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The Journeyman #0

Some background on this might be helpful. I originally began The Journeyman with issue #1, back in 1999. It was after issue #25 that I went back and wrote #0, as a prequel to #1. Since I wrote The Journeyman in something resembling a comic book format, doing a #0 as a prequel seemed like an interesting idea. At some point, maybe I’ll go back and do a #-1! You never know.

In any case, this issue is meant to fill in some blanks and set up some of the elements that would come into play later in the series. Enjoy!

Issue #0: The Day Before

NOTE: This issue details the events leading up to issue #1.  Read on!

Ambient music echoed through the cathedral while choking vapors filled the sky above.  It was very rarely that Zotz the Sage entered a religious building of any kind, but certain things had persuaded him of late.  Lexin had nearly exhausted its resources by sending a colony vessel to a world named Trepsis, where a new settlement was to be established.  He heard things at the new colony were generally pleasant, but that the mining companies had been flexing their considerable muscle.  He was also expecting a very certain someone to contact him shortly.

But that wasn’t on his mind right now.  He gazed at the image of a man.  It was a mural painted on the foremost wall of the cathedral.  It was a man whose name was believed to be “Jesus Christ,” though it was never confirmed.  Information from the Vault revealed that he was a man of reverence and powerful acts.  Still, the places named in the documents they found could not be located on any map.  Instead, a place called “Earth” was frequently mentioned.  By consensus, “Earth” was held to be little more than a myth.  The inhabitants of Lexin had no memory of what happened more than ten thousand years ago.  There was no archaeological evidence from before that period at all.  They assumed there was either a massive upheaval that destroyed any such indicators, or that they were indeed placed here long ago, either of their own accord or by force.  Since such things as fossil fuels and other evidence of life beyond ten millennia ago had been found, it was usually agreed that humans were not native to this world.  As for whether or not they were from “Earth”… that was another matter entirely.

Zotz and all the Sages before him believed in Earth.  They knew it was a real place, the planet from which all humans came.  Yet they had no hard evidence.  Zotz had sworn decades ago that he would find it.  Still, in all his three centuries, he had yet to turn up any sign of Earth.

William Pearson waited with great patience in his fossil-fueled vehicle.  The tip had come in early that morning, and he had been called right after.  A major information swap was about to happen, and he was wanted there to witness it, then arrest those taking part.  Minco Mining had supposedly stolen documents from the Lexinian government.  Said documents, according to his superiors, plainly showed the bribes that Nytrolus, Inc., had been passing along to the Lexinian government.  The tip said that Minco planned to sell the papers back to Nytrolus to keep quiet about it.  Blackmail and extortion, plain and simple.  William had dealt with such things before.  While he didn’t like the idea of his government taking bribes from big business, the government would collapse completely without the financial support given to it by Nytrolus.  The public never knew about these bribes, and that was the way everyone involved wanted to keep things.  Rumor had it that Minco Mining’s management were jealous of the fringe benefits given to Nytrolus for its bribes… and so they had an inside man steal bribe-related papers.  Quite frankly, William didn’t give a damn about any of it.  This was his job.  Tomorrow he would be doing something productive… hunting down petty thieves, stopping assaults and gang fights, and that sort of thing.  Today, he was just covering his government’s ass.

William left his car as he saw the two vehicles approach.  Walking down a short alley, he then ducked behind some waste receptacles and peered between them, watching as two well-dressed men met.  This area was perfect for secret meetings, since there were buildings on all sides.  Narrow alleys allowed passage between them, and one could park in front of any of the buildings, or even park on opposite sides–then hold the rendezvous here.  William pulled out his gun very slowly as the men shook hands.  He thought it best to be prepared for any eventuality.

“You brought the papers, right?” one of the men asked.  William wrinkled his nose at the smell of this place, but concentrated on what he was doing.

“If you brought our money,” the other man said.  His long coat matched the sky: gray and dull.  The man brushed his fingers through his hair, knocking out the rancid drops of water that had fallen on his head.

The first man retrieved an infocart from his own coat.  “The account data is all here.  Ten million milrans.  Ten percent of our annual bribe, as you requested.”

He took the infocart in his hand, and slipped it right into his pocket.  He pulled out his own infocart.  “The papers are on this ‘cart.  All other copies have been destroyed.”

The infocart with the papers was promptly pocketed, and the two men looked at one another.  The first one spoke.  “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”

“Of course,” the other man smiled.

William stood up, pointing his gun in between them.  “All right, your little transaction has just been recorded for posterity.  Either you two put your hands up against the nearest wall, or I start shooting.”

The man from Nytrolus pulled out his own gun and fired at William.  What a moron!  Shooting at ME!! William thought as he dodged the shots.  As soon as he had a clear view again, he fired at the man from Nytrolus.  The bullet caught his leg.  The man shouted and fell, while the agent from Minco tried to make his escape.  William shot at him.  And missed.  He went over to the man from Nytrolus, writing in pain on the ground.  “Aren’t gunpowder-propelled bullets just the most fun thing in the world?  Do you even have a permit for that gun?”

The man shook his head, clutching his leg in his arms.  William picked up the gun and put it in his coat.  “You’re under arrest for firing on a Militiaman.  Congratulations.  We wanted the guy from Minco.  Looks like we’ll have to use the tracking device in the infocart you gave him.”

“The what?” the man asked between groans.

“You’ve been an unwitting pawn in this little game.  When your company made the account transfer request, a tracking program was put on the infocart.  We’ll be able to catch him–and the money–wherever he goes.  Which would obviously be back to Minco…”

William forced the man to stand up.  “Let’s go.  My car is out front.”  The man hobbled weakly on his wounded leg in front of William.  “Just take it easy.  I’d rather not shoot you in the back.”

Just before they exited the alley, a flash of orange erupted in front of them.  Bits of metal flew everywhere, and both William and his arrest fell down to avoid it.  The rumble of an explosion pierced the air, and then it was replaced by the sound of crackling fire.  William instantly got to his feet and rushed out of the alley.  His Militia-provided car had been destroyed.  “GOD DAMMIT!” William shouted as loud as he could.  How the hell am I going to explain THIS?!

Linda Ellerman kept their glasses full.  Being a waitress at a local tavern was a less-than-glamorous job, but it paid her bills.  The leers and remarks made by the male patrons no longer disturbed her.  She didn’t care about this job anymore.  All she needed was one reason to quit… and, of course, another job to take.

The CROPII network was feeding useless eye-candy to the visual-rendering unit.  The VR simply displayed images in three dimensions, and the customers simply stared at it.  She had the feeling that, after several alcoholic drinks, these people would probably think two-dimensional pictures were, in fact, three.  It never even seemed to matter what was playing.  Sometimes it was pornographic, and other times it was just… stupid.  The other, smaller village-cities on Lexin had their own “sports teams.”  Despite being the capitcal city, Lexin had no such things.  So the men sat in front of the VR unit and took in the pictures of other men beating the daylights out of each other, and laughed every time a witless line of pre-scripted dialogue was uttered by a player or the announcer.

It’s just a job.

It was almost time for her to go home.  She checked her watch.  One more hour.

On Trepsis, a young man named Andrew Macomb took a seat at his desk.  Day-Vern Extraction was considered by most to be the number-one mining company on Trepsis.  That was thanks in no small part to their special “arrangement” with the Trepsin government.  Where Nytrolus had co-opted Lexin’s power structure, Day-Vern had done the same on Trepsis.  The stack of infocarts on his desk indicated he had a lot of work to do, so he got started.

After processing several of the ‘carts, he found one with an interesting series of expenditures.  Several million milrans were being transferred into a nameless account.  By itself, it might not have meant much… Day-Vern often paid companies without sending directly to the main corporate account.  Special “anonymous” accounts could be created so that transaction records could not be analyzed by people like himself.  It was nigh-impossible to edit a transaction record, as it was immediately hardwired into the infocart as soon as it’s made.  After that, the ‘cart would have to be utterly wiped and the media would have to recrystallize.

Though it didn’t seem important on its own, he soon noticed that many such transactions were being made to the same-numbered account.  The amount was always the same.  He had always suspected that Day-Vern was in the bribery business… but he never had evidence.  Since moving here, however, things were done differently.  Documents passed his attention that he would never have the opportunity to know about on Lexin.  All he had to do was dig a little deeper…

Zotz sat down in his chair and put his feet upon the desk.  The shelves that lined the back wall of his personal office were filled with infocarts of all kinds.  A single light provided the illumination, while another chair was situated on the opposite side of his desk.  He opened one of the drawers and removed the communications device he had been given.  Right on time, it beeped at him.  Tapping the red button on the side, a woman’s face appeared on its small screen.  Though she was around fifty years of age, Zotz found her to be quite… ravishing.  If only she were not so… out of reach.

“Hello, Sage,” she said cordially.

“Good evening, Madame Pearson,” Zotz nodded in return.

“I have some information for you.  There are some things which must be done,” she said, getting to the point.

“Just name them.  I will complete them as soon as possible.”

“I want you to prepare Transcendence for a journey.”

“Am I to be traveling soon?” Zotz asked, allowing his gray eyebrows to rise.

“As a matter of fact, yes.  But it has less to do with you… and more to do with William.”

“It’s time he made the Journey?”

Madame Pearson nodded.  “My son must do what he was always meant to do.  Remember, you must tell him nothing.  You only wish him to seek out Earth… however you get him to agree to this is up to you.”

“I understand.  May I ask why he is to make the Journey now?”

She sighed.  “The colonization of Trepsis provides us with the perfect opportunity.  We are aware that William will be made Chief Militiaman of that world.  This will be your chance to try to convince him to travel… at least explore nearby star systems.  Perhaps you can make him see your point of view.  He could resign his position and begin the Journey, as you said.”

“While I doubt the man will so easily be convinced, I am willing to try.”

Madame Pearson nodded.  “I do believe it worth a try.  When you arrive there, please show him Transcendence.  Let him see for himself the glorious things that exist in our universe.  Pique his curiosity.”

“As soon as I arrive, I will try to get him to see Transcendence.  Perhaps a short cruise will show him the potential of the craft… and even the rewards of the Journey, though they be hidden.”

“I appreciate your cooperation, old man.”

Zotz nodded.  “I am forever indebted to you, Madame.  However, I am not certain he will be willing to begin the Journey any time soon.  I will do as you ask, and make every effort myself… but the man himself must decide.”

“I realize that.  You need not worry… William will see the light.”

“I do hope so.”

Madame Pearson was silent for a few moments, looking away from the Sage.  “How is he?” she inquired quietly.

“Last I heard, he was quite well.  I am having him come to me tonight, so that I may try to persuade him to seek Earth.  I doubt he will consider it at this time… but the only waste of time would be in not speaking to him at all.”

“That is acceptable.  I am… glad to know he is well.  I only wish you could tell him about me… but… I know that’s impossible.  Please watch over him, Zotz.”

“I will protect your son to the last, Madame,” he swore.

“Thank you.  You may contact me at any time you wish.  Good luck with William.  That should be all.  Signing off…”

Her face faded from the screen, and Zotz put the comm back in his desk.

Then there was a knock on his door.  “Please enter,” Zotz said.

William Pearson stepped inside.  “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I did.  You are a Militiaman of note in this city, are you not?”

William took a seat, and looked at the old man.  “That’s right… and I hope this is important.  I just got done with a mountain of paperwork at the department, thanks to some dipshit blowing up my patrol car.”

“I am pleased you are unharmed, then.  And I also can assure you this is important… to me, at least.”

William folded his arms.  “I suppose that’s good enough.”

“Excellent.  William, what do you know about Earth?  The people who came from it, and founded this world?”

When Linda arrived at home, she placed her money holder on her living room sofa, and then grabbed her own Lexinian-variety comm.  She tapped the key indicating William’s home comm, and waited.  At this moment, she wasn’t very pleased with herself.  She had apparently misplaced her pass for the Lexinian Transit bus system, and so had to hitch a ride from a friend at work.  She knew William often used the bus since he didn’t have a car of his own, so she decided she would ask to borrow it.  She always thought he was a giving person, after all.

His computer, Bernice, responded.

“William Pearson is not presently available.  However, you may leave a message with him.  File transfers should be initiated now.”

Linda spoke.  “William, I lost my bus pass.  Could you loan me yours for awhile?  I promise I’ll have a new one within a week.”

On the world of Gulden, a man called Cylence had insinuated himself.  He was playing his own fine game with the people of the planet, having placed a spell on the revered Bell in the center of their main city.  All he needed was for some fool–preferably a fool in power–to strike the Bell, break the binding, and whisk all of the people directly into the Totality Fortress.  Ah, the enjoyment it gave him.

He had come to this world in a ship of his own–alone.  The people welcomed him, fed him, lodged him, and he planned to enslave them for it.  He had already kidnapped what passed as local law enforcement, infesting each one with a Totality entity.  Though no one knew it, the planet’s inhabitants were as good as enslaved…

But something snaked through his mind.  Something strange.  It wasn’t unusual for random thoughts to pass through a Totality consciousness… that was common for a race that could change bodies like humans changed clothing.  It was something… powerful.  It was a word.  A frightening word.

Discordia.

[NOTE: The scene with William and Zotz is picked up in issue #1, while the part with Cylence is a prelude to issues 4-6.  I hope everyone enjoyed this… and that you have plenty of new questions to ponder. 🙂 ]

Commentary: Massive overuse of passive sentences. Really, that’s a problem with the whole series. My sense of plotting was quite sharp at this stage, but the technical aspects of the writing were considerably weaker. The series holds together very well in terms of plot and story–I just need to go back and revise the writing, tie up some loose ends, and yes, get around to finishing the damn thing.

This particular issue has some elements that are appropriate to bring up coming off the heels of #25, but if you read this and then went straight for #1, it would feel like something of a rehash, since it goes over the myths about Earth and so forth. I think, in a bound edition of The Journeyman, I would actually place #0 right after #25, and mark it accordingly as a prequel. It was really meant to be read in that order, because it calls back to the very beginning of the story while adding some new details. In short, I think it is redundant to read this and then read #1 immediately following.

This does remind me of some of the elements I do like in this series: the quasi-retro technology, the noirish atmosphere of Lexin, the mystical underpinnings of the Sages. One thing I want to do when I go back to this series is better mesh those elements, meld the science fiction with the fantasy, and work it into a more cohesive whole. The pieces and parts as they are now work individually, but I’m not convinced they interlock sufficiently to feel like an organic construction. Still, the series itself is probably my best attempt at combining sci-fi and fantasy. Shatternity will have a few parts with strong fantasy elements (parts 7 and 8, to be exact) and that might provide the impetus for me to come back and finish The Journeyman.

I intend to post additional entries in this series over time, with more commentary. In the case of this particular story, I will focus more on the plot elements and characterization than the writing. I know the writing is weak in a lot of spots. It’s a consequence of my lack of skill–I began this story ten years ago, after all. I am confident I can revise it into a much better whole. I want to examine the story itself, though, and concentrate on making that as strong as possible.