46. Dirty: Write a poem about getting covered in mud.
Let's just free write. Starting ... not after I go and make a cup of tea ... right ... now!
Okay. Free writing done. You will notice that this is not a poem. You will also notice that mud is not mentioned at all after the sixth sentence. What I've written instead is part of setting the groundwork for part of a larger project. By the end of this year I want to have written a novel. As it stands I know the broad plot of the novel and have got it set down as an 8500 word story, written at speed so that I had something written. I now have much work to do developing the world; it's history, culture, art, society, religion, government, and the place in which the society exists and how that might hold together totally coherently. I have work to do developing characters and subplots too. Only then can I actually sit down and write the first draft of the thing.
It's not only a novel though. I have the most basic outline of a second novel in my head and need to flesh that out a little in preparation. And I have ideas for a third. Yep, it's a saga! And then I have a plan to write a full handbook for a religion that exists within the world. If ever these things get published I'd want to release it between the first and second novel. Beyond the novels, as something for after the second or possibly third is released I have ideas for a series of shorter stories based within what I've created.
All of this arose out of a morning in the Writers' Cafe in which I was feeling pretty naff. During a five minute writing time and with much anxiety coursing through me I wrote an idea for a plot. 108 words long. I was grumpy about it and very apologetic for not writing what we had been asked to write but was told "That's a novel" and was questioned about whether my head was working a lot better than I was admitting to myself. It turns out that it is a novel. Or it will be.
What I've ended up free writing here is set within the world I've been creating in my head. Or at least in one part of it. Nothing that is here has anything much to do with the novel. I've stopped part way through my story. There is more to tell. I know exactly how it develops. I know exactly how it ends. But there are secrets and I may be telling too many already.
This is not the story as it would finally be written. This is ideas being thrown out into words. A world being developed and a history being developed as I wrote. This is a broad formulation of history not in any way a completed project. I hate to admit it to myself, but this short story could be a novel too. Aaargh! So many novels to write! Woo hoo! It's going to be so much fun and could keep me living in another world in my head for years.
He couldn't help screaming.
In anguished terror to begin with until he overcame that fear of sinking too far; of the mud being too deep, too sticky to survive. Then joyfully, excitement building as he sank into the grey pool of mud.
Everything had been so sterile in the Tower. No more grey than the wet dirt into which he had fallen. But where the mud possessed life, possibility, the renewal of the rain, those grey walls had possessed only the possibility of another day, another year, another generation of sameness. In his home everything had its place and no deviation had been allowed from the routines and rules. The whole of humanity had become automatons living out a meaningless and perpetual existence where rules governed relationships. In the Tower humanity had become precarious. Resources were meagre and people believed that even by strictly enforcing regularity the supplies would dwindle. The infrastructure would collapse, and with it the very structure of the tower which would fall. To begin with only a few had seen how inevitable it all was. The builders had attempted to create a closed system, a way for a few thousand people to survive the disaster that humans created.
From everything Jonas understood, much of which was rumour, there had once been billions of people fighting for their place on the planet. A thousand viewpoints competing for power, for land and when things became difficult for food and water. Inevitably competition led to war and, so the rumour went, it was during one war that the world became poisoned. It was an accident. Whatever side it was who invented the toxin had only meant for a limited effect. Wipe out enough of the other side and victory was sure. Nobody knew now who had created such a killing weapon. Nobody knew what they were fighting over or what they might have hoped to gain by the deaths of other people. Nobody cared. It didn't matter any more. And there wasn't a soul in the Tower who could even begin to understand what kind of a mind could think like that.
Survival. That was the important thing. And working in your place for the good of all. Everyone knew that and each child was trained in the ways of protecting the Tower. If the Tower fell, human life fell with it.
Over the course of fifty years the world became uninhabitable as the poisoning spread and developed, killing each person it encountered. Nothing could be done to stop it. The Tower had been a last attempt at survival. And now it was falling. To begin with only a few saw the changes, how here and there things weren't quite as they should be. They had voiced their concerns but had been told to trust the Builders. The Builders knew what they were doing. They were all wise and had planned for every eventuality, creating the Tower to last forever in stable equilibrium. If there were changes then obviously they were within the Builders' plans. There was nothing to worry about. Sure enough, the changes seemed to sort themselves out within a few years. Everything was back to normal.
Only Tomas and Juli of the Second Citizenry had continue to speak worries. They had been silenced then and stripped of their familial rank, being reduced to the Ninth. Now they were hailed as visionaries. They had seen that the changes had been a symptom of a wider collapse. They had prophesied that nothing could carry on forever, not even the world itself. They spoke of how the Tower was built on the premise that rules were eternal, that by following those rules a system would last forever with no damage to its inner or outer form. They preached that the premise was false, that no system could ever be one hundred percent efficient, that there would be chaos and there would be loss. That loss might not be noticeable for many hundreds of years. In the case of something as massive as a star it might not be seen for many millions. But nothing lasts forever. Tomas and Juli taught that the Tower would fall and nobody listened. They were called liars and heretics, malcontents and criminals. Perhaps even in those names more seeds were sown. Perhaps the condemnation changed minds more than the words of the preachers and so speeded up the collapse that was coming.
Two hundred years had passed since Tomas and Juli had been punished. It had been the first incidence of crime and punishment in several generations. Now they were hailed as the visionary heroes they were. Over those years more changes had crept in. Slowly. Slowly. So slowly that most people denied they were even taking place.
Attitudes changed in an hour. That was the day the water stopped flowing. Just for an hour. It had never happened before. It could never happen. Equilibrium stated it was impossible. And yet, for one hour, no water flowed. All taps were empty and the fountain in the Great Garden was dry. After what became known as the Hour of Thirst most people admitted that not everything was quite as it must have been on the day the Builders finally sealed the tower and saved the first thousands. Since that day the water had not ceased to flow again but that single hour had been enough.
People were appointed to study the change and they discovered the truth. The Tower was in decline. After a ten year exhaustive study they had been able to plot a rate of collapse and proved mathematically that there was nothing whatsoever that could be done to save the last few thousand members of the human race. It would take time though. Many hundreds of years before the machines could no longer be maintained so well. Hundreds more before that led to regular widescale shortages. And perhaps another two centuries before the shortages led to the total starvation of the human race.
One thousand years.
And then the final burning of the human race would be extinguished.
For the first time since the creation of the Tower there was widespread disagreement. The people remembered politics. They remembered debate. And three political parties came into being based on ideas of what, if anything, should be done about the impending extinction.
One party said there wasn't much point acting because a thousand years is a long time. The next generations would surely work something out. They wanted to carry on sustaining the tower as they always had because the problems could happily wait for their descendants. The majority of people were part of this party. Why act when someone else can?
A second party said there was no point trying to do anything. If the Tower was going to fall then that was just the way things were and fighting the inevitable was foolish. A few of these men and women committed suicide in the belief that there was no hope and no reason to carry on living just so the next thirty generations would lead on to the thirty-first and to a certain doom. Why not just stop living now when it was pointless to continue? Some carried on living as before, making no change to routine and to the regulated ways of Tower society. They stoically set their faces to do what had always been necessary, in the full knowledge that the necessary wouldn't help. A few tried to live wildly, beyond the means of the Tower, and some lived so wildly that their excesses had to be curbed by force for the sake of preserving what was left of the future. The tale of how they were killed in righteous anger by members of the first party and of the subsequent total implementation of martial law does not need to be told here.
A third party asked a simple question: Is there anything we can do to survive? For a few years they proposed ideas of how to sustain the Tower further from within but it became clear that all such ideas were just chasing a moon that not only couldn't be caught but didn't exist at all. It was obvious. There was no hope in the Tower. So the third party asked a second question: Is there hope outside it? What if we could bring resources from the planet into the Tower and use them to rescue ourselves. Ambitious ideas and plans were stated and for a while hope began to rise that humanity could be saved.
That was before the coming of martial law. The third party were silenced and talking of, or even thinking of looking outside the Tower in that poisoned world was made illegal. More and more vigorously the first party maintained the status quo, to such an extent that they entirely stopped talking about how future generations would solve the problems of the Tower. Not acting. That was all that mattered. Unless that acting was to punish any person who dared suggest that the law was wrong.
Nevertheless, the third party survived in secret, gathering in meetings in the lowest levels and creating secret signs to protect themselves. They numbered only a few hundred who firmly believed in looking outside. After some years they had formed a plan. If one person could leave the Tower somehow, protected from the poisoned air, and if they could bring back something of use then surely everyone would have to listen to reason.
And so it was done. On a low level, just where tower met the ground outside, an attempt was made. Members of the party had moved together to one section. Conditions were bad there and some had sacrificed handsome living quarters, preferring to live in squalor for the sake of the future. The inner walls of the Tower were cut away until just one layer remained between the people inside and a certain death if the air flooded. An airlock and pump was built and placed over that layer. And a suit was developed too with powerful filters. One man, and one man only, would enter the airlock, cut a hole in the outer wall and leave the Tower. With the hope of the suit it was hoped they would not become the first person since the fall of civilisation to die from the toxin.
The mission was simple: Find useful resources. Bring them back. Seal the breach in the wall and filter the airlock. Then the third party would rise up and bring salvation and freedom.
[1760 words, plus 529 words to introduce and explain them.]