I am stealing some time this week to work some on the second draft. The Second draft is like the image above, to me. I have the raw material. Now it's time to carve, carve, carve.
The excerpt below is from deep in the work. 1945. Heavy sci-fi. If you are just jumping in, I am sure that you will have a lot of questions. And that is a good thing.
I will post up an article next week.
Also, I love feedback and have armor-thick skin. If you see ever see anything odd or awful in anything I write, pointing it out is both welcome and appreciated.
Amuse-toi, mon bon ami!
“We write while sleepwalking and revise when awake.”
― Marty Rubin
5.5 The Secret Shack
“I can’t do it!”
“Ok, ok, relax yeah? Let’s take a break.”
I am seated on a mahogany chair with a red velvet cushion, Moms’ vessel-egg-stone-thing in my lap. I open my eyes to an approaching flock of clouds, little puffy things: I am going to say altocumulus or altostratus. We would have to be about 15,000 feet up. It is a brilliant day, but the sky has a rusty red hue to it.
The captain’s quarters, my quarters, is lined with ribbon windows on two sides, angled out towards the ground below. The two window walls arc to a point at the bow of the craft. The furnishings are all luxurious: tables and millwork of thick wooden slabs, intricate embroideries, the plushest bed I have ever slept in, where Trib is currently curled up asleep.
Tuesdai said she couldn’t sleep in the same room as “that lunatic”, said she was a “below deck sort of girl, anyway”. She insisted on bunking with the crew and pleaded with me to go with her. But I have work to do, work that requires the assistance of a lunatic.
Behind me, Ocho paces. “So, you just need to tap in to your hate, you know? Your anger. Your Moms has already done the hard part for you. She made that vessel one of the most powerful numenistic batteries I have ever seen: enough to seed a city. You just need to taint it, yeah?” I hear him rummaging at remnants of food on the table, clinking china and silver.
“It’s like it’s pushing back against me.”
“Well, she was a good woman, that’s for sure. That egg don’t want to be poisoned, ya know? Don’t worry. Psyence is trial and error. Everyone discounts the error part. But it’s the more valuable portion – discovery is 90% error, and the other 10% is happy accident. Trust me. If we fail, we fail forward, yes? We simply try again. Find your hate, Little Scintilla.”
“And I can’t hear!” I stand up and stomp the floor. “All of those men downstairs – they’re not like the other Raydebites – Raydebaians? – whatever. I hear their thoughts loud and clear, all the time. All talking at once.”
Ocho looks at me with a look I can’t identify. He is still silent to me, hidden under that skullcap. If I didn’t know better, I would say it’s admiration – but the kind of admiration a boy has for a fantastic new toy. He asks me a question with a mouth full of sandwich, “Do you know why hexes are illegal, Little Si?”
“Rubs the Veil thin, like you said – throws the Balance off for the worse.”
“Yeahyeahyeah, that’s right. But not just that. You see – if you shoot a man, he’s hurt, or he dies.” Ocho stabs a meatball. “His family and loved ones hurt. Everyone cries. It’s a tragedy, yeah? The little soldier is gone.” Ocho flicks the ball onto a nearby divan, where its grease smears the velvet. “But then his babies grow up healthy and strong, and maybe have a good life, make more pretty babies. Life goes on. But!” Ocho picks a gravy boat up, “You put a vexy sexy hex on a man – you open the Veil, misfortune pours over him like this gravy.” Ocho pours the gravy onto a stack of saucers. “All that bad juujuu covers the poor boy up. But then . . .” The gravy fills the first saucer, and then slowly spills over onto the one below it beneath, then onto the one beneath that. “All that badness runs over onto his loved ones, his children, his children’s children. It’s an injury that keeps on and on, a cancer of the soul. Crops dry up, luck changes, life gets bad and keeps on bad, even for Folk who never did anything wrong to begin with.”
I mumble, “Sounds like Los Portales.”
Ocho smears the gravy into the table cloth and suck his finger clean, “Well, entire cities can get sick.”
“For how long?”
“Well, I guess that depends on how strong the curse is. But I’ll tell you this – if that Veil were to ever get so thin that it tore, that badness could just keep flowing through forever, like a waterhose.” He turns the large gravy boat completely upside down and the gravy pools across half the table.
Something makes me want to change the subject.
“I think the stone is stronger now than it was back in that underground court.”
“Hmm, makes sense.” Ocho takes another bite of his sandwich and sprays crumbs as he talks. “It’s not being constantly wick’d. It could very well be stronger.”
“Once we get to the Psyentists, how are we going to get in?”
Ocho points at the egg, “We have something they need. You just need to be . . . prepared.”
I slide the egg into my Gladbag and grab a coat. “I need to go clear my head.” Trib mewls sleepily when I pick her up and cram her into my coat.
I pull the heavy, inlaid door open with both hands. Ocho leans out after me. “While your out, can you have someone send some more pork?” He scratches his leather skullcap, and then disappears back into the quarters.
I pause and, through the door, hear Ocho talking to one of the voices in his head, “Ocho to Ay-Oh, requesting connection. Yes, yes. . . we’re very close, very close.”
At what age are you required to become either crazy or cruel?
I pass through the Dining Hall – twelve high-backed wooden seats around a table fit for a king. The floor is tiled with some richly-veined stone, which I suspect came from the same mountain that the dirigible was cut from. It matches the live stone overhead – the smooth underbelly of the mountain cap. The vestibule beyond has a spiral stair to the lower deck. I dread going below, where the small army of Raydebah’s most threatening men work, but it is my only path.
I descend. To the front of our craft is the bridge, a busy room just below my chamber, filled with piloting equipment and a great steering wheel like something from an old pirate story. I move towards the rear. Conversation goes immediately silent when I enter the Mess Hall, but I ignore this. I can feel their apprehension. They are oath-bound to serve me, even to die for me. But this doesn’t mean that they have to trust or like me.
I wonder if I could push one these men to throw himself from a window.
Beyond this are the bunks, a tiny shower, a restroom that the men call “the head”. I thread the tight corridors. Men step aside for me. To pass, we have to squeeze so tight that we touch. They are all “fight or flight” as I slide by.
An engineer stops me when I reach the engine room. “Restricted,” he tells me bluntly.
“The People need to pass,” I say.
“Authorized personnel only.”
We go back and forth like this for a while, before Thurlow Weed appears.
Ever since I pushed him – I don’t know – it feels like we have a bit of a connection. I found a bridge-thought with him. Also he is also utterly devoted to Tycho. He knows that I am a Taproot, so that devotion spills over on to me.
He has developed a habit of showing up just when I need him.
His bear form ducks through an open door hatch and the engineer launches into an unsolicited defense: “Engine room’s no place for,” he looks me up and down, searching for a polite word, “civilians.”
Thurlowe says nothing, but puts a meaty hand on the engineer’s chest, and gently pushes him out of my way. He looks down at me and swings the steel door aside.
The engine room is a chugging, sooty sauna. No windows here. Only catwalks and boilers, and horse-tall pistons, churning tirelessly.
I hustle through the length of the room. I don’t need any more encounters.
Three-quarters of the way down, I cut left at a bin full of black ingots. The narrow metal walk ends at a ladder that leads up into a shadowed shaft. I climb into the blackness, where no one can find me. Up and up I go, until the diffuse light from below squelches out completely. I have to pause to catch my breath. I can feel my bangs slick to my forehead. The heat of the engine room has made this shaft a chimney.
I begin again, and eventually reach the top. It is pitch black, almost too hot to breathe. The sound of my own breath comes back to me from the stone walls. Trib is writhing inside my coat and almost about to escape. I feel for the wheel that I know will be overhead, and crank it.
I fling the hatch open and dazzling light and frigid cold blast into the shaft.
I climb out, stand, and take a deep lung full of the brisk air.
I am on top of the mountain.
Trib drops to the ground and alerts at the new environment to explore.
I slide on the aviator goggles that Thurlowe provided me with a week ago. The light is blinding across the white stone landscape.
The mountaintop is not so steep that it can’t be walked; its jags are not too terribly sharp. Small pines dot the face and there is a fair a good amount of undergrowth. But mostly the cap is bare: just creamy, white feldspar. It is still and calm and chilly. This could be any mountain outside of Greenwell. This could be Graever’s Peak.
I walk to the edge, lay on my belly and peek over.
My stomach immediately drops.
The earth is terrifyingly far beneath me. We are over a desert, with great rock outcroppings: I think they are called “statues”. The statues have flat mesas on top, and they cast deep black shadows on the red dust. They fly past with surprising speed, and I realize just how fast we are really moving.
In the distance I hear the Heart of Odessa’s propellers carving through the stratosphere.
I roll over and carefully climb to my feet. “That’s enough of that then, Trib.”
I start my trek up the hill and Trib scouts ahead. We climb for a good while. I get winded at this height, and have to pause. My breath comes out in plumes of cold. The tip of my nose goes numb. Trib rocks on her haunches and then darts off after some prey in the undergrowth.
I look up and see the hint of a rusted tin roof just beyond the next little ridge. Almost there.
I push up the incline. I top the ridge and find what I have come for: A tiny, shoddy shack, nestled into a halfway flat bowl. The shack is made of salvaged boards. I can still make out the remnants of a brand on some of the planks. It has a decrepit little fence around the remnants of a small garden. Not much grows here now, just a couple of volunteer tomato plants and scrub brush. I step through a fallen in portion of the short fence.
“Waddya think?” I ask my companion. But Trib has captured a vole or chipmunk, and is gnawing his quarry.
When I open the door to the shack, a column of sunshine comes in behind me. Motes of dust swim in the light. The home is bare: it contains exactly everything that is needed and not one thing more. A pot, a pan and a ladle hang on the wall opposite me. A black, pot-bellied stove squats in one corner, its door open to reveal long-cold ash within. A Carpenter’s Way book is the only literature to be found. It sits in the chair beside the bed where the mummified lady lays.
The woman’s blouse is plain – not one adornment, but is simple, colorless cotton. Her long skirt is denim. But her skin is black-brown leather, pulled gaunt over her bones. Her mouth gapes open as if in the middle of an unflattering snore.
Trib, her meal complete, comes in, leaps to the washing bowl table, and commences to lapping the blood from her muzzle and paws.
“I miss her,” I say to Trib. My icy breath reveals small sunbeams that sneak in through gaps in the wall.
I take off a glove, take out the vessel stone and hold it to the light. It glows translucent; veins swirl within like a cat’s eye marble. Steam rises from my sweaty hot hand, curls up the face of the egg. I climb in bed next to the old mountain maid, and put the vessel stone between us. I pull a quilt over her and lay my arm over that. I snuggle close. Under the covers, one could almost mistake the maid for a sleeping person.
It’s quiet here.
“Hey Trib, I think I can find my hate now.”
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Jes Sanders is a fledgling writer, architect, Capricorn and reformed art thief.
What Readers Are Saying
A great, sweeping work of speculative fiction reminiscent of the science worship found in Asimov's Foundation series and the historical arcs of Neal Stephenson's longer works. The author's prose is a deftly woven tapestry of words- beautifully descriptive without being forced or tedious.