An opening two chapter hook for a novel I have been goofing with.
A hepatomancy in carved wood entrails casting vision into the seeing eye of the shaman. Human self-awareness mimicked through a toy-like implement of mocking simplicity. Tuck’s hand shook as he grabbed the sliding doll and removed its cap to gaze again at the same, but smaller doll hidden inside. Красноярск was stenciled into the wood interior of the freshly removed shell. Russian for the city of Krasnoyarsk. Tuck had been there once before. Not among the most pleasant of memories, so he let it slide from his mind as easily as the doll pieces slid back and forth on the teakwood table. Head resting upon his arm on the cool wood surface, slight beads of sweat lay in audience to this odyssey of insight and babushka doll folly. Do the dolls appear any different when seen through the amber refraction of a bottle of single malt scotch? He concluded elsewise.
The energy of a larger than normal wave shoved the sloop hard, and incited a clamor of rattling dishes, glasses and topside rigging. The doll pieces slid by further along still, passed the half amber-filled bottle and tipped off the side of the table. Tuck breathed in through his nose and decidedly back out, amidst the clacking of small wooden bell shaped pieces on the floor. A scotch and naproxen sodium had eased the tension in his shoulders and back – strained from running topside and hauling and easing lines for 68 straight hours. Even intermittent breaks of sleep had featured getting rained upon while laying on hard cockpit cushions with the mainsheet line firmly in hand. A touch alerted him to a doll face which rolled beside and nudged repeatedly against his bare foot, staring back at him. Rocking back and forth from the waves, wagging as if in prescient disagreement with his foolhardy plan.
He grumbled at the realization that the pilot station had begun a steady beeping, indicative of a new contact ship on the ocean horizon, most likely. Grimacing in anticipation of soreness Tuck stood and stepped up through the companionway topside into the bright afternoon sun; his body stiff from old injuries and the pain of working a three day single hand sail on his cutter-rigged sloop Aiyanna in heavy weather. He took a turn around the mainsheet wench, counting ten wench clicks hauled slightly in, watching carefully the curvature in the body and luff of the mainsail. Three foot seas tire a body, six foot seas rend one spent, mind body and soul. The wind may give the sail a pull from which the benefactor makes weigh, but sometimes she takes a cruel price in return. Tuck had sailed for three days since Kingstown, past Bequia and Canouan. The Bestowal Class islands had open credits which could be traded, and would have made fast respite from the seas. But these places and those like it, also had ‘Eyes.’ Eyes marked your location, acknowledged your presence, improved the observed information set; ominously providing the brane with more accurate sorties in snatching and transporting its intended victim. Something which Tuck desperately sought to avoid. Avoid until at least he was ready to undergo the shift. On his terms and according to his plan. In his destination, Clifton he could restock by distributed-encrypted token barter (open credits), not be noticed, pay for silence and draw what he needed. They typically only placed Eyes in more influential sectors.
Since Their arrival and intersection with mankind, almost all social challenges had been solved. One no longer needed cash money, few lacked for housing or food; the secrets of the Universe had been revealed since the ‘They’ arrived. Secrets good, secrets bad, secrets still secrets. The Program as we understood it, had begun in Triblenka, Poland just before 1944. The incumbent geologic disturbances, partial tunnels, so-called interdimensionality, and wealth of clearly segmented Trawniki Guard bodies left no doubt of its early existence, albeit imperfect. The Soviets documented this, but it took years before anyone on the outside understood its purpose and direction. Tuck was shot-trained there – a memory best forgotten. Early in the program, his mentors and trainers explained all this, almost up and unto what Tuck now understood himself. They had selected him his 8th school year, based upon standardized testing scores. Accelerating his progress through advanced physical sciences, literature, maths, music, abstract reasoning, mindfulness and philosophy courses. They introduced Tuck to his mentors his second year at finishing school. Through them he had learned martial arts, diving, long distance swimming and running, tactics, survival and evasion. But his mentors did not have full view of the plan, compartmentalized into only aiding in its accomplishment, yet fully blind as to its broader sordid goal. A goal all too real and apparent to Tuck, now ten years into the fray. He found it ironic that the very skills used to survive the jumps themselves, were after all the skills Tuck now employed to avoid the jumps to begin with. All that was required, was to work for the They and provide them the value They sought. You would have everything you needed. Possessions, estates, women, yachts, mood altering substances, access to events, fine food and clothing. Everything. Yet none of Tuck’s cohort, not even the Nahdän themselves, those who were selected and trained to make the jumps through time, none of his peers really knew who the ‘They’ even were.
Tuck was alerted now by a more urgent beeping, from his radar workstation. He had long since learned that They found it difficult to locate him at sea, or after extended periods of time unobserved by Eyes. Yet Tuck could spot the signature linear footprint of the brane on a High Frequency Surface Wave Radar he had mounted to the mainmast of the Aiyanna. Tuck scrambled across the cockpit and offset the auto pilot; grabbing the helm wheel and fumbling with his binoculars to quickly scan the seas. He examined the leeward horizon, looking in the direction the radar had alerted, for the bright blue electrified signature of the brane. His legs alternately shook as he steadied himself left and right against the rolling of the Aiyanna, her sails taut in the steady alacrid wind.
It would appear from the humidity as a translucent veil, almost like a stage curtain imbued with a glassy blue fire, an electrified barrier of terror; membrane between the timespace they sought to change from, and that timespace history they sought to alter and now command. Tuck was the journey maker, the agent of such change, the observer. As his trainers had explained, the sole exploit needed was for Tuck to go there, back into human, and increasingly now, our and Their shared past, and merely observe. Tuck felt the wind on his tanned unshaven face, swinging his helm right to bring his sloop higher into the wind and change direction, gain speed and angle of inclination. This would not only allow his boat more speed and maneuverability, but also afford her a lower profile on the waves as the boat heeled over from the wind. On a close reach in fifteen knot winds, this condition made for the most ideal evasion. But it was not always effective.
The white angled bow of the Aiyanna dove like a plowshare into an azure blue wall of foam encrusted sea. Heavier seas were also to Tuck’s advantage, and aside from the discomfort, the time it afforded Tuck was of the essence; critical in his ability to avoid the brane in most circumstances – executing his plan to control the subtle interleaving, and what he had woven quietly into time during his shifts. Critical in avoiding the brane until he was ready. The brane emerged stealthfully over the Caribbean colored waves and moved across the ocean following the track upon which the sloop Aiyanna had been formerly headed. Sensing Aiyanna’s new course it shifted its vector in response. Unlike Tuck and his vessel, the brane could ignore the effect of the wind, simply consuming the wind and its momentum as it blew, translating into that same temporal destination it so awesomely sought to impose upon Tuck. It could not persist long, save only to dissipate once it had taken him. Or failed. This malicious merchant of time, the brane existed only to jump Tuck onto and into his next assigned observer mission; to transport him across the horizon of change which would enable Their firmer grasp on mankind. Enabled through one small chess piece move, through the simple act of selective observation, another step in the enslavement would be achieved. Tuck would fall like a drip of water into a past flat timespace, disrupting all that he saw through waves of propagating displacement of quantum state. And more than likely if placed correctly, permanently alter pieces of history into the advantageous pathway rationalized long ago by the They. It was like playing with the rules of the game, only time and history were the rules, where an intelligent use of probability and disruptive state observation placed into the right circumstances, could serve to bend history into an edifice of your liking. A history more compatible with Their goals. It was cheating.
Tuck had long since learned to simultaneously hate and fear the sound the brane made; both aurally and habitually grating Tuck’s nerve. But this time the brane was a bit more clued into his track and position. The brane moved swiftly across the top of the waves, bee-lining directly towards the Aiyanna. A malignant blasphemous Jesus, walking across the water through the storm. He would have to bail and recover to avoid this brane. Tuck swung the helm towards an invisible nub-edge of the wind only his hands could feel, in order to keep the bow as high into the wind as possible. He reset the autopilot to ON and braced his fatigued right leg against the cockpit bulkhead – wrapping the ship’s tow line around his chest. His hands shook as he secured the line with a bowline on him, and tied it off to an aft clete aside the cockpit. The electrical noisy intensity of the brane grew steadily off his quarter. No time remained for much else.
Tuck climbed up on the gunnel and leapt overboard from its metal edge, seconds before the passing of the brane’s energetic window. The loud quarreling of the water met Tucks ears as its cold enveloped his entire body. A welcome embrace from a trusted ally. The brane could not locate nor could it transport Tuck while he was under the water. Especially ocean water. And that would have been a fine remedy back on land, save for the fact that the traveler bore no knowledge of just when the brane might arrive. One could hang out by a pool all day, but in the very moment you stepped away – one risked being swept away by the blue terror. No, being afloat, being at sea – this was both satisfying to Tuck and reduced the frequency of the branes, impeded their accuracy and provided an immediate respite of escape under the waves as well. Save for those specific branes, by which Tuck wanted to be taken. What had been taken away by method, could also therefore be restored by method. Her smile and gentle brush of the hair from her face, lit in sunlight, wafted through Tuck’s mind as so many rescuing waves of sanctuary.
Being dragged by 24 tons of fiberglass III hull through the ocean is no treat. Tuck braced as the line yanked taught and violently initiated his pull through the water. What had his speed been? Seven knots? The pain said seven, yes. Knowing that the brane had already passed and begun to dissipate, he pulled hard on the tow line now crushing his chest and shoulders and climbed his way back toward the boat. Tuck kept his face down and reached far up the line with his arms, presenting as little surface area to the onslaught of water as possible. A brush against his calf diverted his focus in sudden and startling schism. Letting go of one hand while holding fast to the line with the other, he streamlined in the boat’s wake and glanced back to determine what had hit him. Vainly he hoped to see only the rope dangling and brushing against his leg. But the unmistakable tail fin of a shark faded from view, wagging on its urgent mission into the sea’s translucent blue abyss. There were only four sharks which presented problems in this region, hammerhead, tiger, black tip and bull shark. He had seen them all up close in his dive training and missions. The shark types raced through Tuck’s mind. This animal did not have the dark dorsal patterning of a tiger shark, nor the fluted remarkable tail fin of the black tip and hammerhead sharks. Neither did it have the sleek long lines of the hammerhead. No, this predator bore the stubby grey and white compactness of a persistent and territorial shark call the bull shark.
Tuck had to make good pace, but he knew that he had to time his pulls towards the boat with the approaches by the animal, if it came back. Bull sharks always come back. Tuck watched below left and right for the shark’s next approach and telltale body language. The seaman’s tool knife on his pants belt would be of little use, he told himself. The bull came wriggling up from underneath to the port side of the boat’s stern, its eyes affixed alternately upon both the boat and Tuck himself. To Tuck the bull appeared a very deadly ten feet at three or four hundred pounds. It had not arched its dorsal side nor lowered its pectoral fins, so this was not a territorial display. It was either curious to see if he offered any treats, or even possibly saw Tuck himself as a meal. Sharks were smart enough to follow boats, knowing that tasty things will be often cast overboard. But they were also smart enough to tell the difference between cod offal, and a human. The question remained, did this bull have a taste for human at this moment? He would find out on this pass of the predator.
The bull used its tail leverage to allow the forward body to sway back and forth, like a tennis player might sway readying for the next volley. This told Tuck that the shark was not sure what it wanted to hit, only that it should be at the ready if anything interesting appeared. The tow line must have confused the shark on its first pass. The sheer wall of now hulking and intimidating grey and white sandpaper skin diverted aside at the last second, not finding what the shark wanted. Tuck used the opportunity to relax his grip on the tow line and slide towards the shark, driving his heel hard into the gill slits of the creature. The gill slits on a shark were much akin to the throat on a human. A very sensitive area. The nose is also a sensitive area, but the shark knows this as well and is skilled at keeping its nose out of trouble. Besides, one slip of the hand or foot and it will end up right inside a closing set of razor sharp and unforgiving teeth. No, the gills were the place to assault on a shark. The distinct blue tinted V-shaped tail fin suddenly thrashed, indicating the shark’s discomfort, and it left in a flurried exit. The bull would be back again, but only after re-thinking whether this curiosity bore any potential benefit over the apparent difficultly. This gave Tuck time enough to resume his climb up the line. Pull, reach, pull. The most terrifying time for a diver upon encountering an aggressive shark, is that moment when one grabs the swim ladder on the boat and begins to lift themself out of the water. That is the last vulnerable step of extrication – and Tuck climbed its aluminium rungs with abandon, leaping onto the boat, his bare wet foot hitting the cockpit deck and skidding, colliding his shin with the pilot station post. Tuck yelled, then breathed urgently resting upon his elbows, finally popping his head above the gunnel and squinting to the starboard side. The brane was long gone. Ocean waves continued rolling towards their wind-driven pursuit, unfazed by the phantom which had just skirted their crests. The bull shark now seemed a brother in survival by comparison; a reassuringly flesh and blood compatriot in this ludicrous spectacle.
Tuck surmised that it did not really matter whether or not his plan indeed was successful, or even bore a chance of hope. The mere absence of a plan would be enough to drive one insane in such circumstances. Discipline, focus, develop approach, target vulnerability, train, prepare, execute. Is this not what the Nahdän had taught him? These were the habits which displaced terror from the soul. The brane was Their sole technological tool. Their ability to reach into our realm and make adjustments. Their way of reshuffling the deck of causality towards their favor. Like a plant bending its stem to follow the sun through the sky, ever so slowly and imperceptibly. After all, time was on Their side. They had just simply arrived from the temporal void – fully skilled at its manipulation. Whispers came to everyone, yet undeniable, claiming to be brothers, but never seeming to allow the privilege of parity which comes as a normal part of sibling status.
Tuck reset his sheets and sidestepped down the companionway stair into Aiyanna’s salon. Babushka doll pieces scurried about in time to the waves. Tuck grabbed his towel and dried his face and shoulders. Then stuck his head back up through the companionway hatch to let the wind dry and blow his hair back. He noticed that the wind had veered through the day, was more humid and smelled distinctly different. He would look at the barometer after getting something to eat. One last scan of the horizon helped reassure Tuck that it would be at least 15 days before he would face the blue terror again. Time to rest, time enough to plan, time as a gift from that which did not possess it in the first place.
Yet increasingly, we were becoming Them. This was not a romanticized instance of aliens arriving in their magnificent mothership, replete with shuttles, robots and death rays – No Their ‘landing’ had occurred beside us, in a collateral reality – an exact duplication of our own, of which we bore only the slightest awareness. Our religious refusal to research this realm, our abject denial that it even existed – had rendered us ignorant and vulnerable. Exposed to it. Easy prey for the They. It was the realm of phantoms and voices heard in electrical phenomena. And that is the very means through which They first began to speak with us all, simultaneously. They did not seek out leaders, much to the indignant objection of politician, royal and despot. Theirs was a mirror of our own realm; and ours’ Achilles heel. You cannot attack, greet nor negotiate with that which retains control of the very substrate and access to your own existence. What need did they have with politicians? But in that same strange dimension of approach, They arrived on Earth just assuredly as if a 1950’s sci fi antagonist landing upon the venerable White House lawn. We had something They lacked, Tuck was sure of it. Or could it be something They feared? The urgency and skill in planning betrayed so much. But Tuck suspected that this was a script which had also played over and over again throughout the cosmos. The circus had come to town – and it was a talented and experienced predator species. They arrived from the deep void, hungry, seeking to consume what morsels they might find. To live for yet another while and repeat the cycle all over again. While we only discern the fleeting touch of Their tail fin, brushing by and disappearing into the demon filled darkness.
(To be continued…)