Sunday 23 November 2008

The Christmas Robots - Chapter 1

The Christmas Robots (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hat Rack) is a seasonal science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your freefalling host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the first installment.

Seasonal scifi of Christmases past: One Small Step for Santa, Pink Santa

News: John D. Sundman's new novel, The Pains, featuring full-colour illustrations by yours truly, is now available for reading and ordering via WetMachine.

And now, this year's Christmas story begins:


Salt flakes swirl like snow.

Thick ribbons of cloud race across the dark sky, one speeding stream puckering and then tearing aside to admit a falling star. As the light of the tumbling flotsam diminishes, the clouds are once against lost in ink.

Bits of ruined ablative shielding spin away, trailing sparks.

Twin booms report as the ship breaks the sound barrier. Thrusters cough and sputter in a rapid, complex sequence as the pilot fights to regain attitude control. The quickly cooling hull steams, its sides threatening to buckle as they click, groan and flex. A triple pop: parachutes squirt free, then bang into shape overhead.

They are shredded by shards of flying salt, perforated and ragged within seconds, flapping fecklessly in the ship's vertical plume of smoke and steam and ash and crud.

The pilot's eyes widen. "Hell!"

His passenger grips her harnesses as she's thrashed about, lips pressed grimly into a thin, bloodless line. She squeezes her eyes shut and faintly hums.

"Whet's thet sung?" grunts the pilot, eyes locked on the screen and hands gripped at the controls. Veins on his sweat-glistening forehead bulge as he fights the stick.

Without opening her eyes she says, "It's a not a song, it's a mantra."

"Cetchy, though," he shrugs as he paws for the retro-thruster reset. He finds it and the engines roar to life, bucking against the ship's momentum and pressing pilot and passenger alike into their belts painfully. The ship complains with a deep, metallic squawk.

She resumes humming, though it is now barely audible.

A bell rings shrilly, forcing her eyes open. "What is it?" she cries.

"Oh, thet?" says the pilot, glancing at a gauge. He grins dreadfully, white teeth splitting his lean, ebony face. "It means we're geng to die."

"Right now?"

"Shurtly, yis."

Despite the force of multiple gravities smearing her features, she composes herself with great dignity within the quaking seat, folding her legs into the lotus position and placing her palms together. "So is so," she says.

The pilot's next utterances are largely unintelligible -- and, where not, quite unprintable -- as he thrashes at the controls with both hands, even pushing his face into the console to flip a switch with his chin. He grits his teeth and yowls as the landscape swells with grostesque speed on the screen.

The view is lost to vortices of windborne salt flakes. The air shrieks against the hull. The rotors begin to spin, but the ship is too low and too fast to gain the cushion of lift it needs to avoid dashing itself against the ground. Several alarms sound to say so.

The pilot sits back from the controls, then fishes a small vial of liquor from inside his jacket. He cracks the top in his teeth and then upends the contents down his throat. His passenger is watching him. "There's nothing to be done?" she calls over the din.

He shakes his head. "It's miracles or eblivion now, miss." He turns with a lopsided smirk. "Nice to heff met ya, though. Neva met a real concubine before. Pity there's no time to deddle some before we're pelped."

"You're a child!"

"Neh," he argues. "Meck no misteck: I'm a proper men, miss. Almost twinty. Been in three bettles, I heff. Kelled enough to meck me a men tin times over. Even got a cuppla keds somewhere, from some gel or enother."

They stare at each other in mutual non-comprehension as the whistling wind makes further conversation impossible. "Should we brace ourselves somehow?" she finally shouts.

He shakes his head. "Neh."

The cabin booms violently, superstructure shrieking, and then goes suddenly dark.


Dan said...

Wow. Good start with the good Captain Gold. think I'll leave out the "deddling" part when I share it with my younguns.

THE Danimal

Unknown said...

Does the Pilot's accent have any real -life analogue, or is it a cheeseburger original?

Teddy said...

Captain Ting, not Gold.



Mark said...

Isn't this Captain Ting, not Captain Gold?

From what I remember, the accent is made up by CBB in Simon of Space.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

Indeed, it is our old friend Ting. Standby: Chapter 2 will be posted on Tuesday, 25 November.

Cheeseburger Brown

al said...

It's Ensign "Captain" Ting!!!

Anonymous said...

Ah, it's been a long time coming, and all the sweeter for the wait. It's good to see our favorite reckless captain again.

Odd that the salt is flying fast enough to shred the chutes.

Dan said...

I'm and ASS!!!! I KNEW it was captain Ting and put Gold in there anyway!!!!!

THE Danimal

Teddy said...

at reentry speeds, anything solid will.


Anonymous said...

Salty robots, salty salty.

SaintPeter said...

Yay Yay Yay Yay!

*does a happy dance*

Ceeptan Ting!

*composes himself*

Carry on, then, Carry on.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Graham asked after the pilot's accent earlier. I'll reply now. Apologies for missing it before; I was at work, and my focus split.

Ting's Reullian accent is not rendered in print with complete consistency, which can make it hard to pin down.

Partly this is because it is a made-up accent and thus subject to the imperfect fidelity of my imagination's aural simulation engine. Also, sometimes I change my mind about things and then forget. (I never claimed to be a good editor.)

For the most part, though, I have more practical reasons to being inconsistent with the accent. For example, sometimes too many Tingisms (words spelled a particular way from Ting's mouth) in a cluster can cause a line to become virtually impossible to parse. So, known Tingisms are omitted from time to time to keep his dialogue basically comprehensible.

The odd spellings are supposed to add some colour, to give you a flavour, more than any attempt to directly transcribe what he must sound like...which wouldn't really work out anyway, because these people are speaking a hypothetical "Common Verbal Protocol" and definitely not Early 21st Century English or any Google translated version thereof. Capturing and representing their actual words verbatim would be an academic exercise of Tolkienesque (or Okrandesque) proportions.

That being said, when the character first appeared in Simon of Space and this very question came up in the comments, I think I said that the accent's closest real world analogues might be South African or Samoan English. (When I think Ting, I think Pacific for some reason.) I take wide liberties with those inspirations, however, so it would be best to think of them as points-of-departure rather than exemplars.

Feel free to imagine the accent any way best pleases you. My apologies if something he says later on contradicts your notion. I'm working to keep his chatter as smooth as I can make it.

Cheeseburger Brown