Testing the readers’ waters

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THE WRITER’S LIFE

After far too long, I’ve finally finished the first draft of the first chapter of my next book. I’m breaking a number of conventions by publishing it here but my reasons are equally numerous. As I continue to draft The Inner Leviathan, it just gets bigger and more complex. So before the drafting gets out of control, I thought I should get writing to gain some initial direction. I’m also after reaction, which is the main reason I’ve published it here. I have my test readers but I need a greater scope of feedback to let me know if I’ve put the intended direction of the book in readers’ minds. This is only a first draft and once the book’s direction is confirmed, I shall revert back to only my beta readers – perhaps with a few new volunteers – to read future chapters for me. For now, feel free to opine…

The Inner Leviathan

Chapter One

Small Blue Thing

The life at the beginning of this story is almost insignificant in the greater scheme of things. No more of consequence than the other seven billion or so lives on a small, blue-green planet nestled in the backwaters of one galaxy of little note among hundreds of billions of others in just one universe.

Blue Cooper was the embodiment of the uniform which he wore and the places which those body bags represented, both in physical size and reputation. This standing stuck to him, as though all of the uniforms he’d worn were sewn together and hung from his huge bulk like a quilted blanket telling a story in hexagonal frames. The tapestry of life which covered him had changed almost as seamlessly as his life itself, as he’d gone from prison inmate to working on oil rigs, both environments – for Blue – microcosms of the universe they existed within. He was the big man in the blue uniform of the blue infernos he’d inhabited: blue wing and the Pacific Ocean. Jail and the oil rig had much in common: metal, grease, grime; muscle, power, violence, containment, processing, manufacture and change.

The blue inferno was calm today. Calmness on the surface revealed what lay beneath: small, darting groups of shadows, pursued by larger silhouettes. Still bigger patches of darkness within the blue were visible deeper beneath the surface, as though waiting for something to fall from above. Here was the organised chaos of a food chain, large enough to be observed as a whole when displayed on the expansive canvas of the blue inferno, pulled taught over its frame.

Commander Cooper leaned on the deck rail of the oil platform, watching two scenes simultaneously: that of turmoil below and serenity above, reflected in the smooth surface of the ocean. The sun shimmered in the light ripples, as the surface was disturbed by the movements below: infra-internal activity affecting ultra-atmospheric. Solitude, inward reflection and calm contemplation, with the only company he desired being the several thousand tons of metal in his hands.

All that Blue had been told of Alexa before coming on board and taking control was that she was experimental. The combined factors of his previous experience on oil platforms and his release from prison after a lengthy sentence placed him in the ideal position to be put in charge of Alexa.

The rig looked new and yet she was familiar. Blue knew most of Alexa’s long, slender form, rooted to the seabed hundreds of metres below him and hidden from the eyes of all but those who had been below the surface. Only the oil rig’s platform was visible above water: the mechanical, cranial part of Alexa: the part without which her physically productive parts would be unable to function properly and where Blue had lived for the last six months.

Those six months had been spent in isolation, with Alexa as his sole company. The first steps had been tentative, shackled and upon water, as Blue’s romper-suited, imbalanced weight moved from docking prison ship to the halfway house which was the rig. Blue was to spend six months getting Alexa operational before they both moved on.

He’d rarely been permitted the opportunity to explore something so new alone. Alone was good though, like all that time spent in solitary at the jail. Like there, here he was secure and able to explore his confines.

Blue set to work quickly. He liked to paint, to write stories and poetry. Over those first six months, Blue transformed Alexa. He painted her in NATO Green: much less brutal on the seascape than her previous black, red and yellow: a huge, bandaged and bleeding skeleton with an infection, part-submerged in a world which she neither wished to be in nor understood her place within. Alexa couldn’t have known that rape was in her very design. At some point, her pre-programmed DNA would dictate upon her an invasive act. Blue knows that he will not be able to prevent this, any more than he might be able to alter his own DNA but he has a plan. The plot is not of Blue’s own making but has been suggested to him by Alexa, during one of their late night chess games.

Blue writes algorithms: amazing little things, algorithms. Pure computer code but like life: they are the component parts of complex operations; the building blocks which make the coherent whole. Algorithms can teach and learn. Things like chess: Blue and Alexa play and learn together. Blue has also written various AI algorithms, so that he and Alexa may speak. As they do so, she learns.  

After six months, Alexa’s colour began to fade and the job had to be repeated: it was a perpetual exercise in rejuvenation. Blue had considered this in the first six months, often becoming preoccupied with the same thought: a coat of paint has a measurable depth, albeit microscopic. He wondered how many coats of paint it might take to at some point make Alexa inoperable and ultimately, barely indistinguishable from a cube. He’d considered the same thing while in solitary confinement: how many coats of paint would need to be applied to the inside of the cell before certain things happened? How many before it became too small to accommodate its occupant? How long would it take an occupant of the cell to paint themselves in, so that they became indistinguishable from their surroundings?

Blue later wrote of how the first six months aboard Alexa were how he imagined the first blink of the eye must be to a newborn:

“So much which is new and unfamiliar and all of it thrust upon me at once. From the isolation and protection of containment, thrust into an alien world and a multiple assault upon my senses. From incubation and incarceration is born a thing to challenge the wildest imagination. My gratitude is due to whomever or whatever engineered this situation, for were I anywhere else, I might fear for my safety and that of others. If things hadn’t been exactly as they are now presented to me, I suspect I might be somewhat anxious. If all that I see around me was created, then the creator had me in mind. I feel like a customer who couldn’t put the thing which they imagined into words, let alone put a price on it, whose supplier has exceeded anything I might imagine.

What I must not lose sight of is that this new host of mine is as much a stranger to her own environment as I am to her. She doesn’t know yet that soon, I will be the catalyst which forces her to become a parasite upon her host. She will be my unwitting and involuntary partner in crime. It’s not a victimless act but all three parties involved stand to gain eventually. It’s in the pre-programmed genes: the algorithms.”

Sex cams and body crimes

DISCUSSION

“Dash cams”: Forgive the driving reference but they have overtaken the sat nav. Dash cams are on the dashboard of every motorist who wants to record evidence which is admissible in a court of law, for insurance purposes among others. Similarly, helmet cams and body cams, as worn by – among others – cyclists and police officers respectively. Sometimes they prove innocence or guilt.

So, alleged sex crime? When the boundaries are so blurred, would it not be wise to employ such a defence? But to what end? Do you wear such a device to prove that each sexual encounter was consensual? Might the technology be abused?

We are at the beginning of a technological revolution. Myself and others wonder if we can keep up with our own evolution…

This is the basis of an article I’m writing for a national newspaper. As such, I’d be grateful of readers’ thoughts.

Discuss.

Working Title

MY WORLD | FICTION

It’s good to be busy but with so much on, prioritising has become an issue: what a nice problem to have.

All potential paid work is with the editor, pending approval or redrafting; or rejection. The Paradoxicon novel is being serialised in the webzine for which I regularly write and I’m earning modest royalties. At the same time – paradoxically – the original is being revised by another editor, whilst I simultaneously work on an expanded edition and write a synopsis for a sequel, as well as a query letter to a favoured agent. It’ll take a while, so buy the original and get a first edition. I’m also earning royalties from COGS’ publication in print Therefore, I need to look at the – currently – unpaid projects in hand and therefore self-promotion. I can knock out a short story in a couple of days, so the background projects are jostling for position: further work on the first book, or the second, non-sequential one.

So I’d value opinions on a working title:

Bloodstained Knaves

Chapter One



A Note From Below

You’ve heard of underground publications, right? Why is it that everything “underground” is considered bad? Just because the very word suggests subterranean? Well it not only does but it is. What you’re reading came from underground, quite literally. It is the very definition of an underground publication. I wrote it, therefore it is published, albeit self-published. I wrote it underground; beneath your feet, where I live. The fact that you’re reading it means that it made its way out. You are reading an underground publication.



Beneath your feet: I’m lower than the shit on your shoes. If I were above ground, you’d probably look down on me, if you noticed me at all. But you don’t notice me because I’m underground; deliberately, where you can’t see me. But you wouldn’t want to, so I’m doing you a favour by staying down here.



We may be below your feet but if you ever took the time, you might realise that there’s more to us than meets the eye. But you can’t see us. Whether that’s by choice or circumstance is irrelevant.



You see, since we’ve been down here we’ve learned a lot. That’s partly why we’re down here. And there is so much down here you don’t know about, or probably wouldn’t want to know about. If you chose to seek us out, you would judge us. Among many delusions, you would probably assume that we can neither read nor write. You’d rather remain blissfully innocent of our existence. But you’re reading this: I wrote it.



You’re probably wondering who I am. Well, ask yourself another question: why are you reading this? Because you want to. You have the freedom of choice. Well so do we. We’ve chosen to stay down here and if you really want to keep on reading, you’ll find out why.

Chapter Two



The City Without History

The city was different now. Jess knew, yet she hadn’t seen the metamorphosis as she was living away at college when her parents moved here. She had no memory of how things used to be; only the photographs her parents had left behind. They were gone: her parents and their city.

There used to be public squares, parks and recreation areas. Now the city is just a square, with groups of buildings on each corner separated by wasteland. Work to rebuild the city is ongoing, with gangs of builders arriving at construction sites every morning. New buildings are appearing  at a rate of about one per week.

Every morning, Jess takes the same route to work, leaving her apartment in the residential quarter and walking counter clockwise around the square city, past the police station and jail to her office in the commercial quarter. Every evening, she walks clockwise past the hospital and back to her home.

The police station is lit but there is no movement inside or out, likewise the jail: two steel ghost ships, floating on an asphalt sea. There is no crime in the city. There are perpetrators of acts which would once have been considered criminal but they are no longer criminals under the New City Order laws. The police station and jail were temporary structures erected in the new city to quickly process those who broke the many laws hastily passed, then dropped. Disposable people were needed and the two facilities served as a processing plant: condemnation and abattoir.

Jess could take a bus. Buses run in both directions around the square. She could use The Loop; an elevated railway around the city. She chooses to walk because in doing so, she takes personal charge of her destiny without entrusting it to public transport and the passengers thereon. The underground metro rail system was abandoned following The Event.

Every morning and evening, a hand-written note protrudes from the same storm drain cover. Usually it’s just requests for food and water; pens and paper. The notes state that these items are to be left by the drain cover under cover of darkness. Jess obliges, purely out of curiosity in the hope that one day she may glimpse the author of the notes. She watches and waits but always has to leave her gifts where she placed them. By morning they are gone. Sometimes the note is just a friendly greeting or thank you. This note was different: it was as though it were attached to someone and not just some anonymous begging note. This had personality.

The first time it happened, all that Jess saw was a rolled up sheet of paper, protruding only slightly from the metal grille as rain water flowed around it, like a periscope tentatively looking for something above an ocean. The river of water flowing into the drain was as grey as the drain cover itself, broken only by white bubbles and carrying debris from the curbside. Bus and train tickets; cigarette ends and spent matches; lottery tickets and receipts; all carried like white water rafters on the river downstream.

On that first occasion, the rolled up sheet was just a protrusion into Jess’s space. White against grey, it was out of place. Jess had stepped into the road and into the riders, as though into enemy territory and pushed the tube of paper into the drain: a discarded sheet, carelessly dropped and washed by rain water into the drain cover but with it’s progress impeded by the iron portcullis which guarded the watery world below.

The riders are demons on wheels, risking their own lives and those of others, riding their cannibalised machines at far in excess of what used to be a speed limit on the roads. Now there are no limits, not even physical ones that the riders observe between road and kerb. Mostly they growl and roar along the edge of the road but occasionally they violently mount the kerb, screaming like human sirens at anyone in their way. Jess had seen walkers knocked down, the riders having no concern other than being paid for each delivery of human blood, organs and body parts. They are couriers; messengers to the devil.

If they had time, the riders would stop and pick up their fresh kills to be harvested for spare parts. Far easier were the jumpers: people made redundant, who had hurled themselves from buildings, rather than be dissected while still alive and without anaesthetic, to provide organs and limbs to the needy classes. The riders collect the roadkill and carrion, then ride pillion on their bikes with their cargo slumped over the handlebars.

A job in the city is something you hold onto for life, in more ways than one. Once a job is lost, invariably so too is a life. Jobs are never advertised.

Jess arrives at the building which houses her office and hundreds of others. Some occupy entire floors, or share with others: law firms, accountants and the offices of various trades, mainly allied to the construction industry. Most – like Jess’s – are single occupancy. There are no plaques on the doors; just numbers. What goes on behind those doors is open to speculation. Jess only knows what happens in hers. But actually she doesn’t. She knows what she does but she doesn’t know why she does it.

As the door onto the street closes behind her, the relative quiet in the building is somehow louder than the noise outside as the inside provides room for thought. The riders on the street and the pavement still growl, roar and scream. The other traffic provides a background hum, broken only by the air brakes of a bus travelling either clockwise or counter clockwise around the square city and letting out a mechanical sigh of relief as it disgorges its passengers. The screech of metal on metal from The Loop subdues as though being shut in a box as the door to Jess’s daytime concentration camp settles in its frame.

The elevator reluctantly collects Jess from the entrance hall, it’s doors opening slowly, like a vertical metal mouth yawning. She reciprocates by reluctantly stepping in. Then like a piston, the elevator quickly takes Jess to the fourteenth floor and yawns again as she steps out. Before entering her office, she takes in the view outside.

The city looks so different from up here: The Loop a model railway and below it, toy cars, buses, taxis and motorbikes; model people too. Where once stood high rise steel and glass office towers, now hastily-constructed concrete monolithic syringes pierce the clouds of dust which hang overhead, their rooftop communication antennae injecting propaganda into the ether for distant extraterrestrial civilisations to pick up, long after humanity destroyed itself. Welcome to our world. Put another way, this is our world and you are welcome to it.

Chapter Three



QED

Jess’s office is number 1442: fourteenth floor, room forty two. She’s been employed here all of her working life, since leaving college aged 21 after The Event, two years ago. She swipes her ID card through a reader on the door, presses her hand against a palm reader, then enters her office. Then she does the same inside the office, where she will remain for the rest of the day.

The walls and ceiling of the small room are painted white; the spill-proof carpet is grey: neutral decoration, just like her apartment. The walls are bare apart from a filing cabinet against the rear wall, a mirror hung above it and a clock over the entrance door. In the centre of the room is a desk and chair. On the desk is a computer and next to the keyboard is a pile of papers: the day’s work.

Every day a fresh pile of hand-written papers is waiting on the desk and she has just one job to do: type them up and send what she’s produced in electronic form to an unknown recipient. She knows neither the identity of the author, nor that of whomever she sends her typed versions to.

She’s thought about it before; questioned motives, been unable to arrive at a conclusion and just carried on with what she’s paid to do. She has a job and it pays: it pays well and she’s not redundant. A sum of money arrives in her account every month and she has no reason to question where it originates. She’ll wonder again. It’s easy for the mind to wander when the job is so monotonous: touch-typing at eighty words per minute with rarely time to pay attention to what’s actually being typed.

She has never been shown nor signed a contract of employment. She has no contractual hours, so works a stereotype, Dolly Parton day, nine to five: the same time that the computer is operational for. The work is always finished before she leaves the office and she could be at work for shorter hours but the self-imposed working day seems reasonable to her and hopefully therefore to her unseen employer. She doesn’t send an email; she just has a word processor with a “Send” button on screen. After typing, the original papers are filed in the grey cabinets.

There are two small rooms off from the main one: a kitchen with a microwave oven, a kettle and a sink; and a bathroom with a toilet and wash basin. They are nondescript, of the same decor as the main room and merely functional. She makes a coffee, sits at the desk and notes the time on the clock above the door: two minutes before she can start. She looks at the computer screen: blank apart from the reflection of the mirror on the wall behind her.

Most of the documents Jess is given mean little to her: lists; columns of numbers; reports on mundane subjects; minutes from meetings. Each is apparently one part of a greater whole. Today is no exception:

Post Holocene 4/5



1a. Law:



Judge

Chief of police

Rank and file police officers



1b. Defence:



Army



1c. Medicine:



Surgeons – general

Nursing staff



3a. Construction:



Builders – general

Bricklayers

Electricians

Plumbers

Carpenters

Foremen

QED: quod erat demonstrandum; “Which had to be proven.”

Chapter Four



A Fresh Delivery

The sound of a siren is rare in the city. Accidents are rarely attended, the dead and injured instead being collected by the riders, sounding their own vocal sirens.

When an ambulance speeds through the city it pierces both visibly and audibly. A white, sonic knife through the metal fat of traffic clogging the city’s arteries and preventing a heart attack. Vehicles move aside, engines idling briefly as the ambulance passes, drowning out all other sound.

Jess treads the usual route home: familiar, yet changing almost every day. Today a new office building has been topped out and a coffee shop has appeared on West Street, nestled between two building sites. The construction workers form a fluorescent yellow snake in their high visibility overalls as they wait for buses. They will have downed tools at five O’clock and are now headed home before the city shuts down for the night.

Jess’s day ended as her office clock ticked to five O’clock and her computer shut down. She’d already filed the day’s hand-written papers, swiped out of the office and wondered as she walked home about the QED paper she’d typed and sent to its unidentified recipient: which had to be proven. What had to be proved? It was written in the past tense: how was whatever which required proof, proven?

As Jess approached the hospital, the ambulance had overtaken her and was now parked outside. Two paramedics wheeled a stretcher down a ramp from the back, quickly turning the stretcher and rushing through the automatic doors of the hospital. Then two riders arrived, bearing cargo. Finally, a car: black, like all ambulance chasers.

The sounds of the city subside as Jess nears the residential quarter. It’s as sudden as ever, like being followed by a blaring beat briefcase and the carrier turning down the volume out of consideration for someone approaching. In less than an hour after Jess leaves work, the city is almost silent.

Then the sound of paper on metal, like the gentlest fingers on a nail file. The daily note:

Should I continue?

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