For those of you interested in process, here are my new work-in-progress introductory chapters for the book Anzu – When God Spoke to Parsanda.
Feedback from first readers informed me that I need to bring a few elements forward in the story, closer to the first page. At the same time, readers stumbled on concepts that I realized could be explained a little better.
The planet Anzu, a very long time ago
Rivan Saraf sat in the driver’s seat with a tablet computer in his lap, sketching transdimensional physics symbols with a claw extended from his index finger. The math composition tool in his tablet floated Doctor Parsanda’s equations up from deeper layers, light grey traces manifesting through the semi-transparent worksheet. He tapped and swiped, trying to build an argument that would dispel his sense that disaster was only days away.
He took a break, staring at highway lines through an oversized windscreen, craning his neck to find one of Anzu’s moons in a cloudy, dark sky. The Buddhi Oma machine intelligence under the dashboard was driving the motor home a lot faster than Rivan would have, especially at night. Index posts flashed by in the headlights, their reflective markings indecipherable.
A map on the dash panel marked their progress, calling out services, attractions, speed restrictions and pavement resurfacing. Every so often, the bus’s Oma would blink a pin spot at Rivan’s eye, making him take note of an unsupervised driverless vehicle, or a wildlife sighting, posted by another Buddhi Oma thinking machine, under somebody else’s dashboard, somewhere down the road.
Rivan could hear his mother snoring from the back of the coach. Age reversal therapy had restored her deviated septum to the way it was when she was born. Now she would have to get it fixed, again. He laughed to himself at the irony of it.
His ears picked up a whirring sound in the privy. Rivan turned his head to catch the squat, wide, shaggy figure of his father creeping in the darkness, threading his way through the narrow aisle left by retracted pushouts. Rivan threw a whisper. “Hoya, Ta.”
Von Saraf put a furry hand on his son’s shoulder, levering himself into the opposite chair. “Hoya. You doing all right?”
“Ya. Just a little wound up.”
Rivan drew a deep breath. “The work we do at the University has a lot in common with throwing stuff on a fire, just to see what happens. Most of the time, the answer is: nothing.”
His father cleared his throat. “But …”
Rivan smiled in the darkness. “Eventually we’re going to toss a bucket of industrial solvent in there, without meaning to.”
His father smiled back. Long white fangs glinted in the dim light of the instrument panel. “Auf! Better to be standing back when that happens. You think that’s coming?”
“What does Parsanda think?”
Rivan’s father leaned back in the chair. “Parsanda once told me you’re the smartest person he knows, next to him.”
Rivan snorted. “The man’s a situation, isn’t he?”
“I’m proud of you for sticking with this. I know it isn’t what you wanted to do.”
“Ona. I’d rather be jumping out of rotorplanes.”
Von Saraf reached over to squeeze his son’s bicep. “Harder to do at thirty than it was at twenty, ha? You’re never going to be younger than you are right now, even with therapy. The Cadre knew it was time for you to quit.”
Rivan caught his father’s hand and tugged at it. “I guess.”
“We’re going to wake your mother with our talking. Tell the bus to slow down, and get some sleep.”
Rivan woke to find a soft throw tucked under his chin. The bus rocked side to side, with more road noise from the tires than the previous night. His neck was sore. I should have laid the seat down.
The sun was well up, but the Oma had darkened the windscreen so he could sleep. His father was sitting on the forward lounge, close enough to the console for the rig to operate driverless at the higher speed limit.
The dash map showed they had reached the tidal flats. The landscape was all scrubby grass and tropical flora. The sky had that peculiar tint that suggested open water, even though Rivan could not actually see ocean. The first of three canals crossing the waist of MahaDviPa — the Great Continent, and the divide between the northern and southern hemispheres, were just ahead.
On opposite sides were the Gulf of Grahana and the Western Sea. Seagoing vessels wanting to cross over had only two places to do it, here or six thousand kilometers south.
The bus slowed for rough pavement. A few meters off the shoulder, sea birds picked at the armored carcass of an animal whose ancestors Rivan thought would have passed on a skill for crossing a highway that had been there for a thousand years. But, apparently not.
Von Saraf was shuffling tablet computers, making final arrangements for their annual concert at the Meridian Arts Center. “Good morning. Three more hours until we stop.”
Rivan coughed to clear his lungs. “Is Kulan Dagar your bandleader this time?”
His father nodded. “Says he’s looking forward to seeing you. Want breakfast?”
“Sure.” Rivan squeezed past his father towards the toilet. “Is he still mad about you quitting the tour circuit?”
Von shook his head. “Na.”
Rivan saw the privacy screen was deployed in front of the master’s compartment. “Mi up yet?”
“Was, then she laid down again. Rough night. Needs to get that nose fixed.”
“She can sing though, right?”
Von turned a tablet horizontal, swiping at a seating chart. “Oya. Just needs her rest. I made hot cereal. Bring me some kaphi.” He looked up and smiled. “Please.”
Rivan grinned at him. “You don’t have to do that, Ta. I know you’re a nice man.”
Von grunted. “Your mother wants me to cultivate new habits, now that I am a farmer.”
Von Saraf’s bulk filled the upholstered lounge. He was Mahat Limar, one of eight primitive lemur breeds that paired with ethnic genotypes when the Change virus turned Anye evolution back a million years. Short, muscular, with a blunt muzzle, close rounded ears, a long coarse dark umber pelt and intimidating fangs. Mahat Limar were uncommon in the Noble clans; most Low Desert Travelers were Kopin or Vyala: Taller, lighter in frame, not quite so durable.
The Broken Claw crime syndicate was primarily Mahat Limar, so that’s what people assumed when they met Von Saraf. The implication followed Rivan’s father his entire life, easing some paths, making others more difficult. When Von left the mechanic’s trade to serve as bodyguard for a concert promoter, and then inherited the man’s business, he found that everyone showed up on time, and nobody ever broke a contract with him.
When Rivan was very young, his father advised him: “In negotiations, be silent and frown. Others will soon begin saying things you want to hear.”
The notch on Von’s left ear, a ritual mark given in the Cadre following first combat, sealed the deal. People were instinctively deferential, and he rarely had to raise his voice.
Rivan’s mother, on the other hand, was Raji Limar: the tallest breed, second in regal bearing only to the Iravat. High pointed ears, delicate black wedge-shaped muzzle, with a black mask around the eyes. She had the classic voluminous white ruff, mane, chest, hands and feet with a fine, black, short coat everywhere else.
Sasha Gandharva was widely thought to be an exceptionally beautiful woman. She was already a famous vocalist when she hired Von Saraf to be her agent. He was sixty years her senior, and Sasha wanted to be young forever, so they went to age reversal together.
Near the end of therapy, during a time when coupling is not recommended due to latent accelerated cell division, Von Saraf and Sasha Gandharva had a moment during which they overcame the fertility crisis that was rushing the entire race towards extinction. Sasha became pregnant with Rivan.
She ignored her doctor’s advice not to carry to term, married Rivan’s father, and together they raised a Mahat Raja. Rivan was tall, muscular, with high pointed ears, a black muzzle that was both feral and proud, and a bold black mane, finished off with a thick pelt of black-tipped umber.
Von Saraf nodded pleasantly when Rivan brought kaphi. “You’re a good son. Got a girlfriend yet?”
“No, Ta. Stop asking me that. I’ll let you know.”
“What about that Piyali girl, the Raji Limar at school?”
Rivan shook his head. “You should hear her talk. I never met anybody in the Cadre who cursed so much. Not a chance.”
His father stacked tablet computers on the carpet. “Tell me about this accident you think is going to happen.”
The motor home slowed to a crawl. Rivan took an opportunity to finish his breakfast while his father interrogated the Oma. Von Saraf returned from the console with the satisfied look of a man who had planned for everything. “Road construction. Two lanes for thirty kilometers. Good thing we started early.”
Rivan called forward from the galley. “Are we going to camp with the Dagar caravan tonight?”
“Not unless you want to. Your mother and I have made our break from that life, and I regret that I ever exposed you to it. Besides, we would get fleas.”
Rivan patted his father on the knee and sat. “Oh, come on.”
“I am serious. They won’t take Flea Guard.”
“Kulan believes the Manu clans are poisoning consumer goods to decimate the lesser peoples. Today it’s Flea Guard. Tomorrow, who knows?”
Rivan barked. “Like what the Vanya claim, that our fertility problems are biological warfare against them!”
“Exactly. The same thing, only directed against the Nobles.”
“Does he not understand that everybody takes Flea Guard?”
“I don’t. Do you?”
“No, I don’t need … Okay, perhaps Travelers are the best customers. Still, it’s nonsense.”
Von nodded. “I agree. I made Kulan promise that everybody in the band takes a flea bath tonight. Even with that, we might be scratching after the show.”
“Shit, Patr. You have any Flea Guard?”
“No. I had Farmer’s Cooperative duties all this week. I didn’t even check out the rig before we took off.”
Rivan shook his head. “Auf! I wish we towed your car.”
“Me, too. Maybe we can pick some up at a fuel stop.” Von sipped kaphi. It was cold. “Tell me about your work.”
Rivan dragged claws through his mane. “We’re going to run an experiment intended to affect atomic particle topology on the other side of a dimensional boundary. It is possible the test sample will release more energy than the containment cylinder can withstand.”
“Have you done this kind of thing before?”
“Ya. Many times.”
Von Saraf smiled. “You’re still here.”
“The work tends not to produce much in the way of results.”
“Then why do you do it?”
“At first, because this is what physics students do at Nalanda. Now, because I believe in it.”
Von opened his mouth, but Rivan waved him off. “I misspoke. There have been results, just not while I was present. Over the years, Parsanda’s discoveries have made a small fortune for the university and for himself.”
Rivan took a phone out of his pocket. “The machine that assembles this device is Parsanda’s. Age reversal takes a year less than before, because of something Parsanda and his friend Suwanetra brought to market.”
His father smiled at him. “You like what you do. Admit it.”
“Sometimes. Nine months ago, when my last rotation on duty ended, and I knew the Cadre would not allow me to bid for officer’s school, I was … unhappy.”
Von shrugged. “It must have been exhilarating, falling into the sea, saving careless fishermen.”
“It was. But you were right: Ocean Rescue is for twenty-year-olds. I couldn’t keep doing it. And perhaps being an officer would not have been right for me. But, Ta, the Cadre was the one place where I felt like I belonged.”
His father made a sad face. “That is our fault. We raised you in a community of chronic underachievers, so we could tour and make money as musicians. It was selfish of us.”
“Ta, it was great. I learned to fight, the right way to work a proposition, how to skin a pazu and cook it on a campfire. When I joined the Cadre, I already knew half the things they wanted to teach me.”
Von tapped his son’s knee. “I can see I am forgiven. Back to the subject: Is something different about this experiment?”
Rivan’s expression went sober. “There is. We have a device that stops time.”
His father leaned forward. “What?”
“A graduate student made it, five hundred years ago, to prove another man’s theories. Parsanda fetched the machine from an exhibit at a closed university. The field effect is so small, it has a microscope built in so you can see what it does.”
Von Saraf was slack-jawed. “It stops time.”
“Oya.” Rivan puckered his lips, looked off in the distance. “It is the inspiration that drives what we are doing now. I wrote the preamble to our current equation set myself. There is a dimension where all of space and time exists at a single vector. I believe the device informs us how to operate within it.”
He looked at his father with a tight smile on his face. “But I would not be the first to imagine he has discovered something important, only to learn the questions still outweigh the answers.”
Von shook his head. “I don’t know how to advise you.”
“I have been trying to convince Parsanda to move our project to Udak. If he insists on running our next test at Nalanda, all I can do is take the others out of the building.”
“Is there no way for you to stop the experiment?”
Rivan shook his head. “If Suwanetra is unable to sway him, then I can only hope my fears are without merit.”
Rivan’s mother emerged from the master’s compartment before lunch. Her mane and ruff were flat on one side, her eyes still sticky from sleep. She leaned over the lounge where Rivan watched a news feed and kissed her son on the cheek. “Make me some kaphi. Where are we?”
Rivan pushed to his feet. “North Canal Town, almost to our camp site.”
She went forward to the driver’s seat and tweaked Von Saraf on the ear. “Tell me the Dagar clan isn’t here.”
Her husband laughed. “Kulan picked a spot south of the auditorium. We won’t see them until tomorrow.”
Sasha Gandharva Saraf found a tissue and blew her nose. “Good. I’m in no mood for their non-stop parties.”
Through the windscreen, Sasha could see a line of motor coaches tucked between rows of carefully tended tropical trees. The center display on the dash showed the rear camera view as the bus backed towards a privacy fence.
The front wheels lurched over a hump. The Oma sounded <AL> — a Robotics Signal Language tone, meaning Alert. “You have reached your destination. This device will level the vehicle.”
Rivan had a word with the catering appliance. He took a cup down from the cabinet. “How about a little morning yogya on the seashore, Mi? Deep breathing, some stretches, clear out those sinuses.”
Sasha turned her head back and forth. Rivan could hear vertebrae pop from three meters. “After kaphi.” She saw herself in a window glass. “I have to do something with this fur.”
Twenty minutes later, the three of them walked the service road to the beach. The isthmus at the Canal Zone was only thirty-one kilometers wide. Their campground was on the east shore, facing the Gulf of Grahana. Everyone they met on the way was wearing sidearms, as were Von and Rivan.
They saw at least ten of the local provincial guard, stripped to shorts and tactical gear, rifles slung across their chests. Rivan poked his father. “Something must have happened here. Even in University Town, you don’t see more than one in five civilians wearing pistols.”
Von noticed a passing soldier looking them over. “I wouldn’t ask these guys about it.”
Rivan produced his phone. “Manu. Recent news from Canal Town.”
His phone’s Oma replied. “Five top results: One, Vanya activity. Two, arts and entertainment …”
“This record is twelve days old. Summary: A Vanya pressgang hijacked a transient yacht in Canal One. Two doctors, two technicians and supplies seized from a regional age reversal clinic were taken aboard. The vessel was challenged at sea by a tour boat responding to an all-ships alert. The Vanya sank the tour boat. The Grahana government refused to dispatch maritime assets, allowing the Vanya passage to Laghu. The medical staff and yacht’s crew is presumed to be in captivity. Would you like to review this story in its entirety?”
Rivan made a sour face. “No. Cancel query.”
Von Saraf adjusted his holster for better access. “That explains it.”
Sasha looked back towards the travel park. “We should turn around.”
Von took his wife’s hand. “Na. The locals are awake now. We should be fine.”
It was early spring, the time of year when tourists began to shun the Canal Zone in favor of places that were not quite so hot. But, the sky was still an amazing shade of blue.
Wispy clouds streamed overhead. Sea birds swooped in the air, calling to potential mates and warning off competitors. Small children with fuzzy pelts, more than might be seen anyplace else, ran and shrieked at the water’s edge, parents close on their heels.
The Sarafs took turns cooling off in the surf, while one or the other held on to waist packs and holsters. Rivan thought to lead a kriya for peace and tranquility, but his mother was not ready to let go of her agitation. She sat Von and Rivan down in the sand, taking their hands.
They stared east across the gulf, where eons ago the Great Continent had yielded landmass to make the Nivi Strand, which then broke north to south into the North Islands, the Laghu Continent and the Grahana Archipelago. There, the Vanya and Sadhu tribes were isolated until the end of Anzu’s last ice age, when the Nivi tribes came back across the polar cap to reclaim the North Islands.
Slightly northeast of the Canal Zone, 1800 kilometers distant, was ingress to the Strait of Grahana, dividing Laghu from Grahana and therefore the Vanya from the Sadhu — the latter now called Nobles. The Vanya Dominion was in Quarantine for its belligerent ways, Grahana finally liberated from Vanya rule, but still in the shadow of its erstwhile masters.
Rivan broke the silence. “Cadre doctrine says the Vanya are developmentally arrested, stuck in the bronze age, unable to process the idea that others not related by family or clan are, in fact, persons.”
Sasha lay down, not caring if she got sand in her mane. “My mother said the same about Nobles when I announced your father and I would be married.”
Rivan looked at his father. “Did she? What does AtAmahi think now?”
Von Saraf did not meet his gaze. “There is some truth to what she said. But I hope your grandmother might agree that, unlike the Vanya, my people are not bred to be homicidal maniacs.”
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