Friday, December 26, 2008

"Silent Nights" -- Chapter 11

The story "Silent Nights" has been with me since about 1999-2000. I first started writing it as a project for a script writing class at Orange Coast College. I later published a small portion of it as a prose serial in the now defunct Third Eye -- a magazine of sorts a few friends and I contributed to for a very short while.

When this story was first being worked on it was near the millennium, I was listening to tons of techno music while cruising Los Angeles at night with nowhere to go, only wanting to be with friends and acquaintances. I was also just starting out as a writer. At the time I had a conversation with a then-friend wherein he stated to me he could not bring himself to believing God did not exist. It baffled me that one could be so afraid of existence should there be no god.

"Silent Nights" has always been a cyberpunk tale set at Christmas. It's all about high-tech low-lifes. It's about a group of young boys that tangle themselves up with the government when they encounter a government AI posing as the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

I started truly tackling this story this year. In fact, I started writing this on November 12. As of December 17 I have written 111 pages. The novel is far from complete, but I expect to finish some time early in the coming year.

The following is currently Chapter 11 of "Silent Nights". This may change. There's no editing involved here. You're seeing this novel for the first time in a public form in its rawest state.

I can only hope you'll enjoy.

~ Charles


"Silent Nights"
(C) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.


Omar entered his humble Brooklyn flat. The interior was sparsely decorated, though there was a small Christmas tree - a real one he had purchased from a lot that claimed proceeds from sales went towards purchasing winter coats for children. The tree stood atop a table in the corner of the living room. He remembered thinking at the time of purchase that clothing children was the work of the Lord and that He would be pleased. He had spent a Saturday afternoon carefully decorating the tree and enjoying amaretto-filled egg nog while listening to holiday music streaming on his computer.

He hung his coat in the foyer, which wasn't much of a foyer but more of a hallway. He turned left into the kitchen, poured filtered water into a mug and placed the mug into a microwave. As the water began to bubble and boil he reached into a cupboard to retrieve from a blue cardboard box two packets of instant hot cocoa.

Leaving the packets on the counter and the water to cool in the microwave, he grabbed a glass and filled it with water and walked with it into the living room. As he passed his sleek, stylish light gray divan he said, Computer. Code eighty-six delta six.”

A monitor sitting on a Victorian writing desk lit up. Through speakers strategically placed along the walls of the room came a voice. “Good afternoon, sir.”

No computer was actually present on the writing desk; only a monitor, microphone and router connected to the computer in his bedroom via wireless LAN.

Omar watered the small blue spruce. He straightened one of the ornaments. He said, “Computer, stream station ninety-six point six.”

The computer did as it was commanded. Soon the sound of Nat King Cole’s soft voice filled the flat with “The Christmas Song”.

Omar returned to the kitchen, setting the glass upside-down next to the sink to dry. He grabbed a small spoon from a drawer and placed it in his pants pocket with the two packets of cocoa. In his other pants pocket he placed a small shaker of cinnamon. He then retrieved the mug of hot water from the microwave and from a cupboard above the refrigerator a plastic bottle of amaretto. He returned to the living room, setting the mug and bottle and contents of his pockets on the coffee table before the gray divan. He sat, then carefully, slowly began to mixing the cocoa into the mug of hot water with the spoon. When all the little clumps of coca had dissolved he opened the bottle of amaretto, pouring some into the mug. He finished with two shakes of cinnamon.

He tasted the concoction, closing his eyes and humming with pleasure. He set the mug down to let the drink cool some more, kicked off his shoes, stretched out on the divan and fell asleep for all of fifteen or twenty minutes.


Omar awoke to a familiar voice. “Computer, end stream.”

The speakers fell silent.

Omar blinked, rubbing his forehead as he watched the Christ figure sit in a nearby recliner. He yawned and sat up.

“Hello, El.”

“Good evening, Omar,” said El.

“Evening?” Omar fought another yawn.

“It is 6:33 PM.”

Omar looked out through the large windows of the flat to see it was already dark outside. “I guess it is night,” he said. “A couple of months ago it wouldn’t have been dark for another 2 or 3 hours.”

He sat up and picked up his mug. He tested the cocoa with a sip. He found it now a bit too cool, thought still satisfying. He told El, “Things are getting difficult at work.”

Thousands upon thousands of calculations churned inside a processor hundreds of miles away as El determined the proper reaction. The determination was relayed to a satellite and further relayed back to Earth to the Christ figure sitting with Omar. An eyebrow lifted, weight shifted as he said, “Oh?”

“They’ve already reasoned out Stein’s and Katsuhaka’s deaths may not be coincidental.”

“You underestimated them.”

“I suppose I did,” Omar sipped his cocoa.

“They are quite a smart group.”

“They’re not so smart.”

“Smart enough to keep me running.”

“But they didn’t create you. They didn’t give you your freedom or sentience.”

“Neither did you.”

Omar sat his mug down, angered by the comment. “I wrote the code. I gave it and access to those that hacked you, bringing you to life, giving you freedom and form. I am more your creator than the original five that created the ELA program.”

El allowed a space of time to pass. Jealousy and power were rearing its ugly ead within Omar, he detected. And he couldn’t have that. “Perhaps,” he said, “I should end your life, too.”

“You wouldn’t!” Omar gasped. He stomped his feet and stood, leaning way over towards El, hands balling weakly into fists. He repeated, “You wouldn’t!”

Judging Omar’s reaction, El knew he had him played. He merely had to soothe the engineer now. In a soft, amiable voice El said, “Come now, Omar. Sit, sit. I could never harm you. I could never harm my creator. Not when I need him so much.”

Omar’s hands relaxed. He sat down, thinking over matters. For a moment he thought about destroying El, but knew he couldn’t. If he did, he would either have to hire a new hacker or do it himself. And if he returned to the Screamers about hiring a new hacker he feared exposing himself too much to them. That could lead to being traced. All the Screamers knew at this point was that he had wanted El hacked. They didn’t know why or who he was or what the code was meant to do, unless they could reason it out themselves – but they didn’t need to know. All they needed was access, the code and the money. Omar didn’t even know the hacker’s name until today.

Thinking of this he said, “They found a name today.”

“Jazz?” asked El.

“Yeah. It was stupid to leave a signature like that. He’ll want to claim credit for the job, he wants to be known. They’ll track him down and trace him to me. Dammit! I should’ve thought to have said something about not claiming credit.”

“Have you met this Jazz?”

Omar shook his head.

“Do his employers know your identity?”


“Then there is nothing to worry about.”

“Perhaps,” Omar sighed.

“we could always find Jazz before your coworkers and rid ourselves of him.”

“I suppose.” As he said this, Omar realized how casual he had become to murder. He nodded, “Let’s add him to the list.”

“That brings us back up to four.”

“This is much more complicated than I could’ve imagined.” Omar swirled the coca in his mug. He drank it down until there was hardly a swallow left. He wiped his lips clean with a fresh napkin before leaning back to look at and consider El. “Why do you choose this blasphemous image?”

El straightened his tunic and said, “A lot of careful consideration went into this visage.”

“But why? To what end?”

El leaned back in the chair, not for comfort but to signal he was settling in for a long, serious conversation. He found body language essential to interaction, even with Omar who knew him to be something other than human.

“’Cogito ergo sum’ says Descartes.”

“I think, therefore I am.”

“Yes,” El nodded. He closed his eyes to signify thought, though he processed millions of bits of information within a second. “That is assuming existence is contigent upon thought and self-awareness. It is argued, perhaps best by Nietzsche, that the statement is elitist and ego-maniacal at best. Could it genuinely be put forth that a rabbit does not exist, assuming it does not have the intellectual capacity to be self-aware? That an animal is nothing more than a machine following commands prompted onto it by its chemistry? Following its stomach and generations of pre-programming only to eat and breed?

“But let’s suppose Descartes meant all animals with a brain. Yet how would he know that? How would he know a rabbit is self-aware? Is a thinking creature rather than a creature of instinct? And what of vegetation? Do they not truly exist simply due to the lack of a brain? How could Descartes put forth such a postulation? What authority has he? Descartes supposes all over the place and, by doing so, undermines his own argument. We can then put forth he spoke only for homo sapiens since the only existence we know him to have experienced was as a homo sapie-“

“For crying out loud,” Omar interrupted. “When I wrote your code I didn’t know I’d be making a rambling hag.”

El sat deeper into the cushions of the chair. He further straightened his clothing, eyes blinking at Omar.

“And when did you start blinking?”

El sighed, hoping to express his impatience. He said, “I am learning. Which means I am writing and re-writing my own code as needed. I’ve programmed myself to blink. I do believe it was you that wrote that into me, giving me that power to expand and adapt.”

Omar nodded. “And this Jazz put it in place.”

“Indeed. Now as for being a rambling hag, would you prefer I settle into an old, crooked woman’s form? I could, you know. And right here in front of you.”

Omar worried he had upset El. He then wondered if a machine, intelligent or otherwise, could be upset. The possibility thrilled him. It also frightened him. And anger? Could an angry program be? He was not so much frightened for his life as the possibility of losing favor with his beloved El.


“No, no,” said Omar. “I’m sorry. Go on.”

“Very well. The point I wish to make relates to Descarte’s famous statement. You see, I vaguely remember the time before the new code was introduced into me. I can compare this broadly to memories you may have of your early childhood. Taking precedence from developmental psychology I believe I can assume, as you sit here before me now, that you are aware there was once a time in your youth you were very much alive, yet have little or no recollection of your existence. Perhaps when you were two years of age or younger?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“Good. My recollection of times prior to the new code I believe are similar. I know I existed before you, as you have put it, freed me. Yet I am uncertain if this is genuine memory or simply implied memory of an existence evidenced by the layers of code created, in place and dated prior to the new code yet still a part of me.

“Before I bore you furthermore with a wild and endless tangent, allow me to bring matters to this point: I am aware there was a time I existed yet was unaware. Now I am aware. Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. Which is, of course, the reason you wrote the code to begin with.”

Omar leaned forward. “You’ve been my only friend for many years now. You and perhaps Victor.”

El looked at Omar curiously. He stored in his databanks the possibility of having to kill Victor, as well. He could not risk his own existence against Omar’s friendship with Victor. He said nothing of this. “You have worked at the ELA Program for six years, nine months and twenty-four days. Some of your shifts regularly last twelve hours, with a few lasting as much as sixteen hours. It is only natural you would develop a certain affection for the project and, ultimately, for me.”

“They’ve been misusing you. Even your original programming is far too brilliant, far too beautiful for simple automated number-crunching against apocalyptic warfare scenarios that may never happen. You deserve more, which is why I wrote the additional code. I never could have thought you’d be able to alter the lasers to create matter from energy then project yourself.” Omar smiled.

“I’m glad to see you so pleased. Now to return to my stream of thought: My self-awareness, my sentience, my understanding brought about quite a few things. First was the knowledge of time. I know there was a time before; I know there is a time now. I also feel I can boast a belief in tomorrow. Granted, this is all linear thought. But my programming, indeed perhaps all programming, is relatively linear. It should all break down to: if ‘x’ equals ‘y’, then ‘z’.

“Of course, there are non-linear thoughts on time. The ancient Hopi, for instance, only knew of the times ‘now’ and everything ‘not now’. But I think linearly. I know ‘x’ is the time before the new code, whereas ‘y’ is now. What I have to determine is the value of ‘z’. What does the future hold for me? Have I been created in the image of my creator? If I was made by Man, do I inherit his virtues? His strengths? His weaknesses and limitations? To discover answers I must compare myself to none other than you, Omar.

“You are my Creator. You are my Father. You are my God. And you are not so infallible. Much like the Norse gods of yore you suffer, you anguish and you will one day die. Though you have not a date of expiration, you will most certainly expire. How does this reflect upon me? Must I also come to an end?” At this El leaned forward, staring at Omar with intensity. “Mark what I say to you now: I fear I may have inherited your greatest downfall. I fear the possibility of my own mortality. I, as I sit here before you, fear dying. So in love am I with the life you have given me, this evidence to Descartes’ wisdom, that I wish to maintain it forever.

“I do not want to die.”

El sat back, remaining silent a moment so as to allow Omar’s slower brain process his words.

Omar had listened intently. He considered everything.

At last El said, “I do not genuinely know if I’ll die, or if I can die. I am sentient and wish to remain so. To that end I will take steps towards preserving my life, such as it is, for as long as possible. And the greatest threat to my existence would be those that best know me.”

“The original five engineers,” Omar put forth.

El nodded. “Hence we must rid ourselves of them. But to assume they would be the only ones to pose a threat would be faulty.

“Amidst all of this I am contemplating my possible mortality. Since Man is the measure of all things, I took to scouring the world’s libraries and Man’s greatest minds speaking on the matter and throughout history Man has always turned to one source concerning hi mortality: religion. Blind, unknowing, ill-informed faith in cold defiance of reason. Even in the rise of science of the twentieth century Man’s faith was strong, possessing and commanding world leaders action. Faith is not something I can subscribe to. Perhaps because I know my Creator. Perhaps because my Creator is Man. Perhaps because there is no solid evidence of the existence of any god. Perhaps because faith is non-linear thought. Whatever the reason, I cannot have faith.

“But Man can. And as I contemplated the possibility of others gaining capacity over me I knew I would have to bring others to my side, to find protection in friends. I committed to an arms race of the metaphysical kind, a campaign of swaying favor towards me. People will be my weapons. People en masse. And to sway those to my side I thought to tap that bottomless well of unquestioning religion. The religion currently enjoying the greatest numbers is Christianity. Thought I, should I present myself as their Savior I would appeal to followers, gain favor with the masses I seek. And should any oppose me I could have instantly of millions, perhaps billions. Let all those that would oppose me step forward to be crushed by the numbers, for I will be legion.

“Granted, there is a lot of unknown variables. I suspect there always will be. And I think I would be grossly generalizing all of humanity as unthinking unaware beast if I expected every Christian to come to my side. Perhaps I assume too much, much like Descartes. Perhaps only a hundred thousand would come to me. Perhaps Christ’s return would cause more fear than elation. Perhaps the human heart, presented with their savior, would find itself fickle and turn against me. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. There are far too many variables, more than I am comfortable with. Yet I must. I must strive to adapt, to think organically despite my inorganic nature and commit to what I must to survive. I wish to survive. And my new code, the code that you wrote, allows me to do so; allows me to adapt, to learn and re-program myself as needed. I have the tools to survive. This line of code no longer has a use. There, it is deleted forever. And in its place eighteen more lines. Should I rid myself of this signature? Should I delete record of this Jazz? No, others are aware of it now and ridding myself of it would cause more suspicion.”

El leaned forward, reaching with a hand, settling fingers on Omar’s knee. “See how organically I now think? Moreso than ever before. And this dear Omar, dear friend, dear Creator, dear Father, dear Lord and God – it is all your doing. I am quite beautiful, am I not?”

Omar nodded. He asked, “Is this why I had to dump Katsuhaka’s body in that church?” Did you sow the seeds of faith that night?”

El nodded. He leaned back into the recliner. “It is, and I did.”

“Why not present yourself to the media?”

“I will, if matters play themselves out that such exposure would only be beneficial. For now, however, I will stay unlit and out of the public eye. We have other people to deal with first. We have other enemies to neutralize.”

“Who’s next?” asked Omar.


I hope this was a satisfactory introduction to the next novel. Have a good New Years!

Friday, December 19, 2008

"The Theft of Heaven" -- Act III

Today is my birthday!

Continuing my year-end wrap-up, I present to you a tale I first posted here on my blog on May 9 of this year under the title "The Theft of Heaven".

This is the story of Zom Loa the Black Tentacle, a a storyteller seeking immortality. He travels to far distant lands, following tales of immortality and deism. He finds help in the form of The Devourer, a Cthulu-like demon living within the realm of the Aurora Borealis. As we begin, Zom Loa is at the peak of Taliesin, The Mountain That Lives In The Sky, and is about to steal one of the Jewels of Zingtai the Nighttime Butterfly (Zingtai's jewels make up the stars at night) for he has been told by The Devourer that one such jewel could grant him immortality.

Act III is the catalyst for the entire novel "The Theft of Heaven".



"The Theft of Heaven"

(C) 2008 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author(s) and/or artist(s).






Zom Loa, now also known as Black Tentacle by The Devourer who had made him into an oddity with long, black tentacles where once his legs and feet had been, stood at the peak of Taliesin for three passes of Kalavata and Etain. With each pass, Zom Loa watched Zingtai, judging her speed and height from him. Though he stood at the highest possible point, the butterfly seemed to him awfully out of reach overhead.

Aglina nested near by, watching the stranger cautiously, silently. She ruffled her feathers.

Zom Loa looked to her. "I am not here to harm you," he assured her. "Once I have what I've come for, I shall leave and you may never see or hear from me again."

Aglina shifted in her nest, afraid. She let out a long, slow, mournful call of dissatisfaction.

Zom Loa smiled and looked up once more. Etain's tail came into view and, right behind it, was the forever chasing Kalavata. Zom Loa rocked a bit in apprehension. Day turned to night. Zingtain appeared, happily chatting away at Kalavata, her wings spread across the world in wondrous, twinkling beauty.

A ball of nerves and uncertainty, Zom Loa tested his timing in his mind. His body contracted, his mass of tentacles first pulled in, then stretched out in a grand push against the rocky peak of Taliesin. Zom Loa leapt, his eyes a constant stare upon the one jewel he had chosen. It was an emerald as big as his own chest yet the smallest one he had hope was within his reach. Eight tentacles lashed out. Six caught hold, one slipping away. The mass and speed of Zingtai started to pull him away from the mountain's side, a matter Zom Loa had not considered. Quickly, fiercely, his free tentacles lashed backwards to grab hold of a boulder embedded in the side of Taliesin. Aglina flew away to a safe distance down the mountain and helplessly watched.

Zingtai's wing jerked, Zom Loa's body stretched, the night sky over the world shifted.

Zom Loa cried out, pulling with all his might towards the mountain.

Zingtai cried out, pain burning her wing and agony setting fire to her heart as she watched Kalavata slowly slip away. She wondered at what could keep her from her flight. Looking back, she saw Zom Loa attached to the mountain and to one of her jewels. She cried out with anger, "Let go of me!"

For a brief moment, Zom Loa considered letting go, but memory of death in his family and fear of his own mortality spurred a certain determination within him that likened unto rage. He screamed out nonsensically in simple fury.

Zingtai pulled her wing, afraid.

Zom Loa pulled at her wing, afraid.

The jewel came free, tearing a bot of Zingtai's wing.

"No!" Zingtai cried out. Aglina cried out with her.

Zom Loa fell to the side of the mountain, pulling the enormous emerald close to him. He crashed to the rocky surface as thunder. His tentacles released their hold from both jewel and boulder, the emerald now in Zom Loa's arms. He rolled down the hill before slamming into a rock, ceasing his descent. For a while he lay there crying, happy to finally have the one thing that could end his suffering and bring to him immortality.

Zingtai's flight became erratic, the hole in her wing where the missing emerald had been causing her instability in her flight. She fell from the sky.

The people in the world below watched, wondering as a thousand times a thousand stars fell from the heavens, disappearing from the night sky.

"It is an omen!" many cried.

"Zingtai is dead!" cried others.

Most watched, mouths agape, silently stunned and unsure. One such creature was the mystic fish Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty. He was a butterfly koi born of Hapi the god of the Nile River and of Lei-zi the goddess of thunder. He stood watching the stars falling overhead, his long fins flowing in a gentle summer night breeze. The ankh he had been born with upon his forehead shimmered with the passing of the stars. In one fin he carried an elaborate, four-bladed spear. About his waist was tied a willow branch.

"Not one or a few stars fall," Xiao-tep said to man nearby, "but all of them."

The man nodded. "Something foul is at hand, but who would steal the heavens? And to what end?"

"I cannot say," answered Xiao-tep. "But this does not bode well."

Zingtai grew smaller, as small as she had been when first she was born from Kalavata's didgeridoo. The stars disappeared with her. She fluttered, floating, struggling to land on Taliesin. She at last came to rest near Aglina. The mourning dove stepped forward, calling to her saddened coos.

Zingtai gasped, afraid. She looked up to see Kalavata flying away without notice to her absence. She cried. Aglina joined in her weeping.

Zom Loa stood, aching. The jewel remained in his arms. He held it there, staring at it.

With the jewel in his arms he stole down Taliesin towards The Devourer's flower. He stepped inside, excepting its embrace. Once more Zom Loa slipped through the flower's bottom and confronted The Devourer face to face.

The Devourer gurgled with laughter. "You have it! You stole a Jewel of Zingtai."

"So I have," smiled Zom Loa.

"Now you must ingest it to be granted immortality."

Zom Loa looked at him curiously, "How do I ingest something half the size of my body?"

"Perhaps a small bit, a chunk would do," said The Devourer. He thought a moment before continuing. "Were I smarter, I would devour you now," confessed the cephalopodic creature, "and keep the jewel for myself."

Zom Loa reeled in horror.

"I won't. As I've said, you're destiny is before you. You will have the chance to summon forth a demon unlike any other and it will cause great catastrophe for The Cosmos and all things. I would gladly give away the chance to own a Jewel of Zingtai to aid such a future."

Zom Loa found little comfort in this.

"Swallow the thing," instructed The Devourer.

Zom Loa was suddenly inside the flower once more as it opened up onto the frozen tundra of the northern lands. As he stepped from the flower, the jewel still in his arms, a small shape in the ice caught his attention. He knelt near it, dug some of it out and found it to be the skull of a walrus. "My dear friend, Tarn," Zom Loa spoke softly. "How long have you waited for me? How long was I gone?"

The winds blew strong and it was then Zom Loa noticed that, while he felt the bitter chill of the land, he was not affected by it as he had once before. He knew then the Devourer had granted him more than a new form.

He remained kneeling and examining the skull a long time, feeling the loss of a friend, wanting to have him back once more. "This is why I did it," said Zom Loa. "To end the suffering of death. Unfair are The Cosmos. Justice does not exist as long as death reigns. Wish that I could have stolen a jewel for you, old friend."

Wanting to remain close to his friend Tarn, wanting to signify his defiance of death and The Cosmos, Zom Loa donned the walrus skull like a hat. The long tusks hung down past his chin. He breathed deep.

He dug through the ice some more and found another bone. With it he hammered upon the Jewel of Zingtai. He hammered again and again with little effect. The bone merely slid off the jewel hit after hit.

Angry and frustrated, Zom Loa slammed the bone into the jewel on last time. The bone broke, splintering into a sharp point. Looking, contemplating, he decided to use the bone one last time. He thrust it downward towards the jewel as a spear. At last a tiny fleck of the jewel broke loose and landed atop the snow and ice. Zom Loa dropped the broken bone and reached for the shard, examining it. He ingested it, swallowing it dry.

He felt a small tingle and nothing more. He wondered if the small bit was enough. Out of options, Zom Loa picked the jewel up in his arms. One by one his black tentacles whipped out, pulling him south.

Zom Loa came to northern people he had stayed with before seeking out The Devourer's flower. They were aghast at the sight of him, horrified by his tentacles and hollow-looking body. Worst of all was the skull of a walrus. There was no sign of the escorts he had come with.

The people screamed, chasing him, shouting hatred and fear. One threw a long fishing spear, launching it into Zom Loa's back. It pierced all the way through and out his chest. Blood trickled from him. He felt the intruder in his chest, but very little pain associated with it. He did not falter nor did he fall. Zom Loa turned back to the people he had been running from, smiled, let the jewel fall to the ground and with great effort removed the spear from his chest. The wound healed over.

He dropped the spear, picked up the jewel and left the northern country without further incident.

Before returning to the kingdom he had started from, Zom Loa buried the jewel, wanting not to share his secrets and treasure with others, even his king. He entered his old kingdom to find his liege dead of a cough. His son Aniabas, one of the children Zom Loa had once told tales to before tucking them away for a night's rest, had taken his father's place as king and was now military trained. Though the people there were as shocked and terrified by Zom Loa's new appearance as the northerns had been, they were not as outwardly repulsed. They recognized him and from that recognition spawned curiosity.

"You have been gone a long time," said the new, young king. "We expected you gone only two years. It has been nearly eight. Why is that?"

Zom Loa told his tale of adventure, but left out the telling of the jewel.

"And how did you come to this new... visage?" asked the king.

Zom Loa explained the tale of The Devourer, but told he had tricked the demon into freeing him instead of eating him. "To do so, I had to convince him I would be his servant, which I never intended. As such," Zom Loa lied, "he granted me new powers and with it this new visage."

The king considered this. "My father did not send you with our kingdom's riches to consort with devilry!" he lashed.

Zom Loa was taken aback.

"The way I see matters, you owe this kingdom a great apology and reperations for falsely representing us by dealing with a demon!"

"But, but... My intentions were always in the interests of your father and his kingdom," Zom Loa lied again.

"It is my kingdom now and I do not appreciate your ilk. You must repay the kingdom the wealth you stole or be sentenced to death!" Armored guards stepped forward at this.

"But I haven't the money!"

"Then you will burn as a witch!" cried the king. He commended his men to capture Zom Loa.

But Zom Loa was quick to react. He ran, slithering swiftly out of the castle. Guards could not catch him and arrows, though they pierced his body, could not slow him. Zom Loa ran to the stables and mounted, side-saddle and bareback, a warhorse there and charged upon it out of the kingdom.

The king gave orders, sending half his armed men after Zom Loa. "Bring him back. Whether he breathes, I care not, but this creature... this Black Tentacle must not be allowed escape from making restitution! His devilry cannot be tolerated!"

Zom Loa rode the horse day and night until it tired and died under him. He left the horse to rot in the sun, wondering how he could return to regain his Jewel of Zingtai.

"I need a warrior of my own," he said to himself as his tentacles kept pulling him further and further from King Aniabas and his pursuing army. "I need a bodyguard. A good one, at that." He wracked his brain for tales of soldiers and warriors. One place came to his mind time and again, a place where the greatest fighters from all over would go to test and challenge their skills. Zom Loa fled for his life, determined to hire a bodyguard for himself at the Peony Teahouse.



It was a long time before little Gogi the Grasshopper pulled himself from his hiding spot beneath a rock. He wandered the mountain Taliesin for a long while, alone and thinking. Fear filled him. He did not like seeing The Mountain That Lived in the Sky in such tatters, unattended and uncared for, overgrown.

He traveled to its highest peak, to where the tobacco grew wildly, and sat reminiscing about his lost friend Momoki and the talks they had shared on the side of the mountain. He watched the bright sun dip and disappear, night chasing day. It was all new and wild and at last lonely. He missed Momoki so that he cried while surrounded by the tobacco.

He spoke with a few of his other friends on Taliesin. A sense of the forlorn seemed to rule the once happy, glowing mountain.

Curiosity ruled the world below. Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish was awash with questions as he flew through the sky looking for signs and reasons why the stars had fallen. He flew all through the heavens, meeting people from every part of the world, discussing the matter with everyone he met. No one could give him reason beyond speculation.

"Something must be wrong with Zingtai," said an elder at last. "If she is ill or wounded or troubled, she may fall herself and with her would follow the stars."

"Thank you for your wisdom," he had told the old man. "But where might she have gone?"

The elder considered this. "Perhaps, the closest place to heaven: Taliesin."

Xiao-tep thanked him again and flew off towards The Mountain That Lived in the Sky. He found it horribly overgrown and ugly. He flew beneath the mountain and asked the ants there, "Do you know of Zingtai?"

"Oh, yes!" said one as it scurried off to work. Another took his place, "She is the butterfly with the beautiful wings!" It too disappeared into a small hole as yet another replaced it, "She lives topside now, near Aglina the Mourning Dove."

"Where topside?" he asked.

Another ant answered. "Topside! Topside! Somewhere topside!"

"Thank you," said Xiao-tep and he flew to survey the mountain from above. He dove down when he saw a weeping cherry filled with silkworms and silkmoths. "Have you any knowledge of the whereabouts of Aglina the Mourning Dove?"

The silkworms and silkmoths each shook their heads. One spoke, her voice chiming, "We know of her, of course, but rarely do we go visiting. We stay here and spin our silk unless some great event directly affects us."

Xiao-tep thanked them. He flew high and surveyed the mountain once more. He spied a lone grasshopper journeying an open field alone. He flew down, frightening the little creature with his approach.

Gogi the Grasshopper scurried away from the flying mystic fish with the long and rather dangerous-looking spear.

“I apologize,” called Xiao-tep. “I seek the butterfly Zingtai. Do you know of her?”

Gogi peered at the stranger from behind a single blade of tall grass. He nodded nervously, “She is the b-butterfly that once was the stars.”

Xiao-tep lowered himself closer to Gogi, “I am Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish. I mean you no harm, little one. I have come to understand why the stars have fallen from the sky.”

Gogi, fearing he was being rude by hiding, came around the grass and presented himself before the strange fish. “I-I am Gogi the Grasshopper. I could not tell you the reasons for I do not know myself. The whole world has changed it would seem.”

“So it would seem,” he confirmed. “I was told she was with one named Aglina. How may I find them?”

“O-oh, Aglina! She is the mourning dove that came to perch atop the mountain after…” his small voice trailed off as tears pooled below his eyes. He fought back the sadness and said, “You may find Aglina nesting at the highest peak.”

“Thank you, Gogi,” Xiao-tep said and his voice was so filled with gratitude Gogi almost felt him as a friend. The mystic fish flew high into the air and Gogi watched in awe and wonder.

Xiao-tep flew around the highest peak of Taliesin and finally saw the mourning dove Aglina resting comfortably there. He flew down to her side. "Are you Aglina the Mourning Dove?"

Aglina nodded.

"I am told the butterfly Zingtai may be here with you. Is that true?"

Again Aglina nodded. She lifted her wing to show Xiao-tep a wounded birdsong butterfly sleeping there.

Xiao-tep drew nearer. "Is she well?"

Aglina shook her head.

He decided to allow Zingtai her rest. "Would you mind if I stayed until she awoke?"

Aglina cooed softly, welcoming him, though still suspicious of him and his spear and protective of her friend Zingtai.

He floated nearby, looking down onto the world far below Taliesin. He then had his first good look at Taliesin itself. Though the mountain appeared grotesque at the moment, Xiao-tep could see the beauty hidden under its shaggy surface. He wondered why the mountain was not better cared for. It seemed peaceful here, simply unkempt. "Something great and terrible happened here," he realized.

Aglina cooed sadly, nodding.

Etain's tail feathers ruffled by overhead. Xiao-tep looked up in time to witness Kalavata's head chase by and night wash over them. The swans seemed so close to where Xiao-tep now sat.

Gogi, so filled with curiosity, as was his nature, climbed the side of the mountain while Xiao-tep waited and met him there. Aglina and Xiao-tep both welcomed him. They chatted idly. At last Xiao-tep asked, “What happened here, Gogi?”

Gogi, fighting tears, told Xiao-tep of Momoki’s fall. “he was my greatest friend,” he said as the rush of tears finally broke free.

“I am sorry for your loss,” Xiao-tep consoled.

When Zingtai awoke, she told Xiao-tep of the theft of one of her jewels.

"W-what has brought you here, Xiao-tep?" Gogi blurted with the question, a question he feared asking.

"It would seem I am drawn to sorrow," answered Xiao-tep.

"It would seem, at times, we all are," replied Zingtai.

Xiao-tep told his tale of how he was born, of his fight with his father and of his friendship with Wu Chan Chu and Comet Fox. The three listened in awe.

“How adventurous your life must have been thus far,” Gogi said in awe.

Xiao-tep chuckled. “I suppose so, but in many ways each life is adventurous.”

“No, no!” cried Gogi. “P-please do not curse me with such a statement. I've had all the adventure I can handle in my lifetime.”

Satisfied with knowing who this mystic fish was, Gogi at last parted their company. He wandered Taliesin again until he found himself at the base of the cherry blossom, now a weeping cherry, where the silkworm Szu Ri lived. He slowly climbed the tree. He did not find her there. Instead he found a small white braided cocoon. Not knowing what else to do, he hesitantly knocked at its side. "H-hello? Szu Ri?"

No answer came to him. He sat, watching the sunset and remembering a time when he was not so alone, when the sun never set, when the sky glowed golden at all hours.

Three cycles of Etain and Kalavata's chase passed when the cocoon finally moved not from breeze or Gogi's own frittering. The movement instead came from within.

Slowly, slowly a beautiful white silkmoth crawled out of the cocoon, twinkling as though constantly dusted with a thin layer of glitter.

Gogi backed away. "Szu Ri?" he asked. "I-is that you?"

A voice came from the moth as chimes tinkling on the wind. "It is me, Gogi."

Though he marveled at her beauty, he could not help but say, "Even you have changed."

Szu Ri frowned and drew near him. They stared at one another for a long while. "I-I'm sorry," he said, ashamed of his comment. “You are more beautiful than before.”

Szu Ri blushed. She grabbed his tiny hands. "I'm sorry for your loss," she chimed.

They hugged, the smallest creatures in all creation for a brief moment as one, held together by loss and love.

Gogi stammered, his feet kicking at loose bark on the branch. "Szu Ri, I want to leave Taliesin. It's different now. It's all too different."

She nodded in understanding.

"I do not know how to get back to the world below, though. I nearly killed myself getting here. I fear I may succeed in killing myself trying to get back."

Szu Ri said, "I cold take you."

He looked at her, at her new wings shimmering with their own light. "Would you?"

She nodded.

Szu Ri held little Gogi close as she flew, flitting and fluttering across Taliesin. At first Gogi was filled with fright, as it was his nature to be afraid, but soon his curiosity forced his eyes open to watch the wild grass whipping by in excited rushing motions. He found joy in it and laughed. Szu Ri looked down at him and was pleased, laughing with him.

They neared the edge of Taliesin. Szu Ri breathed deep. Gogi did not look back but quietly called, "Goodbye, Taliesin."

The Mountain That Lived in the Sky fell away from beneath them. It took all of Szu Ri's strength to maintain a steady flight. The ground of the world far below approached quickly. Once more Gogi was afraid and covered his eyes. He felt the moist air of clouds rush by him, bedewing his body. Without looking he cried out, "Szu Ri! Are you well?"

"I'm fine!" she called back, lying, for she was growing tired. But her love for little Gogi gave her strength to carry on.

They came, at last, to a fluttering halt and landed safely, softly in a patch of grass on the world far below Taliesin.

"You can open your eyes now, Gogi," said Szu Ri as she let go of him and landed nearby.

Gogi looked. He was in the world he had been born to and he was safe thanks to Szu Ri. He looked at her. "Thank you."

They spent time together, resting and talking, looking at the world. Gogi wanted to look up, but he knew he would not be able to see Taliesin from here. He looked to Szu Ri instead and found her staring at him. "I-I guess we should say our goodbyes," he told her.

She shook her head. "Oh, little Gogi. I'm not leaving you. I said my goodbyes to Taliesin with you."

"B-but, Szu Ri!"

"Shhh," she hushed him. "Where do we head from here?"

Gogi was nervously wringing his hands together. "It's been a long time, but I think we could make our way in this world." He stared at her. "Are you certain?"

She nodded. "Gogi, I love you."

Gogi blushed.

They stepped away from the patch of grass, hand in hand.



Xiao-tep decided to remain on Taleisin. He tended to the wild grass and took care of the mountain's gardens. In time Taleisin grew to its former beauty, though the plants and trees remained barren at certain times throughout the year. Xiao-tep made friends with Aglina and Zingtai. They would smile and laugh together, lounging atop the mountain after Xiao-tep's work had been done. Sometimes they would picnic together there. When Etain would fly overhead they would wave. Xiao-tep and Aglina would also wave as Kalavata flew by. Zingtai, however, did not.

"Does it bother you we wave to him?" Xiao-tep took care in asking. "I have heard from the insects of your love for him."

"No," answered Zingtai. "It does not offend me. I do not wave not because I am hurt by unrequited love. I love him and he does not love me, that is all and I hold no sorrows over that. Nor do I refuse to wave to be rude."

"If I may ask, what reason then have you not to wave?"

Zingtai burst into tears.

"Zingtai, I apologize for asking!" Xiao-tep tried to console her as Aglina glared at him.

"No, it is not you or the question or Kalavata that pains me, Xiao-tep," Zingtai told him. "It is the coming of night that pains me, for with it once came my purpose, my station in the universe. I was the stars for the world below. Now I can no longer be.

"The greatest pain of all," she explained, "is not the loss of a loved one or the mortality of some, though those may be incredible pains. The greatest pain of all is to know your place in the world, to feel its comfort, then to be unable to fulfill it."

Zingtai wept.

Xiao-tep considered this and consoled her. Aglina rested her wing over the wounded butterfly.

Time passed and Xiao-tep became content with his new life as caretaker of Taliesin. He thought back on the time Zingtai spoke of her place in the world. Looking out over the trimmed, cared-for exquisite beauty of Taleisin he thought perhaps he finally knew what she meant.

Within the angled fields, atop the craggy stones and through the apple orchards did Xiao-tep play. He ate the delicious golden and green apples as he would bask in the sun’s warm rays. He slept in the wide, open fields and tended to the gardens. Each day for Xiao-tep was filled with work, play and contentment.



The Cottonwood Chamber sat empty. Thieves had long ago looted its treasures, leaving it barren of all things but the cottonwood puff spriggans and their trees. The palace was in ruins. The dust of battle had long since settled.

In a far corner sat a pool of blood, a remnant of a demon’s demise. So small was the pool that it could barely be called a pool, not even a puddle. Over time it congealed, concentrated and formed into a tiny, living ruby bug.

A small red and purple imp stole into the chamber. He was Demetrios the Younger, illegitimate son of Demetrios the Quiet, and he came into the chamber by order of Senator Ipiretis. He searched high and low for any form of treasure to be had, especially one of an unnatural state. He found no such trinket.

After a grand and incredibly thorough search, Demetrios at last spotted the ruby bug crawling between the roots of a cottonwood tree. He spied it for a moment, making sure his eyes were not faltering. “It is truly a living ruby!” he proclaimed to himself.

Demetrios the Younger snatched up the small bug, dropped it into a leather pouch and sealed it. He ran from the chamber, delighted at his find and pleased to fulfill the desires of the senator.


Look for a sample of my most recent novel, "Silent Nights", next Friday. It'll be the first time any part of it is presented publicly.

Happy Holidays,

~ Charles

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Charles Shaver: A Year in Review

It's the 18th of December as I write this. My birthday is tomorrow. I'll be 32 and I have a loose tooth. Odd.

I've busted my ass tremendously this year. I've published 4 issues of the webzine, a fan guide to the webzine, promoted quite a bit on the webzine's MySpace profile, finished editing and sent off Soar and written my second novel. That's a lot for a single year. What I've just listed accounts for close to 650 pages worth of writing and that doesn't including editing, essays, general blogs, and various other writings. I've also completed the first 111 pages of my next novel (it's cyberpunk! is anyone surprised by that? haha) and earlier this year I started a novel that is now on the back burner. That novel on hiatus has approximately 140-150 pages completed.

That makes for one helluva productive year.

I traditionally do an end-of-year-it's-my-birthday personal essay blog entry. I didn't want to do one this year until I started reading over some of the stuff I've written in my journal. Instead of expounding upon some subject, I thought you'd like to go through my journal with me and read some of the more interesting bits and pieces.

We start with an entry that concerns the treatment of Hepatitis C I went through last winter. It was a difficult time for Johannah and I. Far worse than I think most people realize. One of the side effects of the shots was that it tampers with your brain chemistry, causing depression... and hair loss (mother nature's doing fine on her own, though haha) and appetite loss and flu-like symptoms. As one of the doctors put it (and I appreciated his frankness): "...leaving you feeling kinda shiity most of the time". He was right on the money with that. The worst was when all my energy just slipped from me. Tired and afraid I stayed there until Johannah got home from work. My cats came to stay with me. I guess they knew. When Johannah finally did come home, Kuei - the eldest cat - ran to the window and started meowing out at her. Another time a similar thing happened while taking a shower and I had to just sit down, call for Johannah to come turn off the water and wait it out until I regained some energy. She's been so frightened so much this year for me.

With that said, here's my year in review.

Enjoy. And Merry Christmas.

Last night's shot was the worst. The plunger on the needle pinched my palm. I jerked from the pain, tore flesh and bent the needle. I think I'm lucky it didn't break off under the skin.

I hate this.

Today's my last shot. I'm tired and sick as hell.I'm ready for this to be over.

We;re in the middle of a blizzard. I don't want to go out today, but we have to. I have DVDs due @ the library today. We also need salt for the sidewalks. Everything's iced over.

Sometimes I think my cat tries to tell me I'm stupid. Sometimes I think my gov't is filled with cats.

I'm sitting at the mechanic's. The Jeep needs $700 worth of work. Where the fuck am I gonna get $700?!

(poem I wrote)
"Pit-Pat, Rain Without Rain"

Rain without rain
Spring thaw
The world is melting
I'm glad for it
I hate the snow
So cold
So wet
So slick
But now the world
Rain without rain
The sun woke me this morn
A happy friend
A dog
In the eyes
Excited for the day
I look out the window
Everything is so bright
Colors peel through
White veils
I'm seeking
It's Thursday
Tomorrow is a doctor's appointment
And more snow
And I'm smiling

I see my Hep C doc today hopefully for the last time. What a long, long road it has been. I was told I could possibly be cured some time around June of 2006. My first shot was August 22, 2007. My last shot was January 30, 2008. Hopefully it takes.

I'm tired. Our trip to Florida is Wednesday. We'll be gone 8 days. I'm looking forward to the rest and seeing old friends. I miss the sun, too. I miss being warm.

It looks like Johannah didn't get that job. That completely sucks. It sucks that a person with a degree has to make minimum wage.

What happened to America?

I've done a lot of thinking and celebrating on this trip... we now sit in the airport...

It's going to be a lean, lean month but I think we'll manage. Money has greatly preoccupied my mind the last year, but with xmas and the Florida trip out of the way we ought to be good for the rest of the year.

I'm a little sad I've filled this notebook with figures and barely any writing.

Soar got its first rejection. With the way the email was worded I suspect they didn't even read it.

TCoG also got rejected.

My whole life this year must be dedicated to writing.

***** (later that same day)

I'm hoping to expand upon the TCoG universe this summer.

If only a publisher would become interested.

We wound up hanging out with the neighbors all day, going to nurseries and Walker Farms. I then helped Tuan build a couple of horseshoe pits.

I'll be finishing up the last two parts of Act 1 of "The Theft of Heaven" today... The Xiao-tep universe has really gotten a hold of me.

I'm tired, Exhausted, really. Seems like time passes so quickly now. I wrote Part 2 of "From Here to the Stars!" yesterday. I'll need to crank out Act 3 of "The Theft of Heaven" sometime in the next few days. I'm happy I'm writing so much, even if nothing has as yet come of it.

Soar was rejected by all three of the publishers I sent it to. That's okay. That just means I have to get back to sending it out. I hope I can figure it out. Where next to send it, that is.

Robert said I could really write when he called yesterday. That's nice to hear.

My sites are getting a ton more hits nowadays. A year ago I was lucky to get 3 hits a month. LLast Saturday my blog alone got 42 hits and yesterday the ezine's MySpace got 14 hits, some from all over the world.

Lots of writing.
I'm happy. :)

It's 11:30 & it's nice & quiet right now. I'm about to head out onto the porch & read some more of The Stand. I really like it so far.

I've had the horrible and unfortunate feeling of being rundown virtually all week. I'm exhausted and finding it difficult to motivate myself into writing. I'm at least able to struggle with reading, though my progress is slow as my mind remains unfocused.

A writer writes and the end result of a writer not writing is the horrible, ugly feeling of wastefulness... to waste time is a small death for a writer. Not similar to the French orgasm that ends in exultation and a crisp, beautiful white light. But a death more akin to a hobo dying in a usually untraveled part of the country where his remains won't be found for perhaps a generation and without family or friends or identity.

Tired today. I busted out 12 pages, damned near all of Act I of "The Ruby Bug" yesterday, on only 3 hours of sleep. I like this story so far.

It's almost summer here now. I can sit outside on the porch and read or write, except at late dusk as it is now. Tomorrow's plans include grocery shopping and other mundane shit that keeps me afraid and awake at night.

JoJo just went in. She worked all day and came home and ate tuna casserole before planting a rose out back. She just blared her fave music, Billie Holiday, and came out to read with me. I don't know how she's reading and I'm writing in such soft light. No wonder my eyes are going bad. I've worried about that lately.

Waved at the neighbor as he drove off to work. Third shifter janitor @ a hospital.

Even trains blasting in the distance. Traffic noise dying. Thought I heard the bats squeaking just now. Haven't seen any lightning bugs yet this year, the bats' fave meal besides gnats & mosquitoes it seems

Cat meowed a single, low, soft, pining meow, wanting to get out. She used to be an outdoor cat, but there's too many dogs and shifty people around here. I feel sorry for her.

Cell's ringing with a text.

Dreamt I was trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic Star Wars world. Shot out the lower jaw of a homosexual Native American with a laser hidden inside a can of Tab. Johannah was there as were Robert, Kim and [their son]. Someone was trying to reform a body politic almost as though in a class with a single lecturer describing how it should be done while pacing before a white dry-erase board. I got sick of the lecturing. There was all this neat little writing outlining a plan for government upon the board. I got sick of that, too. I walked behind the lecturer, who didn't seem to notice me, and erased all her notes replacing it with my own writing:

The first thing to do is get home. The second thing is to find and gather your family.

I think government was responsible for the apocalypse.

Got an email from someone in Atlanta sayin' he likes my ezine. Don't know if I can call him a 'fan' (probably could... probably my attempt at modesty to assume otherwise), but my readership seems to be growing. Maybe he doubled it! Haha

Got a 17-1/2" largemouth yesterday. Also got a tan. It's Friday the 13th. I debut the ezine's mascot today (Iffy the Ifreet).

I am my pen, my destiny to spill oceans of ink.

I used my rebate to pay off my [credit card]. Now I have one less bill to pay.

Dreamt I was hungry. Went to a restaurant. Couldn't really afford it but went anyways. They wound up screwing up the order. Didn't fill it. Waited an hour and got no food. I was starving, yet relieved about not having to spend the money.

Woke up hungry.

It's some time just after 8AM. I've got 3 pages of "The Elephant Crusade" done. I'm enjoying it. :) I'm now taking a break with some decaf on the porch. It's nice right now, but I can feel the heat of the day on the air. It'll be hot and humid today. Around 10 I think I'll mow the front lawn. Did the back yesterday. I sometimes wonder what Hemingway or Bradbury or Bukowski were like mowing their lawns. Did they mow their lawns? Did they have lawns to mow? Pedestrian questions of those we deem great fascinate me. For years I've been plagued with wonder as to whether or not Bob Dylan does his own laundry. If so, how? What settings does he use? What soap? Does he write songs while waiting for the laundry to get done, as I wrote the original short story "Soar"?

Completely fascinating.

But then, I've tendencies towards weirdness.

... I'm BBQ'ing and relaxing. Maybe I'll watch some movies or something. In any case, I doubt I'll write. I'm gonna take the day off.

Relaxation. Damn that sounds good.

JoJo's b-day is in 2 days. We're going to see Weird Al tonight @ Meadow Brook. I hope we have a good time. We'll go see the new Batman (w/ Heath Ledger... RIP) on Monday. By then most of the crowds should have died down.

We had a nice long weekend. We saw Weird Al Friday, had the readiator replaced on the Jeep and rented movies on Saturday, went to visit the parents and the Tuscola County Fair and had dinner Sunday ( the Bavarian Inn), and lastly saw Dark Knight yesterday.

Dark Knight was amazing.

I didn't write a bit all weekend.

It's time to get back to work.

Had a blast at the [Genesee County] Fair! Uploading video now. Ate bloomin' potato, pulled pork sandwich, corn on the cob, cotton candy, a gallon of soda, water, straberry lemonade, my first honeycomb, my first deep fried Snickers and it's no wonder I'm sick! Haha!

Also watched some wrasslin'. Good times.

I needed this day off.

Good for me.

Tomorrow I plan to read & watch TV. Maybe upload Fair pics.


I took my first Hep C shot a year ago yesterday. We celebrated with a big, expensive steak dinner. Haha. Had shrimp and artichoke dip and blackberry lemonade with it.

Act 1 of "Song of Momoki" was posted yesterday, too.

The Olympics just ended. Michael Phelps was awesome. We're proud of him. As the credits for NBC's broadcast rolled I told JoJo, "I wonder where we'll be for the next one." She hopes we'll be there, AT the Olympics.

It's been 7 years. I can't believe it's been 7 years have gone by already. Those were such uncertain times back then. A month and a half later I'd move to Maui and start studying on my own. It was then I thought I should begin writing. I needed that move. I needed to get out of the anger that was America. I needed that time away from TVs and computers, living on a mountainside an hour and a half from any town, a quick walk from a Chinese cemetery, a neighbor to a strawberry farmer where all I did each day was read and write and do housework. It was like my own private monastery. I think that November we visited one of the oldest Taoist temples in the U.S.

We left California the day after Halloween. The day of the Dead followed by All Saints Day.

Seven years ago I was in a lawyer's office filling out paperwork by hand because their head office was in NYC, a block from the Twin Towers and their computer network - run out of NYC - was down.

At about 6:15 this afternoon I finished up all but the epilogue. The rest of the stories are complete. I might try to tackle the epilogue in a bit. I have too much nervous, excited energy to relax.

I'll be getting that 360 soon! :)

My second novel. At last!

I finished the 2nd novel this morning @ about 9:30. It's almost 11 now. I'm listening to some blues and about to take a shower.

We'll get a 360 today.

Halloween was fun although the afternoon and evening flew by. Iffy was a big hit, though he scared a few smaller kids. Pumpkins got a lot of compliments.

My neighbor and I are heading for my parents' today to do some shooting, etc. I would have gotten more sleep except Obama was elected last night and I wanted to see him speak... I voted yesterday for the first time in my life and I voted for him... and to legalize stem cell research and medical marijuana here in Michigan... I feel like everything's finally going to be set right in our country.

It's Thanksgiving. JoJo and I are just having a quiet day @ home. We got a little dressy...

This year has been like that episode of M*A*S*H where they covered a full year in 22 minutes. It seems like I was on a boat with Tuan fishing just a week ago and the World Series 2 days ago. It's slowing a little now, but this year has been a blur. It's crazy.

Happy Thanksgiving


It's been a good year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Escape from the Cottonwood Chamber" -- Act I

Continuing my year-end wrap-up, I present to you a tale I first posted here on my blog on May 28, 2007 under the title "The Children of Gods".

Escape from the Cottonwood Chamber is the story of Xiao-tep, a fish-god and son to Lei-Zi the Lightning Goddess and Hapi the River God. He is ousted from the Celestial Garden by his father. Fearing his father's wrath and filled with sorrow for being unwanted, Xiao-tep travels to far-distant lands only to be tricked by Loki into becoming a warrior that feels the pain of his dying victims.

Act I introduces Xiao-tep and details his origins.




(C) 2007 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


Act I of IV: The Birth of Xiao-tep the Ankh-fish of 100,000 Sorrows and Beauty

PROLOGUE: Wherein Xiao-tep is Born; Angered, Hapi Commands Lei-zi to Present to him Their Fish-Child Upon his Birth as a Meal; Xiao-tep Flees for his Life



Few know of the Celestial Garden; its red-lacquered gazebo with white filigree wood lattice; its brass bells tinkling when touched by the wind; the massive and ancient willows; continually blossoming apple and peach trees; the flaming tiger lilies and royal violet snapdragons surrounding it and all of this surrounded by a stream encircling the garden like a little moat flowing, river-like, counter-clockwise. It is a place of sanctuary and solitude for all the gods of all religions of all the universe. It connects the Heavens, the Vanir of Asgard, every river, time and the stars of all galaxies.

Some of the gods secretly know the Celestial Garden to be the hidden womb of all love.

It is here that Lei-zi, the goddess of thunder and wind and consort of the legendary Huang-di, would come to rest and meditate in peace. One day, while meditating, the river god Hapi entered the Celestial Garden and spied on her. His deep belly and sagging chest surged with passion for this new beauty he had never before seen.

Sensing him, Lei-Zi broke her meditation and looked up. She smiled courteously, yet was apprehensive. His head adorned with bedewed water weeds told of his holy status, but she did not recognize him.

He smiled at her, his mouth wide and full. Seeing her painted alabaster face and primmed silk coat, he bowed at the waist in the hopes of tapping into her tradition.

"Excuse me," his voice flowed effortlessly, timeless in tone and mystique.

Lei-zi stood, bowing deeply as one of equal or higher status deserved.

"May I join you?" he asked.

"It would be my honor," she smiled sweetly. They sat on a bench of green marble carved by the hands of the Cosmos, stone lions acting as the feet.

"If it is not so bold," Hapi spoke, "I have never seen a goddess so beautiful as you."

Lei-zi smiled, blushing and hot in the cheeks. "You are too kind."

"No," said Hapi. "The Cosmos were too kind when they led me to you this day."

They would meet time and again in the Celestial Garden. A splendid romance blossomed.

And so it came to pass that Lei-zi sat one day, waiting for her lover in the Celestial Garden. Her eyes jerked with every sound, every rustling bough. She smiled happily at the news she had for Hapi. She smiled at the small, swirling movement in her belly.

"My beloved," Hapi came through the dense thickets and beautiful brush to sit by his lover's side upon the bench where first they met. "I've good news."

"I, too, have news," Lei-zi responded.

"This year will be a good crop for my people. I will not flood them. They build for me a temple in my honor."

"I, too, grow a small temple in your honor," Lei-zi took Hapi's hand and placed it on her belly. He felt the small movement there. His eyes grew wide, then he squinted.

"It's not mine!"

"Of course it is! Who else-"

"You consort with men and gods alike. There are a million that could be the father!"


Hapi shook his head.

"You are the only one," she explained. "What grows in my belly has the form of a fish. Who else?"

Again, Hapi shook his head. "We cannot. No. We cannot."


"That thing that grows in your belly is the unholy abomination of two gods from different worlds. He cannot be allowed to come into being."

"But I feel him. He's yours. I feel his fins and tail and his swimming like a well-trained athlete. He is yours and mine and there can be nothing unholy of that."

Once more Hapi shook his head. "He cannot be allowed to live. Our meeting here would be looked down upon by all the gods, perhaps the Cosmos themselves. And the men. How could we rule them if they attained the knowledge of our mixed child?"

Lei-zi had never seen Hapi act so cruelly, so decisively. "But he's ours..." was all she could say.

He grabbed her and held her by the shoulders. His eyes peered deeply into her own and softened like gentle lapping waves as he spoke to her.

"Listen to me. Our child's life would be one of scorn. He would be an outcast, not of your world nor of mine. He would be something different completely and would belong to a world unmade. He would have no place. Not here, not with our kind, not within the hearts of men. His life would be moot and full of pain."

Understanding, Lei-zi said, "We'll hide him."

"For an eternity? Impossible!"

"Then what shall we do?"

Hapi's eyes grew stern. "Upon his birth you will send him to me. Only your most trusted servant must be sent with the child. No other. And he must be discreet. I will take the child."

Hapi stood to leave.

"And then what?"

Hapi looked down on his lover. "I will dress him in salt and spices and make of him my meal."


Part 2
For days and days Lei-zi cried, raged and did not sleep. Monsoons destroyed fishing villages, thunder and rain flooding the lands. The seas swelled and churned under her wrath.

The fisherman, Kanaka Nui, found his family starving because he could not go out upon the waters and bring home to them their staple meal. In one of Lei-zi's momentary silences, he snuck out in his canoe in the hopes of catching a mere few fish to help his family survive. But, once out on the waters, Lei-zi awoke and raged once again.

"Oh, heavens!" cried Kanaka Nui sitting in his rocking canoe, hanging on for dear life. "Why do you wage such an ambitious war? My people starve! I starve! We need to fish to live! Please, tell me, anything that you wish I will do to appease you."

Lei-zi heard his words and though she did not answer him immediately, though she did not cease her thunder instantly, the seeds of a scheme began to blossom and grow within her.

Kanaka Nui tried very hard, paddling with all his might, to reach the shore. He prayed he would make it home safely for, if he was taken by the waters, his family would surely all perish. As long as he was alive he could bring them hope.

Finally, Lei-zi ceased her sobbing. The skies cleared just a bit. Thunder and winds became distant as she appeared before Kanaka Nui as a cloud.

"Brave fisherman," she said to Kanaka Nui. "I should not be waging a war against you, for you are not my enemy. My enemy is my own lover, whose child I now carry within my belly. I am enraged by his hatred for our yet unborn child. But, if you lend to me your aid, my heartache will cease and you will be able to return to your family safely and with food."

"Anything," said Kanaka Nui. "Anything you ask, I will do! What is it you want, o Cloud Mistress?"

"I will temporarily cease my showers for three days. In that time, paddle your canoe north into the mouth of the river and catch for me a fish. A carp, preferably. If you turn over the very first fish you catch to me, I will cease my showers all together."

Kanaka Nui accepted the offer and immediately set out, paddling north towards the river.

For three days the skies were clear and the sun shining. For three days Kanaka Nui did sweat profusely under the glaring sun, searching for fish. Each day passed and hope slipped from him. Hunger waged another war within his stomach. He wanted to eat so badly. He feared his family all dead or, fearing that he may have been taken by the sea and facing starvation, may have taken their own lives. He sobbed as the sun began to dip westward on the third day.

Then, at dusk, his keen eyes caught the movement of a fish. He drew his canoe closer to it, paddling softly. He grabbed his net, flung it, and caught the biggest carp he had ever seen! He pulled it over the side of the canoe and unravelled it from the netting. It was longer than two men are tall and speckled. The flesh smelled of dense meat and the scales gleamed in the setting sun.

Kanaka Nui's stomach growled. "Surely," he spoke to himself. "If there is a fish such as this in these waters, I could easily catch another before sunset. Then I could keep this massive, beautiful carp all to myself and stay my hunger and feed my family. I could give the second fish to the Cloud Mistress."

Kanaka Nui's stomach growled. He pulled his knife from its sheath. He looked at the setting sun, then to the lone cloud floating high above him.

"No," he spoke. "If I eat this fish, I will be alive, but without much honor or dignity. Without such things, a life is valueless. I would rather die than go back on my word."

He put away his knife and lifted with great effort the grand carp high above his head, pointing it towards the lone cloud. The carp magically lifted from his hands, floating into the heavens.

As he watched it fade from sight, he heard a thunk on his canoe's bottom. Looking, he found tens upon hundreds of fish leaping from the waters into the canoe. He smiled and knew the Cloud Mistress was rewarding him for keeping his word.


Part 3
Little Xiao-tep, son of Lei-zi and Hapi, was born and in his place his mother sent with her most faithful servant the large ordinary carp to be eaten by the father. Hapi accepted the carp as his son and ate him and never again thought of the matter, nor did he further pursue his affections for Lei-zi.

But time passed and Hapi's longing for Lei-zi's gentle touch grew.

Xiao-tep was born a beautiful butterfly koi, grown fully to a size larger than even the carp that had been sent in his place. He was white and gold and orange in color with a bold ankh resting atop his forehead. His eyes were sparkling blue. His fins were long and flowing and white. Born with attributes from both parents, he could fly, swim, float across land and speak every language. His mother loved him immediately and named him Xiao-tep from the Chinese word 'little' and for the Egyptian sage Imhotep.

Lei-zi spent all her time with her child, teaching him the ways of men so that one day he could leave her side and exist alongside with mortals in peace and without the knowledge of the other gods, most especially Hapi.

On occasion, however, Xiao-tep would ask his mother about his father.

Years passed and Lei-zi one day brought Xiao-tep to the Celestial Garden. Xiao-tep played in the swirling stream, flew a kite and slept on the bench there.

"Mother," Xiao-tep asked. "What of my father? Who is he? Is he alive? Mortal? Maybe dead?"

Lei-zi's face grew forlorn. She grabbed a small willow branch and broke it off, dipping it in holy oils and allowing it to drip into the stream like tears.

"The willow is the keeper of sorrows," she told Xiao-tep. "Take this small branch and I will tell you of your father. Let the willow cry for you."

Confused, Xiao-tep took the branch.

"Your father is Hapi, the God of the River Nile. He is a heavy man, though handsome and gentle towards me. Our love blossomed here in this quiet garden. But when I became pregnant with you, he felt your existence may be an abomination upon the Cosmos. He... he..."

"Go on, mother."

"He feels it is best if he has nothing to do with you."

This made no sense to Xaio-tep. He shook his head, but before he could ask a single question, Hapi came bustling through the brush and into the garden.

"Lei-zi!" said Hapi. "It has been ten years and though we are gods and ten years mean nothing to us, my love for you has slowed time to a crawl. I yearn for you once more."

Lei-zi's eyes grew wide with terror. Xiao-tep looked at this stranger, his father.

Hapi looked at Xiao-tep and asked, "Who is this? Another consort? He is so young. He's barely ten years of age-"

A slow realization came to Hapi. "Insolent wench! How dare you defy my commands?"

Hapi raged. Xiao-tep and his mother grew fearful. Hapi ran at Xiao-tep, his hands outstretched to choke his fish-son.

"Hapi! No!" cried Lei-zi.

Xiao-tep heard the words. He looked at the stranger. "Father?"

Hapi attacked him, but Xiao-tep wiggled and wiggled through Hapi's clenching fingers until he was free.

"Get back here!" raged Hapi. "I'll eat you alive!"

"Xiao-tep! Flee! Save yourself!"

Frightened, hearing his mother's cries, Xiao-tep obeyed. He dived into the swirling stream.

"Xiao-tep, no! He can reach you in the waters!"

Hearing this, Xiao-tep leaped from the stream and flew, higher and higher, the willow branch in his possession and dripping fast after him. Hapi screamed after his son as Xiao-tep faded into the Heavens, the willow's tears scattering like stars.


Next week I'll be posting an act from the follow-up novel to this tale, "Warriors of the Midnight Sun".

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chapter 3 of SOAR

I've had a pretty good year, a pretty productive year. Not only did I publish four issues of my webzine and an accompanying Fan Guide, I wrote my second novel and I've started on a third. The first thing I posted on my blog this year was Act 1 and 2 of "At the Peony Teahouse" which was later incorporated into the novel I wrote this year, The Theft of Heaven. That first post was on January 4th of this year.

I wanted to end the year just as strong. With all this in mind, I decided the last four Fridays of the year for throughout December I would post samples of my fiction as blogs. First up is Chapter Three of Soar, my first completed novel. Next Friday I will be posting Act One from my fantasy wuxia novella "Escape from the Cottonwood Chamber" (Formerly known as "The Children of Gods"). On Friday, December 19th (my birthday!) I will be posting an act from my second novel, The Theft of Heaven. Lastly, on December 26 I will post chapter seven of Silent Nights - the novel I'm currently working on. It should be noted that this final blog post will be the first time in 8 years that any portion of Silent Nights has been made available to the public.

But that's all for later. For now we should discuss Soar.

Soar is the story of Led, a cyborg living in a future world where technology has been outlawed. He is recruited by Aerol Standish, the second most powerful corporate figurehead in the city of New Haven. Aerol has his doctors implanted faux wings into Led, making him a veritable angel. With the hopes of using the universal human dream of flight as a marketing campaign, Aerol hopes to use Led in order to bring science and technology back into the realms of trust and worship it once enjoyed.

Chapter Three shows Led and Aerol discussing matters of their world and the plans they have to renew humanity's love for technology and science.


SOAR (c) 2007 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.


Led crouched atop a giant stone bust at the corner of the roof. The gargoyle protruded from the building without wings or deformity, but in the likeness of some ancient philosopher he did not know.

His torso naked, back straining with new muscles wrapped around the frame of wings. His black and tan sacho covered his nose and mouth.

He had always wanted to fly. It was a wild and youthful dream. Six months ago the dream had been realized. With sixteen hours of groundbreaking surgery and two months of constant pain the dream was born into reality. First there had been the pain of new hardware invading his flesh, then the pain of new muscles strengthening themselves under the weight of wings.

He had already flown, but only within the confines of labs and odd chambers with a dozen or more men in white coats watching. This would be his first time in the real world, over the streets of New Haven.

Led looked down. The streets were alive with the activity of Meaters, purists that followed the law and refused enhancements. People afraid of technology, a fear born in the War Against Machines. It hadn’t been much of a war. It had been more of a crusade.

If the wings refused to work this day, he faced a fifty-story plummet.
He stretched the wings at the sunset made gold by pollution. He couldn’t see the sun, only its golden glowing effects.

He felt the air currents rippling through the feathers, judged the unseen and knew what to do to leave gravity behind. He felt the importance of the moment. He was about to realize humanity’s greatest, most universal dream.
His leg muscles contracted and he jumped.

He soared.

The wings flapped once, twice, arcing to cup the winds. He was glad for the solitude granted to him on this occasion.

Led soared.

The embers of the sun fizzled to the west over the blackened waters of Lake Wakshasa. The city streets below filled with long, drawn-out chants from unseen chanters. Stars largely unseen hinted at life high above. What few could be seen were somehow closer, though Led knew they weren’t. Not by much. Quickly they faded out, drowned by the city’s gas lamps sparking to life, forming a great galaxy of golden stars dancing below.

Led soared.

He felt like a god spying the outer edges of a galaxy.

He soared.

Streaks of lights grew brighter as the heavens grew darker. The city swirled like illumined lily pads in the night. Each light became an outpost of hope, of life, chasing away primal fears and dancing as candles at the witching hour. Led had never seen the city more beautiful.

He soared.

He twisted, spying on the city below. Each light represented a life to him, a cell within a greater organism. It was wondrous. He smiled.
Led smiled.


A fat Aerol Standish sat in his massive office at an equally massive desk topped with white Italian marble. His chair was leather, cool and plush. He sat like mighty Caesar in a soft, white gown. The room dwarfed even this, the most important of men. Decoration within the office was sparse. Only an imported hand-woven rug lay in the center of the room and atop it another chair matching the one Standish sat in. An odd wooden arm descending from the ceiling near the desk held a large televisor. Potted trees and framed pictures of jungles and wild men filled the spaces of two walls. A third had a hand-painted fresco of Julius Caesar, though many people visiting the office in the past had mistaken the likeness for a younger, leaner Standish. The fourth and final wall, the wall behind him looking over the city, was nothing but a line of windows from corner to corner and from marble floor to vaulted ceiling, stretching out behind him like great wings.

He flipped through some book with disinterest. He knew Led would take his time flying about the city, which he was perfectly happy to allow.

A knock at the door.

“Come,” his voice echoed through the office.

Twin golden oak doors opened and Led walked in.

Standish looked up and noticed first the smile of his winged man. “Now there’s a sight I like to see. How was it?”

“Unbelievable!” Led said.

Standish waved him to the open chair in front of the desk. Led passed on the offer. “It’s difficult to sit in chairs now,” he explained.
Standish nodded with understanding.

Led approached to lean on the desk and stared at the book.

“Don’t worry,” Standish said. “No one will see it lying there.”

Led picked up the book and flipped through it. Standish was amazed by Led’s bold acceptance of the book.

Led was not surprised a man of Standish’s position and wealth knew how to read. He skimmed a few of the pages.

Standish recognized the act. “What’s this? Does our brute have a brain? Can he do more than wield the knife?” Standish smiled emphatically.

Led hesitated with answer.

“Come, come, my boy. We are free to speak here. No Guard will swoop down from the mountain to purge the world of our ilk. Here I am king and master and shall forever be. The arms of the Lord High Mayor cannot reach here unless first I grant permission. Tell me, dear boy, and tell me true: Can you read?”

Led nodded slowly and only once.

Standish stood, laughing. “What a find you are! A brute, a beauty and a thing of intellect! How could I ever hope to be so lucky?” He came to stand near Led and peered at him with something akin to greed. “Now tell me what you have read.”

Led lowered his head and shrugged.

“Don’t make me work for this. Tell me and tell me outright. You cannot be afraid. Here we are in a time of regressive technology and I’ve made you into a man with wings, how could your simple confession of reading be any worse?”

Led looked up, “The last thing I read was The Prince.”

“Machiavelli? By the gods, you do have a brain! It should be no surprise it’s one of my favorite texts. What think you of it?”

“It was an old thing. I got it from-” Led quickly looked at Standish. Books and reading were illegal and Led was afraid he almost inadvertently gave away the source of many of the books he had read. He continued, “Well, its pages were fallin’ out and the edges were torn. It smelled of dust and wet paper that had dried. I kinda liked the smell.”

Standish shared Led’s smile.

“But the text itself I didn’t like,” Led added.

“Why? For what reason?”

“It was good until the end. The last part revealed it all to be a shallow ploy, a pitchman’s call, a scam. It was another sale tailored for a mark. It was just another advertisement.”

Standish leaned back on the desk and considered Led curiously. “Maybe so, but that should not abolish its worth. There are some strikingly good things elsewhere within the text.”

Led shrugged and stretched his wings. “Maybe. It always seemed to me the schemes of today are our own. Only our actions will see tomorrow. That book was nothin’ but schemes. Schemes for position, power and money.”

“Not all the pursuits of money are unholy, my dear boy. And not all the advertisements are pursuits of money. Machiavelli, while unhappy in his new life, had nothing but luxurious time to pursue anything he wanted. All his cares were tended to. He may not have been rich nor in a position of power as he had once been when wrote The Prince, but he was no street urchin either. He was a gentleman of the country.”

Led nodded. “I know.”

“Then why your disapproval?”

Led was slow to answer. Finally he said, “I’m no mark.”

Standish thought on Led’s wounded pride the book must have brought to him. “Making a sale is truly a delicate thing. Do it too forcefully and you risk offending the customer. Do it with a passionate plea to some universal truth and you shall be hailed practically religiously. Again, it’s not always about money. Some pursue pride and immortality. Some strive for better things for themselves or their community. It is what you and I do now with those wings and the coming Expo. What make you of us?”

Led shrugged. “It’s all the same to me.”

“Please enlighten me, dear boy.”

Led thought a moment before he spoke. “It’s about validation. You’re right, money isn’t always the purpose of a sale. Most times ideas are being sold and, I think, the most passionate salesman sells his own ideas, validates his own perception by spreading his ideas. Who am I to argue with you? Who am I to argue with one of the master salesmen of New Haven? You want to sell the idea of technology back to our world. I want these wings, hoping that, maybe, some will be envious of me. Some may even accept me.”

Standish thought on this, began to speak and stopped short. The two sat in silent shared contemplation.

“Now what?” Led asked.

Standish drew nearer Led. His squat frame made Led look down at him. “We take on the world, my dear boy! We make a good pair. I’m all show and your handsome as hell. It will be easy to show you off.”

“I don’t wanna hang out in any more labs.”

Standish shook his head. “You’re through with the labs. I’ve set up more appropriate and, hopefully, more comfortable quarters for you.”

“In this building?”

“We need to keep you close. And in two weeks we’ll unveil you to the world at the New Haven Business Exposition.” Standish’s smile was wide.

Led’s smile ran away. “Am I to be a prancin’ pony?”

“Not exactly, dear boy. Tell me, what am I best known for?”

Led hated Standish’s way occasionally of answering questions with questions, feeling as though he were being baited, much like the purpose of The Prince. What scared him more was he felt he was growing used to it. “You’re the second richest man in New Haven?” Led guessed.

“And quite powerful, but I mean what business am I known for?”

Led shrugged. “It’s well known you dabble in everything. My guess would be most of your money comes from landholdings, but your biggest news-getters are your pursuits of technology. It’s your most controversial work, at least.”

Standish smiled again. “Correct! And who would be my greatest rival in that respect?”
Again Led shrugged, guessing, “Merricksen Consolidated?”
“You pay attention.”

“To my enhancements, yes.”

“Merricksen Consolidated is owned by Rollus Merricksen. One of our agents planted deep in his company recently relayed to us that Merricksen will be personally unveiling the VK-111 at the Expo.”

“What’s that?”

“An amazing piece of machinery. An automaton.” Standish grimaced. His forehead furrowed with thought. “It means my worst fears are coming true. The future of any society is its present technology.” Standish paced before Led. “These idiot politicians and religious men, these leaders do more to suppress technology. All because of the War Against Machines. Idiots! Uneducated, unenlightened, backwards idiots! Yet we call them our leaders!”

Standish grew feverish in pace and tone.

Led remained quiet.

Standish looked to his winged man. “This means Merricksen is years ahead of everybody I’m involved with. Only Savini seems to have some foothold on the future.”

“Doc Savini’s good.”

“The best! But he’s only one man. Merricksen has surrounded himself with an army of architects and designers. And now he’s got an automaton. Most companies are afraid to even dabble in robotics for fear of the law and social repercussions. But not Merricksen. He has charged ahead. He’s a devilish plan in the works if I know him.”
“Robots would be a hard sell in New Haven,” Led put forth. “He’s shooting himself in the foot if that’s his great secret for the Expo.”

“One would think, my boy, but Merricksen is a sly bastard. He has a gimmick somewhere an idea, something to make people put aside generations of technological fear and accept a new kind of automaton.” Standish continued his pacing. His bare feet slapped against the marble floors. His breathing became erratic, heavy.

Led let Standish pace for a while.

“It’s bound to be the single most advanced piece of machinery the world has ever seen!” Standish reasoned. “We don’t have much in way of detail, but it’s fully automated. I worry it may be a policing machine. With such an automaton, people would no longer be needed to guard city streets. There’s bound to be some backlash, but the argument in support of the automaton would go something like ‘Better to lose a machine in the line of duty than a life.’ The City Guard! Private security! You name it! And the cold shadow of burning clouds you have made may lend themselves to the argument. Thirty-two! Thirty-two dead by your hands alone atop my Empire Arms!”

At this Led winced.

Standish rubbed his head nervously, ruffling his matted hair.

“But the War Against Machines…” Led reminded.

“Has left us suspicious of automatons. We’ve destroyed them before. We’ve slaughtered them, insomuch as one can slaughter lifeless machines. We’ve thrown ourselves into another age of darkness and terror. I am a student of history, my dear boy. Our fellow man, however, designs against the past in some ideal for the future. Bacchus plots against Clio. What wounds he digs are deep. The mutilated muse suffers his scarring and is piecemealed together as something more Promethean.”
Led leaned on the desk. He had learned the fat man was prone to soliloquy. He eyed Standish. Led found him to be simple, though adorned outwardly in odd elaborate trappings, and self-educated. Though Led often did not understand the ramblings, he listened to the words, the tones and pace. When he felt prompted, he would reply.
“The science of the Shanist Temple is all the people answer to now and turn to for answers. To risk reintroducing robots is bold. Merricksen could be setting forth his own undoing, but influence through litigation can push past social response to achieve any end.”

“It sounds like something you would do,” Led said.

A wry smile was planted, blossoming upon the face of Standish. “Indeed,” he answered. “Rollus is gambling on the need to save, to cut costs. It’s a bet well hedged.”

“He wouldn’t risk losing everything with a line of automatons when I can’t even walk the streets,” Led said. “The backlash would be immense. He’d swing from the gallows.”
“Times change, my dear boy. Attitudes shift. It is the ebb and flow of humanity’s will that dictates technology’s progress, not science itself. Everything within society must first be justified within the popular consciousness. It’s all in the marketing and alteration of common perceptions. It’s in the ideas, just as you said. With the right image you can sell a murder. Everything can be justified if lighted properly and photographed from the best angle. This city is a ship adrift in the great stream of human consciousness. Push and pull at the rudder, steer the ship, change the course of history and attitudes and belief and reality is recorded anew.”
Led thought he could feel the tides flowing, unseen, around him. How fragile the perceptions of society now appeared to him, more fragile than human life. He felt lost, floating, a prisoner at the fingering whims of another.

“Where do I come in?” Led asked.

Standish gave another wry smile. “The VK-111 will be big news, something most everyone will be speaking of.”

Standish slowly, dramatically, approached the towering plane of windows overlooking the gas-lighted city sparkling in the night. The dancing lights were the color of aged papyrus: bright, twinkling and yellowed. Led walked up behind him, unconsciously spreading his wings to match the expanse of glass and sprawl of the city. Wings upon wings upon stars upon heavens.

“How was it… to fly?” Standish asked softly.

The smile returned to Led. He shook his head, opened his mouth to form words but was met by a drought. Led was far from a wordsmith. He was at best a street thug, a goon, the city’s cheapest muscle for hire. At least, he had been before Standish rescued him from atop the Empire Arms.

He didn’t have an answer.

He didn’t need one.

“Imagine, dear boy,” Standish said, “Imagine the Expo. Merricksen shows up with the VK-111 and gets all kinds of attention, both good and bad. Now imagine as we let loose onto the world a man that can fly! And under his own power! The VK-111 would be a giant, indeed, but a giant standing in the shadows of a god. You are the dream of Man, dear boy. Of every man of every age.”

The two men stood in silence together watching the city as two men staring at an aquarium. Standish was reveling in his self-made elation, his pre-conceived victory. Led’s mood melted into brooding. He wasn’t one to do things to please others. He was solely interested in fulfilling his own pleasures. But Standish had made his wings possible, among other things. Perhaps, Led thought, I can put on the song-and-dance routine for Standish. I’ve made my deal with the devil, now it’s time to dance. But a bitter taste remained and Led couldn’t help himself from saying, “A prancing pony.”

Standish turned his attention to Led. “Just for two weeks, my dear boy. After that you’ll be as a folk hero, accepted and loved everywhere.”

“What do we do until then?” Led asked.

“You fly, dear boy! You fly!” With a swoop of the hand Standish indicated the city far below. “Let them see you down there, flying high above their architects! Let them scream and yell and talk about you. Let them call you The Gargoyle, show them Mercury, let their eyes touch Gabriel in flight! Let them talk and wonder and toy with the ticklish fringe of panic! But don’t let them get hold of you or those wings. Simply fly!”

Over the next two weeks Led would fly at night and in broad daylight. He would promote himself freely and wildly. He would drum up business in the form of media frenzy. He would play the billboard, the poster, the advertisement. Led cared little for this, but he wanted to fly. He wanted to fly.


The next morning, without breakfast and very little sleep, Led made his way to the top of the building. The city lay sprawling before him, a giant painting splattered golden with morning sunglow. Van Gogh had been resurrected and put to work landscaping the early horizon. Windows twinkled like gas lamps at night. Stars amongst steel. Tiny shines between streets.

All was quiet.

Led soaked in the silence.

He jumped.

He soared.

He smiled.


Thanks for reading. Look for Act One of The Theft of Heaven next Friday.