Welcome to the bookshelf.

One end of the studio was home to all manner of illustration and design. Now, as you turn around, you find a realm of ink and paper. A realm of the written.

Before you and atop an ancient wooden desk, sits an old typewriter, its multicoloured lights still blinking, an unfinished document held in its carriage like a lapping tongue.

Surrounding it, papers and notes, a great pile of them taking any space not reserved by supplies and machinery.

Above the desk, sits a wide bookshelf of multicoloured volunes, each one no doubt home to a world unto itself.

Intrigued, you begin reading them.

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#6 - A Visit to Freeport Alazir

2024/06/10

Spoilers for Sailor for the Second Dusk ahead!

For one of my college courses, I got to write a paper about the urban planning of Freeport Alazir, a fictional city from my work-in-progress science fantasy novel Sailor for the Second Dusk, for my final. That was back in mid-May, and the version below has been revised and cleaned up a bit. The following account of a mysterious travellers's first time visiting Freeport Alazir takes place some time after the novel's planned sequel, and is only partially canon for now.

Old friend,


My journey to the Hyades Cluster has brought me across countless wonders which most peoples of the Silver River galaxy could only dream of. If there is one place I believe all Voidbreaker surveyors should visit, it is this cradle of fourteen stars on the shoulder of Taurus.

I should begin by commending your wisdom in choosing me for this survey. Though the physiology of my people—the people of Sintar, that is—differs markedly from the Hyadeans, our minds are much the same, and we all are minds of a spacefaring breed. However, I will say it is somewhat difficult to hide my tail and whiskers from those other humans who much more resemble the survivors of Old Earth.

There is, of course, much to say about the Hyades Cluster, but for that I have attached copies of as many photographs and research documents as I could send with this message. I am reserving this letter, instead, for perhaps one of the most unique and wondrous places I have ever seen in all my long travels.

I am, of course, speaking of Freeport Alazir, the beating heart of the anarchist Confederation of Spacers which in only recent months seceded from the revolutionary Union of Hyadean Free Republics. I’m sure even you have heard news of the Hyadean peoples overthrowing their despotic Dynasty of Skaude, but the Confederation is a new polity whose formation I am perhaps first among the Voidbreakers to learn of. Alazir, then, was the first city I visited once I gained access to my own starship and could venture beyond the voidcaster lanes of the nascent Union.

Freeport Alazir, despite the many rumours one may hear of it across the Hyades Cluster, is a space habitat—a mobile megastructure with a self-contained ecosystem which calls the endless voids between planets its home. It is attached to a small comet and is comprised of two main sections: a fifteen-kilometre long spire extending from the outside of the comet, with radiators and talisman reactors on its outer end and two centrifuges on its inner end, and a ten-kilometre long primary habitation drum buried within and occupying most of the volume of the comet. Including the comet, the entire assembly is around twenty-five kilometres in length and ten kilometres in width. Both its twin external centrifuges and primary habitation drum rotate along their axes to create artificial centrifugal gravity on their inner surfaces, which together provide a total of roughly two hundred thirty thousand square kilometres of habitable surface area. In short, Freeport Alazir is big.

For nearly six centuries under the Dynasty’s reign Freeport Alazir had maintained its independence by remaining mobile and hidden among the ice belts and planetary shadows of the Deltauri system, one of only two star systems in the Hyades Cluster without a habitable planet. Now, however, it is a proud and bright beacon in stable orbit above the thunderous oceans of Deltauri’s fourth planet. When its parent planet and Deltauri’s sun align on certain times of the year, a tail forms from Alazir’s comet and engulfs its external spire, creating a true sight to behold. Adding to this, since the Freeport’s declaration of independence from the Hyadean Union and the establishment of the Confederation, several smaller independent stations and even a nomadic Wandering Fleet have moved into its close vicinity, creating an architecturally vibrant assembly of spacefaring societies and forming what could be considered a metropolitan area.

Vibrant: what a fitting word to describe Alazir. You would think me accustomed to space habitats as someone who grew up in a Sintaran orbital city, but there is nothing quite like the habitats of the Hyades Cluster, and certainly no habitats quite like Freeport Alazir. During my first ride in the rail lifts connecting the exterior spaceport to the primary habitation drum with Alazir’s comet, I was met with a sprawling view which made me feel impossibly small. You see, the ice from Alazir’s comet constantly sublimates and seeps into its habitat, shrouding it in a constant mist and rain, and seeing distant buildings and lights peek out from the fog against a ground which curves into the sky—it made the place seem impossibly vast. Descending below cloud cover, below the colossal tube of the habitat’s artificial sun, I caught my first glimpse of the city proper. I found rows of low buildings largely of an antiquated fashion, some predating even the Dynasty, all crowded around a grid of narrow cobbled streets bustling with people. Gardens filled with colourful plants from many different planets adorned their rooftops, which in this part of the city were no higher than four floors. Stepping out of the rail lift, I was struck by how lived-in everything felt. All those buildings, adorned with the stonework ornament of countless ancient cultures, had been visibly renovated and repaired countless times. Some places actually seemed dangerously worn and overdue for reconstruction. Upon the streets the people were of a similar manner, hailing from all across the Hyades Cluster and wearing a strange fashion emphasizing patchwork cloth and protection from rain. Even the technology running the city was quite worn and antiquated, though that is moreso a reflection of the Taurus sector—a region of the galaxy encompassing the Hyades and Pleiades clusters—having not yet advanced beyond vacuum tubes and monochrome television despite knowing how to harness powerful talismans for space travel.

You might take this as a sign of poverty and decay, and by the metrics of the Hyadean Union’s bureaucracy it would be, but the demeanor of Alazir’s people suggested the opposite. They very often loitered and mingled with each other, content to always move around without anchor just as the city they called home always moved around space. All in all the people acted as though they had every right to the city’s public spaces. And they did, for in Alazir the public seemed to be everything, with free facilities—lavatories, drinking fountains, telephone booths, and the like—strewn about on every street amidst an air of mutual protection and safety. Despite the unpleasant weather, nothing of the city’s design was made to keep people off its streets, with comfortable benches and rain covers everywhere I went. No man or woman or child or otherwise living here was made to feel unsafe or alienated, though as a traveler—and one wearing a cloak and face covering at that—I received many a suspicious stare. I suppose a city with a six-century legacy of secrecy would rightfully be wary of newcomers.

I should mention now that among our many contacts across the Hyades Cluster, apparently one lives in an apartment in Freeport Alazir. Once I had received my fill of first impressions, then, I began searching for a way to their place. As automobiles are not practical in the Hyades due to the Taurus sector’s complete lack of petrochemical resources, public transit was my only option, and lo and behold pedestrians soon began clearing the street to make way for an oncoming trolley rumbling between metal rails and overhead electric lines. No machine or officer checked for a fare as I stepped aboard, and to my surprise, no conductor drove the trolley either. The Hyadeans had barely discovered the transistor, so how could they construct automatic transit systems? This and other questions ran through my mind during my ride.

I took the time to observe the city from street level. My contact’s apartment lay near the historic city centre, and as I drew near there the character of the city began to change. The district by the barrier wall where I had first entered Alazir was mostly residential with its low buildings, but soon taller mixed-use buildings of up to seven floors began to tower over widening streets, from time to time interspersed with large halls and towering spires. I even spotted a hulking airship moored to one such distant spire, its gas envelope easily a hundred metres long. What makes Hyadean space habitats unique is their sheer scale, with Freeport Alazir not even being the biggest (it is in fact third behind Sien Kung in the Xarien Empire and Binajabad in the Skaudan Free Republic), and so the use of such aircraft to travel within them is not uncommon. As for why they do not use airplanes, I suspect it would be inefficient to construct long runways in a habitat’s limited space, and anyways no habitat is likely so large as to necessitate such high flight speeds. Back on the ground, neon lights began to mingle with electric lamps and artificial sun, gaudy tubes marking an increasing presence of commercial establishments and public spaces.

Though anarchist in its ideals, money and economy still play an important role in Alazir. My trolley stop was right in the central plaza of the historic city centre, which surrounds a colossal pillar stretching up through the clouds and supporting the city’s artificial sun. A circular gathering hall surrounds the pillar, which when I visited served as a great central bazaar. Here goods from all across the Hyades and even the Pleiades (I’m almost certain I spotted a jeweler selling Heligan ruin shard bracelets) can be bought or bartered for, and the food… There is nothing in the Silver River galaxy quite like Hyadean food (I controversially believe Exclavan cuisine is overrated), and I ended up having the best shawarma of my life in that bazaar. It did make me wonder, however, what economy Alazir sustained that allowed it to host so much trade. Half encircling this plaza is a section of a wide canal, which continues in opposing directions to run along the circumference of Alazir’s habitat drum and branch off into many smaller canals. I asked a friendly passer-by about this strange canal within a space station, a feature unheard of in Sintar, and was given the explanation that it was the city’s primary means of transport when the Six Gods first helped construct Alazir, before the railways and airships came along. This left me with just as many questions as answers.

I found my contact’s apartment overlooking this main canal, and soon I was waiting with apprehension before their door. The person who answered my knocking was a stocky man with pale skin and eyes faintly glowing crimson red, glaring suspiciously down at me. They were a wraith! I truly did not expect such a person to have traveled here from across the galaxy. Introducing themself as Miroslaw, they invited me in for tea, and for once feeling safe to do so I pulled back my hood and mask to reveal my snout and whiskers. Miroslaw’s tea was of a local variety cultivated in the farms of Alazir’s external centrifuges, sharp and aromatic. As my fur dried and I warmed up, I picked up the daily newspaper from their table and skimmed through it, finding headlines about conflicts across the Hyades Cluster, new communities joining the Confederation of Spacers, as well as new star systems around both the Hyades and the distant Pleiades Cluster being explored through an expanding voidcaster network. It seemed Alazir was deeply in the midst of this civilization’s politics and economy, making it a truly interstellar city as I had suspected. Among other articles there was also a report from a recent public assembly where Alazir’s people had elected a new administrative council, cluing me in on the direct democratic process by which the city governs itself. That same report also mentioned a figure known as the “Throne Spirit,” but did not explain who this was.

In a display of their people’s unique abilities, Miroslaw shapeshifted into the appearance of a woman—perhaps a more comfortable form for them—and sat before me with their own freshly steeped drink. What followed was a hearty introduction of Freeport Alazir’s politics, to which I listened with great interest. First and foremost I learned about the city’s basic maintenance, which is overseen by fully publicly accountable officers and labourers, all of whom ideally share equal power and pay. This means such work as construction, cleaning, and utility maintenance are effectively managed according to every neighborhood's needs, and those who fulfill this work are held in high regard as essential members of the community. For more powerful positions such as inter-city trade and transportation management as well as emergency service administration, for which it is beneficial to centralize decision-making to a certain extent, public assemblies are regularly carried out to elect officials via consensus, with the resulting elected officials fully publicly accountable and subject to removal at any time. Finally, holding the greatest effective power over the city is the Alazir Council, a council of six officials who represent the Freeport in inter-city, interplanetary and interstellar diplomacy, as well as having traditionally managed the navigation and physical movement of the city’s superstructure across the Deltauri system during its time in hiding under the Dynasty of Skaude’s rule. Comprised of experienced officials with often decades of politics and administration work under their belt, the Council, just like their less powerful counterparts, is entirely accountable to the public and elected by regular consensus.

It also bears mentioning, however, that the positions Miroslaw talked of are mostly fulfilled by natives of the city, meaning immigrants often have little say in Alazir’s politics and administration. This is not an uncommon problem in cities—certainly not in my home system of Sintar or here in the Hyades—but what makes this issue more significant in Alazir is, as Miroslaw moved on to explaining, the Ascendant Revolution which saw the Dynasty’s fall and the recent founding of the Confederation of Spacers, as well as the countless conflicts raging across the Hyades Cluster since the establishment of the Hyadean Union, have led to massive waves of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Alazir in recent years. I happened to ask, then, how and what the Freeport exports to support itself, and to that question Miroslaw’s expression grew downtrodden. Before saying anything further, however, they offered to take me on a walk through the city. Having sufficiently rested, I of course could not decline the chance to receive a tour from an acclimated local.

We strolled along the canal for a time, watching boats drift across the water. Most were small leisure craft lighting up the water with lanterns and laughter, and I almost wanted to join in were it not for the fact that I could never truly blend in here. For this I felt a pang of jealousy against Miroslaw, who could take on any face and body and fit in anywhere in the Silver River galaxy as long as they hid their eyes. Purple-leaved trees and shrubs from Avtaren grew from planters along the canal shore, their branches hiding the unfamiliar calls of Hyadean birds; we passed by a flock of pigeons crowding around a discarded meal, plump brown creatures cooing and fluttering in the light rain. Then Miroslaw broke the silence by mentioning that the city had not always been this prosperous. When I asked why that was so, they told me, simply, that refugees were being put to work in the factories and farms of Alazir’s external centrifuges.

Of course! I had known from the start Freeport Alazir was too good to be entirely true, and this at last confirmed my lingering suspicions. No city is perfect, even one with such high ideals as Alazir. Miroslaw soon led me to a viaduct upon which an elevated railway ran along the inner circumference of the city habitation drum, and there we climbed up to a station and boarded the train. They then explained how, for this great influx of new people in recent years, there was not enough housing within the city proper, leading many to take up temporary residence in either the smaller stations of Alazir’s metropolitan space or in its two exterior centrifuges. Apparently those centrifuges, which I had only caught brief glimpses of during my rail-lift ride into the main habitat, hold much of the city’s industrial and agricultural facilities, with significant resources dedicated to the production of thermionic components, talisman circuitry, propellant chemicals, legume crops, and tea. Coupled with the fact that the city’s populace had effectively been on the run from the rest of the Hyades for six hundred years until a few years ago, they were not very welcoming of the recent sudden and drastic increase of outsiders, and were thus content with keeping them outside the city proper and making them toil away under threat of deportation. It was simply too convenient for Alazir’s people to have a working class. Nonetheless, as we stepped off the train, Miroslaw reaffirmed their pride in being a citizen of this otherwise exemplary city, and added that it was mostly the older traditionalists who voted against increasing housing and for exploiting refugees; in fact there was a significant youth movement fighting for the application of Alazir’s egalitarian ideals to everyone in the city, not just citizens.

With that conversation settled, we found ourselves on the outskirts of the city, where marshes dotted with thick copses stretched ahead in a great expanse which, judging by strange landforms and remnant landscaping, must have once been a massive terraced garden-park. The crumbling ruins of old buildings peeked from the ground in places, adding to my theory that the city was in fact, in some ways, a shadow of its past self. As though they had done this before, Miroslaw led me into the marshes along a narrow unpaved footpath, then directly into the violet grass. They refused to take questions, merely telling me they were showing me something the Voidbreakers would be greatly interested in, which only intrigued me further. Before long we were cutting through trees, stepping over crumbling stone bricks, and leaving the heart of Alazir fully behind.

Or so I thought. Eventually Miroslaw stopped me before what appeared to be just another ruined building. Except this was not a mere building, but rather a structured mound upon the ground which bore an entrance. Yes, there between vines and grass and shrubs was a tunnel of mossy stones which led to an underground chamber. Miroslaw drew out an electric torch and lit the way. Not without hesitation I entered after them.

As soon as I stepped foot inside the chamber, it illuminated itself, lanterns flickering to life along the walls. In the receding shadows Miroslaw and I were met with walls of ornately engraved patterns and colourful paint, interspersed with carved pillars supporting striped arches beneath an equally elaborate ceiling. The chamber was in fact a long hall, and at its end was a towering arched alcove filled with pipes and cables, before which stood… a figure? I thought it to be a person, but following Miroslaw’s lead I came closer and found myself standing before a machine. Yes, a machine with the appearance of a person, with a tall and slender body made of plates of bronze and brass, eyes glowing neon blue upon a skeletal head framed by a mane of cables trailing like dreadlocks to the alcove behind. But a machine nonetheless. They greeted Miroslaw as though they were an old friend, then introduced themself to me as the Throne Spirit, the sapient avatar of Freeport Alazir.

As it turns out, much of Alazir’s systems, from the complex life support which maintains its interior ecosystem to the computers which drive its railways without conductors, are in fact part of the Throne Spirit’s mind, who is one with the city. Despite this they refuse to act as Alazir’s ruler, instead serving only practical administrative duties and acting in concert with the Alazir Council when making important decisions. This was something I had never seen before. Cities often believe in patron deities, but this was the first city I had visited with a real deific figure playing a real role in its functioning!

One more thing. The Throne Spirit told me they know of the Voidbreakers and the Galactic Weave which we use to travel the Silver River, and have been keeping an eye on the wider galaxy. Though most Hyadeans are unaware of this, the Throne Spirit in contrast knows this isolated interstellar civilization in the Taurus sector is not alone. It seems we are not as secretive as we think, and this holds many unpleasant ramifications for the way we operate. I will then suggest, Aurelius, that you reevaluate our organization’s role in galactic politics and reconsider our policy of non-intervention. If there is one thing my visit to Freeport Alazir has taught me, it is that if there is something one can do for the benefit of the many, than it should be done. Alazir was once secretive like the Voidbreakers, but its role as the founder and cultural capital of the Confederation of Spacers has brought untold prosperity in these difficult times in the wake of the Ascendant Revolution. Can we not do the same, use our unique facilities to aid troubled worlds across the Silver River rather than stand by and idly observe? There is no existing in this galaxy without influencing it, and, as I have argued many times before, it is harmful to distance ourselves from it as we do now.

I otherwise hope you are well.


Best wishes,

Claude


#5 - I Find Myself at Night

2024/02/14

Here's my first new entry in over a year!

I grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but I never made many close friends and had basically zero social life there. Most of my friends are here in Providence, Rhode Island, where I'm currently studying, and they've helped me feel a sense of love and belonging that I never really knew at home. However, that doesn't stop me from missing Vancouver, and that's what this poem is about.

I find myself at night
When the horizon hides a sun
Which anchors me away

From home, and its silvery light
Where my family still lives
But I’ve found a new one here anyway

Haven’t I?
Yet I still yearn for home
And its bustling shores and city life
And warm shimmering light

Which shines on no one but I
Not unlike here,
when I roam the night alone
But I am not always

And when I am not alone
I find where I belong
And it feels so right
After so long
To be among other castaways

To waste the night away
In a skin that no longer feels wrong
With people who make me alright
And watch dawn cast its blue rays

Over a land still so forlorn
Still not mine
The way home is
And so my home is torn

Between comfort so old,
lonely
And companionship so new,
discomforting

So when night falls
And the horizon hides the sun
I think of home
And I yearn.


#4 - The Almond Field

2023/01/24

I wrote this story nearly a year ago and revised it a few months ago, and I just dug it out again, so I've decided to post it here. Enjoy!

On that fateful day, I woke in a room without windows, to a song without sound. Silently it hummed in my head, phantom beats stirring me from sleep, until I drowsily propped myself upright, upon which it fell truly and finally mute.

I found a harsh fluorescent light glaring down at me from a beige popcorn ceiling. Where the music once occupied my ears, the rectangular fixture now emitted a constant hum-buzz. Awash with unnatural, orange-white light, the walls bore that same shade of beige, though alongside a faded floral wallpaper one would have found in a late-twentieth-century house.

I pulled myself from bed, set my bare feet against the rough carpet, observed my surroundings.

No windows. Nothing at all, save for the four walls around me and the ceiling above with that uncanny fluorescence, not even a bed stand.

Did I check all four walls, though? When I looked again, there it was, a door just adjacent to my bed.

Inside was a washroom, all porcelain tile and beige walls, if rather creeping with mildew at the edges. There I stripped off my garments and showered.

The water smelled of sweet almonds.

When I returned to the bedroom, a hallway sat opposite the washroom, with something of a natural blue light reflecting against its end.

I stared, then shook my head. I recall the sight baffling me to no end.

What…

I remembered there being a wall where the hallway was. I remembered…

I remembered nothing, no sense of before, as if all that occupied the hard drive of my memory had begun when I had woken up.

…The hell?

Not without apprehension, I trudged towards and through the hallway. At its end was another room, this time with no fluorescent lighting.

It had windows on all sides. All four sides. When I turned back, the hallway was gone, the pathway to the bedroom sealed.

I peered out one of the windows. A soft blue light filtered in, an early morning glow, a lonely essence of dim day. Beneath it an endless, flat expanse of dull green grass stretched to the horizon on all sides. A cloudless sky lay above the grass, a shade of blue of which something seemed ever so slightly wrong…

A knock on the door. Where did the door come from? Wasn’t there once a window there? Rap, rap, rap, it sounded nonetheless, three thumps in quick succession, and then silence.

In that moment, my heartbeat rose to my throat. Backed firmly against the wall, I breathed deeply to calm myself. It had all been so silent; I could hear my own limbs moving, a sound like grinding wood. And then the knocking, so jarring, so… alluring? I suddenly found myself with an overwhelming curiosity. What could disturb me here? What was here? Perhaps I could find another person out in the field, and find out what it was all about.

A pair of shoes waited for me by the doorstep. I slipped them on, and opened the entrance to my fate.

The air outside was neither cold nor warm, and smelled faintly of clipped grass. The slightest breeze blew by, carrying with it the scent of sweet almonds. There it was again, almonds, beneath the morning dew. Was it morning? This place felt like morning to me, but I could see no sun by the horizon, no sun in the sky, only a diffuse silvery-blue light everywhere.

I did not know how much time passed as I wandered. Wherever I was, it didn’t care to provide me with a watch or phone. The field truly did seem to stretch forever, that infinite expanse of Astroturf-like lawn and almond breeze. How the loneliness struck me, then! Not a single thing stirred here, no human or creature, no living thing. My heart ached, desperately, to find something, to see even the slightest change in the landscape. Still, nothing came.

“Good lord,” I exclaimed after some time. And that did the trick. I was religious, after all.

Memory began to flood back into my mind, a forest stream gorged by spring rains. Memory… of… a small town huddled against the Seine, and deep within the rolling verdant hills of France.

I was a photographer. That was it, a photographer who preferred the obsolete medium of film, who wandered the big city’s bidonville to capture the haunted corridors of abandoned buildings onto thirty-five-millimeter, and make a decent profit selling my prints to complement my accounting career. And one day, I had traveled down the wrong corridor…

A noise pulled me from my thoughts. It was a rustling at first, something stalking along the grass, and then it became the most awful grinding noise, steel fork against porcelain plate, sandpaper against flesh, bone against concrete. It was pain and terror and everything in between. I cowered at first, covering my ears by instinct, then I turned back and looked.

What I saw in the far distance could not be described as a creature. A biologist would, given the unlikely opportunity to study the thing, not classify it as a living thing in the slightest. An “entity” would far better befit its nature.

The entity consisted of a bundle of cables, twisted and knotted into a collection of spindly limbs stretching about eight feet high. Beneath the haunting blue light, its coloration approximated that of burnt flesh, a dark, glistening maroon that pulsed unnaturally along its length. At first glance it might have resembled a man with its upright posture, and upon being noticed by me, it paused long enough for this resemblance to settle, only to once again break it by lumbering into motion. It pulled itself along the grass as no Earthly being would. It tumbled and rattled, and where the grinding and creaking had halted before, it began again.

The entity ran towards me. It chased me.

I ran. I ran as I never had, driven by my basest animal instincts. My lungs burned and my legs grew numb, but still I ran. I needed not look back, for the entity’s harsh scraping always followed me at close distance.

It was there, all of a sudden. Another house, just like the one I’d left. Hell, it might even be my own.

Salvation. Oh, thank God, salvation!

The entity began moving faster. I could feel it. But the house drew closer, too. All I needed was to reach that stalwart frame of wood and brick. Closer, closer, closer to the house, closer to the entity. My vision darkened at the edges. My breath grew faint and ragged. My heartbeat drummed a heavy chorus of fear.

I reached the door. I grasped its knobby handle, twisted, and… it was locked. I rattled it, pulled it as hard as I could, but it did not budge. With all my might, I kicked the door, but still it gave no ground. In a last act of polite desperation, I knocked it, rapped it with raw knuckles, three thumps in quick succession. The entity could not be more than ten meters from me now. Panic pierced my chest coldly, a long, sharp icicle of January blizzards. Grinding, creaking, scraping, it was all so loud, so unbearably loud…

How foolish I had been to run, to save myself.

I am free now. That entity gifted me, though through a metamorphosis of inhuman pain, a beautiful and strong frame. My frail human limbs, I have exchanged for great appendages of cognitive condensate, and my weak mind has been transformed into an exquisite construct of flawless thought. No longer do I fear entities, for I am one now. And I am free… free to explore this realm of the forgotten, this realm beneath the reality I once called home. Ever my wanderlust yearns for new fields to explore, new corridors and new tunnels, and should I ever stumble upon a human I will be sure to pass on to it my gift.

It is only my duty.

The music sings on.


#3 - Dorian Gray fanfic, part one

2023/01/11

After reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, I began thinking of the ramifications of being able to make people immortal by painting them. If this process could be reproduced and done on a large scale, what would happen to the world? As the original Dorian Gray takes place in the 1890s, how would such a drastic new discovery change the events of an ever-changing, increasingly industrialized world? This is not your usual fanfic. This is one that explores the devastating toll that painting-based immortality takes on human civilization, and follows the journey of Sibyl Vane——long thought dead by everyone that knew her in the original book——who lives on thanks to the immortality she stole from Dorian Gray by murdering him and staging his suicide. Oh, and I actually wrote this over a month ago, but I added a bit to it today, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to post it.

Timeline

  • 1889 - Astronomers across the world notice a new red star appearing in the sky. Using parallax calculations, they determine it to be approximately 1.2 light-years away.

  • 1890 - Basil Hallward paints a portrait of Dorian Gray, unknowingly using lapis lazuli pigment containing traces of a mineral known as “soul powder.” This soul powder--normally inert like all examples of the mineral--has now been activated by the arrival of the red star. This causes Dorian to become immortal, with all damage to his body instead incurred to the painting.

    • The same year, Dorian rejects Sibyl Vane’s romantic advances, and plotting her revenge Sibyl fakes her suicide and disappears.

  • 1908 - A hardened Sibyl returns from her exile in France and murders Dorian Gray, staging it as a suicide. In the process, she gains Dorian’s immortality and eternal youth, though this process remains poorly understood for the whole novel.

  • 1909 - Sibyl returns to France and once again takes up her acting career, and quickly becomes a celebrity in the emerging motion picture industry.

  • 1910 - Through newly built long-range telegraph/radio infrastructure, reports emerge from around the world of people who have seemingly become immortal

    • In March of 1910, a village is discovered in Afghanistan that is seemingly immortal. It turns out they have achieved this by creating crude paintings of themselves using soul powder as pigment, which they extracted from a lapis deposit below.

    • Shortly afterwards, an experimental Zeppelin airship is deemed perfect for an investigation mission through the mountains of Afghanistan and is deployed to collect lapis samples.

    • Through experimentation, within less than a year the rich and powerful discover that if their portraits are painted with soul powder, they will become ageless and all damage incurred to their bodies will be transferred to their paintings. Only when their paintings get destroyed do they receive this damage all at once. Top-secret painting storehouses are established.

  • 1914 - By this point, fleets of airships from the great European powers are flying across the world, prospecting for lapis deposits containing soul powder. They are equipped with radiation counters to detect the signature radiation that the powder emits, and high-explosives to blow away surface biomass from the typically buried deposits. Demand for this resource is exploding, as it basically means immortality for anyone who can pay. At the same time, portrait artists are earning bank from “imprinting” people who wish to become immortal. Of course, the native inhabitants around the lapis lazuli deposits are driven out.

    • Photographs made from film emulsions containing soul powder also work to make subjects immortal, though the effect is both temporary and does not impart damage to the subject once the effect wears off.

    • Political tensions are rising in Europe, and on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to Emperor Franz Joseph, visits Sarajevo, capital of the recently annexed provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, he is assassinated, beginning World War 1.

    • Not only is World War 1 a political war in this timeline, it is also a resource war, as every nation is vying for control of soul powder extraction sites.

  • 1920 - Six years in, the war rages on, now mainly over soul powder. Airships are a common sight both for military and commercial use, as they bomb cities, destroy u-boats, transport people and cargo, and extract soul powder. The entire world is at war, from North America to Europe to the Middle East to East Asia. Shit is getting real. In addition, super-soldiers are commonly deployed in war, getting their photos taken with soul powder-infused film before tearing through battlefields with no resistance.

    • By now, Sibyl Vane is the biggest silver screen star in France, and is very rich and influential. However, she is growing tired of acting for propaganda films, and people are starting to grow suspicious of her agelessness. Quietly, she disappears again.

    • One day, Sibyl is contacted by a mysterious airship captain, who wants her aboard his motley crew of sky sailors. When asked who he serves, the captain only replies that his crew works for the greater good. After learning of the existence of her brother’s grandchildren, and the danger they face in Frankfurt, Germany, Sibyl agrees, and she is welcomed aboard the privateer airship Coral Mirage.

    • The Mirage has been tasked by a mysterious organization with a secret mission in Germany. The Germans are developing what they believe to be an atomic weapon, and the Mirage needs to stop them before they bomb London.

    • Driven by her continued ties to her estranged family, a sense of duty, and a desire to not return to her acting career and remain hidden, Sibyl accepts the mission. With the Coral Mirage, she sets off on a grand adventure of spy drama, political intrigue, and airship action, in order to stop the Great War and save the world.

December 17, 1920

Sibyl Vane waited for the others to leave earshot, and leaned toward the barkeeper.

“The usual,” she said, smiling despite her tiredness.

The barkeeper raised an eyebrow at Sibyl, and then her eyes shot wide in disbelief. “Sibyl?” She quietly exclaimed, warily looking from side to side. “I almost didn’t recognize you without makeup! Aren’t you supposed to be at the studio for that new propaganda film?”

Sibyl shook her head. “Nope. I quit. Bilked them out of their paycheck. Who were they to use my face for their political messages? It didn’t sit right with me. I needed the moral release,” she explained, taking her drink.

When she looked back up, that expression of disbelief had not left the barkeeper’s face.

Sibyl only laughed. “Grass is always greener on the other side, hmm? And treason be damned, the French government warehouses are chock full of war films—enough to last until we all kill each other.” She raised her glass. “So what do you say, then, ‘keep? To the Great War.”

The barkeeper rolled her eyes, and clinked a bottle of cold beer against Sibyl’s glass. “To the Great War.”

The two of them downed their drinks.

Sibyl stared down at her glass as the barkeeper left, stared at that solemnly bare base. In the hushed ambiance beneath the bar’s dim light bulbs, the reflection staring back at her seemed to shimmer, ripple. Change. Was it only her imagination, or did that face become someone else? In a moment she was looking at an ethereal image of Dorian Gray, sprawled dead on the floor of his attic, the scene made by Sibyl’s hand to resemble a suicide. She shuddered and tore her eyes away.

I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve any of it——the fame, the fortune, the eternal youth.

Where to, from here? She could never appear in full to the public again, and that realization brought a wave of unwanted melancholy. Oh, despite it all, how she had enjoyed the silver screen, when it had begun all those years ago. There, at least, she could be someone new every day, Charlie Chaplin’s girl on Monday, moon maiden on Tuesday, trench man’s mistress on Wednesday. Behind the winding film, it all carried a charm grander than any Shakespearean play. She would miss it. She would mourn it.

And then what? Perhaps she could leave Paris and return to London, but what could she return to? Her mother and brother were certainly dead, both, and in the midst of war the city had become anything but pleasant. Better the image of those grand Victorian monuments remain in her memory, then for her to face the crumbling reality and have her imagination tainted.

She ordered another drink, and considered traveling the world. That could certainly help her leave Dorian behind. But while the grand national parks of America, the lush jungles of Africa, and majestic mountains of Persia were all beautiful by themselves, the people there no doubt would mar the experience. These days, she thought, everybody was at everybody else’s throats. And already many were at hers. It occurred to her to look around the bar, and make sure she was safe.

It was then that she noticed a cloaked man at the corner of the room, all tousled hair and grizzled beard and hunched in a chair too small for his form. He was looking at her, had no doubt been looking at her for some time.

Another crazed fanatic? No, that look was deliberate, sober, somber. And one of the man’s eyes, as he turned to sip his beer, was hidden behind an eyepatch.

Oh, what the hell. She stood up, found her footing disconcertingly unsteady, and slowly walked to join that strange figure.

“Want a signature?” She said, settling down to face the man. She found her drink gone again, her hand clutching an empty glass.

“Nah.” His voice sounded exactly as Sibyl expected it would; gruff and condescending. “I never really got films. Why just watch adventure, when you could have it for yourself?”

Sibyl rubbed her temple. A gentle headache had begun to spread there, from the alcohol or otherwise. She didn’t care. She found herself smiling. “Ah, a thrill seeker, are you? I know that accent; I bet you volunteered for the British forces right when the War began, and when things started getting bad you deserted and came to France. I’ve seen your type, telling the grandest stories while doing the least fighting. How’d you recognize me?”

The man shrugged. “I got the news. France’s biggest movie star quits the industry. It’ll be all over the headlines tomorrow, I bet. ‘Course, these people—” he gestured around the bar “—have no clue yet, but when your whereabouts hit the broadsheets it’ll be all they talk about.”

Sybil squinted at him. “How do you know? You a German spy? You an Imprinted immortal? Trying to get me to work for the Kaiser? If there’s one thing I like even less than working for my own country’s war effort, it’s working for another’s.”

“This isn’t your country. But ya don’t consider Britain your home anymore, do you?”

A barmaid passed by their table. Sibyl waved her over, and ordered a half-pint of beer. At length she drank from it, savoring the bitter flavour. She set it down loudly and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Manners be damned, she was no longer an actress, and she would never be again.

The eye-patch man stared down at her with… unease? He crossed his arms, as though waiting for her to say something.

“What do you want,” Sibyl said, “Captain Blackbeard? Money? Recognition? Companionship? I’m sure we could work something out, you and I.”

Captain Blackbeard. That’s endearing. No, I don’t want none of that. I want your help.” The man took a photograph from his coat pocket. On it, was what seemed to be an ordinary cargo airship, though its long gas envelope and fins bore no mark of nationality or corporation. “My name is Usal Murray, and I’m captain of the independent airship Coral Mirage. We’re privateers, all of us, privateers from all across the world, and we could use someone with your skills.” He held out his hand. “Well?

Sibyl chuckled. Then that grew into a hearty laugh, until she could no longer contain herself. She only stopped when her chest began to hurt.

He’s insane. I’m insane. Good god, everyone these days is——

“Your brother has grandchildren,” Usal said. “And if you don’t help us, they’ll be in danger.”

Sibyl froze. Suddenly the past rushed back to her in a great wave, and she bit back a curse.

“James Vane died drunk in the forest,” she muttered, eyeing the door. The rain outside pattered like artillery against the glass, a barrage of heavy droplets falling from the cerulean silver sky, falling like dying Europe, falling like fractured America, falling like ravaged Asia. She felt as though it were slowly washing her away, too.

“Yes. They tend to do that, when seeking vengeance for a sister they thought dead. According to the records he sired an illegitimate daughter, though he never knew of her. She and her children live in Frankfurt, Germany now. Ya want to help them escape conscription, or do you want to be a former movie star, forever?”



#2 - Ghosts, part one

2023/01/10

This one was inspired by a conversation about what my friends and I would do with our bodies when (or if) we die.

On the far outskirts of London, England, lay a small cemetery. It was a cemetery much like any other, and when dim and dreary days came it often found itself home to many mourning wanderers. Most were of the living.

Perhaps of most note, beyond crumbling tombs and twisted gargoyles, beyond blooming daisies and creeping vines, was the willow tree that stretched proudly from the heart of the cemetery. Its trunk stood tall and stalwart, and on hot summer days, its long branches trailed roping leaves that cast cool shade onto the cemetery’s living visitors. On those days, it was home to trilling birdsong and the shrill cries of adventurous children.

When wintertime saw its leaves lay bare, however, it was home to something much more alien, much deeper within. Through flannel and fleece and woolen mittens, some claimed it spoke to them. Nonetheless, among the living, most dismissed those silent whispers, regardless of what truly lay beneath its weathered bark.

It was among the dead that the willow tree’s true nature hinted itself to the world. And it was during the reign of Queen Victoria, that the ghost of a sickly youth befriended the willow tree. Never would they leave the tree’s side, and ever did the other ghosts and spirits watch them converse in soft tones to its wavering branches.

For a time, the tree and the ghost were happy. Even when the world began to change, even when factory smoke choked the skies and aeroplanes pierced the clouds, in each other they had found refuge beyond the veil of death. For the willow tree had once been alive, too, had loved and hoped and laughed and cried, and still from times of empires and conquests did it carry aging memories of a past life.

Then, the veil of death began to fall. Outside the cemetery lay a world in whole, and the machines its people built had at once become ever grander and finer, until they crept toward the powers within the living mind, and even beyond.

Somewhere beneath the ancient metropolis of Manchester, was a laboratory. Were the laboratory a place of honor and purity, it would have sat above the ground, but the people that worked it held ambitions that would horror even gods. With funds from a man of abhorrent wealth, they captured an untimely dying man from his bed and took his very soul from his skull and spine, whereupon they trapped it in a vessel of steel and silicon. And as he woke, screaming with no mouth, they cheered in glee.

Yet even by the night, the laboratory workers had not realized their mistake. And when they did, their ghost-machine had escaped to the surface, lumbering along makeshift pneumatic limbs. The machine that had once been a man ran, ran southward for days until his batteries ran dry, and in the end he collapsed under a towering willow tree surrounded by crumbling headstones.

As it slept, the Victorian ghost watched. And as the Victorian ghost roused the willow tree from slumber, the two realized the machine man heralded the coming of a new age.

The world was changing, and they could no longer ignore it.

On the outskirts of London, England, were many wanderers. Not the ones who came to revere the dead, but the ones who could not find home anywhere else. In makeshift and mobile homes they lived, for the land of this land had come to be held in the hands of the scarce few, who drove its cost beyond the reach of most common people.

That is not to say these lost wanderers did not revere the dead. One wanderer in particular, who lived within his grandfather’s camper van, could see ghosts. It should be known that only the mad may see ghosts, and so outcast from the other wanderers, he often found companionship among the dead.

When he was not working, he visited many cemeteries. And one day he came upon a small cemetery, smaller than most, which sat under the shade of a grand willow tree.

What he found under the tree… Well, here begins the story of ghosts in an age of machines.

“Over there,” the man said, pointing ahead. “Looks like someone threw out a perfectly good robot.”

His companion pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Really? This again, Scott?”

“No, I’m serious this time, Mabel. Dead serious.”

Slowly, Scott approached the pile of metal beneath the willow tree. Though a few dim lights still shone across its body, it lay motionless, asleep, almost dead save for the weak impulses still leaping through its printed silicon brain.

Scott knelt by the robot’s side, and carefully rested his hand on its dirtied casing. There was something of a reverent air about it, and as he revered the dead, so too did he the robot. Somehow.

“Well, lad, you look brand new,” he said, searching it for a serial number. “Shame they tossed you out like that.”

Something moved in the corner of Scott’s eye. Something ethereal, ephemeral, like rippling white cloth. When he turned to look, however, he saw nothing, only Mabel further away with her crossed arms.

“Leave it, Scott. We’re running out of time.”

“One moment,” Scott said, both to the robot and to Mabel. “I’ll be right back. Ah, you’ll like this.”

To be continued... Maybe.


#1 - Relic of the twenty-first century

2023/01/09

Alright, here's my first piece of writing for this website. The idea for this came from a conversation with a friend about what kind of house we'd like to have in the far future.

I may be one of the lucky ones. If we finally slay the dragon of aging within my lifetime, and I get to partake in its spoils, I'll live for a long time yet. And when the years stretch into decades, and the decades stretch into centuries, I'll find myself on a desert world light years away, living somewhere quiet beyond the bustle of urban civilization. Among alien shrubs and extrasolar cacti, my home will be a small hut with a crackling fireplace to read and write by, and a soft Persian rug to rest my feet on and remind me of home. With a warm drink in my hand, I'll watch the infinite vistas of outer space stretch into the darkness outside my window, the Milky Way arch over the clear night sky. And when I grow tired of the view (which, perhaps, I never will), I'll have a clunky radio which I sometimes use to tune into galactic broadcasts, and an ancient CRT television to catch up on dramas, and maybe even guest accommodations for the occasional wanderers that pass by my place. Most of the time, however, I will craft grand stories and paint elaborate artwork to share on my interstellar blog. All these years, and my passion for creating art from imagination has never waned. And sometimes I will play Minecraft.

Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'm not all I seem to be; maybe I'll live a double life. Sometimes I'm a simple artist and writer, and sometimes I'll open the floorboards and flip a switch, and the hill just outside my home——which is in reality an elaborate hologram——will flicker away, revealing a massive rocket silo. Within, sits a modified space freighter bristling with radiators and weapons. I'll climb in the cockpit, feel that familiar adrenaline rush as the pulse-fusion engines rumble to life beneath me, and blast off into outer space, where I'll travel the stars and journal and photograph everything I see and do, venturing into the very fringes of the wormhole network that connects civilized space, prowling the streets of neon city space stations for black market jobs. And when I come home and write all too realistic adventure stories in my blog, my fans will wonder how, just how I know the exact process of smuggling Pleiadan Spaceleaf across the interstellar border guard.

Wherever I go, whatever identity I take, I’ll lead a humble life most of the time, but I’ll have seen far more than any mortal. And when adventure calls, I’ll answer in stride, with a trusty starship under my command, and sometimes a motley crew of outcasts. Most of the time, I’ll admire the stars from afar. But always, I’ll know the stars are mine, and I need only look under the floorboards for adventure. And sometimes, when the myriad broadcasts beaming across spacetime grow quiet enough, I’ll turn on my CRT tv, and tune to a hyperspace channel countless light years away. Though the signal is weak and laden with static, I recognize the late night show host right away and chuckle at their jokes. They were one of my oldest friends, from high school back on Earth. Out paths had crossed, once, and in these times those paths still grow close like parallel lines, but I know even the wormhole gates cannot bridge the space that the years have driven between us. I recall the others, the ones I met along the way, the ones who took the anti-aging treatments. Some rose to greatness, some faded into obscurity, and some became like us, made mellowed and modest by the centuries. Most of us have grown far, far apart by now, leading vastly different lives, but we all share one thing. We are all relics of the twenty-first century. We all survived a century of change and turmoil, and we all live on in the flourishing human civilization we saved long ago.