Tuesday 1 January 2008

The Secret Mathematic - Chapter One

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

Chapters: 1|...

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

And now, our first tale of the new year begins:


Dragana Zoranovic is the prettiest girl in town, but she won't be for long.

No one has any idea what is to come. The universe may have its own suspicions, but it holds its cards close. Tomorrow can be like that: as inevitable as inscrutable, as obvious as a lottery after the draw.

(The future is usually likely, but seldom sure.)

Doroslovo is a small place. The main intersection and the way over the bridge are cobblestoned, but the rest of the roads are packed dirt or gravel. The houses are humble, thatched and shuttered and moldering, but connected to the sagging lines of utility poles and lit at night by the flashing glow of television. To the north are the tall steeples of Sombar, blue on the horizon. To the south is an elbow of the Danube, constricted and fast, steered between ancient stone walls, its throaty hiss a constant backdrop to village life.

The bridge is flanked by two tanks. Their crews are jocular, well-fed young men from Belgrade. They swear loudly and laugh. They spend a lot of money at the bar but never leave tips. When they get bored of staring at the empty road they sometimes shoot stray cats or patronize Vasa if she's awake.

(Those six guys are putting Vasa's son through school. Also, there are more rats poking around than there used to be. Unintended consequences, both.)

It has become fashionable to move away to Budapest, so many of the houses in Doroslovo are empty. Kids sneak inside to screw around, to smoke stolen cigarettes or sip stolen liquor, to piss on abandoned kipple. Some of the houses have bomb shelters dug in beneath them, sometimes the product of a well-groomed, methodical paranoia and sometimes instead rude, improvised holes inspired by immediate fear.

(The country is coming apart, after all. Anything might happen. Unexpected events become probable when exchanges of heavy ordnance are involved. It's worse than guessing the weather.)

A couple of black-haired boys loiter at the window of the abandoned house that is neighbour to the Zoranovic cottage. They know Dragana's comings and goings, and mark their day by them, waiting for their chance to drink her in as she passes by and then touch themselves, streaking the sill. Sreten and Stevan are best friends, and they do everything together.

It's cloudy.

"Why don't we open the curtains?" says Dragana as she walks inside the cottage, pushing her bags from the market onto the kitchen counter. "It's like a cave in here."

"You know why," snaps her mother, Danica. She was handsome before she became hard. She still bothers to make herself up, and her house clothes are fashionable mail-orders from Novi Sad. Her chin is high. She sits on the sofa, a cold cup of tea laced in her long fingers, her painted-on eyebrows arched. Danica continues, "If we take them off now, we'll forget to put one of them back tonight. Bombers will see them, and then kaput -- me, you, your brother: ashes."

Dragana rolls her eyes. "Nobody's bombing Doroslovo, Mama."

"It's a war. You can't know."

Danica is anxious to see the proofs that have come through the post, anxious to see whether the money she has paid a lecher in Sombar is well-spent. She lights a cigarette and flips through the stack of large format glossies, scowling dramatically but nodding all the while. Twin streams of curling smoke jet from her nostrils. "You're gorgeous in these," she decides, eyes lingering critically over the last print. She looks up. "It would be noble to say thank you."

"Thank you, Mama."

Dragana's eyes are on her lap. She doesn't want to see the proofs. She spins her fingers together and twists them into shapes.


Pumpkin_Masher said...

yay new long story!

"She still bothers to make her herself up,"

I think it's supposed to be "She still bothers to make herself up,"

al said...

Ok, a lot shorter than I would have liked but still. Ok.

Anonymous said...

Short, but a nice pick-me-up to mitigate the end of vacation.

I just realized that this hasn't been "chaptered" yet. Yay for the return of novels!

In other fun news, I got some colored lenses for my flashlight this Christmas, so I could finally view the cosmic reindeer in 3D!

And now, back to work.

Simon said...

A tantalizing start to the new year and a new story. I hope and expect the chapters will get longer, but my appetite has certainly been whetted. I love being along for these rides.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Happy New Year!

Thanks for the typo fix, Daniel. And Al, typical of my introductory chapters this one is short: the bad news is that the next few are short, too, but the good news is they'll be fired off in relatively rapid succession.

As our esteemed Sheik points out, this story hasn't been "chaptered" yet -- that is, it hasn't been outlined in an episode-by-episode basis to the end, which is how I usually roadmap these things.

As I started developing this story I realized that shoehorning it into a tight, one-month schedule would not do justice to the themes and characters I wanted to explore here. As I struggled to revise the schedule to reflect the way the story was growing organically, I further realized that there might be an element of added anticipation and structural uncertainty for you readers should you never know whether the chapter you're currently reading is the last or not. I decided, in short, to keep you guessing to heighten the drama.

One of the chief reasons I've been using the format of detailing the number of unposted chapters yet to come is to assure newer readers that it's worth investing time in reading Chapter One because the following chapters are actually coming. I, personally, would like that kind of assurance when I visit other fiction blogs because of the uncountable number of times I've been burned reading a serial that has no conclusion because the author got discouraged, got lazy, or simply moved on.

However, I feel I've earned a certain credibility with you fine folks and you should have confidence that I always finish what I've begun. Thus, The Secret Mathematic is being spun-out free-form.

I hope you enjoy the ride.

Cheeseburger Brown

Orick of Toronto said...

Happy New Year CBB and everyone. Hope you guys are staying healthy. This year's flu bug seems especially potent.

Credibility you got plenty, CBB. Glad to be reading a long story this time. I hope my new workplace won't be blocking this site though because I hear their IT policy is draconian. We will see in 10 days.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Orick,

Yes, this year's holiday influenza is a nasty one. I can attest to this as I live and barely breathe, a living litmus to all the latest cooties because of the combination of being chronically overworked, exhausted and, of course, having two children who mix socially.

As for your new gig: I hope it's a nice change. If you do have trouble, you might be able to do an end-run around the filters with Inblogs.

Cheeseburger Brown

Teddy said...

Drago feverishly optimized an algorithm with a stub of splintered pencil and a profound erection. It was noon.

He was hunched over his desk, standing in his underwear, a perfectly functional ballpoint pen tucked behind his ear and therefore lost. His scrawny body still carried the imprint of the bedsheet's pressed folds, two dimensions of its dream-tossed topography tattooed in pink across his pale back.

I've been something of an absentee recently...still reading religiously, just, you know, stuff on the brainpan...

I've been looking forward to this story for QUITE a while now. Should be fun!


Mark said...

Something tells me I'm into something good.

Didn't someone say that?

Looking forward to the freewheeling ride of an unpredictable number of chapters.

Do you hope to lead us directly up to a certain momentous date in February? Is it appropriate to get goose bumps in anticipation of that date? If not, then mark me inappropriate.

I have managed to finish all the works of fiction I've begun online. Not with the aplomb of our favorite CheeseBurger, perhaps, but I don't leave anybody hanging.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

Yes, they're already getting longer though I still hope to keep them manageable...those 5,000 word posts kill me!

Dear Teddy,

Me too. I hope you're not disappointed but where I take it.

Dear Mark,

Indeed you are a finisher, and I don't mean to malign you when I lambaste the fiction-bloggers as a general lump. You're one of the exceptions (like me!).

Which reminds me: I'll have to find a way to work in the Hemming Spacestation somewhere, won't I?

Yes, this story was originally slated to conclude around the launch of the Simon of Space second edition, but the way it's going I'm not so sure anymore. We'll see how it pans out.

Cheeseburger Brown

gt281 said...

good start...tension building...the unknown awaits...
no problem with the length,, it is what it is...onward to...page 2???

SaintPeter said...

They know Dragana's comings and goings, and mark their day by them, waiting for their chance to drink her in as she passes by and then touch themselves, streaking the sill.

Can someone explain to me exactly what they are doing to "streak the sill"? I must have read this sentance about 10 times and it still doesn't make sense to me.

Also, should I recognise any of these characters from other stories? Is the gal the sister of Drago? Mother?

As usual, I'm panting for more.

Will you be updating more frequently if you're doing smaller bits? Will it be more like when you were doing SoS?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear SaintPeter,

Can someone explain to me exactly what they are doing to "streak the sill"?

Yes, Saint. They're masturbating.

Also, should I recognise any of these characters from other stories?

Well, the "Related Reading" links at the top of the post can help clarify that, but following along here IS NOT predicated on having an encyclopaedic knowledge of tales past -- you can, after all, just take the chapter at face value without knowing who may end up connected to what.

But, yes: Dragana is Drago's sister.

Cheeseburger Brown