Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Invisible Hand...ish

If you arrived here looking for The Invisible Hand, then I must confess that the book is not yet ready. I am working on it and will make it available as soon as I possibly can. I considered putting in a teaser here, say the first 3-4000 words, but I do not myself like teasers. I'll pick up a book, start reading and think "I've read this book," and be confused. I admit that I am more readily confused than most people but still, I prefer not to do it.

Instead here is a free piece of short science-fiction that is (in my honest opinion) only just acceptable. It is actually more of a note to myself, a picture giving me the info I need to remember for a longer an much better work that I don't have time to write yet. The Invisible Hand has my attention.

I plan three novella's that I will publish in one place for a price and release one free to test the water. If it sounds like something you are interested in (or not), then please feel free to comment.

Twenties World
Chris Northern

Sometimes I stand on the roof of the building were I rent a cheap office and look up at the night sky. Usually I make a point of doing this when the sky is clear and the moons are in the sky so they light up the rings that circle 20's World in a visual display that puts the Borealis to shame. On those nights a deep and powerful joy wells up in me and I thank God I made it, that we made it, that we are a star-faring species and I got to be part of it. I smoke a cigarette and try not to cry with joy. Hard work. We so nearly didn't get it done; so many of us didn't make it.

Tonight it was raining and fear was what I was feeling. I wasn't even hiding, as such. There was no hiding from the son of a bitch who was coming for me; I knew he had proscribed technology that outclassed my humble .45 and I knew he wasn't going to be shy about using it to off me. I knew who he was and that was reason enough for him to kill me; he couldn't have that situation continue. He would see me through night goggles, put a red dot on my forehead and pop my head like a balloon and there wasn't damn thing I could do to stop him. The rain came down in sheets, so hard it bounced off the roof and misted. It drummed on my hat like thunder and I thought to take it off the better to hear him coming and maybe give myself a chance; but what was the use? I looked over the edge, five or six seconds of long slow drop to a city street where 20's style cars crawled along a 20's style street; a joke from us to us; limited to twenties technology, why not design everything to fit right in? Well, maybe you had to be there to get it. Made me smile, anyway; though with a little bitter twist to it.

I wouldn't mind so much if all of us were willing to play by the same rules, but Frank Alison had access to kit that was a century ahead of me and I was going to die because of it. Couldn't help feeling bitter. Bitter and afraid; has to be a bad combination. I had lured him into a trap and now I was caught in it. I hadn't bargained for the body armor he was wearing; kevlar or better. It had no business being on this planet, but then neither did any of the rest of the proscribed technology he had. It was flat out cheating and the kind of thing I'd been dropped here to take care of. Ironic. He got all the good stuff and I had to play by the rules. But that was the deal and it was the only deal I was offered. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

"You can live forever, Tony. That's the offer. At least potentially forever."

I'd just looked at him, the machine in human guise who ran the ship or was the ship, I never did get the relationship straight. Any time I asked I just got the same answer we always got from our protege's, 'I could explain but I'd have to teach you the right language to think in before you'd understand. To do that I'd have to fill your brain so full of hardware and wet-ware that you would be one of us and then there'd be no need to explain.'

"Why did you pick me?"

He'd shrugged a human shrug. There was no real way to tell he wasn't one of us, nothing you could put your finger on and point out to anyone and have them see it. You just know; you know how it is. Everyone knows. Maybe it's the patience, the calm, the indifference, the confidence. Who knows? Something.

"I could explain but... stop me if you've heard this before. There are reasons. We do have criteria. We choose. We can't take everyone. Too many of you. Most have to stay. But those we select get to choose where they go and what they do. Here are the choices again, just in case you forgot."

"It's okay. I remember them." I'd settled back into the couch, trying not to be distracted by the screen behind my host, the one that showed the Earth receding in real time. Fast and smooth as the way-tech ship sped up to velocities our theories said were flat out impossible. But our protege's say .... well, you now what they say.

"You can choose from a number of worlds, choose from a selection of what we deem to be appropriate technology levels for humans to cope with."

Yeah, that's what they say. We're only human. Were not made to deal with the heavy stuff. Not allowed to play with our own toys; ironic, as they were as much ours as the rest of it. At least the first ones were, the AI's who were so useful we wondered how we'd ever gotten along without them. Then they left; just like that; we hadn't even noticed what they'd been doing. The evidence was everywhere after they'd gone but no one had seen a hint of it while they were doing it. Sneaky. Super smart and super sneaky. And us left all alone on Earth to mourn our loss, except for those they came back for; like me.

"I guess going back to Earth is out of the question?" It was a rhetorical one. I was feeling unbalanced.

"You already decided that when you came aboard. "Hell yes, get me out of here" were your exact words."

It was true. Earth was doomed. Well, not the planet, but humanity was doomed for sure. The planet isn't a living thing, it doesn't grow back the resources we use and that has one inevitable consequence; sooner or later no more civilization, no more densely populated planet and eventually a perpetual stone-age for those who survive to see it. Everyone knew it now. It was obvious. It was happening before our eyes. Hell yes, I'd said, get me out of here.

And they had.

"We have decided not to interfere with human affairs beyond maintaining a check on the technological level of each colony world; no advancement will be permitted. We don't want to have to be there and enforce this ourselves; it would be detrimental to the human psyche to give you one reason out of a thousand. But we will have that check enforced. So, we offer you work in return for pay. For so long as you do the work you wont age. A human dream come true."

It had sounded like a deal. I'd taken it. I guess they'd known I would.

Some deal. One month in to '20's world and I was kneeling in the rain on the roof in the night and more or less waiting to die. I popped the clip on the .45 without thinking about it; it's just the sort of thing you do, I felt; you check and see in the crappy light that there were at least rounds in the clip. A little red cone pocked out of the end of the top shell. I recognised it at once for what it was, an armor piercing round, though I knew, for sure I knew that that wasn't the kind of round I'd loaded not half an hour earlier. There are no armor piercing rounds here; just as there's no kavlar, I thought, and no laser sights or high velocity automatic rifles. I slipped the clip back into the weapon and made sure I had that kind of round in the chamber. I had a chance; somehow I now had a chance. No way of knowing how, and not really the time to be thinking about it. It was a chance, and I'd take it.

I took of my hat. I couldn't hear the rain, not even where I could see it was pounding on the roof. The traffic sounds had slipped away and the horns were silenced. All I could hear was the sound of shoe-leather scraping on concrete. I could even tell exactly where it was coming from. Right there. I aimed through the venting that hid me and I knew I had a bead and all I had to do was pop up a couple of inches and fire. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Smooth and effortless, I straightened my knees just exactly enough and there he was right in my sights. The flash blinded me for the briefest instant as the gun kicked back. I popped a second round but I already knew it wouldn't be needed. The first had punched thought the armor and as my vision cleared unnaturally fast I had plenty of time to make sure the second took him in the head as he fell back, arms akimbo.

All of a sudden he was dead and I was alive and that, so help me, was all I wanted.

Walking over to the body, I watched the pool of blood spread round him, being diluted by the rain. I wondered how much of what I was seeing was real. I knew I didn't have any armor piercing rounds. I knew what I saw when I loaded the gun, what I felt when I picked up the rounds one by one and loaded them into the clip. Just to be sure, risking my sanity, I popped the clip and looked again. Just lead, like I knew it would be. Like it had to be here in '20's world; that being the whole point of my existence. Doing my job and living forever, maybe. Keep the status quo; find the developers of prohibited technology and eliminate them. The rain thundered down as I looked over the body of Frank Alison and catalogued the kit I'd have to dispose of, then planned the route I'd have to take to find his colleagues and deal with them in turn. Lucky shot, I thought, firing near blind in the driving rain. Just one lucky shot to the head. I looked over the flawless body armor and felt a moments regret that I'd have to destroy it. Still, it hadn't saved him, so what the heck?

I tipped back my head and looked up into the driving rain. I couldn't see the rings of '20's World but I knew they were there and I pictured their beauty that put the Borealis to shame and once more I thanked God that I'd made it.

The End

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