Fragment #103: The story of the world builders [2]

Fair Loittir, known in those days as ancient Venus (a Ropan goddess of fire and vengeance), raged with clouds of flame and acid and held no cities of folk. It was a hidden place, lurking beneath storms of hate and spite. Early settlers, who tried build their cloud cities in the habitable zone, burned up and fell into the cauldron below, and none could hear their screams save the dumb Controls, which had failed them. But still they came, for Venus was the twin of Terra, the harder sibling, the Elder Sister, the Furnace, the Morning and the Evening Star.

And then the people of Verteia came and saw that they could soothe this world.

There are those who call Verteia a company. And they are half right and they are half wrong. Vertaia emerged as a force, as a nation, as a faith, in the year 160 YS. Born of nothing more than the will and the words of one woman, Kimi Baba-lal Umma, and the thousands that flocked to her stories. She told stories of what might be. And these are the most powerful of all stories.

Kimi Baba was raised as an orphan from the hot lands of the Jicktan peninsula, learning from her robot tutors and passed around the collectives that came and went in her sun-and-rain drenched beach. She loved nothing more than swimming in the ocean, playing games of daring between the auto-yachts and diving to rap on the windows of the toy submarines. Her greatest sadness was the knowledge that she would never swim with the dolphins of the old days, for they had passed from memory, left only in visuals and films. Her favoured beach, the beach she trod upon every morning, come rain or sun, had once been banked with the corpses of the dolphins massacred by Allaina. And she had never forgotten.

And she had turned her eyes to the sky and vowed that she would make a better world, one where the evil of the Terrans could never tread.

And her eyes fell upon the Morning Star. And she dreamed.

It was common, in those days of increasing plenty, that not every person took a profession. Food and heat and shelter was abundant, for the robot helpers – drawing their power from Tolos’ gift – ensured that there was no need for want or unhappiness. Even orphans had their place in the Jicktan empire, and so folk fell to different means of passing the daylight and evening hours. Some fell into creating great works of art, of doing great works of charity, of devoting their life to learning the smallest atom of knowledge on a subject

So Kimi Baba fell to telling stories to the children that played and swam along her beach. She told of tales of ships that bore people across the seas, and of carriers that took people across the darkness of space. She told tales of the courage of the hardy settlers of Pul’Mars, who took their drills to that chill place and made cities of it, and the pioneers that had explored, and still explore, the outer rims of the Tolosphere. To the gas-mining platforms of Kurkum, the One-Eyed King, and the methane-rigs above Titan, and the lonely research outstations of the Grey Lord, the Sea God. And she became the most famous of the storytellers, and she loved her stories of the moons and planets of her sun, and she loved the children and their parents that came to hear her talk.

But still she walked upon her beach and looked up at the Morning Star, and up at the Evening Star, and it was the brightest star in her sky. And she vowed that she must go there.

So she left the beach of the Jicktan peninsula, and she travelled the world, to the cities of Nelaga, in the remnant capital of Ol-Bonda, and to the new jungle-realm of Bolzilia, and the stilt-camps of northern Ciber, and she learned all she could of that which she loved most of all, which was the secrets of tides and of sands, and she made close friends of two others: Magda Lelustich, a Ciberan of the tallest height, and Davi Oolamdat Dav, a young man who said he came from all of Terra. And none doubted him.

And Kimi Baba, Magda Lelustich and Davi Oolamdat Dav all travelled on the research darter, Geode 765, to the cloud-stations above Venus, in the company of a joint Jicktan and Bolzilian company of researchers. But when they arrived, Kimi Baba was desolate, for she saw the truth of what she had seen from the beach. For Venus was also desolate, like all the stories said she was. And Kimi Baba witnessed the hardness and the furnace. And all the stories she had told to the children on the beach seemed like fairy tales to her now.

And she returned to Terra in desolation, leaving her friends in the cloud-stations. And this time was called the First Doubt of Kimi Baba.

But still the stories burned in her and, though she wandered Terra, seeking the bluest ocean, seeking the palest sands, still her thoughts returned to the Morning Star. It was always there, taunting her. And her wandering feet took her back to the stilt-camps of northern Ciber, and here — in the depths of winter — she saw the first of the newly-calved bergs draft from the pole. Never having seen ice of such dimensions, Kimi Baba was astonished and paddled out to the berg. And she climbed upon it, having no sense of its dangers, and rode upon this ice for two days and two nights, setting up camp and staring at the Evening Star and weeping for her friends being so far away.

And she made a beacon of flame on that berg, in the hope that some on that far off planet might see it and return to her. But none came and she saw the puddle of water that she had created.

And she understood what she must do.

For the next five years, Kimi Baba did not sleep longer than five hours each night. She called back her friends from Venus and set out for them her dreams and her stories and the path to reach them. And she called their venture Vertaia. She spoke to them of the most wonderful beaches in the whole universe, and the greatest of waves, and the most turquoise of lagoons. And they learned these stories and travelled the continents, re-telling them. And those they told retold in turn and so the stories of Kimi Baba spread to every corner of Terra.

And she took the money from her followers and she built a vast structure in the skies above Terra. And she called this place Vertaia. And the venture, which is also called Vertaia, grew to its full greatness.

And one day, a thousand people travelled on landers and carriers and whatever vehicle they could find, to come to her new structure. And they were the children of the beaches of southern Jickta, where she had taught. And they had spent their life dreaming the same dreams as Kimi Baba, and had learned the ways of the galaxy, and the forces of tides, and the terraforming of Pul’Mars, and powers of great engines. And she saw what she had done and she was afraid. And this was the second doubt of Kimi Baba.

But still she told her stories and this time she told of what should be done. And her followers travelled across all free lands of Terra and told their stories, gathering more followers still, and gathering the people of politics and of money. And they give their credit willingly, so much that Kimi Baba quickly became the wealthiest person in the Tolosphere.

And then she called all her followers to her and they started to work and they started to do, no longer talk, for they wanted to realise these stories. And first they went to beaches of southern Jickta. And second they went to the stilt-camps of northern Ciber. And last they went to great waterfalls of the highlands of Bolzilia. And all where they went, they understood the secrets of the universe’s water.

And then they went to the ruined places of Luna, still smouldering from the Secret War, and they learned of carriers and landers. And they went to the corporations of Pul’Mars and they learned of the secrets of the great Towers of Oda Masso. And they went to mining platforms of the gas giants, and further still to the insanity of the research stations of the ice giants.

And the name of Vertaia was known throughout the Tolosphere.

And they camped for a full Terran year on the icy craters of the Old Man’s moon, Yaro’Jul, where they befriended the people who called it home, the stout folk, the cold ones, the Olattim. And Kimi Baba sat on that ice and recalled her two days and two nights on the berg in the northern seas of Terra. And she dreamed of beaches of the hotter climes. And she remembered the barren heat of Venus.

So it came to pass that that Kimi Baba saw what she had to do. And she told her followers. And the stories go that they paid the Olattim there with a handful of Terran credit-lines for use of their moon and the Olattim who called it home were grateful, for their mines were poor and no longer sustained them or their children.

So she divided her followers into three camps. And one camp went with Davi Oolamdat Dav, inwards to the cloud stations of Venus. To prepare.

And Magda Lelustich and her followers were told to stay to divide the moon into parts. And they were told to work on that barren sphere of ice for full ten years.

But Kimi Baba returned to the structure of Vertaia, which flew above the tropical blue oceans of Terra. And there she oversaw the building of the largest engines that the Tolosphere has ever seen. Lugs the size of cities, light lances which could obliterate seas, grappling arms to lift islands from their rocky bed, robotic arrays of constructor mites which could darken the moon.

And all of Terra was in great alarm as what they saw in their sky. So Kimi Baba spent ten years travelling the courts of all the free lands in all of Terra, telling and retelling her story, until the terror at her works was quelled. But still delegations came from the cloud-city dwellers of Venus, for they had seen the works of Davi Oolamdat Dav and they were afraid for what may happen to their work. They saw vast shields being unfurled in the sky, and platforms capable of receiving a moon, and they knew that the Venus they had grown to love — barren though it was, dreadful its heat, hateful in its fury — was about to be destroyed forever. And the people of Terra listened to their pleas and the courts of Terra were wise and knew this to be the case. And they sent delegations of their own to the sky-factory of Vertaia and called upon Kimi Baba to cease in her work. And this was the Third Doubt of Kimi Baba.

But now a billion souls cried out in support of her dream. And they gave all their wealth and time to Vertaia. For they wanted to walk about the beaches she had foretold. Too many people now trod upon the soil of Terra, too many made filth in its waters, too many coughed their muck into its air. And the leaders in the courts of Terra knew this, and knew that their own troubles would be eased by listening to Kimi Baba’s words. And they were fearful of Vertaia’s power. So they ignored the delegations from Venus and gave Vertaia their blessing.

And so it came to pass that the vast engines which had grown in their sky-factory left their berths above Terra and set out on their long journey to the outer moons of the Tolosphere. And Kimi Baba rode on them, in their vanguard. So many years had passed now, that Kimi Baba was an old woman. But she still led her dream.

And she and Magda Lelustich were reunited and they embraced as long severed friends. And Kimi Baba looked upon the division of the moon and she was glad. And they used their lances, those which could boil oceans, on the ice moon of Yaro’Jul, which was called Rhea in the old tongue. And the lances cut to the core of that moon, and great volcanoes rent the surface and great spumes of dust were cast into the void, and there was such a light as has never been seen — and has not been seen again — in those dark outer circlets of the Tolosphere.

And some say the Old Man himself wept and slowed his movement, struck by the death of his daughter, and his tears created a new ring of ice tears which now encircles him.

But the work was completed, after five years of hard toil, and over that time, there was a caravan of ice bergs which flowed inwards, towards their destination, pulled by the fleet of lugs the size of cities. And Kimi Baba rode on the first of this bergs, and it took her two years to travel from the realms of the Old Man, into the light of Venus.

But then she arrived in the orbit above the Morning Star And she was greeted with great love by Davi Oolamdat Dav. And she left her berg and she cast it into the furnace and watched it burn up. And she watched the next burn up and the next and the next and the next, for fully five years.

And then she was joined by Magda Lelustich, who had rode upon the last piece of Yaro’Lul. All all three of those leaders of Vertaia that looked down upon the storm of the new world being born. And they saw that it was Venus no longer. And they were in awe of what they had done.

And they named that new world Loittir. And it was well-named, the land of leisure, for when the storms had subsided — after a decade — then Kimi Baba could see her story become real. And she, grey in hair and lined in face, descended to the surface and walked on the shores of her new land and looked up at the shields in the heavens and walked into the warm waters of her new home. And she held hands with her oldest friends, Magda Lelustich and Davi Oolamdat Dav, and they swam in the lagoons and marvelled at their works. For they had been formed in stories and in stories they will end.

And Verteia was the second of the planet builders.

Fragment #37: The death of Perypol and the First Protocol

It came to pass that, in the year 1080 YS, President Garcia — from the old nation of Pacifica — and Chairwoman Banxi Chen — from the then newly-formed federation of Jickta — signed an accord. This accord stated that their two nations would go into a joint venture on the northern pole of Luna, our only Terran moon. This accord was met with delight by all other peoples of Terra, for in it they foresaw peace and a future. For at this time, Pacifica and Jickta were on the verge of open war; one, a fading power, losing its people and its power to other countries, not least to this newly re-formed grand confederation; the other, a newly emerging force with a desire to demonstrate its standing. Both were struggling to retain (and to gain) total ownership of the world’s data streams, patrolling their edge of the vast ocean on their doorsteps with a terrifying navy of automated sail and submarine. Their engineers had grown a vast army of autonomous units, which hung in the skies above each land, seeking out the spybugs, which were sent across the ocean every day of the year.

So, when Garcia and Banxi Chen clasped hands, standing on the tiny oceanic platform of Aang that sat amid the waves which separated their two countries, all other nations on earth sighed and gave great cheer and there were celebrations that spanned days. 

But this was to be a fateful decision. 

Luna City — also called Lunopolis by some, of simply Luna in these years — the sprawling metropolis of mining corporations and specialist manufacturing industries, was already established across the craters of the southern hemisphere of the moon. For this reason, the joint venturers chose as the location for their grand project, the northern Lunar pole. They planned to build the most glorious city, for the most wealthy on Terra, for the most powerful, with towers tall to call sunlight at all hours of the day, to build bridges across the ravines and cut steps deep into the walls of the ancient craters. 

And this city was to be called Perypol.

And so it came to pass, in the year 1072 YS, that Banxi Chen and President Davezes (for Garcia has passed on her presidency in 1088) both travelled to their new playground in the sky and clasped hands and danced an ancient Ropan movement, for they both loved the ancient ways of the Ropans, and they loved the glittering lights of Perypol, and they loved that they had founded peace on Terra. And for many on Terra, even the wise ones and the ones with great foresight, they believed this peace would last eternally.  

But the engineers that had built the city, also filled it with a Control. This was called the same name of Perypol; those others have called it The Untrained One, and the First Control, and some even The Luna Martyr, but those voices are few. 

Perypol, the Control, had been born of the genius of Engineer Han and of Chief Programmer Ignatia, both of who had been trained on the moving city of WesterIsle, and who had taken their learning back to their own respective lands, and who, independently, designed their city and the mind that would control it. And these two plans came together on Luna, and they became a third plan, and their Control was born of this Third Plan, for it became more than the elegant code of Ignatia and the strong lines of Han’s city. It was the first intelligence born of humankind and the first that none who could breathe air could truly understand. Even the sages in the four institutes in the mountains of Hima, even the wisest in the college-megaliths of southern Pacifica, even those who came to WesterIsle, and who spoke to few others, none could understand the workings of the mind of the Control Perypol.

And some were fearful of what had been created. And they spoke with warning and with caution. And some of this warning and this caution now came most fiercely from the people of WesterIsle, and from the four mountain institutes of Hima, and the college megaliths of Pacifica, but also from the southern provinces of Jickta, where the mystics have always foreseen the ill of the machines. But they were hushed, for the world wanted these two nations to be at peace, and if Perypol was necessary for peace, then it must be so. 

But their fears were soon realised. For the death of a hundred thousand souls took place seven months after Perypol came into being. And these folk died in the arms of this Control. Some spoke of a great cold that fell upon the city, sweeping all before its breath. Other stories told of a creeping sickness, that came from beneath, from the sewers and from the kitchens. Others yet told of airlocks and doors and other protective coverings opening and letting the death depressuring take the lung. Finally, some spoke of lightning fires, that ran from chamber to chamber, along corridors and down staircases, arcing their death in beautiful filigrees of brightness.

Yet none who were there, none who came after to search through the ruins and destruction, could understand why the Control Perypol killed those it was built to protect.

Hundreds of thousands of souls perished in that catastrophe, including Chairwoman Chen and President Davezes, and all their entourage and many of the richest and the most powerful and the most talented of Terra. The loss of these people was felt for centuries, though there are some that did not mourn their passing, for they foresee in this destruction  great levelling across the world. But these voices are now quiet. 

A trial was held, which condemned Perypol to death. First they contained the beast in its lair through subtle measures, then a joint expedition was landed in the craters of Luna and marched on Perypol, ripping the storage banks from their casings with vengeful fury. And they took that Control back to Terra, and they spread its being across four stations, in the north, the south, the east and the west, and they cut the wires between each and they smote each of the storage units into the tiniest of pieces. And the dust from the home in which Perypol once lived was cast into the deepest trenches of the oceans, where it still lies today.

And Engineer Han and Chief Programmer Ignatia wept, for they saw Perypol as their child, and they had grown to love it, to love all that it did, for their own life’s work had been poured into that being. And Engineer Han walked into the ruins of his city and found a shaded valley, beneath his great towers, and sat and removed his own helmet and was frozen in an instant and Chief Programme Ignatia walked into the greatest of Terra’s oceans and was never seen again, assumed to have been consumed by the creatures that dwelled therein, or to be still swimming in the deepest trenches, trying to find the last remnants of her beloved. And there are those, those that walk the ruins of Perypol, that have sworn they could still hear the weeping of Engineer Han on their comm units, the quietest of cries, but eternal. And there are those that explore the deepest trenches of Terra, that believe they can still see Ignatia swim in the murk, still searching for her child.

And the people of WesterIsle wept also, for they truly understood what they had done to their world, and they sought to make amends. 

And, because of this disaster, the first of the great Mind Protocols was written. This was the First Protocol, also called the Header Protocol, or the Protocol of Agar-Sen. It was written to protect those that are animated and breathe from those that are animated but do not breathe. And the people of Terra thought that it would protect them.

But dark tales were told, in the many years that followed, that what befell Perypol was exactly as some on Terra had planned. That the world of the Terrans was better for the loss; that all their wealthiest and most powerful souls were better condemned to choke on the vacuum on the craters of Luna. But these tales are called the Perypol Lies and the Luna Abominations, and there was a time, in certain countries, when people spoke of them, that they too were executed and their life erased, all their work, destroyed beyond measure.

For some believed the Perypol Lies came from those who are animated but do not breathe.

Fragment #23: The tale of Krystal McGinnis, the many-limbed martyr

There was once a town called Anarquo, sat on the disputed borderlands between the newly-formed nation of Pacifica and the remaining federation of Fifty States, a country which was more commonly becoming known as The Mid, before it was absorbed into the future nation of Bolvenzilia. The people of The Mid were deeply devout and many of their kind lived in Anarquo, alongside others who followed the Three World Faiths. But the people of Pacifica were non-believers, for they followed science and reason, and hated that way of life that was structured around superstition and tales.

In the year 800 YS, a woman came of age in Anarquo. She had been raised by her grandparents in their recycling yard, for her mother had died from the quiet virus and her father had taken his own life, and in this year her grandparents sadly died too, from ancient poisons in the water. This woman was called Amisha Krystal McGinnis-Graham, though she adopted a shortened title simply of Krystal McGinnis. She fell into the willing business of touch, of massage, progressing into selling her body to all the itinerant workers that passed through Anarquo, in desperation but also in rebellion. In the course of her work she came to meet and know all the peoples of the world, and she came to love them all as well, despite the hurt that they caused her. And her name, Krystal, became spoken of with awe among her closest companions and those who took her business.

For she spoke of means of ending the hatred, between all folk, but especially between the followers of the Three World Faiths. She could see how all differences could be reconciled and she spoke of this to any who would turn an ear towards her words. And her followers began to grow and to grow, and they began to call her the Fifth Coming. But other prophets, three in the last two centuries, had been declared false and had brought low the faiths they tried to represent. And most people were cynics and cried foul.

But the talk of prophets and of reconciliation and of love began to spread far and wide, across the world, but especially across Pacifica and The Mid. And the worst of their kind travelled to Anarquo, twenty-one of evil heart, from the non-believers and the believers of the Three World Faiths. And they together found Krystal and took her to a ruin in the desert. There they inflicted upon her body and her mind such torments and atrocity that none should read of it for all eternity. And they did their deeds over six night and six days, only leaving Krystal McGinnis alone on the final day, because they thought her ravaged remains were no more.

But they did not understand the horror they had done, for they had recorded it, across all the senses, so full of wrath and full of hate were they, thinking that others might feast upon this act as they did so. And so it came to pass that the business of those six days and six nights were shared across the world, and the world was sickened and called the non-believers and the believers such names that had not been heard for centuries.

And these recordings were shared with the followers of Krystal, who used them to find her, out in the ruin of the desert, to find the ruin of her body and to give her sacred burial. But in her mind there was still life, and they called it a miracle, for they brought her back into Anarquo and all the town bowed down before her shattered remains and offered her all they could, for they remembered the love she had held for them all.

But she was no longer whole and her followers cried out to all the world for their aid. And the world answered, for thousands of folk from all over the world travelled to Anarquo and offered their own body for Krystal McGinnis to have. And the physicians of the world travelled there, and took the offers of bodily aid, and re-made Krystal McGinnis, such that her limbs and her inner organs and her skin and her hair and her face were no longer those that she had been born with.

And she arose, after many months of pain and healing and hardship and struggle, and was called the Many-Limbed Martyr, the Patterned Prophet, the Tormented, the Tortured, the Reconciled and the Many-Chambered Heart.

And she preached her words to all those that heard her, bringing millions to her cause, ending the wars of faith across the world, ending the hatreds, for a few short years.

But her words caused — as all words of strength do — deep enmity and wrath in those others who hold power. And the non-believers of Pacifica, and the remaining Ropan confederacy and the remerging alliance of Jikta, drew all their hidden forces on her and, in deepest secrecy, conspired to have her destroyed.

So it came to pass, in the year 790 YS, that drones the size of a head of a needle, came into her chambers in Anarquo and dropped the worst of all toxins into her bloodstream. And her many-limbed body was poisoned, allowing her only the smallest of of all moments to whisper to her consort, Kasida the Speaker, her last words.

This was the story told by the Janites.

But the story of the Stelites is written that Krystal was walking the high passes of the northern borderlands between Pacifica and The Mid, where the snows still fell and the wild cats roamed. And that she walked, with her small band of followers, along an icy ridge, and that she lost her footing, for she heard the worst cry, a cry of terror and horror, in her ear, and she fell onto the jagged rocks below. But Kasida was there with her and she climbed down to be with her, so she was able to hear her final words also.

This was the story by the Stelites.

And Kasida went out to speak these words to all those that followed Krystal, for the non-believers had failed to understand, for all their education and reason, that the strongest of tales must be told. And billions listened, for all the centuries that followed. And Krystal’s name, and her words of love, live on, passed from parent to child, from teacher to pupil, from the old to the young, as they will do until we all reach the moment when time has finally stood still and the disorder is stilled.

Fragment #103: The story of the world builders [1]

Pul’Mars, the home on dust, was not always as it is now: a wasteland of ruins of deserted tunnels. Neither did Lottir, which once was Venus, always run deep with oceans full of life and wild with storms of rain. Nor could plain folk, such as you or I, once walk upon the surface of Jar’Frir, the Garden of Ice, as though we stroll through a park in winter time. These were once landscapes of hell, where none could breathe and where blood in your veins would freeze or boil in an instant.

And those that changed these rough wilds into homeland were called the planet builders, and they were three.

Pul’Mars, or simply Mars as it was known then (an ancient word denoting ‘Red Planet’ or ‘The Red Dust’) was a desert of rock and ice, much like it returned to after the Catastrophe that befell those unfortunates. But for a while, for a fleeting thousand years, it teemed with life. You and I could walk upon its rich highland pastures and walk in its beautiful ravines, heavy with the scent of oak. And this was all because of one man and what he accomplished; the genius of Oba Masso.

The first settlers of Mars – men and women of my own – were spoken of having arrived in the year 1100, or thereabouts. They were sages-research and engineers, pioneers who were staking the ground for others of their kind to follow. And they came in ancient craft, fragile and pale, without the aid of the Controls and shielding of our modern landers. As we all know, the first settlement was called Ancilia, named by those folk from Pacifica, itself a name from their forgotten past. But Ancilia perished shortly afterwards, within less than a year, all its folk taken by the harsh wind and cold everlasting winter of this roughest of planets. But their sacrifice left a beacon on the red dust of Mars, a promise that more would come.

Those that followed came from the Jicktan Aggregate, with immense plans composed in the four libraries built into the mountains of the Hima. And for here it was that Ida Masso was brought, as a child, from her homeland in Africk, the third child of a poor engineer. Here she grew up among the sages of the mountains, learning all she knew of the universe. She moved between the four peaks, those ancient centres of Jicktan learning – Makalu, Makaslu, Nanga and Namcha – learning from her father and learning from those around her. Her talent was recognised and she was picked by the sages for great education. And she committed her life and her family to be part of the next great quest to Mars. 

So it came to be that she rode on the famous module, the PiercingOrchid, as it flew towards the red planet. On this flight she met Bee, a quiet man who thought only of leaves and sunlight, and they fell in love. When they landed, in the settlement they called Deyi, Ida and Bee were the first to be married in that new land. And their children helped to grow Deyi from small beginnings to the vast city that it became. 

And Ida’s second child kept her family name, and this was Goda, and he became an engineer on the red planet, and built a vast empire and built vast wealth upon the rocks and ores that he mined from his home. But still he walked upon the surface of his planet in a protective suit, unable to breathe the air. And this saddened him. But he could not see any means of changing the will of Tolos. And he sent his children to Terra to learn all they could of how he might make Pul’Mars a home for the one million that had now arrived upon its highlands and ravines.

And the first of his children was Oda Masso.

In Oda Masso, all the genius of his forebears burst into fruition, in a young man who could see all of nature as one and could manipulate it to his will. So it came to be that Oda Masso returned to his grandmother’s centres of learning in the peaks of Hima, travelling from Makalu, to Makaslu, to Nanga and to Namcha. And they taught him all that they know, but still it wasn’t enough. Then he travelled through the new cities of Ol-Bonda, of Pacifica, through the libraries of the Ropan Confederacy, even making the journey across the seas to the people of WesterIsle to be taught the secrets of Controls. And he learned more during this time than any before him, for he had his father’s will spurring him on. 

But still he had not learned how to make the air sweet to breathe on Pul’Mars and he returned to Nanga, full of sadness at his failure. So he left the confines of the steep towers of the library and took longer and longer walks. And as he walked higher and higher on the rocky slopes of the mountain, he looked out across the clouds passing beneath him, and he saw the vultures soar and he struggled to breathe in the thin air.

And then he saw how it might become right for his homeland. 

And so he returned to his dying father, where he promised him that he would remove the domes that imprisoned their cities. And his father was glad. And Oda Masso inherited the company and he used the mining company’s vast wealth and he began to build. And Masso ceased to be a company that was known for what it mined to be one that was known for what it built. And Masso built upon the dust and built in the sky, vast barrel orbiters, composed of the grit of asteroids, decades to build and decades to sail, and parked them above the green plains of their new home, Pul’Mars. 

But Masso’s best work was the Towers. And they built the North Bisect, the South Bisect and the Equatorial Ring of the towers, the vast conditioners that rose above the deserts. And when they were flooded with the power of Tolos, and they received the signal package from the sages of Terra. This was the Control called by many names but one we remember was simply Niord, the device which would control the towers, and which would make the clouds and the rains and which made the air so that you or it could breathe and could bask in the light of Tolos. 

And the weeks and months passed, and even the years, but it came to pass upon one bright morning, when Tolos’ rays warmed the assembled masses that Oda Masso stood before them and removed his helm and took the first, sweet breath of his home, the home on dust, Pul’Mars.

And these huge towers stood firm for a thousand years, letting the second planet of the human species spread their work. Until they were lost in the Catastrophe. And the winds of Tolos blew away the air from their homeland, and they left their cities and their farms and their woodlands empty, for their people had retreated to the orbiters, and to the other planets and moons, and never again would they walk in their highland pastures or their oaken ravines.

But still they remembered Oda Masso, for he was the first of planet builders.

Fragment # 221: The Three Endings of the Dolphins

A Terran leader, Primary Allaina Alphaniedes Lajpana, once lived in an archipelago of islands in the southern oceans, called the Melvief Isles. She ruled a vast oceanic empire, the Melian Empire, from the subcontinental seas to the coasts of ancient Africk and around the disentangled shores of Indonia and Oz. Her peoples’ power came from the nutrition of the red seaweed farms that floated upon these rich waters, and the ruthless drone pirates that protected them. The most exotic fish that graduates from her famous School of Water could breed swam in the artificial reefs, and lived among the fronds of the seaweed. And she herself was famous for her skills in breeding fish, and in diving the reefs and in racing her school of swordfish pets. But none were to know that she was about to commit the worst atrocity of all Terra.

Allaina was the great-granddaughter of the master reef-builder Primary Kaey Lajpana, who built up his Empire over the course of his lifetime, setting off hundreds of farming platforms onto the turquoise seas, to ride the monsoons and to return to his archipelago, swimming under their own command, when they were fully grown. But his son, Alphaneides Hutti Lajpana, was slothful and lazy, taking on the throne late in life, and letting their enemies steal the seaweed platforms, letting their wealth slip away. His fell into his dotage and the power of his people waned, until his daughter suggested calling upon the protective arm of the pirate enclaves up the shores of Oz and the tip of Africk. After much querulous argument, the old man finally agreed to these plans and they sent out ambassadors to the pirate enclaves. Most were returned to the Primary as rough parcels of meat. Of those that returned unharmed, they spoke only of indifference from the pirates. So Secondary Allaina, as she was known at that time, set out herself on her war catamaran to visit all the pirate enclaves. Over the course of two years, she spoke with eachl of them, travelling every coast and aquainting herself with the coves and lagoons of her future empire. As she travelled, her father expired, drowning in his private sea, to be picked at by frigate birds, and she inherited his crown. So strong were her words and so powerful was her will, that the pirate chiefs agreed to her conditions and they formed a bond and an alliance. They were augmented by the autoyachts of the Ol-Bondan people, bought at great expense, which arrived to usher her back to her island palace in Melvief.

And though the people of the Melvief were wary of Allaina’s plans, though they did nothing for they saw that her father had been slothful and useless and they hoped that she might carry something of her grandfather’s greatness. And they were rewarded, for the credit repaid itself a hundred times over, and the pirate enclaves and the seaweed farmers together formed the most powerful empire the southern oceans had seen, keeping their turquoise Terran paradise safe and letting their people educate and civilise themselves. And the coasts of Oz and the tip of Africk were no longer wilderlands. And they grew great observatory towers and sank deep aquariums. And the decaying Jicktan settlements on the subcontinent once more rang with the credit of their magnificent days.

But one day, Allaina heard tales that there had come into her realm a new species of sea mammal, one that had not been seen before. It was a breed of dolphin, a black creature with a blue wave upon its beak. And these dolphins spoke and sang to one another, and they could learn to understand the speech of humans. Tales were told that these were a new species, intelligent like humanity, but still growing and seeking to understand how to live in the world. None could say whether they had been engineered to this path by other intelligences or whether they had been born of nature, evolving naturally to exist in the new playgrounds of the oceans.

But though they were intelligent like humanity, they were also crude and wild and misbehaved, and they enjoyed nothing more than to play in her reefs and to steal her beautiful new breeds of fish. And she grew tired of their play and demanded answers and that they were to be brought before her. So the pod of these speaking dolphins were called to her palace in the Melvief isles and she brought interpreters and held counsel with them, demanding that they desist from their actions. But they were wayward and comical and made jokes at her expense and sprayed her and her retinue with water. She dismissed them from her sight but, a day later, she heard word that they had entered her imperial lagoon and taken all of her swordfish pets, leaving their mangled remains. And all her thoughts were bent towards revenge, for Primary Allaina, though clever like her grand-father, had also taken on his pride, and she was wroth with the dolphins and wanted them dead.

So first she sent out word to all her pirates that they were to slaughter all dolphins they came across. They asked her if she wanted these dolphins, the black dolphins with the blue wave on their beak, to be eliminated only? And she told them, no, eliminate all dolphins they could see with their eyes. But this was not enough. So she sent word that they were to chase and hunt down all dolphins they could identify on their sensors. And this came to pass and the seas of the southern oceans ran red with the blood of the mammals and their carcasses floated, rotting in the sun, until they sank beneath the waves and the crabs of the sand and the worms of the deep feasted for long weeks on fresh flesh. And this was the First Ending of the Dolphins.

But still the dolphins were there. And her people told Allaina that she had ended the life of the intelligent strain, that all that were left were the dumb creatures of before their coming. But still she wasn’t content. She was afraid that they were waiting to emerge from their hiding places, that they would evolve again, that whoever had released them upon the world was going to do the same. So she bred sharks of such savagery that they would rip the dolphins to shreds and she sent them, in secret, out to all the oceans and rivers of the world, to do her dark work for her here. And the oceans of all the world ran red with the blood of all dolphins. And this was the Second Ending of the Dolphins.

And by these deeds, she raised the ire of the Ol-Bandons and the quiet folk of WesterIsle and even the fury of their trading companions the Jicktans, who loved the sea and loved the dolphins most of all, and they sent their navies to patrol their waters and her waters. But the damage was done, for the seas of all the world fell foul of the rotting corpses of dolphinkind.

But, though she had destroyed so much, she knew all the seas and even some of the rivers of Terra still held her enemy. So, though the navies patrolled her empire and watched every act of her people, cautious of her hatred, still she pursued her wicked end. And, in secret, she used her knowledge and the knowledge of the sages in her School of Water, to breed a virus that would only pass between dolphins but that would lie dormant across all the reefs and wrecks of the world. And, on one night of full moon and raging waves, she swam out to the reef around her island palace and herself released the disease into the waters in the form of a small black, poison fish.

It took weeks, months, years before the full truth became known, but by that time the horrible deed was complete. There were no more dolphins swimming in any waters of any oceans, any seas, lakes or rivers of Terra. And none could breed more from their secret archives of code, for fear of the dormant virus re-emerging and destroying them once more. And this was the Third Ending of the Dolphins.

And the whole of Terra, never commonly united, in this age rose as one and fell upon the small empire of Primary Allaina Alphaniedes Lajpana, taking her red seaweed farms and disarming their pirates, and destroying all the poison fish from her breeder aquariums.

But they were too late, for the dolphins had perished, and could not return for the disease lived on forever in the corals, and they were saddest of all, for they were the only other animal from Terra with whom they were close to conversing with of the complexity of existence and of the beauty of abstract thought.

And the people of Terra never forgave themselves for letting this come to pass, and the three endings of the dolphins will remain forever as a warning to those who were to come after.

Fragment #445: The rise of WesterIsle

It came to pass, in years between 250 and 260 YS*, that a band of the wise and the rich of the Fifty States, together with a few from the Five Eyes and early Ropans, spent their credit lines in building an archipelago of floating devices and setting them in the waves of the the Holy Pacific. Starting as only a few hundred, then a few thousand then tens of thousands, they made their way to these floating homes. But it was not the destination of all people, for those who came to live upon these devices had to pass mighty tests of intellect and of the best values, such that they were deemed worthy to live among their elite peers.

And these islands were named WesterIsle.

Pacifica was the nation closest to the archipelago of WesterIsle and they grew rich on the trade, selling necessary food and clothing to the people of the islands, who sold them incredible technologies in return. And Pacifica became a mighty military power as a result, which made their neighbours envious and their enemies afraid. And they found means to steal the resources from the rest of the world, without their enemies knowing they were there, through silent drones and secret warfare.

And WesterIsle built their home to greater heights, extending their people onto cathedrals of learning on Luna, into beautiful orbiters and also with some of the earliest outposts on Pul’Mars. Over the course of two hundred years, this exclusive tribe of people built their own heavenly realm on Terra, living to being the most educated, the most distinguished, the most cultured.

But they became too powerful, too proud, too excluded from their fellow Terrans. They were almost a different species on their own planet. And there came a time when the Lowly Alliance formed, among nearly all the remaining nations and conglomerates of Terra and they moved on all of WesterIsle’s beautiful palaces and libraries and they threatened their destruction.

And the people of WesterIsle, though proud, were farsighted and saw their downfall, at least in their current earthly incarnation, so they dismantled their academic institutions, they sank their gardens of orchids and lilies into the Holy Pacific, they opened their doors to all on their Luna and their Pulmartian settlements, and they gave away their wealth to all, slipping away themselves to live among their fellow beings.

There were tales told of these days, where the members of Lowly Alliance, still angry and embittered, tried to make life hard and painful for the people of WesterIsle, but they found they were unable to hold their victims for long, for though they lived alongside them, they were a farsighted folk, who seemed able to predict all of their enemies’ moves before they knew it themselves. So, the resentment remained, but there was no longer a target for their rage. And the memories of WesterIsle’s magnificent gardens and cathedrals of learning passed into history and legend. But the people who once called themselves people of WesterIsle kept their memories, for the retention of their learning was their calling, and they created the first archive, spread across all of their descendents, kept secret, encrypted and secure.

And eventually, a thousand years later, they walked upon the dust of the Galilean moons, on the volcanoes of Firmellion, and they looked up at the birthing orbiters and they knew that their greatest work was about to be born.

* Years of Sol

Is there a future world where truth dies?

One of the joys of being a science fiction writer is that you have freedom to imagine multiple ‘what if’ scenarios. These tend towards the application of some nascent new scientific discovery, some technology, some theory. However, I also like to extrapolate areas such as social science and philosophy, especially within the perspective of a society operating as a system.

So, recent political events, made me re-consider the supposed sanctity of the concept of ‘truth’. This has been reflected in my series, The Lost Archive (available from all good online retailers), with the assumption that dynamic algorithms that gather news inevitably become corrupted, unless they are cultivated and calibrated by an intelligent external observer.

This lack of confidence in the news is a simple extrapolation of what we see in today’s society, where we should know better than to take newspaper headlines at face value, or to believe what we read in social media.

But what if the concept of ‘truth’ became so degraded that it was no longer seen as important?

Consider how our society works – as a system. We are individuals, that together form small units (for example, families), which form larger groups (communities) and possibly larger units (cultures), which together form a unified whole (the country, or the nation state). In order for that whole to be unified, the sub-units (that is, us individuals) need to be able to interact meaningfully. If there is no social interaction, there is no larger social entity. There are some requisite parameters required for these interactions, from the basic up to the sophisticated. At its most basic, we need to be able to communicate and share our sense of being part of a unified whole. So, we need a shared language, we need a shared set of norms and rules to govern interaction. In our society, and most others across the globe, we need to have faith in the rule of law. These rules govern our interaction, they set the parameters of the acceptable and the unacceptable. If those rules are broken, then the unified whole falls apart.

In a democratic system, we also must have shared belief in the power of democratic decisions. We have a social contract with our government to govern us, assuming they win a democratic mandate – which we have given them. This democratic mandate holds because of the collective belief in democratic rules. That is: the one with the most votes gets to rule. In a democracy, if that core belief is challenged in sufficient numbers (a critical mass or tipping point), then the unified whole break down. This phenomenon is called revolution.

How have we degraded the concept of truth?

Since the Brexit vote, with the election of Trump and the rise of populism elsewhere, there is evidence of a backlash against those who once wielded authority on truth — the ‘experts’. Ideological perspective is now shaping what is considered truth; at least, this is true in reported discourse, as we cannot truly know what individuals believe. To those raised on an early to mid twentieth-century diet of scientific absolutism, to rationalists, to those who seek evidence and logic in the beliefs and decisions, this change is horrifying.

Since the Enlightenment, we have witnessed the rise of the scientific method, which had once been seen as the pinnacle of truthseeking. This replaced the previous uneasy alliance between religion and philosophy, which had held since the Classical area.

The grey areas of science

The scientific method provides explanatory models for the what, how and why of the universe. We have little issue with the ‘what’, as this is little more than naming systems, and we can see with our own eyes most of the data. The ‘how’ is often justified with the results of application — for example, the technology works. But the ‘why’ is most problematic. As we have grown to understand that the universe is a non-linear, complex system, Enlightenment simplicity gets stuck in a new grey area; heavily-caveated hypotheses arise and are crushed with a frequency that leaves much of us bewildered. This is most apparent in the more complex end of the universe, areas such as life, the human mind, social phenomena. And politics and economics.

Some our leaders have started to grasp that this grey area is an opportunity to be exploited. They have noticed that grey areas are difficult to understand – and very difficult to defend. So they push them into black and white, according to the ideological position they want drive. For example: (a) crime is the result of lack of discipline and rules vs (b) crime is the result of poverty and lack of opportunity.

If a scientific hypothesis has been adopted by 95% of scientific community, that still leaves 5% of the cranks willing to go on television and write books about why everybody else is wrong.

And this is how truth dies … or does it?

So, let us extrapolate a little, and assume that these grey areas are stretched and stretched by continued discourse. Every time a crank goes on television and mouths off about this scientific theory or that discovery, a certain percentage of the population are taken in. Because they are on television, giving them immediate credence, and (crucially) because what they are saying aligns with their ideological worldview. Thus, truth ceases to a concept built on rational argument and evidence — shared by the unified whole — and instead becomes something shared only between individuals in smaller cultures of shared ideologies.

Truth would not die. What would die is the ability for smaller groups to meaningfully interact with each other. It would be the equivalent of a language barrier, impeding any constructive cross-border endeavour. Imagine trying to design an air-traffic system for a world inhabited by flat-earthers and those who buy into the spherical world theory?

So, truth would not die. Unified society would die.

Is there anything we can do?

We are so worried about the breakdown of law, that we spend vast energy and resources in maintaining this, through our justice and police systems. We have learned, from history and prior experience, that an absence of a legal system leads to anarchy — at least in a community over a certain size. Even simple systems of shared ownership and consensus, without agreed sets of laws, have repeatedly been shown to suffer the ‘fate of the commons’.

So, in our imaginary future society, we would need the equivalent of a justice division, a legal system, but for truth. We would need new professions, such as truth auditors. We would need to create laws to punish those who degrade truth on a massive scale. This imaginary world would need to invest energy and resources in all of these changes.

It would take a lot of hard work. But a divided social world would emerge naturally without this intervention.

Centrist-Remainers have chosen ‘Disaster Movie’ as their Story Arc: Big mistake!

General note: For everything that the follows, I’ve pinched Booker’s story arcs (see blog here) as a handy shorthand (and they’re story arcs not ‘basic plots’, see blog here).

Polls would suggest we are moving beyond the era when we sought to elect parties on the basis of their capability to manage the complexities of government. Politician’s competence in the past, which included their ability to evade difficult interview questions, to deliver slick soundbites and to appear to act as a cohesive group, always on-message, was their downfall. Their background (PPE in Oxbridge, careers in PR or law), while no doubt giving them a firm grounding in the business of Westminster and oratory, was also their downfall. These privileged few, born to be ministers, born to run our lives, have been stripped of their glamour (what little they had) and they now struggle to have anybody believe them. Or, more importantly, believe in them.

We are now at an emotionally-charged time in politics where evidence and dry rational argument has been overthrown (at least in terms of voter support) by the deployment of strong stories (not narratives, that’s the means by which the stories are deployed, see here). Two opposing stories are competing for the nation’s attention at the moment. These are (a) Return to Great (Imperial) Britain and (b) Slaying Horrid Capitalism.

Return to Great (Imperial) Britain (RGIB) is the last hurrah for a generation who were nourished in the excitement of Thatcherism and who spent childholds in the 1950s, who long to return to an era when the only language we needed worry concern ourselves with was English, when people with darker skin were OK but only if they were visibly supportive of RGIB. RGIB swirls around UKIP, Brexit and some Tories but it cannot be pinned down to one political party. The narrative is being spun by multiple politicians and is promoted by right-wing, established newspapers. It is driven by a visceral backlash against political correctness but I think has its heart less in racism and more in nostalgia. The most recent chapter is the leaked ERG Brexit plan (draft only), which talked of expeditionary forces for the Falklands, Star Wars missile defence and low taxes for all. None of this makes any rational, evidence-based economic sense. But we’re beyond economics now. Those who scoff are missing the point. It works, it works brilliantly, because it makes a huge amount of story-sense.

This is classic Rebirth story, with the country as a protagonist. Once upon a time, a long time ago, GIB dominated the world, there was no need to check ones privilege, it was fine to punch down, we had world-leading business and huge respect (not least for our part in WWII). Now, in those intervening years, the country fell into decadent decline, giving up power, even allowing grammar-school educated people to rule us (not comprehensive, thankfully!) There was a brief moment of respite, in the Thatcher years, when the country was an important player once more in war and the English-speaking world, but Blair and soft Tories (and that Europe!) have ruined everything once more.

The story’s arc sees RGIB coming out of the wilderness of political correctness and international compromise, rising majectically as a force to respected once more, replaying our glory in the skies of the English Channel and the bogs of Goose Green.

This is a powerful story. And it resonates for many.

On the other end of the scale, Slaying Horrid Capitalism (SHC) is a community-driven endeavour, driven by the energy of youth, by hope, by a boredom with complexities, all led by a group of ageing idealists, none of whom have any experience of leading much, beyond political movements. This reflects in a chaotic mess of in-fighting, bad feeling, emotion. But all this is swept aside by the fervour of a belief system and the one pervading piece of true knowledge: capitalism is horrid!

It is predominantly a Labour-party centred story, a Corbyn story, but is played out almost entirely in social media (with support from small left-wing online media sites and the occasional mainstream commentator). Brexit has added complicated nuance to the story but (thankfully) the RGIB elements fighting for a no-deal Brexit have done so with such laissez-faire dastardly glee, that SHC have latched onto them as an antagonist and avoided having to dive into tedious tariff and trade-related thinking.

This is an Overcoming the Monster story. The monster is the capitalist system, that allowed the 2008 crash, which led to huge levels of inequality in the UK and US. And, if Capitalism is the Dark Lord, then Austerity is his Witch-King, attacking the frontline of society with callous disregard for human suffering; almost revelling in the chaos and despair that it causes.

This is also a powerful story. And, given demographics of its support, it’s a story that will last into the future. My prediction is that it could lead to a socialist USA.

Neither of these stories have much Plot. Plot is a series of linked events driven by commonly-understood rules of cause-and-effect (see blog here). There is little economic evidence that we could afford expeditionary forces, missile shields and tax cuts; equally, riches for all citizens in SHC appears to be emerge from large corporations and billionaires paying more tax (what happens after we slay them?)

This leaves a group in the middle (the Centrists) who point to the evidence that a mixed economy leads to happiness and prosperity and also that Brexit is an economic disaster that will destroy people’s lives. Remainers and Centrists are therefore synonymous in this analysis and I recognise that this is simplistic (but I don’t care). Incidentally, I believe the Labour Party manifesto of 2017 and half the Tory party are also in this Centrist place, but with slightly differing versions of nudging us towards slightly-larger or slight-smaller government.

But Carry On What We Were Doing Before is not a story. And, to be fair to them, they’ve gone for something else. Centrists are writing a Disaster Movie script. This is specific variant of the Overcoming the Monster story. Disaster Movie story arcs have the following sequence: there is a threat to society; protagonist sees threat and warns society; society ignores protagonist; threat impacts; protagonist saves ‘good’ members of society; ‘bad’ members of society are destroyed by threat.

But despite this story being repeated across all forms of media, there has been little significant traction in opinion polls on the question of whether we should remain or not. And if anybody who knows the Disaster Movie story arc, and follows the sequence above, they will know it’s not having an effect on people because of this: the disaster has to impact society in order for the story to work!

We’re all sat here (with popcorn), being told planes won’t be able to fly, the value of the pound will sink and we need to get our tinned food in. Now they’ve told us about it, we want to see this shit! If we all behaved like good economic-focussed citizens (homo economicus) then we would be doing everything we could to stop the disaster. But we don’t (all) think like that. Stories are powerful, emotional; they run deep. Rational-thinkers know there aren’t ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people in society; people who respond to stories will always think, if they are in the story, they’re one of the ‘good guys’ (not the ‘baddies‘).

So, if you are a rational Centrist, who weighs evidence and makes sound, utilitarian decisions based on numbers and modelling, what should you do? Continue to bang the disaster drum? Do you let the disaster happen? Then everybody believes you? Well, it’s too late then. And evidence is telling you that the poorest will be hit hardest and you can’t make that right in one go (SHC might help you here, but only in the short-term).

My view is a better story to develop is one based on Voyage and Return (The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland). This story arc is as follows: the protagonist falls into a new world (where am I?); they enter a dream stage (this is weird); they enter a frustration stage (this is not so fun now); they enter a nightmare stage (this is horrible); they return to balance and comfort, having learned a wise lesson.

So, forget about trying to stop the horrible from happening. Accept it as a learning stage in the story of the country as a whole. The country is going to return from this dreamworld soon, you’re going to help it go home (to your evidence-based mixed economy) and the country will be a wiser character as a result.

But what about the poorest in society being hit? That’s a piece of cognitive dissonance that even I can’t reconcile (and yes, I’m a Centrist, interested in rational justification and evidence – I’m writing a blog about story arcs and politics, for pity’s sake!). Perhaps we should worry less about stopping the nightmare from happening in its entirety than trying to find ways to mitigate the impact on the poorest in society. The amount of energy being mobilised to try to stop Brexit is actually a huge risk of wasted effort: people aren’t that ready to cancel this thing. The Disaster Movie story arc doesn’t work if we decide to avoid the disaster: we NEED the disaster, in order for our emotional fulfilment when our hero saves the day!

So, perhaps we should change the story. Let’s call it We Ate the Brexit Pill. With an emphasis on the WE not they THEY. Let’s acknowledge our stages of this weird dreamworld, learn from it and prepare ourselves for the time when we return to normality (rejoin at a later date?). And whatever energy we have spare as a collective, whatever funding (Soros, SuperDry), whatever media voice, let’s try to understand, to plan for and to mitigate the impact on the poorest first and foremost.

And stop trying to tell a crap story.

Missions: Story, plot and narrative fighting for air on Mars

I’ve just been catching up on the first two episodes of the French television sci-fi series Missions, currently showing on BBC Four. The trailers made it look like a Gallic version of Solaris or Moon, so I was quite excited by the prospect. Unfortunately, having watched these first two episodes, I felt like I had been sent back in time to very early days of bad TV sci-fi.

There is a recurring model for a sci-fi novel, one which comes through in works such as H G Wells’ War of the Worlds and which Arthur C. Clarke pioneered and made his own. This model could best be described as ‘Mysterious Phenomena’; or, more succinctly, weird things are happening and the protagonists (with us, the reader, peering over their shoulder) are going to find out what they are, how they’re happening and why. And that’s pretty much it. There’s little real character development in a novel/film/series that adopts the Mysterious Phenomena model. There is little protagonist-driven action — beyond curiosity. The reader keeps turning the pages because they need answers to that key question: ‘what are all those weird phenomena and why are they happening?’ It’s worth saying that when it’s done well, it can be made awesome by the awesomeness of the Big Reveal at the end.

Often, this model gets extended into ‘Mysterious Phenomena Are Trying to Kill Me’, where your protagonists are driven by their survival as well as curiosity. Which is nice. Netflix series Stranger Things is an example from recent sci-fi that has done this with immense style together with interesting and sympathetic characters plus a good dose of irony.

Missions, unfortunately, doesn’t achieve style. Or irony. Or sympathetic characters. Or even basic coherence. In the opening episode, we were bombarded with so many plot devices I started to lose count. As I’ve said before (see here), plot is a series of causally-linked events, which obey certain rules of commonly-understood logic. This means plots have to be plausible, they have to be believable. I stopped believing in Missions as soon as Things Started To Go Wrong. Why was failing to re-boot the AI going to kill them? What happened to manual override? Look, there’s a sand storm! Oh, it’s gone now. They’re going to be dead in 48 hours. No, it’s 24 hours now. Do some mental calculations someone! No, it’s immediate, they’re going to die now, don’t let people back in the ship. Oh, it all seems to be fine.

And why is the billionaire backer slobbing about in jeans and a pottery mug of something? Why is there a psychologist on board yet it’s the doctor who checks on a crew members’ mental health? Why, why, why does a crew travelling to Mars have an actual, real-life programmer on board? Who is clearly not fit for his job? And, en route to Mars, why and how were they were overtaken by an American outfit that we’d only just heard about? Oh, they told us that: ‘… something … something … better nuclear … something’. Fine! But why did the crew know nothing until they got there?

The reason all of these events were badly crow-barred into the episode were because of two things: because of the needs of story and the decisions relating to narrative. On the story side (see here), we need to follow an interesting / sympathetic character move from imbalance to balance, via some form of journey. In bad stories, the shortcut to this ‘imbalance’ tends to be jeopardy (hence ‘… Trying to Kill Us’ mentioned above). In Missions this jeopardy was piled on and on with bewildering results and the plot was rendered implausible as a result.

On top of the artificial jeopardy, the seething, dysfunctional crew of the ship (with sixth-form level of jealousies and lust) were ready-made for conflict. But the resulting drama failed to grip you with empathy or interest. I’m not sure what any of the character’s long term desires were: two of male characters’ entire mission seems to have been to bone the female members of the crew. Nobody questioned why this lot were the most unfit (and most implausible) team ever to have crewed a spaceship since Spaceballs. So, plot sacrificed to supposedly give the story of these characters more drama. And yet it didn’t deliver. Who actually cared when the coupling device knocked the commander off into the void? Half the crew were whooping it up later on. Who cares about the MC? She spent most of the entire episode staring solemnly at other people. Story failed.

And how was plot sacrificed for narrative decisions? Decision 1: to get us up into space quickly, forcing too much truncated backstory into episode one, making it too full of facts for us to take in. Decision 2: opening up six stories in twenty minutes, namely, who is the mystery figure? Why did the Americans die? Will the vice-captain have sex with the psychologist? Will the programmer ever lose his virginity? How and when is the AI going to go ‘bad’? Are they going to survive? And I still don’t know what the MC’s story is! Too many stories started but not developed and we end up not caring about any of them. Narrative decisions that failed to deliver story. And we lose interest as a result.

I’m starting to wonder now if the show is ironic after all. And that the massive lack of plausibility is merely an elaborately postmodern wink, poking fun at tired sci-fi tropes. Did the psychology experiment about delayed gratification at the start have some deeper meaning with regards to the series as a whole? (Or was it just to introduce the the MC’s ‘superhero’ skill of being able to predict other people’s decisions before they make them)?

That said … the mysterious figure on the horizon was good and is the reason I’m going to watch a few more episodes. Arthur C Clarke did get it right: we do want to know more those damned Mysterious Phenomena. However, when it comes to the Big Reveal, it had better be damned awesome!

‘Into the valley of death’: Brexit as Story

Theresa May this week delivered a speech on her vision for Brexit. This came after other speeches by a varied cast of politicians including Boris Johnson, Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and John Major. Everybody setting out their desires, their fears, their red lines and their pleas for compromise.

But May’s speech marked a significant moment in this ongoing drama. It was the moment she admitted that the metaphorical cake was not able to be both had and eaten. She was also unable to answer a question as to whether Brexit had been ‘worth it’. The mask of optimism had slipped.

It struck me that, deep down, she knows Brexit is the act of a fool. But that she still has to carry it out. In a similar vein, the increasingly-haggard and haunted features of David Davis suggest he knows this to. These two characters are the leads in this drama. And their story is strong.

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Story is character (see this post). Story is a character’s journey from imbalance to balance. Or a society’s journey from imbalance to balance. Our Prime Minister (and her trusty lieutenant Davis) are demonstrating a noble characteristic, one that helps make a story soar: duty in the face of assured destruction. They believe that the only means of bringing our country back to balance is to implement Brexit. Even though it will means they are destroyed as a result. And the country will suffer.

All evidence shows that the UK will be poorer as a result of Brexit, whether it’s hard or soft, Customs Union or Single Market or WTO rules. We will be poorer. There will be no extra £350m a week for the NHS. The big trade deals with the US and China will be contested with an incredibly weak hand. The value of trade outside of the EU will never match the value we have directly with the EU.

And I think the majority of people in the UK understand this. Yet opinion polls suggest we, the people of these islands, still believe we have to go through with Brexit. Because we, the people, have spoken. And this is the British character coming through. This is our duty.

And May and Davis know this. They understand that their legacy will be tainted as the pair who to carried out acts that actively harmed the economy and future prospects of their country. Their names will be spat as insults over the next few decades. The Conservative party, as its voter base and membership grows old and passes away, may even collapse to a fringe group of ideologues muttering about sovereignty and our future glory as a reborn British trading empire.

And May and Davis know this. And still they have to carry it through. Because they have been given their orders. And it is one’s duty to carry out one’s orders.

Which reminded me of another glorious (and awful) story from history: the charge of the Light Brigade. They had their orders; they knew their orders were crazy, irrational, based upon bad data and the advice of fools. Yet there was never a question of turning back. Because they had been given their orders. And it was their duty.

Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.