Friday, July 12, 2013

What's wrong (and what's right) with my Introduction and first chapter - your thoughts? Crowdsource Attempt #3

This story is intentionally filled with anachronisms: it is one part Highlander, two parts Game of Thrones (but with only two and bit kingdoms duking it out) and three parts Ice Age, without the mammoths and iron age squirrel, but with plenty of fluid landscapes, esp0ecially those gripped by layers of ice and snow. There's also a nod to Limitless (in terms of the fluid intelligence on display by the Legolas-like protagonist Christopher Ulysses), and some of the drone-battle stuff you saw in the second Star Wars and the reboot of Jason Bourne. But it's its own story when it comes to how all this dystopian chaos resolves itself. I've looked to Hamlet and a variety of ancient writings for thematic guidance (The Iliad and the Odyssey), along with art, such as Dali's The Persistence of Memory, to unlock the secrets of blood memory, ancient remnants, genetic recollections. I'm trying to tell a great story, the story of man where he reaches the natural epilogue on this planet. It's not meant to be alarmist or depressing, but epic, heroic and faintly tragic. This I believe is adequate and in proportion to each of our lives. We emerge from the crowd, and slowly, as our survival propels us into the future, we become alienated and then alone. In the end, we find that in spite of family and friendships, we come to the end alone, and are left wondering - what can I leave behind when i am gone but memories, thoughts others may have of me. What if there are no others? And what happens after earth? Does it matter? More important does it work?


Two wolves fight in each of us….Set 200 years into the future, the Great Burning has left humankind on its last legs; our numbers crippled first by fire, and the horrors and desolation of war, and then by the encroachment of  cold, and walls of ice.  As the new Ice Age marches relentlessly over a new and medieval landscape, only two Houses remain viable, both in the far North.  They are the Black Wolves, a society of hardened heroes and adventurers led by silver-haired Christopher Ulysses, and the House of Light, a castle fortress engulfed by ice but protecting the enormous, and deadly force that belongs to Ogilvie Skye.  It is a time of hardship, no doubt, but some abundance remains in the world.  Some animals have returned with a vengeance: owls and wolves, bears and hares, rats and cats.  But while some creatures have begun to thrive in the near total absence of man, humanity, once the dominant life form, is slipping.  The apex predator tumbles unchecked down the food chain, whilst wolves rise to claim the empty wastes.  Can our species arrest the collapse of our civilisation?  

Introduction (Scrivener)

Unhappy is the land that needs a hero
– Galileo
[July 28, 2212]

“Who’s there?”
My eyes travel along the windswept ramparts to the archers, but my companion – a woman – directs me instead directly beneath our station, to the frozen canvas. Far below these towers our master has emerged without his war horse. He runs from the gate.  The eagle on his arm flaps.  The glossy mane and tail of his black wolf-collie is a dancing comma fluttering fast across the page.  The master’s silver hair flashes the cold light of brooding clouds back at us, we who watch from his soaring dark walls. As the great bird vaults into space, each great beat of its wings drawing it higher into the Highland air, our master seems to run faster. He wears no armour  but that is hardly unusual for him.  What is unusual is our leader going out there without his bow.  With the ever-present threat of Skye’s buzz drones (we call them BD’s for short) and killercopters (KC’s), it is a strange oversight for him.
At our most recent Council just three days ere it was agreed, in fact, that the drone threat is increasing, and that the nocturnal guard ought to be doubled immediately to deal with it.  At the same time our resident scientist, Mr Darcy, has accelerated work to expand our own fleet of automated machine assassins.  Such is the state of the arms race in the early 23rd century.
Given these goings on, I can only imagine his motive is stealth: he means to be swift, and without his horse move invisibly over rough terrain. If there is a man among us that can outrun a dog, or even a horse over a long distance, our principal is one of a few from this fortress.  His lack of thick warm clothing also suggests some kind of imminent endurance contest. Additionally he means to allow a certain amount of superficial hyperthermia so that his chilled outer core will appear mostly invisible on infrared.  I see he isn’t entirely unarmed; his blade pokes under his flying gray cape like a stiff tail snug in its sheath. There goes the smartest and fastest of us on foot; the one who happens also to be the leader and king of my community.
All this unusual activity makes me feel extremely uneasy.  I’m chronically sleep deprived so I can’t explain it, but I have an inkling that I have something to do with it.
I push the thought down.  I’ll think about it later, when I have the stomach for more unpleasantness. For the moment I daydream a little…of warm butter scones and beautiful girls… until my eyes catch on that small figure accelerating on foot across the frosty plain.
Look at how fast he is! In that blur of fur covered feet crunching on rime, snapping the dry stalks of grass is an oeuvre of genetic memory, a tale only he can tell.  Look closely!  In that whirlwind of running is the splattering of blood on pine needles, on wooden doors, on the silver wings of flying machines.  It is all our great great great grandfathers climbing in fur coats through mountain passes, holding onto the thundering hooves of horses, persisting against the silver flash of swords, making walled cities and colossal monuments rise before holding forth and burying all of it. Then the final administration of the flowery ruin of every arching steel achievement until we are back to the basic bloody mosaic once more…with very little ink splattering across volumes of history books now, the typography turns red, and our world recedes behind lines of blood.  Buckets, rivers, waterfalls and eventually oceans of the stuff douse rocks, cover coasts, then sink unheralded into piles of dust and banks of snow…to reveal the innocent countryside.  Really? Was it ever that innocent?  Look again. Time travels beneath those spinning feet. Watch the world wash and rub, the color drain out of it as DNA pencil sketches its first memories over the lift and flow of continents, the rise and fall of families, of entire bloodlines…from the first days of adaptation when fuming rocks were plastic and still shaping the red mantle, to the days not so long ago when the mostly highly evolved men believed that anything goes and nothing matters.  Such a squandering of the legacy of our hard won lessons, this young king would say. I can tell you the mood of humanity has darkened since then.  The time of the Great Burning saw our megamachines burnt and ground to dust, and in their wake, both governments and banks failed.  Corporations, the owners of capital, the owners and drivers of the world’s megamachine, kept running what they could on what fuel they could find while rust and cold and disruption set in.  It all went limping along until age and softness, power and poverty succumbed to the gathering fury of the mob. For many years since the business of men is but this: surviving.  Once more we discover that the earth is run by physical laws.
Neither modern nor ancient rituals, neither money nor any other immortality project makes any difference to the mortality of men or the marching of ice.  Nothing we do is of any consequence, yet everything we do matters. Now, everything matters. 
To look at the beautiful white views from these clefts hewn in these tall towers – what you may know as windows – it is difficult to believe that anything lies beneath of beyond the tranquil façades of snow.  Yet everything is being wiped out. We do see animals of a particular sort returning, bringing with them reminders of the nameless, faceless death that lurks in nature.  Indeed, life shines again, small and bright, a pinprick in a vast ocean of darkness.  But when I open my own stricken, terrified eyes to the might of the dark in middle of the night, I try to hold onto this thought: yet the stars themselves came from the darkness.  The darkness was there first.  The darkness is full of horrors yes, but also magic.  And the mother that gives life to worlds…in time returns and takes it away.
Thus we have come to the full circle of the zodiac…where worlds end, and ends meet.  The end is not without irony.  Today the few of us that remain identify again with the animals. Our fate, even our daily circumstances are tied intimately to these creatures, and so we acknowledge them, and give them names.  Names for birds, and beasts, and almost every animal that we must eat.  They eat us too of course.  Some dark birds with shining dark beaks sit in the skeletons of trees waiting for us to become corpses and carrion. We provide regular snacks, thanks to endless battles over territory.  To intimidate our neighbours we have an animal upon our banner. Its creature power, to symbolise the vigour of each of us, and this House, flies upon black flags attached to the tallest towers.   We emblazon the sign of the wolf on the hilts and blades of swords, we scratch it on rocks, we brand our backs and shoulders with this insignia.
But even with animal names and animal skins to keep us warm, the power of men, at least on this planet, is finished. The megamachines have been laid to waste in the giant graveyard of the world.  It is all gone.  Well almost.  The drones are a symptom of a vanquished technology that retains some spidery grip on the hardening iceberg.  Mr Darcy, our resident scientist, has designed coffin like beds for us to sleep through many more years of winter.  But that assumes we can survive long enough to wipe out our enemies, before they wipe us out.  Once that is achieved, perhaps a few of us will earn the centuries sleep needed to survive the present age.
We have some power generating capacity, but not much.  Not enough for hot water, or even a single light bulb at night.  We have no sustained energy for anything like phone calls or radio, although there is some line-of-sight communication and some satellite technology that remains operational.
In terms of weapons, we have little more than swords and bows.  Some of the materials of these weapons are advanced alloys.  We have a few far deadlier weapons, like sniper rifles, and plasma compasses but very few bullets.  Like our neighbours, we have our own fleet of drones, which we power up via a vast bank of batteries salvaged from electric cars.  They use a different system, a small nuclear reactor and volcanic lightning sieves. There is also a little processing power at our disposal, and some weaponising and harnessing of lightning, but again – not much.  Those who did have these capacities became beacons for marauders, and were soon targeted by swarms of competing factions desperate to technotopia their survival.  Instead of building capacity, we either buried ours or blew most of it up.  Our master had to find the perfect balance between hiding our powers, and knowing when to use it.  The fact that our fortress stands, and a community survives here at all is testament to his perfectly attuned intuitions.  You will encounter him still; he is an extraordinary talent in these times.  He has saved our hides and preserved the legacy of his House many times.
I am one of the few who believe that even his skills are not enough.  What we need is a warm light for all mankind, not just a bright spark.  It is clear to me that we are at the end of the world, and we have run out of time.  For the most part we are washed well beyond the rummaging of ants or melted watches.  Even the power of the sun is at a low ebb, and thus with nothing to nourish the soil, the power of men is exhausted.  With grim conditions like these on a planetary scale, we find ourselves with little hope, and little choice.  Our tribe are the last; all we do is eek out our miserable lives here, one day at a time. Instead of harvesting crops we try to salvage stuff that was abandoned by long dead communities.  We are the inheritors of pots and pans and tins and trinkets. If it is not rusted, if the forces of nature do not claim it or cast it into fields of decay, these small souvenirs are not machine enough to hold the hounds at bay. Our destinies are lost in these dim landscapes that shine beneath an anodyne sun.  Our fate lies somewhere upon the cold shadows that bite deeper each day into our backs.  Alone in the dark, confronted by the flickering candle, we must face up to it in full: We have committed the sin of hubris, thinking that power comes from ourselves.  For this is what man is, and what he always has been – a creature unable to accept or come to terms with who and what he is.  An animal who defies his very nature. An animal that believes he is not an animal, certainly not like any other animal.  And yet, how did it come to this?  Not even nature is able to engineer such massive destruction upon itself. Or does it? Can we adapt, will we evolve? This is the question that calls to us here at the end at last, when life hangs like a drop of dew on a dead branch with the night wind approaching.

Chapter One (Oracle)
Between Landscape and Memory

O Sweet everlasting Voices be still;
Go to the guards of the heavenly fold
And bid them wander obeying your will
Flame under flame, till Time be no more;
Have you not heard that our hearts are old,
That you call in birds, in wind on the hill,
In shaken boughs, in tide on the shore?
O sweet everlasting Voices be still.
 – WB Yeats

[Late afternoon]

Shall I begin?
The iris stiffens, the pupil swells. Somewhere between landscape and memory a pair of unsympathetic grey eyes register the twirling storm with implacable patience. The twisting monster materialises out of an extraordinary silence before advancing toward the hill line where he stands.  Though he is in a hurry to catch those ahead of him, Christopher Ulysses waits.
Oddly enough he seems to filter out the sound and fury unfolding before him. He seems to siphon through, and beyond the growing shadow. Given his uncanny capacity to manage both partial attention and laser-like focus (and alternate seamlessly between the two) it’s clear that he now searches for something beyond the storm dominating the theatre – and there it is: a hovering splinter that appears for just a moment before disappearing again. It is clear that Ulysses is profoundly disturbed, but it is impossible to tell whether the disappearance of his mother whom he presently pursues (a woman he is deeply attached to), or whether the flying object in the storm itself (but not the storm) vexes him.
A dull roar builds along the base of the side of the hill facing the sea.  It builds and builds until finally the sound of the squall breaks outward and upward.  The pitch overwhelms the hiss and scratch of frigid coils of sky. To the untrained eye the churning cell appears to be no more than massive maelstroms catapulting common debris in a stupendous but mostly harmless aerial ballet… but he, a man with the same fluid intelligence as the rest of his family, instantly recognises the pink discharges for volcanic lightning.  It bursts from swilling frag plumes that swell out and invade the upper atmosphere in curtains of thick impenetrable ink.  The detonations tear at the fabric of the air itself.  Each one is hundreds of times more powerful than ordinary lightning.  Each blast is bright enough to burn away his shadow.
The ruined ground shakes under his feet.  Blinding flashes strobe against the lines of Ulysses’ face; a visage that belongs to the last of the king’s of men.   The lean man, though he belongs to a time beyond man’s greatest civilisations, has a medieval look about him.  He carries no electrical device, not even a digital watch.  Instead of a phone or a key, he carries a sword lashed to his hip. His lower legs are wrapped in furs, his chest – the ribs trying to contain the efficient heaving engine beneath – is warmed by a thick coat made of the hide of a Black Wolf. Underneath that he wears a light grey cambric shirt.  The only oddity is a layer of mail in the figure of 8, inch-wide bands of braided metal looping firmly around his body and at its apex, connecting to the hilt of his sword via an exotic alloy thread.
Since he remains still vapours collect and erupt from his smooth white skin.  The four braids coming off the back of his head swing a little against his broad shoulders as the hands of a stiff wind grab at them. Enormous plumes balloon out of his mouth but are whipped away by sharp winds surfing along the hill crest.
He remains uninterested in the storm; neither is he concerned with the raw power of the blitzkrieg; instead his quick eyes trace a muddy ditch filled with wolf tracks, then flit to dirty smears lower down the hillside where men’s boots have trampled white snow to oily black smears.  His keen vision catches on some World War Three ordinance.  Scraps of brown metal that were once two buzz droids’s litter the grass between two animal carcasses in the middle distance, then another.  The hulls of these drones are salvaged as scrap and retasked as body-armour.  The round, organic shaping of BD’s in particular can often be made to fit comfortably around the right sized torso.  As for the flapping hides and smiling skulls of the animals…Ulysses eyes focus on these…dark red frames both corpses.  The one is a Highland bull, the other a horse from his own fortress. Even from a distance he recognises the stallion as Hadrada.  Both were pulled down by wolves only a few hours earlier. But now there are no signs of wolves or the party of men escorting his mother.  With the great storm drawing a vast curtain of blackened, swilling, electrified air over the whole low valley, his view of the ship is blocked.
It is just then that he whips out his sword.  A four bladed killercopter has snuck up on him from the windless side of the hill, but before he can smash it to pieces he notices the small red insignia on its glistening black frame.  It’s in the silhouette of the wolf, the mark of his House.  Instead of a small missile mounted at its centre is a steaming cup of tea.  Now the king sheaths his sword.
When the small black eye of the KC draws level with Ulysses’s grey eye, he grins, and winks, before taking a sip.  The warm honey tastes good in the bitter, dry air. 
There’s a metallic beep before a disembodied female voice speaks from a device that looks like the tip of a match; the machine’s speakers.
“Can you see them, my Lord?”
“No, Mr. Darcy they’re behind the frag storm.”
“So you’ve run into it after all?  What will you do now? Will you be heading back then?”
“No.  I’ll go through it.  Make sure Richard gets a dozen flame baskets to the Memory Towers tonight. And remind him to stay awake. It’s going to be abnormally cold tonight.”
“Yes sire.  I’ve already raised the conductors, so we’re ready for the storm this side.  It looks like it’s packing a lot of energy.”
Ulysses says nothing.
“Will you be alright, sire?”
He bends down and allows the wolf-collie to slurp out the last of his tea.  The lolling tongue eagerly licks out the lukewarm syrup clinging to the bottom of the cup.
“I’ll see you all tomorrow morning,” he says, replacing the empty cup and turning his back on the craft.  The superlight drone hovers for a moment. The small camera peeks briefly at the spectacle exploding over the king’s shoulder. Then the copter turns and beeps. Its autopilot kicks in to soundlessly guide it along the lie of the land back to its point of origin.
Instead of monitoring the rotations of the storm, Christopher Ulysses is engaged in his own brand of geomorphometry. He is far more interested in the manner in which the exhausted landscape rolls away from his feet towards the coast; he tries to feel its bones, the manner in which its been hewn by weather and gauged, broken and sculpted by the glaciers of a previous age of ice.  For the topography will have given them their path; his intuitions – he hopes – may find a shorter, bolder route across the grain and through its contours.
When he begins to walk towards the storm his hand clutches at the handle of his sword.  His mind turns briefly to the Greek historian and Athenian General, a man who speaks eloquently into Ulysses’ present reality.
"But, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”
I search for you… he says, into the ether, even though I know you are already beyond my reach…
It is less for him an act of bravery than of despair and desperation.  The loss of a parent into the explicable is a torture perhaps as terrible as the finality of death itself, but for the opposite reason – alienation festering within the living.
He speaks to his mother, Kelly Sinclair, a woman of deep inner convictions and stubborn integrity; she is a tough tousle-haired haired woman with uncommonly dark, passionate eyes and beautiful lilywhite skin. She calls to him, but he is the leader of the last black fortress that towers in these parts.  Even though he moves quickly towards her, his spirit balks:
I cannot come where you are going.  I will try to find you, and save you, but if I do not, if you make good your getaway you must save yourself. I have my own road, one you have prepared me well for, and as a man I must face it with my men in my own way.
He knows only too well the risk of him going alone in these brutally cold and feral conditions.  He has responsibilities to his men, and as brash as his mother’s errand is, is his any less brash – him going in pursuit of her without taking anyone with him?  Besides the risks of running into a pack of wolves, or being overcome by the elements, or being sniped by a killerdrone there is always that risk that seems worst of all – running into another human being…being ambushed, caught by surprise by a poisoned loner or gangs of thugs who, if they are hungry enough, will kill you without a word before eating the flesh from your limbs. 
He rationalises his risk-taking on the premise that the world is an empty place…He’s right. Things have certainly changed. This western seaboard of the country once known as Scotland is once more the final remote sanctuary for men (for there are hardly any women, or children left in the world).  But for her to leave now, a rare woman in a time devoid of the feminine touch…it is an unnecessary travesty to him.  At least here there is an opportunity to live out the remainder of a life – such as it is – with a measure of freedom.  And he had the power to give it to her.  Here, in these outermost limits of the Empire that was once Britannia, is now less than a shadow of the curtain known to men as ‘the West’.  In these times there is no West nor East, there is just the North and the cold star that governs it. There are no tribes beyond his clan, nothing but frozen waves and rocks tossing under bruised grey skies.  But the world does contain robbers and wolves that still plunder an exhausted land…
He steps faster over the snow leaving his own dark marks.
Sometimes, in spite of everything, we prevail… he says. The hand not clenching the hilt of his sword remains tightly closed.
He whispers to the woman whom he now knows he will never see again in his life.  His mother, Kelly Sinclair comes from a very old family. Indeed the line of the dark haired woman is drawn through one of the oldest families of France, a noble family, with origins in Normandy France. Originally Saint Claire.  But here, in these lands her kin were known as the Sinclairs… They came here via England when William the Conqueror invaded England a thousand years ago and changed the destiny of the world.
The irony is not lost on him that his mother’s name means “bright-headed” or “strife” or “monastery” or “church”.  Nor does the mantra of her clan, “Commit thy work to God,” fail to sting him.  For he knows it is late July and with the summer solstice imminent, exactly why she and a small party have escaped out here to conduct a pilgrimage; to sail by boat across the Irish Sea to the 764 metre high Croagh Patrick, where it rises through a thin seam of gold out of another U-shaped valley, echoing this one, for it too was created by a glacier during the last Ice Age.  She means to walk it barefoot and call an end to the terrible sufferings, and interminable winter and wars on this tattered envelope of civilisation. Possibly she means to expatiate her guilt for raising another son, more troubled, and more dangerous, who will tear her family and the world even further apart.
She does not know it is already too late for prayers he says to the storm.
 “They rifle the deep…” Lord Ulysses whispers, quoting Tacitus.  The tall man with long billowing silver hair strides out over the last page of the history of mankind.  He possesses, in his sanctum sanctorum a library…and one of his books are the Annals…ancient writing by the hand of Tacitus.  A man, a senator, a historian; Tacitus wrote about Nero, the wars and the changing tides and fortunes of Rome more than 22 centuries ere. 

His steps bring him closer to a roiling sky, swimming with the debris of exploded spaceships and stables, cars and shoes, skulls and timepieces all spun together into an eyeless, headless Trojan Monster.
He unfurls his sword.  The lightning immediately seems to disperse into a sort of plasma. Films of energised light make ghostly veils and auroras.  He holds his sword with its tip close to the ground.  The sword glows with a vanilla light.  The edges of the sword seem to glow in opposite colors: icecream pink and icecream blue.
It is profoundly sad to him that he should lose her to the ghosts of her mind, rather than to the practical difficulties of this world.  And then he notices it, the elephant in the room. The eyeless, mouthless, headless neck sucks, vacuums and blends. Its ripping unmakes a manmade world, and as it does so it utters a deafening scream. 


Anonymous said...

all I can say is...don't give up ur day job!

Nick said...

thanks for that

Anonymous said...

I love this. Please post more.