Work in Progress
So as usual, new ideas never get planned. They just bounce off some invisible wall that sits in my blind spot and slam right into my head, leaving me staggering sideways clutching my skull and wincing with a WTFWT?! look.
Couple days ago I hit by a new idea for Yellow Dawn (RPG). It’s been a while since I’ve done anything with YD. The rewrite / launch of 2.5 took a lot out of me and the past year plus have been consumed by The Black Lake and The Social Club plus a raft of 14 new short stories that I churned out back in October / November. So it feels right to be giving YD some TLC. I don’t want to say too much at this point but the broad brushstrokes are: working title YD 10K; a free-download PDF that provides an entirely alternative / complimentary setting for the Yellow Dawn universe. I’m still fleshing out draft ideas so no view on timescales yet.
Meanwhile, I’m evolving a new paradigm for the novel-writing, with a view to reducing the hours I dedicate to new books, increasing the hours I spend on promoting existing books, and carving out time for more fun.
Talking of fun. What an amazing Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Christmas I blogged about in last post but New Year’s Eve was one of those delicious series of evolving min-adventures. Cocktails at a little bar in Bristol, guest-list only, 40 people, all total strangers; dude of a DJ who was whopping out funky, non-commercial dance tunes; my lady and I met another couple – the husband a DJ – her a party princess – who invite us back to theirs at 2.a.m. for more drinks and then taxi ride to the club – a series of rooms in some huge old Georgian structure – rave city – we don’t get home to close to 7 a.m. Photos to follow in a few days.
Right, the new novel. Working title was Oakfield, now changed to Temple Combe. It’s a pure Mythos tale of intrigue and terror set in a remote Cornish town (England). Fits nicely into my rack of existing work – and like all my novels – occupies a shared universe but is very much stand alone and can be read in any order.
I’ve been going back through the few chapters I completed last year (not happy with them) and giving them a tug and a tweak.
Here’s chapter one, un-proofed so no apologies for typos. This is straight off the screen.
– CORNWALL –
The figure was skeletal thin, a ragged man dressed in loosely fitted robes. Nothing more than torn sacks crudely stitched together. Clothes, as such, were not a normal aspect for its being. It clung to the side of the tall, finger-like stack of rock as an insect might cling to a plant stem… there was an aspect about it that was almost human, but much more that was not. It knew it was an abomination. Something made for the sole purpose of moving amongst human folk. It carried out orders without question, without emotion. It lived to serve.
A crooked smile stretched thin, rubbery lips as it released its grip on the rock and tumbled into the swift, pulling embrace of gravity.
Hello, my name is James Spaudling. I am not dead. But am I alive? Is this really me thinking… or a construct?
James Spaulding twisted his shoulders a few degrees to allow his eyes to scan where he was.
Bodmin Parkway train station. Early afternoon on a golden summer day. Sunlight touched the surrounding countryside and brought the colours alive. England, so green, so beautiful: it was soul-lifting. A dramatic contrast to the drab, dusty, heat-blasted terrain of the past two years.
Two goddamn years…until, they –
Tension folded his brow together. Compressed his face. Hard memories to digest leaving an ugly pained expression.
Thirty-five years old, five foot eight in height, and equipped with a stocky physique that wasn’t as toned, tanned or muscled as it previously had been, once…
Another life, another me…
But he was still in great condition. Like a barely used model recently wheeled out of the shop floor. One careful owner. He had a round face with small hard features, although his eyes, green and almond-shaped were large. Women found him attractive; gay men found him attractive. It wasn’t something he dwelled on. It had been a long time since he’d been with anybody. Damage. So much damage.
The tiny station consisted of a small brick building and a footbridge separating two open air platforms. Trees and shrubs hemmed in the access roads on either side. It was Old World. The place hadn’t been updated in decades. He loved it.
If this was a construct, the techs had done a Stirling job of mapping his preferences and comfort nodes from the surviving remains of his consciousness.
Birds were singing, lapping up the warm rays. The air smelled of coal smoke and burnt vanilla – carbon and sweet.
He held his position on the platform as if on stag duty: the stance, and the crew-cut now growing out in a blonde fuzz, all hinting at a military background. Technically he was still on active-service. Just currently not very active. Extended leave due to psychological trauma.
The steam locomotive let out a shrill blast from its whistle. The iron drive wheels span rapidly, slipping on the metal tracks until they caught, then slowly hauled the short length of elegant rolling stock away from the platform. Pistons shunted back and forth. Building up speed. Steam gushed out in great clouds. People watched with childhood smiles.
This wasn’t a construct, he decided. Because he could remember waking up at four o’clock this morning. And the tense journey from his flat in Crouch End to Paddington Station to meet the small group he’d travelled here with, to this remote edge of Cornwall. Tense because even the simplest things were an ordeal now. Flashbacks. Panic attacks. He wasn’t taking medication like he was supposed to. He knew he was stronger than that.
I’m supposed to be dead.
Yet here he was. It was hard to get used to. Reality, pressing up against his face. The memories of the last battle had been siphoned out of him, analysed for the ComSec reports, processed and recalibrated for minimal psych-impact before being merged back into his personality core. They couldn’t erase the recall: it would mean massive collateral damage to the dispersed memory archive and retrieval system of the human brain. That was lobotomy territory. Waste of a good solider. He was a good a solider, or had been. The Enemy had got a hold of him. They had…
What they did to me. Beyond barbaric.
The memories swam through his subconscious like sharks. That was the issue. Despite the recalibration, some part of him had been utterly damaged by the experience.
Not beyond repair however. I am still here. I am here. I am James Spaulding.
Mental sleight of hand. Skip to a new avenue of thought. His gaze focused on a dragonfly skitting up and down as it sped along the edge of the platform. Chasing the slowly departing train. He instinctively tried to dial-up the focus on his eyes for a closer look. But they hadn’t replaced his eyes yet. Same with the synaptic bridge and WAM. He was still all human. Fleshy new and squeaky clean. Almost. Weird how much he missed the implants and yet didn’t.
This was the start of a week-long holiday. Not that he’d define it exactly as a holiday. There were five of them including him. His younger brother, Anthony. His older sister, Annabelle and her husband, David Westlake, and – much to Annabelle’s chagrin – David’s business partner, Robert Briggs.
The trip had the potential to be another tour of duty. Inter-family warfare. Emotions, not his favourite kind of insurgent or rebel. Yet both his Battalion Commander and the Regional UTOC Medical Liaison Officer had both approved the request. The request had come via David. Which in turn had come via James’ big sister, Annabelle. David was a former Colonel of UTOC Mineral & Reserves Defence Regiment. MARDR. Nickname Murder. The dark horses of the corporate stable. David could still pull strings. David and James shared a friendship based on mutual suffering: both had suffered emotional and physical damage in war, and both sometimes found themselves at the mercy of Annabelle’s moody determination to have life conform to how she saw it should be. David didn’t want to be here on this trip either, but Annabelle wanted it – and what Annabelle wanted…
David had already left the station area to find a taxi. There wasn’t any parked outside.
The whole event had the feel of a well-orchestrated plot. Annabelle’s big head trip. Her chance to bring the family all together again, under one roof for the first time since the parents died, and a chance to heal the rifts.
For a professional psychoanalyst, his sister had some terrible personal issues bouncing off her padded walls.
James criticised his own negative thinking. It was unfair to say he didn’t want to be here. He did. He wanted reconciliation. He wanted love. He wanted family. He was just scared he was too long gone into the psychological spasm of psychosis and trauma to ever really come back to a semblance of feeling normal.
James rotated his mind away from the entangled cluster of thoughts and emotions. He stared at the retreating train. It was always a good way to cope. To just gaze off into a middle-distance and empty his mind.
The train. A piece of local history. A pricey tourist trap. It was typical of his older sister to blow money on such an extravagant arrival. Privately, he enjoyed seeing the relic of a long-distant era of travel huffing and puffing away from the station. However, his sister could have – should have – hired a van for the trek from London. It would have been simpler, cheaper, quicker, and would provide opportunity for them to carry a few items back. Not her style. No common sense. That was his sister.
He adjusted his negative thinking again: the train was a nice touch. A fun way to arrive. As for carrying items back to London. That depended on whether or not the house they were going to be spending the next week, actually contained anything of interest. Or value. This trip was a recce. A first encounter. If there was value to the place they could always arrange to come back.
Satisfied, he eased a sigh from his chest and squinted up at the sun. It was pleasantly warm. Not the forty-five degrees centigrade plus he’d been living and fighting within as part of Operation Metal Hammer. The soft breeze on his face was nice too. It didn’t carry the stink of burned engine oil or of bodies rotting in the heat.
No gunfire, no crump of concussion blasts, he acknowledged gratefully.
Bodmin. The place clung onto a rural vibe despite the oppressively small and modern buildings huddled along the top of the nearest embankment. It was okay. It was better than a rehabilitation centre in the sticky-heat of the Everglades, north-west of New Tokyo’s divisional headquarters for all UTOCs military units.
James reached into front breast pocket of his white cotton shirt and extracted a packet of hand-rolled cigarettes. Toxin-free, hydroponic tobacco grown by some old woman just outside Bristol. The no-frills packaging was all recycled card-mash but he’d always loved the name of them: Sunder Smokes. She sold them via the Internet. He always had them shipped to whatever logistics hub was supporting his combat vector. Engagements rarely lasted less than two weeks. Sunder Smokes were always high on his list of priorities. His compatriots often joked about his tobacco habit. Played with the words. Sunder Smokes. Smoke Sunder. Smoke Asunder. Smoke your ass under. Har-bloody-har.
Still, the memory of his lot goofing around, kitted out in their BDUs, webbing, and cradling the military standard weaponry for infantry teams assigned to PARC squads; it made him smile. Until he remembered they were all dead.
A muscle jumped in his cheek, tugged the flesh beneath his eye.
He sighed, flipped open the packet and dragged one out with his teeth. His gaze slid back to the tail end of the train and watched as it vanished from sight. He had that age-old restlessness firing through his nervous system again. Those flesh magicians, with all their molecular hocus-pocus-pokery and genome programs hadn’t managed to massage that out of the new him.
Being a senior cog in one of UTOC’s TNT platoons came with a lot of perks. One of them was that the TNT looked after their people. Elite medical care that went up to and included cognitive renovation. And for a Captain with a triple A-star PARC pilot rating they threw in a whole something extra. A whole new body, replicant version of the original – nothing cheap and unfamiliar to compound the psychological shock of waking up after being dead. Cloned from a mandatory DNA sample. His mind-state recovered from the bruised, bloodied, butchered and petrol-burned remains the Enemy had left behind after the massacre. Elite medical care included a cerebral-codex implant at the base of his skull. Some poor fucker from the clean-up squad would have had to dug the piece of cyberware out of the charred, sinewy, twisted mess of his spinal column in order to start the recovery process.
And here I am today…but is this really me or just a misguided simulation? How does a recorded mind-state work after all? Where the heck is my soul?
Lighting the cigarette with an antique brass-cased zippo, custom rigged to burn bio-fuel, he grinned around the bitter smooth flavour. He picked up his nylon kit bag – the one he’d carried through two tours now – and drifted to the far end of the platform trailing a plume of smoke.
One week together. In some old house Annabelle had inherited from a grandfather nobody really knew. Hadn’t he been living in Frankfurt most of his life? Why the heck did he move all the way out to here? Call it instinct or gentle paranoia but James felt the whole arrangement – the inheritance, the house – was a little strange.
* 8 *
When the five people finally clambered into a taxi with their collection of bags and suitcases, none of them saw the skinny, saggy-fleshed man in the cheap business suit watching them from a sheltered seat by the entrance to the platform. If they had, they might have been disturbed to see the way the man peered out from beneath the wide brim of a large floppy hat, and took careful note of their physical aspects. And they would have been deeply bothered to know the oddly-postured man then got up and walked out, hobbling on spindly legs that seemed to jerk and twitch within the loose-fitting trousers, to climb into a waiting car and start to follow the taxi from the small rural train station.
# # #
CREDIT: Featured hero image – Towards St Stythian by Phil Whiting
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