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16+ Language

The Lie that Saved the World: Chapter 0, part 2

by VengefulReaper


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.

“The best and the worst thing to happen to humanity. The metal ore Secronium. Sm on the Interplanetary table of elements,” boomed the teacher into the small classroom. Ethan wasn’t quite sure why he needed a microphone considering his loud voice. This was his last year of university and then he’d be a free man, able to bring the ideas in his mind to life. He’d thought about the day of his graduation since the day he started his degree and now it was just two months away. Not the time, Ethan. Focus!

“Does anyone know where we find Secronium?” asked the teacher.

The class fell silent. A small class of about twenty students immediately dropped their heads to their textbooks in front of them, refusing to make eye contact. Everyone except Ethan who had barely heard the question.

“Mr. Rider! Please enlighten us.”

Ethan swallowed as the entire class shifted their gaze to him. “If I remember correctly, it’s a rare ore found on the asteroid belt and the rings of Saturn.”

The lecturer gave Ethan a proud smile. “Correct! Secronium was so rare and valuable that it cost more than the price of gold and silver combined. In fact, before the governments of the world banned it, I had an ounce of it stored in a room in my lab. I mined it myself, actually.”

“You went to the belt?” a voice said in disbelief. “What was it like?”

Ethan’s lecturer chuckled, holding his belly. “It was quite breath-taking…Until you step foot on it. Then it’s just another rock. But that’s enough of that, for now. If there’s time after class, I’ll show all of you some pictures I took.”

The old man, whose hair had turned fully white, placed a small device on the table. A three-dimensional hologram filled the room. The class closed their textbooks as they were captured by the beauty of the simulation. Thousands of neurons connected to each other in convoluted paths that created a lattice called ‘the brain’.

“Isn’t it amazing,” he said as he touched one of the neurons making it light up like a bulb. “Trillions of these little guys all connected perfectly. Not one of them touches the other, nor do they get tangled. They’re just…there…like a tree with infinite branches…”

The lecturer walked to the center of the class and held out a small virtual sphere. He threw it at one of the neurons and it bounced off, suspended in space.

“That little ball was a machine. When we tried to integrate man and machine at a microscopic level, they were seemingly incompatible. Now, I’m not talking about prosthetic limbs or microchips in our brains. No, those have been around for quite some time. I’m talking about integrating the building blocks of human logic–our brain– and the building blocks of machine logic, which would be its code. Essentially, we’d create the perfect mold of machine and man. It was impossible to achieve until Secronium came along.”

He then placed a mesh over the ball and threw it back at the neurons. This time, the ball attached to the neurons and changed their shape, orientation, and size.

“Secronium was the catalyst…The um…bridge, if you will, between man and machine. Between organic and inorganic material. It made things that were seemingly impossible, elementary. It seamlessly, almost instantly, integrated with any piece of machinery in the world. Perhaps, with proper refinement, it could even access any piece of DNA in any organism.”

He closed the simulation and slotted the device back into his pocket. “And that, my friends, was the problem. It was too powerful. Imagine having a skeleton key that unlocked every bank of information around the globe. The ability to access and edit the coding of any machine in an instant. The ability to insert or delete genetic code from an organism on command. It would be chaos…”

“Is that why it was banned, sir?” asked Ethan.

“Partially, yes. The other reason was that it caused a rare terminal illness in those who were exposed to it. Now, sufficient exposure to Secronium will kill anyone but for some people, even a whiff of it could leave them infertile or give them a death sentence. It was bad either way.”

“What about the mines? Did they shut down?” asked a voice from the class.

“Officially, yes. But everyone knows how vital those mines were to the belt’s economy. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they we-”

“Mr. Ethan Rider?” asked the doctor.

Ethan’s mind snapped back to reality at the calling of his name. “Yes?”

The doctor greeted Ethan with a warm smile and opened the door for him. “Please come in and take a seat.”

Filling his lungs with a deep breath, Ethan entered the doctor’s consultation room. It’s going to be okay, he assured himself. It’s going to be okay…

***

“Secronium Poisoning. It's terminal,” Xavier said.

The sound drained from his ears. The voice of Dr. Xavier fell to the background, barely audible to Ethan. The loudest sound he could hear was his own thoughts. It was if his brain had frozen with the overload of impulses rushing to it. He tried to swallow but his mouth was dry as a desert. He felt himself needing to actively control his own breathing. The young scientist shut his eyes tight, rubbing his eyelids. If there was any time to wake up from this nightmare, now would be ideal.

“Mr. Rider?” the doctor asked. “I understand this is difficult for you to hear, but—”

Ethan regained his senses. “Yes, it is, but I understand. There’s nothing you can do.”

“Unfortunately,” the doctor added. “All I can do is make sure that you live a comfortable life for as long as possible by treating the symptoms as they arise. Secronium Poisoning is terminal only in patients with specific blood types and you are one of them, unfortunately.”

Looking down at his hands, Ethan stammered with a quiver in his voice, “C-c-can you tell me how much time I have left?”

Ethan could feel Dr. Xavier’s gaze fall on him. “You’ll be healthy for three years. After that, you’ll start losing body mass and may—”

“Yes, I know the symptoms of the later stages.”

An eery silence filled the doctor’s room. Surprisingly, Ethan wasn’t struggling to keep his composure as much as he thought he would. The reality of the situation hadn’t quite set in. Something told him that the more he’d think about it, the worse it would get.

“Ethan,” began the doctor using his first name for the first time in their consultation. “I humbly suggest that you make the best of these three years. If there is anything you wanted to do, then you should do it while you have the strength.”

Ethan solemnly nodded biting on his lower lip. “Thanks…I’ll, uh… I’ll do that.”

“And remember, I’m always here if you need to ask any questions. I’ll only give you as much information as you’re comfortable with handling. It’ll take us some time to come up with a treatment plan that’s best for you, but I promise I’ll do everything in my power to do what I can for you. That’s my job. For now, we’ll just discuss a few details and give you some contact numbers for any emergencies, alright?”

“Yes…Uhm, that would be…uh…Yeah, thanks.”

A half-hour later, Ethan left the doctor’s room and made his way home. He walked to the nearest teleporting station and walked through the terminal. He felt like a plastic bag floating aimlessly in the wind.

Teleporting in 3...2...1... Please remain calm and keep your arms inside the terminal!

The same annoying sound of the terminal didn’t bother him today. He focused solely on the insignificant things. The little speck of dirt on the floor or the humming of the teleporter. If he just focused hard enough on that, perhaps the thoughts of the recent events would fade away…For now, at least.

Ethan materialized on the other side of the terminal. The station he was so familiar with now looked strange to him. He barely noticed the reflection on the clean tiles, or the people calling him to come to their store to buy something. The young scientist glided past the apple shop he’d always stop by and halfheartedly pushed his body through the door.

Sliding the key into the lock of his apartment door, the lock released with some difficulty, but the door wouldn’t budge. He pushed the handle harder, and the door moved an inch. Ethan’s heart skipped a beat. Dr. Xavier said I’ll start feeling weaker in later stages. What if the diagnosis was wrong and I have less than— Ethan willed himself to end that chain of thought as he gave the door one last push with his shoulders. It finally opened and he nearly fell to the ground. The wood has just expanded. It’s probably the moisture from the rain, he thought with a sigh of relief.

He dropped himself on the couch and switched the TV on. Ethan always enjoyed a good comedy. After all, laughter was the best medicine, and right now, he could use some of that. Nothing. Not even a show that would usually have him holding his stomach with laughter got a smile out of him.

Running his fingers through his brown hair, he switched the TV off, dropping his head. He closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears, trying to organize his thoughts. His thoughts were like a pile of wires tangled with each other.

“If there is anything you wanted to do, then you should do it while you have the strength”

But the one thing Ethan wanted was far beyond his reach. He couldn’t remain in a noisy kitchen his entire life cooking for people. That wasn’t for him even though he enjoyed it. He needed to decide what he was going to do with the time he had remaining, and time was certainly not on his side. The longer he lazed around the worse it would feel. He needed to find something that would make all this worth it.

For a split second, a thought zipped through his head. What if I didn't care? I'm already stuck with one foot in the grave, right? What's the point of turning back now? He stuck his hand into his pocket searching for his communication link. He pulled it out quickly and scrolled down to his contacts. His eyes darted from side to side as he scrolled until he stopped on one number. ‘Asteroid Belt contact: Storm’.

All he had to do was swipe across the screen to call him. His thumb was inches away from the screen.There will be no more nightmares, no more guilt, no more pain, he tried to convince himself. He’d finally be free of the debt he’d been trying to pay his entire life.

But what if it failed? In fact, it had a higher chance of failure than success. It's just a prototype, he thought. But there is still a chance, right?

If he took that chance, Ethan knew he’d have to grab it with both hands. If he did whatever it took to get what he wanted, he’d risk losing everyone he has. He wished there was a world where he could have both and maybe if he had more time, he could have. Who knows how much worse his sickness could get if he exposed himself to even more Secronium?

Come on, Ethan! What the fuck are you thinking?

He moved his thumb from the screen and hit the ‘delete’ button. The contact disappeared from his link. His hands quivered as he placed the link face-down on the table next to him.

Ethan didn’t know if what he felt was clarity or insanity, but he realized something at that moment. “What were the odds?” he whispered to himself. The idea that despite all his efforts, he was going to die in three years due to his own unchecked ambition and he didn’t achieve a single thing, was to him, the funniest joke he'd heard and all he could do was laugh.

Author's note:

1. What did you think about the reveal of what Secronium was used for? Is that piece of the chapter engaging? Or too much exposition?

2. How was Ethan's initial reaction to the bad news handled? Realistic or not?

3. Is Ethan's conflict in this chapter believable and is it an appropriate time for him to have it?


Is this a review?


  

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Wed May 24, 2023 10:25 pm
Kaia wrote a review...



Hi, VengefulReaper!
Thought I'd drop by to give you another review. First, let me start by saying how much I really enjoyed this chapter. Generally speaking, fantasy of any sort isn't exactly my style or reading, but his novel truly intrigues me. You have a very wild imagination to come up with such a different world from our own, and yet you hold it back with realistic reactions and descriptions known to everyone's personal life.

Take this part:

"He’d thought about the day of his graduation since the day he started his degree and now it was just two months away. "

You know, that was EXACTLY my thought when I started high school, lol. When will I be done???

You kept me guessing here. I loved the beginning. I got a bit confused in the first line, but I think I was reading too fast, so it's not your fault. The second time I glanced over the opening lines, I got it. Secronium. That REALLY sounds like another element. If fact, I'll go ahead and admit it, I googled it. My results? Random Internet who-knows-what and...and this book right here. So, it's original. Wow! You had me fooled.

"Ethan’s mind snapped back to reality at the calling of his name. “Yes?”"
This part really got my attention. It was a flashback! No wonder he's in school in the beginning. I got confused, but that really got me back on track again. I do think the flashback was just a little too long, so maybe shortening it would help a bit. It's just that when you look at the scene by itself, not much happens. It's really just a lot of explanation. So, maybe shorten it just a bit. But it was really good, don't get me wrong. ;)

"Filling his lungs with a deep breath, Ethan entered the doctor’s consultation room. It’s going to be okay, he assured himself. It’s going to be okay…"
Just had to quote another part that was so relatable. ;)

“Unfortunately,” the doctor added. “All I can do is make sure that you live a comfortable life for as long as possible by treating the symptoms as they arise. Secronium Poisoning is terminal only in patients with specific blood types and you are one of them, unfortunately.”

Wow. That hits hard! His reactions are so perfectly realistic. At first, he doesn't exactly believe it with heart knowledge, shall we say. He KNOWS that it's likely, and now that it's true, but there's still that part that won't believe and wants to keep hoping. That's so realistic! Wow! Excellent job!

"He felt like a plastic bag floating aimlessly in the wind."
That was amazing description right there. I know EXACTLY what feeling you're getting at. Wonderful job!

I think I already answered all the questions, lol, and I didn't even glance over them until now! ;)

Have a great day!
-Kaia




VengefulReaper says...


Thanks for the review! I'll try and fit in the flashback a little more naturally. It does kind of disorient you coming from last chapter. Thanks for catching onto that.

-Reaper



Kaia says...


Sure! Glad to be of assistance.



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Thu Sep 08, 2022 8:07 pm
MaybeAndrew wrote a review...



Andrew here, sorry for the delay. I would say I'm busy, but I'm always busy - though I do hope to be a little more on top of reviewing over the next month.
Really liked this chapter - honestly, I've been liking the prologue more than the main chapters, so do with that what you will. But this was fun, cool, and really communicated a lot about Ethan.
To your questions!
1. What did you think about the reveal of what Secronium was used for? Is that piece of the chapter engaging? Or too much exposition?
I think Sercronium seems really cool actually, and I bet it's involved in more than I know. The exposition was a little obvious, but not too terrible, I think with a few more descriptive details to really bring the scene to life, it should work.


2. How was Ethan's initial reaction to the bad news handled? Realistic or not?
I like it, he almost seems dead inside already. Ethan is a very... defeated character. I'm interested to ee how you take him out of that.


3. Is Ethan's conflict in this chapter believable and is it an appropriate time for him to have it?
I think it totally makes sense. He's faced with life-shaking news that forces him to think about his future, so he makes a decision.

Other nitpics:

The lecturer gave Ethan a proud smile. “Correct! Secronium was so rare and valuable that it cost more than the price of gold and silver combined. In fact, before the governments of the world banned it, I had an ounce of it stored in a room in my lab. I mined it myself, actually.”

The price of gold and silver combined is a messy little phrase. The idea of it being very valuable is cool, but I think something a little cleaner, like "worth more than 10 times its weight in gold" or something like that would really punch a little harder.
Ethan’s lecturer chuckled, holding his belly. “It was quite breath-taking…Until you step foot on it. Then it’s just another rock. But that’s enough of that, for now. If there’s time after class, I’ll show all of you some pictures I took.”

I like this. So many things are amazing... but at the same time, just another thing. Paris is cool, but in the end, it's just another city.

“That little ball was a machine. When we tried to integrate man and machine at a microscopic level, they were seemingly incompatible. Now, I’m not talking about prosthetic limbs or microchips in our brains. No, those have been around for quite some time. I’m talking about integrating the building blocks of human logic–our brain– and the building blocks of machine logic, which would be its code. Essentially, we’d create the perfect mold of machine and man. It was impossible to achieve until Secronium came along.”

Reaaallly cool idea, but the emboldened line feels a bit unrealistic. It would be like explaining the difference between landlines and smartphones to college students. I think a better way to say it would be. "Obviously, we'd had prosthetic limbs and microchips for some time, and people thought that was impressive - but when machine logic came along, our old tech crumples in comparison."
Ethan could feel Dr. Xavier’s gaze fall on him. “You’ll be healthy for three years. After that, you’ll start losing body mass and may—”

This reveal is super cool, and a very interesting extension of his mother's death. My only critique is that it seems like they are 1000% sure that's what he has. Normally with things like cancer, there are stages of knowing, they tell you there's a chance, then they do more tests, and they tell you this could get worse. They wouldn't tell you straight up that you were going to die unless they were sure beyond a shadow of a doubt. I totally believe they might be able to know that easily in this word, but maybe focus on that. have him ask like "Are you sure?"
And then they explain why they are 100% sure.
But that's just my two cents, hope it helps!
You're writing is really improving, and your story is quickly becoming one of my favourite things to review on the site.
Thanks, and keep writing,
Andrew




VengefulReaper says...


Thanks for the review Andrew! I'm glad you're enjoying it so far. I'll tweak the parts you suggested to feel less clunky.



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Wed Jul 06, 2022 10:24 am
Liminality wrote a review...



Hi there VengefulReaper!

First Impressions

I thought Ethan’s reaction to the news was very believable. I could feel his dread, shock and numbness. The details of his ride back home also contributed to that, for example:

He focused solely on the insignificant things. The little speck of dirt on the floor or the humming of the teleporter. If he just focused hard enough on that, perhaps the thoughts of the recent events would fade away…For now, at least.

I thought this part was impactful.

I was a bit puzzled by the university scene at first, because the way the lecturer asked the first question almost made him sound more like a high school teacher, but he seemed more like a university professor as the scene went on and he started his passionate spiel about the neurons.

Characterisation and Secronium

I like the way you showed Ethan’s conversation with the doctor. It shows a side of him we’ve not seen before, but it’s very recognizably still him.
“Mr. Rider?” the doctor asked. “I understand this is difficult for you to hear, but—”
Ethan regained his senses. “Yes, it is, but I understand. There’s nothing you can do.”

Him interrupting the doctor and knowing the facts of the disease seems pretty in-character, given that he’s a scientist and has quite a bit of knowledge about Secronium.

As for Ethan’s mom, I think having her mentioned here somehow is important in understanding Ethan’s motivations? I actually thought it was a bit unclear at first how the Secronium discussion was related to the story until I read this line and thought about the later chapters:
The ability to insert or delete genetic code from an organism on command. It would be chaos…”


I’d imagine if a reader started from Chapter 0, the connection of this to the bioweapon that killed Ethan’s mother wouldn’t be so obvious. If it’s intentionally kept a mystery until later, that would be fine, it’s just that both this and the dream would then appear more cryptic than explanatory of Ethan’s state of mind.

I also think it might be easier to relate to Ethan’s grief if we had a more concrete sense of who his mother was. At the moment, I don’t quite feel like I know her as a character. I don’t think it needs like, a whole backstory at this point or anything, but just knowing a personality quirk of hers might help me see her as a more ‘real’ presence, if that makes sense.

Plot

As I mentioned, I think that Ethan’s thoughts right now are probably referring to a way to deal with bioweaponry? That’s what I gathered from:
There will be no more nightmares, no more guilt, no more pain, he told himself. He’d finally be free of the debt he’d been trying to pay his entire life.

Then the conflict you mentioned is his choice between staying away from Secronium and potentially living his life unfulfilled or risking his illness being accelerated by the Secronium and trying to achieve his goal. I think the conflict his believable for his character. He comes across as someone who is ‘single-minded’ in a way. He’s always at work, he was very ambitious as a younger person. Having the discovery of the disease challenge that way of life is a fitting conflict for his character to explore.

I do wonder how it will complicate the plot in later chapters, though. I hadn’t known Ethan had Secronium Poisoning when I was reading those chapters (I may have just forgotten or missed it though ^^’). Does Ethan’s goal here somehow correlate with his later aim to stop Sigvald’s bioweapon? Or does he switch one for the other? I also do wonder if he remembered his promise to call Sara ‘right away’. I have a feeling she's not going to be very happy with him if he doesn't . . .

Overall

I thought this was a well-rounded chapter. I like how you balanced elements of characterization with the plot, without losing track of the setting (such as in descriptions of Ethan’s way home and how his emotions affects his perception of it). I might be having some trouble placing it in the context of the later chapters I’ve read, though that could definitely be just my fuzzy memory coming into play, and also that the prologue section is still going.

Hope some of this helps, and feel free to ask for more feedback!
-Lim




VengefulReaper says...


Hi Lim! Thanks for the review! This prologue section was originally an entire arc that came directly after Chapter 7 but I decided to move it to the front because it'll feel like a more conventional book opening and make Ethan's sudden turn in the third chapter a little more reasonable. So there's still alot to go before we reach chapter 1. :)



Liminality says...


Ah I see! That makes a lot of sense :D



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Sat Jul 02, 2022 12:40 am
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SalisRuinen wrote a review...



Hey there! I'm back with a review for the second half of this chapter!!

I think you've done a great job with explaining the purpose of Secronium! If this had been just one character explaining it to another, it would've been much less engaging. However, using Ethan's memory as an environment and having the students ask questions and the teacher explain about Secronium by answering them rather than just giving one big chunk of exposition made the reveal much more natural and better-paced.

I'd say Ethan's reaction to the diagnosis was quite natural. The most natural part was the realization that he would feel worse the more the thought about it as he was too numb from the news initially to experience all the devastation this would bring upon his mind right away. This makes his response plenty believable.

About the 'My mom died - I'm sad now' theme, I wouldn't say you're overdoing it at all, as in this half of the chapter the focus is shifted more toward Ethan coming to terms with his present situation instead of dwelling on the past - something I liked very much. That way the readers can look at a character from a different perspective and this lends to making that character more multi-layered.

The whole diagnosis thing had me shocked as while I was expecting for him to have some disease, I wasn't thinking it would be something terminal and things like that change one's perspective completely - something the initial stages of which Ethan undergoes here. When the perspective changes, the timing for different things to happen to a character and choices to be made changes as well, so given the circumstances, I'd say it's appropriate for Ethan to have a conflict like this right now.

Now, the very concept of Secronium I find highly intriguing and can think of multiple applications for it, many of which nefarious. It makes it all the better that you cut off the dream right when the mines were discussed, this leading me to believe that there's still plenty of this element being mined. As everything about it will now be of a much more personal interest to Ethan, I look forward to learning more about Secronium!

Something I think you handled especially well in the chapter, if not even being its highlight, was the change that occured in the way the protagonist saw things after he was diagnosed. He viewed the world in an entirely different way compared to before and that helped show the gravity of his condition better than many sentences about how he was feeling could. Facts can be more visceral in cases like this and it was great that you stressed on that so much!

Ethan's resolution of his inner conflict was another great addition to the chapter. Choosing to pass on the dangerous opportunity rather than risk everything for it showed that as a scientist, he's able to rely on logic and silence his feelings when faced with difficult choices. I like how he's far from the reckless protagonist we see so often as this makes him much more interesting and unpredictable. Given his state at the end of the chapter, I once again can't predict what he'll do next, but I'm looking forward to finding out!

Thank you for the great chapter and keep writing!




VengefulReaper says...


Thanks for the review, Salis! I'm currently pretty overwhelmed with work at the moment so I'll get to reviewing some chapter for you this weekend hopefully.




The sun can square up and fight me. Apollo is just another bi disaster, and I could take him.
— AlmostImmortal