If You Can’t Blind Them With Brilliance…

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Fair warning: Thar be mild spoilers ahead, so if you plan on seeing Star Trek Into Darkness and wish to go in fresh, turn back now.

Let me begin by saying I didn’t have high expectations for this film, so I wasn’t disappointed at how much I really didn’t like it. Wasn’t a fan of the first film either. Truth to tell, I’m not big on reboots or reimaginings in general. And that’s all this is. A poor reboot of the far superior film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Don’t mistake my meaning, this isn’t a bash on J.J. Abrams. The man does what he’s paid to do. He puts asses in seats, like a professional carnival huckster. He’s under no obligation to provide a solid, well thought out plot or three-dimensional characters. It’s all about bang for the buck, which this movie has in spades. It meets its quota of fisticuffs, phaser fights, explosions, space battles, and winks and nods to the original series to appease actual fans of the franchise. Abrams certainly knows his way around a popcorn movie, living by the old adage, “If you can’t blind them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

But instead of dissecting Into Darkness (enough fan sites are doing that already), I’d rather talk about what made Wrath of Khan work. It’s one of two films that I can think of off the top of my head that has a near perfect set up. The other is the first Back To The Future film.

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Wrath of Khan begins with the Star Fleet Academy final exam, The Kobayashi Maru, a no-win scenario simulation designed to test the character of cadets before unleashing them into the harsh realities of interplanetary relations. Kirk is now an admiral relegated to training cadets after giving up his starship command. It’s his birthday, so he’s feeling old. His life lacks adventure, so he feels put out to pasture. He has no family, so he feels alone in the universe. The man is miserable, making him the perfect character in desperate need of an arc.

Come to find out Kirk is the only cadet to beat The Kobayashi Maru, but he did it by rigging the test. He cheated because he doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. And that’s what the entire film is, Kirk’s Kobayashi Maru. An adversary emerges from his past, hellbent on revenge for being stranded on a planet that turns hostile. He’s reunited with an old flame and discovers he has a son. And he’s pitted in a battle of wits against a far superior opponent. Even in his most desperate hour, Kirk is enjoying this. It’s what he was born to do. The only thing he’s ever been good at.

And finally, he’s forced to face The Kobayashi Maru consequences. He’s encountered his no-win scenario. He’s at the end of his tether, with no more cards left to play. He’s not only put himself in the line of fire but his crew and new found family as well. They’re dead. Or they would have been, had Spock not sacrificed himself, quoting the Charles Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities (a present he gives to Kirk on his birthday), “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few“.

Kirk finally faces devastating loss, the death of his closest friend, but as he mourns, he witnesses the creation of a world, has reconnected with a family he never knew he had and is once again in command of a starship. At the beginning of the film, he was feeling old, but as the film wraps, he stares at the Genesis Planet and tells Carol Marcus that he “Feels young.”

That’s a proper character arc.

And you won’t find any of that in Into Darkness. It’s a poor photocopy that lacks the richness of history, the depth of character, or a plot that can bear the weight of scrutiny.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

 

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Project #Novel365 2018 – Intermission

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I have decided to stop posting the Project #Novel365 2018 story on the blog because it has reached a point where I need to fine-tune and enhance the story so it can indeed become a proper novel–spare me the I-told-you-so’s. It was a stream of consciousness writing experiment that I enjoyed toying with and learned a valuable lesson from.

If you followed along, I hope you enjoyed the bits I shared and I appreciate all the comments that have been made on it.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Monday short story program.

Sally forth and be writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 21

2018 (1)

#Novel365 2018 Week Twenty

Cariad was sent an Academy card form to sign and return together with a passport photograph along with college contractual documents and arrival information. Shortly after she received her Candida Isca Academy Single Sign On IT account details, that granted her access to central IT services.

The weeks that followed passed in a frenzied blur as the entire Boerum household prepared for what Rupert called Cariad’s Grand Adventure. Somewhere during the process of Cariad sorting through her belongings to decide what would travel with her and what would remain behind, Ruth passed by the room and spotted her daughter placing her piggy bank into a luggage case.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ruth asked.

Cariad gave her a what does it look like I’m doing stare but answered anyway, “I’m packing Chris P. Bacon.”

“I can see that but why?”

“She’s a good luck charm and I never know when I might need some emergency cash.”

“I plan on giving you a card for emergencies! What kind of mother do you think I am?”

“I don’t know, Mom, the kind that keeps dirty little secrets?”

Rupert appeared in the doorway, shaking his head, “Don’t you ever speak to your mother like that again!”

“But she’s the one who started it, Dad! She barged in here trying to run my life!”

“All I did was try to stop you from burdening yourself with unnecessary things like that silly little bank of yours and these ratty t-shirts,” Ruth plucked several worn and faded novelty tees out of the case and flung them on the floor.

“You’re the queen of chucking out unnecessary things, aren’t you, Mom? Like your daughter?”

“Enough!” Rupert shouted. Cariad had never heard her father sound so angry. He paused, swallowed. “We’re a family, dammit, so it’s about time we started acting like one again! Ruth, let her pack what she wants to pack, she’s going away, not you!” Ruth opened her mouth to argue her point but Rupert put up a hand to cut her off. “And you, young lady, should learn to show a little respect because I know we raised you better than that!”

As he stormed away, Rupert added, “And if you can’t be civil toward one another then the very least you can do is be silent!”

And that was exactly what happened. From that moment there was a temporary ceasefire between Cariad and her mother and calm reigned. When they worked on a project together and speech could not be avoided, they maintained a strained civility and when words were not necessary they shared an icy silence. After the row with her mother, there was something about the act of packing her things and getting her affairs in order that gave Cariad the feeling that she actually was ready to leave home and she carried that feeling with her up until the moment she arrived at the airport and had to say goodbye to her parents.

“No, I’m not leaving,” Cariad’s eyes glistened as she tried to hold back the tears. It was a valiant effort and she put up one hell of a fight but it was a losing battle.

Rupert placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her in for a hug. Her cheek felt damp and she thought she had started crying but she felt her father’s chin tremble against her and realized the tears were his. This made her hug him even harder.

“Are you afraid of school?” Rupert whispered in her ear.

She shook her head.

“Then it’s alright for you to leave,” Rupert gave her one last tight squeeze then held her out at arm’s length. “Your mother and I will find a way to manage without you for a while.”

Cariad turned to Ruth who held her arms out for a hug but the gesture looked uncomfortable, almost insincere as if it was a protocol that had to be followed, the socially acceptable thing to do in a situation such as this in order not to appear a monster in society’s eye. Instead of the hug, Cariad clasped one of Ruth’s hands and pumped it up and down firmly, politely smiling, “Thank you. Really.”

The air hostess announced the final call for her flight. Cariad turned and picked up her carry-on bag and wiped her eyes as she rushed to the gate. Before boarding, she stopped at the jet bridge and turned to wave at her parents. They smiled and returned the wave. Ruth mouthed words that Cariad read as I love you but she could have been misreading it so she didn’t mouth anything in reply. Her father, while waving, was also tapping his pocket, a gesture she didn’t understand. She was about to shrug What? to him but the air hostess was ushering her into the jet bridge.

***

Once she reached Candida Isca, there was hardly any time to settle in. Week Zero was filled with completing all the steps of her Academy registration in order to attend her program of study, release her tuition grant from the Student Loans awarding body, activate her University email account, obtain her University Card, print an enrollment certificate, become eligible to take examinations and access her results. When all that was finished her status as a member of the Academy was confirmed.

As she was a first-year undergraduate, Cariad was provided accommodations in the Green-Hart Family House with the understanding that she might be required to move out to private accommodation in her second or third year or she had the choice to share a house with friends.

Cariad was greeted in the common room by RA Cosette who was about 20 but her smooth face and the mysterious carefree attitude made her seem much younger. Her light ash brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she wore blue jeans, boat shoes and a cotton blouse. “My name’s Cosette, welcome to Green-Hart House,” the RA smiled.

Cariad let go of the handle of her rolling travel case, shook hands, introduced herself and because she hadn’t prepared anything in the way of small talk, said, “So, this is my dormitory?”

“We call it a residence hall, but yeah, this is the place you’ll call home for the next year or so. Dea and Burton are out and about somewhere so I’ll give you the five-cent tour.”

“Dea and Burton?”

“The hall director and assistant hall director. You’ll meet them during orientation when they set the ground rules.”

“Oh, you’re not—?”

“Nope, I’m the resident assistant who lives on your floor. Let me grab one of those for you,” Cosette grabbed the strap of one of the bags, slung it over her shoulder like it weighed nothing and led the way through the house.

“All right, things you should know,” Cosette said. “The floor you’ll be on is all first year so you shouldn’t run into too many hassles with upperclassmen. It’s also single gender—which means no guys—and substance-free—which means no drinking and definitely no drugs.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me,” Cariad waved the notion off.

“I’ve been RA for two years, RA supervisor for one and in my experience, it’s always the ones I don’t have to worry about that make the biggest scenes. These next few weeks are going to be Buckle up, y’all time for me because you’re going to break every single rule and make the stupidest mistakes known to mankind. First time away from home is when freshmen need to get the drinking and fucking and all that other free will nonsense out of their systems. So, I’m going to been overly understanding with you in the beginning but keep in mind we’re operating on a three strikes rule. If you try to be slick and can take advantage of my good nature, you’ll find yourself hunting for a new place to live.”

“I’m not like that.”

“Okay, Carrie, prove me wrong, I dare you,” Cosette smiled but her expression was deadly serious.

The shortening of her name hit Cariad like cold water to the face. Her father had called her by a few nicknames that she had outgrown but neither of her parents had ever called her Carrie. She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about it. It was said without contempt so it wasn’t like she was being teased but it was a little too familiar a little too quickly.

Cosette ran through the tour of common areas, kitchens, shared bathrooms and shower facilities fairly quickly, none of which found a fixed space in Cariad’s memory and it ended at a room where two five by three white cards, one bearing her last name and the other that read Guō were push-pinned on a small corkboard beside the door. Cosette gave a little knock and announced herself and entered when a small voice from inside the room gave her permission.

The hall room itself was smaller than she imagined, approximately 12 feet by 16 feet with an 8-foot-high ceiling. Two loft beds were situated against the righthand side wall and beneath the elevated wooden frame of each bed was a small wooden writing desk and chair.

“It’ll seem a little cramped at first but you’ll get used to it and it’s only for your fresher year,” Cosette said, letting Cariad’s bag slide off her shoulder to floor. “The rooms get better year by year.”

“This is your roomie, Bao. Bao, meet Carrie,” Cosette said.

“Cariad, actually,” Cariad corrected. The last thing she needed was for that nickname to stick.

The Asian young lady seated at her writing desk in a plain button-down blouse and linen pants looked up from her laptop and gave Cariad the once-over before offering a lackluster, “Hi.” Cariad returned the greeting with equal enthusiasm.

“Well, now that the hard part’s over, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Cosette said, patting Cariad on the shoulder on her way to the door. “Once you get settled in, come find me and I’ll tell you about a few of the activities that’ll help you get to know your fellow floor residents and you should make it your business to attend because we’re all about building a community that’s fun, friendly, and respectful.”

Bao’s eyes never left Cariad. She remained silent when their hall door clicked shut and the sound of Cosette’s footstep faded in the distance.

“Since I was raised to believe that honesty is the best policy,” Bao said, carefully enunciating each word, “I’m just going to put this out in the open: I’m very nervous about this dormitory living situation. You know, moving in with a complete stranger, it makes sense, doesn’t it? I’ve been reading way too many dorm-room horror stories online of crazy, nasty, or downright terrifying roommates.”

As she was speaking all Cariad could concentrate on were all the small framed photos hanging on the wall, propped up on the writing desk and even the background of her laptop screen. They were all snapshots of Bao. Not Bao and friends; just Bao.

Cariad’s attention refocused on Bao’s ramblings in time for her to hear her roommate say, “I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to find you standing over me with a knife, do you know what I’m saying?”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 20

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#Novel365 2018 Week Nineteen

After registering to fulfill the test requirement part of her application process, Cariad was called into the office of a member of the admissions staff which she and those who were in earshot found peculiar including members of staff as none of the other registrants before her received this treatment.

The admissions person who introduced himself as, “Mr. McCune,” sat her down in the cramped office that resembled more of a research nook than a proper office and politely asked her a series of random questions which she automatically assumed to be a sort of psychometric test. No, test wasn’t accurate because tests were graded on right or wrong answers. This was more of a verbal questionnaire to discover what kind of person she was in ways that a person wouldn’t necessarily admit to in an interview, with questions designed to expose how Cariad behaved and what motivated her.

When he felt he had gathered enough information to make an assessment, McCune thanked Cariad for her time, escorted her out of the office and asked her father to step in for a moment. McCune closed the door but the latch hadn’t slid into the strike plate so the door remained slightly open. She considered walking away back into the corridor but the opportunity to eavesdrop was a temptation she couldn’t avoid so she loitered at the door.

“Thank you for taking the time, Marco,” her father’s voice said.

“You’re one of our top contributors and a damned fine lecturer, Rupert, so how could I refuse?” McCune replied. “Besides, for a twelve-year-old, she has a top-notch mind as a result of your homeschooling, no doubt, so if she aces her test I’ll make sure she tops the shortlist.”

“I should probably warn you, she tends to be a homebody, one of the unfortunate traits she picked up from me, so her social skills aren’t yet what they should be which means her professors can expect for their hands to be full.”

“What genius doesn’t have social rough patches? I can remember a ruddy-faced freshman who was so full of himself and piss and vinegar when he first attended Uni.”

“Stop exaggerating, Marco, I wasn’t that bad.”

“The hell you weren’t. Do you want to know the best thing that ever happened to you, aside from marrying Ruth and having Cariad, I mean? Meeting me.”

Cariad found that she felt uneasy listening to the rest of the conversation. She had never considered that life her father had outside their family or before she was born and the fact that her father had friends he never discussed with her made her feel envious and left out. Logically they were crazy emotions but she couldn’t help the way she felt at the moment. Something else nagged at her, clearly, she was here because of her father’s connections with Candida so why had he lied to her and said it was Mom’s doing?

***

The admissions test was pretty much what Cariad expected, a timed, written exam designed to show the academy how she thought: how she analyzed and solved difficult questions as well as how she applied her knowledge to texts or problems she hadn’t encountered before.

The hardest part for her was deciding which course she wanted to study as she could only apply for one course in the same year and time studies, which technically fell under the category of horology or clockmakers, wasn’t presented as an option on Candida Isca’s course list. She opted to follow the path her father had paved for her and selected theoretical physics. Physics did not require written work to be submitted as part of the application process but Cariad completed four papers on Understanding Time as The Fourth Dimension, Traveling Through Wormholes, Alternate Time Travel Theories, and the Grandfather Paradox.

When she received her letter to interview, despite knowing that her father’s friend placed her on the shortlist as a favor, she felt a wave of excitement washing over her. She wouldn’t allow herself to race but she walked at a rate quicker than her normal pace and made the announcement to her parents. Rupert caught her up in a bearhug and nearly squeezed the life out of her so strong was his pride in his daughter. Ruth smiled a genuine smile that somehow seemed equal to the hug and announced that she would be making the trip with Cariad to Candida this time.

The academic interview was not at all what Cariad had expected. She had read up on interview techniques and how to avoid falling into traps on certain types of questions aimed at catching interviewees unawares, but none of it was relevant. Yes, there were four tutors in the room but they were very friendly and simply asked her questions regarding physics and her thoughts on higher dimensions and time travel. Without meaning to, she rambled on for an hour, reiterating things she had written in her papers and the tutors smiled and nodded along in agreement the whole time. Then the tutors presented her with something she hadn’t encountered in her father’s lessons: The Hierarchy problem.

“Why is gravity such a weak force?” Tutor Lefevre asked. “It becomes strong for particles only at the Planck scale, around 1024 GeV, much above the electroweak scale—100 GeV, the energy scale dominating physics at low energies.”

“Why are these scales so different from each other?” Tutor Valdez added.

“What prevents quantities at the electroweak scale, such as the Higgs boson mass, from getting quantum corrections on the order of the Planck scale?” Tutor Abrams inquired.

And Tutor Wood chimed in with, “Is the solution supersymmetry, extra dimensions, or just anthropic fine-tuning?”

The questions came in rapid succession and Cariad realized it was designed to rattle her, which it did. She stumbled in the beginning but began applying the knowledge she possessed to offer solutions. She even asked if she could work the problem out on paper and before receiving an answer began jotting down mathematical equations and when she became stuck at certain points she was surprised to discover the tutors were offering hints to steer her in a direction around various obstacles. By the time the interview had ended, she left feeling rattled but her mother dismissed it as a normal reaction to being verbally tested and suggested she should concentrate on doing something frivolous to distract her until they received word from the academy.

It was just the two of them on this trip, not because her father was too busy or too disinterested to make the trek but because he thought it best that the two most important women in his life get to spend some alone time with each other. Cariad was full of topics she wanted to discuss with her mother including why Ruth wanted her out of the house so badly, what didn’t her mother want her to know about what was going on behind her back, but she refused to make the first move. Her mother would have to initiate conversation first, make an effort to bridge the gap between them because that’s what a mother was supposed to do. It was her responsibility as an adult to own up to her actions, actions that made Cariad feel like an outcast, a burden, an unwanted thing. Her mother should have known something was wrong and if she cared she would have spotted it months ago and done something about it. And since she made no effort whatsoever to reconcile their relationship and Cariad refused to make the first move, the pair travel home in silence.

***

In January of the following year, the Boerums were notified that Cariad’s application had been successful. This was followed by direct communication from the academy that she had completed all the necessary administrative steps and was given an unconditional offer, which meant her place was guaranteed at Candida Isca, even though the college she would go to had not yet been specified and would not be decided until after her final examination results had been published.

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 19

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#Novel365 2018 Week Eighteen

Chapter 8

“Should you attend Candida Isca next semester,” the tour guide, who announced herself as Anna, said over her shoulder. “You will find that it has a unique academic structure. Students, researchers and lecturers benefit from belonging both to the academy, a large, internationally-renowned institution, and to a particular house or hall, a small, interdisciplinary scholastic community.”

Anna led the rather sizeable group of interviewees and their parents on the long and winding scenic path to the admissions building. There was a shorter more direct route, of course, but first appearances being everything, a good impression had to be made. And everyone in the tour group was impressed, all except Cariad.

“I know you’re doing this against your will,” Rupert gave his daughter a little nudge. “But you could at least pretend to be listening.”

“To impress who, Dad?” Cariad said. “She’s just a tour guide. I’m saving all my enthusiasm for the interview, I promise. Besides, all she’s doing is reciting the information that’s on their website and I read through that already.”

Which was the truth. Cariad learned online that Candida Isca Academy wasn’t so much a school as it was the academic equivalent of a sovereign state, comprised of 47 financially independent and self-governing learning institutions which related in a federal system to the central academy.

“And if this was really so important, wouldn’t Mom be here?” Cariad said, a little too sharply, revealing more hurt than she cared to admit to her father and herself.

“You know she’d be here if she could, just like you know an important engagement got rescheduled at the last minute, something she needed to handle personally,” Rupert said.

“Yeah, well, it really isn’t that big a deal, anyway,” Cariad shrugged. “You keep calling it an interview but it’s actually registering to take a test as part of my application that has to be submitted by mid-October. Then I’ll have to decide which courses I want to take and send in written works along with my application. If I’m shortlisted, then I’ll be invited to interview in December.”

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s an interview or registration, it would mean a lot to me and your mother if you presented yourself properly.”

“Dad, I know you lecture here from time to time so I’m not going to embarrass you, okay?”

Rupert put his arm around Cariad’s shoulder and gave her a gentle hug. He went to remove his arm but his daughter held it in place and leaned into him slightly as they walked. She was a good kid, though, strong-willed like her mother which probably explained why they were having difficulty getting along recently.

“There are also six permanent private halls, which are similar to academies except they tend to be smaller and are founded by investors with special interests in specific arts and experimental sciences.” Anna continued. “The academies, halls and houses are close scholastic communities, which bring together students and researchers from different disciplines, cultures and countries. This aids in fostering the outstanding research achievement that has made Candida Isca a leader in so many fields. In fact, the houses, halls and the academy work together to organize teaching and research, and many staff at Candida Isca will hold both a house and an academy post.”

“Even you have to admit that this—it feels wrong calling it a campus, it’s more like a town—is impressive,” Rupert said, brushing hair back from his daughter’s face. “All the libraries and museums cafes and restaurants and bars and nightclubs…and my hope is that when you get accepted—”

If I get accepted,” Cariad corrected.

When you get accepted, my hope is that you go heavy on the libraries and museums and light on the bars and nightclubs.”

“No promises, Dad.”

“No?”

“I mean, it’ll be my first taste of freedom, which means there will be a fair amount of experimentation as I explore the boundaries of free will,” Cariad smirked and that smirk turned into a full-blown smile when she saw the troubled look on her father’s face.

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 18

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#Novel365 2018 Week Seventeen

PART TWO

CHAPTER 7

The colors came in small bursts that brought a widening smile to Cariad Boerum’s twelve-year-old face which shined with wonder as she explored this the pigments of this wonderland. Images appeared within the color blotches in that beautiful way clouds in the sky sometimes took on shapes of faces and objects. But it wasn’t only objects, people, places and things that were visible, there was music, too, or perhaps not music as she had known it, the type played by instruments but the supposedly random sounds of life that were drawn to one another and strung themselves together like notes on sheet music and these notes were visible, gentle whirls of color, blurred, spinning and brilliant, the kaleidoscope of nature’s soul, in every shade of the spring flowers, carried aloft by the ambient drone of the wind.

Then the images faded taking along with then the rich colors and she found herself back home in the weather-beaten and sun-faded hues of her father’s workshop in the dullness of her singular reality. Here nothing was too bright, nothing was big or even bold. And though she loved her parents very much she longed to be back in that fantastical realm away from her sorrows, the only place that gave her peace. When reality had firmly set itself in her vision, Cariad found she was staring at her Welsh-Guyanan reflection in the mirror. Her hair was still ebony, her eyes still the color of emeralds and her sun-burnished skin was still honey but the colors seemed muted now.

“How was it?” her father said over his shoulder. Professor Rupert Boerum sat hunched over his worktable littered with cogs, chronographs and assorted watch parts, a magnifying loupe positioned over his right eye. He was tinkering on a miniature watch movement with a one-millimeter screwdriver in his right hand and brass tweezers in his left.

“It was fantastic, Dad,” Cariad answered hardly able to control her enthusiasm. “What was in that stuff you put in my eyes and why did it go away so quickly?”

Rupert placed the tools on the table and swung the loupe from over his eye before picking up the tiny bottle with the eyedropper. “This is an accident,” he said. “It was meant to be a cure for macular degeneration which is a common eye disorder that causes central vision loss or what you see when you’re looking straight ahead. What we believe it actually does is dilate the eye just enough to visually detect the passage of time. And it went away quickly because I diluted the solution.”

“I was looking at time?”

“A tiny portion of it, or so our theory goes.”

“Then why aren’t you working on that instead of wasting your time on stupid clocks and watches that nobody uses or even cares about anymore?” Her tone was wrong, it was disrespectful and Cariad knew it the moment she heard herself but it was too late.

Her father didn’t get mad, however. He let out a sigh that was almost imperceptible though she did see his shoulders drop slightly as he said, “My hobbies aren’t decided by how many are interested in them, the only thing that matters is that horology brings me joy so I don’t consider it a waste of time. And this watch that I’m working on is more related to those eye drops than you realize. This was the third method of telling time, after sundials and water clocks.”

Rupert gently lifted the watch movement and gave the crown a little twist and it began to tick. “What do you hear?” he asked.

“I hear ticking,” Cariad shrugged. Was this meant to be some sort of trick question?

“No, that’s what is happening, the watch is ticking. What do you hear?”

Cariad had no idea what her father meant or how she was supposed to answer the question. All she heard was the stupid ticking of the stupid watch.

Rupert sighed again, this time more audibly, “When baby animals, puppies and kittens and the like, were separated from their mothers, ticking watches and clocks were placed in their bedding to soothe them and stop them from crying at night because the sound mimicked the heartbeat of their mother. So, that’s what I hear when a clock ticks, I hear the heartbeat of existence, the movement of time as the universe as it expands, I hear evolution and it brings me comfort for as long as that ticking continues, time continues which means we continue.”

Rupert put the timepiece back on the table and covered it with a cloth. “And speaking of time, it’s time to get ready for dinner.”

“Dad, I’m sorry about what I said. Your hobby isn’t stupid, I am. I have a bad habit of saying things I don’t mean all the time now. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,”

Tousling his daughter’s hair, Rupert smiled, “You aren’t afraid to speak your mind, you get that from your mother. Maybe someday, hopefully sometime soon, you’ll learn to balance that with diplomacy. That you will get from me.”

Cariad rolled her eyes because she knew he was calling her immature in his own special way. “Can you put the drops in one more time? Please?” she pleaded, dragging out the word please the way she used to when she was younger to wrap her father around her little finger. She hadn’t used it in a while and was out of practice.

“And keep your mother waiting? Not on your life and not on mine,” Rupert plucked the bottle from the tabletop, slid it into the top left-hand drawer of his work table and locked it, placing the key on its assigned wall-mounted hook. Cariad made note of the hook location.

“Can’t you tell her we’re in the middle of an important experiment or something?”

“Lie to your mother? Have you met the woman? She would pick it apart before I finished the sentence and then I would never hear the end of being foolish enough to let you talk me into making the attempt.”

Cariad knew all this, it was just the idea of having to sit through the process of dinner. When it was just her and her father, dinner was eating on the couch in front of the wallscreen watching a science program or a comedy and laughing or discussing a topic around a mouthful of food with drinks precariously perched on sofa arms or sometimes wedged between the cushions to avoid spills.

With her mother, dinner was always served in the dining room, elbows off the table, back straight, take small bites and chew with mouths shut, make pleasant conversation but never with a full mouth, finish the entire plate, use the napkin, ask permission to leave the table, help clear the table, sweep the floor, help wash the dishes.

When she left her father’s study she would have to wash and change into her dinner attire, a ritual she never understood. Washing her face and hands? Yes. But a full shower? And wearing an outfit only design to eat a meal in? Where was the sense?

***

Everything was as Cariad expected it to be. The dinner—roasted yellow pepper and tomato bisque, salmon with lemon dill cream sauce, warm butter rum lava cake—was prepared to perfection. Her mother, Ruth, used to be a chef in what she called her former life before she met Rupert and used Sunday dinner, which was traditionally a big family meal though it was now just the three of them, as an excuse to show off her culinary skills. If she actually derived any pleasure at all from cooking, she managed to keep it a well-guarded secret.

Mostly everything about her was never a topic for conversation as Ruth Boerum excelled at playing her cards close to her vest. Over the past week or so she hadn’t looked her best but maintained a stoic appearance. Cariad would have asked her if anything was the matter but they currently did not have that type of relationship. Conversations between them that used to be very long were now very short. Cariad was not able to pinpoint the exact moment the familial bonds between them had become ruins. Perhaps it was not something that happened all at once. Perhaps it was little things that had built up over time that initiated the decay. The foundation of their relationship was in the process of disappearing.

As for tonight’s meal, there was one unexpected admirer of Ruth’s cooking, Cariad’s cat, Sacha, who somehow mastered the art of remaining out of the adults’ line of site as she stood on her hind legs and tapped Cariad’s thigh with her paw to request food. Cariad would oblige by placing bits of salmon in her mouth and transferring them to her napkin and discreetly passing them to Sacha during the pleasant dinner conversation that began in a typical fashion until her mother introduced a new topic.

“Your father and I have been thinking about your education,” Ruth said, touching the cloth napkin folded into a triangle to the corners of her mouth.

“What about it?” Cariad asked.

“We feel it might be best if you studied abroad, to expand your horizons.”

“I don’t want to study abroad,” Cariad turned to address her father. “I want to study with you, Dad. You taught at university so you know what you’re doing and my schedule is flexible so it won’t get in the way of your work and I can even assist you with that, if you’ll have me. Please?”

Ruth eyed her husband who appeared quite content not to join in the conversation but her expression was clear as crystal, she needed Rupert to side with her. They would need to be a united front if there was any hope of sending Cariad away to school.

“Education is not merely memorizing and reciting passages from books, isn’t that right, Rupert?” Ruth said in her usual manner where a question wasn’t actually a question but more of a statement.

“Your mother’s right,” Rupert placed his fork with the untasted rum lava cake down on the dish. “There is a world outside this house, outside our family, a huge world full of wonders and delights that will terrify you at first but it will also come to amaze you. You have a place in this world and you will only discover it after you learn the rules, what makes it work, which rules to follow, which ones to break. So, perhaps instead of thinking of it as school, you consider it a primer for society. A sneak peek into the life you’ll be leading once you move out on your own.”

“When have you ever heard me express any interest in society and how it works? All I want to do is study time like you do! Isn’t that what devoted children do, follow in their parents’ footsteps?” the frustration in Cariad’s voice was rising dangerously close to what her mother considered disrespectful territory.

“And no one is stopping you from doing that, dear,” the word dear had a dagger-like sharpness to it and Ruth spat it at her daughter with deadly accuracy. “All we’re suggesting is that you add more variety to your personal portfolio than being a carbon copy of your father. You might find there are other people in the world to look up to.”

Cariad’s face was alive with a kind of terrible anger but a strain was also present. She was forcing herself not to blurt out the hurtful things that could never be taken back. Instead, she turned to Rupert and managed to say, “Are you just going to sit there and take that?”

When her father didn’t respond, Cariad said, “You know what? Forget I said anything,” she pushed her chair from the table, startling Sacha who bolted from the room. Without asking to be excused, Cariad stormed off, stomping her way up the staircase to her room, ignoring her mother’s demands to return to the table at once. It was an immature move and she knew it but she needed to release the frustration of not being able to bring herself to say the things she truly wanted to say to her mother.

Inside her bedroom, she slammed the door for good measure, to let the household know how truly upset she was. Sacha eventually gathered enough courage to poke her head out from under the bed.

“It’s okay, Sacha,” she said. “I’m not mad at you.” Cariad plopped down on the bed. Sacha, still wary, head bunted Cariad’s leg as she came out into the open, marking the girl with her scent glands before jumping onto the bed to lay her weight beside her human.

“The problem is they think I’m still a little girl. They think I can’t see something’s going on with Mom. Why can’t they just be honest with me for once? It’s so unfair!” Cariad stroked Sacha’s head and the cat showed her appreciation in purrs and long, slow blinks.

After a while, there was a knock at her door, a gentle tapping that belonged to her father. She wanted to tell him to go away, to leave her alone but it came out as, “Come in,” which made her angry at herself for being so weak.

“Before you say anything,” Rupert said as he closed the door gently behind him. “I’m not here to make you do anything you ultimately don’t want to do, I just want to offer up a little more information to help you make the right decision. Will you allow me to do that?”

Reluctantly, Cariad nodded.

“Good. The school we had in mind isn’t just any old school, it’s one of the best in the world. Candida Isca Academy.”

“Candida?” Cariad eyes turned round and shocked. “How can we afford that?”

“Your mother called in some favors and managed to land you a scholarship. Don’t ask me how, she wouldn’t say but I do know it wasn’t a simple process. You still have to interview, though, which is why we can’t force you to attend. You sabotage the interview and Candida’s out of the question.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“When have I ever lied to you?” Rupert asked and the truth of the matter was Cariad had never even considered the possibility of her father lying to her and put on the spot like this could not come up with a single instance.

“Okay, then,” she decided to test him, “tell me what’s going on with Mom. I’m not stupid, you know.”

“No one thinks you’re stupid, you’re simply at that age where you think you’ve got the world figured out and trust me on this point, you don’t. Your mother and I are handling a situation right now and she wants to be the one to tell you in her own way in her own time. I’m simply respecting her wishes the same way I’ve always respected yours.”

“You two aren’t getting a divorce, are you?”

Rupert wrinkled his face and said softly, “What? Nothing of the sort.”

“Because you’d tell me if you were, right? Because not telling me would constitute lying to me, you know that, don’t you?”

“Well aware of it. No divorce, I promise. Your mother will be my wife for the rest of our natural lives and then some.”

Cariad was silent, staring down at the Turkish area rug, eyes scrying its light blue, cream, navy blue and rust red pattern, searching for an answer, any answer. Finally, she exhaled and asked:

“Can I at least have some time to think about it? It’s not fair springing it on me like that and expecting me to make a snap decision.”

“The interview is in a month, after that the point becomes moot.”

Cariad tore her eyes from the rug and looked at her father. “I meant what I said, you know, about following in your footsteps.”

“It is possible to do both you know and you might even make a discovery that would make me want to follow in your footsteps. And don’t give me that look, stranger things happen every single day,” Rupert smiled and patted his belly. “Now, I don’t know about you but I missed dessert and a slice of homemade lava cake is sounding real good right now. Join me?”

“I don’t know. Is Mom still down there?”

“If you don’t cut your mother a little slack—”

“I’m joking, Dad. I’ll play nice…for now.”

“At this point, I’ll take whatever concessions I can get.”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 17

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Sixteen

I was suddenly in the train car again, snapped back like a stretched rubber band returning to its original state, my every thought in high definition. My eyes were taking in every detail trying to make sense of my surroundings as if I had been asleep too long and woke in unfamiliar surroundings. I heard the noises of the train car, the hum of the lighting, breathing bot mine and others, sounds I had not been aware of previously.

I stumbled backward only a step or two because Madi caught me by the arms to steady me. “What happened to you?” she asked. “One moment you were staring at the reader, frozen, the next you looked like you were about to faint.”

Had it only been a moment? It felt like I was away for longer. I suddenly did not like being able to sense the passage of time. “I-I was in a private library, in a room larger than this, and I found a book, Madi, about us, about our company, about our cases, even the one we are working now. It told me everything up to the point where I was reading the book but when I turned the page to see what would happen next…I was thrown back here.”

“A parental lock,” said Boerum. “To prevent you from knowing things that could affect the future. I should have warned you, I apologize if the experience unsettled you.”

“But it felt so real, all of it. I could actually smell the books.”

“The reader comes equipped with a total immersion option which I forget to disable. Again, my apologies,” Boerum plucked the reader from my grasp, gave it a quick sharp shake and returned it to its membranous state before placing it back on the table. “The best part of the option is the solitude and silence it offers. Have you ever been in a library or place of study that was so perfectly quiet?”

“Never. And there were so many books, thousands of them. Has your father read each of them?”

“His library contains roughly two point five million research items. A little over a million of them are books, while the rest are microforms, microfiches, photographs, music sheets, maps, programs, prints and the like. Knowing my father, he has reviewed all the materials contained within at least twice over.”

“But the book I was holding, it was about the exploits of my company, private matters that I am certain neither Madison or myself or our clients would divulge—”

“Your records were made public as part of the Open Secrets Act which will be passed long after you and your clients have slipped the mortal coil, so to speak. The remainder of the book, that part you were unable to read not only contained future cases you will be involved in but also cataloged the date, time and nature of both your death and Ms. Wasonofski’s, something no person should know.”

“I hate to admit it, Darius, but she’s right. I don’t want to know how and when I’m going to die,” Madi said as she pulled away from me.

“I have shown you how to operate the reader and it is at your service to make use of freely, though some will be written in languages I doubt you will understand. If you encounter such a tome the reader offers an array of accurate translation services, both written and verbal. You will have access to everything except articles on science, technology and history past the point you came to us,” Boerum said.

“Thank you,” I nodded my understanding for the restrictions, “for placing this library at my disposal.” I stared at the reader and a thought struck me, if the book I was holding detailed all my cases, why couldn’t Boerum simply read through The Pneuma Paradox entry and locate the answer she needed, the solution I was to deliver in two years time? From that moment I made it my mission to find a way to remove the parental lock. I promised if that were to happen, I would not look further than this case for clues on how to solve it. And I was almost certain I was telling the truth.

***

Boerum stepped to the train door opposite the one we entered this dining car that had been modified into a space where her team, as she called them, conducted their research and we followed her through the door and into the next car.

The first car we entered had been stripped bare, the second car served as a base of operations and the third car should have simply looked like an old-fashioned passenger car with rows of wooden seats lining both sides of the cabin, which it did but there was another interior more technologically advanced overlaid on top of it.

“Hologram,” Boerum said, once again before the question passed my lips. “A replica of our main control stations.”

The overlap image winked in and out in a manner that reminded me of the subway shroud. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. The overlay was visible for approximately three seconds. And one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi, six Mississippi, it disappeared for six seconds. There was a device in the center of the cabin on the floor with a flashing light that matched the appearance of the overlay. Obviously the holographic projector.

“Is it defective? The projector?” I asked.

Boerum shook her head, “No, it is synchronized with an anomaly.” And said no more. It was here that the five members of her team were assembled, positioned between seat rows on either side of the cabin, manning stations for three seconds at a time when the overlay appeared. She was lost in their calculated and timed movements. I studied her with great interest, silently analyzing the strange expression on her face. Leaning forward on her elbows against the back of a wooden seat, she no longer saw Madi, McKissick or me. She had forgotten our presence.

At three second intervals, the cabin was filled with various types of advanced instruments and equipment. Signal lights and display panels flickered in repetitive patterns. And each man hunched over their assigned station, hands hovering above where the overlaid panels would appear, fingers at the ready. The tall, wiry man barked out a series of operational orders and the rest of the team shouted responses in time with the actions performed at their stations. They performed this ritual over and over and over again, so many times I lost count and was beginning to lose interest. Finally, the wiry man turned to Boerum and said, “We’re ready as we’ll ever be, Dr. Boerum.”

Boerum nodded and asked, “Will one of you be so kind as to fetch the harnesses and rope our visitors so kindly supplied us with?” The bald man hopped to and raced past us into the car we just left.

I shot Boerum a questioning glance to which she responded, “Mr. Quaice, I understand your confusion. I hope that you and your party will excuse the unceremonious way in which you were received and ask you to bear with what must appear to you to be madness and place your trust in a total stranger that there is a method to it.”

The bald man returned with the items and Boerum ordered both he and the man who wore his hair in a top knot to fit us with the harnesses but we elected to suit up ourselves.

“I am assuming the rope as well,” I held up one end of the rope and was prepared to thread it through the harness when Boerum said:

“I must insist you allow my team to handle this. They know the requirements.”

Top Knot tied a knot at one end of the rope then measured a length of approximately five feet before threading it through McKissick’s harness. Bald Man measured out the same length for Madi’s harness and Top Knot did the same for mine.

We questioned it. We questioned the need for harnesses and the rope, questioned her insistence for the order in which we positioned ourselves, questioned if we were about to be placed in harm’s way, and the doctor took the questions with a strained patience and answered simply:

“Indulge me just a bit further. I promise all is about to become clear.”

We did as instructed and made certain the rope was fastened securely between the three of us before I turned to Boerum and asked, “And why is all this necessary? Why just us three and not you and your men?”

“Experience, sir,” Boerum answered. “We have done this many times before. The first time can be a bit tricky and we need to ensure your safety.”

“Safety for what?” Madi asked.

“Before I answer that,” Boerum turned to McKissick, “may I ask you a question, Mr. McKissick? You are a physicist, are you not?”

“My degree is in theoretical physics, yes. What’s your question?”

“Can more than one object occupy the same space at the same time?”

“The popular answer is no; however, it isn’t necessarily the correct answer. According to Pauli’s exclusion principle more than one identical fermion, particles with half-integer spin, cannot occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. This, of course, applies to normal matter, which is made out of only a few kinds of fermions tightly bonded together. However, electromagnetic waves are bosons; particles of integer spin. Thus, they can and often do share quantum state, as with the photons in a laser.”

“Then allow me to rephrase the question, sir: can two solid man-made objects can occupy the same space?” Boerum reiterated the question more forcefully this time.

“No, they cannot,” McKissick sighed.

Boerum made her way over to the door leading to the next car and yanked it open. “Then how do you explain this?”

And for the second time this day, if this could still be considered a day in a place where time did not seem to exist, Dr. Cariad Boerum exposed me to a sight that left me slack-jawed. My brain formulated no thoughts other than to register that it was in shock. I closed my mouth, then looked at Madi and McKissick who wore similar expressions before glancing back to catch Boerum’s eye. “What are we looking at?” was all I could manage.

“That, Mr. Quaice, is what you so quaintly called my time vessel.”

Beyond the door, it looked as if someone had placed three slides into a projector, each containing a different machine but at the same angle and clicked between the three in rapid succession over and over again. One machine was what I assumed to be the steam engine of the Zanetti, one seemed familiar but was unknown to me and the last matched the image implanted in my mind of Alfred Ely Beach’s pneumatic transit car.

“This is the final destination of our tour and it is also the reason for your tether,” Boerum said, scooping up the knotted end of the rope and handing it to Wiry Man, who walked through the open doorway and stood on the lip of the train car that rested above the coupling.

Boerum’s team chanted nine words repeatedly as they stared at the shifting images of machines before Wiry Man. It was in whatever language they spoke but I knew they were doing the same thing I had done when watching with the holographic overlay. They were counting. Timing the shifts. And on the ninth beat, Wiry Man leaped off the platform lip and disappeared into the shifting machines. The rope went slack for a moment but soon pulled taut, forcing McKissick to step toward the train door.

Bald Man sidled up beside McKissick, right arm around the physicist’s shoulder, then other clutching his arm above the elbow. “Bend your legs. Good, just like that. You’ll feel a quick double tug on the rope,” Bald Man said, “that’s the signal for you to jump forward as far as you can. When you’re in the air, go limp. Don’t worry, I’m jumping with you so I’ll catch your fall.”

McKissick was about to say something, ask a question, argue the matter, but the double tug came and Bald Man pushed him forward which would have been sufficient to cover the distance had the rope not yanked hard. Both men vanished and the rope pulled Madi to the door.

“Darius,” Madi turned to me, we were both thinking the same thing.

“Don’t think about, Madi. Thinking leads to fear and fear is the mind killer. Just do it,” I said.

Top Knot griped Madi and issued the same instructions given to McKissick and when the signal tug came they leaped into the shifting mechanisms and the rope now pulled me to the door.

“I will accompany you, Mr. Quaice,” Boerum said as she put an arm around me to brace me for the jump and as nervous as I was to be leaping into the unknown I found that I was far more nervous about the nearness of her.

“Ready?” she asked and I nodded. She gave a quick jerk and when the double tug came I held my breath and leaped. As I approached the machines I instinctively closed my eyes fearing impact and I did make an impact but with the floor of the first car in the train’s chain. Boerum helped me to my feet and moved me forward as the remaining members of her team leaped in behind us.

We were standing in a demarcated area on the floor while our surroundings were in a constant state of flux. It was a steam engine locomotive car, Beach’s pneumatic car and what I presumed to be Boerum’s time vessel at equal three-second intervals.

“Welcome aboard the Pneuma,” Boerum said. “Now, I suppose, an explanation is in order.”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 16

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Fifteen

Madi, McKissick and I looked to one another but before we could respond, Dr. Boerum let out a sharp short whistle, something that seemed out of character for my initial impression of her. Shortly after, a wiry man appeared and Boerum conversed with him in their bizarre, possibly native, tongue that was still unrecognizable to me.

“Everything is ready for your arrival,” said Boerum. “Permit me to lead the way.”

“After you, Doctor,” I said.

We followed Boerum; and as soon as we had stepped through the door, we found the space between the cars had been surrounded by some sort of material that resembled a carbon fiber wrap, presumably to shield the doctor and her crew from the effects of unfiltered time as they passed from car to car. As I stepped over the train car coupling and moved to the door of the next car it opened automatically.

We entered what appeared to be a dining car decorated and furnished in a style that might have been considered elegant at one point in time when extravagances were in short supply. Despite its minimalism, the car still echoed the natural world of Italy in 1911. Booths dominated the space, rectangles of oak with polished tapered edges with chairs that looked as if they had come from the same tree, each one beautiful in its simplicity, all clean straight lines and high backs. The floor beneath it all was carpeted, not a runner rug like in the last car but a full coverage that ran the entirety of the floor. The walls were papered in an old-fashioned floral design which would have given the room a pleasant feel if not juxtaposed against the ugly metal plates welded over the windows.

One of the booth tables was richly laid out with foodstuffs that looked familiar then I realized it was from our rations, the meals packed by our administrative professional, Penny.

“Help yourselves,” Boerum gestured at the spread. “It is all yours, all the food you brought with you and I assure you it has not been tampered with in any way, but you will find that you do not need it.”

Though we said nothing, Dr. Boerum looked at us, guessing our thoughts and answered of her own accord the question which entered our minds simultaneously.

“Do any of you feel hungry?” she had not waited for the answer. “No? How long have you been here, on the train, locked in the caboose? You cannot rightfully say, can you? That is because time does not pass here, not for us, or if it does it creeps at such a petty pace as to seem like it is standing still. We have chronometers that mark how time should move and they have not budged since our arrival. I cannot tell you how long we have been here for my perception of space/time has been interrupted but I would hazard a guess that it has been months if not years and neither myself or my team has felt the slightest hunger pang or the need to relieve ourselves.”

“If what you say is correct, if time is frozen here, how are we able to move, able to breathe, able to communicate?” asked McKissick.

It was a solid question. According to my limited knowledge of the laws of physics, if time stopped and we were somehow immune to the effects of the stoppage, we would be unable to maneuver around the frozen air molecules and could not very well take motionless air into our lungs. Nor could we use the atmosphere to transmit sound waves making speech impossible.

“And wouldn’t we freeze to death?” Madi added. “There’d be no way to generate heat.”

“Yes, yes, and sight would also be affected as well as gravity,” Boerum said impatiently. “We have considered all this and the only logical explanation is that here, within the vein of God, the laws of physics either do not apply or operate differently from our Earth-based understanding of them.”

“In other words, you have no clue,” I said.

“There is no shame, Mr. Quaice, when standing in the face of the unknown to admit you do not know the answer. In your line of work, surely you have found yourself in this position at least once, no?”

I sensed her annoyance at having to admit the simple truth that she was just as much in the dark as we were and I could have apologized, could have explained how no harm was meant, but at the moment I was not overly concerned with her feelings. Instead, I moved on to the next booth. On this table lay our phones, each one field stripped with the individual components carefully placed around the phone casings. Again, Boerum anticipated my question and answered:

“Before engaging with you directly, we dismantled your devices to determine what time period you originated from. Have no worries, I will have one of my team reassemble them in working order and returned to you.”

Our personal effects were also situated on the table. “You have no objections, I am sure,” I said after I plucked my wallet and belongings off the table and began arranging them in my pockets. Madi and McKissick gathered their things as well.

“Of course not,” Boerum waved the notion away as if it was foolish. “They belong to you.”

“So, you are a historian, Dr. Boerum,” I said.

“Historian? What would lead you to believe that?”

“You told us you were conducting a historical research experiment.”

“Ah, yes, so I did,” Boerum nodded, “and we were but if I am honest it was more a time travel experiment than a historical one. You see, I shared my father’s fascination with time and how could I not? It is everything and everywhere. It gave birth to the universe and will serve as a marker when all we know as existence dies a natural death. It is the stuff of life, the foundation on which reality is built, always of the essence, on our side and running out simultaneously. It is the beautiful thing that awaits us all, embraces us all and leaves us all in its eternal wake. Do you not concur, Mr. Quaice?”

“I have to admit that I have never given it much thought, doctor. I strive to live in the present and not worry about what the future holds or waste my waking hours with how much time I frivolously squandered in my youth in my attempts to find myself,” I answered but what I had not said was:

Now that I had met Dr. Boerum and she presumably existed in a time after my death—why else would she be seeking me in 2020 if I was still alive in her time?—I could not help but worry about the future, could not help but contemplate the infinitesimal speck my life inhabited in the Earth’s timeline. I foolishly believed I had time enough to accomplish all my goals, so much time that I failed to notice how much of it I let slip through my fingers like quicksilver, all the possibilities that no longer lay ahead of me as I stand here on this impossible horizon in a time-frozen moment that may very well be my last yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Dr. Boerum remained silent for a long moment after my reply, seeming slightly agitated but then she regained her accustomed cold expression and turned to me.

“Mr. Quaice,” she said, “would you care to press on?”

The table in the next booth was littered with the contents of our backpacks and the one after that held assorted items, odd items, apparently future items belonging to Dr. Boerum and her team. One such item caught my attention. I thought it was a sheet of black paper until I saw an image dart across it, not on top of it but within it. I instinctively reached for it but caught myself and turned to Boerum.

“May I?” I asked.

Boerum considered the request for a moment before gesturing to the item. “Be my guest,” she said.

It took me several attempts to lift the paper that was not a paper. It was gossamer thin and I was afraid it might rip during my clumsy attempt to lift it from the tabletop.

“You needn’t be so gentle, it is more durable than it looks,” Boerum said, showing me how to hold the sheet. Left forefinger and thumb holding the upper left corner, right forefinger and thumb pinching the right lower corner and when pulled tautly, a ripple ran across the sheet and when it subsided it became as rigid as plastic.

“What type of material is this?” I asked.

“Something that will not be available in your lifetime, therefore I am not at liberty to discuss it or its properties. I should not allow you to interact with it but I am afraid I need to speed your assimilation along. Now concentrate on the screen and think the word, wake,” Boerum instructed.

I did and nothing happened. Taking a deep breath, I concentrated hard on the word wake and felt my brow knotting with the effort. As I was about to abandon the effort, the sheet flickered. I called it a sheet because I still thought of it as a paper-like substance although technically it could be called a sheet of plastic or whatever material it was. Then the image of a door appeared on the sheet.

“Is this a computer?”

Boerum laughed and it was an intriguing thing to experience. It was not simply a noise that issued from her mouth. The laughter was in her eyes, in the way her face changed into a surprising vision of relaxed joy and unrestrained mirth.

“Mr. Quaice, we have not had a computer model that large in ages. This is merely a reader, an ancient one, the newer models are smaller as well. This one belongs to my father. He is attached to it as it was a gift from my mother.” Boerum’s expression returned to its stoicism at the mention of her mother. “Focus on the door and just as you did to activate the reader, concentrate on the word open.”

No sooner than I knitted my brow, was I transported away from the train car. My eyes went out of focus for a moment and when they adjusted, I scanned the new room as fast as I could, trying to take it all in. I was now standing in the middle of an old library, stacks of books towered towards the tall ceiling in every direction I looked at in the round room. The bookshelves themselves were crafted of solid burl wood in a rich finish, with black trim and inlaid floral designs. The lower part of one of the shelves contained a recessed compartment for a settee, intricately carved detailing on the wooden base and rolled arms with tan upholstered seat and back that was luxuriously soft to the touch. In the center of the room was a distressed finish Mappa burl reading table set on caster wheels.

I ran my fingers along the spines of a row of books at eye level, breathing in the woody aroma of the library. It was the smell of a congregation of books of varying ages that was part smoky and earthy with just a hint of vanilla. I knew this place was an illusion but the smell, the smell was real.

The books were hardcover bound to have the same appearance and only by touching a book’s spine was I able to read the book’s title as it appeared in glowing letters beneath my fingertips. I mindlessly touched books and let my eyes absorb the titles, some of them known to me but most not, until I came upon a book that froze me to the spot. The glowing letters read, Qui Dubitat, the name of my company.

I open the book slowly, cautiously, afraid of what I might find and my suspicions were warranted for in this book there was a record of my company and the cases that we handled. The covert cases. All of them. The Sign of The Cosmic Chimera. The Mystery of The Hallowed Boudoir. The Ethereal Empire. The Case of The Griffon Biographer. The Quest of The Frantic Spider Silk Collector. The Riddle of The Dangerous Stained-Glass Sawmill. The Wailing Sand Conundrum. All the codenames I had given the cases and the pseudonyms to protect the identities of my clients, each marked with asterisks associated with an addendum to each case revealing the secrets of the coded information. They were documented in chronological order and were mostly accurate save minor details here and there and after my most recent case, one that I had not had time to sit and commit to the case log, the one I had thought to name The Three Courtesan Solution which was written here in full detail as if I had written it myself, after that was a case named The Pneuma Paradox. It described my meeting with Duffy and Thompson, both names asterisked, the discovery of Beach’s train station, the encounter with the subway shroud, the meeting with Cariad Boerum, my immersion into the library and finding the book I was currently reading and though I knew better, though my every urge was to shut the book in order to prevent me knowing the future, I turned the page.

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 15

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#Novel365 2018 Week Fourteen

I finally managed to get my legs under me, to straighten them to a standing position but my personal sense of time was still off so I wasn’t sure how long it took for me to accomplish the feat. I gave Madi, who was equally as drained as I, a hand up and held on until she could steady herself and then we saw to McKissick.

“You’re telling us that maelstrom out there, that was time?” I asked.

“The entirety of time,” the woman nodded. “Unfiltered.”

“Unfiltered?”

“Time, like many vast things—though nothing is quite as vast as time—consists of layers and we experience these layers separately through our limited perceptions of space/time. There is a popular theory that we are all made of stardust, which I subscribe to, but we are also made of time particles that pass through us from the moment of our conception long past the day we die. Being exposed to time in its raw state can be quite maddening as it overloads our personal capacity for time retention.”

“Why weren’t you affected?”

“I stood to the side of the door and shielded myself.”

“You didn’t stare into the abyss.”

“The only effective method of avoiding its gaze upon you,” the woman said. “Now, I have been civil toward your party, Mr. Quaice, distant but civil and this was done out of respect for you and the aid you may eventually bring. Understand that I do not need them.”

“If it’s gratitude you want,” I answered, “you’re looking at the wrong person.”

“Gratitude is a capricious creature that I have no interest in,” replied the woman, quickly. “Understanding is what I seek. I am not what you would call a patient woman. In my historical research experiment, I have made certain calculations that I believed to be accurate and foolproof though the results have been less than desirable causing fracture points in time and now I find I must further splinter the timeline in order to rectify the original error which should then undo each of my missteps thereafter.”

Although her tone was level there was a flash of pain in her eyes, perhaps anger, perhaps something else. Had she done something terrible in the past to the past, to my past as well as her own and in a blatant disregard for protecting and maintaining the past was willing to unravel all of history to correct her original sin that might very well be uncorrectable, leaving none of us with a familiar present to return home to?

If this vehicle had the capability to pierce the barrier of time, past, present and future, what force would exist that could stop her, what authority could hold her accountable for her actions and if her conscience was not to be her guide whom would she fear answering to for any and all damages done in her name, by her hand, for her own selfish ends?

I realized I had not enough information to form a rational opinion and as much as I hated wild speculate, these questions ran through my mind immediately nonetheless while the woman remained silent, apparently lost in thought. She gave no notice to us as if we were insects, things beneath her notice which made me despise her but that was mixed with a healthy dose of fear, interest and something that might have been the beginnings of admiration which was to be expected, especially if her claims were true for I had never encountered a person from the future before.

I could see Madi chomping at the bit to break the silence but I shook my head and inconspicuously waved her down. Shortly after, the woman continued speaking.

“Perhaps my comments might have appeared threatening,” said the woman, “but that is not my intent. Your party has committed no crime against me and therefore will not be treated as a hostile. Fate has brought us together so perhaps you all have a part to play that may be of service us. You are welcomed aboard, free to travel beyond this area with the stipulation that you do not touch anything unless so directed and will not inquire about or note future events. I have enough mess to clean up on my own doing and would not care to add additional troubles to the task ahead. What say you all, are we in agreement?”

“And you would take us at our word?” I answered.

“Yes, I would. As I see it, I am your only means of returning home safely so it would be foolish of you to break your oath if given. You will not be granted full access and may sometimes be consigned to what we deem to be a holding area at times as that would be to our mutual benefit. I am not violent by nature and my initial assessment of your party is that we share this in common. Behave civilly and you will be treated civilly. If you accept and obey my condition regarding your non-interference of my research, I will endeavor to deliver you home to your time safely. Do you accept?”

I was not so arrogant as to be blinded to the reality that there were things about the future which I shouldn’t know, things about my future or society’s which might affect my actions in a way as to thwart the direction of my destiny and the woman had a point for none of us knew how to return to our own time and so must therefore put our trust in her hands and hope for the best.

“Do we have a choice in the matter?” I asked although I knew I would accept still I felt the need to test the waters if nothing more than to gauge the type of person we were dealing with.

“Certainly. You may remain in this car if you wish. I will even leave the rear door unlocked which means you are free to take your chances outside.”

“And if we accept, we would be allowed to wander through the rest of your time vessel?”

“You would be free to travel between these train cars and observe as you see fit as long as you remain out of the way and leave an area if instructed by myself or my team. And for clarification’s sake, these cars are not my time vessel.”

“I don’t understand.”

“All will be made clear.”

“So, we are granted limited access to your mysterious prison?”

“We occupy the same space so if this is indeed a prison then we are cellmates. I am not your jailor and you are free to leave at any time. There are reasons governing our inability to return you to your point of origin that you will learn if you are patient with our distribution method of knowledge. Remember, you came here to me, you are essentially guests in my home and will be treated accordingly but being my guest does not grant you full access to all my and the future’s secrets. At this point in your lives, my existence should unknown to all of you, as I’ve said before Mr. Quaice, we are meeting two of your years ahead of time. I need to protect my research, my mission and myself from the unknown and you three have brought that unknown to my doorstep.”

It was apparent from her tone that her feet were firmly planted in the soil of her resolution and she would not be budged.

“So, we must voluntarily offer up our obedience and possible assistance in your mission which you refuse to divulge even if that mission goes against our own principles in exchange for your promise to attempt our return home?”

“Simply put, yes. But I am fairly certain that none of you will have much to complain about once you have seen what lies beyond this car. You will encounter technology and theories that will astound you and may even find yourselves impressed against your will by what we have accomplished and if you are truly open-minded you will come to see that despite all you think you know, you actually know nothing at all. Can I marvel you, Mr. Quaice?” the woman smiled.

I was not sure if it was her words or her smile or the temptation to view the unknown that lured me in but I was hooked. I forgot for a moment of the potential danger we were in the potential danger we could cause and all I wanted to do was follow this woman into her casual world which for me was the undiscovered country. So, I answered, without consulting Madi or McKissick, I answered for all of us:

“We accept your terms, Ms.—”

“Ah, we have not been formally introduced, have we?” replied the woman. “My apologies. First, allow me to welcome you on board as passengers of the Pneuma; and I am Dr. Boerum, Cariad Boerum, the daughter of Professor Rupert Boerum, the creator of time travel.”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 14

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Thirteen

In my line of work, I encountered many a bizarre situation that at first glance defied both logic and understanding. Examining beneath to odd surfaces, more than I felt comfortable admitting had been legitimate occurrences that existed outside the definitions of normal phenomenon, however, most of the cases I was brought on to investigate had been well-staged hoaxes, lies I had been able to unravel thread by thread until the truth was exposed but this, what I was looking at now, this, only fragments of which were identifiable, I was having a difficult time piecing those fragments into a cohesive whole that made sense.

When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

The famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche turned over and over in my mind but I was not gazing into what existed beyond the door, it was surging into my eyes, forcing me to take it in, blinding me to all else save its presence. The thickness of it bled into all my senses, pouring on layer after layer, taxing my ability to absorb it all. My limited comprehension was immediately overwhelmed with abstract concepts and nightmarish visions but the images invading my body were also infused with texture and weight and a vibration that created a high pitch sound I should not have had the capacity to hear, a sound that drove icepicks into my head, piercing the membrane of my middle ear.

No, this was not an abyss, not some dark immeasurable chasmal region of hell but within it existed abysses dwarfed by greater horrors and wonders. I had the inexplicable notion that it forced itself on all my senses because it realized mere sight was not enough to take in its enormity and words would not have been enough to describe it for how does one describe the smell of an extremely hot, small, and dense superforce of a singularity? The texture of the rapid expansion of existence? The sound of an atom being born, of the formation of galaxies? The taste of the sentient spark that would launch civilizations?

This thing that was so much more than anything I had ever encountered in life also snaked its way into my sixth sense, my power of perception, and taunted it with the concepts of everything, everything that ever was, everything that ever will be, everything known and unknowable. And with that came what could only have been called the stench of humanity, putrescent corpses marinated in human excrement, seasoned with sulfur and a sickly sweet, overripe fruity overtone, all of which I tasted on my tongue.

In order to prevent myself from gagging, I forced myself to adjust to it, to adapt and not die, but it was altering itself at such an ultraliminal pace that my eyes kept sliding off certain places I tried to focus on as if it was coated in a visual oil slick, while refracting my vision in other spots. It was an ever-expanding vista that occasionally folded in on itself and exploded into brand new structures that expanded and folded and exploded in a never-ending yet not quite repetitive cycle. It was like watching the Big Bang occur, race through a twenty-billion-year lifespan until its gravity eventually stopped its expansion and it began contracting until all its matter collapsed to a final singularity, only to explode into life again like a phoenix rising from its own ashes. But even this comparison was not totally accurate, it was simply my mind’s attempt at filling in the numerous blanks.

Between its expansion and collapse, figures appeared within it and faded away, not detailed humans or even humanoid but impressions of ambulatory flesh and behind them—ever present in the background and sometimes pushing its way through to the forefront of an instant here, a moment there—was a dark shadowy thing that seemed to billow like fog but left a visual echo like a living stop-motion entity that flattened each reality it pushed through and crumbled them like so many dry leaves to be carried off by the invisible winds of entropy.

As reality whirled just beyond the doorway, the once solid train floor turned to quicksand and the car seemed to rock and sway, threatening to rob me of my balance, to send me falling ever deeper until I cracked my skull and let slip the tiny remnants of sanity I somehow managed to hold on to by the tips of my fingers.

The longer I stared through the doorway—where the air bled realities that not only overlapped but intermingled other realities before it burned the bottom layer realities away—the less comprehensible the realities became. They became something alien to me, and I had a sense that I knew nothing at all about reality, about existence, about myself. I was finally able to see through all the lies I unconsciously told myself to distract me from the truth that I had ignored my biological imperative and would remain alone and this acknowledgment of the futility of my existence, of filling my life with busy work and would continue doing so until the day I eventually died made me want to leap. The most frightening part was if that managed to happen, if I managed to be sucked into the swirling madness that was terrifying and somewhat familiar in places, I did not think I would have minded experiencing the miracle within it firsthand.

I was drunk on existence. I had only been truly intoxicated two times in my life when I was foolish enough to keep company with experienced drinkers and had not thought to fortify my body with food beforehand and this made those head-pounding, gut-wrenching experiences seem nothing more severe than a bad after-taste. Within this inebriation there lurked an awful formless panic. I was in the middle of nowhere and everywhere simultaneously and I felt vulnerable and lonely but also at one with a slippery existence in which I could not maintain balance. I was falling, always falling, falling within falling, struggling against the fall, though I realized I was still standing upright. All the individual bits of me, my mind, personality and soul had been separated into layers by year then by month, by day, by hour, by minute, by second and my core self was falling through each of those layers.

Suddenly I was a child again, helping my father repair the roof of our house and against his instructions I climbed above the rung he told me to stay on. Spotting me, he shouted a warning that shook me and made me lose grip. My fingers slipped from the top rung and I fell backward off the ladder. Throughout the years, the pain associated with making contact with the ground was gone and all I remembered was falling in slow motion which felt a bit like flying followed by the sparks and stars that filled my eyes and the blood that filled my mouth. This time as I tumbled within myself my eyes were filled with blinding futures and my mouth filled with bitter pasts.

Then civilizations crashed down on me, civilizations inhabited by people, by beings, by creatures, hundreds of them, thousands, millions, piling on me, pressing their way into my skin, melting into my muscles, my organs and my bones and I could not remain separate from them because the pressure increased as their descendants and their descendants’ descendants buried me under an avalanche of flesh that would not stop and I could smell them and taste them and hear the noises they made and feel the sensations they experienced and I screamed against the agony, so wide I felt my jaw unhinge, which only allowed them to fill my mouth and choke the life from me. Soon there would be no room left in my own body for me.

I tried to pull my self back into myself, to turn my overcrowded head away from the mouth of madness. But I couldn’t. At this point, I was not quite sure that I wanted to as if it was an action I would not be able to take unless the entirety of my being was totally committed to it. Just how long had I been standing there, how long would I have continued standing there, if the train car door had not suddenly closed?

The weight of the universe was lifting from me and my bones creaked in relief. My arm was still resting on the riveted metal plates of the car walls and I made the slow returning climb to the physical world.

It was being extracted from me, everything that had previously invaded my body was being expelled. It ran as tears from my eyes, mucus my nose, bile from my mouth and sweat from the pores of my skin. It left me aching and weak, my insides grew soft and I melted like wax. My body crumpled into messy folds on the train floor and as the experience of what existed outside the train car left me, when there was nothing else inside my body but me I realized just how empty a shell I was, how incomplete, how hollow and I would have become lost in this realization forever if not for the burning sensation in my throat. I gasped and shuddered as a single breath of air traced its way into my lungs. I savored it and wondered had I been holding my breath the entire time? How long had it been since my last breath for me to be gulping any oxygen that may enter? I remained on the floor until my breathing normalized.

How I managed to endure being one with everything than stripped back down to a singular self, I’ll never know. Through sheer will, I managed to crawl over to Madi who lay on her back groaning and rubbing her eyes with the heel of her palms. I wanted to collapse beside her, I wanted to fall asleep to wake up in my bed to find this had been nothing more than a dream but I couldn’t. There was a mystery to be solved and my mind wouldn’t let me rest until I peered behind the curtain and exposed the truth.

“You still with us?” I asked. I wanted to say more, I wanted to make sure she hadn’t been harmed, I wanted to hold her, to feel the reassurance of her presences, but we were under the observation of the mysterious woman and any affection I displayed might have been interpreted as weakness.

“What the hell was that, Darius? Hypnosis?” Madi raised herself on her elbows.

“A distinct possibility. They could have planted a post-hypnotic suggestion when we first arrived.”

“Not hypnosis,” the woman said. “What you experienced is very real and the reason we sealed off all the windows in here.”

“What is that?” McKissick asked. Just beyond Madi he managed to get up on his knees and shook his head to clear the cobwebs.

“What is it? Where is it? When is it? Any of these questions are applicable, Mr. McKissick. I call it the vein of God. We are sitting within time itself.”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License