1. The Stranger

I have decided to continue the story of Gibbon, set 1000 years from now. The first entry, which took place in far future Tasmania, was a mostly enjoyable process to write, although at times it was hard going. The catalyst for writing that story was a competition hosted by John Michael Greer on his old blog. My story, The Cupertinians was not selected but it did later get published in the quarterly magazine Into The Ruins. Another writing competition, this time hosted by Greer and Zendexor over at Solar System Heritage was a lot of fun and the result, Arden Archer will be published shortly. It was a lot easier to write Arden Archer then The Cupertinians (helped in part by discovering a word processing program called ‘FocusWriter‘) and I wondered if maybe I could write an actual novel rather than a short story. Furthermore, could it actually be any good?

Greer has yet again prompted more writing, this time by posting scenes and analysis as he writes them, and encouraging others to follow. Below is the first scene:

1. The Stranger

Gibbon awoke into total darkness with a cracking headache. He was lying on a hard wooden floor that creaked and groaned in time with a gentle rocking. There was a strong smell of timber, hemp and pitch with just a faint hint of salt. Nearby, he could hear the gentle sound of waves and somewhere above a gull cried as it circled overhead. Gibbon relaxed slightly, he must be still on board the Wanderlust, enroute to Shinano. Gibbon slowly became aware of two muffled voices nearby.
“So how did it happen?”
“I don’t know, but the Captain seemed pissed didn’t he?”
“Jojen watched her come in last night. Couldn’t believe it when she ignored the channel markers. Must have had a right fool behind the wheel.”
A disturbing thought crept into Gibbons consciousness. He tried to situp, but couldn’t move his arms and was rewarded for the attempt by a hard thwump and a wave of pain in his head. The nearby talking was now laughter.
“Haha, you aren’t going anywhere matey. It’s old betsy for you!”
After their laughter had died down, the two men were silent and other sounds became clear. The crunch of gravel under a wheel. The movement of a leather harness and occasional snort of a mule or horse. Lying next to him a large animal snored and grunted. Gibbon groaned, realising he was trussed up and blindfolded in the back of a wagon. He had no idea who or what old besty was, but it didn’t sound at all like the state cabin he had on the Wanderlust.

The two men started talking about the various merits of the female passengers now stranded in their town and Gibbon stopped listening, his thoughts wandering. This sad state of affairs was a worrying development and required addressing. Clearly someone was to blame for his unjustified imprisonment, but who? And perhaps more importantly, what happened to his possessions? Were they still on board the Wanderlust, or appropiated by some corrupt and peevish official as restitution for imagined crimes? Gibbon thought of the strange book-sized energy panel he found in an abandoned compound in the remote mountains west of New Hobart. There too he had being accused of poor conduct and ungentlemen like behaviour. In all his travels, thought Gibbon, the one constant was the petty jealousies and baseless accusations he encountered all across the Pacific Ring. Was humanity always this way? Was another factor at play? Gibbon had no time for such self-defeating philispohosing. In the here and now the situation was immediate and required no reflection. Escape his bonds, locate and reacquire his possessions, deliver justice if necessary. The path before him was clear even if his vision was not.

A short while later, after Gibbon has considered and rejected several unsuitable stratagems for escape the cart came to a stop. He was rudely dragged upright and temporarily blinded by the strong morning light as a hesian bag covering his head was removed.
“It’s gonna be a hot one today matey. Hope you remembered your hat.” The two guards laughed, jumped down from the cart and began poking at something on the ground just out of Gibbons line of sight. They had stopped at the top of a large bay, the overcast skies giving an uninviting grey and foamy look to the waves. There was only a few metres separating the dusty road from a rocky coastline and in places an occasional larger wave had thrown spray across the road leaving a muddy puddle. It was into one of these that Gibbon was now unceremoniously pushed. Cold mud ran down his back. Yet another injustice for which there must be an accounting! Gibbon painfully stood up and took in his surroundings. To the north, the bay swept up into a dramatic headland. The green slopes covered with a scattering of white sheep and carved by rows of poplars. Here and there a fine house or manor, surrounded by low hedges and stone fences. Looking back south, the bay continued for a kilometre, terminating at a rocky quay and a small town. Squat grey buildings clustered along the quay, which had several sailing ships tied up alongside. A few hundred metres offshore lay a large four masted ship with sleek lines and a sharp bow. It was a clipper ship – the Wanderlust. But something didn’t look right. It took a moment for Gibbon to realise it wasn’t moving on the swell. The waves washed and broke against the sides, it was aground. From this distance Gibbon could just make out the stern windows and balcony of the state cabin he had booked in New Hobart. How long ago was that? His last memory was losing sight of Van Diemens land. Everything since then a confusing blur, for sure this land was not Shinano, the destination he had booked and paid for! In truth, Gibbon didn’t recognise this place at all. Inland from the bay, the fields were rich, green and productive. But looking further inland Gibbon noted the cultivated fields ended well before the horizon, which was dominated by tall snow-capped mountains with steep, dark green slopes. This place was prosperous, but only recently settled and no doubt subject to frequent predations by hill tribes and coastal raiders. Such places typically took a hardline approach to dispensing justice. Appeals for leniency would fall on deaf ears here.
Gibbon continued his turn, his shoulders sinking as he saw their destination. A sturdy frame of thick, dark timber rose from the ground at the roads intersection. Hanging from this frame were three, large cages. Each was large enough to hold a person and made from thick iron. The first cage already had someone in it, dressed in black and watching them. The other two cages were empty and lying on the ground. Before Gibbon could formulate a plan, in truth he still felt nauseous and his head was swimming, the two guards shoved him into the second cage, locked the door and winched the cage into the air.
“There you go matey” said the first guard, “delivered safe and sound to old Betsy just like we said.”
“There must be some sort of mistake” stammered Gibbon.
But the guards just laughed and walked back to the cart and began prodding a rotound shape lying in the back. It wasn’t an animal at all, but a rather large person. The first guard, not too unkindly, removed his club and prodded him in the stomach a few times.
“Come on Garjo, you know the drill.”
The large man groaned and rolled off the cart, then crawled into the third cage still on the ground. The second guard threw in a full bladder and some bread.
“Here you go. Once the Sharif has cooled down a bit and you’ve dried out we will come back for you.”
But Garjo didn’t hear them, he was already snoring again as they hoisted the cage. Chatting to themselves, the conversation had now turned to the subject of lunch, the guards ignored Gibbons protests and turned the cart back towards town. Gibbon could only watch as the cart left. A seal sunning itself on a nearby rock was awoken by the cart as it rolled past. It gave a questioning bark at the two guards, then briefly stared at Gibbon before sliding back into the water and disappearing in the frothy wake of a breaking wave.
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  1. Hi Damo,

    It is good to see Gibbon back and in peril!

    I enjoyed the story and it will be interesting to see how Gibbon gets out of this sticky mess he's gotten himself into again. The tides and hand of fate moves against one such as Gibbon!



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