Filed under: asperger's syndrome, Justice, personal development, Politics, Religion, Scotland, Steampunk, Technology | Tags: Brexit, Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society, GUESS, MCSC, Music City Steampunk Consortium, NESS, North East Steampunk Society, Trump
I think it is fair to say we live in strange and troubling times, what with the decision by the English to turn their back on Europe and drag their neighbours also into a new parochial rejection of the outside world, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA who appears also to want to turn his back on the world whilst at the same time plundering its resources. I accept this is somewhat of an over simplification, but the political details are not really my concern here, but rather how people respond to them. I think it is fair to say that that feelings are running high not only in The USA and the UK, but in Europe and throughout the Middle East, look further afield to Africa, Asia and Russia and it looks as if the whole world is on the edge of some sort of emotional cataclysm. So what, if anything, has any of this got to do with Steampunk?
I know that Steampunks like other folk hold political opinions, some are guided by political and religious beliefs so why, when countries are bitterly divided within themselves and from their neighbours, are Steampunks from all around the world still bumbling along together cheerfully? The answer is not ‘Gin’…at least not entirely. I would like to postulate that there are several reasons Steampunk is not dragged into the political morass in which the world now wallows. I have to confess at this point that my reasoning is based upon my observations of British Steampunk, it may be that some countries Steampunk differently, however I suspect that what is true for a British Steampunk is as true for others around the world.
Those who know my personal political beliefs to be extremely socialist, republican, and nationalist may find it strange to see me including Scottish Steampunks in the umbrella term ‘British Steampunk’. The truth is that apart from some details of expression there is little to distinguish the attitudes of Scottish Steampunks from their southern neighbours…when in Steampunk mode. And I think that is my first point: Steampunk as a way of thinking occupies a place that is meta to ordinary political thinking. Some Steampunks live in a permanent attitude of Steampunkery, for others Steampunk is more of a cosplay that they put on and off. However as I have said, when in Steampunk mode Steampunks relate to the world differently from other people.
I remember being startled when I realised that in a whole weekend at the Asylum in Lincoln I had heard not one swearword nor a raised voice. There is something about being a Steampunk that induces courteous behaviour. A Steampunk uses politeness like a shield to parry the unpleasantness of the world and wit the blade to return the blow. I will not pretend for one moment that Steampunks do not insult each other, but we do so with wit and humour, perhaps some buffoonery so that there is almost as much enjoyment of defeat as pleasure in victory…when the other side scores a try (or a six) we applaud and enjoy the moment for its own intrinsic artistry. What is saddening about politics at the moment is the depths to which people have sunk in their interactions with each other, people have become nastier, xenphobia, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and abuse have become commonplace. People have no embarrassment at being caught in a lie. Respect for the rights and opinions of others is no longer considered important or even desirable, there is no place for old fashioned courtesy. Except in Steampunkery where old fashioned courtesy lies at its heart (we do like old fashioned or even an Old Fashioned).
One might expect a strong conservative streak in Steampunk because of its embrace of old fashioned courtesy and dress. However Steampunk cherry picks what it takes from any era and so while embracing the virtues of the past it rejects its vices. Strong women are very evident in Steampunk circles, frequently armed to the teeth with customised Nerf guns and they’re not afraid to use them! Steampunk is undoubtedly trans cultural as can be seen in its Facebook groups, but also at major Steampunk gatherings that attract attendees from all over the world. Our Glasgow Ubiquitous E. Steampunk Society is not only associated with the Music City Steampunk Consortium of Nashville, Tennessee, but has scheduled a jolly day out with the North East Steampunk Society from England (now that is true internationalism!). I haven’t noticed religion entering the Steampunk conversation except as a costume, we have Steampunk monks with goggles and Victorian Bishops with gaiters at one end and goggles at the other. Given the international nature of Steampunk, I assume that it contains folk of all faiths, but they don’t let it come between them or get in the way of the fun.
Conservatives may not be very evident in Steampunk, but conservation is. Steampunks have a respect for history especially, as the name suggests, for its technology. Nothing sets the Steampunk blood racing more assuredly than polished brass, well oiled pistons, smoothly turning gears, and the ecstatic call of a locomotive whistle. “Ah but,” I hear you say, “Steam engines run on fossil fuels and pump carbon into the air!”…don’t expect a clever argument from me, although I would argue for balance and responsibility. However the Steampunk embrace of steam should be interpreted rather as an embrace of the best of contemporary technology, which in Victorian times was steam. I think we should note that Steampunks are equally enamoured of clockwork. The essential thing about the Steampunk attitude is that technology is employed for the good of society. You may object that Steampunk has its evil villains and mad scientists with their death rays and killer robots, but they only exist as villains in opposition to the positive technological vision of Steampunk…besides they are playing a role (or possibly over playing in the case of Kenneth Brannagh’s Dr. Loveless) we all come together in the bar at the end of the day. In Steampunk science is treated with respect and so is scientific method and evidence, some (many) of our inventions are fanciful, but they can be so because we are aware of the difference between science and superstition and so are free to play with both. More importantly in Steampunk the urge to conservation manifests itself in an abhorrence of waste, or more accurately a love of recycling and up-cycling. Steampunk is not part of a disposable society; where civilians dispose, we reuse and re-purpose.
I think what sets Steampunk apart politically from much of society is that it is cooperative and sharing. In victory there is little inappropriate triumphalism whether in cosplay competitions or a tea duel…okay there may be a little (I’m not sure ‘little’ is entirely the correct word.) triumphalism in tea duelling, but there’s none of the vicious denigration of the losers that has marked the conduct of Trump supporters and Brexiteers, nor the bitter resentment we have seen from the other side. Steampunks are building a better future for all based on the best of the past and that means magnanimity and mutual support. You will rarely find a Steampunk rubbish someone else’s work, but they will be generous with suggestions for improvement. Steampunks help each other, they share their skills and insights, they encourage each other. I think it is safe to say that wherever you observe someone indulging in selfishness, discrimination, misogyny, xenophobia, abuse, or any form of discourtesy the person you are observing is not a Steampunk. Steampunks are building a future on the foundation of the most noble values of the past. To put things more simply: If they ain’t nice, they ain’t Steampunk! Now it’s Time For Gin!
Filed under: Health, personal development, Politics | Tags: 2017, celebrity, death, EHCR, Good Friday Agreement, human rights, terrorism
Two days into Twenty Seventeen and we’ve already had the terrorist shooting in Istanbul and another mass shooting at a new year’s party. We are being told that a terrorist attack on British soil is inevitable. Am I worried? Surprisingly not in the slightest.
When I say I am not worried I mean I’m not worried about a terrorist attack. Statistically we are all in a lot more danger from dying as a result of an air crash or road accident than at the hands of a terrorist. I am far more concerned that our politicians are going to use the supposed threat of a terrorist attack to further curtail our liberties and to spy upon our every day activities. I am concerned that our politicians’ eagerness to reject the European Convention on Human Rights will undermine the Good Friday Agreement and expose us to the possibility of renewed paramilitary violence in the North of Ireland and to bombings on the mainland. I am worried that withdrawing from the ECHR will provide the Westminster government with an opportunity to destroy the limited devolution settlement Scotland now enjoys and anxious that it will lead to a further diminution of employment rights. The threat of Islamic terrorism against targets in the UK is very low on the list of things that concern me. I see the rise of the Right and of post Brexit xenophobia as far more dangerous to the UK than Islamic extremism.
I have to admit that I can see no logical reason for fearing death. Death is inevitable and no amount of fear will prevent it, only an idiot fears it. On the other hand it is equally stupid to unnecessarily seek death, except possibly in the face of debilitating illness. The upset of bereavement makes a degree of sense, it is natural to be upset when we lose someone we love. However death is inevitable and we will inevitably lose people we love, everyone we know will eventually give up this physical body and move on to something else. There is little point in speculating what comes next because we can’t know until we get there, assuming there is anywhere to get to. If all that awaits us is oblivion then there is certainly no logical cause for fear.
Last year was marked by the deaths of many much loved celebrities as well as many less widely known benefactors of humanity in various fields, some of whom may have contributed more to the world in practical than even David Bowie. There is a meme on social media at the moment showing Bruce Forsyth saying “I made it, you bastards!” referring to the perception that Twenty Sixteen had been massacring entertainers; and, of course, there is the ever popular meme, “Breaking News: Keith Richard found alive!” The fact is that every year actors, musicians, academics, writers, politicians, and many other people well known in various fields will die and this year will be no exception. While our beloved celebrities are dying there will be many ordinary people dying from illness, war, the effects of the UK Government’s austerity measures, unjust sanctioning of the sick and disabled, road accidents, natural disasters and many other causes and most of us won’t even notice. No one life is worth more than any other, nor any less. Every life should be celebrated and every death marked with respect.
Many of us will die this year. Perhaps some of us by violence, hopefully not. The inevitability of our deaths is not cause for anxiety, nor upset. That we must die is an excellent reason for enjoying our lives to the utmost while we have them. We are all as capable of joy as we are of sadness, so why not choose to have fun? Our joy is not caused by our circumstances, but by how we relate to them. I don’t have any plans to die this year, but I’m not going to worry about the possibility which will be there every year until it isn’t (or I am not). My plan for this year is to live every second to the fullest, anything else is a waste of a precious gift. As for everyone else’s lives, I intend to celebrate them whether they are alive or not. Now I shall retire for the night and probably celebrate Leonard Cohen or Elvis perhaps. So many lives then and now and each (even the worst) carries a gift that deserves to be celebrated.
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
I stayed for a week helping Simeon understand the frieze. Once we’d identified Earth and Keppler the cartographers started looking for clues to the frieze from among their charts. I returned to Obamapolis and Eva, leaving behind a project that might last for generations.
I returned to troubleshooting for Bennie’s trying not to allow the Valley of the Kings to haunt my dreams. I had expressed my views, it was not for me to try and deny anyone the right to make their own choices. After one trip I got home to find Eva excited.
“What’s wrong, what happened?” I asked anxiously.
“You did it!” She exclaimed. “You bought the Roddenberry! You’ve just got to have the confirmation witnessed at the Mayor’s office.”
The Mayor was as surprised as anyone. He asked me what I intended to do with Roddenberry. I hadn’t really thought about it, so I asked him how long we had to wait before we continued the ongoing colonisation program.
“Well S-7 is established, but there’s no need to push on yet. However with funding we could launch an expedition. Unfortunately we couldn’t authorise public money until there is a demonstrable need to find a new colony and that won’t be for generations.” He mused.
“What if an expedition was privately funded?” I asked.
“It would depend on how many colonists there were. Theoretically anyone could voluntarily participate on a privately financed expedition.”
I decided then to speak to the Astronomical and Exploration Institute to see whether there were any strong candidates for colonisation. But first I thought I’d better mention my intentions to Eva rather than surprise her with a plan for a new adventure in which she had no hand in designing. As I spoke of my ideas for the Roddenberry I noticed the grey in her hair and asked her if she regretted our lack of children. She smiled.
“It might have been nice.” She said, “But I think in all honesty we’ve been too busy to bring up a family. Besides we have had a good time without children to distract us.” She sat and looked at me for a while before saying, “I may be too old now to have children, but if you do want them, my eggs were frozen before the expedition began. If they’re still viable we could still have children.”
The next day she told me that one of her laboratory assistants – born a decade after our arrival – was willing to carry Eva’s child for her. Becoming parents would delay the start of any expedition, but if the eggs were yet viable they might not be after another long voyage and we could not set out with a young baby. In the end we decided to go ahead and if successful use the extra years to prepare an expedition to Epsilon Ten the nearest viable planet which would require minimal terraforming.
We were successful and I more or less ceased my wandering in the wilds, having discovered again how much entertainment a child can provide. Not one, but two. A couple of years later we used Eva’s laboratory to fertilise a second egg and so by the time our expedition was ready we had a seven year old boy, Vladimir Cane and the sweetest five year old daughter, Anya. The only colonial ship we would take was the Roddenberry, who seemed quite excited at the prospect – I really do feel machines can feel excitement although some would think that ridiculous. We secured the services of the Britannia as our escort. DC had retired, but vouched for the ability of the young Captain, Sean O’Rourke. In the Valley of the Kings the archaeologists were still at work deep within the mountain tunnels and in his stasis pod my Grandfather still slept.
The new colonists seemed so young as they boarded the Roddenberry. Young and optimistic. All the children of settlers and all wanting to move on and carve out a new life for themselves. Their families saw them off with many tears because we all knew this would be the last time they would meet. We left knowing that we no longer play a role in the development of S-7 and in the events of the settlements. I left with some anxiety because I was leaving my Grandfather asleep and for all their research the archaeologists had never explained his presence. However we have to each make our own choices, the archaeologists and government had chosen not to seal the stasis pod in concrete and I chose not to remain. As in the past I would remain out of stasis, but Eva and the children along with the other colonists would spend most of the flight in stasis. Before she entered stasis she said to me that she was looking forward to setting up a new home on E-10.
“I’m sorry,” I asked,” What did you say?”
“I’m looking forward to E-10. Why what did you think I said?”
I laughed, “For a moment there I thought you said ‘Eden’!”
“Perhaps it will be a new Eden…good name for a colony.” She observed.
“If it hadn’t been used already,” I replied.
“Our own paradise.” Eva smiled. She kissed me and climbed into the pod.
“My paradise is wherever you are.” I said as I closed the lid.
So a new Eva and a new Eden, but we would not – I hoped – be walking with God in the garden.
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
The techies replaced the lid immediately. Everyone looked surprised, but such was my vehemence even the archaeologists didn’t try and stop me. Later Eva asked me what had happened and I told her. For now I merely told them that the giant in the box was was the creator of the Shoggoths and that it was not safe for any of us to allow him to wake. Despite my misgivings the archaeologists were determined to conduct an exhaustive examination of the site. Eva and I went back to Obamapolis when it was time to collect more supplies and equipment for a prolonged stay.
Back in the Capital everyone was agog for news about the site. Because it was impossible to get a comms signal in the ‘Valley of the Kings’ as the archaeologists had nicknamed the site the reports from the site were intermittent as each one meant a substantial walk before the broadcaster could start transmitting. I was leaving the studios after being interviewed when I encountered the Bishop. As he questioned me about the site I thought I might be able to enlist his help in getting the dig closed, so I mentioned to him that the site told the story of the creation of Humankind and offered to show him. He accepted and I would have added his name to the other dignitaries who were to visit, but I invited him instead to come back with me and the supplies.
A couple of days later before I left I received a price for Roddenberry a twelve digit number. I agreed the price, and gave a list of the things I thought should be included.
Shepherd Cain was as excited as a young boy. I spent the journey telling him the bare bones of my story with one exception, but it was a big one. Needless to say he asked all the usual questions and I answered many, others I told him would have to wait until we reached the Valley of the Kings.
As the Bishop and I made our way on foot or more accurately I, on foot and he, on a mule. The construction workers we had brought with us were beginning to make the track navigable for All Terrain Vehicles. As we headed towards the ridge we were followed by the noise of saws and bulldozers as the path was widened. It occurred to me that if the archaeologists weren’t going to lave well alone they might be glad of a quick exit.
When I took Simeon Cane into the now well lit tunnels to the ‘tomb’ he was fascinated by the reliefs on the walls. We looked into some of the smaller rooms where one of the team – not an archaeologist – but a zoologist – told us that what we had thought were stone tables seemed to be dissecting or embalming tables as evidenced by a drain with space for a portable receptacle. That an alien scientist was lying in stasis in the middle of his laboratory was a thought that gave me no comfort whatsoever.
In the tomb the lifting gear was still attached to the closed box. Simeon asked what it was, I replied,
“All in good time. First I want you to look at the frieze.” I conducted him around the frieze from the picture of Earth with a man and a woman standing on it, past the various events many of which appeared to be accounts of terraforming at a level we could only dream of. However it was possible that many of the planets we were able to adapt for settlement had once been terraformed by the occupant of the box. We came to the statue of the bearded giant with the man and woman on one side and the Shoggoth, the hybrid Shoggoth/Man and a man emerging from cauldron.
“Is that you?” Asked Simeon peering closely.
“It would appear so.” I replied “And these are my mother and father.” I pointed to the other figures.
“And this?” asked Simeon, indicating the huge central figure.
“The creator of Adam and Eve, you probably call him God or by some name. I call him Grandfather. He’s the one who genetically manipulated my curse, he is the creator of the Shoggoth and who knows what other creatures. Some of the things on these friezes are probably the fruits of his experiments.”
“Are you telling me he existed, a mere creature?” Demanded the Bishop.
“Oh not a ‘mere creature’. If he was seen as a god it’s because to all intents and purposes he was one. Not the only one, but powerful beyond human comprehension” I replied.
“It’s impossible!” He declared, “Its blasphemy! How dare you? How could you? God is omnipotent, universal!”
“Not this one.” I said, bluntly.
“No you’re wrong, you must be wrong!”
I looked him in the eye and asked,
“Whatever did you think ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves’ meant?” I continued, “God created man in the image in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”
Tears were running down his face as he sank to his knees. I felt sorry for him.
“Simeon, look at me!”
He raised his face and I spoke to him again. “There is nothing wrong with your faith, but this is not your God. Yes we gave rise to the myths from which your faith grew, but your faith evolved. If you look at the old religions of the Old Gods they were brutal and thrived on violence and blood, but like the believers the religions evolved…to an extent anyway. As you rose above the old barbarism you created a god in your own image, a reflection of the perfection to which you aspired. Unfortunately you poured your new wine into old skins” I pointed to the box, “My Grandfather –lying in this stasis chamber – is the old skin. Don’t pour your faith into him. The best thing you can do is to convince people to fill this chamber with concrete so that he can never spread his cruelty again through the universe!”
Even as I spoke I understood that what I condemned as cruelty was not; it was curiosity and a need for affection. The Old Gods had left when they no longer had the adulation of their creatures. Who knew where they had gone – the McGuinness twins believed they had returned whence they came somewhere in deep space. A more worrying question was why was my Grandfather here, in stasis.
I could tell from the expression on Simeon’s face that he was not going to help me have the chamber sealed and so I said to him,
“Whatever we do we need to understand why he is here. Perhaps there is a clue somewhere among all these carvings. You need to understand what will happen should he awaken.”
He was still kneeling looking dazed and so I added,
“This is too much to take in so quickly, I am sorry.”
Eventually he managed to compose himself. We sat quietly, alone. The others had mysteriously left us alone – humans can be sensitive. At last he asked,
“May I see him?”
I operated the hoist so that the Bishop could look at the origin of his religion. He looked at the face of the Old God and then at the statue, back to the sleeper. I closed the box.
We sat in silence my arm around his shoulders. We sat in silence for a long time and I wondered if perhaps I had been too cruel in exposing him to all this.
“Perhaps you should.” I said, “Think of him, not as God, but more like a prophet. At the very least you now know that there is substance to the stories people have dismissed as mere myths.”
“I’m not sure that’s a comfort.” He gave a sad smile. The smile broadened. “This may shake up the faith, but it’s going to hit the followers of Dawkinism even harder.” He began to laugh, “God is real, we found his body!”
I worried that he might turn hysterical, but he calmed down and after a few moments said, “We’re all going have to rethink everything we know.”
“From Earth via Keppler and every colony, the scientists have been following a God in whom most of them didn’t believe.” I added.
It’s going to be all right, isn’t it?” He asked.
“It usually is in the end,” I assured him,” But I’d still be inclined not to wake him. Certainly not before you understand all these,” I waved towards the frieze, “And examined every inch of these tunnels!”
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
The next morning we met at the Zeppelin moorings and headed for the mountains. The round trip would take us three days. By the time we got back I’d have an idea of the best route and the equipment we’d need. We took Doctor Llewellin Jenkins of the Cartography Corps to record our observations on the map. After several months on the ground it felt good to be in the air again and the mountains are spectacular in summer. No matter how carefully you select your seeds for a new planet there’s always something that gets carried away with itself. The supposedly non-invasive rhododendrons we’d introduced were romping across the foothills in a riot of colour. Eva – who had seized the opportunity of the expedition to assess the progress of the mountain planting – was heard complaining several times that “they weren’t supposed to do that”, but do that they did. She was very excited to discover a new climbing rhododendron. My biggest concern was that the abundance of plant growth would make travel on foot hard work.
When we reached the valley I had to admit the structures looked as if they were build by design rather than nature. It would have been good to have been able to land in the valley but the wind currents were unpredictable with savage cross currents and eddies so we had to maintain a height that made examination of the structures impossible. The good thing was that we found a suitable landing place in a neighbouring valley. It’s strange how a difference in shape and alignment can make such a difference to atmospheric conditions in the hills. In the windy valley, we noticed the vegetation was much more sparse than elsewhere in the mountains at that altitude. Having found a place to land we camped there for the night. Having spent the previous night in the air it was nice to have the opportunity to walk on firm ground.
The next morning after another overflight of the structures we started back to Obamapolis. Because by nightfall we were back over the lowland plains we could have moored and camped, but I preferred just to keep going and so we arrived back at base in the early hours. The next couple of weeks were spent in preparation for the expedition. I began to be anxious that one Zeppelin wouldn’t be enough to carry all the equipment the various corps wanted to carry. The geologists and botanists wanted to take sample cases. The cartographers and archaeologists wanted surveying equipment. They all wanted photographic equipment. I insisted on a squad of marines. Then there was camping equipment, food and medical supplies. As well as all this a number of pack mules. What had began as a small archaeological trip had become an interdisciplinary expedition which made it easier to get approval, but provided many more head aches for those of us responsible for its success. I managed to cut down on some weight by having the different groups share equipment wherever possible, but I found myself thinking thinking I should have insisted people take only what they were prepared to carry.
At last the day of departure came and hundreds came to see us off. It’s easy to forget in an older community just how hard life is in the early days of a colony and how little there is to provide relief from the daily grind. Opportunities for travel are few and knowledge of your planet limited so the departure of the expedition was a source of excitement. We would be sending back daily illustrated bulletins which would go to all the settlements and fill the daily broadcasts supplemented by hours of analysis by experts. Prominent among the experts would be Professor Friedland who wanted to go on the expedition, but was by then far too old to travel. The watching crowds were as excited as the expeditionaries themselves. The atmosphere was like a school trip to the seaside as the Zep lifted off to the cheering of the crowd. The solar panels on the top surface of the bag allowed the cameramen to send a live feed of the journey and the cartographers took it in turns to provide a commentary on what the viewers were seeing. Later when we were on foot they’d have to be more selective in their filming, but for now they could treat the audience to a view of the planet beyond the settlements.
With the Zeppelin so heavily laden it took us a full two days to reach the landing site in the mountains. The first night we camped on the plain before we entered the hills. The next night we were tied up at the mountain anchorage. As we couldn’t offload our supplies and equipment until daylight the cameramen spent the hours before bed filming interviews with anyone willing to talk while they still had access to the airship’s power supply.
Most of the next day was spent in winching supplies and equipment to the ground. We lost one of the mules. It panicked as it was lowered from the Zeppelin and somehow slipped out of the sling, fell head first to the ground and broke its neck. Had it not been for the wind conditions we might have been able to parachute most of the supplies straight to the site instead of carrying them. Now with a mule short there was more carrying to do than anticipated. It was late afternoon before we completed unloading the ship and so we didn’t start walking until after breakfast the next day.
“It’s gone!” One of the young botanists came running back into the camp where we were just finishing loading the mules.
“What’s gone?” I asked.
“The mule, the dead mule. Something’s taken it!”
“Okay, calm down and breathe.” I turned to the Captain of Marines, “Can you take a couple of men and take a look?”
“Sir!” He saluted and went off into the jungle with three men.
Half an hour later they returned having followed the drag marks until the suddenly vanished. There had been what appeared to be tracks, but they had disappeared with the drag marks. The zoologists had no idea what it was, but suggested that just as the ‘dragons’ were merely mutated chickens it might be an undocumented mutation. However none of the zoologists wanted to remain behind to investigate while the expedition proceeded without them so we set off for the structures. It was a slow journey as the marines had to cut a path for us, but the pace favoured the botanists who could take samples without delaying us at all. Later that day we camped in a clearing by a waterfall. After the incident of the missing mule we set up an electrified perimeter fence and the marines mounted guard in shifts, but the night was uneventful as was the next. We reached the structures in the evening of the third day of walking. It was obvious immediately that they were not natural as the regular stones were covered with pictograms. I refused the archaeologists permission to start investigating that night as we were all tired from the three days of walking. I don’t think anyone slept as well as they’d have liked, as well as the excitement of the discovery the winds blew through the structures which caused an eerie moaning.
The next morning we were up early the caterers had set up a field kitchen and they provided a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Muesli for the vegetarians – centuries of space travel hadn’t changed the reality that there’s always more on the menu for meat eaters then vegetarians – or a omelette if they wanted. Washed down with hot tea and coffee the breakfast set us up well for a busy day.
What became quickly apparent was that the ruins were more extensive than we had realised as the structures extended back into the mountain which had been excavated. The archaeologists reckoned that much of the building stone was from the excavation. It was also discovered that the hillocks around the valley were not natural, but rather spoil heaps from the evacuations. The spoil heaps extended far down the valley until they were swallowed up by the tree line. The scientists immediately set about taking samples to explain the lack of vegetation in the area there was an amount of moss and some fungus. Had not initial microscopic examination revealed it bore no structural resemblance to the D-4 fungus I might have ended the expedition there and then, but I didn’t.
The first couple of days were spent by the archaeologists and cartographers mapping the external structures. As they did so the photographers took photos as directed by the archaeologists. They were excited to find some symbols reminiscent of carvings found in the Egyptian tombs as well as other Earth cultures. However despite the recurrent images they were unable to decipher the underlying language, if there was one. One benefit of the delay in entering the structures was that we could use our solar panels to ensure all our equipment was charged before we entered on the third day.
It was agreed that the ruins should be investigated one door at a time. Personally I didn’t think they looked like ruins, more like buildings left empty while their owners were elsewhere. I didn’t feel any need to share that opinion after another night of the strange, wind made noises. One thing we discovered was that there were many apertures cut like the mouthpieces of whistles so the eerie noises were deliberate. The marine sergeant suggested that it might be to keep people away. The question that raised in my mind was ‘who and what happened to them?’. The archaeologists speculated that it may well have had the function of inspiring religious awe in those approaching the place. One obvious feature of the outer rooms was their lack of furniture apart from a low stone bench or shelf around the walls. One of the marines sat down on the bench and the seat immediately lowered slightly, there was a noise as if of grinding gears and one of the stones in the wall moved a little. The marine sprang up and dived away from the bench, but nothing further happened.
“No one touch anything until the boffins have had a look!” Ordered the Captain of Marines, “Oh and tread carefully.” I suppose it’s fortunate that none of the party had ever seen an Indiana Jones film or – like me – they might have preferred to get out and go home. However they knew no better than to carry on. As we went further into the structure we marked out our way manually in case we lost the signal to the succession of beacons we left as we went. We numbered each doorway as we passed in sequence, it occurred to me that I was the only one in the party who had seen The Labyrinth, again I thought it best to say nothing. As we progressed into the mountain the doors became smaller and the ceilings lower until suddenly everything opened into a large chamber with a higher ceiling. The technicians set up the big lights.
“Now this room is obviously some sort of temple!” Declared the chief of the archaeological team. Towards the back of the room was a large statue of a seated, bearded figure, on his head like a headdress a snake, its head protruding in an ‘S’ shape from his right temple the tail similarly from the left. In his right hand he held two chains, at their ends were collared a man and a woman. His left hand pointed down to three cauldrons from the left hand one emerged a Shoggoth, from the right a man and from the centre another man who had both arms and the tentacles of the Shoggoth emerging from various points on his body.
“Aha,” exclaimed the archaeologist, “This is obviously a creation myth showing God making both Man and Shoggoth”
“Why are they called Shoggoths,” asked one of the marines, “How does anyone know that’s their name?”
“It’s borrowed from Lovecraft,” I informed him. “Just as Dilithium is borrowed from Star Trek. During our tracels when we find something that reminds is of something we’ve just borrowed names. HP Lovecraft wrote about the Shoggoths which were not quite like ours, but they shared the main features and so ours became Shoggoths.”
I turned to the archaeologist and asked him, “Might it not be, Doctor, that rather than religious myth this might actually reflect symbolically what actually happened?”
He laughed and replied, “It’s unlikely. However the theme of creatures emerging from pots seems to occur frequently around the frieze. Look that looks like a man and woman standing on a planet, no one is that big.”
I objected “Can’t actual events be represented symbolically?”
“Of course they can. I wonder if this is the starting point for a visit to Earth, that could be Earth if the continents weren’t wrong.” He mused.
“Perhaps they had already been to Earth and stopped here on their way home.” I countered when a shout came from nearer the statue.
“Bloody hell, this looks just like Colonel Cain!”
“Stow the language, Sergeant!” Snapped the Captain before adding, “Bloody hell, you’re right…actually they both look like Cain!”
I took a look and said, “They are obviously human faces, but I certainly don’t have tentacles nor do any of my family, I might have noticed a thing like that” I laughed and remarked, “I am sure Doctor Tenzing here will tell you these are nothing more than symbolic representations.”
The archaeologist was looking from the statues to my face and back, his mouth open and his eyes wide in astonishment.
“They could be a portrait!” He exclaimed.
“Except logically they couldn’t.” I reminded him, “We have only just arrived so the sculptor could never have seen me.”
“Unless they saw you on Earth and made this after they left, but that’s impossible.” He said smiling as he gathered his composure again. He thought for a moment before saying, “I seem to remember there is a myth about a man from the dawn of time doomed to wonder the Earth for eternity…”
“But it’s just a myth.” I concluded firmly before adding “I wonder what this is in front of the statues?”
Everyone’s attention turned to the large stone block in front of the statues. The block was unmarked except for four symbols, two the same, separated by a cross. A line around the block suggested the edge of a close fitting lid. As it was getting late we agreed to return the next day with lifting gear to examine the block, box or whatever it was. By the time we got back to the tents it was dark, we had somewhat lost track of time. One of the guards called out and the fence was turned off so we could enter the camp. Eva – leading the botanists and zoologists – remarked that they had been wondering whether to send a search party. When one of the marines said,“We found a statue of Cain.”. Eva decided she’d come with us the next day.
I explained to Eva that the statue did look a little like me, but that it was very ancient and probably was just a generic humanoid form. She gave me one of those funny looks that only women can, usually when you arrive late with an elaborate excuse. She continued to look at me.
“I mean how could it possibly be me? Besides there’s two of them and one’s got tentacles!” I protested.
Still she said nothing for what seemed like hours. At last she said, “Don’t forget I’ve seen your sealed files and they don’t tell more than a fraction of your story!” She smiled and added, “I might learn a little more about you tomorrow.”
“You know more than enough.”
Eva seized the last word, “Never, I am, in this at least, a stereotypical woman.”
I managed not to reply with ‘like my mother!’
Most of next morning while the techies were transporting the lifting gear into the ‘temple’ as the archeologists were calling it Eva and I examined the various carvings in the company of some archaeologists. She and they were pleased when she identified several of the plants in the carvings. She stopped at one and asked the archaeologists what they thought.
“It appears to be a humanoid with flames or light coming from his mouth” Said one of them. Eva turned to me and said,
“Could this be what caused the evacuation of B-4?”
I shuddered, but as I looked closer it occurred to me that the ‘flames’ might well be the fungus from B-4. I said as much. The archaeologists looked excited,
“If that image Tenzing pointed out yesterday was in fact, Earth and this is B-4, it’s possible the whole frieze is an account of the journey of whoever built this temple!” one exclaimed.
Just then the techies announced that they were ready to lift the lid of the box. I chose to walk around the frieze before coming to the end of the story which the box seemed to represent. The last image was the bearded man sitting in what appeared to be a bath. I wondered id perhaps it was the box. I pointed out the image and suggested the box may be a coffin, a coffin over fifteen feet long.
“So this may be a tomb.” Said Doctor Tenzing, “Let’s find out!” He indicated that the lifting should start.
As the lid came up we could see a dull blue glow coming from the inside of the box. The techies swung the lid off to one side so that we could look inside. The vapour that came off didn’t concern us as we were wearing respirators as per procedure. As the mist cleared we found ourselves looking into what appeared to be a block of ice and in it a figure. Suddenly I understood why the statue looked familiar. I was looking into the sleeping face of my Grandfather.
“Get that lid back on now!” I ordered. “It’s not a tomb, it’s a stasis pod!”
Filed under: Politics, Religion, Technology, Travel, Writing | Tags: Cain: At The Edge Of The Universe, NaNoWriMo
Sigma Seven was one of three planets in the system that had been identified as capable of sustaining human life and of the three S-7 needed the least work. The major task would be to ensure soils suitable for Earth crops but first came providing the atmosphere. S-7’s atmosphere needed little tinkering as it was classed as ‘Earth like’, a few adjustments to the balance of gasses and we were ready to roll.
My team were among the first down after the perimeter of the first settlement was established. While no life forms other than some vegetation had been identified, over the centuries we had learned not to take any unnecessary chances. Once we were down we set about putting our Zeppelin together and inflating it. Because S-7’ s gravity was lower than that of Earth which took as our baseline we didn’t need as much lift. I was pleased as I always liked to have spare Zeppelinium, just in case. We flew the scientists out to collect soil and mineral samples as well as water and vegetation for analysis back at base.We carried the cartographers and the surveyors who generally worked together rather than duplicate measurements.
Eva and I didn’t get much time together as I was out so much and she was busy. Fortunately the Colonisation protocols enforced a day off in every ten so we synchronised our off days to spend time together. Sometimes she came out with me on my flights so that she could study specimens in situ. We even went swimming in the great lake – more like a freshwater sea – Lake Kennedy. The fish stocks were flourishing so that night we and the crew had trout for dinner caught by the crew on rods that had mysteriously found their way on board. Eva packed several trout in ice ‘for sampling by the laboratory staff’.
“Scientific sampling?” I asked.
“But of course…it will be an opportunity to field test some of our outdoor crops.” Eva grinned, “Besides why should you cowboys get all the fun?”
While we were exploring and the scientists were confirming the safety of the planet for the colonists, we had construction crews preparing the accommodations for the first colonists and the landing pads for the ships. Meanwhile the agriculturalists were trialling the first crops. The colonists wouldn’t be revived until the Professor was content we could feed them which would be after the second harvest. However during the intervening months there would be an increasing number of specialists awakened and brought to the surface.
The one group of specialists we had no intention of waking early was the diplomats. Both the military and the scientists preferred to get their work done without the meddling of politicians and civil servants. So while the politicians slept we got on with preparing the settlement. We surveyed the possible sights for the main settlements and the routes in between them.
The one benefit of the Shoggoth attack was that we no longer had to worry about Governor Osbourne. He had for some reason insisted on a transfer to the Arthur C. Clark rather than remain on the Roddenberry when the expedition was gathered. I must admit that however glad I was that he was not with us, the thought of him being devoured by a Shoggoth horrified me. It was I who suggested that we should name the administrative building in his honour a suggestion that was well received by the diplomatic community who seemed to hold Osbourne in higher regard than the other groups. The administration was taken over by the Mayor Thomas Jackson.
In the ordinary scheme of things as each settlement was established a member of the Diplomatic Corps would be appointed Mayor each reporting to the Colonial Governor. Jackson was the most senior of the trained mayors and so the first to take up office when the first base was established. Surprisingly he retained his title as Mayor of Obamopolis rather than that of Governor of Sigma Seven. He argued that the governorship of the Colony should be settled later once there were more settlements established. As long as there was only one settlement there was no need for a governor and he was quite able to undertake the functions of both roles on a temporary basis.
The Commodore – Eddie Hussein – with his work done and his deep space career finished took on the job of Chief of Security. We saw the destroyer crews only when they came to the surface for shore leave, but that was fairly frequent. DC, the Chief, Eva, and I managed to get together for dinner quite often. As chief scientist on the agricultural and horticultural programs Eva had access to some of the best fresh food so these were occasions to which we all looked forward. I’ll never forget the expression on DC’s face when he was presented with what Eva called ‘just simple fare’. His eyes widened then closed for a moment and then he exclaimed,
“It’s bacon. It’s real fucking bacon! Oh my god it’s years since I tasted real bacon.”
I interrupted. “Technically it’s centuries, but you were asleep for much of the time.”
“Whatever, it still tastes good.”
When Eva announced there were three rashers each, DC groaned in ecstasy. I commented,
“I wonder how Roddenberry would interpret that groan.”
As the settlers were being awakened in groups it soon became time to set up a second and third settlement. The best thing about this for me was that it meant the construction of the Bennie Railplane tracks. The first two were over gently rolling country, but after that the tracks had to be built over the mountains. It was much easier to construct a Railplane track than dig tunnels through mountains. There were a couple of steeper sections that required a chain drive to lift the plane up the gradient, but the modern Railplane could handle most of the gradients with which it was confronted. I was friendly with most of the Bennie Company engineers, I didn’t mention that I was the one who had suggested the use of the Railplane for colonies as it would render sealing my files a waste of time.
My Zeppelin was moored above Bennie’s construction camp in the Shiva Mountains when I received a text from the Chief of Security in Obamopolis. One of the technicians in the Diplomatic Corps had discovered anomalies in the expedition logs that suggested that I had remained out of stasis for the whole voyage. As I wasn’t in either the civil or military structures I should have been safe enough, but it was almost certain that I was going to come under unwelcome scrutiny. I was grateful Osbourne wasn’t around to make an issue of things. He might have used a judicial process to access my records. It was about eight months since I switched from Zeppelins to the Railplane. Riding alone troubleshooting the Railplane lines meant I was out of sight and less likely to remind people that there might be a mystery to investigate. It’s a lot easier to sneak in and out of town on horseback than it is to arrive unnoticed on a Zeppelin. I had suspected that something was in the wind when Roddenberry told me that the Dip Corps were auditing his records. My papers – thanks to General Sikorski – identified me as a full colonel in Deep Space Tactical.Had my records been unsealed the investigators would have found plenty of other ranks and titles, but a DST commission was explanation enough for my sealed records.
It wasn’t long after my message from the Chief that I delivered the dragon meat into Obamapolis. It was well received and I made a tidy amount on it even after the cost of refrigerated transport. I put the money into Eva’s account. She objected, but I explained my reasoning,
“Have you any idea how rich I am? I have caches of valuables across the Earth and the universe, I have bank accounts that have been accumulating interest since commercial banking was invented.”
“You can’t be that rich!” She argued.
“Can I buy you something ridiculous to prove it?” I asked.
“Don’t be silly!” Eva laughed, then something in my expression stopped her. “Okay,” She challenged, “Buy me the Roddenberry”
I opened a comms channel and organised a communication to Fleet Headquarters asking to buy the ship. It would take weeks for the reply to arrive. Although as we travelled we left a chain of comms satellites along our route the distance still made communication a slow process, but quicker than the physical process of transporting people long distances. I sent the signal and then forgot all about it.
The next day I was asked to visit the Mayor’s office. I attached my DST Colonel’s insignia to my collar just to send a verbal signal of my untouchability. When I entered the office Mayor Jackson stood to greet me. In the room were the Chief, an old man with a clerical collar and an officer of the Archaeology and Antiquities Corps.
“How can I help you?” I asked taking the empty chair beside the Mayor’s desk.
“Colonel Cain…” began the Mayor, but I interrupted him.
“Just ‘Cain’, please.” I said.
“Cain, may I introduce Doctor Gustav Steiner of the Archaeology and Antiquities Corps and the Right Reverend Simeon Cain Bishop of Sigma Seven?” The Mayor said.
“Bishop? Not much of a diocese.” I grunted.
“It’s a missionary and pastoral role.” Said the old man.
“You said your name was Cain, how old are you, Bishop?” I asked him.
“As you say the title ‘Bishop’ is meaningless, I just think of myself as an ordinary Shepherd. As for my age, If you deduct the time spent in stasis I am now a hundred and seventy.” He looked at me expectantly, I think I inadvertently gave him the opening he sought when I continued,
“It’s a very good age and you look well for it.”
“I blame it on good genes he said.
“Go on.” I invited
The old man produced a series of photos which he said proved I was very much older than I professed to be. I asked him if he could show me his genealogy. I examined it and then said.
“There is a good reason that my files are sealed. Anything I say now is in strict confidence some of these pictures are indeed of me but Henry Cain-Barker isn’t me merely a descendent who resembles me at that time I was working under the name ‘Scot Cain’. And in answer to the question you so obviously want to ask, yes you are descended from me.”
“Actually,” said Simeon Cain, “I wanted to ask whether it is true. Are you the Cain?”
“And if I were you’d have lots more questions, if I had time perhaps I would answer them, but I’m busy.” I said with finality. I felt a little sorry to see the disappointment on my great – I wondered how many greats – great grandson’s face.
The Mayor spoke, “It’s about being busy that I asked to see you Cain. The Zeppelin explorations have found what appear to be man made structures in a valley at the eastern end of the Shiva Mountains. However they can’t put down because of the treacherous winds through the valley. Archaeology wondered if you would take a team in on foot. No one knows the mountains as well as you. Bennie’s have said they’ll release you for a while if you agree, but it has to be your decision.”
“I very much any structures you have found will be made by ‘man’, but I’d be fascinated to see these structures. Be prepared to be disappointed, most of these things tend to turn out to be natural phenomena. I remember when people believed the Giant’s Causeway was made by giants…”
The Bishop let out a triumphant shout of, “I knew it.”
I sighed. “Okay, I’ll lead your expedition…” I pondered for a moment. “We should be able to fly most of the way. Why don’t we take a Zep out tomorrow to reconnoitre for a safe landing as close as possible?”