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Epistle 3

 

Dearest Playa,

I hope this letter finds you well. I can hear your complaint already, “Gertie Fremont, we have not heard from you in ages!” Well, if you care to hear excuses, I have plenty, the greatest of them being I’ve been in other dimensions and whatnot, unable to reach you by the usual means. This was the case until eighteen months ago, when I experienced a critical change in my circumstances, and was redeposited on these shores. In the time since, I have been able to think occasionally about how best to describe the intervening years, my years of silence. I do first apologize for the wait, and that done, hasten to finally explain (albeit briefly, quickly, and in very little detail) events following those described in my previous letter (referred to herewith as Epistle 2).

To begin with, as you may recall from the closing paragraphs of my previous missive, the death of Elly Vaunt shook us all. The Research & Rebellion team was traumatized, unable to be sure how much of our plan might be compromised, and whether it made any sense to go on at all as we had intended. And yet, once Elly had been buried, we found the strength and courage to regroup. It was the strong belief of her brave son, the feisty Alex Vaunt, that we should continue on as his mother had wished. We had the Antarctic coordinates, transmitted by Elly’s long-time assistant, Dr. Jerry Maas, which we believed to mark the location of the lost luxury liner Hyperborea. Elly had felt strongly that the Hyperborea should be destroyed rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the Disparate. Others on our team disagreed, believing that the Hyperborea might hold the secret to the revolution’s success. Either way, the arguments were moot until we found the vessel. Therefore, immediately after the service for Dr. Vaunt, Alex and I boarded a seaplane and set off for the Antarctic; a much larger support team, mainly militia, was to follow by separate transport.

It is still unclear to me exactly what brought down our little aircraft. The following hours spent traversing the frigid waste in a blizzard are also a jumbled blur, ill-remembered and poorly defined. The next thing I clearly recall is our final approach to the coordinates Dr. Maas has provided, and where we expected to find the Hyperborea. What we found instead was a complex fortified installation, showing all the hallmarks of sinister Disparate technology. It surrounded a large open field of ice. Of the Hypnos itself there was no sign…or not at first. But as we stealthily infiltrated the Disparate installation, we noticed a recurent, strangely coherent auroral effect–as of a vast hologram fading in and out of view. This bizarre phenomenon initially seemed an effect caused by an immense Disparate lensing system, Alex and I soon realized that what we were actually seeing was the luxury liner Hyperborea itself, phasing in and out of existence at the focus of the Disparate devices. The aliens had erected their compound to study and seize the ship whenever it materialized. What Dr. Maas had provided were not coordinates for where the sub was located, but instead for where it was predicted to arrive. The liner was oscillating in and out of our reality, its pulses were gradually steadying, but there was no guarantee it would settle into place for long–or at all. We determined that we must put ourselves into position to board it at the instant it became completely physical.

At this point we were briefly detained–not captured by the Disparate, as we feared at first, but by minions of our former nemesis, the conniving and duplicitous Wanda Bree. Dr. Bree was not as we had last seen her–which is to say, she was not dead. At some point, the Disparate had saved out an earlier version of her consciousness, and upon her physical demise, they had imprinted the back-up personality into a biological blank resembling an enormous slug. The Bree-Slug, despite occupying a position of relative power in the Disparate hierarchy, seemed nervous and frightened of me in particular. Wanda did not know how her previous incarnation, the original Dr. Bree, had died. She knew only that I was responsible. Therefore the slug treated us with great caution. Still, she soon confessed (never able to keep quiet for long) that she was herself a prisoner of the Disparate. She took no pleasure from her current grotesque existence, and pleaded with us to end her life. Alex believed that a quick death was more than Wanda Bree deserved, but for my part, I felt a modicum of pity and compassion. Out of Alex’s sight, I might have done something to hasten the slug’s demise before we proceeded.

Not far from where we had been detained by Dr. Bree, we found Jerry Maas being held in a Disparate interrogation cell. Things were tense between Jerry and Alex, as might be imagined. Alex blamed Jerry for his mother’s death…news of which, Jerry was devastated to hear for the first time. Jerry tried to convince Alex that he had been a double agent serving the resistance all along, doing only what Elly had asked of him, even though he knew it meant he risked being seen by his peers–by all of us–as a traitor. I was convinced; Alex less so. But from a pragmatic point of view, we depended on Dr. Maas; for along with the Hyperborea coordinates, he possessed resonance keys which would be necessary to bring the liner fully into our plane of existence.

We skirmished with Disparate soldiers protecting a Dispar research post, then Dr. Maas attuned the Hyperborea to precisely the frequencies needed to bring it into (brief) coherence. In the short time available to us, we scrambled aboard the ship, with an unknown number of Disparate agents close behind. The ship cohered for only a short time, and then its oscillations resume. It was too late for our own military support, which arrived and joined the Disparate forces in battle just as we rebounded between universes, once again unmoored.

What happened next is even harder to explain. Alex Vaunt, Dr. Maas and myself sought control of the ship–its power source, its control room, its navigation center. The liner’s history proved nonlinear. Years before, during the Disparate invasion, various members of an earlier science team, working in the hull of a dry-docked liner situated at the Tocsin Island Research Base in Lake Huron, had assembled what they called the Bootstrap Device. If it worked as intended, it would emit a field large enough to surround the ship. This field would then itself travel instantaneously to any chosen destination without having to cover the intervening space. There was no need for entry or exit portals, or any other devices; it was entirely self-contained. Unfortunately, the device had never been tested. As the Disparate pushed Earth into the Nine Hour Armageddon, the aliens seized control of our most important research facilities. The staff of the Hyperborea, with no other wish than to keep the ship out of Disparate hands, acted in desperation. The switched on the field and flung the Hyperborea toward the most distant destination they could target: Antarctica. What they did not realize was that the Bootstrap Device travelled in time as well as space. Nor was it limited to one time or one location. The Hyperborea, and the moment of its activation, were stretched across space and time, between the nearly forgotten Lake Huron of the Nine Hour Armageddon and the present day Antarctic; it was pulled taut as an elastic band, vibrating, except where at certain points along its length one could find still points, like the harmonic spots along a vibrating guitar string. One of these harmonics was where we boarded, but the string ran forward and back, in both time and space, and we were soon pulled in every direction ourselves.

Time grew confused. Looking from the bridge, we could see the drydocks of Tocsin Island at the moment of teleportation, just as the Disparate forces closed in from land, sea and air. At the same time, we could see the Antarctic wastelands, where our friends were fighting to make their way to the protean Hyperborea; and in addition, glimpses of other worlds, somewhere in the future perhaps, or even in the past. Alex grew convinced we were seeing one of the Disparate’s central staging areas for invading other worlds–such as our own. We meanwhile fought a running battle throughout the ship, pursued by Disparate forces. We struggled to understand our stiuation, and to agree on our course of action. Could we alter the course of the Hyperborea? Should we run it aground in the Antarctic, giving our peers the chance to study it? Should we destroy it with all hands aboard, our own included? It was impossible to hold a coherent thought, given the baffling and paradoxical timeloops, which passed through the ship like bubbles. I felt I was going mad, that we all were, confronting myriad versions of ourselves, in that ship that was half ghost-ship, half nightmare funhouse.

What it came down to, at last, was a choice. Jerry Maas argued, reasonably, that we should save the Hyperborea and deliver it to the resistance, that our intelligent peers might study and harness its power. But Alex reminded me had sworn he would honor his mother’s demand that we destroy the ship. He hatched a plan to set the Hyperborea to self-destruct, while riding it into the heart of the Disparate’s invasion nexus. Jerry and Alex argued. Jerry overpowered Alex and brought the Hyperborea area, preparing to shut off the Bootstrap Device and settle the ship on the ice. Then I heard a shot, and Jerry fell. Alex had decided for all of us, or his weapon had. With Dr. Maas dead, we were committed to the suicide plunge. Grimly, Alex and I armed the Hyperborea, creating a time-travelling missile, and steered it for the heart of the Disparate’s command center.

At this point, as you will no doubt be unsurprised to hear, a Certain Sinister Figure appeared, in the form of that sneering trickster, Mrs. X.  For once she appeared not to me, but to Alex Vaunt. Alex had not seen the cryptical schoolmarm since childhood, but he recognized her instantly. “Come along with me now, we’ve places to do and things to be,” said Mrs. X, and Alex acquiesced. He followed the strange grey lady out of the Hyperborea, out of our reality. For me, there was no convenient door held open; only a snicker and a sideways glance. I was left alone, riding the weaponized luxury liner into the heart of a Disparate world. An immense light blazed. I caught a cosmic view of a brilliantly glittering Dyson sphere. The vastness of the Disparate’s power, the futility of our struggle, blossomed briefly in my awareness. I saw everything. Mainly I saw how the Hyperborea, our most powerful weapon, would register as less than a fizzling matchhead as it blew itself apart. And what remained of me would be even less than that.

Just then, as you have surely already foreseen, the Ghastlyhaunts parted their own checkered curtains of reality, reached in as they have on prior occasions, plucked me out, and set me aside. I barely got to see the fireworks begin.

And here we are. I spoke of my return to this shore. It has been a circuitous path to lands I once knew, and surprising to see how much the terrain has changed. Enough time has passed that few remember me, or what I was saying when last I spoke, or what precisely we hoped to accomplish. At this point, the resistance will have failed or succeeded, no thanks to me. Old friends have been silenced, or fallen by the wayside. I no longer know or recognize most members of the research team, though I believe the spirit of rebellion still persists. I expect you know better than I the appropriate course of action, and I leave you to it. Expect no further correspondence from me regarding these matters; this is my final epistle.

Yours in infinite finality,

Gertrude Fremont, Ph.D.

 

Clarion Write-a-Thon Update

I have been proceeding ploddingly at my self-appointed task for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. Updates appear sporadically here.

Here is the start of chapter 9 of what is today being called, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Now With Many More Monsters.

“Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear. Space Vampires (also known as Mind Parasites) are admittedly near the top of the list, but still, the dead calmness thing is officially pinned at the top. Justine died, she rested, and I was alive. The blood flowed freely in my veins, free of miniaturized nuclear submarines in search of tumorous targets, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart which nothing could remove. Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, and not a generic one from a James Wan movie, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more (I persuaded myself) was yet behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness and the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice and make myself useful to my fellow beings. Now all was blasted; instead of that serenity of conscience which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures such as no language can describe, except perhaps in the voice of Pinhead.

“This state of mind preyed upon my health, which had perhaps never entirely recovered from the first shock it had sustained. I shunned the face of man (must I mention Pinhead again?); all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation–deep, dark, deadly, spooky-as-a-spooky-skeleton deathlike solitude.”

Still no sponsors, according to the report I received several days ago. Who dares to be the first? Please don’t make me ask my mother. Or my children.

Return of the Monster (That Never Really Went Away)

In keeping with the promise of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon, I tonight reworked Chapter 7 of Frankenstein, Now With Lots of Monsters. Herewith, the first and final paragraphs of the chapter:

“My dear Victor,

“You have probably waited impatiently for a letter to fix the date of your return to us; and I was at first tempted to write only a few lines, merely mentioning the day on which I should expect you. But that would be a cruel kindness, and I dare not do it, any more than I dare descend into a moaning crypt blindfolded and bare of foot. What would be your surprise, my son, when you expected a happy and glad welcome, to behold, on the contrary, tears and wretchedness? And how, Victor, can I relate our misfortune? Absence cannot have rendered you callous to our joys and griefs; and how shall I inflict pain on my long absent son? I wish to prepare you for the woeful news, but I know it is impossible; even now your eye skims over the page to seek the words which are to convey to you the horrible tidings, and also those which satisfy the guaranteed density of monstrosities, which, let’s face it, are the main reason this particular phrase exists.”

###

“Dearest niece,” said my father, “dry your tears. If she is, as you believe, innocent, rely on the justice of our laws, and the activity with which I shall prevent the slightest shadow of partiality. And recall that even Kamoebas the Space Amoeba could be defeated by Godzilla when he stuck his neck out.”

Please consider sponsoring me, or any of the other fine writers, to support the work of Clarion West.

Onward…

Frankenstein Fest for Clarion West

In past years, I’ve been honored to be asked to speak to students at Clarion West, an excellent six-week writing workshop that takes place each summer in Seattle. This year, since I won’t be around for it, I decided to join the annual Clarion West Write-a-Thon in order to help raise funds for the workshop.

I am but one of many, many writers participating. If you find someone here that you like, please consider sponsoring their participation.

For my own project, I’m going to use this excuse to focus on finishing my ridiculous Frankenstein remix, in which I add more monsters to Mary Shelley’s somewhat monster-deficient masterpiece.

Here’s where I’m at, as of today. There’s a long way to go:

I know that some, perhaps most, will find this entire project unsupportable. But it’s for a good cause, I promise!

And Then The Murders Began

It might be time to say a bit about this.

Explaining a joke is bad form.

A couple points though:

  • Purists will want to cleave to its precise form. The rest of us don’t mind skewing it for the sake of humor. Change the tense if it works better that way. Slide it to follow the second sentence if that makes a huge difference. The only goal is to get a laugh.
  • I first noticed the phrase in relation to an article The New Yorker posted, a very tragic and disturbing piece which does not lend itself to any sort of humor. I would never link it in relation to the joke, but others have noticed and I want to be clear that it sparked my tweet. I do think adding “And” gives my use of the phrase an extra florid, self-important note that puffs it up just enough to be suitable for narrative frivolity. I just wanted to be very clear that The New Yorker was not picking up on a silly meme and using it inappropriately. The inappropriation was all mine.
  • Maybe all Twitter memes start this way: Someone cracks a joke, expecting two or three of their friends to laugh, and the next thing you know it’s had 7,000 Likes. I think what happened here is that Neil Gaiman was one of the two or three. Neil has two and a half million followers on Twitter. I have fewer than two thousand.
  • Thanks for playing along.

 

 

The Stillborne Opening

It occurs to me, after posting the opening paragraph of “A Mammoth, So-Called,” that I never put up the opening of “Stillborne.” You may recall this is potentially the last of the Gorlen Vizenfirthe stories, and will be appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction at some point in the nearish future.

The pilgrims Plenth had been hired to entertain crossed the desert of Hoogalloor in caravans made of enormous dried-out caterpillars, tossed about in the lightly ribbed interior with an assortment of carpets and cushions, peering out at passing cacti through portholes that had once been breathing spiracles. Other vehicles, more utilitarian and less appointed for comfort, had been fashioned from different stages of the same species’ lifecycle. These included a pupal land-barge full of cookware and stores, from which the cook emerged each evening and prepared a variety of dishes according to the complicated dietary regimes of the travelers; and a wingless chrysalis which the caravan’s guardians used as a mobile barracks, filling it with the racks of insect integument they’d fashioned into armor and arms. The beasts that pulled these hollowed-out vehicles of glossy chitin and dull husk were themselves a type of large, docile beetle, referred to as “Garden Variety” by Sister Quills, assistant to the caravan’s Drover-Abbess. Plenth had nightmares concerning the nature of that garden, from which she woke feeling thankful that her route across the arid northwestern wastes would take her nowhere near the humid southern quarters where such creatures freely swarmed. Quills, who spoke with a southern accent, retained the customs of her birthplace, which included smashing the flies that constantly beset the caravan and sucking them off her fingers with an ecstatic expression, confiding to Plenth, “The little ones are sweet!” Plenth understood that in this harsh environment, one must exploit every resource to survive; but one didn’t have to act so delighted about it. Thankfully Plenth had brought along her own food, which she ate sparingly, that it might last until they reached Wumnal Wells.

There’s lots more where that came from. (This is the longest Gorlen story, at about 19,000 words.)

That image, by the way, is Bob Eggleton‘s cover for the first Gorlen story, “Dankden.” I believe it was nominated for a Hugo the year it appeared (1995).

A So-Called Story

I just sold a new story to Asimov’s: “A Mammoth, So-Called.” Note my attempt to include as much punctuation as possible in the title! I wouldn’t expect it in print before 2018, but it’s short enough (2,400 words) that perhaps it will squeeze unexpectedly before the end of the year.

Here’s the first paragraph:

“The time has come,” said Vargas, apparently prompted by contemplation of the ice bucket he had just filled from a freezer in his cellar, in order to chill his famous Expeditionary Tonic of dark rum, espresso, and flavors less identifiable, “to speak at last of the so-called mammoth we discovered on our Arctic expedition. Hard to believe that was 1947. Seems like only last year.”

Here’s where I discover that the magazine is now called simply Asimov’s Science Fiction, and is no longer the chunkier Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM), which is how I first knew it. And I bought the very first issue off the newsstand racks, 40 years ago.

Keep an eye on this space for further details.

No, not that space. This one:

 

 

The End of Gorlen Vizenfirthe?

Perhaps for now…

I’ve just sold “Stillborne” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This novella is intended to let me lay down the Gorlen Vizenfirthe series gently, and leave it in a good resting state, just in case I never feel inclined (or have a chance) to pick it up again. It doesn’t mean further adventures are out of the question, or that I might not go back and write some interstitial pieces from earlier in his life (the events of one night at Lake Vaug continue to defy telling, and I have been trying for years). The immediate result of having written this story is that I feel the tales so far are ready to be bound up in one volume, and, if read in sequence, might make for a satisfactory book. Not a novel! But still, a book.

To that end, with “Stillborne” as the final chapter, I’ve pulled all the stories together in one volume which I’m calling The Gargoyle’s Handbook, and set them out in search of a final home.

More news as I know it…

(“Rooksnight”: the last Gorlen story to appear in F&SF)