Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mons - Part 2

Preamble: The big dirty secret about being unemployed is how much fun it is. Granted there's the insecurity, poverty and fear to deal with but there's also the exhiliration of actually living each day like it's unique rather than a numbered square in a sequence that counts wearily and endlessly from weekend to weekend.

Now I get to spend all day with my offspring, which is as delightful as it is trying. Did you know young people talk all of the time? They never stop -- and half of it is questions that require some sort of coherent response. For free! It's obvious we need to establish a union for parents so we can collectively bargain against that sort of thing. I mean, how's a fellow to smoke his pipe and read the newspaper in peace what with all this obnoxious caterwauling and curiosity and growing?

I feed my family rice and oats and garden vegetables. We buy honey from the farmers up the road. Today I splurged and bought a dead chicken. My boy wants to know if it is in McNugget form, and is dismayed when I tell him it is poultry-shaped. He wants to know why we can't go to McDonald's. I say, "Because in North America they don't serve beer there."

To save a bit of money at home I bought strings of LED lights to replace incandescent bulbs in key locations inhospitable for one reason or another to compact fluorescents. This rocks for two reasons: firstly because I am exchanging 60-75 Watt bulbs for 3.7 Watt strings of equal brightness, and secondly because now the old schoolhouse looks like a permanent Christmas wonderland. Since it never really looked like a proper house on the inside anyway -- more like a cross between an ambitious tree-fort and a Dickensian squat -- I think this turn of d├ęcor is entirely for the better.

A friend of the family needed a fill-in for their factory administrative faculty so my wife volunteered. She files. She is writing a manual for them so the next temporary administrative fill-in can hit the ground running. The factory's human components are pleased about this, and will give her money. Because she's my wife and the childrens' mother I bet you dollars to doughnuts she will share this money with us.

Another plus about the situation is that I get to lounge about in the bedroom watching her try on the swankiest professionalesque ensembles the used clothing store has to offer, like sitting backstage at a Goodwill fashion show. This affords me life drawing opportunities. And, let's face it, if people didn't make me do other things I'd probably do little else. What's more relaxaing than the meditative peace of studying the just-so sweep of side-boob's line?

I've had a bit of work here and there, and between there and here I've typed up a few more chapters of the current serial. I'm going to go outside and burn leaves and play in the smoke with my children, but in the meantime please feel free to stay wherever you are and go on reading the story. Ready? Scroll, click or swipe to proceed.

(The story unfolds beneath the fold.)


MONS
by Cheeseburger Brown

(This is the second post in a multi-part serial, consisting of chapters six through eight of the story. You can read the previous five chapters here.)

6.

We took the train up the coast. We had a cabin on the north-western side of the car so outside all we could see was the sea. It never changed, so once the train was up to speed it didn't even feel like we were moving. It felt like I was just sitting in small room staring at wallpaper of an ocean horizon for a while.

I looked down. The water in my glass was tilted. The train was climbing the Tharsis.

The others squealed and laughed. I winced.

When I'd arrived at the train station for departure it had been easy to spot Scotia in her parka, especially because it looked just like the one she'd tried to buy for me but especially especially because she was flanked by two clones. Their matching parkas fit perfectly. When they turned toward me I recognized them from the company.

"Chloe!" cried Scotia with glee, "you're here! Of course you know Svetlana and Suzumi. You remember? They worked with me in marketing."

"Hi Svetlana. Hello Suzumi."

Scotia gushed, "We're all going to go together as a team! When they heard our idea they just had to come with. Isn't that awesome?"

"Awesome," I confirmed.

Suzumi offered me a slight bow. "It's going to be awesome," she said with a practiced smile.

Svetlana shook my hand. "I think I remember you from the kitchen," she said. "You love muffins, right?"

"Awesome," I said again for some reason. Everybody just smiled harder.

I leaned my head into the glass and looked down at the bed of red pebbles over which the train flew. They appeared to me as a wavering blur of long lines. We were moving six hundred kilometers per hour. If I pressed my cheek against the window I could look forward along the train and see it -- Olympus -- swelling into the sky. It scared me.

Scotia and Svetlana and Suzumi were painting one another's fingernails. The cabin smelled like the alley behind a beauty parlour. It made my eyes water. Or something did, anyway.

Way before I was ready for it to happen the train slowed. The water in my glass tilted the opposite way. Everybody started fidgeting with their stuff. With a roar of air the train surged into the terminal. The Amazonis Sea vanished, leaving me looking at my own reflection. I looked away.

Our team strode down from the carriage three abreast, and then I came following after them. We met our baggage at the carousel. Scotia dropped a bead on the polished floor of the terminal and a map swirled out of it. Scotia gestured and the map zoomed. She pointed. "We can camp on this shelf here tonight if we hit the trail right away. I mean, assuming we can keep up a good pace and everything."

I looked up because it was quiet. They were looking at me. "Great," I said.

We exchanged shoes for boots and then fed our shoes to our backpacks, who then mounted us and secured themselves across our breasts and middles. Mine rumbled as it redistributed items inside itself to correct a weight imbalance, then chuffed quietly as it expelled a pocket of air. Suzumi looked over at me and giggled, hiding her mouth behind her hand.

Zinc, sun-lenses, lipgloss. I let Scotia apply them all. "Now you really look like part of the team," she said to me and gave my shoulder a squeeze. "You're going to do fine, Clora." She paused, a theatric furrow between her eyes. "It is Clora, right? I'm not screwing it up again am I?"

"It is, no, you got it right," I said, nodding supportively. "Um, it's just pronounced more like 'Clara.'"

"Clara."

"But without the final a."

Scotia's bead jumped off the floor and into her glove. She led us all in a kind of cheer and then we pushed out of the train terminal and into the open air at the foot of the escarpment. We all had to stop short and there were two reasons for it: firstly because of the arresting view, and secondly because of all of the people ahead of us arrested by the arresting view. A compression wave of awe jammed the terminal's exit terrace.

There was a wall of rock extending upward eight kilometers straight into the air. A line of ants seemed to be defining a zigzag path up the cliff-face, but they were in fact full-sized human pilgrims walking the famous stairs and switchbacks carved into the stone.

Above the cliffs the mountain started in earnest, rising another twelve kilometers to the calderas. But from below the cliffs the peak was invisible, its presence hinted only by a whorl of orographic clouds against an unnaturally deep bruise in the sky -- the shadow of Olympus on the atmosphere itself.

I think I let out a little squeak.

We followed everyone else to the base of the first run of risers. The stairs were allegedly hand-cut by Felix himself before he left the Solar system for the frontier, but this mostly seemed to be alleged by people selling memorabilia proclaiming the same, so I didn't know if it was really true or not. The way to the stairs was lined with wallahs on blankets and wallahs in stalls, singing and imploring and hawking essential hiking gear and mountaineering tools alongside spirit tokens, protective amulets and flasks of elixirs promising to oxygenate the blood naturally for a bare-faced ascent. They infiltrated the ranks of the pilgrims and tugged on their backpacks, babbling experimentally in every kind of planetary dialect until they happened on one mutually understood. "You're beautiful, you'll get to the top for sure, but not without my mother's special blend of formulated oxygen! Come, inhale a sample, see how strong you feel! Everyone who summits does it breathing our famous secret mix!"

"No thank you," I said, squirming past him to follow Scotia's backpack, which was looking around warily in case of pickpockets.

There was a park at the base of the Felician Stairs but the grass had been stomped dead. People milled between the trees. We gathered by a weathered statue of some forgotten pioneer and Scotia set up a recording bead to take a picture of us all. Scotia posed in the middle with her friends flanking her. I found a place for myself off Suzumi's left elbow. "Ready?" asked Scotia. She opened her hand.

The recorder zipped around us emitting pulses of light. When it was done it hovered over Scotia and dropped into her outstretched palm.

I blinked away the afterimages.

Scotia was passing out beads. I took mine dumbly. "Diarize," she advised, "for B roll content. Express your worries. Make it all seem scary. I want to believe your resolve, sisters."

"I don't understand," I said.

"It's all part of the marketing plan," said Svetlana. "Has she not read the marketing plan?"

"There's a marketing plan?"

Suzumi rolled her eyes. "This is what happens when you add players at the eleventh hour," she said. She was looking at me when she said it, even though she could only be describing herself and Svetlana. After all, I'd been a part of the plan since the beginning.

Scotia put her arm around my shoulders. "Listen," she said, "what we're selling here is a story. It's the story of a group of women the corporate world has turned its back on, who overcome their doubt in themselves by doing what many set out to do but few succeed at, but totally succeeding at it due to a bond of sisterhood that can overcome any obstacle."

"Is that a story we're selling, or is that just what's happening?"

Scotia waved dismissively. "Same difference. It's a matter of framing, and we're pre-framing our success in order to maximize the potential of our notoriety window when it comes. Part of that is stocking content. That's where the beads come in."

I smiled and dropped the bead in my bag. I heard it jingle and ding as it tumbled down to the bottom. I didn't care because I didn't plan to look for it. Before she could turn away I reached out and touched Scotia's arm. "Scotia, can I ask you something?" I asked quietly.

"Anything."

"Why does it always seem like everyone has a lot better idea what's going on than I do?"

"That's just garden-variety paranoia, sister. I wouldn't worry."

I glanced over at Svetlana and Suzumi. "But I feel out of the loop, kind of."

"Don't be ridiculous. You are the loop. It's just that S and S understand things from a marketing perspective, so that's how I've contextualized everything for them. I'm sorry as hell if it makes you feel left out somehow."

"But you explain everything to me in marketing terms, too."

"Oh? Well! Then there's nothing to feel left out about after all, is there? Wonderful. Chin up, I'm sure you're going to be able to keep up just fine."

"Keeping up wasn't my concern, though."

"I simply adore your confidence! Right on, sister."

We bumped fists for some reason. Svetlana and Suzumi had already joined the queue slowly but steadily feeding itself into a narrow file proceeding up the first run of stone steps, ascending up the escarpment and disappearing behind a switchback. The chatter around us was positive and friendly -- as if we all were a group of loose acquaintances sallying forth for a little Sunday promenade and not embarking on a quest to summit the sky itself. Like it was nothing.

I came to the first riser, and lifted my boot to begin.


7.

At first I had to keep my eyes on my feet to find my footing but in time my legs memorized the spacing and I was free to look around. The edges of the risers were worn to curves and in the middle of each step was a polished depression eroded by the passage of millions and millions of feet over the centuries. The stone was grey because the rusted upper surface was being continually buffed away except in a narrow ridge down the very centre of the staircase where a void of passage marked the division between upward and downward traffic with an undulating orange stripe.

Those coming down were quieter than those going up. They blinked less often. They moved with patient assurance. I was too shy to meet their eyes.

Scotia's brunette coif bounced ahead of me. Over her shoulder I could see Svetlana's blonde and Suzumi's ink. The sound of a stranger's footfalls behind me guaranteed my pace. After a quarter hour of climbing the general chatter diminished. I could hear us all breathe. I noticed beads of sweat on the back of Scotia's long neck. I was relieved. It meant it wasn't just me working hard.

I licked my lips and mopped at my brow. I wondered if Madeleine was okay. I felt a spurt of anger and pushed onward with new effort.

After the switchback the sun was in my eyes. We climbed higher. The crowd spaced out in clumps with runs of no one in between as faster climbers drew ahead while slower climbers plodded along. In this way the line self-sorted by speed into social clusters. Scotia slowed until we were climbing the stairs alongside one another. "How are you doing?" she asked, eyes serious.

"Just fine," I said.

She looked at me appraisingly for a moment longer and then let her eyes flit away. "That's a good attitude," she said. "You're a tough cookie."

She jogged up ahead to catch up with Svetlana. They shared a joke together. I always wished I had a girlfriend like that.

Two switchbacks later the sun was a greenish smear melting into the western horizon, the Earth and Venus visible as two dim, twinkling pearls hanging over it all. The day's heat ebbed away and the stones quickly became cold. At long last we hefted ourselves up the last few risers to a long, narrow plateau, a kind of shelf along the cliffs with small boulders piled at the edge as a fence. The plateau was already dotted with tents and illuminated by the glow of camp fires. The scene was surveyed by a single public eye atop a tall pole swaying gently in the breeze.

"It feels awesome to out in nature, like doing everything for ourselves and everything," commented Suzumi as a tinder box crawled out of her backpack and unfolded itself on the ground. There came a blue flash from the titanium-boron igniter and then the sweet smell of hot kindling chased a trail of smoke curling up from the combustibles cage. "Roughing it makes you feel alive," she decided.

"You should put that in your diary," said Scotia.

"I already did. Is it bad that I re-used it now?"

"No, no, no. Maybe it'll trend as a catchphrase. You never know."

Our tents climbed out of our backpacks and lumbered around scanning the ground. Mine turned in place a bunch of times and then finally settled and began to unfold. Everybody arched their backs to stretch them out after being freed. I did too. Everybody twisted their torsos. I did that, too. The other girls reached down and touched their toes while I fished through my gear for a snack.

The brightest stars were becoming visible one by one, punctuating the mauve sky. Crickets chirped. I threw a wrapper in the fire.

"This is kind of peaceful and nice," I said, unwrapping a second snack.

My body was sore but I'd escaped without the worst kind of blister or any kind of injury. I felt awkward around those marketing clones but at least they seemed to be leaving me alone. And Scotia did seem at her most sincere when she was reassuring me I didn't have anything to worry about, so maybe I really didn't.

Maybe this was all going to work out. Maybe even Madeleine would be happy for me.

We fried rice over Suzumi's fire. Svetlana doled out salad. Scotia provided grilled kebabs and I took care of desert. They asked me questions about what exactly I used to do at work and then they didn't ignore the answers I gave. They wanted to know if Rolo was gay. It was kind of nice to be the centre of attention. I turned pink but nobody could tell because of the fire.

"Goodnight, sisters."

I crawled inside my tent which was scarcely bigger than me. I let the sleeping bag find me and wrap itself snug. Very quietly I opened and ate a third snack, lying on my back and staring at the scintillating darkness, listening to the small noises of the others in the tents around me.

I slept so deep I didn't dream.


8.

There was something reassuring about the antiquity of the Felician Stairs that I was only able to put my finger on once it was gone. I was startled out of my pace and almost tripped, catching myself against the cliff on my right. I looked down at the steps. For the first time in two days their character had changed. Suddenly the edges of the risers were crisp and perpendicular.

"Why are the stairs new here?" I asked aloud, panting. My thighs were burning. My shins were burning. The inside of my clothes felt slimy with sweat.

"Washout," said a dark man on the descending path. He gave me a strange smile as I turned my head to watch him pass.

Somebody grunted behind me. I started climbing again, my toes catching on the new edges. I had to look down for a while to find my pace again. Once I did I accelerated so I could catch up to the others. "Excuse me," I said, nudging past some strangers. I winced as I somehow made my angry legs continue moving.

Between bouts of trying to catch my breath I told Scotia what the man had said. She scoffed. "Don't take it to heart, sister," she said. "Don't let him discourage you."

I frowned. "Pardon?"

"You won't wash out, I just know it," said Scotia. She looked over at Svetlana.

"We all believe," said Svetlana.

"But it wasn't about me, it was about the stairs," I said when I could.

"It was probably the same creep that leered at Suzumi," said Scotia. "What did he say to her?"

"Supplicate or suffocate," supplied Svetlana.

"No, that's what he said to me. What did he say to Suze?"

"He asked if she was married. It's disgusting. He looked a thousand years old."

Suzumi had slowed down enough for us to catch up to her. "He didn't ask if I was married," she explained. "He said something about being buried."

Scotia snorted derisively. "Pervert."

"I don't get it." I blinked. "But still, why are the stairs new here? Or -- um, back there, I mean. Look behind us. See? I thought that guy was saying parts of the stairs got washed out sometimes. That's all."

Scotia seemed dubious. Svetlana showed me a patronizing smile. "Do you really imagine there are many floods up here kilometers into the sky? Just because you can see the coast doesn't mean it's close."

I looked out to the ocean horizon visible only as a glimmering haze beyond the green plains below. A froth of dense, heavy clouds was roiling up over the distant waters while we hefted ourselves up the stone steps in the glaring sunshine.

"See?" said Scotia. "It's like the sea is in a whole other world. Can it even rain up this high? That would be a good thing for you to research when we break for camp, Corrine. Is your li-comm signal strong?"

I looked down at my watch. "I've got three bars," I reported, but when I looked up I was trailing behind again.

Lightning snaked silently through the clouds far out over the sea.

When we came to the evening's alcove for camping I was surprised to see how small it was, and wondered what the hikers who arrived after us would do. But as we set up for the night and got supper on and only a few others had turned up I realized that the upward traffic had already thinned to a trickle. It could only be that many of the people we saw coming down had come up no further than this. Here, at the top of the cliffs, on the precipice of the volcanic shield above -- this was close enough for many.

Testament to this were the small temple platforms for offerings dotting the edges of the plateau. This was the point at which some people turned around and went back home.

Twilight came quickly after the sunset was swallowed by the looming storm in the west. The air turned even colder. I inched closer to the fire and hugged my own shoulders.

Scotia called us to gather around as her bead spun up to speed and sprayed out a projection. "I know it's been a tough haul, sisters, but we're about to cross the threshold. Up on the shield above is the Spa of Statues. I've booked us a night so we can refresh ourselves before starting up the mountain proper, like as a reward."

Suzumi and Svetlana cheered so I cheered too, but a second or two too late. I felt like an idiot but nobody glared at me.

Blushing made me feel warm so I jammed my hands in my pockets and wandered away from the light of the fire for a moment. I put my boot up on a boulder and peered over the edge of the cliff. Down below I could see nothing, like staring into blindness.

I squinted, confused. Where were the lights of the settlements at the foot of the cliff?

Lightning flashed. The scene was briefly revealed. The storm had washed in over the lowlands and surged up against the escarpment, dense whorls of cloud completely occluding the landscape beneath us. Like a wave crashing on rocks the storm's westerly edge was sloshing up the cliffs, tendrils of wind-torn cloud reaching up toward us. Thunder groaned.

"Excreta!" I yelped.

Pebbles crunched as Scotia came up beside me. She leaned forward. Her eyes widened when the lightning flashed again but when she turned to me she was grinning. "Ooh!" she said, "Isn't it pretty? Nature sure is awesome."

"I'm a little worried. Should I not be?"

"No, no, no -- of course you should not be," she said, putting an arm around my shoulder. "The storm's not going to come up here and get us, sister. It's not a monster. Let it rain on the plains. We're on Olympus, looking down on it all like Greek goddesses. Ooh -- I like that! -- goddesses. We'd make awesome goddesses, wouldn't we?"

I said, "Um."

A gust of wind whooshed up beneath us, pushing us back from the edge of the cliff. "Well," admitted Scotia, "I never said it might not get a bit windy!" She pulled on her hood and cinched it tight, still smiling.

Gusts of cold air pulsed over the cliff causing our tents and belongings to flap rhythmically. I saw other people frantically gathering their things and securing their sites. "We should get in our tents!" said Suzumi, crawling backward inside her town. "Good night!" she said, shrinking the aperture to a pinched point.

I looked down over the edge once more. Something was glittering in the dark.

"Is the wind blowing rain up at us?" asked Scotia, furrowing her brow.

A triple strobe of lightning. Clouds of glittering particles were surging up at us out of the top of the storm. A rough peal of thunder sounded and then we were assaulted by an up-pour of crystal ice shards. My hands flew over my face. Scotia shrieked. The camp fire turned to fat billows of steam ripped ragged in the erratic wind.

Between lightning flashes the plateau was completely black. During the flashes I saw signs of panic as tents tore loose from their moors. I crouched down into a ball as lumps of hail bounced off my back and slivers of ice cut my exposed knuckles.

Somebody ran desperately past me then screamed when they ran out of plateau. The pitch of the cry changed as they accelerated away, plunging into the storm's churning core below. My breath caught in my throat. Would they die? Oh my God, of course they would!

I crawled deeper into the plateau. I never even tried to find my tent. I just found the cliff side and wedged myself into a niche between two boulders, then fished around inside my pockets until I found my gloves. I hunkered down. I hugged my shoulders and rocked and hummed. I designed dresses in my mind. I remembered my mom.

Ice pelting against rock became a white noise.


Proceed to the next section of this story...

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

*makes a cliffhanger pun of some sort*

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Ooooh. Shiny!

You have the gift, CBB; I was completely immersed when you broke the connection on chapter 8.

There are so many subtle touches that I can't even begin to remember them all. Crazy "roughing it" tech, a possible history of Felix, and this hopeful-yet-realistic attitude that Claire has toward her companions. Also, I had to go back to the chapter 3 to make sure I had her name right (I'm still waiting to see exactly what you're doing with that).

For what it's worth, when I started reading your treatise on unemployment, I thought it was chapter 6. Silly me. I'm glad you're enjoying your situation; we're still allowed to grow gardens here, but the groundwork is being laid to make it an illegal activity at some point.

Upward!

SaintPeter said...

I love the little, subtle futuristic touches like the self adjusting backpack, self lighting campfire, and sleeping back which finds you to wrap itself around you.

I continue to ponder Scotia's motives. On one hand it is clear that this is just marketing to her (more on that later), but on the other she doesn't appear to be completely heartless either. Despite her continually mangling Clair's name, she does seem genuinely (if somewhat vapidly) concerned about her well being. She's not "bad", just self absorbed and condescending. Not sure that I'd trust her in a pinch - and if one thing is clear it's that there are plenty of pinches to come.

--

I am intrigued by this idea that their climb is a performance. There is a notion that they (or at least Scotia) can "sell" the climb as a documentation of a metaphorical struggle. I think of Facebook and Twitter, where people give little snippets of their lives throughout the day. But those snippets are not "really" their life - it's a performance of their life. Most of us don't share everything, we just share tidbits that we think others will like or want to hear about or are representative of our self image.

This is not a bad thing, per se, but it is sort of a newer form of external self. I don't know how much we even notice how much we "put on" these different selves, adjusting for context and audience - not just a self for the public or private, but SELVES for different publics or different privates. We only notice them when we have out-of-context meetings - like meeting your boss at the grocery store, or having your wife visit you at work.

I guess what I'm getting at is that social media lays bare some of these selves and gives us insight into the more self-conscious creation of a public self. "I'm not really witty, but I play a witty person on the internet". I sometimes find myself doing things, saying things, or documenting things purely so I can share them on Facebook. This is especially true with my daughter - I'm way more likely to grab the camera when she does something cute so I can share it with my family and friends.

I suspect, CBB, that you are more aware of this than most, having created an "online persona" along with its own pseudonym and, presumably, own personality. You get to play yourself on the internet.

--

Question for after the end of the story: Did you create a giant list of "C" names and check them off one at a time as you used them so there'd be no repeats?

At some point it starts to take real effort to misremember a name so consistently. You'd think she'd stumble back on it just by pure chance.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Sheik said,

For what it's worth, when I started reading your treatise on unemployment, I thought it was chapter 6.

I dropped the italics because they were matching my eyes itchy. My hope is that the visible division between above-the-fold content and below-the-fold content would compensate, but since that division is only visible when one is visited via the general blog and not via post-specific link nor RSS feed nor old timey telegraph.

So should I reinstate the italics, so that when I'm typing autopseudonymologically it's more clear? Vote now, or forever hold your peace and/or angst.

Sometimes the details of my own life aren't coincident enough to enter the circle of bemusement but sometimes they are. I can't promise I won't be this confusing again. After all, they say you should write what you know. And since I have a vanishingly small experience of Mars I'm forced to draw from more mundane sources, like failing to remain gainfully employed, or going camping in a modern provincial park, or caring for invalid relatives, or what have you.

Hey, Kurt Vonngegut had his firebombing to draw upon (ahem, over and over again) and Joseph Heller his unsuccessful escape from a soulless army bureaucracy into a soulless corporate suburban plutocracy as a well for funny and bitterly true things to say. I never had their advantages. I never fought in a war but I went to college outside of my home province. Plus once I sawr a blimp.

I was completely immersed when you broke the connection on chapter 8.

I'm glad to hear that, Sheik. I wish I could've fulfilled my original plan and posted chapters 6-10 all at once but unfortunately I got a freelance assignment and then my daughter wanted a milkshake.

We're still allowed to grow gardens here, but the groundwork is being laid to make it an illegal activity at some point.

Listen, I don't have a teevie so bear with me if I'm really out of touch, but poop around the village is that chunks of America just decriminalized marijuana or something. I'd've thunk that was symptomatic of a strong and vigourous gardening lobby. Or is that not how it works? Politics confuses me. All I know is the place was set to go all Handmaid's Tale on everybody but then didn't, so it's a happy ending after all. Right?

Plus America has rockets again, which is cool. But I hear they're going to have advertisements on them, like in my very own WELCOME TO MARS! novella (available now through select on-line retailers, yadda yadda yadda). I heard there's a spaceport in New Mexico, and that the salsa on the nachos is really authentic and has bits of mango in it.

Yours,
Cheeseburger Brown

SaintPeter said...

I would like to see the return of italics or some other visual indication (Alternate font/color/blockquote) that the text is commentary or introduction, not the body of the work.

I did understand quickly that the verbiage was not part of the story but, like Sheik, I have previously found it confusing.

I have always enjoyed your updates and musings, so don't stop doing them. Just make sure they are visibly offset from story content.

BTW - I would love to read a more detailed "real life and times of the cheeseburger" type update as you have intermittently done on HuSi. I stop by periodically to read about your exploits.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

SaintPeter said,

"At some point it starts to take real effort to misremember a name so consistently. You'd think she'd stumble back on it just by pure chance."

Hey, yeah -- you would think that, wouldn't you? How very odd.

"Did you create a giant list of "C" names and check them off one at a time as you used them so there'd be no repeats?"

No. My notes for this story are skeletal. They consist of a) a link to this blog post in which Warren Ellis says the following:

"The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. [...] Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space."

and b) a name for each of the fifteen chapters, which more or less suggests the major action and/or ground-covered, and c) the phrases "you are the planet's nipple" and [REDACTED FOR PLOT-CONCEALMENT PURPOSES] and then something typed too clumsily and therefore rendered into surrealist poetry by iOS guesswork. Finally I have also included the words "yardang" and "orographic."

That's all I got. Anything else I'm shooting from the hip.

"I am intrigued by this idea that their climb is a performance. [...] I think of Facebook and Twitter, where people give little snippets of their lives throughout the day. But those snippets are not "really" their life - it's a performance of their life."

You know it: science-fiction of substance isn't about robots and spaceships -- glorious as those things might be (especially when they explode and/or go berserk and/or zoom really fast) -- it's about the times we live in right now. Scifi without social commentary is just...horse opera with metal horses. Which would be kind of cool, actually. But that's not the point.

"I love the little, subtle futuristic touches like the self adjusting backpack, self lighting campfire, and sleeping back which finds you to wrap itself around you."

Thank you sir. All that divides the future and the present is what we take for granted.

Yours,
Cheeseburger Brown

Tolomea said...

> Hey, yeah -- you would think that, wouldn't you? How very odd.

For what it's worth my theory is Scotia's character is all about the name Claire, it means something really significant and painful to her, that why she keeps Claire around yet at the same time can't say her name.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Tolomea: huh. You're either more deep or more observant than I am (and possibly both).

CBB: Italics might help, but don't torture yourself. It's probably just the similarity in this case between the source material and the work of fiction.

As for the current state of things, it's hard to say. States may (quite in accordance with the Constitution) decriminalize the wacky weed, but the federal government doesn't usually trouble itself with such historical trifles as pieces of paper enumerating principles upon which our country was supposedly founded. Raids on medical MJ gardens, the busting of Amish farmers, and armed takedown of kid-run lemonade stands... these things tend to illustrate that the anti-grow-your-own lobby is alive and well, though perhaps biding its time.

Now I have to run before they trace this number.

Tolomea said...

> Tolomea: huh. You're either more deep or more observant than I am (and possibly both).

Not at all, heck I totally missed the mons thing till it was pointed out.

It's about this:

> At some point it starts to take real effort to misremember a name so consistently.

Yet there's no indication of intent, she seems to genuinely misremember despite how unlikely that is becoming.
That suggests two possibilities, 1: Secret Math (the story) type probability oddness 2: a strong subconcious aversion to saying the name.

And then there's the question of why Scotia is so interested in having Claire along when everything else suggests she would normally avoid having anything to do with her.

Inability to say the name suggests guilt, keeping her around suggests obligation and/or atonement.

Tolomea said...

> Tolomea: huh. You're either more deep or more observant than I am (and possibly both).

Not at all, heck I totally missed the mons thing till it was pointed out.

It's about this:

> At some point it starts to take real effort to misremember a name so consistently.

Yet there's no indication of intent, she seems to genuinely misremember despite how unlikely that is becoming.
That suggests two possibilities, 1: Secret Math (the story) type probability oddness 2: a strong subconcious aversion to saying the name.

And then there's the question of why Scotia is so interested in having Claire along when everything else suggests she would normally avoid having anything to do with her.

Inability to say the name suggests guilt, keeping her around suggests obligation and/or atonement.

Tolomea said...

Also I wonder at them all having S names, is it just a literary device to emphasize the sameness, or is there some particular significance.

SaintPeter said...

@Tolomea -
Those are some great observations RE: Claire and S names. I hadn't thought of those.

More evidence - The only time that Scotia got her name RIGHT was when she saw her taking care of her disabled sister. Strong emotional association with the name is very possible.

@CBB -
I had to look up orographic when I ran into it in the story. Amusingly, Firefox's spellchecker doesn't like it.

@All -
These great comment discussions really add to my appreciation of the story. I used to be one of those guys who poo-pooed any sort of meta-textual analysis and didn't find any value in looking for symbols. As I grow older I find that my enjoyment of a story increases with my depth of understanding of it. It is a continuing delight to share that with y'all.

Tolomea said...

> Suzumi rolled her eyes. "This is what happens when you add players at the eleventh hour," she said.

What if the other two clones were involved from the start and Scotia didn't tell them about Claire till right before the trip started.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Sheik mentioned,

"[…T]hese things tend to illustrate that the anti-grow-your-own lobby is alive and well, though perhaps biding its time."

I will now admit to you -- yes, even in mixed company -- that I have through a previous employer been contracted to work for a super-sized American-based multinational "agribusiness" concern. In fact, I quit that job over this particular client because continuing to do their bidding was inspiring in me clinical levels of acute melancholy I lacked the life experience and EQ wherewithal to cope with.

While in my capacity as a professional propaganda prostitute (which has been my "day job
for lo these past 1.5 decades) I am frequently called upon to promote destructive ideas and emphasize the sincerity of things that aren't true, and so am relatively unfazed by even the biggest lies, but this particular client crossed the line by putting me on a mission to lambaste and ridicule the findings and even the personal habits of certain prominent scientists who had been vocal in criticizing certain aspects of the client's plan for world domination. My ambition was insufficient to surmount this challenge, in the end, and self-loathing limited my ability to take another run at it.

However, my take-away from the experience wasn't a complete loss. I also learned a lot of really interesting things about agribusiness, and by what means the major players in the industry planned to "grow the brand" in the twenty-first century.

Which is a very long-winded way of saying, arrested farmers? -- my friend, the stories I could tell! (If doing so wouldn't make me a target for litigation, which it might, so I won't unless we're in person and having beers.)

Yours,
Cheeseburger Brown

EMHMark3 said...

"Our tents climbed out of our backpacks and lumbered around scanning the ground. Mine turned in place a bunch of times and then finally settled and began to unfold."
I'm going to name my tent Fido.

EMHMark3 said...

"Our tents climbed out of our backpacks and lumbered around scanning the ground. Mine turned in place a bunch of times and then finally settled and began to unfold."
I'm going to name my tent Fido.

pso said...

And then there's the question of why Scotia is so interested in having Claire along when everything else suggests she would normally avoid having anything to do with her.

A heroic tale demands sacrifice. Some people have to fail along the way. That would be my guess about the role Scotia intends Clara for.

I have no theory about the names though...

Cheeseburger Brown said...

SaintPeter: "I suspect, CBB, that you are more aware of this than most, having created an 'online persona' along with its own pseudonym and, presumably, own personality. You get to play yourself on the internet."

Identity is weird, because it only exists in relation to an observer. Whatever ramshackle and self-contradictory ideas I might have about myself is only so much uncollapsed waveform until another human being forms their own opinion.

Identity is a substance apparent only in contagion, and the Internet is the ultimate sick ward.

Identity is like a pickle. It's green and cochlear. ("I'm sorry, can you speak up?")

That is to say that I'm not sure I know the difference between [RECIPIENT OF BILLS AND JUNK MAIL] and Cheeseburger Brown, except that it's hard to sue the former over the blather of the latter, and having the latter blather makes for clearer search results when people Google the former.

…That way nobody to whom I owe money can get mad at me if I post about eating at a fancy restaurant.

Plus that way nobody who wants to hire me for a job has to deal with the fact that I like robots instead of football, or that I deny sasquatches rather than evolution. Similarly nobody who just wants to ignore my personal ideology and read some fun stories has to be subjected to Tracebook posts about my voting habits or opinions on birth control. There's a soft separation there, for everyone's convenience.

Whether or not you subscribe to current models of global anthropogenic HVAC is not a matter that should come between you and me as storytelling friends. That's a whole other blog.

Same goes for Obama and vegetarianism, consensual bedroom shenanigans, who can marry what, and whether or not God isn't. You have an opinion and I have an opinion and a good old-fashioned friendly science-fiction factory isn't the place to be flinging them around, because invariably somebody gets their nose out of joint and if I'm going to lose readers I'd like it to be for my failures as an artist rather than because they failed to persuade me about the Illuminati.

(In general, I find persuasion uncouth.)

That being said the division is not watertight, so when my wife and I sneak out into the night to paint on public spaces it's not something I'm going to ballyhoo as C.B. Brown. Because the provincial police aren't stupid. They'd be at my doorstep in a heartbeat. I'd end up having to pay the financial consequences for my actions, and I don't want to.

Which is a long way of saying I suppose there's a certain amount of compartmentalization at work, yes. But that aside from such defensive measures I'm a pretty consistent product. People who've read what I write are seldom surprised by the way that I speak (the exception being nerves-fuelled high-speed babbling in podcast interviews, which isn't like me at all, except when I'm being interviewed for a podcast) in a normal mode.*

* Normal mode assumes a certain level of comfort. Before this has been established I am likely to be more taciturn, and to use only simple words and short phrases in an effort to camouflage my personality behind a veil of friendly banality. This often puts folks at ease more than being myself and therefore makes for smoother introductions. I have been making active use of this alternative personality since freshman year at college. He's a lot like me but more affable and standard.

When I wrote my book SEVENTEEN DRAWINGS I became too aware of the recording-exhibiting process half way through the day, thinking of moments not as moments unto themselves but as postable assets, yes, just as you describe SaintPeter. That's probably why I never did another one like that -- the feeling of authenticity is lost too easily!

I had more to say on this subject but my children just came in from outside so now I need to make lunch and teach them about the father of abstract expressionism a little.

Yours,
Cheeseburger Brown

Et Cetera said...

Hi CBB,

I'm commenting here for the first time to point out a minor typo:

"Scotia provided grilled kebabs and I took care of desert."


I first read the Darth Side sometime during high school, perhaps 2006 and was enamored with your portrayal of Mr. Vader.

Sometime later, perhaps the middle of undergrad, I read Simon of Space, also perhaps staying up 'til 4am to finish it. I liked the many different scenes portrayed in the novel -- a bit like going on vacation in a book -- as well as the journal format.

Between then and recently, I would occasionally read another story and check for new chapters in The Secret Mathematic.

Recently, I re-read Simon of Space, and I swear that some time between then and recently, my mind "turned on". I believe the accumulation of some amount of life experience is what helped me see the motives of the characters more clearly and intepret more of the sub-text. As a result, the story became much more than in-head sightseeing. In some meaningful sense, I grew up with your stories.

That also makes me wonder if sitting in classrooms for over a dozen years is a good method for developing human beings.


I have noticed that, despite many of the fantastic worlds, beings, technologies, etc. in your stories, they retain elements of relatability. For example, the esteemed master barrister may be a large bug-like creature that talks in chemicals, but his politely antagonistic relationship with the martian schmuck lawyer cum taxi driver seems quite relatable, as do the translator difficulties.

In keeping with the nature of the worlds you dream up, there are bits and pieces of ideas that would seem to be impossible for humans to grasp due to their distance from our experience. I get a sense of this with the emotional makeup of the Zoranics (although you elaborated on it in this serial), premonitions of it in contemplating Simon's fate, and something much closer in what it would be like to be a part of the henniplasm. I am very interested to see how a fiction story that concentrated on elaborating a nearly incommunicable experience would turn out.

If you have written one, please remind me. If you do end up writing one, I would certainly like to know about it.

In any case, thanks for writing.