My short story in Decalog 3: Consequences, “Moving On”, was supposed to be 10,000 words long. Unfortunately, my first draft came to over 17,000, which was a pretty poor miscalculation. Fortunately, some of the other stories in Decalog 3 ran under their word count, so I was allowed an extra 5,000 words. As well as deletions and revisions elsewhere in the story, I chopped the following three extracts from my submission draft in order to reduce the word count:
- Delayed on her way to Tonska
- Sarah’s editor meets her at home
- Karn flashback
Delayed on her way to Tonska
This sequence gave some further indication of how, despite herself, Sarah is still thinking about the Doctor; there is a section that explains how she is having to use coping strategies to handle her “missing years” away from Earth; and, alas, it contains one of my favourite gags, about how K-9 cheated at ‘I-Spy’.
Marylebone Roadwas jammed solid, as usual. Sarah switched away from Talk Radio before she got too angry, and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel as the Today programme muttered at her. In the days when she used to ferry K-9 around in the back of her old Fiat, she had rarely listened to the car radio, preferring to take advantage of their enforced time together to elicit information about what happened to the Doctor since she knew him.
It had soon became evident however that, much to her journalistic chagrin, no amount of ingenious interviewing, strategic questioning, or painstaking unearthing of clues by Sarah would produce fascinating new insights. It transpired that the reason for K-9’s initial reluctance to furnish information was that, after his construction and programming, he had hardly known the Doctor at all. He had been boxed up and packed off before he knew where he was, a feeling that Sarah recognised only too well.
So eventually she fell to playing “I-Spy” with the robot dog, before realising that K-9 was either too literal or too inventive to play fair, the culmination of which was an argument when Brendan had been informed after 30 minutes guesswork that “something beginning with T” was actually “traffic”.
The cars in front of her sped up to a crawl. Sarah glanced indignantly at her car phone for the seventeenth time. This was too ironic, she thought. The interview with Wojzek was one of three she had undertaken for an article that Andrea wanted on new technologies. The advantage of long friendship was that Sarah had been able to persuade Andrea that she didn’t want a piece on the liberating effects on Modern Woman of e-mail, desktop publishing, and office software suites. No, what she really wanted was a people piece. Much more interesting for the readers. And by an amazing coincidence, much less of a struggle for Sarah, who had at first thought e-mail was a division of the GPO.
So, Sarah had turned the idea around and explained she would write about the work and family lives of new technologists in Britain. She had identified three people. One was a typesetter, coming to terms with the changes in his industry as in-house newspaper work produced on hugely expensive Linotronic machines changed into ad hoc services on an Apple Mac for one-stop print shops. Another was the international sales manager of a plush toy company, who had found it easier and more efficient to do business with her worldwide clients using a videoconferencing system on her laptop computer, and who had now decided the same was true when she wanted to talk to her husband and children (Natasha, six and Oliver, four). The third was Scott Wojzek, the young director of an IT company called Tonska, which developed new communications technologies.
After just her first, brief telephone conversation with Wojzek, Sarah decided she disliked him. He had swiftly established that his primary interest in talking with her was to obtain as much free advertising in Metropolitan as possible for the minimum expense to him or his company. Sarah had listened patiently without interrupting to a full five minutes of his pre-canned sales pitch before explaining politely that she preferred to speak to her interviewees in person. At this point, his tone had become brusque, though at least the rattling background noise on the phone stopped at the same time – and Sarah realised that Wojzek had been typing at his computer keyboard throughout their conversation.
He had then palmed her off onto his secretary (“can you deal with this journo for me, darling?”), who made it clear that Mr. Wojzek’s busy schedule of seven-to-seven days made it impossible for him to speak to her until the end of the week. She had a tone like the faceless telephone computer voice, Sarah now realised. And the voice made it plain that Metropolitan was being favoured with “a full thirty minute window in Mr. Wojzek’s early morning diary, which should on no account overrun its endstop”. Sarah groaned as Yesterday in Parliament began.
Sarah’s editor meets her at home
I chopped this sequence because we didn’t really need to see Andrea, a subsidiary character. I had to retain the ‘interference’ elements (the signal disruption to the laptop computer and the damage to K-9) by rewriting a bit of this for the final version. In this missing sequence, there’s further indication of how out-of-touch Sarah feels since she’s been away in the TARDIS. And there’s also evidence that this is a pretty raw first-draft, containing as it does a number of clichés that I wouldn’t have allowed in the submitted version—for example, the tired old ‘ran her fingers through her hair’ routine. I also note that I was still using “double-quotes” for speech, when the typographical convention at most publishers is ‘single-quotes’. That said, how often do you see the word “dibber” in published fiction?
Andrea Highsmith dropped in to see her at home that evening. “You seem a lot better, Sarah,” she observed after her second cup of Lapsang souchong.
Sarah breathed in the smoky aroma. “I feel like I slept more soundly. The air there is cleaner, too.”
Andrea ran her fingers through her fringe in an absentminded gesture. “I used to think that working abroad was just working in a foreign office. I soon learned. Even inAmerica, where you can discount the language differences, you have to think and react and work differently. It’s a refreshing change. It challenges all your expectations, your baseline assumptions.”
Sarah smiled. “Have you been listening to those motivational tapes again?” They laughed together.
Andrea lifted her palmtop computer, and placed it on top of a pile of Metropolitan magazines on Sarah’s coffee table. “This is changing all that, though. This is my office now.”
Sarah watched, fascinated, as Andrea connected her portable phone to her palmtop via a thin wire. Something else that Andrea took for granted seemed suddenly more alien to Sarah than any of the things the Doctor had shown her. The world had changed utterly in her absence – personal communications, attitudes to work, privatised utilities, the ozone layer, the new world order, toilet ducks. For a while, she had felt like an old woman trapped in the unreliable past of her own memories and unable to name the Prime Minister, while her friends had altered slowly, imperceptibly, without realising. “You haven’t changed a bit,” they would say to each other; lies as social niceties.
“How’s the book?” said Andrea as she tapped away at her keyboard. “How many don’t-hold-your-breath scenes of willfully abandoned rumpo have you finished?”
Sarah stared moodily into her tea. “I’m not sure I’m going to get very far.”
“Nonsense,” snapped back Andrea. “I’m depending on you to give me first refusal on the serialisation rights. Can’t have a Metro serialisation without some steamy sex. Sauna scene? Bondage on Bondai? Ah… shit.” Her computer screen had lit up, and Sarah could see it was strobing with the familiar broken lines.
“I’ll just clear these away,” said Sarah, picking up the mugs and moving into the kitchen. K-9 was lurking quietly beside the sink.
“What is that interference pattern, K-9?”
“Unknown origin-igin,” said K-9. “Origin unknown, mistress.”
Sarah put the mugs down on the work surface, and sat down on her haunches in front of K-9. “Jenny next door said they were getting intermittent picture problems on their TV, even when playing videos. Are you sure you can’t trace it?”
K-9 whirred, a falling note in the quiet of the kitchen. “Cannot compute.”
“Gotcha! At last.” Andrea’s delighted voice floated through from the other room. Sarah stood up and, with a retreating glance at K-9, returned to where her editor was busy at the coffee table. “I’m just linking through to the office for that international call. Want to take part?”
“Circulation discussions make my feet go numb,” chided Sarah. “I’ll check on my herbs instead.”
By the kitchen door, she picked up a little bag of potting compost and a green plastic dibber. She hugged them to her body with her left hand as she unhooked a Chubb key and unlocked the back door with her right. She pulled back the door and stepped through, looking just outside for the plant pots in which some weeks previously she had started to grow lemon mint, thyme and rosemary.
This was another ‘fake flashback’ sequence, to one of my favourite TV stories, The Brain of Morbius. As you can see, this is still in outline stage, and never reached a full first draft – it is exactly as it appears in the proposal. I quite liked the whole Sarah-being-blind metaphor in the story, but the final version works well without it. Though I slightly regret not having Ohica get her chance to do the Pope gag.
She starts to delete files on her computer, but it switches off. A house fuse has blown, so she takes a torch and goes down into the cellar with a torch to fix it. She gets to the bottom of the cellar steps and hears a hoarse breathing sound behind her. She whirls around, but drops the torch which switches off. In the darkness, she realises that…
…she is blind, and back on Karn. Sarah is terrified and alone in her worst memory. She stumbles across her nightmare landscape to the Sisterhood, where she asks them where the Doctor is. They tell her that the Doctor has already left the planet. She realises something is amiss when one of the sisterhood uses an Earth colloquialism: “Does the Pope wear a pointy hat?”. At this point, whatever Sarah has been holding in her hands turns out to be a torch, which snaps on to reveal she is back in her cellar.
© Peter Anghelides 1996, 2002, 2011