RSS

Monthly Archives: April 2014

Chapter Two (The Road Home)

Solomon’s story begins on a world after man, but it is not a traditional post-apocalyptic story. It is that of a man living on a world that has left humanity behind, and continued to evolve without us, leaving relics of a world that once was, or might have been, scattered throughout, slowly reclaimed by decay and erosion. He and Isaac make up the last of humanity on Earth, the rest of the world divided by social strata into those that could afford to reach the stars and those that were left to devolve socially into something less than human, under the pressures of an environment of desperation. The others became the Titans, strong and fast and powerful in an acute sense, but devoid of intellect or love or brotherhood and doomed to eventual extinction. As prodigy newcomers, abandoned there as children after a survey accident, the binds of society exist exclusively between them; they live in a library on a mountainside outside of the ruins of New York, their world existing in a space betwixt the nightmare outdoors and the one that they created for each other.

I introduce this story from its second chapter, as the scope of its world forms the foundation of its plot, and the second chapter is the core of its description.

 

The Road Home

 © Michael Eric Oberlin, April 29, 2014

The way home was long and treacherous, but nothing that the two weren’t accustomed to. It was nothing that they were unfamiliar with meeting and, if necessary, beating. How Solomon and Isaac came to be was an unusual story in itself.

This was Earth, though it was no longer humanity. The change was nothing recent, it was a gradual process, as the well-to-do left the planet for the glittering firmament and the poor, sick, and uneducated remained behind.

Resources burned away like a wick, and with time, even the ozone vanished. A white sun burned fiercely in a white sky, glimmers of day-stars visible in the early morning and late evening, its heat hot enough to smoulder the archaic asphalt and concrete. The stress on the local populace grew, twisting their minds in fits of desperation to a more carnal state, no longer knowers but doers, while the ones that did know, that must know, remained comfortably suspended above like gods.

To fail to understand what happened next, one would need an unusually firm faith in humanity, one that Isaac and Solomon did not share. The strong turned on the weak, the weak betrayed the strong, and only those with the most raw of strengths, those with a fire in their hearts and at long last a total lack of respect or love for their brethren, became the fittest survivors.

The problem is, one man makes not a species, and in time, there wouldn’t be any left. Well, a problem depending on one’s perspective. Solomon and Isaac just called the things “Titans”, a fitting name derived from Greek myth, the ancestors of the gods. Creatures powerful yet abandoned and forgotten, feared, and forever delegated to times passed.

How Isaac and Sol arrived was quite a different story. Both were thoroughly human, though they served as each other’s solitary reference for what that meant. Why would anyone risk getting stuck on such an extraordinarily dangerous planet? One wouldn’t, and didn’t. They were brought there as youth.

Think what you will of the kind of parent that would bring a child to such a place, under any conceivable circumstances; losing them was not intentional. They didn’t even know each other until their marooning. The pod severely underestimated the ruthlessness and sheer number of the Titans, to say the least. Memory was faint, Sol didn’t even speak at the time, but the walls were overtaken by a perversion of humanity, what was now a distant memory, and Isaac just remembered running.

They were toddlers at the time. Sol was in terrible shape. His clothing was torn and his flesh scraped, his eyes shining with a form of panic and fear that Isaac couldn’t even find a word for. Isaac wasn’t much better off. All the same, together, they managed to find shade during the day and persist through a jungle of un-men, in the ruins of the city of New York. Within about a decade, they were a shoddy stand-in for a society.

The ruins resembled hollowed out skeletons, the frames of composite materials standing where concrete and mortar had crumbled into dust, leading the numerous skyscrapers to a stature as gothic spines reaching up into a deadly sky. The tips would glow in the late evening, the latent solar heat raising their temperature to that of an ember, winds bending them into claws jutting out of the earth.

They had only ever climbed one once, in a time of absolute desperation. It was a distant memory.

The cloak of solar light was a comfort in that it defended them from the creeping denizens of the ruins, the ruined people, who knew no friends. They could not cross the light. Daytime was passively the most dangerous time to travel, but against the hunters in the shadows it was by far the safest. Sol and Isaac were a good bit smarter.

They wore suits of insulation and reflective fiber, and retractable smoked lenses that guarded their eyes. The titans wore nothing. Periodically one would lurch at them in a desperate rage, but the ultraviolet fire would drive them back or kill them quickly. The new-world composites of the railways sustained themselves longer than the iron and ash of the old world, providing an easy enough way into and out of the necropolis for those that had the skill to use them.

After the death-like silence of a three block hike through piercing sunlight and haunted shadow, the two boarded an armored rail car. They unshuttered the emergency solar panels and brought a contact down to the restored composite electrical rail, and began a three hour journey between black river and white sky. A sequence of LEDs lit up to display the origins of their power, it was not uncommon for one of the many redundancies to fail. They were all taken seriously, and corrected as quickly as they could be.

A narrow window in the middle of the day provided direct sunlight in the middle of Manhattan; it rained down from above, through the scar of the composite canyon, for roughly two hours depending on the time of year. They had to take off particularly early to reap the full benefit of the solar exposure. It was the safest time to travel through. When shadow overcame the streets again, there would be nowhere truly safe, and the jackal Titans would roam it unbounded.

It was difficult to imagine the origins of the city, though they both knew them well. The fingerprint of half-molten spires no longer suggested the industry of man so much as that of nature. The composites were perhaps the last remnant of civilization beside the two of them, the one thing that could not arguably be formed tectonically. The many subway tunnels were now halfway submerged, along with a large part of the island; tattered lines of copper and superconductor littered the roads like the broken bones of a sophisticated telecom system.

There was no question, among the two of them, as to how this happened. Not anymore, there was once. It was a cultural evolution, the stratification of man and the descent of his nemesis. A little care might have prevented all of it, but in a universe of causality Sol doubted that any of us truly had free will beyond that for which we were designed.

The programmed track brought them back to the base of a refurbished cliffside library, south of Fort Knox. The concrete structure was once quite different. They had discovered it when they were perhaps six, not too long after the fall, and took refuge within it. It had ample reading material at the time, particularly for a couple of kids with nothing else to do other than learn and survive.

The sun was at sixty degrees on the horizon, they had another twelve degrees before it began to dim to an exposing level. Sol stepped out of the rail car, Isaac right behind him, and sealed it up with a heavy padlock. They unlatched their elevator, slipped inside, and hand-cranked their way to the balcony.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 30, 2014 in The Mechanist

 

Tags: , , , ,

Mud

This is an introduction to a major character in “The Diviner”, who travels one of the hardest of roads. Dux has much more to be said about her than I could fit into this; the same can easily be said for her tribe. I’m not sure that this story will make it into the main book, but it serves as an excellent introduction to who she is and her wisdom, as much as her latent confusion and inner conflict. Enjoy, and as always, comments are welcome.

Mud

© Michael Eric Oberlin, April 24, 2014

 

The wet earth was cool on Dux’s tattooed back, the sweat still dripping down her brow from the thundering drum dance. Her heart still pounded in rhythm and beat with the entire tribe, the entrancing vapors from the fire still filling her nose and sending her into another kind of state. Limbs and tail in the muck, big blue eyes high toward a sunless and starless sky, every breath an act of worship of things unseen and ever-present.

Around the dying embers of the fire, some danced still; their feet beating on the planks of lumber and salvaged driftwood, fastened tightly to floats and the great bark of the canyon of trees. Whether they were farther from equilibrium than she, or she simply better knew her way back, was a mystery that she would never quite solve.

To the chemist, the past, present, and future were indistinguishable at this point. Everything tied to everything. Her mind was crystal here in the mud, all frivolous concerns danced away save for food, water, and air. The river called her back, and twixt sparking spirit and thundering drum, she found her ground. The whole tribe did.

Her student, Wilhegka, continued to throb in the dying beats on the planks above her. He was overworking himself even in dance. The younger man’s mind was not yet honed enough, he chased everything that Dux did but never fully understood. His mind was still white-water, nearly a crystal of ice bursting from the lake and contradicting even its own flow. He would learn in time, or she hoped so.

Her own visions were of her singular piece of history, beginning to end. Sensations were a very strange thing. Most of the time, she grasped at them, fraying the threads of where they came from and what they led to, but under the aroma of balché and nutmeg and so many other gifts of the wild the threads became ribbons and sheets. Amongst bittersweet taste and flowery fragrance, they would coagulate together, until they were a solid, each inextricably bound, cause to effect to effect again.

She closed her eyes, sinking a little deeper into the umber shoreline.

This burning of concerns was more than a reflex, more than a stress response; it was the inescapable religion of the community. This was the work of their hidden and nameless goddess, intrinsic to all of nature, forever present and forever unseen, friend and enemy and family and teacher. This was the work of the unknowable. High above, through kilometers of mists in the acropolis of the giant trees, there was another society that took it all loosely, the strange practices of their kindred by the river below. Behind the drums and sacred incense and imbibes the universal truth remained, and they did not know what they missed.

Her passion and pleasure and stillness and calm aside, Dux subtly remained perplexed. When the trance faded, she would forget all but that. Her beginnings were clear, her present was perfect, but at the end of her immutable time was an impossible beach of black glass, still water, and eternal clarity.

In her vision, she looked down into the pool.

She did not see a reflection.

A moment or an aeon later she was pulled out of the mud by Wil. He threw a cup of water in her face, and she shook the trance off. (It was traditional.) Her eyes lit up like incandescent bulbs as the mud dripped off of her. She pulled her sullied hair back and tied it out of her ink-stained face. The young man appeared to have pulled himself out of his own trance only a moment ago, the somber and flaccid look of his eyes betraying his reluctant wakefulness.

“My apologies, Dux, but we don’t have long before our next scheduled appointment,” he said.

“How long, Wil,” asked Dux, her voice tearing at the edges as she struggled to remember how to use it.

“I could count it to you in pān̄cavāṁgaddī*.”

“Five hells. Where are we again?” The visions of the trance were already fading from her mind, she was disoriented.

“By the water, near the bonfire. The stompin’ ground.” He raised a wooden bowl to her, with a deep red liquid in it. She took it, the remnants of her vision still wisping out of her mind like trails of smoke.

“Right.” With that, she downed the incoction in a single gulp. Her face flushed and she sweated, just a little, as the colors became more vivid and the present became a larger concern. All traces of hypnotic agent raced out of her, and after a moment of discomfort, she was fully present.

Her mind cleared, and clouded; blinders on toward past and future. She had a memory, but couldn’t say much of it. To meet the stresses of a medicine woman, she needed, like a pendulum, to stay balanced between clear conscience and clear head. Pity they were antithetical.
*In a world without sun or moon, there are no easy natural ways to tell time. While we have hours and minutes and days, they have cycles of a layered metric clock, the pān̄cavāṁgaddī being one of the shortest generations in a standard clock.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2014 in The Diviner

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chapter One (Sight)

Now that “The Diviner” is completed (and in its final stages of editing and formatting for publication), I am free to work on two of its parallels, “The Alchemist” and “The Mechanist”. It takes a while to really get a feel for how a book should look and feel to its reader, and I only really have so much control over that; but they both have been working out beautifully so far.

I present you here with the first chapter of “The Alchemist”. It was very late when I wrote it, so it’s of course still under scrutiny; but I believe it sets up the kind of mystery necessary to entourage the reader through the book. “The Mechanist” is much further along. Enjoy; when I’m done, not a single word will be a red herring.

—Mick

Sight

© Michael Eric Oberlin, April 15, 2014

 

Starlight filtered in through an icy glass window, onto the planks of an old and lived-in room. A woman’s bare hands lit a candle on the wall and a lamp on the cluttered table. She cleared it with a sweep of her arms, waving her hands to deter the effluent dust.

She wore a skullcap over her shaved head, and a dark wool overcoat. Skin like an apple petal and eyes hazel, trembling hands pulling out an ornate box full of something precious, and expensive.

She undid its string with as much caution as she could manage, took a deep breath, and lifted its lid. A deep green glow burned from the bottle inside, something magical and hidden, something living and rare.

The woman’s name, for the time being, is rather irrelevant; but the important thing to remember about her is that she is a material. She bleeds when she’s cut, she diligently follows all of the laws of physics that pertain to her, she eats material food and drinks material drink. But in this world, there is another kind of thing. There are materials, and then there are sprites.

This sprite was not what you might imagine. It was a worm, luminescent and greener than grass. It was a lesser sprite, but still. The great difference in sprites is that they were a manifestation of an elementary magical principle, occasionally two of them, embodied in a living creature. They were happy in the element that they manifested, understanding on instinct things that a material man might take decades of study to comprehend. Many of them were as full of mind and soul as any human. This one was full of endless potential, a creature in its youth, not yet entirely manifested.

What she would do with it was not easy, and was generally frowned upon. Her hands trembled for a reason beyond the simple cold. She struggled with the lid, attempting to unscrew it, then stopping and warming her hands on the lamp.

When a mere mortal, or at least an ordinary mortal, managed to acquire a monastic understanding of one of the principles, they became mages. They became the engineers of the natural world, which would fold on itself under their guided will. They developed powers that astonished and impressed other materials, but often did not phase them. To them, it was simple, even obvious as they looked back upon their training. They saw as the sprites see, sometimes better; they felt and saw the underpinnings of their magic around them.

The young woman inhaled deeply, and allowed her hands to come to a stillness. She removed the lid, and, very carefully, reached inside it to pick up its occupant. It was larval, incomplete, as young in its life as she was in hers. She had to trade a great deal away to acquire it. The grub-like sprite wiggled in her fingers, making her gasp.

“It’s alright, it’s alright,” she said. “I’m here.” She held it closer to the heat of the lamp for a moment, then realized what it really needed. It was the same reason that she had decided that she needed it.

“Okay.” Of course the worm didn’t really understand her, not yet. She brought it closer to her face, warmed it a little with her breath, and got its attention. It raised its forelimbs, looking straight at her now, and she brought it closer like child.

The sprite wormed its way onto her upper lip, and began to crawl along her face. She hyperventilated briefly, then took deep, slow breaths to calm herself down as the magical creature moved past her nose.

She saw it in the corner of her eye, then over her eye, and did her best to stay amicable and still. It crawled over the white, then under her eyelid, and back into the socket. After that, the world seemed to stretch and warp before her.

She teared up as the creature began to integrate itself with her flesh, a magical symbiote, and she began to see the world as it might. Butterflies riddled her stomach as the world became liquid, and she collapsed out of her chair onto the small carpet below.

She huffed in a fetal position, drooling onto the floor, her world contorted into a half-reality. The candle would burn out before she was able to stand again, but slowly she would see the light of the half-formed sprites of gestalts. Her eye would change color, and in a few days, memories of the symbiote would dance with her own. In a couple of weeks, the distinction would no longer be appropriate.

Her mind was tormented by growing pains as two worlds became a third, as she became the rarity of a delicate fusion of magic and matter. As for the sort of desperation that would lead her to make this sacrifice, that’s a much larger story.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 15, 2014 in The Alchemist

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,