by: Catherine Sorrentino
Writing, like any art, is often a tool of protest and social activism. Speculative fiction and plays allow for creative writing to challenge, rather than uphold, our current circumstances. In a recent Worldbuilding Intensive hosted by author Jelani Wilson and PYP teaching artist Mr Stine, young writers were given the opportunity to imagine fantastical and futuristic worlds to examine our present. Ready to explore another world? Here’s something from student Brenden Dahl, who explains his inspiration below.
"When I attended Jelani’s previous workshop with the PYP Resident Playwrights, I began to create the dystopian world of my story. He told us to pick an issue with society today, and create a fictional world where that issue is taken to the extreme or otherwise explored in depth. I chose the issue of corporate data mining, and created a world where nearly all cloud-stored data has been destroyed through a massive server crash, and every remaining piece of information from the past is controlled, hidden, and weaponized by an elite ruling class.The following is a few pages that I worked on in PYP’s Summer World-Building Intensive."
Writing by: Brenden Dahl (CLICK READ MORE ------>)
“Desi, it you. Marble.”
Maeve points down at a small wooden board speckled with black and red squares, lying unevenly on the pavement. It’s one of her favorite artifax that she’s retrieved but conveniently forgotten to report. At the Library, we found it filed under Pre-Digital → Games and Entertainment, so now we’ve been trying to come up with a game to play on it. Today’s is far from sophisticated; we only have five marbles and a piece of charcoal to play with. But it involves some basic bluffing, which I appreciate. I smile at her from the corner of my mouth and slide a marble across the board. She pouts.
“No! Move you twice times, Only once.”
“I moved twice my last turn and you didn’t say anything.”
“That thrice time before and change rule we since so say you so!”
This is how it usually goes. By the time we’ve figured out a game, one of us has already forgotten the rules. Or changed them without the other realizing. I arch my back and slide one leg from underneath my body, catching a glint of the sun peaking through a gray cloud. It’s always hard to find a comfortable position to sit in this sector of the park. At least it isn’t crowded. I’m pretty sure that’s why Maeve likes it.
“Out of focus you today, Desi. Head in left field! Whyso?
I pause to look down at her, making direct contact with a hazel green eye on the right side of her face. She has a faded scar running down the left side, ending beneath a glazed-over, milky white eye that never moves. Her hair is chestnut, shaved on one side, hanging over her scar on the other. I inch closer and smile. The intimacy makes her squirm.
“It’s a commission problem,” I say.
Whenever I start talking about a commission, she checks out. I don’t know if she doesn’t understand, isn’t interested, or if it’s something else, but I don’t ask. All I know is that it ends the conversations that I don’t want to have.
My commission is from the Digital Age, which is usually my specialty. Computers and telephones and calculators, they just make sense to me. I wish I could have been alive when they ruled the world, I could have done well for myself. But something is different about this packet. They gave me about the same number of artifax as usual, mostly newspaper clippings, ripped book pages, and plastic food labels, but there are no contextual reports from other CHAD’s.
CHAD’s— Commissioned Historical Analytics Detectives— are usually given at least two other reports from around the same time period in order to gain an understanding of the historical context. The Committee calls us Detectives, which is a pre-Crash word for someone who searches for and accumulates information, usually about a crime. Our job is to write the lost stories of the past based on recovered objects and documents, called artifax. I think they came up with the name as a form of fake flattery: the job is really more of a glorified clerkship. It doesn’t take too much to be one, either, you just have to be able to read Digital or pre-Digital English. I’m lucky my father taught me when I was young, I don’t know if I’d be able to learn it now. It’s increasingly hard to find someone who knows the language, even harder to find someone able to teach it.
As far as I know, the missing contextual reports can mean one of two things. One, they made a mistake, and it’s more likely that I become the CEO of the country tomorrow than that. Two, they’re asking me to investigate a Class 3 Era, a time period where less than three CHAD reports have been filed. If we’re talking Digital Age, that could only mean the time period right before the Crash. We’re talking early 2020’s. I could pee myself out of excitement. They must have liked my report on the Economic Recession of 2007.
She looks up, sweeping her hanging hair out of her face. I feign disappointment.
“Care you not. Why play you with me, give you not attention?”
“It helps me think.”
“Always think you.”
I play with her because I need the human interaction or else I’ll go insane, though I’ll never tell her that. I can’t spend all of my time reading historical documents in my apartment, even if I’d like to.
“This game is called Checkers. It says so on the board.”
I point at the words embroidered in golden letters on the side of the piece of wood. Maeve frowns at me.
“And not every game requires you to yell out its name upon victory.”
She frowns again. I rephrase.
“Read I. Game called Checkers.”
She nods slowly, taking all of the marbles into her hand, still frowning at me.
Maeve takes the board and slides it into her duffle as she pushes herself up with her hands and walks away. I’ve apparently outlasted my usefulness to her.
“Next week?” I call out. She lets out a snort as if to dare me not to show up. I pull out the commission from my duffel to look through it again in case I missed anything, placing it down on the concrete where the board game used to sit. Technically, we’re not supposed to have our commissions open in public, but even if anyone else in the park could read it, they wouldn’t begin to know or care what it was about. I’m absentmindedly flipping through the pages, plotting my buggey route home in my head, when I noticed the unmistakable glint of metal through a hole in what appeared to be a milk carton. I tear it open on the top, disregarding any textual details I may have gleaned from the nutrition facts. Nestled in the bottom of the carton, barely larger than a square on Maeve’s game, is a stainless steel sphere, cleaner than any object I’ve ever seen from my artifax. I pick it up between my thumb and forefinger, and if I didn’t know better, I’d have said it gave a mechanic whir. If I didn’t know better, I’d have said it lit up green at my finger’s touch and opened slightly, ejecting a small square with a line of wires across it.
I blink twice and look around me. Nobody is looking. I’ve read about these.
If I didn’t know better, I’d have said it was a microchip. A working microchip.