Saturday Short: The Demented

This week’s short story is a good, complex one. It’s also almost certainly a novella, too. I’ve got 3,200 words and I’m not anywhere near the halfway point.

Three inspirations have come to a confluence:

  1. At the end of a prior blog post, I haphazardly stumbled into a line of self-questioning. Given that I’ve rewritten the future history I established in Voyage Embarkation and Insomnium, what does that mean for Kal Anders, Voyage Embarkation’s protagonist? What would have happened to a Kal who grew up in the Hegemony instead of the Pan-Atlantic Union? I noted in a subsequent post that this was an extremely productive line of interrogation, but that I wasn’t ready to share any more details at that point in time.
  2. Alex and I watched a documentary called The Booksellers, which is about rare book collectors.
  3. This past week, I noticed a strange smell coming from my kitchen cupboards. Upon further interrogation, I discovered that a can of black beans had become so badly infested with botulism that it had ruptured, its contents spewing forth and dripping down onto the counter. Alex and I spent about an hour cleaning that up.
What do any of these things have in common, you ask? Good question. The answer starts with the details of Kal’s life in my new universe and ends with the setup to this week’s story.

The Kal Anders who grew up in Hegemony Chicago would not have been exposed to enough nanogenic radiation to require him to be moved to a parallel world, as in the events of Voyage Embarkation. Instead, growing up in the intellectually stifling Hegemony, Kal dreams of escaping to the Equum. At age twenty, he finally succeeds in moving to Equum Philadelphia, where it takes him just a year to figure out that the Equum is equally stifling, just in different ways. By twenty-two he’s able to extract himself back to the Midwest.

He spends about a decade taking odd jobs programming things for various individuals and institutions, and generally just traveling around the Midwest, meeting people, and trying to stay out of the way of the authorities, which the money from his programming gigs lets him do.

In his early thirties, he starts to hear about rumors of a group called the Reconstructionists who have been piecing together Earth’s literary history (which the Hegemony and Equum have both destroyed) by cross-compiling the same works from parallel universes. They’ve also reached the point where they have multiple strongholds and are capable of defending themselves against the Hegemony military.

Kal joins up.

At the very start of his training, he is approached by a rare book collector named Krya. Rather than trying to reconstruct Earth’s true literature, Krya goes out of her way to find books that diverge significantly from Earth’s—an Aristotle whose Metaphysics declared the gods dead and ended in a rambling, nihilistic screed, a Hieronmyous Bosch who painted angels, saints, and the glorious kingdom of heaven, a Philip K Dick who wrote economically successful realism.

Krya enlists Kal to help her get her hands on the ultimate prize: dialogues written by a demented Plato.

I refuse to spoil how the botulism is related. I’ll save that one for when the story can be read. I think it will be fun.

And so, as I mentioned, I will not rewrite Voyage, but it seems that there are stories surrounding his endeavors in this time stream. I cannot give up on Kal Anders. No matter what universe he finds himself in, whether a teenager or an adult, somehow he always ends up back in the metaxia.

This week’s story is titled “The Demented.” Perhaps it will be part of a collection. Perhaps it will stand alone. I’ll need to have written many more shorts in order to figure out how I want to put it into the world.