Friday, 9 March 2007

Tim, Destroyer of Worlds - Part One


Tim, Destroyer of Worlds is a story of seven chapters, posted serially by me, your saturnine host, Cheeseburger Brown.

From the sub-arctic to the outer Solar System, we move from Mr. Mississauga's mystery to the story of a mistake of human proportions with geometrically larger consequences.

Let's begin:



1/7

This is my confession: it's all my fault.

Here we are, over a billion kilometers from home, stuffed into a sardine can dragging an unstable bomb across space. It's big and it's getting bigger, but they built the housing extra large to accommodate its relentless growth over the course of our journey. We can broker no delay, lest the housing fail. We're grim but we're determined; we're claustrophobic but we have stiff upper lips. The recycled air stinks with duty. And, like I said, it's all my fault.

I'll explain.

My name is Tim, and I'm a civilian contractor assigned to Titan. I'm an infographic engineer and my specialty is encryption envelope manifold topography. My minor at school was metalibrary architecture, but I haven't coded anything in years. It's boring.

I'm fat. I tell people it's a glandular problem, but it's not true. I'm just a bad person.

I mention this because it's yet another thing that serves to separate me from the bulk of personnel on Titan, the overwhelming majority of whom are military or ex-military. People like that think it's a party to go jogging; their idea of a good time is doing high-G chin-ups until they barf. They're all svelte and tight, and I'm a walking jelly doughnut. So, it's fair to say I never really fit in.

I graduated with honours from the University of Huo Hsing, and within ten minutes of the ceremony I was approached by a naval head-hunter. "Your score is through the roof in enveloping," she said. "Have you ever thought about a career at Saturn?"

"I don't think I'd make a very good soldier," I told her, turning pink.

"Perhaps not," she agreed, "but Titan needs your brains. There are select roles we staff with civilian specialists in exchange for very favourable remuneration. That's a competitive salary on top of earning your military credit without ever having to do a single push-up. Think about it."

"I will."

I did. Who wouldn't? Earning my military credit would get me tax-exempt status for life, which would please my parents, and getting to actually get out there -- getting to actually see the System -- would make my childhood dreams come true. I fantasized about the possibilities as I lay in bed at my parents' house, watching the churning clouds in the time-lapse scale holographic model of the ringed world that had hung in my bedroom since I was six.

I still have it. Like an idiot, I brought it with me. But I keep it in the bottom of my trunk.

It seems like nothing but a cheap toy when the real thing is hanging over your head, staring at you through the ceiling through every hour of the day. It makes you shiver if you think about it too much -- that monster world, so close, unblinking.

On my way out to Titan I remember being so eager to see it. After breakfast I was always the first one up to the observation deck to press my face against the cold glass, to see if I could catch a glimpse of our destination. At first it looked like a fuzzy amber star, but it grew. At first I was delighted and then, later, terrified.

As the days passed the yellow orb continued to swell until it seemed like we couldn't get any closer without going right through it. But still it grew. The whorled stripes banding the gas giant were briefly beautiful and then humbling, then baffling, then incomprehensibly intimidating. As the globe filled the view the stripes started to look like what they really were: weather systems larger than whole planets, relentlessly roiling, shading from the sun in its secret depths storms that had been raging longer than the human race has been human.

Indifferent is the word that Saturn seared into my mind: an indifferent giant, longer and stronger and more sure than anything ever conceived by the insect apes who flit around it.

Those rings aren't decorations -- they're the accumulated rubble of events the violence of which we can barely fathom. In time the rings will fade, and eventually be replaced a hundred histories from now in the wake of some other cataclysm that would dwarf the devastation of even our most ambitious wars.

It's just too damn big, and too damn old.

Saturn gives me the creeps.

Another reason the whole place is spooky is because you know what a lonely outpost you're clinging to. Titan is just a single Aresian camp surrounded on all sides by the worlds of the Joviat. I mean, it's not like the dirty pioneers on Iapetus and Rhea pose any threat to us -- on paper we're all part of the same big Solar nation -- but it's hard to forget how much they hate us.

On the other hand, Jovian disenfranchisement is the whole reason I got to Titan in the first place. If you listen to our politicians you know how they're always fretting about the prospect of a revolt, and you have to know those political speeches are very watered down versions of the anxious warnings from the navy's top strategists. That anti-Jovian paranoia is the cornerstone of Titan's culture, because it's something we have to think about all the time. It's our work. There's no beating around the bush: we're out here for just one reason.

Advanced weapons research.

Granted, Titan also serves as a waystation for ferries inbound to or outbound from the heliopause bases beyond Pluto, and we also act as a platform for expeditions into Saturn's atmosphere to study the swirlies and sky-bugs. As far as the general public is concerned these fripperies are our raison d'etre on Titan.

The general public has no idea.

And neither did I, until I arrived. I wasn't tipped off by the psychological examinations or the security tests -- I figured that was just standard procedure for an anally-retentive military. It wasn't until they explained to me that the penalty for talking about my job was death that I started to clue in.

"Any discussion of [REDACTED BY ORDER OF THE ROYAL ARESIAN NAVAL INTELLIGENCE CORPS] is considered a capital offense," said the lieutenant in charge of my indoctrination. "Let me be positively clear: that doesn't mean leaking secrets -- that means any discussion or hint of discussion concerning any [REDACTED]-related matters. Is that understood, freshman?"

"Yes, it is."

"You will address me as sir."

"Yessir."

"You may be a civilian but this is a military establishment. Our culture is now your culture, freshman. Make it your business to conform, starting today."

"Sir yes sir."

"You are not qualified to assess the security clearance of other personnel. That means your assumption is always that your mouth must remain shut unless you are specifically ordered otherwise."

"Sir yes sir."

"Tell me, freshman: what is your duty department?"

"Sir, they told me to report to --"

"Secure your word hole, freshman!"

"Sir? You just asked me --"

"I just ordered you not to discuss your assignment with anyone regardless of your perception of their authority. Were you not listening, freshman?"

"Sir, I'm sorry sir."

"You'd be sorrier if you were dead. Remember that."

And I have. I can scarcely forget it. I left his office shaking, drops of sweat tickling down my sides under my shirt. I went back to my cramped cabin and ate a tub of yogurt, a quart of popcorn, a bag of beef jerky, two chocolate bars and an entire bunch of bananas before I felt steady enough to breathe freely again.

Suffice it to say I can't say much about my day to day work.

The off-hours were generally okay, though. I have a few friends, and they joke around with me even though they're military. They're alright. The navy people don't usually deign to so much as speak to contractors so I feel lucky to be included in their laughs, even if sometimes I'm only included because the laughs are at my expense. It's not a big deal: in school I put up with worse.

Nobody on Titan ever slapped my belly until it turned red, for example. Nobody ever pulled my pants down in front of the class, or loaded pencils in my butt crack.

"Hey Fatbags -- coming for a drink with us?" they'd say.

"Really? Oh, yeah. Just let me finish up here."

But when I turned around they would've left without me so I always arrived alone. When they were drunk they'd dare girls to kiss me, or warn newcomers that I'd sit on anyone who didn't hand over a food tax from whatever they had in front of them. This always caused them great amusement when I walked through the cafeteria only to have all the newest recruits offering me scraps. "I don't want your food," I'd explain, but then I'd usually eat it anyway.

All of that seems such a long time ago now that we're out here, on our way to the sun, towing our catastrophic cargo. How I got from Titan to this ship is a kind of involved story, but I guess that's why you're here, right?

I'll get to it. Like I said, this is a confession.

And, like so many tragedies, it all begins with a girl.


14 comments:

Mark said...

Great beginning. Just enough to whet our appetites.

Doughnuts sound really good now. I guess I'm going to have to exercise restraint while reading this story, as it seems Tim is quite the destroyer of junk food.

CBB takes us back into space. Here we go!

Simon said...

"Death awaits you all! With nasty, big, pointy teeth!!"

(I didn't even try very hard to stop myself from making that comment. The title begs it. Though I will offer an apology.)

Love the graphic. That the girl referenced? We'll see.

"In time the rings will fade, and eventually be replaced a hundred histories from now in the wake of some other cataclysm that would dwarf the devastation of even our most ambitious wars."

That was a great line. Really gave a sense of the time-scale of things. And general vastness.

I found Tim's split infinitives a little jarring, but I also guess that's intentional. The first person allows for more intimate character details like that.

The return to this part of the universe (meaning CBB's SoS universe) feels like a sort of homecoming. I want to curl up under my desk, wrap the story around me, and take a snooze.

Anonymous said...

Great! now I ahve to wait two days for more. I might move the third paragraph from the end to the third paragraph at the start - just for continuity. Otherwise another CBB masterpiece brewing like a fine Costa Rican blend.

THE Danimal

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

Re: split infinitives.

Last night my wife gave me the option of either proof-reading my entry or having hot sex.

So, uh, sorry for the lack of polish on this post.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

You just can't beat refreshing realism like that.

Here's to the story.

And, uh, other distractions.

Simon said...

...that you might have an extra slick sheen on yours.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I am very ill.

No post Monday.

Hopefully Tuesday.

All children are sick, spraying it out both ends. It's like Vietnam here.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Aw crap (et cetera). We had that here last week. My heart goes out to you.

By the way, this weekend I had a wild hunch about what Mr. Missisauga's future contributions will be in the Cheeseburger universe (out of respect for Mr. Miss, I won't call it a "theory"). If I'm right... wow.

This dreary Monday won't be the same without the usual dose of awesome. We'll miss you... I hope the Schoolhouse Gang is feeling better soon.

Alvis said...

Good beginning. Puts me in mind of the stories of Asimov and Clarke. Although they never dealt with the persecution of obesity. I think it add a very human and emotional angle, which their stories often lacked.

Teddy said...

My thoughts:

This crack in the fabric of the universe, a tear in normality as it were, is clearly responsible for a number of things. I think it started in The Long Man, when Lallo became long. The things, with the bear, broke space and time somehow. I'll wager good money that the scene where Lallo became Long was right on top of the town's old site.

Lallo's tied right into everything. He's been in near all the stories, although he is immortal, he is also VERY widely traveled.

Somehow, all this ties in with the Secret Math as well. I'm thinking this rift is in some way responsible for every story in the burgerverse, or some facet of it. Perhaps the Secret Math is derived from the naturally occurring unnaturalness in this rift? Some means of tapping into it from afar, or making it portable?

Also, Tim is working on the Secret math. Which, I think, may also be the power supply that suddenly saved earth's energy crisis in Bikes of New York. Express in Secretology the functioning of any device, and lo and behold it functions of it's own accord.

TRH

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

I live!

It's been a horrendous couple of days. I don't mean like cancer horrendous or anything, but still it fairly sucked.

My failure to recover as quickly as the other members of my family highlighted a certain vein of deep exhaustion I've gotten used to carrying around -- a ditch I'm used to plodding through.

So, this week I've been largely asleep. I haven't written the next chapter. Not even a little. This admission up front should hopefully save you clicking "reload" a few times.

You know me: I'm good for it.

The next episode will be along by and by. Apologies for the delay. I've simply run out of hit points. My last little Cheeseburger Brown health guy up in the corner of the screen is winking on and off woefully.

Anyway, I'm on the mend and everything will be nominal after a couple more sleeps.

We regret this interruption in service.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Bridget said...

Sleep tight, Cheeseburger. And sleep well.

We'll be here when you get back.

Simon said...

Even if you're feeling ill you get points for D&D references. With all the writing you're doing you're bound to level up soon, and I recommend multi-classing as a barbarian since they get d12 hit dice. Lallo would be proud.

Get some sleep. We'll still keep refreshing since it's such a fun thing to do.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Regular service will resume on Monday.

I've had a bad week.

Apologies.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown