NaNoWriMo Day 14: “Didja Ever Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?”

Posted: November 14, 2011 in National Novel Writing Month, sci fi
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Forgive me.

It’s just that, well, it seemed so right, so tempting. And, it was right there, toying with me. How could it hurt? 

Just a little tweak here, there; it was already kinda about the same thing anyway, wasn’t it? I mean…

Yeah, whatever. Don’t judge me. You don’t know what it’s like. The pressure! The Horrible, Awful Pressure!

(I retrofitted an earlier idea into this novel. I think it works, he rationalized.)

 

The Battle of the Angels

 

Somewhere else: the Tau Confederacy. Humanity had been here, too: colonies grew, flourished, forgot, were forgotten. Now, a society of technocrats had arisen. They were curious, nosy, even. They sent their spaceships into the void, discovering and rediscovering lost worlds. They made a big deal out of it. Propaganda portrayed the explorations as heroic; the women and men, scientists all; larger than life, romantic. It was one of the only times that students were lionized thusly, in human or Human history. And, just like any other era where heroes are made, the gap between the heroic and the reality was vast. Disappointing, too, to those who discovered that expanse. “Heroes”, after all, were made up of the same belching, farting, toe-stubbing stuff as everyone else, but that sort of thing rarely makes for good viewing.

Professor Beyster Tule found himself to be one of those “heroes”. He had gone to the great University of Tau Theta, stars virtually in his eyes. He saw himself, standing rugged, proud, barrel chested, on some far – flung world full of adventure and intrigue. Pushing back the boundaries of ignorance, bringing the light of scientific reason and Truth to benighted savages living in darkness. Then, he was posted to an observation blind on Garvin. Garvin, powered by fossil fuels. Garvin, full of airborne toxins and pests that seemed to have evolved with the expressed purpose  of getting revenge on people by making them miserable enough to want to die, but not quite killing them. Garvin, where he and his colleagues were forbidden by strict Confederate policy, to interfere, while the society tore itself apart. Garvin, now radioactive at lethal levels, dead, a husk. Tule and the rest barely made it out. That Garvin. Pushed out of memory only by strong drink and people paid to listen and nod wisely. So much for romance.

Older and wiser, Professor Tule found himself in charge of an expedition to Syl, ancient Syl. Rural, forgotten, no lights, no cameras. No drama, he hoped. Just digging around in quiet ruins, would be plenty exciting enough. But, now, there was a new warlord or something, itching for a fight with the outer universe. As if that wasn’t enough, there was the old man, to deal with.

More so than just being old, what struck  Professor Tule most about the strange man was the fact that he looked tired. Really tired, bone weary, fed up, disgusted, sick-and-tired-of-your-shit tired, he thought. Some old people have this air of childlike wonder about them. Some look mean and grouchy, as if all their lives they’ve lived for this one thing, only to find out that it was all a lie. This guy looked like he’d seen it all, over and over again, for years and years. He just could n’t be impressed. Not a single damn could be give. Not at all.

He sat in a rickety little folding lawn chair, in the moth – eaten and run down field, next to an equally rickety looking gate. It was rusty, made of wrought iron, shaped like a Fleur de lis, and covered in layers of chipped and peeling paint. It wasn’t connected to a fence. It hung there, suspended among the weeds. He sat watch to it, like a security guard waiting for the shift change.

 The professor’s archaeological digs had been covering a lot of ground nearby, so to speak. They were trying to salvage whatever history they could. This part of the planet Syl had seen a lot of fighting: long ago, it was called Sylvania and was the seat of empires. Revolution came and went, came again as the former rebels became the tyrants to be rebelled against, over and over again. Now, Syl was a backwater place; sleepy, down at the heels, parched, drunk from history. Ruins abounded. They felt lucky to find more than two sticks propped up against each other. A bit of pottery fragment here, a scrap of leather there. They were trying to piece together the lives of people, dead for thousands of years, based on rumor, hearsay and dusty old garbage. It was tedious, miserable, fidgety work, and they loved it.

The old man and his gate were at the end of a long dirt road. Scruffy tufts of grass, a twisted and gnarled old tree with sparse leaves that gave neither shade nor shelter. The old man, and his gate. Dr. Mansuur, a bit of an amateur linguist, spoke first, asked him how he was doing. He nodded. It seemed to take a supreme amount of energy for him to do this. He looked at professor Tule for a moment, the creases in his face deepening slightly.

“What do you want?” he asked. He spoke in Galactic Standard, flawlessly, un accented. Tule could have guessed that he was from Gesselshaft, the capital city on Tau.

“Um,” he stammered, “we’re archaeologists, and-”

“I know what you are,” the old man interrupted. “What do you want?”

“To, ah, to learn the history of this place, I suppose you could say,”  Tule lamely finished.

The old man grunted. “I guess that my command of Standard is not so good,” he lied. “What do you, want. Here.” He jabbed a long, bony finger at the ground. It seemed like an accusation.

“Uh, to dig around here?” Tule guessed. “See what we can turn up? Maybe we can find something here, something really important, to, well, convince people to stop fighting in this area?” The old man looked at him, expectantly. “That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? No more fighting?” He had the sensation of being a little kid trying to explain to his dad why he was digging a huge hole in the front yard. I’ve got no good reason to be there, with the old man, his scraggly tree and his gate without a fence, Tule thought. I feel like a fool.

(The particularly observant among you may recognize this as part of an earlier blog entry, from before all this NaNo business.)

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

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