Tag Archives: scifi

There Is No Cabal

This is an unfinished book I worked on back in early 2005. I actually found it very promising, but as I got into it I wondered who would want to read such a relentlessly grim book, especially when I wasn’t planning on any kind of happy ending. In fact, the very process of writing it and planning it was depressing me, and I considered it an altogether unhealthy experience. I have thought about going back to it from time to time, but then I look at my notes and what I had written down, and it makes me sick to my stomach. It came from a very dark place that I don’t know if I want to tap again. If I do approach this material in the future, I’ll need a better plan that provides some kind of relief, so the entire work isn’t just a tortuous journey through human misery.

You can read the first four chapters below the fold.

Continue reading There Is No Cabal

Titus: Chapter One

This is one of my early versions of what would become Shatternity. It is, in fact, the earliest incarnation I still have: it’s from 1996. Shatternity itself goes back to 1989, roughly, but I have virtually nothing on paper (or in electronic form) until 1996, sadly. I wrote out several hundred pages and then tore them up because I was unhappy with it. Most of the elements–technologies, alien races, etc.–managed to make it into later incarnations.

Commentary follows the story chapter.

TITUS

Chapter One

“This is Captain Mark Alexander Titus authorizing the abandonment of ISEC-31, designation Titus.  Once again, abandon ship!”  The orders came between bursts of weapons fire from both vessels involved.  The larger ship, the aforementioned Titus, received a rather unceremonious beating from the distended, diamond-shaped craft.  The design was unknown.  The race within it was unknown.  The only thing known for certain was that Titus, one of the most powerful vessels in the Interstellar Space Exploration Commission’s registry, was about to be a total loss.

Crew members raced to escape craft, shuttles, cargo cruisers, freighters, fighters–anything lying around in one of the monstrous bays could be considered fair game.  Fire suppression systems worked diligently on the bridge to extinguish the rampant flames.  Propulsion: a destroyed system.  Life-support: quickly slipping toward nil.  The crew, composed mostly of quasi-civilians operating on essentially namesake enlistment, mercilessly trampled Security in their efforts to flee.  Humanity had not encountered hostile extraterrestrials before.  The crew very obviously had no idea what to do.

As another direct hit rocked the faltering vessel, the bridge crew decided the time had come to escape.  They departed to abandon ship.  Display panels indicated 5 minutes until the ship self-destructed–but as the protocols laid out, self-destruction could occur prematurely in the event of total computer failure or if analyses predicted that the vessel would not survive to complete the countdown.  In either case, the ship would detonate immediately.  The last escape vessel had barely slipped out of its bay when Titus erupted in quantum-nuclear fury.

“Pod one-niner!  Hull debris coming your way!”  The voice of Lieutenant Robert Thomas Maxwell barked the warning from his own craft, escape pod 10.  Having spent the past two years with the ISEC’s exploratory defense program and the prior 2 years working as an unofficial “experiment,” he’d managed to save the Titus on more than one occasion.  This time, of course, none of his energies could save the outgunned craft.  The opposing vessel had begun attacking suddenly and relentlessly.  As Maxwell watched in horror, the diamond-shaped adversary began picking off escaping craft.  One by one, they burst apart.  Then, instantly realizing his own pod was being similarly targeted, the interior brightened into a white flare.  Then the world darkened.

The crew of the Titus along with the alien crew were left on a cold, damp surface with obscuring fog limiting visibility.  “This is my domain,” explained a booming, ubiquitous voice.  “I am Rok’Nor.  Rather, that is as close to a name as either of your races could possibly comprehend from me.  To do away with formalities–my nature is extradimensional.  That affords me the capacity to annihilate any or all of you at any time or method of my choosing, so please be cooperative.  My demands are as follows: the Terrans will duel the Cranions in melee combat.  Last creature alive goes free.  Begin amusing me now.”

Captain Titus protested.  “My crew is not here to amuse you.  If you want to hold onto anyone, let it be me–and release the rest of them.”  Naturally, that proposal was the first to come into Titus’ mind–and the most obvious one Rok’Nor had anticipated.

“Splendid, a display of self-sacrifice already.  What is it about human life that you value so much?”

“If you let everyone else go, I’ll tell you the answer,” Titus suggested.

“Very well,” came Rok’Nor’s voice.  “You will remain.  The rest shall not.”  The world topsy-turvied again.

“This is the Terran vessel Titus to the attacking craft–please respond!” Maxwell shouted through a communications terminal.  He gripped the captain’s chair as the bridge rocked again.  “Keep those shields up!” Maxwell barked.

“They’re coming down about as fast as I can put more power into them!” the tactical officer complained.

Another shudder.  “What was that one?” Maxwell demanded.

“Mines containing large clusters of antimatter, sir,” came the explanation from science officer Samuel Collins.

“Helm, three-quarters lightspeed,” Maxwell ordered.  The shields flickered again as the hull buckled in several places.  The ship moved sluggishly due to its immense mass.  As a thruster engaged on one of the mines, nothing could be done as it made a beeline for Titus‘ shield generator.  Meanwhile, yet another impact took its toll.  “We’ve lost flight control!” the helm officer yelled, panicked.

“There’s a mine on a direct course for our shield generator,” the tac officer noted grimly.  Just then, the mine struck.  The hull buckled and flaked.  Fully half of the ship’s shield strength was sapped by the destruction of the generator.  “Breach on deck 12 now!”

Yet another mine ignited its latent propulsion system, this time on a course for the bridge deck.  Despite being buried under a dozen meters of ablative armor, a mine of such strength posed more than a substantial threat.  As the mine struck, all computer displays fritzed.  Always a terminal sign.  “Abandon ship!” Maxwell ordered.

“Sir, incoming message from engineering… we can’t abandon ship.  All bay doors have buckled or been otherwise jammed.  We’re stuck!”

Maxwell was really starting to hate the news the tac officer kept giving.

Commentary: The chapter ends rather abruptly, doesn’t it? The concepts being hatched here were half-developed at the time, and I’m not certain where I was going with them, to be honest. You can see some elements that look similar to other parts of Shatternity here, though. Mark Titus and Robert Maxwell feature prominently, although in my current “canon” Robert never served under Mark, and Mark didn’t command his own ship. Rather, he was a diplomat.

ISEC was a revision name for ISEA. In later versions, I went back to ISEA, as I clarified what the organization’s purpose was. Cranion ship design definitely evolved in the interim, too. This incident is clearly meant as the outbreak of the Cranion War, which is one of the focal events in Robert’s life. So, a lot of these things did carry over.

Rok’Nor was kind of a shameless ripoff of Nagilum, an extradimensional alien from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even at the time I wrote this, I knew what I was emulating, and I still remember. Rok’Nor was meant to be one of many beings called the ‘Nor. Their properties were eventually devolved until I wound up with only two mysterious representatives: Stak and Vral, two individuals who are somehow involved in the creation of the timeships. I decided extradimensional beings would be represented only by the Powers from Magnetic Gecko, and I am still working out what to do with them to tie my multiversal cosmology together.

The writing is surprisingly decent given the time period it came from. Could be better, could be worse. I transcribed this from a notebook a few years ago so I probably cleaned up anything that was really awful.

Smoke, Fire, and Ash

Don’t say I never did anything nice for you! Here is an all-new original short story from me. It’s a concept that I had rolling around in my head for several months, and I decided to finally get down to the business of writing it. I hope you find it enjoyable. Comments, as always, are welcomed. I may post some commentary on it later. Since I just wrote it, I’m not really in the mood to pick it apart just yet!

So, enjoy!

SMOKE, FIRE, AND ASH

April 14

Blackouts are getting worse. I was walking to school this time, alone as always. Nobody wants to be friends with the “Blackout Bandit.” I’m not sure where I was, somewhere between Godman and Oswald Streets, and the next thing I know, I’m on the roof of the school. Carly’s mom saw me up there and called 911, and they brought out a fire truck and the whole nine yards. Everyone was yelling and getting upset. Some of the kids told me to jump. I swear I don’t know how I made it up there. A fireman came up on a ladder and helped me down, and my parents took me home after the police questioned me for a few minutes. I told them I wasn’t suicidal. Mom and Dad had a few words with the principal and the cop. I don’t know what all that was about, but they took me home and sent me to my room, and I could hear them arguing for a long time. I know it’s all because of me.

I swear to God, I don’t know why I have blackouts. I’m not crazy. I’m not making it up. I’m not trying to get attention. I just want to be normal. All I ever want is to be normal, and nobody will let me have that.

These journals are stupid and I’m sick of doing them. They aren’t going to help me figure out why I’m blacking out. I never remember anything. I just wake up somewhere strange. This is so pointless. I’m having them every day and no one is doing anything about it. I’ve been to so many doctors. None of them ever find anything wrong with me. They can’t even say I’m crazy. When I’m not blacking out, I’m a perfectly normal 11-year-old. As normal as I ever am, I mean. Normal kids don’t do this. Normal kids don’t wake up on the school roof. Normal kids don’t get told they should jump.

Evan Brooks shifted nervously in his seat, trying desperately to pay attention to his teacher, but hopelessly distracted by the itchiness of his brand-new shirt. Horizontal stripes–bright red and dark blue–made a circuit around his torso, the stiff polyester irritating his skin. He wanted anything other than to be noticed, and his mother put him in the tackiest, most boring clothes imaginable. Like I’m not unpopular enough already.

Hushed tones propagated the rumor of yesterday’s “incident,” with Evan on the roof and half the student body calling for him to try his hand at flying. He decided he was lucky they didn’t ship him off to the “psycho ward,” the place where they sent crazy kids who tried to jump off of buildings. He had a therapy session with Dr. Felten after school, one he dreaded attending. He kept a journal of every blackout, and as they became more and more numerous, his notebook began to fill quickly. They used to come months apart, then it was weeks. Over the past year, the interval diminished to mere days, and for the past couple weeks, he suffered at least one a day. No one ever saw these blackouts–he never seemed to have them around anyone else. Sometimes, another person would rouse him, but his actual collapse went completely without witness.

The doctors tried every test in the book, ruling out as many diagnoses as they could. Sleep studies indicated no sleepwalking, no narcolepsy. EEGs displayed no trace of seizure activity or even abnormal brain function, other than tremendous levels of anxiety–decidedly normal, under the circumstances. That was where Dr. Felten came in.

“Physically, there is nothing wrong with you,” the Doc explained, eyeing his young patient. Evan shifted nervously on the sofa, his eyes darting around the room, as if to find an escape. “These symptoms indicate a deep emotional trauma, one you are unwilling to acknowledge.”

Evan sighed. “The only ‘trauma’ I’m having are these damn blackouts!” he snapped. “My parents have always been nice to me, I never had trouble at school until this started. Other than some bullies, I guess. But everybody gets that and they don’t zone out and wake up halfway across town.”

“Evan, the only way we’re going to get to the bottom of this is for you to be honest with me. If you can’t do that consciously, then I think it’s time to do what we talked about before.”

“You want to hypnotize me?”

Dr. Felten gave a single nod. “Your parents have agreed, and given the growing intensity of your blackouts, I don’t believe we can afford to wait any longer. I do not want to receive a call that something terrible has happened to you. I want to help you, and I think this is the only way.”

Evan slouched against the back of the sofa, eyes cast downward. “I don’t know. I don’t even like going to bed anymore, because I’m afraid I’ll end up somewhere weird.”

“You can trust me,” the Doc assured. “It’s just you and me here. I won’t let anything happen to you. If I think you are getting too worked up under the hypnosis, I’ll wake you immediately. I don’t want to trigger an episode, believe me.”

Evan blew out the breath he’d been holding in, and finally acceded. “What do you want me to do, just lay on my back?”

“That will be fine.”

The boy swung his legs up onto the couch and rested his head on the arm, folding his hands over his belly. “I don’t see how this is going to help.”

“Trust me, this will do some good. It may take multiple sessions, but we will get to the bottom of your blackouts.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

Felten continued in a soothing tone. “I want you to relax as completely as possible. There is nothing to fear here. I want you to look up at the ceiling. Notice the spackle patterns on the ceiling–all the points and valleys. Focus on one of them. Find a spot, and focus all your attention on it. Concentrate on it as hard as you can, as if it’s the only place in the universe that matters. It’s a special place, a place only you know about, and I want you to completely inhabit it, make it your own. You will still be aware of my voice, but your body will become very relaxed the more you focus on that one spot. Just keep your attention on that spot, allowing your body to become relaxed and comfortable. At some point, your eyes may feel the need to close, and that’s okay. When that time comes, you can feel more and more relaxed. You can close your eyes and let that relaxation spread over your body. That’s it, just let it come over you.”

Evan didn’t really feel it coming on, until his eyes began to fall shut. That one spot on the ceiling–where three peaks made a kind of bright triangle, a perfect shape amid such chaos–it stayed in his mind as his eyes let go, shrouding him in darkness. Yet, he still thought he could see that spot. He could see the spot, and hear Dr. Felten’s voice as if being whispered right into his ear. His muscles loosened, the anxiety melted out of his body, and the Doc’s gentle drone lulled him.

“Now, I would like you to imagine that you are in your favorite place in the whole world, as if you were there right now. It might be a place you’ve been to before, or a place you’d like to visit, or maybe a place that doesn’t even exist–it’s your place, and it belongs only to you, and you can go there anytime you like. Maybe you are there by yourself, or maybe you have a friend or loved one with you. You are doing your favorite activities in this place–I don’t know what they are, but they are yours, and you are having a perfect day, doing your favorite activities in your perfect place.”

Evan’s thoughts drifted, until he found his “perfect place.” It didn’t even take much thought. It was simple darkness–nothingness. He felt nothing. He saw nothing. He became nothing. And yet, he could imagine no better way to be. Even Dr. Felten’s voice faded away into a formless noise. He lost touch with his body, with his senses. Nothing happened and nothing mattered, and he felt only peace–if perfect stillness was a thing that could be felt at all.

And then he snapped out of that place–pulled violently, yanked and ripped from it, tossed onto the floor of the shrink’s office, and it was no longer him alone with Dr. Felten. The gray-haired man was stretched out on the carpet, supine and unresponsible. The dark-haired receptionist had her mouth over his, blowing air into his lungs. Evan panicked. “Oh my God! What happened?”

“Call 911!” she shouted, likely louder than she meant to.

Evan got up, shaking off a sluggishness that seemed to inhabit his whole body, and reached the phone on the desk, dialing the digits. His fingers slipped over the buttons. It took three tries to get those three numbers punched in correctly. “911, what’s your emergency?”

“I’m at Dr. Felten’s office, and he’s dying or something!”

“Can I have your location?”

“I… I don’t know, on Sycamore, I think!” He wiped sweat from his forehead, his anxiety back with a vengeance.

“We’ll dispatch an ambulance immediately. Is anyone else there with you?”

“Yeah, the desk lady is here,” he stammered. She got up and came to grab the phone from him.

Dr. Felten didn’t respond to any of her efforts at CPR. She explained the situation to the dispatcher, and Evan paced frantically next to the motionless doctor. “Oh God. Oh God,” he chanted.

April 15

Dr. Felten died today. I didn’t see it happen, I was hypnotized. I thought it was going well, and then I woke up on the floor and he was dead. The desk lady said she came in and I was on the floor, and he wasn’t breathing. She checked us both and found that I was OK, so she did CPR on the Doc. He didn’t make it. I don’t know if they’re going to tell me how he died. I just have a feeling it was my fault. Everything is my fault. If an asteroid crashed into Earth and killed us all tomorrow, that would somehow be my fault.

And why am I still writing these? No one’s going to want to see me after this. I’ll be the kid who murdered Dr. Felten, the guy who was on the cover of TIME magazine and had all those fancy certificates on his wall. I’ll be the crazy kid with blackouts who killed the most respected psychology guy in the southeast.

I don’t want to be crazy. Or just take out that last word. I don’t want to be.

Evan soaked his pillow with saline tears, as much as he tried to hold them off. The Spider-Man pillowcase drank up his misery and the pillow it surrounded shielded him from the shouting outside–his parents freaking out over their son’s well-being, again. He never wanted to put them through any of this. He only ever wanted to be a good son to them, to do well in school, not be a troublemaker, get good grades, go to college, get a nice job, and be the boy they could be proud of. They didn’t have any other kids. He was their one and only chance, and he was blowing it big-time.

The sun set and he fell into a restless sleep, not knowing any other kind these days.

He expected to wake up to his 6AM alarm, to get ready for school. Even though his parents probably would have let him stay home, he wanted to go. He wanted to be normal–to act normal–to not let anyone see how badly it bothered him. But it wasn’t the alarm that woke up. It was the sound of crickets, chirping right by his head. Dew-speckled grass dusted his face, coating it with a chilly film of water. He groaned, rolling from his stomach to his back, and saw the moon high in the night sky. “Ugh,” he protested. “Not again.”

He was thankful he never changed out of his clothes the prior evening, since walking around in pajamas–or worse, just underwear–would have been even more embarrassing. He didn’t recognize the house whose front yard he’d wound up in. Even the street names were off. “Bellevue.” “Angola.” I’ve never been to this part of town, he realized grimly. How am I going to get home?

He made for the sidewalk and walked toward the denser clusters of houses up ahead, going on the assumption that it would lead him to a main road he knew, and that he could follow home. He had no idea what time it was, but the lights at every house were off. Only a few porch lights supplemented the moon- and starlight.

He walked uncomfortably down the street, his socks wet with condensation, and the occasional rock making him wish he’d have the foresight to wear shoes the next time he blacked out. He looked around at the houses nearby, noticing how big and nice they were–garages with two or even three cars, houses with three or four stories, and lots of land between them, lots more than his parents had in their little tract. He wondered if this was the ritzy part of town, where all the wealthy people lived. It took him almost a minute to go from one house to the next, a feat which took only seconds in his home neighborhood. And these houses all looked new, everything about them seemed to sparkle in the moonlight. No simple A-frames or ranches, either, but lots of angles and bay windows, hooded lights going up around the walkways to each front door, turned off for the night. And there’s no way I’ll ever end up in a place like this, not with me being a damn lunatic.

He made almost no sound with his socks scooting along the pavement, so when he heard a faint but rhythmic tapping from behind, he began to grow suspicious. He started sweating again, speeding up a little, but not turning around–if someone was coming up behind him, he didn’t want to tip them off that he heard them coming. The pace behind him quickened to match his, and grew louder and closer, ringing in his ears above the chirping of crickets. When it sounded like it was right on top of him, he spun around and saw someone a good 12 inches taller, and a baseball bat coming at his face from the left. He tried to fall backwards onto his rear, hoping that would result in a miss, but the bat connected nevertheless. Strangely, though, it didn’t move him. He saw it pass through his field of vision, and he swore it struck, but he didn’t feel it. All he felt was a slight tingle, but nothing jerked his head in the direction of the bat’s motion, as if his skull simply wasn’t there.

He hit his butt on the sidewalk and both Evan and his would-be attacker traded astonished glances. Evan thought the other boy looked about sixteen or seventeen, with short, dirty-blond hair, and an anger-red face. Built like a football player, Evan didn’t want to tangle with him at all. But they were at an impasse. “Who are you?” Evan squeaked.

“You don’t even fucking know, do you?” the older boy growled. “You killed my father, you piece of shit!” And then he swung again.

This time, Evan had nowhere to go. The idea of cracking his head open on the sidewalk didn’t appeal, and that was the only outcome he could anticipate if he threw himself backward again. So, he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable skull-whacking. But the pain never came, and once again, momentum did not direct his head along with the bat. He opened one eye. “Are you going to do it or what?” But the older kid stood there, eyes wide with disbelief, panic quickly replacing anger.

“What the hell are you?” he demanded.

“What are you talking about?” Evan shot back, smacking his hand on the concrete.

“The bat just… just went right through your head!”

“Wait, what?How is that even possible?”

“Man, fuck this! I’m outta here!” Without another word, he took off running, taking the bat with him. Evan thought about giving chase, but saw little point in that. He just wanted to go home.

April 16

Thank God nobody noticed me being gone last night. I think it was Dr. Felten’s son that tried to beat me up with a baseball bat. I don’t know what happened. He swung at me, I thought he hit me, but I didn’t feel anything. He freaked out and ran away. What’s wrong with me???

Maybe I should’ve jumped off the school roof the other day. Maybe I did kill Dr. Felten. Something’s not right with me. I don’t even feel pain. He hit me with a baseball bat and I didn’t even move. It’s like I’m dead inside and the rest of me is still figuring it out.

I don’t know what to do.

Evan sat by himself at recess, like usual, leaning against the barn that stored the lawnmowers, portable soccer goals, and other equipment used by the groundskeeper and the PE department. The other kids played tetherball, climbed on the jungle gym, tried to see how high they could go on the swings, played hopscotch and basketball on the blacktop, and Evan just watched, grabbing handfuls of rocks from the gravel next to the blacktop and tossing each little one into the grass. If the groundskeeper caught him, he’d get yelled at for putting rocks in the grass for the lawnmower to choke on, but he didn’t care. He found that to be true of most things anymore–he just didn’t care. The other students thought he was insane, Dr. Felten was dead, and his parents had no idea what to do with him. They barely spoke to him when he was home, the three of them going through dinner as a silent ritual they all wanted to get through as quickly as possible.

He looked down at the collection of tiny rocks in his hand, tossing them one-by-one. “Heads up,” someone called, and he raised his head in time to see an inch-wide rock come hurtling at his face. He closed his eyes and cringed, but only heard the sound it made as it collided with the aluminum wall of the barn behind him. He opened his eyes, confused.

“That’s what I thought,” the same voice said.

Evan looked up and couldn’t quite make out the figure towering over him, the sun directly over the man’s head, forming a blinding halo. “Am I dead?” Evan blurted.

The man stepped back and laughed heartily. “No, you’re definitely not dead. Watch.” He took his boot-clad foot and viciously kicked a stream of rocks at Evan. All of them plinked harmlessly against the barn, settling on the sidewalk behind him. Evan looked even more confused.

“What is this?” he begged. “What’s happening to me?”

“You’re changing,” the man said simply. “You’re becoming who you were meant to be.”

“You mean I’m going crazy?”

“No, not at all. You’re ‘manifesting,’ I guess we’d call it.”

Evan sighed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’ve been watching you for a while. Saw you on the roof the other day. And the other night, with Doc Felten’s kid. I’ve seen what you can do. But I think you’ll have to prove it to yourself, before you’ll believe it.”

Evan scoffed, shrugging his shoulders. “I still have no idea what you mean.”

“I know. Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out.” He turned around and strolled off.

“Wait!” Evan called after him, but it was like the man just vanished. He swore he never took eyes off the retreating figure, but the man was gone all the same. Maybe I really am out of my damn mind.

April 17

As if I didn’t have enough problems, some crazy guy started talking riddles to me yesterday. It sounds like he’s stalking me. He really creeped me out. I don’t know what to do. Something weird is going on with me. Stuff passes through me like I’m not even there. He told me I wasn’t dead but I feel like a ghost. I feel like I’m just wandering through this world and no one notices I’m here.

Is this what it’s like to be dead? Am I really even writing anything in this journal? Or is it a fake, too? Am I a dead kid imagining I’m doing things, but I just won’t let go? If that was true, could I even realize it? I wish someone had answers. I think that guy did, but he wouldn’t tell me. He said I couldn’t be told. Whatever it is, I just want it to happen. I can’t stand waiting, wondering what it’s all leading up to.

I just realized, I didn’t black out last night. What does that mean? Am I done? Then why do I feel worse than before?

Evan set out the next morning for school, eyes cast downward at the sidewalk as he took even steps, his thumbs hooked into the straps of his backpack. He barely noticed a chilly morning breeze, the last gasp of the previous night’s rain shower, the delicate fingers of a cold front pulling away from the area. A distant dog barked. Evan sighed, not watching up ahead, having the route to school memorized for some time now. Six streets down, left turn, two streets down. He’d made this walk since he was eight, never with a problem, except for his recent blackout. His parents suggested driving him to school in the morning, just to make sure he got there in time, but they didn’t protest when he insisted on walking himself. He wondered if that was because they didn’t want to smother him, or because they resented him and didn’t care if he never came home.

He wrapped himself up so deeply in these thoughts, he never saw the cherry red Acura round the corner where he was crossing. The driver never saw him, either. Evan just stopped dead when he saw the bumper cross into him, and time seemed to slow to a crawl. A black powder formed at the point of impact, just above his knees. He expected to fall over and smack into the hood, but instead he had the sensation of floating, his body disintegrating as the car passed through it. No blood, no cracking bones, not even any sprains, just a dark dust spiraling out from the bottom of his torso. He made eye contact with the driver as his face came up toward the windshield, and then he became a being more of touch and tingle than sight and sound. He could no longer see, but he remained aware of his surroundings. The breeze he’d so easily ignored before became a part of him, wisps of air and mist entangling with gray particles, dancing through the sky. He felt himself moving up, up into the air, high above the car, above the trees and houses, until they were all distant dots without form or function.

And then he came back down, quickly and deliberately, making an arc toward the roof of the school, coming up fast, and he felt his own substance again, his feet smacking into the concrete, and his body tumbling end-over-end across the roof. He gasped for air, landing on his side, clutching his backpack tighter than before, somewhat dazed but vaguely aware of what had transpired.

He still remained somewhat uncertain, and the last thing he wanted was to be found on the roof of the school again. They’d lock me up for sure this time. So, he stepped toward the back of the building, climbing up to the edge, facing outward to the playground–empty and quiet. He sucked in a deep breath, prepared to believe it was his last, held his arms out at his sides, and let himself fall forward. He saw the ground approach, faster and faster, and at the last second realized he didn’t want to see himself hit, so he squeezed his eyes shut.

That feeling came again, the blissful nothingness, the wind carrying him away from everything, and he realized what he could do, finally. Thoughts formed in the particulate mass dancing through the sky. Dust. Ash. Something. I’m something.

April 18

Mom and Dad,

I’m sorry I always made you worry so much. Things are going to be so much better from now on, I promise. I’ll be the son you always wished you had. I’ll be something special. I am something special.

I love you.

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.

Test of Time

Test of Time is something I wrote back in early 2001. In fact, I wrote the four stories in the series before 9/11, which is kind of odd in retrospect, since Islamic terrorism is one of the major topics involved. However, it is set in a very alternate history, so any comparisons to our world are ambiguous at best.

The premise of Test of Time is fairly straightforward. The Pale One–a quasi-immortal being of pure white complexion–has ruled over humanity for generations. He forcibly segregated the human race by skin color, separating them into different Gradations, and enclosing them in single-Gradation cities. No religion except an overly-secularized Judaism exists–a means of control exerted by the Pale One. But he has seen the stagnation his efforts have produced, and hatches a plan to revitalize human civilization.

There are some fanfic elements here, due to a tangential relationship to the Hell’s Fire universe. In other words, there are characters that are very similar to X-Men characters–sometimes even in name. A rewrite will remove those references but the overall story should remain intact.

When it was originally posted, it sparked a considerable amount of discussion. Some wondered if the Pale One was right to enforce the kind of segregation he did. It certainly created a world of peace, albeit peace through fear. State terror was the norm. The opening makes this very stark, as an entire school is massacred for daring to harbor a child of the wrong Gradation. This is one of the stories I’m actually fairly proud of, because there is a lot of ambiguity, no easy answers, and you can never be sure just who is right or wrong. I’m also quite pleased with the universe I built around this. The writing is not that great–it improves dramatically from one story to the next, so the technical level of this one is easily the worst of the four stories I wrote. Still, I think it’s a worthwhile tale.

Without further ado, since I’ve had enough of that already, here is Test of Time:

Continue reading Test of Time

Appendix: Spacecraft Registry

This is admittedly a very nerdy entry. I was digging through my Shatternity binder and found the spacecraft registry I drew up for it about 17 years ago. Yes, that was a while ago. These are meant to be spacecraft contemporary to Robert Maxwell’s Protector. I expect to include this as an appendix in one of the Shatternity books. Not really any commentary required, just enjoy a somewhat useless list.

Continue reading Appendix: Spacecraft Registry