Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter Twelve


The Secret Mathematic is a science-fiction novel told in an indefinite number of chapters, posted serially by me, your sifting and trenching host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the twelfth installment.

Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11|12|...

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

Related reading: Stubborn Town, Three Face Flip, The Long Man, Plight of the Transformer, The Extra Cars

And now, our tale continues:



TWELVE

It's autumn in Algeria, and the mountain passes echo with the clang and thump of tools. The sun shines, but on the northern horizon visible between the peaks a sombre line of iron-grey clouds is rising up over the Mediterranean. Soon the rains will come, and all work must stop -- a Sabbath declared by seasons.

Dr. Hallow checks her watch and frowns. It's a race against time.

"Doctor? They need you at the site."

She nods, turning away from the panorama of patchwork fields colouring the foothills of the Tell Atlas green in tight, geometric stripes. She wipes her glasses on her khakis and then slides in a practiced way off the ledge of the promontory, dropping on two feet back down into the camp. The bearded grad student steps back from her dust cloud, coughing. "What's the situation?" asks Dr. Hallow.

"They've found an aperture in the antechamber," says the grad. "Dr. Labdouni thinks we can break through before the rain gets here."

"Unlikely. The rains are coming tonight, I'll wager."

"He just told me to bring you."

"I'm coming, I'm coming."

Together they jog along the narrow aisle between tents, holding their noses as they hurry by the ceramics analysis shelter, dodging the doddering stratigraphologist out for a cigarette. He waves vaguely, bent over a notebook, his greeting lost to the noise of the chortling diesel generators. Dr. Hallow and the bearded grad student then proceed among the giant sleeping machines of dust-coated red and orange and yellow: their earth-heaving work is done, leaving the piling and reinforcing of the rock-slurry walls to crews on the ground with hardhats and wheelbarrows. The men are busy now dragging thick, black tarpaulins over everything, lashing them down and pinning the corners with boulders.

They're locals. They shout to one another in profanity-laced Darja. Some of them look up from their work to stare at Dr. Hallow, but she's used to it. She keeps her gaze locked ahead.

The inner site lies in a pit of inky shadow between two high walls of rock. Most of the rockslide debris has been scooped away by the machines, leaving a fine-grained sand underfoot. Rooted in the sand are tall tripods with intensely bright lamps at their heads, all oriented toward the half-revealed face of a crumbling Carthaginian outpost jutting from the lee of a cliff.

Dr. Hallow grabs a hardhat and clicks on the light over the brim. Her boots crunch on the gravel as she ducks inside the scaffold-supported entrance and down into the dark, avoiding by long habit the bundles of electrical cabling snaked along the floor. She hears the grad student stumble and swear behind her.

Voices echo off the close walls. Lamps glow up ahead. Dr. Hallow ducks under a second sagging lintel and straightens inside the ancient antechamber. "Yousef," she calls.

Dr. Labdouni turns and tugs a dust-filtering bandana down under his swarthy chin. "Elizabeth! Excellent. Time is of the essence, but I knew you'd want to be here. We've discovered a passage into the next chamber."

"What's the fill? Slurry or collapsed infrastructure?"

"Neither: wood."

Dr. Hallow blinks. "Pardon?"

The Arab grins. "As you suspected at the outset, we are not the first to penetrate this ruin. You were absolutely right about the trenching marks. The rockslide couldn't have come more than twenty years ago, and this passage was sealed only slightly earlier than that."

"How do yo know, Yousef?"

He steps aside, gesturing at the work area. Amid the cracked friezes depicting heroes of Punic mythology arrayed around Tanit and Ba'al Hammon, the divine sibling-couple, is an arched portal inside of which is a secondary frame of unpainted wood. The planks that seal the aperture itself have an emblem burnt neatly into them, instantly recognizable to even a layman.

It is a swastika.

Dr. Hallow looks over at her colleague, forehead crinkled. "Nazis?"

Dr. Labdouni nods. "What interest they might have had in Carthage, I cannot say, but these char and oil stains along the vault are very, very recent -- the nineteen thirties, perhaps, or the forties at latest. We might guess their work here was truncated by the war's conclusion."

Dr. Hallow takes a shaky breath. "I'm absolutely shocked."

Dr. Labdouni nods again, then hefts a crowbar into view. "Myself as well. So now that you're here let's put aside our questions and claim some answers, shall we?"

She reaches out to stay his hand. "Wait."

He grimaces. "What? Whyever for? Let go, Elizabeth."

She shakes her head. "We must wait for Bahram."

Dr. Labdouni yanks the crowbar free, scowling. "Don't be stupid. There isn't time. We can explain it to him afterward."

He aligns himself to insert the crowbar behind the first plank, but Dr. Hallow steps in front of him before he can apply leverage. "Yousef, you have to listen to me. This isn't a matter of protocol: it's a matter of life and death."

He sneers dubiously. "Whose?"

"Yours," she says shortly, their faces close together. "You haven't been working for these people long; it was such a rush to get you in after the accident that killed your predecessor. You haven't seen what I've seen, and you don't understand the nature of affairs you're caught up in."

Dr. Labdouni chuckles mirthlessly. "Women are such flighty creatures. Easily intimidated."

Dr. Hallow aggressively shoves him backward, causing him to stumble against a line of crumbling stelae. She points a finger at his chest with thrusting emphasis as she speaks, her voice edged hard and cold: "You maddening ignoramus! Do you not recall Bahram's warning to you when you agreed to work for us? Were you too busy dreaming of money to listen? Idiot: he told you this project was secret."

Dr. Labdouni sniffs and then smiles. "So now perhaps he will be obliged to pay me to stay quiet."

"Idiot!" she shouts again. "This is not like something you whisper to your cousin after you make him promise not to tell your aunt -- this is not gossip, Yousef!" She shakes her head, massaging her temples, then pierces him with her eyes once more. "No, this is much bigger than that. This is a secret in the old sense, a genuine information trap, defended with a kind of rigour you've never imagined. This is a special convenant that isn't guaranteed by a promise -- it's guaranteed by blood."

"That's very dramatic, Elizabeth," he says, taking her by the shoulders.

She smacks his hands away. "Fuck you," she hisses. "Don't patronize me, Yousef. I like you too much to watch you die."

He hesitates, gauging her expression carefully. "If the threat is so great, why didn't your prince take more elaborate pains to explain it to me?"

"Because you're disposable."

Dr. Labdouni opens his mouth again but changes his mind, closing it abruptly. There is something stark and serious in Dr. Hallow's expression -- in her sure, calculated tone -- that suddenly makes him feel extraordinarily vulnerable. For a few nervous seconds he uncomfortably contemplates the idea of disposable people, and he being one of them. He swallows. "So we must wait?"

"Yes," she agrees, breathing hard. "We must."

"How long?"

"Until Bahram wakes up."

Dr. Labdouni sighs, shaking his head. "But the man sleeps fifty hours at a stretch! He only just retired to his tent last night. The rain will be upon us before he rises, I'm sure of it, and then it's three months before we'll even be able to get near this site again."

Dr. Hallow nods curtly. "Then we ought to focus our efforts on securing the site for the season, to keep the flooding at bay or everything we've uncovered here will be destroyed."

"What if he hires another man next year?" challenges Dr. Labdouni. "What if someone else completes the dig and takes all the reward? I have children to feed, Elizabeth, and wives."

She flinches at this, but lets it pass. "We've all got our problems. This simply isn't something you have a choice in."

"Is that a fact?"

She nods again.

Dr. Labdouni scoffs, then flicks his gaze over to his men arrayed behind Dr. Hallow. "Watch me," he declares. Dr. Hallow is grabbed rudely from behind, her arms pinned and her shoulders pressed until she's forced to drop to her knees. Dr. Labdouni draws a black-gripped revolver from inside his jacket and levels it directly in front of Dr. Hallow's mouth. His eyes are narrow, and there is no trace in his face of the curious, light-hearted man whom Dr. Hallow allowed herself to be seduced by just weeks ago. Through gritted teeth says, "I need you, so you'll help me. If you don't help me, I'll hurt you. Because I'm telling you now, Allah as my witness, whatever treasure this prince is chasing will be mine."

Dr. Hallow's eyes are wide over the barrel of the gun. A tear slides down one cheek, cutting a clean path through the dirt. "I'm going to miss you when you're gone," she says quietly.

He turns his back to her and jams the crowbar into the aperture. The planks groan a second before they splinter apart. "Let's get a light in here," he calls, tugging his bandana up over his mouth and nose again and coughing behind it. "Aziz!"

Dr. Hallow squinches shut her eyes against the rolling bloom of dust.

A quarter of an hour later she is being lowered by a hand-cranked winch down inside the dark recesses of the inner chamber, the light on her helmet plying an ineffectual, fuzzy amber spot on the far wall. She comes down in ankle-deep water beside Dr. Labdouni. "The lamps keep shorting out," he grumbles. "We'll have to use hand-held torches."

She says nothing, taking a flashlight from him and switching it on. She turns in a slow circle, revealing a narrow swath of the chamber amid a confusing battery of sliding shadows.

It's some kind of abandoned administration centre.

They are surrounded by metal desks and leather office chairs and rust-mottled filing cabinets, all branded with symbols of the Third Reich. An ancient radio receiver cabinet houses a mechanical cypher engine on a small shelf. A tarnished and water-bloated portrait of Adolf Hitler hangs on one wall, a detailed map of Europe and North Africa on another. The map is dotted by series of coloured pins marking the positions of Allied and Axis forces. Marked with red are the Tell Atlas mountains where they are right now. It is the rarest colour: there are only half a dozen similar pins on the whole crowded projection.

With a start Dr. Hallow notices that one of the office chairs is occupied by a sagging skeleton, brown bones connected feebly by strings of dried tendon peeking out through a ragged uniform. "Looks like they left someone behind," remarks Dr. Labdouni, adjusting his bandana. "Maybe they were planning to return...maybe their work wasn't yet done."

"What kind of work goes on in a Carthaginian ruin?"

He shrugs. "Don't ask me -- ask your prince. Come on now. There's a passage."

They slog through the black waters, feeling the way out with their steel-toed boots, flashlight beams converged on the tunnel. Dr. Hallow slows as they wade along, her beam breaking aside to scan the walls. They are covered in writing. Dr. Labdouni grunts. "This is your specialty, isn't it? What does it say?"

She withdraws a pointed trowel from her belt and carefully scrapes a layer of mold and grime from the closest tablet, then dusts the inset characters with a small brush. "The alphabet is a Phoenician derivative, definitely pre-Hellenic."

"Yes -- but can you read it, woman?"

She traces a block of text with the tip of her weathered finger, feeling out the contours. "The flesh-abacus...of prophecy born...we create...he who has been called...by the hidden calendar."

"The flesh-abacus?" echoes Dr. Labdouni. "What does it mean?"

"We can only imagine. This might be a legend or a song, or even an accounting manifest. We have no way of guessing without further context."

He throws his beam along the length of the tunnel. "Well then," he says with forced jocularity. "Further context awaits us."

They climb a set of water-rounded stone risers to emerge into a new chamber, this one with a dry floor of broken tiles. The air is closer here, tinged by a sour, animal smell. Their flashlight beams show tunnels branching off in all directions, their mouths rough and irregular. "It's a natural cave system," decides Dr. Hallow. Her beam spills across alcoves cut into the rock, dallying over the forms resting there. "And, apparently, a necropolis."

"A necropolis?" repeats Dr. Labdouni. "You mean those are bodies?"

"It's not unheard of among Punic peoples, but it is rare. Plutarch claimed that Carthage had a strong tradition of cremation but that was later, after Rome. The earlier, post-Canaanite culture isn't very well understood yet."

"Yet?"

"Well of course, Yousef. We're here, aren't we? This could be a significant find."

"But who would ever know?"

She shakes her head. "You don't understand. Ninety-nine percent of my discoveries unearthed under the Shah's auspices are cleared for the journals. I wouldn't consent to the work, otherwise. Archaeology is not secret."

"What about the other one percent?"

"None of my business."

"You have no curiosity?"

"I'm driven by it. You know that."

"Then how can you not ask?"

"Because besides curiosity I also have a strong instinct for self-preservation." Dr. Hallow adjusts her glasses. "I suspect you will have a more keen appreciation of this before the day is out."

"That's a rather chilling thing to say."

She sniffs. "Isn't it just?"

"You sound like you're smiling when you say that."

"Just desserts for a man with a gun at my back."

"Don't be stupid. I've put the gun away. I trust you, Elizabeth."

Dr. Hallow says nothing. They have crossed the tiled floor now and arrived at a grotto mouth, slowing beside the nearest alcove. Flashlight beams pool on the corpse. Dr. Hallow's breath catches in her throat as she takes in the proportions of the body.

Dr. Labdouni coughs behind his bandana. "It's...it's a child."

Dr. Hallow licks her lips pensively as she traces her beam down the short limbs. "It's a baby," she corrects. "Tertullian wrote about the Carthaginian penchant for infant sacrifice. It's a controversial assertion, however. Many think Tertullian maligned traditional religiosity to pave the way for the acceptance of Christianity. Infanticide was a common obsession among early proponents of the church."

"Well," manages Dr. Labdouni, turning away to cough again. "I think the notion has now become somewhat less controversial."

"Indeed."

They wander deeper, past many more alcoves, each of them occupied by the withered form of a tiny human being. At one particular alcove, however, Dr. Hallow stops abruptly and sweeps the body with her beam. "What is it?" asks Dr. Labdouni, stepping closer.

Something winks in the light. Dr. Hallow reaches a hand to the corpse, turning the neck gently with a nauseating crunch. There is a metal dog-tag chained around the infant's neck. "This...isn't Punic," says Dr. Hallow slowly. She leans in closer to read, pressing her flashlight flat against the tiny ribcage. "It's German."

"What does it say?"

She straightens and adjusts her own bandana. "It says Subject one twenty-two: Lot B, June nineteen thirty-nine." She points her flashlight to the body again. "Notice the limbs."

"They've been amputated."

"No, I don't think so. Look at the bones, here and here. They taper organically to a rounded tip." She takes a deep, steadying breath. "This isn't the result of surgery, Yousef -- this baby was deformed."

They move on, passing more alcoves housing more infants, some of them so terribly deformed as to barely resemble the species. Some of the bodies are older, too, conjuring up unwelcome images of what it must have been like to live in such a monstrous state, if only for a few years. Finally, they turn down a passage with alcoves filled by adult bodies. "What are these?" whispers Dr. Labdouni.

Dr. Hallow sighs. "I think it's the mothers. See here: in some cases the pelvises have been sawed apart, presumably to extract the babies. Absolutely ghastly."

Dr. Labdouni coughs again. "I think I'm going to be ill," he says huskily, then turns and leans against the wall between two alcoves.

Dr. Hallow watches him. Contradictory expressions flicker over her features. She feels the keen edge of her trowel against her hip. She knows in this moment of weakness she could easily use it to cut Yousef's throat. She finds she cannot act, however. Here, in the dark, hearing only his laboured breathing she has difficulty imagining the man who put a gun to her mouth; instead, all she can picture is the way they made love.

Her hand twitches over the tool, but does not close.

In the end the reason that finds most compelling is that she does not think she could tolerate being in this horrible place all alone. "Are you alright?" she asks.

"Yes," he says. "Yes I'll be fine. Let's move on, shall we?"

The tunnel exits into a large, rock-domed chamber filled by laboratory tables and chemistry flasks. Tables clearly intended for the strapping down of human subjects are strewn with moldy papers and disintegrating dossiers. Blackboards line the walls, dense notes washed down into chalky arrays of streaks. In places strings of chemical symbols and reaction vectors are still visible. "This whole place...it's one big laboratory for human medical testing," says Dr. Labdouni breathlessly. "Unbelievable. Repugnant. Evil."

"To be sure," agrees Dr. Hallow distantly, reading what can be read from the streaked blackboards. "A systematic search for a compound that produces a very specific set of birth defects."

Dr. Labdouni swallows. "Zyklon-B?"

Dr. Hallow shakes her head. "Not likely. Zyklon-B was developed prior to the war and its purpose was to kill, not to deform."

"But then...why?"

She shrugs, then considers. "'We create he who has been called by the hidden calendar.'"

Dr. Labdouni laughs without humour. It's a wheezing, desperate laugh. "You believe the Nazis were trying to bring to fruition an ancient Carthaginian prophecy?"

"I don't know what to believe," she admits.

Dr. Labdouni's flashlight gutters slightly, then begins to grow visibly more dim. "I'm losing my torch," he reports.

"Mine too," she confirms. "We'd better get back. I don't want to have to feel my way out of this place."

They backtrack out of the laboratory and along the tunnels of the necropolis. Dr. Hallow continues to examine the bodies in the alcoves on either side of them but Dr. Labdouni keeps his gaze locked straight. He clears his throat awkwardly. "So tell me, Elizabeth, what is Bahram's condition? Why does he sleep for two days after only a usual amount of activity, and what is the medicine he is always injecting himself with? What is his disease?"

"He says he's diabetic," she replies distantly, probing the corpses with her fading flashlight beam.

"You don't believe that."

She shrugs. "I'm not a physician."

They arrive back at the Nazi administration centre. Dr. Labdouni grunts irritably as they slosh over to stand beneath the aperture to the antechamber above. "What's happened to our lamps?" he grumbles, then bellows: "Aziz -- light!"

There is no reply. Dr. Labdouni's flashlight beam turns orange and then flickers off. He bellows again, his voice echoing away in overlapping yells throughout the necropolis. "Aziz?"

He turns to Dr. Hallow. She smells the air. "The rain's started."

"They couldn't have called him away. I left orders."

Someone shifts their weight up above. A trio of pebbles fall over the edge and drop into the swill. Gooseflesh breaks through the layer of sweat coating Dr. Labdouni's body, and he suddenly feels cold despite the oppressive humidity. He tugs the bandana down off his face. "...Aziz?"

"Aziz was very loyal to you," says Bahram quietly.

"Oh no," whispers Dr. Labdouni.

"Oh yes," counters Bahram. "I'm afraid things are a bit of a mess up here. Quite unpleasant, to be frank. On the walls, underfoot, dripping from the ceiling: there's Aziz everywhere. And that other fellow, the burly one. What was his name?"

Dr. Labdouni screams, "That was my son!"

"Yes, well, was is indeed the operative word, I'm sad to say."

The chamber illuminates with six rapid strobes of orange light as Dr. Labdouni squeezes off six shots one after the other. The overlapping concussions slam through the small space, and Dr. Hallow drops to her knees with a splash, hands clutched over her ears.

The ringing subsides enough for her to detect Dr. Labdouni's laboured breathing beside her. He sobs. "No, no, no..."

"Bahram?" calls Dr. Hallow. Her own voice sounds feeble and far away.

Bahram peeks over the edge of the aperture, his face illuminated by a flashlight. He looks more tired than any living being has a right to be, purple sacs like bruises swelling out beneath his dark eyes. He glances over at Dr. Labdouni, then back to Dr. Hallow. "Elizabeth dear, why don't you come out and have a spot of lunch before we break camp?"

"He made me," says Dr. Hallow huskily. "Bahram, you have to believe --"

He waves at her dismissively. "I know all about it. Here, let me offer you a hand." A second later a length of knotted rope drops through the aperture and dangles in front of Dr. Hallow's face. She takes a breath, seizes the rope, and then begins to work her way up the knots. She cannot shake the feeling that she's being played with, that at any moment the rope will come loose and she'll fall. But at the top Bahram grabs her firmly by the belt and hauls her through the aperture. She drops to the ground beside him, panting. Her eyes remain squeezed shut.

The rope jerks slightly as Dr. Labdouni takes a hold. Bahram cuts it. The rope and Dr. Labdouni splash down into the bracken waters of the inner chamber. "Please!" he cries, sputtering. "Spare my life, Prince!"

"Seal the aperture," says Bahram wearily.


53 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be the northern horizon?

CodeWright said...

Nice mix of Indiana Jones, Fifth Element, and a nascent vampire tale with Bahram.

Plus, can't beat secret nazi bases dedicated to the occult.

Big t said...

dun dah run duh, dun dah ruh (indiana jones song(sort of)).

Nazi occult experiments, I knew Mr.Miss would run into that eventually. I am definatly on the edge of my seat!

CBB- ordered my SOS book from B&N!

CBB, and the comment gang- I want to get some people reading CBB, what story should they start with, I started with SOS, and then just read everything on the blog in between current story cycles?

Tolomea said...

Bet they were trying to create Mr Miss

Simon said...

Codewright,

I was totally thinking Indy and Fifth Element, too. Much more with the Indy bit, but having, "Aziz... light!" in there conjured images of Fifth Element. (And Luke Perry too, alas.)

This chapter, indirectly, ties in to Mr. Miss, too. It must have been thalidomide that deformed the baby corpses, but to what end were the Nazis experimenting to produce that particular birth defect? With this, ve can foster heretofore unrealised nascent cognitive abilities in indiginous males, und only at ze expense of their mobility and a vee bit of their sanity! Ze world vill be ours! Hardly their thought process, I wot.

A bit of a nod to SoS, too. The mutiliated corpses definitely reminded of me of the grisly finds made by Simon and crew when they were en route to finding the Nightmare Cannon. Humanity is, it seems, doomed to repeat its gory history.

Fun little chapter (uh, morbidly so), again, and it raises more questions than it answers. Actually, I don't think it even answered any at all!

I have to think that the 'flesh abacus' is the (alleged by us) Executive head that the Ninjews are protecting in the 1960s. That makes a sort of sense. Other than that though, I got nuthin'.

sheik yerbouti said...

Shivers. I got an Indiana Jones vibe, but it also reminded me of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. And yes, it did feel like the "nine circles of Hell" that Simon walked through on Metra. Didn't catch the Fifth Element ref, though; weird.

My first thought re. the "flesh abacus" was Lallo himself, the oldest of them all... but creating Sky/Jeremiah -- i.e. some sort of ubermensch -- might make sense as well.

Codewright, what exactly did you mean by a "nascent vampire tale"? Are you implying that Bahram is getting plasma in that IV? Seems like he could just drink the stuff in private if necessary.

Obviously Tanit and Ba'al Hammon are Yami and Yama, so that's a tie-in to Transformer... but there's a whole lot o' mystery yet to be illuminated.

Teddy said...

"Aziz -- LIGHT!"

The descriptions of the Nazi Experiments remind me of the descriptions of Terron Volmash's victims, the ones from whom he recorded the emotions broadcast in The Kammarian Horror, but they're not related. The objective here is...well, I don't know. Obviously, the Nazis were researching the secret mathematic, and came up with Thalidomide, or some drug containing it. Terron merely needed the emotion Terror, and what better way to get it than by torturing people without any cause, don't tell them why, and don't ask them any questions?

I kind of pity the doctor locked in the pit. He just wanted to further science and human knowledge, satisfy his curiosity, and it strikes me that Bahram isn't with the good guys, as much as there can be good and bad guys in the Burgerverse. I think psychologically he needs to be tyrranical, to go on power trips on people, because he's not long and he wishes he were. He sees their sway over people and envies it.

TRH

fooburger said...

Yeah.. the Mr. Miss. connection is pretty clear. I guess Miss. was a US/Canadian effort along the same lines? Maybe this was an ancillary phase of a 'Manhattan'-style project? Zoran isn't deformed... well.. not physically. Time for some answers.. and I'm sure CBB wont leave us hanging *too* long... right???? right????
:)

The latest chapters feel like a number of jabs.. jumping in time and space... building up to an upcoming hook.

Yeah.. also got the SoS/Nightmare Cannon/Minotaur tone as well.

fooburger said...

Sorry for the second post.. but I think there's no way around any kind of cliche' type scenario dealing with this kind of issue.
If there's going to be a crypt in north africa... it's going to have something nazi-related (indiana jones).. or it's going to be a spaceship (stargate).. or it's going to be an awakened god (mummy?).. or it's going to be an ancient weapon (5th element). (Of course, there are many examples of all the above.. just those leap to mind.)
Seems like the whole "ancient north african pyramid-quandry" genre is just inescapable.

What exactly could be put in there that wouldn't be running amok of previous works? A theme park? Maybe a candy factory?

If there's a crypt in north africa there's going to be something. Maybe go for everything: nazi research base inside an alien spacecraft building an ancient weapon in order to awaken a deity.. :)
Oh yeah.. throw in a 'whole bunch of gold'.

Maybe something very distinctly 'secret math' would help? Not sure. Hard to prognosticate.

It sucks that the setting has been so overused. Heck, Jackie Chan beat the crap out of nazis and hunted for gold in a spooky north african underground base.

The setting makes sense considering all the other background in the series here... and of course, it was an enjoyable read.

Have we met Bahram before? I'm guessing we have... sounds familiar (vampire style and all...)

Tolomea said...

I suspect that Bahram as merely the son of a long has passed his use by date and the IV is some form of aggressive life extension.

As for his actions and personality he seems to be a strong believer in "the ends justify the means". I would also assume that this attitude reflects the Shah's attitude as it seems unlikely that Bahram could conceal that from him.

This leads me to think that the nature, disposition and mission of the executives could be a result of Zoran rebelling against the attitudes of the Shah and Bahram

In all of this my personal biggest question is what happened to the long? are they still around in Simons time? what about Tims?

Simon said...

Sheik,

I didn't pick up on Tanit and Ba'al Hammon being Yami and Yama, but their description as the "divine sibling-couple" does sort of cement that, eh?

And Fooburger,

I'd argue that Mr. Miss wasn't any sort of intentional aberration brought about by the application of thalidomide. Given the previous chapters in this story (it's already starting to seem so long ago!) I don't think his condition was brought about by anything more than the ignorant prescription of the drug. Of course I have been wrong before. A time or two.

Isosceles_CAT said...

I suspect that 'flesh abacus' refers to someone who has a special ability to solve problems, like Mr Miss.

Dan said...

I think this gives us a window into who brought thalidomide about. Certainly not trying to create Sky. The Nazis were about creating the perfect race, not weakening all others. The perfect race would naturally destroy/enslave others. This type of research/benchmarking is what Bahram may be after; creating the perfect being (human executive). The head must be a human executive (hopefully not our Jeremiah though he may have somehow been caught by the sheik in his time travel with Tim). But I don't see a human exec telling people of the past when an event should take place. Especially since it seems more and more like Barham's motives appear dark.

THE Danimal

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Anonymous,

Yup. Fixed.

Dear CodeWright,

Just a note on personal preferences: I hate vampires. I hate stories about vampires; I hate movies about vampires. I think people with black lipstick look unattractive. Vampires utterly fail in every way to impress, charm or intrigue me. No matter what, I just can't seem to care at all about vampires.

The wolfman, though -- he's neat.

And Frankenstein's monster rocks the casbah.

Big T posed the question,

I want to get some people reading CBB, what story should they start with, I started with SOS, and then just read everything on the blog in between current story cycles?

I'd also be interested to know what people think: what is the best introductory tale? Myself I often point newbies to STUBBORN TOWN and THE EXTRA CARS.

Dear Simon, Tolomea, Fooburger, et al.,

At this time, I'm going to decline to respond to specific points of speculation. I think any answers I might give would only serve to spoil. Such answers really are the guts of this story, and watching you all put it together bit by bit if my own kind of fun.

Dear all,

Good news plus bad news equals no news! (How's that for math?)

The good news: I've been contacted by a literary agency interested in representing me to publishers with respect to THE SECRET MATHEMATIC.

The bad news: I would be obliged to immediately cease telling this story in public, and remove from the Web all the chapters I've posted to date.

The non-news: So I'm taking a pass on this particular opportunity.

Since I know at least a few of you are right now smacking your foreheads and cursing my stupidity for squandering a chance for wider exposure, I'd like to explain my decision a bit.

First and foremost, I am not a tease. A big part of THE SECRET MATHEMATIC is about connecting the plot threads you all have so patiently consumed over the past two or three years, and bringing them together into a coherent (and hopefully satisfying) conclusion. Seen from this perspective, it would be an awfully cheap trick for me to yank the story away just as it's getting rolling with the uncertain promise that you may be able to buy a copy eighteen months from now. That would be a slap in the face of my most loyal readers and burgerverse buddies.

Secondly, I'm having a very good time with this project and I'm loath to change the parameters mid-stream. This is working for me. I'm learning a lot, I'm enjoying myself, and I think I'm weaving a pretty damn good yarn. Why fix what isn't broke?

Thirdly, at this particular moment in time I'm not feeling all that enthusiastic about the publishing industry. I'm still bitter about some issues I'm not at liberty to whine about right now.

Finally, I have made some decisions about my next novel project. The next novel will not be THE FLYING DOLLAR, which I'm going to shelve (for not forget about) for the time being. Instead, the next novel project (working title: THE IMPOSSIBLE RAILROAD) will be an invite-only private serial, based on criteria I have yet to finalize. The idea is an attempt to balance that fact I can't seem to write a novel without having readers onboard for the development process, and the fact that no reputable publisher will touch my manuscript with a ten foot pole if it has appeared previously in any publically-accessible form. Thus, the next novel will be written behind (password protected) closed doors, told to a small circle of confidants. Those who don't opt-in will still be able to get new short stories from the public weblog while the project runs. Details to be decided as we get closer to the kick-off, following the conclusion of THE SECRET MATHEMATIC. Stay tuned.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Dan said...

My hardcover SoS has arrived!!!!!!

Woohoo for me!

THE Danimal

Mark said...

Can't wait to read all the comments, but even just a quick glance makes mine obsolete.

Shades of Indiana Jones, did the Nazis intentionally create the Thalidomide poison, blah-blah.

Fun chapter. Poor scientist didn't know with what he was messing (God, proper grammar sounds terrible when mixed with idioms).

Comicality said...

Dear Mr. Brown,

I am glad you turned down this company, because it means I can continue reading this book. Thank you.

As for your next novel, I hope to be a part, but if not I will certainly still enjoy reading what work you publish here!

Teddy said...

I applaud your devotion to your fans, Mr. Burgerbrown! George Lucas does not...

Oooooooh, password protected novel...what are the criteria for getting in on something like that?

TRH

Simon said...

CBB,

I think declining to respond to points we bring up is the only way you can go. Besides, as much fun as it is for you to watch us try to piece things together, it's quite a bit of fun to be the ones picking up your pieces and seeing if they make some sort of sense. Only we don't have the jig-saw puzzle box cover to steer us, so it's kind of awkward at times. But fun!

Your math sucks. (The non-secret kind, that is.)

I like your good news, but am nonplussed by the non- and bad-news. Given a democratic showing on the sort of news that publication is an option for TSM, I think most here would try to lobby you to concede to certain fiscal imperatives, uncertain though they may be. Still, it's fully understandable wanting to keep with the current flow, and the lover of stories in me is quite happy to see this one continue, as-is, to its stupefying conclusion.

I do like your work-around for THE IMPOSSIBLE RAILROAD. And it makes sense that you can't seem to write a novel without readers on board for development. I mean, that's how this process seems to have gotten started with DARTH SIDE. The combination of constructive feedback plus a sense of obligation engendered by an obviously interested fan base makes for an impetus to write that just can't be conjured up when you slog it out solo for months on end.

(I have also been notified by my wife today that a parcel awaits at the post office for my retrieval; but I suspect it's the Big Box o' Birthday Trappings for a two year-old in two weeks' time, since the books I order normally come to the front door. Still, for a second there, I was hopeful.)

Mark said...

Of course, I'm one of the head-smackers. As much as I love reading TSM here, and as much as I understand the need for motivation to keep writing (I've finished more stories online in the past two years than I did the 20 years prior to that!), my heart hurts a little when it sees a chance for you to "make it." Then I have to step back a notch and contemplate exactly what I mean by "make it." I guess that would be the ability to make a living solely off your creative writing. Specifically, yarns like these right'chere online ones.

I have to quite whining and accept whatever CBB gives us -- 'lectronic or tree-bustin' version.

SaintPeter said...

I hope one of the criteria to view the new novel is being an active commenter! Pick me! Pick me!

@Simon -
Thank you, once again, for pulling all the threads together. I get hints, but I just don't always remember all the details from the other stories I've read. I apprecaite your comments which always make me go "Oh, yeeeeah, I remember that!"

Bridget said...

I'd also be interested to know what people think: what is the best introductory tale? Myself I often point newbies to STUBBORN TOWN and THE EXTRA CARS.

My choices for introductory tales for someone who doesn't want to commit to a long read would be, in order:
Stubborn Town
Tim, Destroyer of Worlds OR Felix and the Frontier
The Long Man

Stubborn Town is a solid mystery with a twist, and a bonus great character hook (Mr. Miss), set in roughly the present. An "unnatural mystery" set in the present appeals to more people than one set in space, I think, though I don't really discriminate.

Tim, Destroyer of Worlds then takes us to a future time with another great character hook, and touches on The Math. But it might not be as accessible to everyone because it is "more sci-fi." I think it can become accessible to people who are normally turned off by "the space thing" in the context of the larger story, though. Now that I think about it, Felix and the Frontier might even be a better follow-up to Stubborn Town ("Mississauga Machine"!). Same restrictions about people who are squeamish about "the space thing", though, and I personally (and irrationally) like Tim... a little more.

Finally, The Long Mantakes us from deep in the past to present, has yet anothergreat character hook, and gives some indication as to the scope of what you're doing for a new person.

Finally, once they're hooked, I would recommend The Bikes of New York, which ties together Earth's present and future a bit. Although, I just noticed I don't see a link to it on your Free stories page, but I would loan them my hard copy in the blink of an eye. :)

The idea is an attempt to balance that fact I can't seem to write a novel without having readers onboard for the development process, and the fact that no reputable publisher will touch my manuscript with a ten foot pole if it has appeared previously in any publically-accessible form.

Glad to hear you've found a solution that will, hopefully, work for you. Like simon, I am loathe to discourage you from the possibility of securing a dead tree publisher for your work, but the fan in me is grateful. Your commitment to doing this your way is remarkable, and a joy to watch. I also hold out hope that some day, someone will pay you well to do this. Until then, I will read and buy what you offer.

As for this story: I have also been hazarding a guess that Bahram is the son of a long, with the accompanying health problems.

Evil secret nazi bases in northern Africa are always a plus, in my book. I also wonder if they weren't trying to create someone with Mr. Miss' more "special abilities." It seems that when it finally did happen, it was by chance. Like the universe knew that it needed him.

And also: "AZIZ, LIGHT!" Now I'll never be able to watch The Fifth Element without thinking, "There's Aziz everywhere..."

gl. said...

*headsmack* after hearing about your financial troubles of late, it makes me wince to hear you've turned down a publishing opportunity, but since i have no knowledge of what was offered to you, i could see many reasons why it might not even be of financial benefit to you. i'm guessing the process of publishing simon of space probably influenced this decision. but if it could have beneficial, i certainly wouldn't have begrudged you taking it! if you & your family have heat, you'll write more stories. :)

in the meantime, letting us in on a password blog would be fantastic. and if you wanted to charge a little monthly paypal subscription, i wouldn't even fuss.

bikes of new york is pretty accessible, i think, but i'd start off with night-flight mike: i've enjoyed everything you've written, but mike totally captured me and catapulted me into unabashed cheeseburger fandom. plus it's more-or-less present day, which i think is an advantage for new readers.

fooburger said...

For my intro vote, I'd recommend 'The Long Man' and 'Plight of the Transformer'.
The stories are fairly consistent and interrelated, and provide a bit of foundation without really hinting too much about TSM. Which would save that for the heavy lifting stories.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

teddy wrote:

I kind of pity the doctor locked in the pit. He just wanted to further science and human knowledge, satisfy his curiosity,

I thought he said that he pulled the gun on his co-worker/adulterous lover because he wanted money.

Also, secret novel: woohoo! Can I get in for a free audiobook reading of one of your stories? Once I get some more money, I'd be in for the paypal fee too...

Teddy said...

Hmm...introductory stories...It might not be a bad idea to go a different route on this, that is identify what the criterion for such a story should be, and then maybe you, CBB, could actually put together a real short quick little intro that pulls all the right bits together, two short chapters or something that are designed to tease and introduce a lot of concepts with only a name and maybe one other good tidbit. I'd say you'd want a story that's got a major character, at least a mention of the Math, and a feel for the best parts of the burgerverse, some suspense...

Come to think of it, I think it'd be either Three Face Flip or Life and Taxes for a great intro story. Definitely one of those two, if not both. Not too incredibly long, both have Zoran (my favorite by a long shot, really), one has a direct application of The Math and one has Executives, and both are really well done in my humble opinion.

Of course, in my humble opinion, they're all really well done. Good thing this isn't steak, I prefer that medium rare and drowned in juicy tangy goo.

TRH

Dan said...

CBB,

Just a couple side questions on the HD SoS.
Why didn't they use your wonderful art for the cover? And is the dedication to the computer in War Games?

THE Danimal

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Dan,

Simon of Space was dedicated to my brother, Joshua, frontman of Syntax Error which produced the musical overture for this current story.

I am not privy the particulars of the cover-art decision process. My own artwork was one of the designs under consideration. I can enlighten you none at all as to why it was not chosen.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Mark said...

I was going to just wait and let CBB choose the invite-only folks, because of the words "invite-only" in CBB's comment.

No, come to think of it, I will just wait.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Mark,

I think it would've been more accurate for me to say opt-in rather than invite only.

So consider this a retraction: "opt-in" is the term.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Simon said...

I doubt there's anyone who comments here with anything approaching regularity who wouldn't elect to opt in to the next project. That would just be silly.

I'm also rather enjoying how the spat of comments seems to have ramped up a little of late - certainly as this particular story has unfolded. Another reason why I am so much more fond (fonder?) of the lengthy witterings of CBB versus the shorter stories, because it gives us a chance to become more firmly entrenched in the story and, of course (aside from the camaraderie almost naturally engendered), permits readers to feel like minor contributors as well. (Which I know we are, to varying degrees.)

The same sort of thing happened (in an exceedingly geeky way) with Darth Side, and then with Simon of Space there was that sensation of being Part Of Something.

Where else but the Burgerverse are you going to find something that makes sense of universally anomalous behaviour, eroticised chess pieces, the Force masquerading behind mathematics, humans who live for thousands of years, chronically flatulent dogs and ninjews?

I mean, c'mon...

Part Of Something.

Dan said...

CBB,

I also had not mentioned it as I was awaiting you to invite your chosen into working on the Railroad. But I'd be honored to work with you on the Railroad all the live long day.
And after hearing the overture, it's good "and Fries" gets a nod in SoS.

THE Danimal

Mark said...

Then I couldn't opt in too much! Consider me signed up, please, good sir.

Tolomea said...

count me in

Teddy said...

Hmm...yes...I suppose I have to actually OPT at some point...Yeah, totally want in on IMPOSSIBLE RAILROAD!

I kind of thought it was assumed that I'd want in, which it probably was, but for posterity's sake...

*ahem* Opt

TRH

codewright said...

Well, if it is "opt-in" as opposed to "invite", definitely count me in. I've purchased deadtree versions of all the stuff that CBB has made available, excepting hardcover Simon of Space (bit of a financial crunch ATM, will buy as soon as it passes).

Not all of my comments are editorially constructive, but at least some are!

Also, RE: vampires -- well, if Bahram is not vampiric, then I vote that his life is being artificially sustained by blood transfusion from his uncle the Shah.

Tolomea said...

random thing on the topic of book covers

http://io9.com/349988/whats-wrong-with-this-philip-k-dick-book-cover

John said...

While I personally found SOS really compelling(and even more so in a second reading), I know that some people have trouble with getting into the interconnectedness of it all. For that reason, I might choose some different stories to pimp the CBB to newcomers(not necessarily in order of preference).

1. Wile
Wile E Coyote as a tragic figure(could he be anything else?). I love the sympathy, it seems like a precursor for the feelings we have for Simon in SOS.
2. Sandy is a Spider/Boldly Gone
A double trap, and a woman with a dark knight-like revenge obsession.
3. Rocket Stumps
Pure Joy falling from the sky.
4. Enemies
I'm not sure if these series of stories are still available anywhere, but CBB's storytelling applied to his own life is what kept me coming back after I had finished SOS.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Long blood... that would be a fascinating (and Heinleinian) twist.

Bahram has claimed before that the Shah is his father, which would make the prior prince (Einstein's comrade) Bahram's older brother by a generation or so. I must admit that I never considered the possibility of his blood relation to the Shah, ever since the "protege" bit and realizing that someone else had been claiming to be the son beforehand... but it all fits.

Also, I was thinking that one or both of the Sandy stories would be good intro material.

Isosceles_CAT said...

My vote for an introduction to Chesseburger Brownery would go to Night Flight Mike.

Teddy said...

Well, Lallo fought his son and they both initially survived a direct meteor impact. The direct children of the Long are pretty tough nuggets, Bahram being at least half-long probably has well more than a century in him without being artificially improved, and I doubt that the Shah would take a mortal wife. The Long seem much to arrogant for that, although he'd probably have taken numerous short mistresses.

TRH

Sheik Yerbouti said...

I don't know that half-Long means you'll live for a hundred years; Lallo sure didn't seem to indicate that. And Bahram doesn't seem to posess any unusual strength, either... though that may just be hidden for now.

Man, we need a new chapter before we spec the heck out of this.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

I hear ya, Sheik.

The next chapter is coming soon. Wednesday at the latest, I reckon. Life's been thick.

My car, apparently, is possessed by Satan and he's got all of Mini's finest mechanics crossing themselves and whispering anxiously, backing away slowly from the automotive evil.

The heart of today's modern car is, of course, the computer. Some say this is a sorry way for things to come to pass, because it spells the end of the user-servicable vehicle.

Maybe my car feels that way, too.

It has taken to eating the computers. These central processing and message relay units list for $1,799 a pop. Every time they replace the computer in my car, it comes out fried.

No electrical faults can be found in the vehicle. Nor mechanical faults, grounding problems or shorts. The fried car computer will not allow it to drive, however, having locked it down into a safety mode in which only first gear is available and all sorts of red lights flash and bells ding and shit to remind you that your Mini's having as assplosion of some kind.

So me and car have been in of the shop and out of the shop, disputing the bill with the shop, picking up loaners and trying to ward off the fear of malevolent spirits from the alpha mechanic.

I wish my car was a Transformer, who would flick all these troublesome chaffoids away like so much dandruff.

On the other hand, a Transformer could be prohibitively expensive to maintain. I think the parts are imports.

So, anyway, my car is on a computer killing spree and I've missed some amount of work over it, which in turn has put me a little behind on TSM. Like I said, though, I'll bring on the next chapter by mid-week.

Hey, look at me -- I'm the forty-third comment!

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Teddy said...

Sheik was 42nd though, and I think that's culturally more significant...

Regarding Transformers: It would seem that only a decepticon can do any appreciable amount of damage, they're tough nuggets them. Furthermore, they should be mostly self-reparable, what with being able to shift their image and modulate parts so much as to actually go from the proto-form into something that can turn into a car or tank or plane or some such.

So really, if your mini were a transformer, a tiny wee little transformer, it probably wouldn't have too many problems, especially if a fellow bot like Ratchet were around.

TRH

sheik yerbouti said...

Holy crap, CBB. You own the original were-car?

Seriously, that comment was more a musing than a demand for production. You know we love you and we'll wait until the good stuff is ready while you take care of more important things.

As for comment 42... niiice. I would not have noticed that.

cars + computers = 1 step closer to Skynet, Will Smith robot-world-domination movies, etc.

And yeah, I agree with Teddy; a Transformer (i.e. Bumblebee, not Tennyson Smith) would be most helpful in such a situation. Heck, if you have another kid, all you need to do is brush up against a Honda Odyssey and presto -- instant upgrade!

eric said...

I'm a bit late in the comments here, but what the heck.

I just realized something that it blindingly obvious. The eroticised chess pieces are probably a combination of Zoran's two great obsessions, chess and his sister. It remains to be seen how they become physical, but there's got to be a connection there, right?

"The flesh-abacus...of prophecy born...we create...he who has been called...by the hidden calendar."
Here's my shot at this. The severed head is the hidden calendar, in that he is Jeremiah, and therefore lives for a hell of a long time. Also, he can prophesy all he wants since he knows the future since he's been there. The flesh-abacus he prophesied about is Zoran, the greatest math mind ever, who created his kind.

Nevermind, I just realized a problem with this. Jeremiah only went back to the time of Jesus, which is significantly newer than the pre-hellenic time mentioned by Dr. Hallow.

al said...

"The flesh-abacus...of prophecy born...we create...he who has been called...by the hidden calendar."

Heck lets tie all of these together:
The flesh-abacus: Zoran
Hidden calendar: Jeremiah
Prophecy born: Mr. Miss

Dan said...

I think you all are wrong and I'm leaving any further guesses or suspicionsfor Chapter 12 at the door.
THE Danimal

Simon said...

Part of me wants to wonder out loud what Dan thinks everyone is wrong about, and another part of me just wants to get even closer to 50 comments on this chapter before the next one is posted. (Sometime today, probably!)

"The flesh-abacus...of prophecy born...we create...he who has been called...by the hidden calendar."

And I will guess that the flesh abacus refers to Zoran; the hidden calendar is the severed head (Jeremiah or not); the prophecy comes from the head and thus refers to Zoran, the head's maker; he who has been called is then Mr. Miss.

My best interpretation, anyway.

One more to 50!

Dan said...

50

May the God of Mini-Coopers (not Winnie Cooper) have mercy on us.

THE Danimal

sheik yerbouti said...

Fred Savage might disagree.

sheik yerbouti said...

Also, eric... yes. The physical manifestation of the chess pieces (much like the ones Zoran carved all over the freakin' place) is but one weird thing that happened in a long chain of paranormal events, triggered by Event Zero which happens in the future at McGill University and presumably involves Mr. Miss, Zoran, and most likely Lallo and Tenny, if not Bahram and others as well.

Read The Taste of Blue again if you want a real mind-blowing revelation about upcoming events :)

If all goes well, we will be witnesses to the actual happenings of EZ in this novel.

...and now, back to our story.

pso said...

Aah, thanks for the clarification regarding "opt-in" - I was worried for a moment that I'd have to do without CBB stories for an extended period of time.

Also, here are my picks for good introductory stories:

Life and Taxes
The Long Man
Night Flight Mike
Three Face Flip
Pink Santa

Why: They are not too long, so easy to read quickly for someone who wants a sample; they are different from most regular sci-fi and fantasy and demonstrate the things I like most about CBB - the quirkyness, the intersection of technology and society, and the general feel-good nature of most tales; they don't require too much extensive back story; and they include stories that are totally non sci-fi. Also, life and taxes has a character with the same name as me...

-param