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.

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