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Theta Head - a neuroscience novel (Chapter 1)

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Theta Head - a neuroscience novel (Chapter 1)

Postby Greg Dawe » Mon Jan 10, 2011 9:56 pm

Breaking news... Theta Head now avalaible at amazon (kindle version) for 0.95 GBP [email=http://www.amazon.co.uk/Theta-Head/dp/B003ZYEUXQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1296613204&sr=8-2]Theta Head at Amazon[/email]

Theta Head is a speculative fiction novel I wrote to explore how technology can bring people closer to themselves, as opposed to technology's more popular use of connecting people with others. It follows a London woman as she searches for her missing boyfriend, a search which leads her to the Theta Heads and a question: Should she use the very technology that was responsible for her boyfriend's disappearance to find him?

It's a kinda The Beach for the i-generation present day science fiction novel thingy... (Published by small British press Caffeine Nights Publishing)

Here is chapter 1, I hope you enjoy it. A free 7 chapter mini-ebook is up over at scribd

I would love some feedback on it.

Cheers

Greg Dawe

Image


Theta Head - Chapter 1

Escalating down into the musty warmth of the London underground’s brutal machinery, shaken and ignored as she then shudders through its sooty wormholes, Georgia catches sight of her dark under-eye semicircles. They smile back at her from the opposite window in the darkness between stations and they are, she whispers to herself, ‘Evidence.’ Of too many late night hours scanning flight and phone records, missing persons’ sites, lists of router histories and addresses. All percolating like TV static in her head. All too much until subdued with an ice pack and 250 mils of vodka.

Georgia looks in her bag, but the sunglasses she needs to cover her eyes with are not there; summer isn’t due for another six months. She’d never really liked them anyway. With their cheap plastic frames and scratched lenses they were functional but unbecoming. Maybe, she thinks, she could borrow Ben’s. They were there for the taking. She’d left them where he’d left them: perched on top of his music equipment, untouched for the past fifteen months. She’s sure he wouldn’t mind, wherever he might be, and they were so much larger than hers; the perfect disguise for under-eye darkness.

Escalating up now and Georgia is soon out into a tight scrum of black cabs and red buses. They are busy spewing office and shop workers onto a freshly scrubbed Oxford Street, a road she would have walked in its entirety if it wasn’t for the clang of titanium shop shutters. Ringing in the new trading day they startle her, forcing her to take a long-cut up into thinner veins, full of fashion houses and Greek cafés, couriers blasting by on old Yamahas. And Georgia, breathing deeply as she walks, trying hard to stem the babble of inner dialogue that has crept up on her and which now hangs over her head like a swarm—the mindless questions and stray song lines, the anxieties and what ifs, nevers, maybes. It’s her daily shot of irrelevance and inner chaos and it’s all starting to worm in and dice together—a constant, internal head chatter that forms a barrier against clarity and which stops her in her tracks, forcing an admission: her hole has arrived. She can feel it opening up like a fresh wound somewhere on the street nearby, a dark, draining, familiar gravity.

‘Give up,’ it says. ‘Come here.’

It’s always that sudden and it always makes her think about seeing a head doctor. Maybe some drugs to try and cover it up with. Drag a steel hatch over it and fasten it in place with a chemical barrier or two.
She needs to move quickly, before this missing part of her life enters her system and starts its sickening spread from her stomach upwards into her chest, down her arms and into her fingertips, sparkling negative.

‘Distraction,’ Georgia says, before it takes hold. ‘Treat!’ Then, ‘Childish woman.’ And it’s from this self debate that a sliver of cheer returns, enough to get her moving again, albeit around the edges of her hole in a kind of weird, avoidance-arc shuffle and then into a nearby French Confection.

‘Sanctuary,’ she whispers, closing the heavily polished door firmly.

Once seated Georgia orders her favourite Peruvian, which is served promptly by an immaculate Italian all black and white and pressed. Then studies the menu for something familiar. And feels safe. But stressed.

Force the stress. Expel it.

But, up or down?

Georgia tries both ways but still her nerves are like split-ends.

‘Calm down,’ she whispers to herself, almost viciously, sinking back into the comfort of the café’s cushioned window chair.

Tries another, slower breath. Then another.

It’s not working.

Trying another approach, Georgia takes out her phone and queues up her current-favourite mp3, silently willing it to coat her nerves in a protective veneer against the weight of any more swarm-like darkness or confusion that might be out there. Which works, to a degree, her stress levels downing slightly as the sound of lapping waves and soothing chords starts soaking into her nerve endings.

‘Breathe deeply.’ A drawn-out-almost-whisper. ‘Take a very deep breath—in—and hold the breath for as long as comfort dictates. And then, gently, let it out again through slightly parted lips. And when the breath is all the way out, contract your stomach muscles and push it even further out. And further out. And then relax. But don’t try. Let your breath simply fall in. And then let your breath simply fall out. Fall in, fall out. Imagine your breath falling onto a comfy old sofa.’
Georgia’s phone vibrates, an incoming call interrupting her beloved download.

Sliding it onto the spotless tablecloth she squints down at its screen and sees Pushpinder Sharma—best friend in the world, helper in times of need, and, currently, her man in the east. Georgia taps accept and sees:

A row of plastic seats at an unnatural angle. People sitting beside luggage, waiting. Large windows convexing around a thinly populated airport departure lounge. And suddenly a face, unblurring, fluctuating in resolution before finally settling on Indian, eyes focused somewhere beyond the camera’s lens.

‘Hello from Narita International.’

‘Good… what is it in Japan, Push? Afternoon?’

‘Just gone four. Three hours until take off. I was just thinking, Georgia, that he could be in this very lounge. Looking at me looking for him.’

‘Maybe not looking. Maybe just idly gazing? He doesn’t know you, remember? You’re as much a stranger to him as he is to you.’

‘Thanks, Georgia. That’s comforting.’

‘My pleasure.’

‘Just wanted to let you know everything’s set. Batteries charged and whatnot.’

‘Ready for seat B6.’

‘Do you think the resolution will be good enough for an ID? This airline network isn’t what you could happily call broadcast quality.’

‘I hope so, Push. But I can clean it up later. If it’s him, I’ll know. I hope. And how is Japan for you?’

‘No idea. I arrived five hours ago and haven’t set foot outside the terminal. But it looks… freezing and grey. A bit like London. But how about you? How are you feeling, Georgia? I mean… this is something, right?’

‘Yes, it is, Push. But then again it’s not, is it? It’s not everything. It’s not Ben. It’s just a possible someone who might have possibly seen something.’

‘But how do you feel? After all this time.’

‘Like you wouldn’t believe.’

‘Me too. I bought you some ginseng tea from duty free.’

‘Thanks, Push.’

‘I’ll call back when we’re in the air. No delays so that should be in
about three hours.’

‘See you in three then.’

As soon as the call ends a re-fill arrives, and Georgia lets herself enjoy the sensation of the liquid as it warms her throat and flows down into her stomach, its muscular Peruvian particles fusing warmly with her own adrenalized particles. She mentally tells herself off for not thanking Push, again–for travelling half way around the world on her behalf and for never giving the slightest hint that he would abandon a search that was really not his. A friend indeed, Georgia thinks, gazing at London over the warmth of her coffee cup. The street outside is cobbled, probably recently and for tourist reasons, and reminds her of Oxford, the town in which she had started to fall for Ben… five years previously… pubbing… punting… partying at night and then red-eyeing back to London for Monday morning work. It was the place in which Ben’s characteristics had slowly soaked into her core, every one of which had made her realise, for the first time in her life, that her heart was actually smiling. Ben turning to strangers and asking them random questions was one of her favourites, and it was weird, at first, for Georgia to understand how he could do that. He just didn’t have the walls or boundaries that most people seemed to live within. Instead, she saw, his space was open, active, curious and questioning. Alive.

‘Musical notes,’ Ben had once said to her, starting the conversation with his favourite topic. ‘Where do they come from?’

Georgia had straightaway blurted ‘Up your bum’, but when she’d seen how seriously Ben was looking at her, she’d smiled up at him and made a childish face. ‘Well, that’s an easy one, isn’t it?’

‘Don’t tell me to go google it. I want your ideas.’

‘Only if you buy me an ice cream.’

Ben nodded thoughtfully. ‘Okay. But only if it can be proven. Agreed?’
‘I see. And how solid must the evidence be?’

Ben looked over her shoulder, contemplating, then re-focused. ‘Solid enough for a 1st year science student.’

‘Junior, senior, or post-grad?’

‘Take your pick.’

‘Agreed.’ Georgia clapped. ‘So, Ben, I think that the notes for songs are stored in a cool, dry place. Preferably,’ she added, holding up a finger, ‘not in direct sunlight.’

Ben had hung his head. ‘That may be so,’ he’d said. ‘But where exactly is that?’

At that point in her life Georgia might well have said Oxford, but these days she’s not so sure. About anything, in fact. All she does know—all she is certain of—is that she doesn’t know a lot. That she had stopped knowing shortly after Ben had disappeared. When he’d been there—beside her, around her, making her more complete than she’d ever thought possible—she knew all the time: what clothes to wear, what movie to download, where to go on a Sunday. She knew what she wanted. Now though, tea or coffee is often a painful decision. Lager or stout a choice that can send her home in tears.
She simply—genuinely—doesn’t know.

Georgia looks down at the remains of her coffee and tries to distance herself from the memory. But it’s not easy because it sets off another memory that’s even harder to push away: the one in which, in those first few months after his disappearance, Ben had come to her at night. In her non-space between sleeplessness and loss. Suddenly beside her. So real she could feel his warmth. But she knew better: that the illusion was so real it was dangerous and that she had to keep pushing. But Ben would always spring back to her like he was on some kind of emotional elastic, and she often didn’t have the energy to deal with it.

‘Not today,’ Georgia tells herself, pushing harder. ‘Today you must focus.’

* * *

Ten minutes later and Georgia is standing in a gusting North London side street scanning an office board for Cornish Law Consultants Ltd. Third floor, up the stairs, left, down a recently disinfected corridor and she is in reception waiting. Instant arrives, small lumps of brown powder still floating on its surface, and as usual, in contempt, it stays untouched.

‘It’s lovely to see you, Georgia.’

Georgia smiles up, finding as always Marion—the grandmotherly office assistant with new teeth—quietly but potently unnerving. ‘Have you been waiting long? No. I see you’ve hardly touched your coffee. And I do know your vices!’

My kind of logic, Georgia thinks. Flawed.

‘Won’t be a moment, love. He’s on his way up from the library as we speak. You can wait in the office.’

‘Thank you,’ Georgia replies, then follows Marion’s shower of fuss through a door that has Adrian Cornish etched, in what she’s always thought of as a rather frosty font, on its single window.

Once seated and alone Georgia is scanning, the stark differences between Ben and his brother jumping straight out at her: Adrian a hoarder of ornaments and old bits of junk and tat; Ben, especially in the last few months before his disappearance, an anti-hoarder. He was pressurised by anything that contained information that had been read or dealt with yet kept for the future should it have some relevance then. Left uncategorized and unreferenced. Always hinting there might be something left inside unread. It was what had eventually crushed him and driven him out, along with Georgia, into the real world to make it on their own. She’s back there now, in an unusual clarity, remembering those five perfect years they’d spent together… dreaming… making plans… enjoying the harmony their relationship had given her… until that night at the club when Ben had been ripped away from her, a night she still can’t remember…

Georgia looks up as Q.C. Cornish, elder brother to Ben, starch and professional, always expecting slightly more from people—standards (his)—walks in and nods at her over a stack of leather-bound books.
Georgia gives him time to put the books down, exhale professionally obligations, and inhale her.

‘How was the field trip?’ Georgia asks.

‘The conference? Interesting.’ Nodding. ‘Manageable.’

‘Good.’ Georgia nods back and sits up straight, placing her hands politely in her lap and feeling, as she always does in Adrian’s formal presence, like a transparent interviewee who must lie to get an unwanted job.

Then Adrian, straight to the meat, ‘How is the investigation proceeding?’

‘We might have found something actually. Someone. A name match. William T Taylor.’

‘You’ve found him?’

‘Possibly. That’s what I wanted to prepare you for.’

‘That’s the first piece of good news for a while.’

Fifteen months, Georgia corrects mentally, then says, ‘It might be nothing. Just the name you gave me. Popped up on a frequent flyer award list.’

‘Is that legal?’ Leaning forwards.

‘It’s public. I want to email you a picture of him, as you’re the only one who’s seen him. I should have it in a couple of hours and I wanted to make sure you’re computer is working.’ Shrugs. ‘Switched on.’
Adrian thinks about this, his dry eyes settling rigidly on Georgia’s, his usual fake-but-friendly smile nowhere in sight. ‘And what did the police have to say about this?’

‘Unhelpful but surprisingly liberal. In missing cases it seems they positively encourage anyone connected to keep going—call old friends, think about the small details.’ And I can’t help do that. Every minute of every day.

‘Because it’s important to keep this proper, Georgia.’

Proper. By the book. On the straight and narrow. All phrases Georgia has had stencilled, thanks to Adrian, into her moral code, and all of which she has pretty much abided by. Except this one small thing. But what did Adrian expect? She couldn’t possibly spend another fifteen months searching by the book. That had simply not worked. It had given her not a single lead nor clue about what had happened to Ben. Nor about William T Taylor, the man Adrian had introduced to Ben shortly before Ben’s disappearance, the man Georgia had spent the last fifteen months trying to find. So: ‘What other options are there?’
‘Hacker search,’ Push had suggested, after trying but failing to further the investigation himself. ‘Expensive. I might know someone who knows someone.’

Which he had: a big chunk of Georgia’s cash wrapped around their target’s name passed to a shadow in the street, and 24-hours later an email, on which were details of a flight William T Taylor had booked.

‘Do you think you’ll still recognise him?’ Georgia asks.

‘Yes,’ Adrian says. ‘I think so. I only met him once, and it would have been better face-to-face. But yes, I’m sure I’ll know if it’s him or not. Eye contact with him was… unusual. I should have asked more questions then.’

Yes, Georgia almost says, you bloody well should have.

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘Thank you, Adrian.’

‘And what if this William Taylor is the same man I saw with Ben? Where will that get us?’

‘Further than anywhere in the last fifteen months. If it’s him, it’s a start.’

* * *

Half an hour later, feeling free, hoping she won’t have to see Adrian again for a while, thankful, Georgia is reversing across London, heading home.

Once inside her main living space—an area she’s always liked: perfect for two occupants and overlooking a garden in crisis—Georgia sits in front of her PC. Nudging the mouse reveals her family snapshot wallpaper: Ben dressed in his favourite t-shirt standing next to herself. She then sets to work creating empty folders. Activates and ratchets to their highest settings all the virus, adware/spyware/firewall software—creating an island of safe space for the video Push will hopefully have for it. Then she moves to the sofa and sits back. Checks her watch.

One hour to go.

One last lead.

And then fatigue—an abrupt, intrusive wave. Possibly, she reasons, the combined result of her late night and her early morning breakfast baguette. Heavy in her stomach she can feel it sucking up energy, causing her to slide further into the sofa until she’s almost foetal. Uncomfortable in her pocket, Georgia slides her phone out and places it in the centre of her curl, checking coverage and battery. Then nothing but the silence of a mid-morning house. Suburbia on pause. Neighbours at work. The only noise distant traffic. And closer, the sounds of modernised Victorian plumbing, comforting somehow, a live system to meditate on as Georgia mentally counts down the minutes… one after the other… fifteen months worth of them now suddenly gone… just as suddenly gone as Ben himself. But where? Had he gone alone? And why hadn’t he invited her to go with him? Why, why, why, always the whys. They are a swarm of headache-inducing questions she knows must be pushed firmly aside and dealt with but can’t. She rarely can. It’s just another random memory, another unanswerable question. All of them attached with psychic Velcro to the inside of her head. Currently showing is Ben’s excitement as he started his music course. The build up of equipment that was supposed to keep him at home rather than on a pill in a dance club somewhere. All of it still upstairs and all giving nothing away. The further she sinks into this pain-memory the clearer she can see his decks and mixer, amp, his favourite pair of sunglasses perched on top where he’d left them. But not him. Not a trace and not a clue. Only an absence—a hole. But one with weight. And one she’s felt growing steadily inside since the moment he disappeared, coming on now, again, like a trapped nerve in the centre of her being.

Pushpinder’s call brings her back from that brink:

A claustrophobic image of moulded plastic flooded with bright off-yellow light. Push’s face blurring past. Earpiece being gently screwed into ear. Microphone scraping shirt. Whispers.

‘Are you there, Georgia?’

‘Yes. Ready and recording.’

‘Great. He’s fourth seat back on the left. B6. I should be able to get a clear shot.’

‘Excellent work.’

‘I also managed to sneakily video something he was reading on his laptop, thank digital zoom. It’s called The Spasm, written by a guy called Matthew McMullen. I’ll type it up and email it to you when I get back to my seat. Seems to be some kind of report.’

‘A spasm report? You never cease to amaze, Push.’

‘I know. Here goes then. Nice clean shot.’

Lens obscured slightly on the left as the door opens. Into the galley-way. Curtain brushed aside. Dim lighting but the lens considers and adjusts.

Georgia’s heartbeat jumps as Push’s in flight video is beamed from his phone to hers. Holding her breath she watches as the image drifts silently into business class, lens angled towards the left row of seats. Then she’s counting: a glimpse of passenger one, gone before she can make out any detail. Then a woman, asleep with full passenger support—black eye shades, head resting on inflatable neck brace. Gone. Past a newspaper concealed man or woman next and there, suddenly, seat B6, maybe half a second of a man’s well lit, bearded face. Shirt but no tie. Dark hair. Large sunglasses.

Georgia is up and bluetoothing, hoping her larger PC screen will give her a clearer picture. Absently half-on, half-off her chair she waits, watching the transfer bar increase, feeling as though she’s in a rare, swarm-free state of suspended animation. A fulcrum? A point where her life could tip? Could be given back to her?

After dropping the file onto the media player Georgia watches, closely, pausing just after newspaper man, adjusts the speed, marks it, hits play, three frames a second, back again, play, nose inches from the screen.

She hadn’t expected to be so sure, but even though she’s never seen this man before it’s him, she knows it. And it’s not just a feeling; there’s evidence. Nothing solid. It’s more an exercise in pattern recognition, like looking through a fog at a crowd and trying to make out a familiar face a hundred yards away.

After saving the grab she emails it to Adrian, imagining the image appearing on his screen and his face actually forming some kind of emotion as, hopefully, familiarity hits. She then prints a copy, snatches it from the laser before it’s done spooling and is up, not really sure why, her chair rolling back and crashing gently into the table behind. Then she’s taking the stairs two at a time and is into his room—their room—her eyes going straight for Ben’s mixing decks where, left untouched for fifteen months, thought about only that morning, they still sit.

Georgia picks them up. Slightly bulbous around the upper-eye part. Dark. Very heavy.

She looks at the printout of William ‘B6’ Taylor, then back to Ben’s sunglasses.

‘Identical.’

Nearly. Maybe.

She’s left her phone downstairs so she reaches for the landline and dials Adrian. Someone picks up but says nothing and Georgia, rationality on hold, says nothing too.

‘Hello?’ An odd, stressed pinch of vocals.

‘Adrian, it’s me.’

‘Jesus you gave me a fright. My phone says Ben is calling me.’

‘Sorry. I’m calling from his studio. We got the picture. It’s him. I’m quite sure. Did you check your mail? Can you check your email?’

Shifting sounds from the other end—Adrian going at his usual, nauseatingly methodical speed. Then, finally, ‘Yes, here it is… attached… jpeg.’

‘That’s it.’ She can see him nodding.

‘I think…’

‘Yes? Adrian?’

‘I think that’s him.’

‘How sure?’

‘Very sure. It’s him.’

‘Do you recognise the sunglasses he’s wearing?’

‘Sunglasses? I don’t think so.’ Strangely hesitant, as if he should.

‘They’re the same as Ben’s. I’m looking at them now. Look at the picture of him on your desk. I think he’s wearing them in that one.’

Another drawn-out pause from Adrian, then, ‘You’re right, they do look similar. What do you think that means?’

‘I don’t know. It can’t be coincidental, though.’

‘Strange.’

‘William T Taylor. You’re sure it’s him? The man you saw with Ben?’

‘It’s him, Georgia.’

Georgia breathes out, sharply. ‘Mr B6.’

‘Sorry?’

‘The seat he was sitting in. On the plane.’

‘Where exactly is he?’

‘Just coming in to land at Bangkok International.’

End Chapter 1
Last edited by Greg Dawe on Wed Feb 02, 2011 9:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Theta Head - a neuroscience novel (Chapter 1)

Postby The Master » Tue Jan 11, 2011 8:19 pm

The opening chapter does a nice job of introducing our protagonist, but I'm glad you included a quick plot synopsis because the Sci-Fi aspect isn't obvious from this opening (not saying that's not bad or anything, just observing). I'm intrigued by the moral dilemma you mention of her deciding whether she should use the technology. Stories that bring that human element to them are always more rewarding.
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Re: Theta Head - a neuroscience novel (Chapter 1)

Postby Greg Dawe » Tue Jan 11, 2011 9:48 pm

The Master wrote:The opening chapter does a nice job of introducing our protagonist, but I'm glad you included a quick plot synopsis because the Sci-Fi aspect isn't obvious from this opening (not saying that's not bad or anything, just observing). I'm intrigued by the moral dilemma you mention of her deciding whether she should use the technology. Stories that bring that human element to them are always more rewarding.


Thanks for your comments. You're right, the sci-fi aspect isn't obvious and in fact I would describe the story as present day science fiction - or speculative fiction - in that it explores a real-world (neuroscience) technology but one which is slightly modified.

I'm glad you mentioned the moral dilema aspect. When I was writing Theta Head I wanted to above all else make it a human story and not one exlusively to do with the nuts and bolts of technology - I wanted to explore how technology can directly influence a person's view of reality.

If you want to continue reading, the first 7 chapters are at scribd:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/38000503/Thet ... -7-Sampler
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