The Dance in the Deserts – my nanowrimo effort

Last month I found out about nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, where you are encouraged to attempt to write 50,000 words in a month, and decided to give it a go. I did not think that I would manage it and it is looking like I was right, but I have enjoyed the effort so far. I have just gone around a week with no time to write as I have been extremely busy, and I was already behind schedule before that. By now I should be on around 30,000 words, but have managed a measly 5,525. I am going to continue writing this novel, I hope. Here is the opening scene. The book (!) is science fiction, set on another planet in the future.

The Dance in the Deserts – The second age of Malidis

The wind battered against the sand dunes without care or remorse, whipping up a storm of fine quartz grains which scoured the derelict moisture trapper. The nomad seemed not to notice as he waited impatiently for his clandestine meeting with the one they called Medín. His gaunt frame was masked by his bulky cloak, revealing only his bony face with its weathered, leathery skin. His eyes were so narrow that they appeared to be shut, whilst his lips were dry and cracked and did nothing to stop the sand from coating his teeth. He chewed an exotic leaf to stave away his thirst, but by now it was dry and useless. He nervously thumbed a machete hidden beneath his cloak, one of many weapons and tools which he kept under there, necessary even for a pacifist in these deserts. Why was Medín keeping him waiting? I should not have come alone, he thought. His body was starting to ache; the storms were tolerable for nomads, but they took their toll. As he began to weary, a figure appeared on the horizon, hunched over, clearly feeling the full force of the storm. The nomad fought the urge to help him, he needed to appear stronger and uncaring, and so he watched as the traveller tumbled down the opposite dune and scrambled up towards the nomad’s feet.

‘Medín sends his apologies, he could not make it,’ the traveller wheezed. The nomad stood silently, I have failed, this fool is not to be bartered with, he is no more than a mere messenger. The messenger continued, ‘Bit of a pain, this storm.’ The nomad remained stoic, unmoving, resolute in his desire to show no emotion to this messenger of Medín. The reputation of Medín and his minions will one day pass into legend. He was a purveyor of information, seemingly omnipresent and omniscient, he appeared to know everyone worth knowing, was willing to talk to anyone, and had the sort of charm which could cause even a monk sworn to silence to start spilling their secrets carelessly, like precious water in the desert. Villagers sang songs about Medín and awaited his return, eager to drink the words and wisdom he brought. The nomad did not sing their songs or join in their eagerness for his return. It seemed that Medín knew even this, sending a messenger in his place.

‘So what did you want with Medín? What is so important that you had to get me lost in this shitstorm?’ The nomad surveyed the traveller through those narrow slits he called eyes; he was short, stocky, and his hair was hidden under the hood of a dusty traveller’s coat. He was clean shaven, but had obviously rushed and cut himself more than once. He hides his hair; he hides his heritage. He had long, thick eyelashes that were covered in sand, blinking rapidly to keep the dust out.

‘My words are only for Medín himself,’ the nomad replied, though he knew that an audience with Medín would be near impossible, he probably already knew what the nomad had to say. The messenger stopped blinking for a moment, fixing his eyes on the nomad, reaching into his coat to remove something. In his hand he held what appeared to be a sheet of dull metal, which he handed to the nomad.

The sheet was large, but the carvings on it were small, barely noticeable. The nomad held it close to his face, trying to read the words – it was a message from Medín. ‘I cannot read this language; do you know what it says?’ This time the other man was silent. The nomad lowered the sheet and saw Medín’s messenger brandishing a short sword, which found its way through the metal sheet and into the chest of the nomad. The sickening crunch was almost lost in the wind. As his life slipped away, the nomad could see his murderer remove a vial from an inside pocket of his coat, which he held to the nomad’s chest as blood slowly seeped into it.

‘Well, this wasn’t a complete waste of time,’ said the messenger, who turned and strode away, suddenly unaffected by the storm. The nomad faded fast, clinging onto life just long enough to see a rusted buggy swoop by to pick up his killer, coughing out smoke as it went. He closed his eyes and left; his wandering was over. His name was Talb.

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The Ghosts’ Ruin

I wrote this story as a follow up to Ghosts in Space when the competition theme was rage back in June. I seem to remember planning to write a third part, but can’t find anything. Whilst writing it I was listening to this piece of music:

 

The Ghosts’ Ruin

My trip to the “streets” of my youth was unsuccessful. I’d travelled to the space station where I grew up in order to help the children there, to help those without homes, to show that someone out there in the black cared about them. I’d grown up without a home, ignored by society as I fended for myself. Most kids don’t make it out of that lifestyle, but I got lucky and made a life for myself beyond the streets of space, and I vowed to go back to do whatever I could to prevent others from having to live that way. I searched all the familiar spots, crawling through air ducts which were much more comfortable to crawl through as a child, hanging around the best places from which to steal food, looking in all of the old nooks and crannies which provided a small amount of shelter at night, but a week of searching led to nothing.

I’d almost given up when I finally found what I was looking for. The child managed to get away from me for a while, but he hadn’t anticipated that I’d know the station as well as he did. When I finally cornered him he was trembling, staring at my dog tags. “You’ve come to take me as well, haven’t you?” he said as he cowered in the corner. His reaction startled me, but I knew why I was there, so I stretched out my hand, “I was once a ghost like you, but now I’m alive. I’ve come to help you live.” It took a while to gain his trust, but it was worth it. Most people seemed to call him ‘rat’, but his friends always called him Dirk, a name which he had chosen for himself because he couldn’t remember his birth name. All of his friends had gone, they’d been taken, and Dirk didn’t know where they had gone but it could not be good, they’d been taken by force and not all had survived the abduction.

I left the station as soon as possible, leaving Dirk with a trusted friend as I set out to find the truth. I was a commissioned military officer, able to access sensitive information, but there was nothing about the abductions whenever I searched the files I could access. It took months of clandestine meetings, slipping cash to the right people – or the wrong people if you are on the receiving end of their activities – in order to get the information I was after. I had to stay in my office late into the night in order for the informant to make the drop. It could not be done via computer, as with most communications, as they were too heavily monitored. If the government got wind of my investigations I would be wiped out in a second, but what could they be hiding? I poured myself a small glass of whiskey as a cleaner came in to empty the bins and give the floor a quick clean. I took my drink to the window and stared at the stars until he left. When I turned back around I saw a file on my desk; it contained the answers I craved.

I knocked the whiskey back quickly and it burnt my throat, but it calmed me, ready for what I was about to read. I poured another drink and kept it firm in my hand. I saw layouts of several space stations, instantly recognising the one I once called home. Someone had marked all the old familiar routes around the station, those used only by the ghosts, the homeless children like Dirk. I started shaking as I read an order to catch and detain them all – I could have been one of them if this order had gone through earlier. I thumbed through photograph after photograph of malnourished children dressed in old rags; nearly every street child ran afoul of the law at some point, but they did nothing more than document you and your crime. I spilled my drink on the picture of Dirk, that poor boy only narrowly escaped whatever fate had befallen his friends.

I finished what was left of my drink and attempted to shake some sense into myself. For all I knew they had been taken to a safe place, but why would it be a secret? I calmed down and continued to flick through the photographs, noticing that the quality was getting worse. I started seeing familiar faces, old friends whom I thought I would never see again. Then I saw the most familiar face of all staring back at me, trying to look as innocent as possible despite having been caught stealing food. I had to know what had happened to those children; I had to know what could have happened to me. None of the files seemed to say what had happened to them, I’d paid good money for blueprints and photos when I wanted more than that. I slammed my glass down in anger and went to pour another drink when I spotted it: a small computer chip had been cleverly concealed at the back of the file, shaken loose by the slamming of my glass.

I was able to access the files on the chip through a handheld console, as I did not trust the computer on my desk. It contained a video, poorly filmed as it was obviously a secret, probably using a camera hidden in someone’s beret. I didn’t recognise the facility through which the cameraman had travelled, but it was clearly military and clearly top secret. He passed through a maze of corridors, through numerous high security doors, eventually ending up deep underground. He was led into a hospital room, where a child was lying unconscious on a bed. There was something odd about the child and it wasn’t until the camera got closer that I saw what was wrong. One of his arms had been replaced with a gun and he had a wound which looked like it was caused by the same weapon.

I continued to watch, crushing the whiskey glass in my hand when I saw that they weren’t just testing this technology on the children by turning them into weapons, but were forcing them to test it on each other. I didn’t care about the shards of glass in my hand as I watched Dirk’s friends forced to fight each other or be executed on the spot. Tears filled my eyes and I started to shake violently. It could have been me. My breathing got heavier. None of this made sense. I clenched my fists, pushing the glass further into my wounds. How could anyone do that to innocent children? I wanted to scream and shout at someone, but nobody was there. My head was swimming, I could see no further than my desk so I flung it over, smashing it into the wall. That felt good. I picked up the chair and hurled it through the window. Maybe I could destroy them from the inside, just smash everything I could see. It made sense at the time. I shouted some threat out of the window, I don’t remember what I said, it was all a blur, but I made a new vow that night. I would get revenge for the ghosts. I would stop this from happening to any other child. I’d never killed anyone before, but at that moment I felt like I needed to.

I could not let those feelings consume me, I had work to do, but for that night I relished them. I grabbed the whiskey bottle and looked back at my scene of destruction. I wanted to do that to the face of every official I saw in that video.

Ghosts in Space

This story was sort of written for a competition on a Facebook group, though I submitted it late with no intention of winning, I just wanted to take part but was too busy before the deadline. The theme for this competition was simply “street children” and it was written in June.

 

Ghosts in Space

The luxurious shuttle was waiting, suspended out in orbit of the space station, waiting for the signal to dock. Docking always takes a long time on busy stations, especially those with high immigration levels, even for government funded visits. The docking procedure itself would take no longer than a few minutes as these overcrowded stations had poor security, they were unlikely to even check for illegals, which is half the problem.  Stepping off of the shuttle into one of the many corridors of the station brought tears to my eyes; I’d worked so hard to get away from this place and had finally returned. I had a purpose, I had to be here, I had to be back on the “streets” as we called them. The corridors were wide enough to fit a standard family vehicle, flanked on either side by residential cabins and offices. I’d entered in one of the upmarket areas, parts with which I was unfamiliar, but it all had the same sort of look to it – the same walls, the same doors, the same viewing ports directed at either the stars or the uninhabitable planet. That planet: the source of our problems.

The planet we were orbiting was meant to be made fit for human life, one of many in this solar system which was supposed to be used for habitation but failed the procedures, leaving thousands stranded on a cramped station stuck in orbit. I made my way to the slums, the run-down areas where market stalls line the streets, make-shift shelters are common, and adult beggars ask for money wherever they can find space, but I was looking for the ghosts. We called ourselves Ghosts in Space, it took the edge off of the harshness of life, made it sound more fun, like something out of the science fiction shows we sometimes watched through a shop window. We were nothing but children, the ones that went unseen, without food, without homes, without an education. Thankfully on a space station there is no bad weather to contend with, no harsh winters, just the cruelty of those who control the thermostat and like to play God. Fortunately I only lost one friend to the occasional cold.

As a ghost I would get my food any way I could, stealing from market stalls, rummaging through bins, playing on the sympathies of restaurant owners, it was all fair game. I found shelter in the air vents, when I wasn’t muscled out by some of the homeless men. They scared me. As ghosts we often felt invisible, until one of our friends went missing. We found some of his belongings in the makeshift bed of a young homeless man, with what might have been his bones, but for all we knew it could have been a stray dog. I wanted desperately to get away from that place; I never thought I would return. But there I was, crawling into an air vent twenty years later, looking for ghosts.

Nobody cared about me when I was a child. I was truly a ghost walking the streets of space. The station was overcrowded and more families arrived each year. We were forgotten, or perhaps we were a solution. Ignore us and we might perish, leaving fewer mouths to feed. We had nobody to help us, but that was about to change. When I escaped the space station I promised that I would do everything I could so that others would not have to go through the life that I had. I was one of the fortunate few, I found a way out, and if I didn’t do my part then children in the future might be living in the streets as well. I could not bear that thought.

Mike’s Final Frontier

This is my favourite short story which I have written so far. It is from 2010 and apparently I had a test the next day, so naturally I wrote a story instead. It was originally simply called The Final Frontier, which of course is not very imaginative, so I have changed it to another title which is really no more imaginative, but at least it is probably original.

 

Mike’s Final Frontier

Mike was travelling at a speed he had never experienced before, yet he didn’t know it. He sped past thousands of planets and stars of every imaginable size and colour, well, imaginable if you happen to be an astronomer, yet he did not admire a single one and was distinctly not struck by awe. Mike had never seen or experienced anything like it and never would. It wasn’t until he crash landed on an unsuspecting planet that he started being able to experience things again. Mike’s first experience of the whole adventure was not unlike waking up with a hangover after one of those typical nights which leaves you waking up in a pill-shaped space craft on the face of a strange planet with shiny blue plant-like things. Mike’s first thought was to have a drink, get some fresh air and if possible, a fry-up.

For the planet the experience was nothing new, in fact, it barely noticed. When you are a planet you don’t suspect much will happen except the odd meteor bombardment, which is the equivalent of a bout of chronic diarrhoea in us human types. Being hit by a space craft is like breaking wind unexpectedly but with no dog to blame it on. The planet did not know that the meteor-like object hitting it today contained a man; there isn’t a lot of knowing in this story. It is fortunate that the planet did not know that Mike was currently relieving himself on some of the shiny blue plants as planets don’t tend to develop perverse fetishes involving urine (if you happen to be into that then good for you, I will try to call other groups perverse in future instead).

After he had finished watering the strange plants, Mike decided to check the manual he had been given during his briefing in hope that it would help him locate his lunch-box.  The only thing he had remembered about the briefing was that he had to first figure out what sort of planet he was on. According to the manual the shiny blue plants meant that he was orbiting a type F star. This meant nothing to Mike, but then this whole escapade meant nothing to Mike. He had simply read an ad in the paper about sending explorers out into space to find things. Mike didn’t know what he was looking for really or even why; something about the Earth becoming hostile to human life and other planets being searched for, nonsense like that really.

The company had become increasingly desperate and started hiring any old person who stumbled in for an interview. Mike certainly had stumbled in as he was drunk at the time and decided he wanted to make some extra money, oblivious to the fact that they wanted unpaid volunteers. After he urinated in the office plant pot, perhaps a sign of things to come, he signed his papers and off he went, once he had sobered up of course.

Words like “cryostasis” meant nothing to Mike, who assumed that he was taking part in some sort of intergalactic drugs trial, except that words like “intergalactic” mean nothing to Mike who probably assumed very little, except for the pay-cheque he could never receive. Somehow Mike kept imagining his non-existent reward despite the distinct lack of shops in which to spend his money. There wasn’t even a simple market stall, though he could keep it in mind to invest in shares in shiny blue plants for there were a lot of those here, if only he were ever to return to Earth.

Back on Earth Mike was nothing special, certainly not the ideal candidate for being ambassador to the whole planet, yet by a twist of fate or for God’s entertainment he landed in that position. His landing on the planet was more of a skid than the graceful glide the craft was programmed for, but of course the previous use of the word landed was not literal. Mike’s daily life consisted of drinking large quantities of bitter, shouting at the television when he disagreed with things being said, eating food cooked by other people and occasionally seeking out jobs with little commitment. The only differences were that the order seemed to be due to complete random chance, or at least anyone unfamiliar with scientific definitions of random might call it that. His cat at least could not figure out his pattern, though cats never were very good at maths; politics are where cats are most at home.

Mike resembled a skinny man who had eaten an inflatable chair and allowed it to blow up in his stomach, perhaps through all the shouting he does at the television, which would allow the air to get in whenever he took a deep breath in preparation for another pointless diatribe. His hair was rarely washed and was going grey in places, his face unshaven, and his glasses were constantly steamed. Currently his glasses were pointing upwards at a flag he had just erected, though really it was just a towel he had tied to a metal pole that had broken off of the ship. Mike didn’t know what the pole did and in typical Mike fashion he did not care one jot. This planet was now his, though he didn’t bother giving it a name. He always planned on letting his wife name things like children and random planets, but never having married puts a stop to that plan. Mike was always perplexed about why nobody wanted to marry him, perhaps he could find a lovely alien wife here who could name the planet, he wondered. While she was at it she could even name his cat.

Mike’s day on this strange new world involved urinating on more shiny blue plants, shouting at the type F star, eating his food storage supplies which sadly contained no fry-up, and seeking shelter. His exploration did not take him far, nor did he observe much. He was not perturbed by the lack of animal life in his vicinity and eventually went back to sleep in the comfort of the spaceship.

As he slept, his snores carried for miles. The planet he was on was rather large and lacked mountains, so everything with eyes for miles around had seen his skid landing. It just so happened that something with eyes was watching him closely, though it may have been using other senses too. If they possessed noses they would probably have gotten as far away from Mike as possible; the food supplies appeared to have been disagreeing with his stomach. Instead, the as yet undescribed creatures dragged the space ship back to their living area and waited for Mike to wake up.

At one point in the middle of the night Mike leapt up sharply, ran over to a tree, relieved himself all over it, mumbled something inaudibly, and then returned to his snoring in the craft. The creatures observing never did find out what this strange behaviour was. When Mike awoke very early the next afternoon he was welcomed by some strange looking creatures with strange food. Ordinarily this would be a very unusual experience and one would feel a mixture of fear and excitement as well as harbouring a plethora of questions. Not for Mike. He tucked in to the strange grub and barely said a word until he had finished. Those first words were “do you do beer?” followed by a rather loud burp.

By one of those often unexplained science fiction coincidences Mike had landed on the only other planet where English is spoken, not only that, but it is also spoken with English accents. Mike figured that these alien creatures must have come from somewhere near Manchester. He met with the tribe leaders and explained how he got there, a story which should not have taken long, but Mike had to embellish it a bit.

“After I was elected president of Earth” Mike declared, “I decided that I wanted to spread peace and knowledge through the universe.” He went on to state unequivocally that these alien civilians were obviously inferior in the peace department and that they could do with a splash of his wisdom, if not a whole bath in it. In perfect Mancunian tones the tribe head approved of this statement and put Mike in a position of power. Mouldy Mike, as the pub landlord used to call him, had practically become a god amongst the undescribed alien species on the unnamed planet. If only his future wife could see him now, she would probably cook him a steak. Gods deserve steak on their first day at work.

Over the coming months Mike went about reorganising the primitive society. Mike knew that he hated communism, but as he did not know what communism was he decided not to mention it in case it gave anyone ideas. He promptly declared all aliens equal and wondered what to call this system, eventually deciding to leave it up to his future wife. He increased the manufacture of beer, which to Mike was a boom in the economy. Previously everyone had been farmers but now they had brewers, doubling job opportunities. He also sent out explorers in search of wild beasts to house in a zoo; Mike had always loved zoos as a child. Most of the explorers brought back more shiny blue plants, which Mike was tempted to use as currency in order to get rich quick.

Mike’s evenings were spent surrounded by avid listeners, an audience full of open minds eagerly waiting to be filled with Mike’s unique wisdom. Mike boomed, “A wise man once said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

“Was that wise man you sir?” piped up a young Mancunian voice.

“Of course,” Mike responded unashamedly, “I also declare that we should turn the other cheek.”

“But don’t they contradict?” another Mancunian voice chimed in.

With a response that would make his cat proud, Mike said, “Such questions demonstrate that you are only young and cannot comprehend true wisdom.” Mike immediately felt justified by all his time shouting at politicians on the television and changed the subject with haste. “Never trust the French!” he continued.

“What’s a French?” asked one plucky young alien with an odd quiff.

“A person who does not know how to queue properly!” barked Mike, quite taken aback but still in relatively high spirits, an unsurprising fact considering the amount of whiskey he had consumed.

“What’s a queue?” asked yet another oddly quiffed and undescribed Mancunian-sounding alien.

“Something the English do particularly well.” said Mike in a very proud manner.

“What’s an English?” said another, though it was possibly the same one as Mike could never tell the difference, even between the blue and yellow ones.

Exasperated, Mike responded, “Someone from England, the most glorious, wonderful and modest nation ever!” Not a bad response considering he had used almost all the adjectives he knew.

“Where is England?” said one alien, but Mike did not see which one. This response infuriated him so much that he left them and stormed off into the night, cursing about how ignorant they were and ranting about the French.

Nobody ever saw Mike again. By the time he had reached the planet he was the last of the human race. The strange Mancunian aliens awaited his return until they got fed up of waiting and turned to another source of wisdom in the form of a strange little beetle called Fred. Fred had somehow gotten inside Mike’s spacecraft and flown across the galaxy with him. Coincidentally, also in an inexplicable manner, the aliens spoke fluent beetle too, though this time in an Indian accent. The beetle did away with all of Mike’s changes to alien society and set about trying to find a way to return to Earth to sell shiny blue plants.

Mike has not been forgotten amongst these alien peoples. Thanks to Fred he will always be remembered as the bringer of beer, and no planet is complete without its share of drunkards.