Welcome to the serialized version of my science fiction novel, Worldmaker.
This novel was originally published in 1985 by Ace Books. It was reprinted in Germany in 1993, and was reprinted in 2007 by iUniverse.
At one point it was optioned by an independent Los Angeles production company, for whom I wrote a script. I might publish that script here after serializing the novel.
I will try to keep to a schedule of at least one post per week, but hopefully I can post more often than that.
To see all my other books and e-books, with links to purchase, go to my website at http://www.acellis.net/.
Enjoy the first chapter of --
A. C. Ellis
THE DROWNING MAN
A midsummer night, less than a month after Steven and Pamela met. They sit in Pamela's apartment watching television, and for just an instant Steven forgets who the black man staring out at him from the screen is. Then he remembers. It is Hilborne Burton, the psychic. He and Pamela watch Burton's show nearly every night.
Pamela watches the screen, her long, honey-blonde hair piled atop her head. She holds it in place with one hand.
"Have you ever thought of wearing it short?" Steven asks.
"Never," she answers, turning toward him. There is a strange fierceness in her voice. "It's my trademark, my emblem of ultimate independence."
"Independence? From whom? From me?"
"From everyone." She turns back to the television.
Steven shrugs and tries to imagine her with short hair. Nice, he thinks. Especially if it is a few shades lighter.
* * *
Steven holds Pamela close in the dark, her head resting on his bare chest. They have just made love.
"I love you," he whispers.
Pamela grunts her response.
"I mean it."
"Will you marry me?" he asks. He feels her stiffen in his arms.
"You asked me that last night, Steven."
"Did I? And what did you say then?"
"It wouldn't work."
"Why not? We live together.... I can't remember how long we've been living together."
"A bit more than a year."
"And it's working fine, isn't it?" Again there is silence. "Well, is it or isn't it?"
"Yes, Steven, its working, but only because at any given moment either of us can call it quits."
"Do you want to call it quits?" he asks.
"I didn't say that. I just meant marriage wouldn't work for us."
"It wouldn't work for you."
"Okay, for me."
They are both silent for a long time.
* * *
Two months later Steven sits in the living room, waiting, while Pamela gets ready in the bedroom. They are late for... for what?
It is happening again, as it has several times in the past few months. He can't remember where they are going....
Then he remembers. The party. They are already late for the party. And Pamela has to mess with her hair.
"I think I'll get a permanent next week," she calls.
"Why? Your hair looks fine the way it is."
"I know. But I want something different."
Steven thinks it should be called a temporary instead of a permanent. At forty-five dollars a throw, you should at least get honesty.
* * *
The dream-memories scattered, as they had every morning for the past eighteen months, interrupted by the muted thud that marked the world's end.
He snapped awake, cold perspiration coating his body, his trousers clinging wet and clammy to his thighs. A mattress button chewed into his left shoulder blade, a spot of dull pain.
Where was he? Who was he?
A single thought pressed in through the fog in his mind--the computer. With it came questions: Was he finally free of the computer? Somehow, in that instant between sleep and total wakefulness, had it stopped functioning?
With that thought the computer awakened. His body tensed and began to tremble as a torrent of memories flooded into his mind.
First, the dream-memories returned, the same ones he had just awakened from. They were from Denver, from before the operation.
Immediately behind them came the relentless parade of his past. Everything from his first dim awareness as an infant, to the nanosecond prior to falling asleep the night before.
He fought them, trying to push them from his conscious thoughts, but they would not recede. They clung like the last leaf of autumn to the porous bone inside his skull. The sub-microscopic computer locked in his head, its ultrafine electrode network fanning out across his cerebral cortex like a spider's silken web, continually shocked them from his subconscious mind with minute jolts of electrical current, projecting their images against the larger-than-life screen of his consciousness, bestowing on them a hard-edged sharpness they had never possessed in reality.
Foremost among the memories was his identity, and with it came his name. Steven Collins. Then the dual realization: He was perhaps the last sane human being in a world gone totally mad, and he was on the verge of losing his mind.
He pushed that thought down into his subconscious, and concentrated on the mattress button beneath his left shoulder blade. Somehow, zeroing in on that point of pain helped center his thoughts on the task of forcing the memories back down into his subconscious mind. It focused his attention on the present, the here and now.
Opening his eyes, he could barely make out the spotted and peeling ceiling and the naked bulb hanging unlit from its frayed cord in the dimness above. The window to his left was hung with makeshift curtains; little light sifted through the coarse burlap.
What was today's date? He couldn't be sure; he had lost track months ago. It had to be summer, though. Around mid August, 1989.
But it really didn't matter anymore. Nothing had mattered much since...
Again the memories flooded back into his thoughts, threatening to throw him over into raging, screaming insanity. And again he forced them down by concentrating on the immediate.
This time he focused on his body in general, and on its surrealistically sharp sensations. He felt the cold glare of perspiration and the heavy fabric of his trousers clinging to his legs. His breath hissed in ragged bursts, tickling and warming his upper lip, as white pain pulsed behind his eyes and cramps tore at his stomach. He smelled the sourness of his unwashed body and fought down a wave of nausea.
Turning on his side on the bare mattress, his gaze fell on a gray-and-black checked sweater folded neatly atop the night table. In the center of the sweater squatted a green plastic frog, a two-inch tall key chain bauble wearing a yellow crown. Its hands were humanoid and spread. Once it had carried a small yellow replica of the world. Now its hands were empty, and it appeared to be shrugging.
Both the sweater and the frog had belonged to Pamela. They were all he had to remember her by.
Pamela had left almost eighteen months ago, only a couple weeks after the End, before anyone was willing to admit it had actually arrived. Steven still had more trouble accepting her absence than he did the world's end. Many nights he would turn restlessly on the bare mattress, feeling her warm breath on his neck. Often he mumbled something to her in his sleep, only to wake in a cold sweat and remember she was gone.
Reaching out, he fingered the sweater's soft fabric, and again the memories flooded in--harsh, painfully clear.
One was the memory of a night seven years ago, when he was still playing piano three nights a week in a run-down motel bar in Denver. It was the night he first met Pamela.
* * *
She is twenty-six, two years younger than Steven, but looks no older than twenty. Her hair is honey-blonde and falls in soft waves to the middle of her back, and her eyes are the color of a summer sky. Her body is small, almost boyish, her features those of a delicate porcelain doll. Her nearly white, untanned complexion enhances that effect.
Apparently only fluff, Steven thinks at first.
But as the night progresses, as he talks to her between songs, he begins to realize that there is a deceptively quick mind behind those enchanting eyes. She is considerably more than she appears.
Dinner for the next night: that's what he has in mind. After the last set, only fifteen minutes before closing, he finally works up the nerve to ask.
"No," she says, taking him totally by surprise, "we'll take in a show tomorrow afternoon. I'll make breakfast at my place this morning."
That fast and direct.
That straight forward....
* * *
A dog barked somewhere outside, snapping Steven's thoughts back to the present. Another added its rasping call, then several others. A shiver climbed up his spine.
He sat on the edge of the bed and felt blindly across the hardwood floor for his shoes. The heel of his hand hit an empty quart bottle and sent it rolling noisily across the room. The dogs stopped barking.
Dead soldier, he thought into the silence, wondering how a dead anything could make so much noise.
As he groped beneath the bed, his fingers brushed something husk-dry and roughly rectangular. His journal, wrapped in newspaper.
For a long moment he toyed with the idea of picking it up and unwrapping it, but he realized that would serve no real purpose. Shortly after Pamela left and his world fell apart, he had decided that there was no longer anything left in his life about which to write. The only other reason for opening the journal now would be to read from it, and there was no need to do that, either. The gallium-arsenide semiconductor in his brain was even now supplying exact memories of the words he had written years before.
Again he drove the memories from his thoughts, then found his shoes, pulled them on and laced them. They were old shoes. He knew he could have a new pair any time he wanted, but he would have to break them in; these were already comfortable. It would simply be more work than it was worth.
The bedsprings complained as he stood and went to the wash basin on the far side of the room. He turned on the tap and a slow stream of warm, rusty water trickled out. He splashed it on his face, in his hair, rubbed some clumsily across his bare chest. He lifted an aerosol can of shaving cream from the narrow metal shelf beneath the shattered mirror, shook it, then sprayed foam out onto his fingertips, applied it to his day-old stubble, and began to shave.
Halfway through, he stopped. There was no longer anyone to shave for. The society to which that ritual had meaning no longer existed.
He toweled the lather from his face, then threw the soiled towel on the bed. Going to the corner near the door, he picked up a red flannel shirt from the pile of dirty clothes, pulled it on and buttoned it up.
Soon, he would need more clothing, Steven thought. But there was no rush. Again, there was no one for him to dress for, no one but himself. And he no longer cared.
He picked up the ax handle leaning against the door and hefted it in his hands. It felt good. It looked good, too. The oils from many handlings had stained the wood nearly as dark as the backs of his hands.
He ran a calloused thumb along a row of notches at one end of the weapon and thought with shame of a time when he had counted his victories. It had taken him nearly two months to realize that there were no victors in this new world. Only survivors.
Consciously keeping the memories at bay, he opened the door and stepped out into the dark hall. Then he locked the door behind him and descended to the street.