Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Countless as the Stars: Chapter One

We're not quite up to normal service yet. As part of the forthcoming refurbishment of my website, the sample chapter is one of the pages scheduled for demolition. So I have painstakingly dismantled it, phrase by phrase, to be reconstructed in it's entirety here in the blogosphere. Where it will find a whole new audience, boost sales and make me a multi-jillionaire. That is how it works, right?

Chapter One

“Eight years ago, Litah single-handedly ended the most barbaric period in the history of Tellus. From Luna Minor, Litah brought salvation to a planet blighted by pollution and decades of war, barely able to support its dwindling population-”
Aidan Qqayle was disturbed from his work as the communal Citycar bounced over the buckled road surface. Glancing out of the window, he could see Luna Minor, a small point of white, pale against the yellow tinted sky of late afternoon, winking as the jagged peaks of ruined tower blocks flashed across his view. The C-car, following a pre-programmed route, was passing through the heart of the old city – a ghost town, abandoned and left to decay when most of Unioncity had been destroyed.
Aidan hit the save button on his comm-cell in case an unexpected jolt wiped out his work, and relaxed, the only sounds the rumbling of tyres on the uneven road beneath him and the occasional popping of his bubblegum. In the near-silence of the C-car he wondered again why Litah was such a burden on his heart.
Aidan believed that Litah – the Link between Tellus and Heaven – was, if not godless, Godless, responsible only to the twin deities on Science and Technology. By their power and his own ingenuity, man sought to dominate God’s universe. Even when the War ended as the Eight Nations united behind the project, Aidan had felt strongly that it was wrong; although so far he had been unable to fully explain this conviction.
The road began to smooth out, the bumps and thumps replaced by a more distant and even rumble as the Citycar approached the eastern edge of Unioncity, where a cluster of small buildings was still in use, mainly farming the fields which lay just beyond.
The C-car coasted noiselessly to a halt outside the last of these anonymous buildings, its sexless, synthesised voice reminding Aidan to take his user card. The kerbside door opened for him as he did so and Aidan stepped out of the orange bubble-shaped vehicle, leaving it ready to be summoned by its next passenger.
“You’re early tonight.”
Aidan looked around for the unseen speaker, and saw Chik Renken at the top of a ladder that reached the roof of the Temple.
“I wanted somewhere quiet to polish up my talk,” Aidan explained. “What are you doing?”
“Replacing the weather vane,” Chik said as he climbed down the ladder. “It’s about time this place started to look like a Temple.”
The building they called the Temple – a name which conjured up grandiose images of marble pillars, elaborate stonework and expensive gold trimmings – was in reality little more than a hut; a smallish building whose breezeblock exterior wore a thin coat of pink gloss in a failed attempt to cheer it up. In front of the building a small car park occasionally harboured the P-cars – private electricars – of the Temple Officials or Followers, and behind it the Temple had a small farm, breeding animals for the sacrifices demanded by the Creed.
“Come on, I’ll show it to you,” Chik said.
Aidan followed him across the empty car park and into the Temple, the pleasant coolness of the interior a welcome change from the heat of the summer sun.
Chik pointed to a heavy looking metal structure on a trestle table in the middle of the hall.
“The two suns,” Aidan said as he approached it.
“Well, I’m glad it’s recognisable.”
Chik had formed the two suns from hemispheres of metal as big as his head, one with small, gently curving rays which reached out protectively towards the blue-green sphere of Tellus, while the sharp, silver coloured rays of the second start tried to skewer the world. This was the second sun which had burnt for a year, its heat destroying life on Tellus, its legacy left for generations after in legend, and becoming a central part of the Creed.
Chik said, “I’ll go put this up, leave you to finish your sermon.”
“It’s too good to put on the roof,” Aidan said as Chik carried his sculpture outside.

Aidan settled down with a large mug of steaming coffee in the study, a small room at the farthest end of the building. He set his comm-cell down, hooking it up to the display screen and keyboard, and started work. The heavy wooden door deadened noise so effectively that Aidan didn’t realise Chik had finished until he walked purposefully into the study, rousing Aidan from his writing.
“Sorry, did I disturb you?”
“No, I was about finished,” Aidan said, without looking up from the screen.
“So what can we expect to be educated on this evening?”
“Litah,” Aidan answered.
Chik lowered his eyes and shook his head. “I thought you’d want to speak about that sooner or later,” he said.
Aidan sat back and looked up at his friend, who was still wearing his scruffy blue overalls.
“I know you’ve got some deeply held opinions on the subject, but…” Chik paused, searching for the right words. “This is a church,” he said finally. “It’s no place for opinions.”
“This is not about opinions,” Aidan argued. “The whole project is an abomination in the eyes of God. The very name is a blasphemy!”
“I know, you’re right,” Chik said. But I’ve known you a long time, Aidan, and I know how outspoken you can be – and I know how strongly you feel about this subject.”
“Chik, I promise you that what I have to say will be nothing if not balanced,” Aidan said. “I will be the first to admit that the project has its good points.”
“Well,” Chik said, “I have to admit, you’ve surprised even me there.”
“Well, the Eight Nations haven’t cooperated on such a big scale in decades – if ever.”
Chik smiled. “Alright,” he said, clapping Aidan warmly on the back. “I’m going to trust you on this. Just don’t let it get personal, OK?”
“Here,” Aidan said, angling the display towards Chik. “I was going to ask you to take a look anyway.”
“Thanks,” he smiled, sitting down in front of the screen.
“I’ve tried to put my personal feelings aside and concentrate on what I believe God thinks of it,” Aidan said. “As my friend, and as an Official of this church, I can’t think of anyone I trust more to tell me if I’ve succeeded.”
Chik didn’t answer. Aidan watched his eyes dance back and forth as he scrolled through the pages of text, and while he was bent over the screen Aidan was pleased to notice Chik’s off-blond hair was finally beginning to thin. Chik was just a fortnight older than Aidan – they had held joint birthday parties since the age of 12 – but now Aidan’s hair was rapidly receding he felt a lot older than his friend. Aidan brushed his hand through his short hair almost unconsciously; he would have to have it shaved again soon, which should even the score a little.
Chik looked up, cutting short Aidan’s moment of satisfaction. “Interesting,” he said.
“Go on…”
“I think you’ve succeeded in hiding your personal aversion to the programme,” Chik continued.
“But?” Aidan knew him well enough to expect a ‘but’.
Chik paused thoughtfully. “But I think some of the phrases you’ve used there are a bit strong,” he said finally.
“Like?” Aidan turned the screen back towards himself.
“Typically human self-centredness, for a start,” Chik said.
“There are a lot of humans in this church, Aidan.”
“Don’t you think it’s true?”
“I told you, Aidan,” Chik said softly, “this is no place for opinions.”
Aidan’s opinion was that his best friend – and some of the Followers that had elected him as an Official – was more concerned with keeping people happy than speaking the truth in sermons. That didn’t change their friendship, of course – that had been built over 25 years, since before either of them followed the Creed – but Aidan knew God was much more revolutionary than some of the church leadership felt happy with, and that, Aidan believed, was why Chik was a part of the Temple’s leadership while he was still a Lay Brother, an occasional speaker in the Temple.

After the service, Aidan sat before the sacrificial altar at the back of the Temple, where a small pig roasted on a bed of aromatic plants. Chik had looked disappointed when Aidan used most of the phrases he had tried to discourage earlier, but Aidan made it clear that it was not his own opinion, but God’s, and carefully validated all his arguments. God, wanting nothing more than to see His world at peace again, had allowed Litah to begin, but man had abused God’s gift, as he always has and always will. So God had revealed to Aidan that this plot to conquer and rule creation by human endeavour alone was destined to fail. Not only would it fail though; its failure would be turned to God’s glory instead. God had a way of doing that.
Chik sat down quietly beside Aidan. Aidan didn’t rush, but finished his business with God before taking on the sharp side of the Official’s tongue.
“That was very good,” Chik said when Aidan finally turned to face him. “Thank you.”
Aidan was puzzled. “That’s it?”
“You were right to believe those were God’s views on the subject,” he added. “I see that now.”
“Thanks, friend,” Aidan smiled.
“Sometimes I wonder, you know,” Chik said, “why I was chosen to be an Official above you. I often envy your closeness to God.”
Aidan wondered silently where this was heading.
“But now I know,” he continued.
“Well?” Aidan prompted after a moment’s silence.
“God spoke to me this evening,” he said. “I don’t fully understand the meaning of these words, and you may not either. But God says to you: ‘Leave your country, your people and your household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people will be blessed through you.’”
Aidan sat for a moment, struck dumb while he tried to take it in.
“That’s pretty heavy stuff,” he said eventually.
Chik just nodded solemnly. “It’ll be a shame to see you go,” he said.
Those words hit Aidan harder than the prophecy itself. “You really…”
“Yes,” Chik looked him in the eye. “I really believe it.”
Aidan tried to let the word of God settle in his mind, but it all seemed too big, too improbable, almost senseless to Aidan’s tiny human brain, and he couldn’t bring himself to think about it.
“I know how you must feel,” Chik said. “I prayed hard before deciding to tell you; it’s a huge calling, but I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t convinced of its truth. I can’t imagine how much worse it is knowing the word is for you personally.”
“I don’t know,” Aidan said, getting up and pacing before the altar. “I can’t take it all in.”
“Go home,” Chik said, resting a caring hand on Aidan’s shoulder. “Get some rest and pray about it tomorrow. Talk it over with Savana, and the other Officials if you like, and come and see me when you’ve had a chance to consider it properly.”
Aidan nodded vaguely at his friend, and continued to pace.
“Go on,” Chik said firmly.
Aidan left, reluctantly.
Twilight had arrived, and with it came the cold, but Aidan didn’t feel it as he went to meet Savana. She would have finished work during the service, and gone straight to the Temple farm, where she often tended the animals. The farm buildings lay a short walk from the sacrificial altar, and once the lights from the little pink Temple no longer lit his path, Aidan’s thoughts turned back to Chik’s word of prophecy.
Leave his new home? So soon after they’d settled in? He and Savana were just beginning to make new friends-
“Wait a minute,” Aidan said out loud.
He didn’t like the shape of the thought that was forming in his mind, but couldn’t stop it forming just the same.
He was being pushed out. The Temple Officials didn’t like what he’d had to say, and they were effectively excommunicating him.
“Stars!” he muttered to himself, kicking a stone in anger.


Elliot said...

Interesting! I really should get around to buying a copy...

Mirtika said...

Gee, I've never had a pal who was a multi-jillionaire. Does that mean I'd get a free ride to the UK for some tea-time literary shenanigans? :)


UKSteve said...

I'm going to have a big party to celebrate when I make my first jllion. Your all invited, of course! :)

UKSteve said...

'Your all invited'? Call yourself a writer? Tsk. Muppet.

Christopher Hopper said...

Really like this. Thanks, Steve. Passing it on to some friends and buying the book when I get back from being on tour.