Saturday, September 29, 2012

False Starts: Elvirus, Catwalk, and The New Order

The way I tend to write is by sitting at a computer, staring at the blank screen, writing whatever comes to mind, and then editing afterwards.  The consequence to this style is that sometimes I have ideas that don't pan out or that I just lose interest in.  These are some of them.  Somewhat amusingly, this one's actually a fair bit longer than a standard story update.

Elvirus Frankenscence Pizzaton:
I wrote the beginning of this story at around midnight during a sleepover at a friend's house.  So yeah.

There once was an elephant named Elvirus Frankencense Pizzaton.  He was a happy elephant.  He liked the finer things in life: Eating peanuts, stepping on people, and playing the trumpet.  But one day, that all changed.  That was the day the aliens came.  No one knew where the aliens came from and no one knew where they went when they left.  Still, they changed everything.  Also, they were ninjas.

They came to challenge the foremost Samurai master of the world: Samurai Master Frank.  They had heard that he was the best Samurai Master in the multiverse and had come to defeat him because they wanted to be the best and they hate Samurai.  So they hunted down Master Frank to his Samurai hideout.

As it happens, Elvirus' Elephantalogist was named Frank.  He was known to swing a sword from time to time as well...  Could it be...  Nah...

So then the space ninjas came.  And they came for Frank and, due to proximity, Elvirus.  The first thing Elvirus heard was a rumble.  Like so: Brrrmrrmrmrmrrmmrrruuuumbmrmbmbfmtumuuuumblltertlrlllmmmmbrle.  Then, the sound of many tiny feet calumphing along.  Calumph, calumph, calumph they went. 


This one was a sci-fi... thing that I'd kind of like to revisit sometime.  Inspired by the OVA Pale Cocoon and vaguely informed by the aesthetic of Fallout and Bioshock.

The door creaks open with a moan and heavy boots thump down the wooden tunnel. The figure is wearing a heavy trenchcoat and brown hat and grey scarf. A colorless utilitarian ensemble to protect from the cold of the Catwalk and perhaps functions as a slapdash disguise.

The figure moves purposefully down the tunnel, with the look of a man trying to hold back fear. He must move fast, but he is afraid to run. As the man continues he constantly darts his head up to look at the low wood roof of the tunnel, as if expecting it to descend upon him and hold him captive. As the man reaches the end of the tunnel and the short hardwood door, he reaches down into the folds of his coat and pulls out a revolver. Glancing at it he sees that he only has three shots left but resolves to make the most of it that he can.

The man only hesitates a moment before he opens the door.


The cheap flickering monitors blared out at the sullen denizens of the Information Center: "The Catwalk is the mighty framework of this world. Everything we know is connected by it."

They had all seen the instructional video, A Beginner's Guide To The Catwalk, it was called. They found this funny. You couldn't be a beginner to the Catwalk. As the video correctly pointed out amidst its propaganda and overly optimistic vision of the future, the Catwalk connected everything. There were no beginners to the Catwalk, even toddlers knew the ins and outs.

By this point everyone who worked at the Information Center had practically memorized the video. They didn't like it, mind you, although they laughed at it occasionally. But work at the center was slow and they had to do something to fill the time and there wasn't much else.

There were only five people who still worked at the center. Everyone else had quit, citing the fact that people rarely came looking for information anymore. The ones who remained remained for their own reasons, but they liked to think of themselves as part of a club. An exclusive club, not for the luddites who inhabited the twisted tunnels of the Catwalk. The "club", at the time, consisted of: Johan Schroeder, a thirty year old German man with only the very slightest of accents. Danielle Bakst, a petite young woman with a fiery spirit but a moody disposition. Erik Brenner, the youngest of the group, being only twenty. Marian Jaworske, the eldest of the group and reluctant authority figure. Lastly was Steven Vargas, a rather pretentious young man who considered himself even better than the rest of the Center.

The group never really got along in the common sense. They couldn't exactly call themselves friends and they in fact barely knew each other. However, they were tied together by their thirst for knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, the transfer of information.


The man steps through the door, holding his revolver nervously. As he reaches the other side of the door he stops and a gasp escapes his lips. He is in a side section of the Catwalk where the tunnels had either never been completed or had rotted and never been repaired. He sees the rickety wooden platforms extending infinitely above and below him, the web of some shadowy predator. A short distance to both of his sides, but out of reach, are sturdy wooden walls cordoning this section of the Catwalk from the complete sections.

After a moment the man remembers his purpose. Pulling his hat farther down over his face, he begins to hurry down the platform, causing it to sway with his heavy footfalls. Halfway to the next door, the man hears shouting and looks down. Below him are his pursuers, three men and two women, brandishing weapons and yelling, dressed in the blue body armor of the Defense Force. They know he is there and they know the Catwalk better than him. They would be on the same level as him soon. The man grips his revolver in both hands and levels it with the body of the woman bringing up the rear. He slowly, almost reluctantly, draws back the hammer but then fires with no hesitation and an eagle eye.

The woman falls before the ear-splitting bang finishes bouncing off the walls.

This seems to anger his four remaining persuers, but they don't fire. The man takes this as a good sign. They were running out of ammo as well. He quickly turns back towards the door and begins to run as fast as he can without falling.


"We are all here together," the monitors say as the program comes to a close. "It can be difficult, but if we work together we can move towards a brighter tomorrow."

Erik chuckles at this as he stands up from the old wood bench they were seated on. It certainly wasn't bright in the Information Center. They hadn't been issued new bulbs in years and the ones they had were very nearly dead. They flickered sickly as Erik moved over to the small oval desk in the corner of the room. Before going behind the desk he took a look around.

The Information Center was a small room, perhaps to shabby to be called a "center", Erik had considered painting "closet" over the word on the sign out front. In one corner of the room there was Erik's oval desk, filled to the brim with unread pamphlets. He didn't have a computer. The desk faced the door, which was a standard design for this section of the Catwalk: thin and short, stiff, utilitarian. At the other end of the room was the bench facing the three small flickering monitors attached to the wall. Erik's fellows were still sitting listlessly on the bench looking bored and vaguely uncomfortable. Under the monitors was a small shelf with a couple of beat up dog-eared books. And that was it, really. Not much else could fit in the uncomfortable space.

As Erik was lost in his daily examination of the room, there was a knock at the door. Erik stood at his desk expecting someone else to get it. After a moment he looked over at the bench where his companions were staring expectantly at him. Erik sighed exasperatedly and went to open the door.

It was a little old lady, Erik sighed again. He'd never been fond of the elderly. Found them slow and vaguely disconcerting.

"How can I help you?" Erik said in his rehearsed monotone.

"A map," the old lady said curtly.

"Of course." Erik turned and went back to his desk, fishing out a map from one of the shelves. This was really the only reason anyone came here anymore, visitors to this branch looking for maps. He returned to the door and handed the woman the map. "New in town, ma'am?"

The old woman seemed inexplicably angered by this. Her nostrils flared and she began to shake as her face reddened slightly. "I," she began slowly, "Asked. For. A. Map. What I do with it is none of your business!"

"Alright! Sorry" Erik said and ushered the woman out the door. He slammed it behind her with a muttered curse and returned to his desk.


The man reaches the door, opens it, and slams it behind him without stopping. He can hear their footsteps and their gunshots. They're on the same level as him now. By this point the man is completely lost, the twisting mass of the Catwalk is too much to hold in his mind. He has no idea where he is, he just keeps running though he knows it's hopeless.

And finally the man comes to the end of the line. As he runs he notices the rotted end of the platform and stops himself just in time. Here, the end of the platform had fallen off completely and it was impossible to go forward. But to go back...?

No, the man hears his pursuers again, getting closer. He readies his gun. There are four of them and he only has two shots left. As the purseurs slam through the door, the man fires and he hits the one in front in the shin, causing him to stumble and fall. The man doesn't watch the pursuer's body spiral down into the void, he is busy cocking his revolver for his final shot.

His pursuers stop running once they're all through the door. And they don't speak. There is no need, they know it's over. They begin to advance slowly. The man fires his last shot, but in his panic he takes no time to aim and the shot goes wide, slicing through a platform above them.

The leader of the pursuers steps forward, bearing a handgun of much finer make then the man's old revolver. As the leader fires, the man jumps, not knowing what else to do. But still, the man feels the warm stinging pain in his shoulder as the leader's shot hits him and then the man is in freefall.

The man smashes straight through the platform directly underneath him, but this slows him enough to cause him to smash into the next without breaking it.

The pursuers look down on the man.

The man does not move.


At about two o'clock, Johan went out. He declared that he had had enough of standing around for no reason and was leaving. They had all hear this before. Johan frequently got fed up and left, but he always came back. Johan had nothing else. He knew nobody else, had no family, was from a different section of the Catwalk. The center was the only thing keeping him connected to life at all. Shortly after Marian went out to go get him. This left only Danielle, Erik, and Steven in the room.

Danielle obviously looked uncomfortable. She got along well with Johan and Marian, but Erik was always surly and no one really liked Steven. Still, Erik felt kind of bad for her and tried to start a conversation: "So, uh," Erik said, still behind the counter. "Are you from this section?" Erik realized that he really knew nothing about his fellows, despite them working together for at least three years. They had never even had a conversation.

"No," Danielle said. "No, I'm from Bashnia." As Erik recalled, Bashnia was a bit south of this section, Binden.

"Oh," Erik said, " What about you, Steven? Vargas is kind of an unusual name, you must be from a distant section, right?"

"Yes," Steven said. He looked vaguely put off the by the question, as if he'd rather not give any information about his origin.

"Okay, um," Erik was starting to regret starting this conversation. What stupidity had inspired him to attempt a conversation with these boring, secretive, dreary people? Erik groaned inaudibly and looked back towards the door as a way of cutting off the conversation, but Danielle had already opened her mouth to speak.


The man pulls himself painfully to his feet. His wound hurts like hell and he is sure he has broken most of his bones, but he has to keep moving. They had left him for dead, but they will be back to collect the body before too long. The man begins to limp slowly down the platform towards a door.


"Are you from Binden, Erik?" Danielle said. To Erik's surprise, she seemed genuinely curious.

"Yeah," Erik said sulkily after a moment. "Born and raised in this dump, for what it's worth."


The man reaches the door and places his hand on the doorknob. Every movement hurts. After a moment to let the sting in his elbow die down, he turns the knob and yanks the door open. The man stifles a scream as the burning pain courses down his arm. He chokes it down and passes through the door.


"You are full of self-pity," Steven said suddenly.

"What?" Erik said.

"You think life is bad for you?"

"It's not great, that's for sure."

"It's not great for anyone." Steven stood up. "You think you have it bad? You think Binden is a dump? The entire Catwalk is a dump! It's coming apart!"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Erik said. He wasn't expecting a lecture on humanism by Steven of all people.


The man suddenly finds himself in a completed, but shabby, section of the Catwalk. Looks like it may have once been owned by the government, but it had fallen into disrepair. Just like the rest of this damn maze, the man thinks to himself. The man looks up at the sign saying the section's name, but his bleary eyes can only make out that it starts with a "B". People look at him with fright as he lurches down the tunnel.


"People are idiots," Steven said.

"Can't argue with that," Erik muttered.

"It's as Johan said. They have no use for us, they'd rather sequester themselves away and ignore the Rot."

"The wha-?"

"Erik, have you ever been to the Research Center?"

"Of course." Erik was still taken aback, he had never heard the aloof Steven say this much at once.

"The lower levels..?"

"What? No! They're off limits!"

"Yes." And with that Steven walked out the door and Erik was left looking awkwardly at the again uncomfortable Danielle.


The New Order:
Another sci-fi thing I'd like to revisit sometime.  Cyberpunk with a mythological underpinning.

  “The Old Gods must fall!” The chant drifted through the sky, buoyed by a thousand voices. “Make way for The New Order!” The chant floated around the vast spires of the city, bringing its ideological payload to anyone who would listen. It climbed into windows, whispered in sleeping children’s ears, crept into minds. Not all listened, but all heard and that was what mattered. One who heard the chant, even if they weren’t consciously aware of it, doubted. Even if for just a second, they doubted. Maybe they were right, were the gods really old? Was it time for a new order? Most immediately went back to their life, but a small percentage thought for five, ten seconds more. There was corruption in the institution true, and maybe things could be better, but did that mean revolution? And an even smaller percentage of those could not stop thinking. They kept dwelling on the issue, mulling it over. Turning it around again and again, coming at it from different angles. And an even smaller percentage would keep thinking and would step out onto the streets and join the chant. And so the chant grew in strength and as it strengthened, more joined its sonorous whole. The chant grew and grew until even the big, old men in their padded red chairs at the tops of buildings could no longer pretend it would go away. Something had to be done. This New Order concept was nonsense, true, but it was dangerous nonsense. Something had to be done.

Aaron Holt heard the chant, but he disregarded it. He had heard it before. The protestors marched past the Mercury Complex, where he worked on the thirteenth floor, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Maybe Aaron had considered the chant the first time he heard. Maybe the second time. Maybe, although he wouldn’t have admitted it, even the third time. But now Aaron was used to the chant, it felt as natural to him as the soft rumbling of the conveyors on the streets below or the buzz of his cheap desk lamp. The words didn’t matter, never mattered as far as Aaron was concerned, it was just noise. Just a pointless misaimed expression of meaningless resentment from the unlucky in life. What was the point? So you were poor, oppressed, kicked around. Big deal. We, up here in our glass towers and concrete cubes, have problems too. We have troubles, we have lives, we have things lost and left behind just like you. Do you think yelling, shouting, screaming will change anything? All it will do is make everyone else mad and then there will be more yelling and fighting and before long actual physical conflict. And that never leads anywhere except to more aggression until one side “wins” and the other is pushed down and repressed to revolt another day.

Aaron sighed heavily and turned back to his computer monitor. He wasn’t particularly happy, mind you, sitting at this drab computer in this drab chair in this drab room in this drab building in this drab world, entering and reentering numbers for gods know what reasons. But, he wasn’t unhappy and he had accepted his lot in life, unlike the protestors. With more than a touch of fatalism, Aaron accepted that this is where he was meant to be, otherwise why was here? Not much for philosophy, Aaron turned his mind back to numbers and accounts and his fingers began to dance across the touchscreen of his keypad with increasing speed.

Ellen, no one knew her last name, stormed through the claustrophobic metal tunnels The New Order called home. She had a single-minded determination to get where she was going and she looked it, anyone in her way quickly jumped out of it. She wore black pants and a leather jacket over a brown shirt. If it wasn’t for the Boltlatch clacking against her metal belt she’d look like a biker from an old photograph or history book.

Finally, Ellen reached her object, a small and extremely secure-looking steel door set into the metal wall. Ellen knocked three times and, after a moment, a slot on the door opened and two red eyes peered out. They looked Ellen over and then slot slid shut again. After a moment, the door began to whir as all of its complex latches unhooked themselves. Ellen fingered her Boltlatch impatiently as the door painfully eased its way open.

As soon as the door opened she charged in, brushing past the man, an albino, who had opened the door for her.

“Where are they, Gustav?” Ellen said to the albino.

Gustav adjusted his simple clothing, a green shirt and pants, and responded calmly, with a slight Scandinavian accent. “Just at the other end of the room, Ellen.”

“Turn on the light, then. I can’t see anything in here.” The room was indeed in near pitch blackness. It was impossible to tell how far the walls extended, as they faded into darkness only a short distance away from the onlooker.

“Forgive me, Ellen, you know how the light hurts my eyes.”

“Yes. This is more important. Turn on the light.”

“Of course, Ellen. Sorry.” Gustav walked over to the light switch, squeezed his eyes shut and flicked on the light. After a moment, he slowly opened them and walked back over to Ellen.

Ellen, however, was staring down two large, confused looking men. They were lashed to hefty metal pegs set into the wall by steel cables. They didn’t bother to struggle, it was pointless. One of the men was bald, with a rounded head and lopsided ears, the other had a more refined appearance with black hair and blue eyes. Both were dressed in sackcloth rags.

“Gentlemen,” Ellen said, “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No,” the bald one said. “All I know is I’m a soldier, we’re soldiers, and now we’re here.”

“You are not soldiers,” Ellen said, “You are war criminals.”

“Excuse me?”

“And you will be tried for your crimes.”

“What are you talking about?” the black-haired man shouted violently. “Are you crazy, woman?”

Without a word, Ellen freed the Boltlatch from her belt and shot the black-haired man in the foot. The black-haired man looked down at the long, cruelly barbed bolt sticking out of his foot in stunned silence. Only when the blood touched the floor, did the realization hit him and he began to scream.

Ellen reloaded the Boltlatch and prepared to fire again when a great buzzing arose. The sound bounced off the walls, piercing the ears of anyone who could hear. The very floor vibrated with force. And then the buzzing stopped and the lights went out.

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