Covalent: Part Ten

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine

Cace observed an inexplicable shift in the Ether. There was a change, a sense of pressure…but what it meant he could not tell. He took his attention off of Rolar and rifled through all the other modules of the machine, trying to find something that seemed unusual or wrong, but there was nothing.

Yet something was there, he was sure of it. Something in the atmosphere of the place had changed, and finally he was left to conclude that whatever had shifted must have done so outside of the machine, out where he couldn’t detect it directly. He knew of its presence only by how it pressed against all the systems that he could sense directly.

“Aylme, are you there?” he tried to say through his overworld body…but he could tell that the words weren’t escaping his own head.

He turned his mind back to the unknown presence. Something new had been unleashed, and that mysterious entity was weighing more heavily on his consciousness every moment, like a dark, heavy cloud growing more and more solid. He didn’t like it. Not one bit. It felt like a threat. And if none of the parts of the machine could perceive and interact with that threat, then it would be completely at the mercy of that outside entity.

Which puzzled Cace. How had the machine been able to survive if it hadn’t had any way to respond to the things outside of itself? One would think that some malevolent presence would have torn it apart long ago if the machine had no way to defend itself.

Oh wait…it had had a way to defend itself.

Cace turned his attention to the last fading remnants of the beast he had killed. Of course! Cace thought to himself. This was a monster even in the overworld! It had been the machine’s eyes for the outside world, the warden that could identify and eradicate any threat.

And he had killed it.

“Aylme, get me out of here!” he tried to shout, but once again the intention went nowhere. He tried to pause and listen inside of himself, tried to find the cadence of the Ether so that he could break free from its rhythms. But this time he couldn’t feel the pulse. Not even a little bit. Try as he might, he couldn’t find any remnants of the outside world whatsoever. It was as if this was the only reality that existed, even though he knew that wasn’t true.

Oh, Cace thought to himself, so this must be what it feels like for other people…totally confined in the boundaries of a single world.

He knew that he ought to be in a panic, but a shocking, yet reassuring, realization came over him instead: part of him never wanted to see the overworld again. Part of him felt like this was where he properly belonged, like he was finally awake and aware in the place he was supposed to be. The place he had always been, just hadn’t been able to see it. Out in the overworld things didn’t make sense, they were too hard to control. Here things followed rules that he could understand. There was a balance and an order, one that he had to be careful not to upset, but which he could bend to his will. The Ether had a right and proper solution to all sorts of problems that were unsolvable up above, just so long as he clever enough to find it. And maybe it even had a solution to the strange and pervasive presence that was crowding around this ordered, beautiful world. So long as he was clever enough to find it….

Cace turned his focus back to the last embers of the beast he had slain. They were slowly filing into the furnace that powered the machine’s core. Cace opened the functions of that furnace and found the control to manage the rate of consumption and turned it all the way off. Before long the machine core would run out of its energy stores and most of its modules would go silent again, but that was a matter for another day.

For now Cace took a closer look at the last pieces of the warden module. There were only bits and pieces remaining, and after trying to reassemble them he concluded that some key parts were absent entirely. He would never be able to cobble back together a complete entity.

But…could he make something new? Not quite the beast that had been before, but something that could still identify threats and protect against them?

He did find a few remaining instances of the module that allowed for the warden to identify entities which were separate for the machine, so that was good. There were not any more modules for aggressive action, though, nor for the planting of a new larva. Also many of the most basic components, such as locomotion and communication were absent.

One other key module was still present, though, and that was for the larva to connect to a host and refashion it as a duplicate of its own inner schematic. Of course that duplicate would be incomplete now, possessing only the qualities that had still survived, but maybe that would work out? Maybe the parts that the larva could no longer override would remain unchanged in the host. The larva could teach the host how to recognize external threats, but the host would depend on its original systems for knowing how to respond to them.

But what new host could he use?

Without even thinking about it, Cace’s attention slid over to where Rolar’s compromised system still pulsated. It, too, was incomplete. Rolar was surviving, but he would never be able to wake up and function as his own agent without replacing some of the shattered pieces inside. Maybe the larva could help replace those missing pieces?

No! Cace scolded himself. What am I even thinking?! He couldn’t do that to Rolar. He didn’t even know what sort of monstrosity that would result in. Half-Rolar and half-creature? That might be a fate worse than death!

But on the other hand…he needed to attach the remnants of the beast to some host now, or else they would finish fading forever. Already they were almost completely detached from the rest of the greater system. They had to go somewhere.

Not Rolar. He thought firmly. But then who?

Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen

Unknown Fears

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Worse Things)

In the last section of Covalent I introduced a new threat, a river that congealed part of itself into thin strands, and then stretched those strands out to grasp and throttle all other forms of life. This created a sinister image of finger-like tendrils reaching through the soil, feeling for our heroes to snuff out their lives.

Of course, a couple chapters ago I had just introduced another enemy, this one was a tall beast, with a head and body like a giant clam shell, and four long, spindly legs extending from the back. This one had been large and imposing, but I feel like the dark river strands are more unnerving.

For worse than brute strength is the sinister unknown.

The Fear of the Unknown)

It is often said that the thing we fear the most is the unknown. I believe there is a lot of truth to that, but why? Why would the unknown evil be worse than the known one?

I would suggest it is because when something is unknown we tend to assume the worst. The vague, undefined form becomes a placeholder for all the things that we are most afraid of. When I hear something go bump in the middle of the night, I am not afraid because it is unknown, I am afraid because being unknown, I then jump to the assumption that it is a madman who has broken into our home and is coming for my children, the thing that I most fear.

Thus I could try to guess what your worst fear is, and then write exactly that into a story. But if I were wrong, then you would not be as frightened as you could be, and if I were right, then it would be the scariest story for you only until your worst fears changed. For as we grow, the things we love change, and the fear of losing them shifts as well.

And this is why I escalated from a clear and imposing threat to a more vague and mysterious one. What do those icy hands feel like when they grasp a human victim? Well, I’m not ever going to describe that. I’m going to leave that up to the imagination of each individual reader, to conjure up the most terrifying sensation that they are capable of.

Legends of Fear)

One of my favorite spooky stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, is very aware of this dread of the unknown. Throughout its tale there is a consuming obsession with the strange and the shrouded. Myths abound of ghosts and phantoms, who sometimes are there and sometimes aren’t, whose rules of operation are inconsistent and disputed. Most famous of all are the legends of the Headless Horseman, a decapitated soldier who still wages battle on moonlit nights.

Enthralled by all these stories is Ichabod Crane, the local schoolteacher and protagonist of the tale. He is also enthralled by the daughter of a wealthy farmer named Katrina Van Tassel, and spends much of his time trying to woo her. This brings him into competition with the Brom Bones, the rough-and-tumble hero of the county, who also has his eyes set on Katrina.

One fateful night, Ichabod Crane finds himself riding through the woods alone. He is full of tales of ghosts and goblins, and feeling extremely unnerved about his situation. He mistakes the wind blowing through the branches for a whistle, the rubbing of boughs for an ethereal moan, and a scar in the tree for some white, hanging phantom. As I mentioned before, he is perceiving these unknown sights and sounds, and they become placeholders for all his worst dreads.

But then, most terrifying of all, a huge and silent rider, enshrouded entirely in black comes up alongside him. He says not a word, his intentions he keeps to himself, and so the reader is left to imagine all manner of malice hiding within that rider’s cloak.

But then, one solitary detail of the rider is made abundantly clear. Ichabod notices that there is no head upon the person’s shoulders, rather he is holding it down at his waist! With that Ichabod bolts and an epic chase ensues! Ichabod making for a bridge that legend states the Headless Horseman cannot cross. By the skin of his teeth he makes the other side, but upon turning back he sees that the phantom has thrown his own head through the air, crashing it into Ichabod’s cranium!

And then…well…we never actually find out what happens. The next day the local townsfolk find Ichabod Crane’s horse wandering around by itself, and the schoolteacher’s belongings strewn about the road, and a pumpkin smashed to pieces off to the side. Ichabod, however, is never seen again.

The story states that Brom Bones seems suspiciously knowing of the events that night, but neither confirms or denies that he was actually involved. And so, at the the end, there are several possibilities for what transpired. Was Ichabod menaced by Brom Bones in disguise, or was it the actual Headless Horseman, or was it just his own overactive imagination? If one of the former two, was he run out of town, or was he actually killed by his foe?

All of the story’s unknown elements leave it up to the reader to assume their own, personal, worst-case scenario. Which idea frightens you most? Being driven from your home, going crazy, being murdered by a member of your own society, or being claimed by an actual phantom of the night? The story is a placeholder for whatever fate you dread most.

One final detail from the story: in its last paragraph in mentions that Ichabod Crane has, fittingly, becomes another part of the local legends, his story now being recounted at all of their social gatherings. There are those that even claim to have heard his old, familiar tunes being sung by a melancholic voice from the remains of his old schoolhouse. In the end has he become a part of the strange unknown.

Continuing Into the Dark)

As I continue with Covalent I will keep these principles firmly in my mind. I might unveil more of how the river’s strange, dark tendrils operate, but rather than provide a better understanding, each revelation will only serve to make the menace more of an enigma, a placeholder for the deepest fears of the reader.

Revising The Storm- Week 9

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I haven’t quite finished with Oscar’s struggle against the waves, and after that I’m going to throw in a few more challenges before Harry gives his confession. I don’t just want to add trouble for trouble’s sake, though. I also want to develop character and plot. Take, for example, Harry. Thus far he’s been the clueless fool, but I want Oscar and he to start having a more nuanced relationship.

All of which is going to make this middle section a fair bit longer. Maybe too long. But I often find it’s best to throw in all the ideas that seem promising, and then it’s always an option to carve out the best version of the story afterwards. So on we go!

Keeping Up Speed)

Oscar’s boat was slow to answer the call, its propellers spun valiantly, but the vessel was nearly double its normal weight, and as it crawled towards the peak of the wave it grew slower and slower. The stern tried to follow the path of least resistance, tried to tip either to one side or the other, and Oscar had to spin the wheel back-and-forth to counter its shying. He poured everything he had into the engines, forcing the craft to obey!

Then came a sudden blow from behind and the sound of crunching. Oscar’s boat had slowed down faster than Harry could turn his own boat out of the way!

“Harry!” Oscar shouted in anger, but then he felt the push. Harry’s vessel was still pressing forward, and even against the slope of the wave, Oscar realized he was accelerating again. So he snapped his eyes back forward and steered his way through the top of the wave. The surf finally broke over his prow, and the boat gained speed as it rushed down the wave’s backside.

“Alright, Harry, that was lucky,” he pulled the mic back to his mouth. “But you keep your distance on the way up these waves, you hear?”

Oscar didn’t hear any response, but then realized he still had the button on his mic locked down. He released it just in time to hear the last of Harry’s reply.

“–and I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want your ‘sorry,’ Harry,” he shot back. “Just competence.”

Well this segment was entirely new, and the next few will be as well. I like to think that I’ve been able to get back into the original voice of this story, but I’m curious to see whether that’s true when I read it all together.

I have mentioned that my reason for adding these new pieces is to make the journey feel more exhausting, but I don’t want to be making things longer just for the sake of having them be longer. Pacing is important, but if a scene is only present to keep the pace right, then you have architecture that is superficial. Better to have scenes that pull double duty, both helping maintain the proper cadence and developing plot or character.

This was why I had this piece build up to the point of Oscar criticizing Harry for only having apologies and not competence. Oscar isn’t just throwing out a random insult in the heat of the moment here, he is expressing a much deeper wound. Consider how that line will take on a greater meaning when the audience finds out that Harry’s incompetence resulted in the death of Oscar’s son. “Sorry” doesn’t carry any weight at all after something like that.

Losing Power)

Oscar dropped the mic to the desk and busied himself setting the throttle. Through the next dozen waves he tried to maintain a steady clip forward. It was an agonizing balancing act. They needed to move forward quickly enough to make headway against the waves, but that meant consuming a lot of fuel, which the two of them were running dangerously low on. Harry, who had been fighting against the storm for longer, was running particularly low on it.

“Oh–oh–” Harry’s concerned voice came over the radio.

“What is it?” Oscar demanded, but just then he felt the strain of Harry’s boat pulling back against his own and he knew.

“I’m out of fuel.”

“Entirely?!”

“I–I think so.”

“Don’t you have a spare tank?”

“Yeah, I used it already!”

They came to the rise of the next wave. Oscar’s boat started to burst through the crown, but Harry’s boat wasn’t able to maintain speed. It held Oscar’s boat like an anchor, and he felt himself moving backward with the wave. Harry cried out in fear as his boat cut low through the water’s rise, drenching his deck, and threatening to smash the windows on his wheelhouse.

“You there?” Oscar demanded as they finally broke through to the other side.

“Barely!”

“Run out to the front of the boat, here comes my spare tank.”

Oscar locked his wheel in place, grabbed the plastic tank from under a seat, and dashed to the back of the boat. He paused to pour a fifth of its contents into his own fuel-starved engine, then he stood with his foot on the stern and threw the canister through the air into Harry’s waiting arms.

As Oscar looked backwards he tried to pick out the Broken Horn, to determine if they were far enough away to turn around. That spare tank had only had a gallon of diesel remaining, and divided across the two of them it wouldn’t last even an hour. Were they far enough from the cape to turn around now?

And in answer to his questions he saw only blackness. The Broken Horn wasn’t visible at all through the darkness that pressed close to them. Oscar couldn’t even see forty yards distant. Perhaps they had pushed away from the cape, or they might have been sliding even closer to it. He couldn’t tell. When they turned, they would have no way of telling how near the dangers were until they were right upon them!

Update on My Novel: Month 26

black pen near white printer paper
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JUNE STATS

Days Writing: 10
New Words: 2893
New Chapters: 1

Total Word-count: 79,993
Total Chapters: 22

At the start of June I mentioned the new schedule that I was making for myself, and threw out some pretty bold predictions for how many words I’d be able to write! And, well, obviously that’s not how things went for June. My numbers are better than they were in May, so that’s nice, but only a third of the potential I had been talking about.

Am I too shocked? No. Let’s face it, I’ve had a lot of plans to shake things up, and they’ve only ever brought temporary, moderate success. I’m glad that I keep trying new things, and I want to constantly experiment with my process and find new improvements, but perhaps I need to be a bit more realistic in my approach.

Which leads me to yet another new experiment to try! As I mentioned, June was an incremental improvement over May, and my goal for July is to make it an incremental improvement over June. Rather than looking for the miracle plan that triples my output all at once, I’m going to look for more gradual advancements.

In June I wrote 2,893 words over 10 days, so for July I’m just looking to do 3,000 words over 11 days. That seems very doable, and if I do succeed at that then I’ll raise the bar a little higher for August.

Come back next month to see how things went, and in the meantime, here’s a small piece that I wrote during June.

And by this he discovers the third great problem. In all of these three hours he has not even toppled three hundred stalks, less than a tenth of the field’s total. That alone would be of little consequence, if all he had to do was fell the cane he could have the task done within a week, but stalks of sugarcane is not what is sold back on the mainland, sugar is. And he cannot put the sheathed cane into the crusher, so the outer layers must be stripped off first, and these bind very tightly to the stalk indeed.

Stripping them back is a long and arduous process. Either he must grip their tips with his fingers and peel them back, one small piece at a time, or else he must slash the length of the stalk with his cutlass, wasting whatever chunks of inner cane come off with the leaves. If cutting the cane down had seemed a slow process, it is nothing compared to this! He dedicates five full hours to the task, and in that time he barely cleans fifty of the cane. A quick arithmetic tells him that if he were to work for ten hours at this current rate he could cut down and strip only eighty-five stalks of cane! Further arithmetic informs him that the entire field of three thousand cane would therefore take him three-hundred-and-fifty-hours of labor, or two weeks of working night and day without a moment’s relief.

And he is very sure of those calculations, for he has an immensity of time to double-check and triple-check them as he slowly strips the outer leaves from his hopes and dreams.

Covalent: Part Nine

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight

Back in the overworld, Aylme found herself in quite the predicament.

The one positive thing was that Rolar’s condition seemed to have improved. His ever-weakening pulse had finally returned to normal, and the paleness in his face had become fully flushed. But on the other hand, he was still completely unconscious, and now Cace was, too.

As soon as Rolar showed signs of having stabilized Aylme tried to wake Cace, calling his name and shaking him like before, but his time he remained fixed within his trance, unwilling or unable to come back to the overworld.

“So once again, I’m left alone to take care of you both,” Aylme sighed wearily.

It was not an easy burden to bear, but what else could she do? They each had to do their part to save the others. After all, Rolar had charged the beast, protecting the others with his own body. And Cace had gone into the Ether to save Rolar’s life. But while their intentions had certainly been noble, Aylme couldn’t help but notice that once again those heroics had left the two boys incapacitated, making things worse than before. And once again it was up to her to handle everything on her own.

She shook her head and moved on.

The first task Aylme undertook was bandaging Rolar’s arm. She did not have the practiced skill of a healer, but it was a clean break, and she was able to set it, brace it, and wrap it tightly. His body would just have to figure out the rest. For the concussion and any internal damage there was nothing she could do, but she would tend to the fever that was already starting to surge within him.

Not here, though. Now that the arm was bandaged, the next priority was to get both of the boys back into their shelter, away from the dangers of the open field.

First she moved Cace, because he was light enough to carry in her arms. It was a stumbling, stop-and-start-again sort of journey, but she made it back to their hole without any trouble and carefully laid him inside.

Moving Rolar was a trickier matter. He was quite a bit larger than her, and much too heavy for her to carry. Aylme was resourceful, though, and quickly wove together a large sling from what few pieces of spare clothing they had. Then she rolled Rolar onto it, took hold of the ends, and walked backwards, slowly dragging him across the grassy field, careful to avoid all the piles of black powder along the way.

The sling worked well while Rolar’s body glided over the smooth grass, but soon they came to the rocky shore of the river, and here Aylme had to plant her feet and tug for every inch. She felt guilty for the way Rolar’s body lurched over the rough terrain. The sling provided very little padding, and she was sure Rolar’s back was being scratched mercilessly and all their spare clothing was being torn. Well, she would just have to add those to the list of things to address, just as soon as she finished getting Rolar to safety.

So preoccupied was Aylme with her task, that she didn’t even notice the sound of burbling coming from the river behind her. Thick, heavy bubbles were slowly rising to the surface, coated in layers of oil that slowly peeled away until the whole thing ruptured with a deep and messy gurgle. They slowly increased in frequency, now rising to the surface two at a time. Then three. Then four. And from that point where the bubbles broke the water strange forms began to arrange themselves. It was as if the water itself was congealing itself into thin and dark strands, a membrane that began to feel its way outwards. It was not something that was in the water, such as a fish or a plant, it was a layer of the water itself, raising and spreading like frost across glass. And those strands were reaching beneath the surface, too, stretching out to every fish and snail, grasping and throttling them, weaving a tapestry of dead creatures across the river.

It was the thrashing of one of those fish that finally caught Aylme’s awareness. She spun around, just in time to see the tendrils squeezing the last bit of life from the creature.

“What?!” she shrieked in horror, then looked left and right, noticing how the tendrils were reaching nearer and nearer to the shore. “No, no, no, no,” she pleaded desperately, tugging with renewed fervor at the sling. “Not another attack! Not now!”

Aylme planted her feet against two large rocks and gave an almighty tug. Rolar’s body lurched forward, and with that momentum Aylme spun around so that she was facing forward. Before the friction could bring her to a halt she took another powerful step and then another. She had to keep up their inertia, had to keep moving forward as quickly as possible. It hurt her arms and her legs, but she pushed even harder and surged forward even faster.

Just a few feet away, the farthest reaching strands of water finally reached the shoreline. They grasped into the mud there, clumping the soil together, and started to slowly feel their way through that more solid medium.

At last Aylme reached the hole that led into their shelter and hopped down into it. She tugged on the end of the sling until Rolar’s legs slid over the edge, then she grabbed those and slowly eased the rest of him inside, laying him down on the earthen floor.

She had made it…but that hardly seemed like anything to celebrate anymore. Aylme peered out of the hole, watching as the line of plants closest to the riverbank started to twist, bend, and then shot downwards into the soil, dragged down by the grasping water-tendrils below! Those strands were continuing their sprawl, undeterred by rock or soil. Sooner or later it would come reaching through the walls of their home, too. And when it touched them?… Well…things hadn’t turned out so well for that fish.

“Think, Aylme, think!” she commanded herself, hammering against the dirt wall with balled up fists.

How was she to keep a foe as strange as this at bay? How was she supposed to wage war with water?

Then she looked upwards with the determination of a fresh idea.

“Let’s see what it thinks of fire!”

Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen

Building Blocks

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Back to School)

Learning isn’t always fun. Especially when you are learning something that you don’t care about, and must do so by a firm deadline! I still consider some of my required college courses to be the most torturous ordeals I’ve ever gone through! Not simply because they were hard, but because they just didn’t interest me. I could handle difficult courses if I cared about the subject, but if I didn’t, then studying for them was sheer misery.

And, like many students, I would run away from the drudgery, finding refuge in the likes of novels, movies, music, and games. I would “take a break,” trying to find something that was as far away from “education” as possible.

Or was I?

Because when I think about the movies I watched, the books I read, and the games I played, I realize that they were all educational in their own way. They challenged me and required me to learn things I didn’t know, just like the very lessons I was running away from.

Take Lord of the Rings for example, one of the most demanding novels I’ve ever read. It’s prose was thick, it’s world was sprawling, and it’s lore was voluminous. Without even realizing it I was filing away a multitude of facts about the geography, history, and politics of Middle Earth and these were often the very subjects that I was running away from in the real world. Here, though, they were a delight to me!

Or what about when I watched Good Will, Hunting, a moving drama about a young man who has incredible potential, but is held back by all the emotional scars he carries. I’d watch that movie and feel that it had taught me so much more about psychology, society, and mental health than any of the college courses I was taking.

And there was also Portal, one of my favorite video games of all time. Here I was taught basic concepts of physics and teleportation, and then required to prove my mastery of these concepts by combining them in increasingly intricate ways. Portal helped ease me into the art of complex problem solving, which was a great boon to my classes in logic, mathematics, and programming.

So was I really coming to these movies and games and stories to get away from education? Absolutely not! Learning is one of the absolute greatest pleasures for us in life! Learning is always fun!

When it’s done right, anyway.

A Curious Mind)

Our minds want to be stimulated. We genuinely hate to be bored. William Faulkner once wrote, that “given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain,” and there have been studies conducted that show he is far from alone in this sentiment!

Behind boredom is the insatiable yearning to discover new things. This is why we have never had a generation that looked at what they already had and said “that’s enough, I won’t try to add anything to it.” We always try to discover something more. Every invention and advancement is always surpassed by another, because we are made to learn and then create.

And whenever our learning surpasses what we can create literally, we create them literarily instead! Think of Isaac Asimov and Jules Verne, who lacked the technology to build out the rockets and robots in their heads, but they went to the workshop of the mind and invented it all anyway, laying a foundation that both fiction and science have continued to build upon ever since! Continued to build on because, of course, we do not see their work and say “that is enough.” No, we have to press further, reach higher, and discover deeper!

Good Learning)

But then why are school courses often so tedious? What is it about some forms of learning that is so pleasant, and others that is so repulsive?

To some degree, of course, it will depend on the subject and the student. All of us may be curious, but none of us are curious about all things. For one student mathematics is a challenging delight, for another it is genuine torture. I mentioned a novel, film, and game that all stimulated my mind, but not everyone likes Lord of the Rings, or Good Will Hunting, or Portal. If each of these were required in school courses, there would be those that saw them as the exact same drudgery that I was trying to escape from.

But I do believe there is a common trait that typically separates positive learning experiences from negative ones. It is when the education involves some sort of personal interaction from its pupil. Being “told” an education is never going to be as stimulating as actually living it!

Earlier, when I spoke of how our minds want to be stimulated, that thread quickly ran into examples of people inventing things. Education is at its absolute best when it is gained through the act of discovery or invention. Thus the best education is given incomplete, requiring the pupil to make the second half of it.

Lord of the Rings, for example, is already an interesting book, but what made it truly come alive for me was when it sparked visions of fantasies that weren’t on its pages. And Good Will Hunting is a moving film in and of itself, but it became so much more because when it made me reflect on my own life, and the ways I keep my own potential locked behind my wounds. And of course Portal, being a game, is designed entirely around interactivity. It gives the problems and the tools, but every solution was an invention of my own.

And this same inventiveness has always been present in my favorite courses at school. Because yes, I actually do have a lot of pleasant memories from school as well. And virtually all of those pleasant memories are based around classes that told me to come up with my own program, or draw my own picture, or write my own story. Then I wasn’t simply using my education to rehash what other people had discovered, I was using it to discover my own secrets. Secrets that the world has never known.

Inventive Story)

And this is the exact sensation I am trying to capture in my latest story, Covalent. Cace’s exploration of the Ether is meant to capture all the best parts of discovery, invention, and education. But even more than that, I am hoping that it will spark a little inventiveness in the minds of my reader as well. Hopefully by my leaving some stones unturned, the reader will have a way to make their own mark in this world!

Revising The Storm- Week 8

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In my original version of this story I was now approaching the final act, and my main concern at this point was that the resolution came much too abruptly. I want to spend more time focusing on the two men’s struggle to get around the cape, turning it into more an exhausting odyssey, even before we get to the point of Harry’s confession.

I will therefore be bolstering this next scene, and afterwards I will have to add new content before finally coming to the final act.

Holding the Line)

The next wave slammed against the front of Oscar’s boat like a slap across the face. His feet jerked out from under him and he had to catch hold of a shelf to keep from falling.

“Keep it together!” he urged, spinning the wheel further to port to account for how the wave had pushed him off his line.

The boat swung laboriously back, just in time for the next wave to collide with it. This again turned him from his line, and Oscar had to turn the wheel even further to port. The third wave struck and his boat was turned until it was nearly broadside to the rolling current.

“Whoa there!–” Harry’s voice cautioned over the radio. Turning broadside would get Oscar swallowed in the waves very quickly!

For a third time Oscar turned his wheel to port, but his helm hit its absolute limit. His rudder could not turn any further. His boat was moving very sluggishly now, weighed down by the weight of water down in its hold. It would still make its turns, but only if granted enough time. And Oscar simply did not have “enough time” available, he only had the narrow window that lay between each crest of the waves.

“Alright Harry,” Oscar snatched the mic to his mouth, “we’ve got to go head-on into those waves. There’s going to be some tricky maneuvers coming up, so you just do everything you can to stay with me!”

“Alright…”

Oscar locked the mic button down and set it on the panel. He would need both hands on the wheel for this next part.

Oscar knew it simply wouldn’t work cutting across the waves at a slant anymore. They would forget about taking the shortest line past the edge of the cape. The plan now was to turn fully into the waves, push against them, and put some more distance between them and the Broken Horn. Hopefully they could get distant enough that when they spun around there would be time to slice through the water to port, skimming past the cape’s shoals on their right.

Did they have enough fuel for that? Didn’t matter. They just had to deal with the situation now and worry about the rest later.

Oscar braced his legs as the next wave roared up to them. The whole boat creaked as it was pulled upwards, bow pointed towards the sky. As before, the wave was slowly turning his boat to starboard, but Oscar still kept his wheel locked as far to port as possible.

Now came a great whooshing sound and a burst of foam as Oscar crested the wave at an angle. The man swung his head around, watching until Harry’s boat burst through the top of the wave also.

“Harry, hold that angle and give me a little slack!” Oscar called.

Now the old seaman thrust his wheel hard to starboard, opposite the way he needed to go! All the water in the hold rushed over, making the boat careen onto its side. Oscar splayed his toes wide, feeling the vessel through his boots. He waited until the water to hit the hull wall and started to slosh back the other way. As soon as he felt that rebound he spun the wheel back to port as quickly as possible, encouraging the water as it flowed back across the hold and slammed into the other side of the hull.

The rudder and the sloshing water combined to give Oscar that extra push, just enough to finally pull his boat out of its angle and head-on into the waves.

“Now, Harry! Get back in line behind me!”

There came a heavy thud as the rope between the boats ran out of slack and the full weight of Harry’s vessel tugged hard at Oscar’s. Oscar gave a shout and gripped tighter on the wheel as it tried to spin out of control. The water down below barrelled into the stern of the boat, then rolled backwards, slowing him down.

“Full throttle, Harry, full throttle!” Oscar cried, punching his own speed up to maximum. The next wave was already upon them, and they would need all the speed they could get in order to push through. Otherwise it would flip them over backwards!

Well I expanded this scene quite a bit from what I had before, and I’m really like the extra punch it’s delivering! Even with my first iteration I was quite proud of the maneuver I came up with for Oscar: swinging his boat the wrong direction to build up momentum for a counterswing, but previously that segment was just two quick paragraphs. This time I’ve stretched it to more than double the length and added another problem immediately after: that of not having enough speed to break through the next wave.

I’m curious to examine this scene in the context of the larger story, though. Will it give the story that sense of overbearing strain that I want, or will it feel artificially inflated and tedious? Only time will tell.

Covalent: Part Eight

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven

Cace came near and crouched down by Rolar. He was still observing the world through two different lenses, and just as how he could see the slumped over body and the arm twisted at the strange angle he could also sense how Rolar’s system was leaking itself into the Ether, distributing its essence as a stain upon the others.

He was dying.

“He doesn’t have long left,” Cace announced.

“Help me get him back home. We’ll take care of things there.”

“He doesn’t even have long enough left for that,” Cace clarified. “I can see it through the Ether. We only have moments.”

Aylme couldn’t see it, but something was ruptured in Rolar. He was bleeding out from the inside. Even if they had the tools and the expertise, Cace and Aylme would never be able to fix that before it was too late. There was nothing in this world that could save Rolar, so once again, Cace knew he had to rely upon the Ether. He would have to go deeper, though.

“I’m going to the other side,” he said to Aylme. She just blinked back at him with tear-filled eyes. “It’s our only chance of finding a way to save him. I’ll try to speak to you if I need anything…and you just help me come back alright afterwards.”

Aylme didn’t try to argue the matter this time. Even without Cace’s diagnosis she had a sense that Rolar was beyond anything they could do here. So she just nodded and Cace let go of their world entirely. He fell through limbo, the thump thump of the Ether’s cadence rippled past his heart, and he landed in that other domain, quickly taking in all his surroundings.

Sprawled about in every direction were the tattered remains of the sentinel creature and its larva. Back in the overworld their physical forms had already been totally eradicated, but in the Ether their trace connections were still disintegrating. And once those connections fully dissipated Cace wouldn’t be able to find the remnants of those creatures ever again. Once something was fully severed from the system it became unperceivable.

And only a little behind those disintegrating forms was Rolar. He was fading, too. Perhaps in the overworld he would leave a body behind, but here it would be as if he had never even existed.

The extinguishing of Rolar and the sentinel creatures was not all that had changed since the last time Cace had entered the Ether, many new modules had suddenly popped online. They’re connections to the heart of the machine had always been there, but each time before Cace hadn’t been able to do anything with them. But that was before he had stoked the furnace with the fuel of the sentinel creatures. Now power had been restored, and all these new functions were finally available.

Some of these functions were for exploration, others for movement, others for extraction, and others for analysis. A thousand possibilities, and Cace had access to them all. But those were curiosities for another day. All he cared about now was whether any of them could help to preserve Rolar.

Here was a module to alert the other parts of the system when something was detected. Perhaps that would be useful for later, but Cace ignored it for now.

A module to regulate the flow of energy coming from the furnace? Not useful.

A module for helping the machine to make decisions? No.

A module for managing all of the system’s connections? Well…maybe that one could be useful. Rolar would be lost to the system once all of his connections were gone, so what if Cace found a way to keep those connections from being lost? Would that force Rolar to stay alive in the overworld as well?

Cace focused his consciousness towards that component, quickly assessed all of the different functions it could perform. He perceived that it was what had created all of the tendrils that held the system together in the first place. It decided which components could interact with which others.

Cace now held that module in his consciousness, and he divided his attention between it and Rolar. He considered at the connections between Rolar and the larger system that had already faded, and he drew them back with this new connections-module. Rolar held those tethers only for a moment, but then those strands disintegrated once more.

Cace drew the connections again, but they evaporated even faster than before.

Rolar’s core was too fractured. It just couldn’t sustain those threads. Cace realized that there had to be a healthy core at both ends of a connection or else the bridge between them would fade. Time was running out.

Well, Cace wondered to himself, could I fix Rolar’s core, then? He shifted his focus there, examining the fractured heart more closely, and he realized that Rolar’s core was not unlike the greater core of the machine. Like that larger machine core, it was connected to and controlled many other modules, which when all combined defined who Rolar was and what he could do. And just as how the threads that connected Rolar to the rest of machine were fading, so too were the inner connections between Rolar’s personal core and its components. Once all of them were gone, Rolar cease to have any function whatsoever.

But Cace couldn’t see any way to fix that core, though. It was cracked and leaking energy, and he simply didn’t have the knowledge to piece it back together. Cace did notice, though, that Rolar had a module designed to repair himself, and that it was busily trying to do exactly that, but it was too small and too slow to keep up with his rapid decline. That healing module also required a great deal of energy from Rolar’s core to perform its function, and of course Rolar’s core had less energy to offer with each passing moment.

Could Cace bolster that then? He shifted a part of his consciousness to the furnace for the main machine. He brought over the connections module, and traced a line from the furnace to Rolar’s healer. No sooner was the connection made than Rolar’s healer module began operating at a much higher speed, rapidly moving across the fractured components and repairing them. It was working!

And as Cace watched, the connections between Rolar’s core and Rolar’s other modules started to stabilize. He wasn’t coming apart from the inside anymore! Cace decided he could take some strain off of Rolar’s core as well, and he severed the connection between it and the healer. Now the healer would operate entirely by the power of the larger machine, and his core could focus on helping its other components.

Cace settled back for a moment, watching Rolar’s system at work. After a while he noticed the healer seemed to be working too quickly, building up heat and friction among the modules it was repairing. No doubt the greater energy from the machine furnace was overpowering it. But Cace remembered that the machine had also had a module to regulate the flow of energy that came from the furnace. He retrieved that module, and a moment later had it connected to Rolar’s lifeline. With a little configuring, he could control exactly how much energy went into Rolar’s healer. He still set it to operate at higher speeds than it normally would, which meant some excess heat was unavoidable, but for the time being that seemed the lesser evil.

Rolar was stabilized. At least…somewhat. His own inner connections had stopped fading, but his outer connections—the ones that joined him to the rest of the machine—were erratic. They were in constant flux now. Sometimes surging brighter, sometimes fading dimmer, but never returning to full force and never fully expiring.

Cace may have stopped Rolar from going over the brink, but the older boy was still in limbo.

Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen

Step Forward, Fall Back

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The Bad Solution)

In the last chapter of Covalent our characters faced a powerful and immediate threat. A massive creature was intent upon killing each and every one of them, and it was well equipped to do exactly that! First it knocked out Rolar, then it had Aylme pinned down, and soon it would turn its attention to Cace.

At this point Cace knew that he needed to remove this threat, whatever it took. And thankfully he found a way to do exactly that. He discovered that all the flora and fauna around them were parts of an otherworldly machine, and that he could train that machine’s furnace to consume the monster and its young.

He did this, and the immediate threat was resolved!

But even as the children enjoyed their moment of reprieve, greater dangers were now lurking. For Cace also witnessed what role that monstrous creature served for the machine. It was a guardian, tasked with identifying threats to the system and rooting them out. That was the very function it was executing when it targeted the children. Now, though, that guardian has been destroyed, and so there is no line of defense for the deeper and darker enemies out there, ones that the children have not yet even conceived of.

Cace may have saved the day, but he seriously jeopardized tomorrow to do so!

An Opening and a Blocking)

A similar conundrum befalls Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. Throughout her story she is constantly pressed by two great needs: to win the love of her life, Ashley Wilkes, and to restore her her family home after the Civil War leaves them destitute.

The only problem is that these two core desires are often at odds to one another. For example she ends up marrying other men for their money, thus securing the finances to keep her home, but which obviously poses an obstacle to being with the man that she loves.

Indeed the only way for her to get away with Ashley would be to run off with him, making herself a disgrace and abandoning the home she has fought so hard for. She cannot have both, and she must choose.

Or so it would seem, right up to the moment that her current husband, Rhett, offers her a divorce and Ashley’s own wife dies from complications in childbirth. Here at last is the opportunity to be with the man that she loves, stay in her family home, and retain at least an outward face of honor.

But for all these sudden opportunities, Scarlett’s heart has betrayed her. For now she comes to realize that she truly loves her current husband, Rhett, but he’s become wise to the games she’s playing and no longer wants anything to do with her. Thus as one door opens a window closes, and Scarlett is right back to her impossible juggling act!

Tactical Retreat)

The same shuffle back-and-forth happens all the time in the Mission: Impossible films, too. Ethan Hunt is a secret agent, tasked with preventing end-of-the-world catastrophes, and each movie sees him being thrown into the deep end, rubbing shoulders with weapons’ dealers, elite assassins, and criminal masterminds. Ethan must make deals with the big fish in order to catch the biggest!

And this tends to see Ethan jeopardizing today in an effort to save tomorrow. Many times he has to make a trade, and the only thing he has to offer is the very thing he isn’t supposed to give up.

Take, for example, his situation in the middle of Ghost Protocol. In this film, Ethan finds a way to intercept the launch codes that the main baddie, Kurt Hendricks, wants to use to start a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. The rest of the team congratulate him on a job well done. Hendricks can’t obtain the launch codes now, so he can’t fire a missile, so he can’t start the war that he wants.

But Ethan disagrees. They might stop Hendricks here, but the man will not be deterred. He will find another way, and that time Ethan and his team might not be there to stop him. Ethan knows that more important than holding onto the codes is using them as bait to lure the recluse out of hiding.

And so the team sets up a handoff, giving the codes to Hendricks’ courier and then following him back to his base. Or at least that’s the plan. Unfortunately, they lose track of the courier, and thus their foe moves one step closer to his homicidal plan. They will just have to cut him off at the next pass.

Back and Back Again)

This is also the pattern in the second part of the Back to the Future series. This film begins with a simple premise: Marty McFly must travel to the future with Doc Brown in order to prevent his future family from making some life-shattering mistakes. It’s a fairly simple task, and they quickly get everything sorted out.

Except for not. Because their presence inadvertently tips off an old enemy of the family, Biff Tannen, to the existence of the time machine. Biff uses the machine to go back in time and pull a few strings of his own, and when Marty and Doc go back to that timeline, they discover it has become a total nightmare!

So now they must go on another time-hopping trip to find out what Biff did to mess everything up and undo those changes. It’s a long-fought process, but at last they succeed…just in time for the time machine to get struck by lightning and transported 80 years in the past, stranding Doc and Marty in the wrong timelines once more!

In Back to the Future, every step forward seems to cause more problems than it solves!

That’s Drama!)

And that’s how you fill out two hours of film, or a season of television, or a hundred-thousand words of a novel! Every story requires an objective and constant opposition to it. Each story is extended out whenever the protagonist has to make compromises, has to surrender the upper hand, has to concede the battle to win the war. We are tantalized by seeing how close they come to their objective, devastated by how far they fall from it, and engrossed by how hard they fight to get back to it again.

And that is exactly why I had Cace solve the more immediate problem of the creature’s attack by opening the door for even greater challenges down the road. Doing so meant that the story doesn’t end prematurely, it will be extended out long enough to become what I need it to be.

Revising The Storm- Week 7

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Firmly in the second half of the story now! Now comes the image of two ships tethered together, fighting their way through the storm. Now is the long, hard tow that wears them down until they finally break and the truth comes out. Obviously I want every part of my story to be executed well, but this segment in particular has a great deal that it needs to accomplish, and I will be paying close attention to anywhere that it is lapsing.

The Tow)

Oscar eased back a little. He didn’t want to hit tension on the rope too quickly and snap it. He watched as the last feet of slack pulled out of the line, and then his vessel shuddered from stem to stern and its boom groaned ominously. Nothing broke, though, and the boom gave a counter-groan as it settled into place.

“Alright,” Oscar called into the mic. “I’m going to bear a little starboard here. You keep going straight at first and let the rope pull you into line.”

“I know, Oscar. I know.”

If you know so much, then why are you the only one out here with a crippled engine? Oscar thought bitterly. Sure, bad luck hit them all, but it seemed to hit Harry a suspicious amount more than any of the other sailors.

Oscar turned the wheel, swiveling his stern twenty degrees. The most efficient route back home would be to make a wide turn right, continue until they were past the cape, then right again and back to the docks.

Of course making this turn meant that Oscar’s boat was now at a slant to the waves, and they were thundering against his hull and drenching his deck with their foaming spray. Oscar looked back-and-to-the right to see where the Broken Horn lay, but anything further than three hundred yards was shrouded in murky black, as if they had been submerged in an ink bottle, alone in their own, thick darkness.

A reverberating whine came from behind and Oscar saw Harry’s boat sliding to starboard, failing to keep up with the turn and pulling the rope at an angle.

“I said stay straight!” Oscar shouted into the mic.

“I’m trying!” Harry’s panicked voice shrieked back. “It’s just my motor can’t keep up! It’s too much!” Oscar bit his wrinkled lip and spun the wheel back to port. They would have to try a shallower angle into the waves, one that Harry’s waterlogged boat could handle.

He brought their angle-of-attack from forty-five degrees to thirty, then checked over his shoulder. No good, the rope was still moving the wrong way, scraping across the corner of his deck.

So he reduced down to twenty-five degrees and checked again. Still no. The rope wasn’t slipping anymore, it continually wavered back and forth, never settling.

Twenty degrees and at last the rope moved back to center.

“We’ve got it! We’ve got it!” Harry’s voice was flush with relief. Oscar wasn’t relieved, though. Far from it. At this shallower angle it would take more than twice as long to get past the cape, meaning they’d be spending twice as long in the heart of the sea.

Twice as long in the ink. The murky green glow from beneath the waves had extinguished, and somewhere beyond the clouds the last remnants of the sun had expired. All was pitch black now, and the men could barely see each wave before they were already upon it. And those waves had progressed from small hills to sheer mountains. Each yawned high above the sailors, tipping their boats skyward, then breaking across their bows in a fury. Then came the rapid drop down the trough on the other side. The wind seemed to shriek around their wheelhouses in every direction at once, and the rain pelted them sideways.

Well, they had arrived…. This was the full height of the storm’s intensity and they would be locked within this fearful epicenter all the way back to shore.

Oscar gripped his wheel with white knuckles, locked his knees in place, and stared ahead with unblinking eyes. Each successive wave was a new trauma heaped upon the last like an extra brick on his back.

This kept the same vein of how it was before, though with a good deal of fiddling throughout. Most of the changes were in the last paragraphs when I described the storm around them. A major critique from my first draft was how the escalation of that storm wasn’t very clear, and behind the scenes I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to make a more intelligible progression out of it.

To that end I’ve decided that the storm is now at its strongest, and every point hereafter will be describing a different element or perspective of it. The escalation of danger now will be based upon their angle-of-attack and the damage to their boats. My hope is that by having a clear sense in my own head of what’s going on, that will come through in the written depiction of it.

Now I’m going to tackle a moment of introspection in Oscar, and this is one section I already know I want to make a few changes to.

The Conversation)

“I can’t do this,” Oscar said hoarsely to himself. “I just don’t have it in me anymore.”

“I don’t think you have any choice in it anymore,” another side of him replied.

If at all possible, his weathered face grew even more wrinkly, his eyes shone with unshed saltwater.

“I should have quit after I lost James.”

“No,” his other side returned. “You should have quit before you lost your son.”

“I’m sorry,” his chest quivered and the tears finally dribbled down his cheeks. “I should never have trusted him to Harry.”

The original version of this conversation that Oscar has with himself was melodramatic and confusing. I felt it jumped from one statement to another with no obvious connection between them. I also felt it was obscure as tp who exactly “James” was.

But with this take on it there is a much clearer transition from not wanting to face great obstacles anymore to wishing he had quit before he lost his son. I had initially wondered about cutting the conversation entirely, but I think it is important to get across that Oscar’s son has died and that that loss is somehow connected to Harry, otherwise the later confession would come entirely out of the blue.

Next week I’ll be pulling the sailors even more through the wringer, come back as I try to maintain a clear line through it all!