A new project
For several years now I’ve been trying to get my novels published, but so far I haven’t been successful.
This past week, however, I had a brainwave. See, in contrast to both this blog and how I am in person, my stories have always been quite dark and grim. This may be what is limiting their appeal. So it dawned on me; why don’t I try writing something more light hearted? After all, this blog has taught me that I very much enjoy writing sillier fare.
Once again, a story idea came to me in a dream, and so I’ve begun work on my next novel, and my first try at a comedy. Here’s the intro and first chapter, let me know what you think! 🙂
Alacoria, 4 minutes post Incursion
The Black Crab was the dingiest, dodgiest pub in Fisherman’s Rest; an achievement undermined somewhat by the fact that it was also the only pub in Fisherman’s Rest.
Its claim to dodginess was that people sometimes cheated at cards there. It was rumoured there had even been a fight there once, culminating in a spectacular bloody nose. The owner still showed off the dark stain on the bar, proud of his establishment’s notoriety.
On this particular night a snowstorm was raging. Only a few people had braved the frigid streets, so the pub was almost empty. The wind howled outside like a pack of ghostly stockbrokers.
The winters were harsh in the north, and Fisherman’s Rest was about as far north as you could go in Alacoria without a boat. The only reason anyone lived there at all was, as its name suggested, the fishing, which provided a secure livelihood provided you didn’t mind having absolutely nothing else to do.
It was the sort of town time seemed to boycott, probably out of frustration that it had about as much power there as a local councillor, and quite bit less than the guy who collected the town’s toilet buckets.
But this night was different.
George, the owner, was carefully avoiding the ageing bloodstain as he scrubbed the bar, when the door banged open and a dishevelled figure stumbled in. All eyes (eight in total, sixteen if you count the spider in the rafters) turned to the newcomer; a young woman wearing strange, form-fitting clothes. Jet black hair hung to her shoulders in windswept rivulets, and her matching dark eyes gazed around the bar in wonder.
“Are you alright, miss…?” Enquired George.
She looked at him, breathing hard, her face flushed with elation. “Ebony,” she murmured, “and I’m fine.”
A chill slithered icily up George’s spine. Something about this woman felt deeply wrong. She was beautiful, but in a dangerous way, like a swarm of colourful jellyfish, or a dazzling meteorite plunging down to earth with the force of a few trillion sticks of dynamite.
She approached the bar; George repressed a shudder as she drew near. “A beer and a room for the night please,” she said. Her tone was friendly, but her voice felt like a silk noose.
“Sure,” he stammered, taking the gold she offered. As uncomfortable as she made him, he didn’t dare refuse her.
She drained her beer in one long swig, and sighed in satisfaction. “Can you show me to my room, please?” She asked. “I’m really tired.”
The thought of spending time alone with this woman was about as appealing to George as a romantic moonlit swim with a tiger shark. “Second door on the left,” he said, handing her key over with a trembling hand. She took it, thanked him politely, and retired to her room.
In her wake, an ominous silence filled the barroom. None of its denizens realized the true significance of what had just occurred. They were like tropical birds witnessing the arrival of nuclear physicists on their island paradise.
The International Institute of Quantum Cocooning attracted two kinds of people.
The first kind grew up in bedrooms with glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling and posters of the solar system on the walls, raised on a high lactose diet of sci-fi B movies.
The second were just an unlimited fortune away from being James Bond villains.
Alexandra Jeffries was both.
One thing she wasn’t though, was a morning person. As she leaned against the wall at the back of the crowded off-planet elevator, she sipped a coffee strong enough to induce mania in most terrestrial mammals.
Technically, no liquids were allowed on the elevator, but the security guards weren’t paid enough to care.
The IIQC was located 200 kilometres above the earth’s surface for “insurance reasons”. According to repeated statements from its lawyers, this had nothing to do with the experiments performed there, which “posed no plausible threat to the earth”.
It took an hour for the elevator to make the trip. In a horrendous oversight, the designers had failed to include toilets. As a result, the round titanium capsule often became a torture chamber that, in Alexandra’s opinion, violated several sections of the Geneva Convention.
She checked the glowing display on the wall, and saw to her relief that they were almost at the Institute. She desperately needed to fart, and doing so on the elevator would guarantee a day of vengeful interruptions to her work.
At 34, Alexandra had long since given up trying to fit in socially, and preferred the easygoing flexibility of quantum strings to the tedious minefield of smalltalk. Her dark hair was tied back in accordance with laboratory regulations, her grey uniform was neat and tidy in accordance with workplace protocol, and she wore no makeup because she couldn’t be bothered.
At last, the elevator docked with the Institute, and the doors slid open to reveal a dazzling maze of metallic white walls and glass panes. Alexandra waited for the others to board first, to avoid being caught in the sweaty crush, then walked through the maze to a heavy door marked “Experiment Module: Authorized Personnel Only”, dumping her empty coffee cup in a garbage chute and discreetly releasing the fart she’d been holding along the way. The camera in the centre of the door whirred as it scanned her iris, then it opened with a hiss, and she stepped through.
Beyond was a long corridor, lined with more reinforced doors, spaced about ten meters apart. Two doors down, a woman in her late twenties looked up as Alexandra appeared. “Hi Alex,” she said, with a brightness as piercing to Alexandra’s fatigued brain as a smoke alarm during a hangover.
“Hi Michelle,” responded the older woman, in a tone of what she felt was heroic restraint.
Michelle Kozukata was tall and athletic, with a perpetually cheerful demeanour and almost radioactively blue hair. In the dichotomy of IIQC employees, Alexandra placed her firmly in category A; an overgrown kid still giddy with excitement about how cool her job was. She’d worked there two years compared to Alexandra’s ten.
The older woman didn’t dislike Michelle, but she did find her exhausting to be around, and headed straight for her lab in the hope of avoiding further conversation.
“How’s your project going?” Michelle asked as she passed.
“Great,” said Alexandra, genuine pride leaking into her tone. Better than great actually, she thought with a smile, but that’s nothing you need to know about.
The door to her lab was just as heavy as the security door, but opened with a simple lever instead of a retina scan. She’d always found it amusing that once you were passed the entrance to the Module, there was no further security. Apparently it hadn’t occurred to the Institute’s designers that intruders committed and crazy enough to break into a facility that could bring about Armageddon might be able to trick or force their way passed a single security door.
The reinforced slab of token resistance opened into a small booth, with a control panel of touch screens lit up like a firefly rock concert. Above these, a single window overlooked a chamber the size of a house, where what looked like a glowing blue bubble two meters in diameter hovered above a spinning metal ring.
Alexandra closed the door behind her, then stepped up to the glass, gazing at the luminescent sphere the way a mother might gaze at her sleeping baby.
The field of Quantum Cocooning had emerged in the early 2030s, when a brilliant physicist and Burger Palace employee named Chen Zhou had posited that the universe was like the surface of a body of water, and that where there was turbulence, bubbles formed; self-contained “cocoons” of existence isolated from the outside universe.
The problem was, these bubbles decayed very quickly, usually within a few billionths of a nanosecond, so studying them was extremely difficult. Frustrated and out of ideas, Zhou found himself explaining this dilemma to his four year old daughter. The child thought for a moment, then told him to wait there, ran to her room, and returned with a bubble blower. “Why don’t you use something sticky to hold them together, like this?” She suggested, blowing a stream of iridescent bubbles.
Zhou’s search for “something sticky” eventually brought him to quantum strings. When aligned, they acted like a subatomic mesh, holding the membrane of the cocoon together. Using this technique, he was able to keep a cocoon intact for a full nanosecond. Then for almost a microsecond. Then four and a half hours.
Alexandra had long since put this and all other previous records to shame. Her self-contained universe was over three years old.
Like all the cocoons at the Institute, it had started as basically a sophisticated test chamber. As far as the laws of physics were concerned, cocoons were a blank slate. Alexandra and her colleagues could tinker with them like programmers tinkering with a virtual world; playing with the fabric of existence to see how it worked.
This was why the Institute attracted the Bond villain type; it was the perfect job megalomaniacs.
People like Alexandra.
But there were three important differences between her and the other trans-dimensional overlords at IIQC.
Firstly, she was smarter. A lot smarter. She had the kind of mind that looked at spinning froth in a coffee cup and saw a simulation of a rotating galaxy, or looked at the swirling clouds of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and saw a mathematical l model of turbulence.
Secondly, she had ambition. Building a universe that was merely a high tech physics simulator wasn’t enough for her.
That was where the third and most dangerous trait came in; imagination.
Alexandra looked down at the control panel, and swiped across one of the screens, bringing up an image of a town covered in snow.
“Good morning, Alacoria,” she murmured. “How are we today?”