Minutes 7 to 13 (Centurion II)

Minute 7

Alex: "Drink."

Daniel: "Oh yeah, I've had that. I was cycling along Stevensbridge Road towards the roundabout in the outside lane because I was going right at the roundabout, and this van in the inside lane decided to change lanes. No indicator, no check in the mirror, or if he did see me he decided to just pull out and let me hit the side of him. I hate all road users. Pedestrians, drivers, other cyclists."

Alex: "But do you hate yourself?"

"There are almost certainly enough drivers who hate me already. You have to assume that every other road user is trying to kill you. It's usually true. There's plenty of hate to go around."

Mike: "I think they should just pedestrianise the whole place."

Alex: "They are. I heard they were going to do that. All the way up to Lower Long Street."

Mike: "No, I mean the whole UK. We should pave the whole place with cobbles and walk everywhere like the Romans. Starting with the M25."

Alex: "Where the speed limit is already effectively fifteen miles per hour in any case."

Adrian: "I suppose you could wait for civilisation to collapse and we all go back to horses and carts."

Alex: "And actually paint parking spaces on the London Orbital Car Park."

Minute 8

Alex: "Drink."

Mike: "Well why wait, let's just overthrow civilisation. It's the end of the year, are we any closer?"

Daniel: "I doubt it."

Alex: "I reckon we could overthrow the College. I have some contacts."

Naomi: "You 'have some contacts'?"

Alex: "I reckon. I reckon, I reckon. Get some people in the right place at the right time. Theoretically I could nick Sanjit's office keys and get in there any time I liked. I've been in myself enough times, I know where the box is for the rest of the keys to the rest of the building. Also, if I wanted, I could just fake emails from anybody's account so I could send something saying 'Hi, I'm abdicating, Alex is in charge from now on'. You'd be surprised."

Mike: "That's not surprising, it just means you have some keys. You haven't got a good reason. You need a motive."

Naomi: "Yes, let's all think of a motive for Alex to break into the College offices and trash them. He already has means and in another half hour he'll be ratted enough that he has the opportunity. The perfect drunken crime."

Minute 9

Alex: "Drink."

Adrian: "Didn't you already do that once?"

Naomi: "What?"

Alex: "No."

Naomi: "But you've been in protests and demonstrations that got a bit violent, right?"

Alex: "The worst thing I've seen happen was the riot in Trafalgar Square when XXXX was visiting, that got to national news."

Adrian: "But that wasn't you."

Alex: "That wasn't me, but I was standing next to the guy who threw the can of spraypaint that exploded. I mean, as soon he threw it. After that I basically grabbed my girlfriend of the time and we got the heck out of there and hid in a pub for the rest of the day. We were going before it hit the ground, basically. I mean, once people start throwing things, it's time to go and hide in the pub. My Mum says she did actually see me on the news but she forgot to tape it."

Adrian: "But what about the Foundry Way incident?"

Alex: "Uh. Uh. Well, basically: uh, that's a complicated story. Do you want to hear it?"

Minute 10

Mike: "Yeah, I want to hear it."

Naomi: "Yep."

Daniel: "Sure."

Adrian: "I've heard it but I want to hear it again because it's a good story."

Alex: "Oh nuts, drink! Aah. Okay. Foundry Way story. So a bunch of friends of mine from the XXXX group who don't go to college here were talking about coming up here to the science labs on Foundry Way. Now that's where the ChemEng labs are and it's also where the Biochem labs are. And you know the biochem students there do lab work on rats. (Students of all levels, not just the Ph.D.s and research students.) And they'd heard that they were also working on dogs and parrots and chimps. Now I don't like the work on rats. I think, as you know, that rats have as much of a right to life as any other living creature. But I had heard nothing about anything about chimps until, basically, a bunch of guys in a van turned up outside my door, and rang the bell downstairs. (This was last year when I was living elsewhere.) Now I had no idea who they were so I didn't open the door, and they buzzed it again, so I went down and asked them what was up, and they said they were from XXXX and wanted to come inside. Drink.

Minute 11

Alex: "I mean, this was in the middle of the day on the weekend and I had just come out with my keys and no coat or wallet or phone anything. And most of these guys looked like pretty serious guys. They had the hair and the clothes that you'd expect from the kind of people who-- well, they explained that there was this chimp inside the Foundry Way labs and they were looking to borrow my key."

Daniel: "Did you let them inside?"

Alex: "No, this was all out there in the yard. And basically I asked them why they wanted to borrow it, which was a pretty stupid question because I was just stalling because I was trying to figure out what to do. And there was no point claiming that I didn't have the key because stupidly I was standing there with all my keys in my hand and they were all looking at it.

"And they're serious-looking people and they're basically saying things like 'Come on, you're part of this' and 'We heard that they're going to vivisect it tomorrow' and 'You said you were okay with this earlier'. And I can't think but I am pretty sure that if there was a chimp in the labs somewhere I would not know about it because it's not something you broadcast. So I cave and I have to give them the real key because I don't have any keys which look real other than my door key. I mean it's that or the key for my bike lock or the lock on my store cupboard in the kitchen up the hall and they don't look right.

"So I hand that over and go inside and go upstairs and think: hang on a minute. Uh, drink."

Minute 12

Alex: "That's drink, drink. I thought 'hang on a minute', not 'drink'. Actually I did think 'drink', but that was later. I think, 'what does anybody at XXXX know about this?' and I check the groups and the forum and the mailing list and there's very little other than a guy called Alex who does actually study at the Foundry Road lab and they must have wanted him instead, but looked up the wrong address in whatever directory they looked it up. So I phoned campus security and told them what was up, and then I phoned the reception desk at Foundry Road, they weren't in, so I left a message, and campus security phoned the police and caught them all trying to break in that night, and took them to court. I gave a statement to the police but didn't have to turn up in court and they basically got about six months each."

Mike: "So you didn't actually fight them all head on? I was hoping for a fight scene."

Daniel: "I was hoping for something clever, like you went with them and locked them in some room and then phoned the police."

Alex: "The number of things I thought of doing afterwards. I mean, I could have just led them in and gone 'whoops, there's no chimp, maybe you were misinformed'. I was tempted to go with them and say 'I'll stay in the van' and then steal their van and call the police."

Minute 13

Alex: "Drink. So at the end of it all I guess I care more about university property than poor exploited chimps."

Mike: "Then you're no use to use for overthrowing the world. You could, but you wouldn't."

Alex: "I would! But not for the benefit of crazy people."

Mike: "What would you overthrow the world for?"

Daniel: "I think the world will probably overthrow itself if you give it long enough."

Naomi: "The world is a continuous state of overthrowing itself."

Daniel: "That's what I mean."

Alex: "Yeah, but when's the next revolution in this country? Basically never, right?"

Adrian: "Probably the robot revolution."

Mike: "Highly unlikely."

Naomi: "Why not?"

Mike: "Oh, there's a million reasons why not. Pick one."

Adrian: "Artificial intelligence is much further along than you might think."

Alex: "Artificial intelligence has been fifty years in the future for the last hundred years."

Adrian: "No, weak A.I. is around now. Strong A.I. is getting very close. Ten years from now computers will be fast enough to simulate a human brain properly."

Mike: "Sure, if by 'computers' you mean 'the total of every microprocessor in the world'."

Discussion (11)

2010-11-21 20:27:19 by qntm:

1556 words. Running total is 39590 words. 4590 words ahead of schedule. I could have gone on longer with this but the experience was agonising and I need to break for dinner. These characters did not spring off the page for me and it took me a huge amount of time to generate anything for them to talk about. I find it intensely difficult to write from a perspective other than my own. I was toying with the idea of making Alex a proper activist and go through with helping free a real chimp, but I had not the faintest clue where to begin writing or explaining such a thing. I could not get into that mindset. I clearly don't know anything about character-driven stories. And characters need a situation to react to more than they need to just react to each other. And when I drew out the relationship diagram I realised they were all friends and there was almost no hostility there, and I can't write hostility either because I have so little experience with it! Yikes. Maybe this isn't the sort of thing I should try to write.

2010-11-21 21:27:19 by Mike:

I'm not sure if people who have constantly been drinking alcohol for the past 6-12 minutes can have that intelligent of a conversation... Why did you throw away the traditional "X said, 'Y'" layout for this line-by line one?

2010-11-21 21:37:53 by qntm:

They're only shots of beer. That's not much, in beer terms. And it's very early in the game at this point. (It would mount up later.) As to your second question, I don't know. I was just trying to focus on character voices.

2010-11-21 22:15:21 by JeremyBowers:

If you want to take your writing to the next level, it's exactly the sort of story you should write. The very fact that this is hard is actually a good sign that you're getting out of (and, eventually, growing) your comfort zone. I mean that "if". If not, hey, great. I'm not asking you for anything, I acknowledge you owe me nothing (I owe you, if anything). I don't know what your life goals are. Etc. Based on your comments I think you already know you need this, but I wanted to go ahead and give you an external check on that. :) Oh, dirty secret of character writing: Nobody in the world has enough experience to tell you whether you have "correctly" written all those characters, just maybe one or two for any given person, if that. (I don't really see myself in any of those characters, for instance, though I've known some of them.) "Real" accuracy isn't really the goal so much as "believable" accuracy, which is something very different (and much easier :) ).

2010-11-22 02:34:56 by LabrynianRebel:

I know it's because you couldn't think of a motive for the characters, but I actually like this story because of it. Too many stories have characters with motives, and the question "what do you do if you don't have a motive?" is an interesting one to explore in the future.

2010-11-22 23:16:06 by pozorvlak:

I'm aware that the bit about undergraduates doing animal experiments is in the mouth of a character, but for what it's worth, you need a Home Office personal licence to do experimental work on live animals in the UK (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_testing_regulations#United_Kingdom). This takes a fair bit of effort to get, and is the kind of thing you explicitly list in your CV. Letting undergraduates do experiments with live animals would get your lab closed down very quickly: the Home Office like to do unannounced random inspections. And yes, the small number of scientists who do work on primates keep it very very quiet, because of this kind of thing: http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/policy_issues/animal_rights_extremism/the_early_history_of_animal_rights_extremism

2010-11-23 20:44:53 by Dirkjan:

Hmm, so if you're casting about for something to write about, why not work with the things you set up? Naomi likes Daniel, Daniel is about to realize it, Alex still likes Naomi, Naomi doesn't care that much about Alex anymore. There's something here you can work with, I'd think.

2010-11-24 00:21:38 by Baughn:

Oh good, one of /these/ conversations. For those who didn't already know, the estimates of human brain processing power vary by ~two-three orders of magnitude, so they can both claim to be correct.

2010-12-09 08:23:06 by iano:

I really really enjoyed this. I thought the dialogue was fascinating and very real. It seemed like a conversation that would happen in real life, which is incredibly hard to write.

2012-06-08 04:15:17 by FeepingCreature:

Mike: "Sure, if by 'computers' you mean 'the total of every microprocessor in the world'." Yeah, and then eighteen months after that it'll be two brains, then four, then eight, then sixteen. Moore's law is _scary_, like any exponential evolution. Though honestly. We outpace evolution in pretty much every category. Why would "build a really good distributed computer", of all things, be any different?

2020-09-16 07:12:32 by Mez:

Oh cool, you did basically go in the direction of theatre with these characters like I mentioned in my comment on yesterday’s entry. The “name:” style emphasised this. I can see emotions firing up and secrets coming out as they get drunker.

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