This is a post I recovered from a previous blog-project I’ve since re-named “fragmented fiction.” It has been restored here as part of an effort to unify more of my writing in a single place for deeper enjoyment. This is a collection of one week’s worth of writing.
Ghen, v3 / 002
An Excerpt From:
Usell Ghen\’s History of the Ersatz
Volume III: The Siege of Asgarth
An upsurge in the population of Asgarth had an interesting side effect for the city and it’s inhabitants. Although Winston Marcella had often speculated on the whereabouts of the missing members of the expedition, for it was a fact that more than merely the three — eight — ten original inhabitants of Asgarth had disappeared into the Grand Mechanism during those first few hours and weeks of it’s existence. But scarce resources, and — some wager — an inherent disinterest in his “missing” colleagues prompted a persuasive campaign from Winston and his supporters against any kind of full-out search for the missing people. “Where to start looking?” Read his famous line, still in use to this day to insult someone who seemingly “gives up” too easily. Truthfully, there was little evidence that anyone else did cross into the Ersatz in those early days. But common opinion remains that the impersonal nature of Marcella was more interested in local study of minerals and plant-life than adding to the complexities of a further burgeoning population.
The arrival of so many more colonists in Asgarth — and the subsequent increase in those unaccounted for on the voyage, personal accounts of missing spouses, parents, or close-friends who were to have come “weeks” previous — resulted in two primary camps of support in direct opposition to each other. Winston Marcella and colleagues would remain firm in the belief and advocacy of the unknown, stating strongly and publicly that it was more likely those missing few had not made the trip at all, and instead were lost. Hector Verdo put his strong support behind many of the new arrivals who — far less driven by scientific practicality — held onto the hope that there was like another point of entry into the Ersatz, and that it should be located at any cost.
Of course, in those early days it was still a perfectly viable option to set out into the Gardens and explore the landscape. Without mechanical transport of any kind, Verdo recruited twelve trios of explorers in (y.17) who set out in secret to find the missing colonists. The result was not only a mapping and thorough exploration of the Ersatz’s main continent, but the discovery of not one, but two other settlements, Greenshales (y.27) set in the scattered flats of a pair of cliffs steeply rising from a river valley far across the continent-proper, and Tribulation (y.24) meagerly blossoming from a stony peninsula in the northern most regions of the same landmass. Both cities are well known today, and trade and commerce between all three is strong and vital to the growth and safety of each.
It is often considered that Verdo’s support was solidified by these actions among (certainly) the newest arrivals and even some of the original colonists because of this resulting discovery. Despite this, the fact remains that Marcella remained de facto mayor of Asgarth for nearly 75 years past these events.
Winston and Lizzie crested the lip of the Silver Cups, panting and out of breath. They were both in their forties, now, and having run the distance from Winston’s hut to where there had arrived so many people less than an hour ago, the limitations of their physical fitness came through clearly.
There were nearly fifty new people standing in the base of the third-smallest bowls. This is where every single arrival, even from Winston and company’s own mysterious appearance years ago had occurred. The crowd was bedraggled, refugees in the typical sense, their clothes rough and dirty as if they had trekked through a mountain storm to reach this peaceful place, a smoothly concave, silver-colored, stone impression in the otherwise grassy field.
“Is someone in charge, among you?” Winston said, calling into the crowd with the most authoritative voice he could muster. William Oxford had been supervising the arrivals since nearly the beginning, but had not thought to clarify the situation any further than that.
A young man stepped a few paces from the crowd towards Winston and Lizzie. “I’m Harold Gaben.” He said, “We’ve come you join you here in paradise. My friends and I have traveled a long distance upon hearing news of Sharlie’s Mechanism. We want to help.”
Winston raised an eyebrow as he looked inquisitively at Lizzie standing beside him on the crest of the Cup. He looked down into the recessed stone and asked. “Help with what?”
“The Voice from the Machine tells us that you are constructing paradise here.” Harold said, a note of caution in his voice. “We bring men and women to help in any way we can.”
Winston sighed. “I think we need to talk.” He said.
They were on their own. No institution recognized them. No company or business supplied them. And no government sponsored them. They were an anomaly, outside the world and immune to the commerce of an old world autocracy. Things would change, gradually, but in the beginning there was nothing but the primitive approach that even educated men fall into when attempting to construct a working, new reality.
Of course, people arrived and demanded jobs. That’s right. Demanded. There had been the promise of paradise. Paradise meant wealth and fortune with unlimited potential. But there was nothing to earn — no fortunes to be made — when no real economic system existed beyond a simple commune of the initial ten people working to simply subsist in a new world.
Value came first in the form of basic necessities of life. Oddly enough, many could go weeks or months without eating. There was something about the place. But those people tended to hunger in other ways. Wasting ways. Indications that while their physical bodies remained healthy and vital, their minds slipped and were more handily defiled by the Ersatz itself. Skullfish and pod fruits were abundant. Some of the first hundred were those initially who more readily cultivated the crops, taming them into renewable sources of sustenance. And expecting to earn fortunes, invented their own currency, the skrip, a finger-sized slip of flat bone found in the dorsal fin of a skullfish.
Those who caught fish, could “buy” more fish — dorsal fin always removed — from the original mongers. Skrip, of course, quickly moved past a simple fish-exchange policy. Mongers traded skrip for pod fruit. Pod fruit farmers traded skrip for the newly refined ores produced by Lisa Frobst and her helpers. And the cycle continued. Skrip had become a currency, of a sort.
Ghen and Gaben 001
The offices of Ghen’s and Gaben’s Presses were located in a two-story stone building at number twenty-three Aphid’s March in the artisan quarter of Asgarth-proper. On that particular street the building did not stand out in any particular way, save for a cut bronze sign hanging above the doorway that read, simply, “Ghen and Gaben, Publishers”. The dappled gray stone that made up the foundations of the building were scuffed with years-worth of red dust from the iron-rich gravel that made up most of the streets of Asgarth. Above the foundations a more decorative stone of smoothed charcoal black tones reached up towards the gabled roof where more pressed bronze composed the heavy shingles atop the structure.
The main floor of the building was a shop. Neatly arranged rows of books — printed on the pressed, dried reeds of pod-fruit plants in ink collected from a slug-like creature that was often found attached to the bottom of boats in the River Welles (but no where else) — comprised the bulk of the merchandise available at the headquarters of the publisher. Ghen and Gaben had (over the years) published or re-published the writings of (exclusively) authors within the Ersatz. Having been among the first two people to have been born in the city they felt that (somehow) it was their duty to protect that heritage.
Not that books from the “priorlife” were unavailable. Ghen and Gaben simply had nothing to do with books of that sort, preferring to publish non-fiction books with titles such as “Travels in the Grasses”, “Maps of Asgarth, Greenshales, and Tribulation — Now in One Handy Volume”, “The Pocket Guide to Water Travel”, and the now famous “Usell Ghen\’s History of the Ersatz”.
marcella journal / 002
From the Journals of Winston Marcella:
“Much to Miss Liss Frobst’s frustration, it seems that one of the only other women here has up and vanished. Miss Libby Lewin and Miss Frobst were not fast friends, but their unique situation had resulted in what was obviously a mutual understanding and a particular quantity of support. Miss Frobst has been using her knowledge as a geologist to uncover an exciting array of ores from nearby sources, and Miss Lewin had been assisting with those efforts. I understand that there was a balanced tension between Miss Lewin and our current situation, but apparently we all underestimated that. It is, of course, of great bother to Miss Frobst, such a sudden disappearance despite not only the subtle indications we all should have noticed earlier, but also the vague statements of departure and uncertainty expressed recently by Miss Lewin to her contemporaries.”
“With numbers so few to begin with, it would be a shame to lose anyone and it also makes it very difficult to send a search for our missing companion. We will try despite that difficulty, but I fear she left of her own will and that could make it a futile effort to bring her back to camp.”
marcella journal / 003
From the Journals of Winston Marcella:
“As a man of science, I find it difficult to understand and accept the obvious discrepancies of our relationship with the world that we still call home and this new place. I have struggled with our predicament for a number of months now. At first, I admit, I was hoping to simply find a way back, but after so long I don’t know if I can hold any hope of that happening. I am starting to resign to our permanence here.”
“Observing our location, and in an ongoing attempt to discover a more absolute determination of where we are, I first tried what many good scientists would try. I looked to the stars. As in any wilderness, there is little ambient light to obscure the view of the heavens from our place here on the ground, but after many nights of careful observation I realized that there was something that was deeply disturbing to me. True, the configuration of the stars was completely unfamiliar. True, there was no indication of the planets in their paces through the sky. But what bothered me most, I came to fact in a light-headed moment of epiphany, was the moon. I had taken for granted the familiar disc in the sky, it’s glowing shape overhead a source of light in the evening and late into the night. But until I looked closer I did not realize that the patterns were different.”
“Perhaps neither I nor anyone ever reading this journal will see the moon of our familiar “home” ever again. But the patterns of light and dark — the shapes and faces I remembered from my youth spent looking into the sky — are not there. Instead, they have been replaced by new shapes and new patterns. And none of those patterns are familiar in the least. It is as if the forest is there, but the trees are different.”
“A second disconcerting observation is that of time. Admittedly, we have little ongoing reference for this — and what little there is in hearsay — but the fact remains that after months of time passing for us, new arrivals claim that as little as days or even hours have passed back home. It seems that our lives might pass in the blink of an eye and we could wither and die of old age before our party even reaches the university to report us missing. It may even be that any attempt at rescue would come too late, the seemingly unpredictable movement of our realities resulting in the ‘rescue’ of our descendants (or simply our deceased remains if we don’t manage to fulfill that part of our human nature) by colleagues who have rushed back to Sharlie’s Mechanism to find us.
“I have no explanation for this. I am at a loss.”
marcella journal / 004
From the journals of Winston Marcella:
“Because it grows from a protected part of the base of the plant, grass is virtually indestructible. Hardy and vital, fire and flood are no match for grass that grows back within hours. Often, we’ve dug into the soil as much as twelve inches, only to have the grass out-compete any other plant we impose into it’s environment. Hector Verdo has been investigating methods of reclaiming land as no one feels in any way compelled to place their own roots in what we are now calling the Garden, anywhere in this vast landscape that accommodates the lush greenery underfoot. Having fashioned something of a hollow tube from the iron ores that have been collected, Hector has attached a sparking flint combined with a combustible oil derived from the skullfish. The result is a torch, of a sort, that he is calling a firestalk that when ignited fires a burst of flame from one end in a narrow and focused pulse. In early experimentation, this destroys the grass deeper than a simple flame. When the burnt soil is then covered with a layer of the red silt pulled from the shallows of the seabed, the result is a patch of dead land where the grass does not grow well. This is a mixed blessing, as it remains an ongoing process to torch new growth in these areas when they do emerge (though less often) and this prevents cultivation of any other plants that may prove more agriculturally important. Verdo has taken on an effort to increase the ‘available real estate’ by this method throughout the settlement, but there is no indication of the longer term consequences will be.”