Friday, 1 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 1 Word count - 1727

The fields lay before her, coloured a dirty grey in the moonlight. Part of her was grateful that she could at least see where she was going, the other part cursing the lack of cover and the fact that she could see where she was going.

Careening through the night on horseback, fleeing French revolutionaries was not what she had been thinking of when she had signed up for “a little fun”.

That had been a month or two back, by her reckoning. She had been reclining in a beach pod with Andy, a friend and study partner at university (Oxford, as it happened. She’d been to visit it shortly after her arrival and been shocked at how... how stony and beige everything was. Her Oxford University was clean, bright and famed for its beautiful architectural features; sweeping arcs of translucent greys and whites constructing the network of pods which formed into the teaching spaces required. Now it was heavy, square and ugly). Andy had been expounding his latest theory that everything was formed by an alien experiment when a man in his late forties, maybe early fifties, walked in.

They’d both been shocked speechless, and stared at the new arrival, unblinking, who seemed utterly unperturbed. “Hi, Andy.” He’d nodded at them both, with a slight smile in Andy’s direction. His smile towards herself had been distinctly more lecherous: “And who are you?” he’d asked.

Like the new Oxford, he’d been grimy, covered with the sort of muck you accumulate when you stay outdoors for an hour, or avoid the chem streams for a day or two. His leer hadn’t bothered her too much (although he was a bit old for her tastes), but the idea that he might think her amenable to those filthy hands touching her was distinctly distressing and she recoiled sharply.

“How the hell did you get in here!” her demand was distinctly high pitched.

“I… walked in?”

“That’s not possible.” Andy’s voice was noticeably less squeaky than her own, but she detected serious perturbation nonetheless. “The doors are biocoded to our genes for as long as we have the room booked. You can’t just walk in.”

“Ah.” The man smiled again, with that peculiar knowing look in his eyes. “That makes the main thrust of my explanation much easier to prove. You and I are genetically identical.”

“I’m not a clone,” Andy’s response was instant. “My parents had to prove I was a genetic first to get my scholarship!”

“What’s a clone?” The old man was bewildered. There was a moment of silence and then

“Are you serious?” She’d been compelled to ask – it wasn’t possible in that day and age for anyone to not know what cloning was. He had been serious. After a little back and forth, they’d explained the concept of duplicating living creatures through cloning and he’d seemed relieved. Impressed, but a little relieved.

“No,” he said, “I’m not talking about clones. I was born in a different… place. When I was roughly your age I discovered a point in time and space where everything started from. It was based on the research carried out by Babbage’s daughters on the modified version of his plotting engine. You’ve heard of that, I assume?”

“Sorry, no.”

He sighed and began talking, waving his hands in the air as if to draw a diagram correlating his words; “Babbage developed an analytic machine, sponsored by the British Empire, which was adopted by all three of the triage points – in Australia, the Americas and England – as the basis for their communication management. They formed a new language based on light, and stationed mirrored zepplins above the ocean to transmit the messages. After the initial stage, the triage worked to develop it further for more efficient communications. At the third iteration they called it off on the basis that the only way to make the machines more fluid or effective, they needed a point of origin. They couldn't invent one, or randomly allocate one as it threw off all the calculations – it had to be the point of origin of everything.

“Babbage's daughters took his third machine – which was designed to plot the point of origin – and kept developing it. Over their first ten years they managed to plot the point of origin 300 times more accurately than anyone before them, but they were still a long way off and the work increased exponentially for each point of accuracy. Eventually, an alternative method for improving communications was identified and the Babbage machines dropped. His daughters gradually lost interest in the research and the search for our point of origin became nothing more than a hobbyist project for many mathematicians.

“I came to it just as everyone else did, but with one small difference. I got lucky. Several people had realised there was a pattern forming in the calculations. I built an iterative checker using my own formula and, against all the odds, within six months I accidentally hit on the iteration that could calculate the point of origin.

“I made two devices to test it – one to send the message and one to receive it. I place the receiver in my garage and went to my bedroom with the sender. I programmed in the exact location in physical space and time of both parts as they related to the point of origin and sent a message.

“The message was supposed to instantaneously appear in the receiver. Instead, I found myself in my garage, holding the sender, with the receiver crushed beneath my feet.”
She had been on the verge of dozing off, but as he made this revelation she sat up sharply and stared at him. Andy went similarly rigid and she suspected his jaw was probably as slack hung as her own.

“Through some accident, I had created a device that would shift itself relative to the point of origin. I played with it for a while, had a few trips to experiment and then I went on holiday to early 19th century France – Versailles had the best parties, second only to the English Prince Regent. I was caught up in the revolution, and – through a series of misfortunes – was co-opted by the Corsican.

“He knew I had knowledge of advanced weaponry and didn't care where it came from. So I was pressed for every piece of information I had. For the next ten years, I was unable to escape his clutches and I survived every attempt made on my life, by a variety of assassins, as well as every naturally occurring event – accidents, misfortunes and the usual run of things. It wasn't until I became miserable enough in my confined life to try putting a period to it that I realised this was unusual.

“I tested my theory. I don't know why, but I can't die. So I walked out of my prison. And then I began to enjoy life. But it was only when I tried to go back home that I realised my time with the Corsican changed history. It changed from my world of mechanisms and steam, into this world, where nothing is metal, everything is made from something I've never seen before that shifts and grows without any control. And I know I don't belong here.

“You and I” he nodded at Andy “are genetically identical, but we aren't the same person. It's not possible for us to be. Our lives were too different to the point that I don't even know how our parents ended up together in both our worlds. I thought it might be fun to meet me and compare our lives, so I went forward to the point where we'd be the same age.”

He fell silent and looked out over the waves.

Andy watched him impatiently, but she had seen this particular character trait in Andy often enough to know he was trying to reconcile something alien to his nature. Slowly, the older Andy turned his head back to face them and, speaking quietly but clearly, continued:

“There was nothing there.” She frowned and tilted her head in a silent query.

“I went to meet myself and found a dead world. I came back a year, to see if I could find out what happened; still nothing. Over and over, year by year, I crept back to see what had caused this catastrophic failure, and if anyone had survived.”

He sighed and shook his head.

“This world is going to die completely in three years.”

She had been growing more tense since her interest had been caught. His statement broke a dam in her and she sprang to her feet and paced restlessly across the sand. There was a fluctuation in the lighting and a low toned, almost musical whirring sound. Seconds later, her bikini began to grow and flow over her body. Andy's trunks also adapted to street wear and the other Andy blinked as the chem stream stripped all the dirt, dead skin and bacteria off him, leaving his hair soft and wavy and his skin several shades paler. She paused in her walk as the ground shifted beneath their feet and the pod deformed into a public space, the sand and water reforming into aeroscaff that formed the university structure.

She began walking again the second the world settled. The reforming room had positioned the three people closer together and Andy shifted away from his older half, who nervously inquired if it was safe yet.
Young Andy stared at him in disbelief. “The world ends in three years and you want to know if it's safe!”
He laughed, slightly sheepishly. “Everything ends, you lose perspective when you can run away from the bad times.”

Andy's arms flailed and he hurled his distress in the form of an accusatory question at his elder: “So why are you even here? Why aren't you running away?”

“Because I want to go home.”

The simplicity of the response stunned the younger. The two selves stared at each other and the younger eventually gave way.

“The world is ending?”

“I can show you, if you like.”

“No, thanks, I'm good.”