Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Eight


The Secret Mathematic is a science-fiction novel told in an indefinite number of chapters, posted serially by me, your truckin' host, Cheeseburger Brown.

Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|...

Multimedia: Listen to the The Secret Mathematic Overture in MP3 format, by Syntax Error.

Related reading: Three Face Flip, Stubborn Town, The Long Man, The Extra Cars

And now, our tale continues:



EIGHT

Yves cranks down the window. It's windy, but between the gusts he can hear a thousand kinds of frog clicking and croaking and beeping at the moon. The air is warm and thick, the night suffused with an extra glow by a heavy soup of spring humidity.

His eighteen-wheeler tears through the fog banks, sending them sloshing away into ghostly, symmetrical twists on either side of the wake trail. The engine keens.

A line of palm trees flashes by in his headlights.

He glances at the map pinned to his visor, checks the rolling digits on the tripmeter, then shifts down to ninth gear in anticipation of the curve ahead. The carriage bucks a bit. "Come on now," urges Yves, wagging the clutch. He drops into eighth.

The freeway bends. The moon holds still. Yves eases the rig around, hand over hand on the wheel, coaxing the next stretch of the immediate future into view. He starts to whistle a Johnny Cash tune.

And then there's a guy stumbling into the middle of the road.

Yves yanks on the engine brake, shifts and spins the wheel wildly to and then fro, describing an imaginary safe trajectory he can only hope the cab and trailer will follow as the physics of the moment catch up to them. In the blink of an eye before they do he watches the strange, skinny figure collapse across the dotted line, his body plied from the fog by the moving headlights, haloed by a shifting host of shadowed rays.

The truck dodges the body, the tires at the back of the trailer skittering and squealing. Yves plunges the brakes and brings the rig to a shuddering but controlled halt on the shoulder in a hail of flying gravel. The door flies open and he hits the ground running, pelting across the asphalt to the guy lying in the lanes.

He's already stirring.

"Jesus God I thought I hit you!" shouts Yves. "Are you okay? Fella?"

The guy is breathing hard. "You ran over my leg," he gasps.

"Jesus!" yells Yves, kneeling down. He glances nervously back at the bend. "We have to get you off the road!" Without waiting for a reply he scoops the frail form over his shoulder and starts loping toward the gravel, speeding up as a sweep of headlights play around the corner.

He stumbles as two cars blast past, their wind pushing at his back. He drops to his knees beside the guardrail, lit red by the lights on the back of his truck, and gently lowers his charge to the ground. He's wearing a mud-splattered white shirt and a twisted blue tie. He's a teenager -- maybe sixteen or seventeen -- and he doesn't struggle against the pain.

Yves takes a bracing breath. "Can you feel your leg at all, son?"

"No. It's artificial."

Yves is startled. He frowns. "It's a what?"

"It's fake," pants the youth, still working to find his wind. "Thank you for your help. I can manage myself from here."

Yves takes out a handkercheif and wipes his brow. "I can't rightly just leave you like this, kid. Are you crazy?"

"No," he replies evenly, rocking his torso back and forth oddly and then using the momentum to hoist himself into sitting position. In the red lights of the truck his nose carves a blade-like shadow across his sharp cheeks. "You should leave now. You're in danger."

Yves frowns. "What are you talking about? From what?"

Dogs bark. From within the mangroves on the other side of the freeway flashlight beams glimmer, growing closer. "From them," says the youth.

"Cops?"

The youth shakes his head. "There's no reason to involve yourself."

"Like hell there isn't," grunts Yves. "You think I'm going to run over a crippled guy and then leave him to the dogs? What kind of a Christian would I be there, huh?"

The youth raises his gaze to look Yves in the eyes, but says nothing.

They make for the cab. Yves offers the guy help getting in, but he doesn't want it. He uses his broken artificial leg as a crutch, hopping along after it, his other leg equally stiff and bony beneath torn blue trousers. He jacks himself up onto the sideboard in a discomfiting, almost insectile way that suggests to Yves that an amputated leg is the least of this guy's challenges. He shakes his head and jogs around the rumbling grille to take his mount.

The eighteen-wheeler noses back onto the freeway, Yves clutching and shifting in a thoughtless, automatic way. He peeks in the mirrors, watching as a group of shadowed figures step into the fog still glowing in the truck's departing lights. A brace of dogs slink and sniff at their heels. One of the figures points at Yves' truck.

Yves blinks. "Who are they, kid?"

"It's the Org. I'm running away."

"What the hell's the Org?"

The youth turns to look at him in the darkened cab. "They kidnapped me five years ago, when I was eleven, and have been holding me against my will ever since," he says seriously. "They're organized, funded, and ruthless. They'll never stop looking for me."

"Jesus Christ," says Yves, glancing in the mirror again. All he can see is fog. "It's like a cult, something like that?"

"Something like that," agrees the youth with a barely perceptible nod, turning to face forward again.

"Did they...did they do this to you?" asks Yves, mouth suddenly dry. "Did they take your leg, to sacrifice to Satan or something?"

"No," the youth says to the windshield. "I was born like this. Do you know what thalidomide is?"

Yves chews his lip, squinting. "Is it that Nazi drug that made all them flipper-babies?"

The youth raises his left arm, then tugs back the sleeve. The arm is artificial. Unlike the leg, which is a naked skeleton of metal, the arm is smooth and pink and plastic. He then showcases the right arm, and it is the same. The youth's hands are claws, shaped almost whimsically, perhaps cruelly, like real anatomy. There are even sculpted crease lines on the immobile, lifeless knuckles.

"God damn," says Yves. He wipes his hand down his face, shifts into seventh. "The name's Yves. Yves LeRoche. Most guys call me Frenchy."

The youth introduces himself in turn with a polite bow of the head. "Mississauga."

"You an Indian, Mississauga?"

"Yes."

"That's all right by me. I ain't no bigot. I even give coloured guys rides. Shit, I don't care."

Mississauga says nothing. Yves changes lanes to pass an overloaded Winnebago clunking along by the shoulder, hazards flashing. He watches it shrink in the side mirror, then notices the Indian youth staring at his own mirror. "I think they're okay," offers Yves.

"I'm not watching the Winnebago."

Yves gets a flash of gooseflesh across his shoulders. "What are you looking at, son?" he ventures.

Mississauga turns to him, brow sloped forlornly. For a moment the kid looks genuinely worried. (For a moment, he looks nearly human.) "It's the Org," he breathes.

Three sets of headlights have appeared behind them, swinging around the furthest bend and quickly closing the distance to the eighteen-wheeler. Their lights carve shafts in the fog, pointing ahead of them like groping fingers.

"Damn," says Yves. "God damn. They're persistent buggers, you say?"

"You can't imagine," says Mississauga.

"What are they gonna do if they catch you? They gonna hurt you?" Yves turns to the kid, frowning. "They gonna kill you?"

Mississauga shakes his head. "Worse," he says. "They'll force me to go back."

"God damn," says Yves again. His eyes flick to the mirror. He shifts into tenth.

"Drop me off at next place you can safely stop, Mr. LeRoche," advises Mississauga calmly. "These are dangerous people. You owe me nothing. Keep your life simple, and walk away from this now."

Yves swallows, eyes on the road. His hands tighten on the wheel. "I don't think I can rightly do that, son."

Mississauga offers him a small, tight smile. When he speaks again it is in a new voice, crisp and imperative: "In that case, Mr. LeRoche, you must evade those cars. You must do so immediately. If we lose them now, I have a chance. If they force us over, it's finished."

Both of their faces are illuminated by the reflected glare of the swarm of headlights arranged behind them, now just feet from the trailer's edge. The kid's eyes are wide as they pierce into the trucker, the whites seeming to glow around the dark pupils, and there's something unsettling in that look that compels Yves to action.

Yves glances in the mirror again, then takes a breath. He turns back to the hard-faced youth. "Don't worry, kid," he says, patting the dashboard. "This baby packs a wallop. Besides, I know a few manoeuvres."

Yves double-clutches, gears down and hits the hammer. The truck lurches forward, pressing them into their seats. The engine bellows, stacks blasting. The Org cars lag temporarily behind.

Yves toggles a switch on the citizen band receiver and then draws out the microphone on a coiled tether, clicking the contact with his thumb. "Breaker, Breaker: one-nine. This is Frenchy -- I'm eastbound on fifty-four, and I got trouble. Thirty-three, thirty-three. Come back?"

The radio squelches. A voice comes through, gruff and tired: "This is Jake's Bacon on ya, five miles up river. Kick it, Frenchy."

"I got bad apples up my tandems, Jake's Bacon. Need some help shaking 'em loose, over."

Another voice cuts in. "Aceline on one-nine. I'm tailing Jake's Bacon up here. What's the fuss, driver?"

"I'm carrying a boy -- he was kidnapped by some kind of cult, but he escaped. They're chasing us down, trying to take him back." Yves checks the mirror, eyes widening as the pursuing headlights swell in his view. "Ruthless sons of it, too. Not giving up easy, over."

"That ain't right," says Jake's Bacon. "The Jehovahs did a number on my first wife. Frenchy, hang tight. We're gonna set up a lock up where the slab goes wide, a mile off the parkway exchange. Copy that?"

"I hear ya. We're real grateful back here, good buddy."

"Nobody messes with a kid on my road," adds Aceline. "I see you, Bacon. Can we scare up a third? Over."

Another burst of static. "One-niner, one-niner: this is Missus Thor on fifty-four east out of Odessa. I'll join your line, boys. What's your twenty, Jake? Over."

Mississauga turns his attention to the front as they coast down a shallow hill and hit a long stretch of level where the freeway splits from two lanes to three. There are orange sodium lamps between the palms causing series of gliding, overlapping shadows to peel off the three eighteen-wheelers up ahead: a rolling wall of steel tearing a tunnel in the fog.

Yves blasts his horn. The trucks up ahead blast back. It's like whalesong.

"I see you back there, Frenchy. We're opening the lock."

Yves clicks his mic. "Ten-four." He hangs it up, eyes on the mirror, then spares the Indian a quick look. "Put your seatbelt on," he advises.

Three white, windowless vans zoom up alongside the truck. In concert they begin to veer over, leaning into the truck's lane and toward the breakdown strip. "Buggers!" hisses Yves, reaching for the gearshift.

The engine roars furiously, the cab quakes. He sways the rig over, just enough to put some fear into the white vans. Instinctively they draw back from the huge, spinning wheels.

More blasts of whalesong sound, stretched on the wind.

The rolling wall of steel ahead has slid apart. Yves' truck plunges into the gap, switching lanes one way and then the other, the swaying trailer groaning in metallic complaint. The other trucks flash by, trailer lights smeared into lines, their engines' voices Dopplered high and then low by speed.

And then, suddenly, the wall of rolling steel is intact behind them again. The lock has closed, a truck in each lane, riding perfectly abreast. Their engine brakes sputter as they crank down the speed in unison, widening the gap between Yves and Mississauga up ahead and the Org vans trapped behind.

"Yee-HOO!" croons Yves. He grabs the CB. "We're owing you large up here, good buddies. That was beautiful!"

He looks over at Mississauga, startled to see the youth's face pulled into a novel shape: he's grinning. His teeth shine gold in the sodium light.

Yves laughs. "What do ya think of that, kid? Not too shabby, huh?"

"Indeed, Mr. LeRoche. Not shabby at all." He pauses, then his face hardens. "Now what?"

"Now we take the parkway south, pick another route north to mix it up a bit. Keep them guessing." He starts moving over toward the entrance ramp for the southbound interchange. "I'm going to Jersey with an empty load. I can afford to be a little late. Jed and I go way back." Yves shifts gears as the truck slows for the cloverleaf, rounding the bend onto the comparatively busier Interstate 75. Tourist buses cram the outside lane.

The eastern horizon is turning rosy. The night is almost over.

Yves inserts the rig into the flow of traffic effortlessly, his gaze tracking out the window across the overpass to watch their rolling wall of steel and the captive vans approaching the interchange. Yves and Mississauga can't be spotted: up here his unmarked semi is just one of many.

Up ahead, Miami's glow is colouring the bellies of a bank of clouds. Yves notes the Org vans winding up the northbound cloverleaf, drawing further and further behind them. He chuckles, then pulls a pack of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket, knocking one free as he presses the pack to his mouth.

"Damn," he says again, lighting it up. He holds the pack out across the cab. "Help yourself, son," he says.

Mississauga looks at the pack. "The Org forbids pollution of the body."

Yves shrugs. "Sure. So does my wife, but I still give it to her now and again anyways. Ha, ha."

Mississauga reaches out and wedges a cigarette between the plastic thumb and forefinger of his artificial hand, then sticks it between his lips. He leans over so Yves can light it. The youth drags experimentally, coughs slightly, then blows twin streams of smoke from his hatchet-shaped nose. "It's warm," he notes.

"Yeah," agrees Yves. "So, where ya fixing to end up, kid? Where is it you're going to?"

The youth drags meditatively and then exhales another pair of fume streams through his nostrils. "Canada," he says.

Yves adjusts his cap, nodding. "You figure it'll be safe from these Orgasm guys up there, huh?"

"No," says Mississauga. "I'm going to find my father."


20 comments:

Teddy said...

Good to see Yves again, and that was very well played out with the trucks breaking up the chase. So many trucker movies, I could see it happening in my head perfectly, and I really liked the description of the trucks' horns as whalesong.

TRH

BalRog said...

Damn, Damn, DAMN. How do you do it, CBB? I'm sitting here in my cube trying my best not to blubber like a baby.

DAMN!!!

Simon said...

"Besides, I know a few manoeuvres."

I love you for that, CBB.

Like Teddy, that whalesong bit was great. Almost had a catch in my throat. I'm not too sure exactly what it is, but concerted efforts by strangers, united by solidarity as the truckers are, in aid of an unknown helpless entity inspire the heck out of me. That was nicely done.

Did you mean to capitalise "Doppler"? That seemed weird.

Also great to see Yves again. Just Frenchy now? It would be cool to see how he goes from that to Papa Rock. He's such an excellent minor character. He wears most of his personality right out on his sleeve for all to see, unabashedly.

Big T said...

Big T said:

Your on Bad MotherTrucker CBB!!

sheik yerbouti said...

I sit in an open area so I felt a little self-conscious, grinning with delight as I read this.

T, I would assume "Rock" comes from a combination of his last name and his unshakable nature. "Papa" probably comes with age.

This was much too short (for my own selfish interests), but I can't imagine packing any more quality in.

What a chase. It felt a little like Phat's science project (funny when you think Yves and Sky overlapped in that one too). I positively cannot wait to see where you go with all of this.

Also, I'm glad the Orgasm people don't nail him.

sheik yerbouti said...

Oops. Simon, not T.

fooburger said...

Thanks...
there's a wording issue here, I think:
"The kid's eyes are wide at they pierce into the trucker"

SaintPeter said...

Mr. Miss is one of my favorites, but I also love Yves, the altruistic trucker.

Great action in this chapter. As always, I was rivited to my screen.

It will be interesting to read this story from begining to end. Unlike a normal novel, which slowly builds to a climax over the length of the story, each chapter in a serial novel has it's own little mini-climax. In general, the level of action is much higher, on average, than a regular novel.

How does one pronounce "Yves"? I presume this is a french name?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Teddy,

I'm glad it held you. This chapter was, in part, an attempt to keep the momentum going with a little bit of good, old fashioned suspense and action rather than the more cerebral reveals. I'm trying to keep it mixed up here, so things stay interesting.

Dear Balrog,

How? Easy: I don't spend nearly enough time thinking about my job, my finances, or really pretty much anything outside of my kids, my wife, and this story.

I other words, I give pretty short shift to all the boring parts of my life...which sometimes backfires.

So it goes.

Dear Simon,

Hey, you know I was thinking of you when I typed it, good buddy.

Has Doppler been verbified to the point where I can drop the capital? If it strikes you as wrong that's probably the case. I'll look into it.

Indeed, Yves is not yet "Papa Rock." He's still young. It's only 1976.

Dear Big T,

Um, right back atcha.

Dear Sheik,

I was thinking of that right before I posted, too: how close Mr. Miss and Yves came to meeting again, all those years later. Neither of them knew it.

As for where we're going, let me just say this: wait til Chapter 9.

Dear Fooburger,

Thanks; fixed.

Dear SaintPeter,

Pronunciation: "Eeves." Oui, c'est fran├žais. In French: "Eeve."

Unlike a normal novel, which slowly builds to a climax over the length of the story, each chapter in a serial novel has it's own little mini-climax. In general, the level of action is much higher, on average, than a regular novel.

It's also a product of the granular approach I'm taking here (which isn't too different than what you're getting at, really): since the plot is on "auto" (as mentioned previously in the annals of commentary), I've decided to micro-manage rather than macro-manage the action. That does indeed contribute to each chapter being a little mini-story, as does the fact that we're hopping through time with each new post.

My plan is to slowly transition from episodic climaxes to the meta-climax by degrees. I think it might be arguable that the first real hook of the meta-climax will be introduced in Chapter 9. Stay tuned!

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

\o/ Papa Rock

damn this whole story so far has been some of my fav of your stuff, your writing has definitely improved

Tolomea said...

as does the fact that we're hopping through time with each new post.

It might make it a little easier to follow if you preface each chapter with the rough date and place, so chapter eight might be "Florida 1976"

Simon said...

Just to play devil's advocate to Tolomea, I rather like the element in each chapter which has us guessing the temporal location of the goings on as well as the corporeal. Mind you, there might be less appeal to those who have read less than some of us, but even then we're seeing the same characters coming back from previous chapters in the same story, and obviously after some time has passed - this, to me, is important to leave to the reader to determine: it's not pandering, and I like that. There are the cases like with Einstein where we needed some context of time, but for the most part the jumps work well on their own without having it all spelled out.

fooburger said...

Hmm.. I think part of the game that makes CBB stories in this realm entertaining is figuring out where and when you are.
Are we in the times of cavemen, Rome, modern day, far into the future, or dancing around, leaving the universe after it's heat death, as some sort of super-sentience... you never really know until you figure it out and nail it down. I think that's part of the fun, though sometimes I would agree that it gets a little more ambiguous than I'd prefer.

Mark said...

Great action-packed chapter, and the last line totally rocked.

I love most that I knew from the beginning this time how to pronounce "Yves." I just hate reading without knowing how to say a word.

Most throat-catchy moment for me: Nobody messes with a kid on my road.

This story is a great thing for people to stumble upon after they read the hard copy of the impending Simon of Space release.

pso said...

Hi CBB,

I've been reading you on and off since The Darth Side and SOS, but I don't always follow the comments. I felt like posting here after reading some of your longer comments in the last few chapters.

Anyway: I just wanted to say that I've immensely enjoyed all the stories (including the non-fiction - I especially loved the Trimester Diaries), and I constantly look forward to the next chapter in the current tale. I hope you keep writing and stay happy... and as long as those two are true, maybe a solution to the publicity and money problem will emerge as well (yeah, right).

gl. said...

the whalesong was lovely and it reminded me of your traffic essay. how do you make it look like you know so much about truck driving, anyway?

tolomea: i think burgerverse timelines are supposed to be a little confusing, like an electron cloud of happenstance.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Tolomea said,

It might make it a little easier to follow if you preface each chapter with the rough date and place...

But Simon disagreed, and Fooburger observed,

...You never really know until you figure it out and nail it down. I think that's part of the fun, though sometimes I would agree that it gets a little more ambiguous than I'd prefer.

To which I reply: I know this is a hard balance to strike -- it can be irritating to be drifting through a passage you can't place, and it can be fun to slowly clue in to the context. On one extreme there's pictures like Aronofsky's The Fountain in which we spend an hour trying to figure out why some freaky bald dude is floating around with a tree inside a magic space bubble, and then on the other side there's pictures where little lines of faux-military text type across the bottom of the screen at the start of each new scene accompanied by a sort of ratta-tatta-tut typing sound: WASHINGTON, D.C. - JULY 4th, 1938 - 4:20 PM - THE WHITE HOUSE - EAST TERRACE BALCONY - A LITTLE TO THE LEFT.

While I personally prefer the first approach (though not to Aronofsky's attention deficit defying extreme), I recognize that the latter is needed now and again to help peg things down. As such, I will continue to pepper the story with the occasional date reference, but for the most part I feel that we should all now have a grasp of our basic calendrical contexts:

* Drago's arc begins in 1993.
* Mr. Mississauga's arc begins in 1960.
* The Shah/Bahram arc begins in 1904.

Each arc advances a few years with each chapter, though unevenly. Set two:

* Drago: 1994
* Mr. Miss: 1971
* Shah/Bahram: 1955

And, naturally, all three arcs will conclude on a common date. That date is the strange attractor that propels this plot. That date is Event Zero (as referenced in Stubborn Town and The Extra Cars). As we move closer to that time the exact dates on each timeline become less and less important, because the substance of our concern should be what happens rather than when, from an audience point of view.

Mark mentioned,

This story is a great thing for people to stumble upon after they read the hard copy of the impending Simon of Space release.

That is high in my mind, Mark. That's just what I'm hoping. I want somebody to read and/or hear tell of Simon of Space and then come here and say to themselves, "Hey, cool -- there's more!" and then once they start getting into this one stopping to say, "Hey, cool -- it's all connected!" which I hope is a rush comparable to finding out there's been a sequel made to a movie you love but without the requisite sequel-disappointment let-down.

Dear pso,

Glad you have you aboard the annals of commentary. Welcome!

Dear gl.,

You know, the funny is I added that whalesong bit as a total afterthought about five seconds before I posted the chapter. I'm glad it was the right impulse.

how do you make it look like you know so much about truck driving, anyway?

I found a series of videos on YouTube with step-by-step instructions on how to drive a big rig. Isn't the Internet grand?

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

sheik yerbouti said...

Audrey Niffenegger would be proud.

SaintPeter said...

Audrey Niffenegger would be proud.
I loved her novel The Time Travler's Wife. It was a delightful story, somewhat reminicint of the new TV show Journyman (which I also enjoy). Which actually reminds me of Here, There, and Everywhere by Chris Roberson, which I also enjoyed. I think I see a pattern forming.

Ain't Time Travel Grand?
*bounces*

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Saintpeter: Don't forget 12 Monkeys (though that was a bit more sequential than TSMM or TTTW).