But I sense you; you’re the daylight moon, an improbable miracle, but one right there to see, if we only just glance up. 


As I do now, looking at the parroting doctor like I’m seeing for the first time after months of floundering in the dark. And the questions pound relentlessly: what am I doing here? Yes, I’m signed up to the Three R programme: Renew, Regenerate, Revive but what is it exactly that I want to revive? There is nothing dormant, slumbering or passed-on. I know what I’ve felt since I first took you in my arms under that jewel-studded sky, all those years ago. You don’t need to revive something that never died.


Yes, I signed the paper. It stated it was just an organ, like any other: blood, tissue, muscle. It’s a medical procedure, not much more than a bypass, fitting a pacemaker, or having a transplant. Except it’s not. 


I’m no medical man, no anatomist; I’ve been telling myself these last months. What do I know of this beat in my chest? Enough to know it now for what it is: the drum of my life which I could never, ever, let someone silence, substituting in its place a silent, staring patch. 


One hand clutching my chest, I begin to rise from the hospital bed. I grasp at my heart, my one and only treasure chest, storing every bit of gold I ever had: a bounty of pleasure and pain. I glare at the doctor, this thief with his band of AI robbers. 


I can’t give it up and I won’t. I open my mouth to tell him, only to rebound from the words he has let fly.


“Ah, I’m getting a message that AI-da is ready now. Don’t worry David, you won’t miss your heart at all. It’s packing up; time for the Smart Patch to take over. 


My chest tightens, it feels like a boulder is squeezing the air out of me. The invisible patch burns under my skin like a brand and unseen I feel the nanobots speed through my veins like dark lightning, scorching my senses.


“I-”


He smiles broadly, "yes, I know, we’re so lucky to be living on the pulse of tomorrow.”



February 15, 2023 16:50

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67 comments

Aeris Walker
01:43 Feb 23, 2023

*Rebecca Miles takes on dystopian health care and emerges victorious.* Fantastic job with this one. You come up with some of the most beautiful and original metaphors and descriptions I’ve read on this platform…just some really stellar lines throughout. These were some of my favorites: “If they want darkness to descend in the swirl of a Smart magician’s cloak, well they’re the conjurors now, not me.” “He nods, as if appraising my paper-thin skin and silver hairs and deducing an old steamer, long since destined for harbour.” “Better to l...

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Rebecca Miles
20:43 Feb 23, 2023

Ah Aeris, you make my heart sing. This is quite a different topic to one I'd normally tackle but, as you spotted, my weakness for figurative language lingers regardless. As always, your words mean so much as your writing is just gorgeous.

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Laurel Hanson
20:30 Feb 15, 2023

Dang! This is fantastic! It is moving, lyrical, and so profound. I love the title - which just begs the question: where are we going as organic creatures subject to our own innovation? Love neat little descriptors that do a lot of work to set the stage: "I’m something quaint, like a moth-eaten teddy;" and the clock metaphor being when clocks themselves are outdated. Your interweaving of the memories of his life with the medical language is superb. It creates and engaging structure where exposition is folded in as gently as egg whites in a...

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Rebecca Miles
08:04 Feb 16, 2023

Hi Laurel. Thanks so much for reading and your warm praise. I thought I'd dive into the deep waters which are fast rising all about us: the AI tide, and consider it from a health point of view. I'm really interested about the question of agency and free will, especially when we're vulnerable as David is, due to his age and familial situation. What say will we have in the medical future if our insurance stipulates "procedures" which help balance the books and serve their financial outcomes, but erode our autonomy? I wanted to give this the ho...

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Laurel Hanson
11:02 Feb 16, 2023

I think the horror tag is fair. Horror with ghosts is fictional to be honest, the kind of horror depicted here....is not.

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Carolyn Wayson
17:44 Aug 19, 2023

Hi Rebecca! This is a beautiful, haunting story. It could easily fit under the horror category. Just because of the amount of suspense and hauntingness (is that a word?) that is in the distopian-like world. I was wondering if you might read a story I’ve written and give me some feedback? I would really appreciate that! Keep writing these beautiful stories!

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Rebecca Miles
13:37 Aug 21, 2023

Hi Carolyn. Thanks so much for reading and commenting on two of my stories. I've been off Reedsy for a while, entering other competitions, so it's nice when people still read the older stuff! I've read your story and have a couple of tips for you to bring the emotional force out . First off, try to move away from just recollections and memories. Plot the story so at least one big thing happens which the whole narrative moves towards. So in your memories piece, it would gain traction if the child came to visit or perhaps there's a twist where...

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Carolyn Wayson
17:13 Aug 23, 2023

Thank you so much for the feedback! I see what you’re saying about the twist and that’s a really good idea with the letter. (Do you mind if I steal that?) I also see what you’re saying about the syntax but I wasn’t really sure what to change that to. Have you written any stories that you would recommend for me to look at ? Thank you!

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Rebecca Miles
20:02 Aug 23, 2023

Go for it! No new stuff from me but one in the pipeline if I make Friday's deadline.

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Carolyn Wayson
18:18 Aug 25, 2023

Ok! Can’t wait!!

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Story Time
19:43 Feb 27, 2023

"Yes, we could have stepped into the tide, and accepted that there was no wave, no medical miracle, which would break in time for you. Better to let the surf pound and render us back to the particles we came from; to mingle with the sand." Sometimes I wish they would let us highlight favorite sections on here, because I would underline that one five times. Just gorgeous.

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Philip Ebuluofor
16:34 Feb 25, 2023

Congrats.

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Rebecca Miles
07:31 Feb 26, 2023

Thanks so much Philip.

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:39 Feb 27, 2023

Welcome.

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Laurel Hanson
12:43 Feb 25, 2023

SO well deserved! Congratulations on this fantastic piece!

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Rebecca Miles
07:30 Feb 26, 2023

Thanks so much Laurel. No submission from me this week so just pure Reedsy reading pleasure.

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Chris Campbell
08:01 Feb 25, 2023

Rebecca, Very beautifully and lyrically written. Death and/or end of days, is such a difficult subject to broach, but you tackled it well. Well done!

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Rebecca Miles
07:31 Feb 26, 2023

Thanks so much Chris. No submission from me this week so just pure Reedsy reading pleasure. I'll make sure to check out yours.

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Chris Campbell
10:11 Feb 26, 2023

Thank you. I have high hopes on this one.

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Wally Schmidt
20:52 Feb 24, 2023

Great descriptions, like this one, throughout: The doctor looks at me like I’m something quaint, like a moth-eaten teddy; something that one used to hug, but now needs consigning to storage. And although this piece seems dystopian, it also feels like every time I take an elderly relative to the hospital for treatment. Horror indeed

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Rebecca Miles
07:33 Feb 26, 2023

Hi Wally. Yes this looks to the future but not such a distant one perhaps. Thanks for the read.

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Belinda Callahan
03:35 Feb 24, 2023

I very much enjoyed your story, even though it scared me, a little. This piece is well written. The structure is held with a good frame allowing a nice flow. The subject matter is relevant to my life at this time and pulled at my own heart. My father has come home from the hospital on Hospice care. We do live in the future as it unfolds around us. Thanks for your work.

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Rebecca Miles
07:18 Feb 24, 2023

I'm so glad your father won't need to face what David had to. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and leave the positive review.

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Sophia Jowers
00:12 Feb 24, 2023

Wow, this was so well-written! I love your use of description, particularly the flashbacks about the couple--the description of the first kiss in particular really stands out. This setting feels so believable.

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Rebecca Miles
06:43 Feb 24, 2023

Thanks so much Sophia. I do like flashbacks to develop characterisation. I'm glad you enjoyed this.

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Kathryn Kahn
20:36 Feb 23, 2023

You've created a world that's completely believable and terrifying. I love the drifting from present to past and back. The image of the couple on the beach, with the wheelchair, is haunting. This is so beautifully written. Loved it.

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Rebecca Miles
07:20 Feb 24, 2023

Ah thanks Kathryn. I'm a complete sucker for a bit of drifting in a story. I love modernist writers and they spool off all the time. It's trying to not do it all the time for a more popular platform like Reedsy!

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Jack Kimball
20:22 Feb 23, 2023

Yes. Hard to judge the benefits of healthcare technology but what happens, when those who can afford it, live to two-hundred with elective surgery, and those who can’t, only eighty? Even the divisiveness we have now, as sad as that is, will pale. Great expose’ of the future Rebecca! Learned much.

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Rebecca Miles
06:32 Feb 24, 2023

Thanks Jack. Yes, the two- tier system is all about us and Big Tech already profits the few. I wanted to bring that divide into the medical future and consider the impact on autonomy for one. I'm glad it gave you much food for thought.

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Betty Davison
18:59 Feb 23, 2023

please can you follow me and make me happy then i will follow you

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Rebecca Miles
19:06 Feb 23, 2023

Hi Betty, I only follow writers who I've read whose stories I really admire and want to follow their work. Please write something and then I can hopefully follow you!

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Timothy Rennels
14:14 Feb 23, 2023

Wow. (thinking for words) Wow. Loved it!

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Rebecca Miles
20:44 Feb 23, 2023

Thanks so much Timothy. I'm so glad it impressed and was hopefully good and " speculative".

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Delbert Griffith
13:29 Feb 23, 2023

You really nailed the mortality/morality dualism of technology, healthcare, and humanism. What an intricate story, seemingly so simple on the surface but a roiling, murky mass of the essence of life - and the lack thereof - underneath. The lyrical quality of David's love for his late wife gave this tale a weight and an ebullience that really makes the story beautiful. It was a full, red-blooded love, and this clashed harshly against our newest enemy: AI-generated everything. The first sentence heralded what was to come; the last sentence sen...

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Rebecca Miles
07:16 Feb 24, 2023

Hi Delbert. Nice to have you pop back up in my Activity feed. I think you've been off the site for a bit. I like your metaphor of the roiling mass: I've a feeling however much AI we throw at the future, life will continue to be this!

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Delbert Griffith
07:45 Feb 24, 2023

I pray that we can find an equitable balance. Cheers, my friend.

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Jester Patatoe
14:02 Feb 21, 2023

Great job! it was an amazing read,hope you have a great year and may we see more of your works

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Rebecca Miles
07:43 Feb 22, 2023

Thanks Jester for the vote of confidence.

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Edward Latham
13:58 Feb 21, 2023

What a thought-provoking story! David's scenario is clearly one he is uncomfortable with, and it's clear to see why, as he seemingly has little choice or agency. Would others more willingly embrace this technology though, and would that create a pressure on the rest of society to? Once a certain percent of the population has smart phones, it's almost expected of you too, otherwise you are willfully kind of backing away from society. The same could apply to this technology which is certainly one to ponder if it causes us to lose our humanity....

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Rebecca Miles
07:49 Feb 22, 2023

Hi Edward, lovely to see you pop up courtesy of the yellow button. Being plugged in is, absolutely, what's expected of us and claustrophobia is just the right word to describe the sense of choices falling in on us. I haven't done tension for a while so thought this was the perfect context to crank it up. I do hope this version of the AI future doesn't come to pass. Can I look forward to a story from you in my Activity feed soon? Or has the form challenge put you off?

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Edward Latham
08:41 Feb 22, 2023

My latest inspiration is a kind of fantasy prison break story, but it needs more word count so I think it won't be a reedsy submisson unfortunately! Also been struggling with writing time recently so it might be another week or two until I get in a reedsy story, but we'll see! The form challenge was an interesting one though, it would've been good to give it a try. Are you writing anything for it?

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Rebecca Miles
07:40 Feb 23, 2023

Nothing from me this week as I'm on my hols back in Blighty. Now your fantasy prison break has piqued my interest. What should I be thinking? Goblins breaking out of a Mordor dungeon? You say you're writing something a bit longer; do you have any recommendations for other places to submit to? I need tips for other possible sites/ publications with prizes! When I'm home I really should reignite the gas on my back burner King Ludwig book. It's been so long again the flame has long gone out! Good luck with the goblins 🤣

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Edward Latham
15:50 Feb 28, 2023

I've submitted a couple of pieces to the Fiction Desk as they take longer pieces, but it doesn't seem easy to get accepted! Its actually turning out a little more sci-fi than fantasy; a rickety tower in the middle of the sea, that was built as a prison, has now tranformed into a functioning society, but one that's controlled by an oppressive gang, whose dubious energy source keeps them in power. Struggling to keep it moving though!

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Amanda Lieser
21:52 Feb 20, 2023

Hey Rebecca! What a thriller! I loved the deeper meaning behind hearts that you played up in this piece. I was thoroughly intrigued by your blend of sci fi with realistic fiction. I also really enjoyed the way you spoke about this character’s past and life story. I really enjoyed that line about the bee. Nice work!

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Rebecca Miles
07:33 Feb 23, 2023

Hi Amanda, yes I wanted to run with all that symbolic weight of the heart but also the physical aspect: it got me thinking how many memories are caught up, encoded even, in the body. Memories are often of physical things and so what will our memories be like in the future if we adapt our bodies to the extent that many of those triggers for memory ( a racing heart for example) are gone? Lots to ponder here. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

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Betty Davison
21:12 Feb 20, 2023

like the story very much

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Rebecca Miles
07:29 Feb 23, 2023

Thanks Betty!

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Dan Coglianese
01:10 Feb 20, 2023

Wonderful story and so beautifully written. This one really got me thinking about where we're headed. Nicely done.

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Rebecca Miles
07:28 Feb 23, 2023

Thanks so much Dan. Yes, much food for thought

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