something completely different

Life’s not all work and no play, and last week I was finally able to make time for something I’ve been been missing out on for the last quarter of a century. It’s basically just the coolest festival ever: the famous “Wave Gotik Treffen” in Leipzig, which has the town turning to the dark side for four days every spring. This year, there were about 23.000 visitors, from several countries, even as far off as the US.

There’s several reasons why WGT is a cult event: over 200 artists performing in numerous venues all over town, two extensive markets (where you can get anything from black clothes to the perfect inventory for surreal nightmares… and mead.), an incredibly diverse general program offering activities ranging from art exhibitions, literary readings and public performances to picnics and even knitting sessions. And the simple pleasure of feeling totally at home in a streetcar filled with fellow black souls, quite a lot of whom are dressed in extremely creative outfits. As “Gothminister” Bjørn Alexander Brem put it during their concert: What makes this festival so special, is that it’s more about the audience than it is about the bands.

And that’s definitely a good thing, because there’s not a chance in hell you’ll be able to see all the bands you’d like to see, especially if you like more than one style of music. You’d just get stuck riding really slow streetcars all weekend. Fortunately, I was forewarned, so my list of “must see”-bands was exceptionally short for a four-day festival. And it still didn’t work. I made it to about half of the events I had planned on. (I was forewarned about that, too, to be honest.)

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But I did see some really great gigs (Die Krupps, Dark Fortress, Gothminister, to name but a few). And some that were still worth it even if *insert whatever one likes to rant about*, like Denière Volonté – to begin with, the sound was so bad that literally half of the audience left after a couple songs. Which meant a perfect view of the dancing drummer, the sound engineer obviously getting the hint, and a pretty good show, eventually.
And then there were some that nobody should talk about ever again. (I’ll just say “Swa…” *shush!* Never ever!)

I also managed to meet up with writers Claudia Rapp, Demetria Cornfield and Anja Bagus for a talk and a drink, to look at books, and at people. Last but not least I bought a couple really nice things without busting the airline’s luggage limit. Among them the limited edition “Ætherdeck” by Anja Bagus – a very special set of poker cards, showing characters of her novels on all the trump cards. Besides that, I also brought back a minor cold, major post-festival-blues, way too few pictures, and a bloody heap of plot bunnies running amok.

So it’s back to work now, I guess.

A month for writing

November is NaNoWriMo, and for the first time, I’m trying to be part of that. You can find my author profile there http://nanowrimo.org/participants/ankalaetha
and if you don’t mind, I’ll keep you updated about my progress here. If you do mind, you should unsubscribe, I guess. But I’d rather you didn’t.

So, what am I writing?
The working title is “Defectives” and it’s set in an utopian future, where people are genetically engineered to perfectly fit their vocation in life. This is great for the huge majority of people – but what about those who for some reason fall short? Those who can’t do their job properly, either because of birth defects or because of accidents, are retired and live off benefits. But what are they supposed to do with their lives? An underground scene develops, on the edges and in the dark corners, where those, who for one reason or another fell off the wagon, gather and kill time. Without perspective, there’s frustration, and there’s conflics. This is an irritant for government, it sullies the perfect utopian picture.
Eventually, someone does something stupid. And someone else overreacts. And there we go.

old dragon inn (part six: next boat)

I felt the board break before I heard it. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion – I saw Aaron stare in shock, then the darkened, dusty ceiling while I was falling, and broke through more floorboards as my body hit them coming down. I remember how scared I was while I fell, and the short moment of relieve when I landed, painlessly, on something soft and squishy, instead of the stone floor, or something hard and sharp. Then I realized that I indeed had landed on something soft, very big, wet and squishy, and for a second I actually just thought “I guess now I know what hides in the basement.”, before panic kicked in and I started my frantical attemts to get on my feet.

There was quite a lot of water, and I could hear it splashing as the Octo started shifting beneath me, either in discomfort or in an attemt to drag me under. It was like trying to stand on a bull’s back during an earthquake, but I’ve always been good at skateboarding, so I eventually managed. It just didn’t help me much, since the top of the floor still was at about the level of my upper chest, and the edges of the hole were jagged and spintered. I’d probably stab myself to death if I tried to jump out, or hold on and climb. I started looking around desperately, the shortlived victory of being on my feet draining from my body, leaving me feel stiff and paralized with fear again. That’s when I saw Aaron. He hadn’t fled. Instead he seemed to be talking to the cat.

I figured later that I must have imagined that, or misinterpreted what I saw. He probably was just mumbling to himself. Anyway, I could not catch a word he was saying. All I know is that the cat disappeared out of my sight, and then the Octo’s thrashing broke a board out of the floor behind me, at the other side of the room. That beast must’ve been really enormous. The plank happened to fly towards the hole I was in, and I heard someone push it closer. Before I could even turn around, Aaron shoutet: “Come closer to the edge! You have to grab the board! Put it across the hole, you can use it to climb up!”

It was way easier to follow instructions, than to think for myself. I stole closer to the side where the board was, very, very slowly and carefully. I really didn’t want to slip. On the other hand, I knew I needed to get out of there before the Octo managed to get an arm around and up to grab me. “Don’t look down!” Aaron bellowed “your body always wants to follow your eyes! Look at the bloody board. Or at me, if you must.” Once again, I complied. And finally I reached the plank. I remember noticing that the cat was chasing it as I pulled it, like it was a game, and for a second, that irritated the hell out of me. But then I had got it lying across the hole, and I tried to hoist myself up on it. But it was wet, and I slipped, and my arms were still weak from fear. I tried to jump, but fell back down. Landing on the Octos head again, I was convinced that this would be the ugly end of me, but to my surprise the rubbery surface just bounced back, throwing me up into the air, higher than I had jumped. And so I managed to draw myself onto the board, and crawl back onto what was left of the floor.

I made the rest of the way to the door on all fours, I could hear and feel the Octo thrashing around, really angry now. His tentacles had started to reach through the hole where the board came from, and I tried to keep as low as possible, terrified he might manage to grab me after all. When I was about halfway, the cat raced past me, tail high into the air. The little minx still thought that all this was a funny game. She did wait for me me outside the door, though. Cassie, on the other hand, was nowhere to be seen. Oh well, I couldn’t really blame her for running away from this mess. And she had been kinda strange to begin with. Aaron shuffled through the open door, snorting and coughing. If I hadn’t been so immensely glad to be out of there, I would have been afraid the excitement had been too much for his old heart. But before I had time to really start to worry, I noticed that he was actually laughing.

He collapsed on the pier besides me, and while I was still shaking with terror, he was shaking with giggles. I pulled myself together enough to sit up and glare at him. “Just glad at least one of us having fun” I spat with what I hoped was scathing sarcasm. It didn’t work at all, it just threw him into another laughing fit. Finally he tried to speak, and managed to press out a stifled “But don’t you see? You just used his head as a trampolin! Like he was a bouncy castle of old! Don’t you see how funny that is?” I was still hurt. “No, I don’t see. – Maybe that is because I have no idea what a trampolin is. Or a bouncy castle. That sounds daft.” “Oh, right.” He sobered up a bit. “They were childs playthings, back in the day. Big, expensive ones, especially the bouncy castles – they had them at fairs and birthday parties for the rich. They were made of synthetic rubber, and filled with air, like a bicycle tyre. Just huge, so you could jump on them, and they’d throw you up on the rebound. Just like that Octo’s head…” he started laughing again. I did feel the giggles tickle my chest, but I was not willing to give in yet. “That sounds like a total waste of perfectly good rubber.” I said. “Yeah”, he admitted, with a glimt in his eye. “Especially when they obviously just as well could have used an octopus…”

When we were finished laughing, I stood up. “Where to now?” I asked. I could not leave the old man there like this, after all. He was clearly frail, and not very good on his feet anymore. He looked at me blankly. “What do you mean?” “Well, we can’t go back inside. I could just go home, or what counts as home for me these days. But where will you go?”. He got back up surprisingly fast, not even giving me a chance to help him. “I’ll do the same, of course.” he said. “But not so fast, young Padawan. You will help me to cross the ocean, won’t you? I can’t do it on my own anymore, I do need someone young and strong to sail that boat. I need you.” I swallowed hard. That wasn’t something I had heard a lot. Maybe it was even the first time ever. But the idea was crazy beyond all imagination. It was complete madness. “Oh, come on!” He nudged further. “What are you afraid of? Octos? Hell, you just bounced off one! I don’t think anyone else has ever done that. So, if anyone can make it, it would be you.”

I could not help but feel flattered. And neither could I forget that Aaron had stood by me when I was about to die, even though he could have been killed himself in the process. So I decided to humour him for a while longer. He had said we needed to get his boat in shape first. Then he needed to teach me how to sail. All that would take weeks and weeks – plenty of time to find an excuse and get out of that gig again. So, there really was no harm in saying yes now, was there? “Okay, then.” I said finally, “Why not. I’ll come with you. Or, I mean, I’ll meet you tomorrow – it’s getting way too late for today. But I’ll be there tomorrow, promise. And I guess, “Padawan” is as good a name as any.”  Aaron smiled. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning then, not here, but at the old harbour on the other side of the bay. The once fancy one. That’s where the boat is. It was a rich man’s thing, those types of sailboats that one person can handle on their own, you see?” When he saw the look on my face, he added reassuringly: “You can bring the cat, of course.” I shook my head. “I can’t really bring that cat anywhere. But if I’m lucky, maybe she’ll come along, for now. Take care, I’ll see you there, then.”

I turned towards the cobbled street that led up the hill, towards the grey mass of the old city center, and the cat darted off before me. I’d need to remember to get some fish on the way, she clearly expected dinner.

As I hurried down the dusty road, up the hill between the grey walls, past the cemetary with the high ferns, and further away from the sea, I passed two men standing under one of the smelly gas lamps. They were talking in one of the old languages. Or actually, just one of them was talking. The other one looked a bit taken aback, but he just stood there nodding in halfhearted consent. I wondered why he didn’t object, when he looked like he kinda wanted to. But hadn’t I been just like that with Aaron? For that short moment, I admitted to myself that it would never get easier to back out, just the opposite. I hadn’t managed to refuse Aaron today, I would not be able to do so later. So why the hell was I so content, even eager to do what he wanted, and help him go through with this utterly crazy and harebrained plan? It was a terrible idea to try and go out on the ocean in a small sailboat. I had never even sailed before. He was old, and an invalid, no use physically at all. And it was the bloody ocean! With all of hell’s creatures hiding right under that pretty, glittering disguise. It was a total suicide mission.

And all that, for what? To try and find that mythical “other side” that everyone with half a brain knew was just an old man’s tale. – But he was an old man. And he said he knew it was there. He was from there. He might be crazy, but he didn’t seem delusional. And if it was true… I realized I had stopped to look back, out over the sea, sun setting in all shades of red and orange. I had always wanted to go out there. I had never been as afraid of the sea as the others. Even as a small child, the villagers had to pull me back from wading out quite often. They finally even taught me how to swim, in the duckpond. Just in case. And to give me a safe piece of water, hoping I would be satisfied with that. It didn’t help much, tho, I still went into the ocean. I always made it out wet, but alive. – That was probably why no one ever invited me in.

I was still looking at the small waves playing in the light. What an adventure it would be! All those colours, all that bright light! I felt excitement spreading in my whole body. The things I would see, and hear, and smell – it would be worth it. Even if it meant I had to die before my time, I would die having expierienced something special. Something no one else my age ever had. There were worse ways to die. There were worse graves.

I felt the cat rubbing aginst my feet. So I finally turned away from the view, and started walking again, turning the corner to the back of the fishmongers shop. The shop was closed now, but it wasn’t too long ago they had thrown out the leftovers. Fish’s tails and heads, mostly. But sometimes, if you were lucky, you could get an actual piece of fish that they had decided was not fit to be sold the next day anymore. All the stray cats in town were already assembled in the back yard, fighting over the bits and pieces. They didn’t mind me, they were used to me showing up. And not only did they know that I was stronger, and no use to attack. They also knew I could lift the lids of the cans that were too heavy for them to move. When I had found what I needed for our dinner, I conveniently left the cans open for them. I was sure the people  in the area hated me profusely for that. But then, people generally seemed to hate me, so it hardly made any difference.

old dragon inn (part five: all kinds of bombs)

“After that, we went down fast. It’s funny, in a way – in retrospect there were clear signs that they had gotten into datacommunication some time before that, and just altered it slightly, as to not give their hand away. Most communication between humans, nations, governments, but also private conversations, was digital at that point in time. The alternative systems had vanished quickly, because it was so practical. And all of the knowledge in the world was stored “online”, meaning everywhere and nowhere. It seemed so safe… but it wasn’t. See, they didn’t even need to change it all. Just the parts they wanted. And they didn’t need to change it everywhere – just enough places that the new truth seemed to be more likely than the original. People basically went into a state of confusion. And since we never found out just how they had gotten in, we never knew if we actually had managed to encrypt something well enough, or not. So even the parts of communication that passed unaltered became useless – nobody dared to believe them.

– Of course, that only happened after we found out. And it made our situation so much worse. So, you see, I never really understood why they didn’t let us know earlier on. Maybe they actually didn’t foresee that effect. Maybe they didn’t realize just how dependend we had become on electronics, that we didn’t really have an alternative. Maybe they needed the time to study us more closely, by our exchanges. Maybe they were forced into this step because the aiming device was an actual danger to them. Or maybe they did count on the confusion-effect, and maximised it by never giving away just how long they had been there undetected, making it harder to reconstruct data from backups. Or maybe they were just playing with us. Anyway – once we knew, we were lost. We could not keep on fighting, every order could just as well have been from them. Most of our methods of transport, even those we still had fuel for, were somehow data-assisted, and therefore not safe anymore. No one even dared to try an airstike against the sea, too many of them had already ended up bombing cities and military bases – now we knew why. And why nothing about that was to be found on the worldwide communications-net – although that just as well could have been our governments withholding information.

But, you know, there are two kinds of people: for the first kind, if you want them to do something they usually wouldn’t, you need to make them believe a good story. One that will explain why they should do this crazy thing they never even thought about before. The other kind, well, they just need an order. And there are always a lot of the second kind around, anywhere. So the airstrikes didn’t stop. Understandably, they struck mainly inland-cities – for one, all the relevant war-related industries and bases had been drawn as far away from the coast as possible early on in the war, and for the other, well. No one likes to drop a bomb in their own frontyard, I guess. Lucky for us, bombing mainly military bases and weapon depots, they ran out of bombs eventually.”

“And that was the end of the war?” I asked, surprised. “Everyone just ran out of bombs?” I could not help sounding somewhat disappointed, even if I was very aware of the fact that none of us would be here today, if they hadn’t. Aaron laughed “Well, very simply put, yes. Most of the really dangerous mass destruction-ones were dismantled by special forces when it became clear they’d probably drop on our own heads if we didn’t. But I actually think that they wouldn’t have used those anyways. Those things have a tendency to destroy all life equally, and the Octos always were a bit smarter than us that way – they never used stuff that would have considerably affected them as well.

Instead, they prepared one last strike. The one that really broke our spine, if you will. They got some of the leading scientists of the time under their mind-control – a group of people that was our last hope, set to develop a biological weapon that might win us the war. As far as we knew, every precaution had been taken to protect them, but to be able to research the Octos, they did need to get a lot of stuff that came from the ocean. And either an Octo in disguise got in that way, or it is just that some people are more susceptible than others, and the “safe distance from the sea” where the laboratory was placed wasn’t quite as safe as they thought. They needed to stay somewhat close, or everything they got delivered would have been dead on arrival.

So, those scientists worked on a designer plant. One that combined aspects of different kinds of plant pests, and that was supposed to poison the ocean for Octos, but just for Octos. They never told anyone what they thought they were doing – communication was down to a minimum, and every message could have been leaked, so it all stayed inside those walls. What they actually made had the cancer-like growth rate of waterweeds, the resiliance of fungi, the all-cracking rootstrength of dandelion, and a poison level surpassing nightshade. Even being near that plant would make you more susceptible to mind-altering. But no one knew anything of that, and we never even found out if it might actually have worked in the ocean – because even with all precautions taken, and all old mechanical planes to deploy them, all the bombs we know of went down inland. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, this was clearly no waterplant. They mainly dropped the seedbombs on big cities, and within just weeks, the people who had remained there were fleeing. Because the frst thing every single one of those plants did, was grow a root that cracked it’s way into the sewage system, and, drawing water and fertilizer from that, started to overgrow everything. It was resistant to all known herbicides. You could cut it down, or burn it, but like a dragon it would just grow three new stems for every one that you removed. They probably had bred in some Eucalyptus-trees.

That’s why all our cities nowadays are at the coastline, even if everyone is afraid of the ocean. You can’t build any cities inland anymore – as soon as there’s a sewage system, you got a problem. As long as there is none, they are just weeds, annoying but manageable. They need that boost from human waste to grow to their full potential. And, lucky for us here at the shore, they don’t like salty soil. Probably a precaution from the Octos, who didn’t want them to overgrow the oceans, just in case.” He shook his head like he was pondering something. “They do tend to grow in graveyards, even here. Probably because the earth in graveyards gets shifted much more than other places, and fertilized by the bodies. Not to full size, though. You’ve probably seem them, they look like fern when they’re small. ”

I felt a shiver run down my spine. Those ferns – they were actually a biological weapon? That would explain why they always made me feel so uneasy when I had to cross a graveyard. I wondered why they’d look like when they were fullgrown, but at the same time I was rather glad that I didn’t know.

“Well,” I said finally, “that was quite a story. Sorry to make you re-live all that, tho. Must be hard to talk about, I’m sure.” “Not really.” Aaron said, smiling. “Actually, I’m rather glad to have someone to talk to.” “Don’t you have any friends left?” I asked. “I mean, I see that you’re rather old, and I know that a lot of people got killed in the war, but there must be someone left that you can talk to?” He sighed deeply. “Maybe there is…” he said, “but even if, I wouldn’t know. You know, when it all ended, when we lost all possibilities to travel overseas – I was on the wrong side of it. Wrong side of the earth, that is – there’s more than one ocean, after all. And more than one continent.” I stared at him blankly. “You’re pulling my leg.” I stated a fact. “I have believed most of what you told me so far, even if I can’t really know if it’s true, but “the other side”?? That’s just a myth, everyone knows that!”

Aaron frowned. “What do you mean, a myth? I think I do know where I’m from!” Suddenly he almost sounded angry. I shook my head. Then I nodded. Then I shook my head again. “I just… I don’t know. I never even met anyone who believed it to be true, let alone someone who claims to know.” “So, you’re calling me a liar?” Aaron snarled, still angry. I took a step back. The floor creaked, reminding me for a moment where I was, and how strange this place, this bar, and this man was. I suppressed the urge to turn and flee, not only out of respect for the old veteran, but mostly because I remembered how dangerous it would be to cross that floor in any kind of haste. “I can prove it to you” Aaron said, his eyes set on my face, and the light from the window seemed to make them glow in changing colors. “Oh yeah?” I asked, trying to sound braver than I was, “how?” He stood up, and took a step towards me. “You just have to help me get some stuff, and get my boat back in shape. Then we can make a go for it, and sail over. It’ll take a couple weeks, but we can make it, I still know how to do it.”

That was when I realized he was completely mad. It was also when I, once again, forgot where I was, and made two quick steps back.

old dragon inn (part four: about a war)

Aaron sat quiet for a moment, looking out over the ocean. I followed his gaze, growing impatient for him to continue. The sea was peacefull as can be, sun glittering on nice little waves playing around the decaying harbour moorings. But I had always lived close enough to the coast to have seen my share of storms, I knew what he was talking about. As if he had read my mind, he said with a faint smile: “You don’t know what it’s like. Out there. It can be scary enough here, but out there… there’s nothing else. When the ocean goes crazy, the whole world is fluid. There’s no orientation, no point to fix your eyes on, everything is moving. You can’t know what that’s like.” I felt a slight shudder run down my spine. Like a forgotten memory of pain and confusion I hadn’t felt yet. I shook it off.

“So, what happened to them? Did they make it?” I asked impatiently. He laughed. “Well, of course they made it, silly. How else could I possibly know her story? It was hard, the ones in the back screaming all the time, and being sick on top of everything else. But they made it to shore alright.” “And then? What happened to your mother afterwards?” He shrugged. “She died.” I stifled an exasperated sigh. Considering his age, I had guessed as much. “Yeah, right. But in between?” Then I noticed how his smile had turned bitter and sad. “Not much in between, really. People were wondering where the platform went, and those kids she rescued were way too terrified to withstand questioning for long. They told everything they had seen. And then, after a short while, when people realized that it wasn’t just about the platform, that there was a bloody war going on out there, they were all too easily persuaded to tell a lot more then than that. More than they knew. More than was true. Mom got blamed for “starting the war”. People always need a scapegoat… She was convicted of high treason against humankind, and executed in a hurry. It probably was for the best – I wouldn’t want to think about what the mob might have done to her otherwise.” I stared at him in utter disbelieve. “You mean… What you’re saying is… eh. You’re saying Janet Bowder was your mother???” I hadn’t gotten much in the way of education, but even I knew about Janet Bowder. She was the wicked witch of the west. She was everything vile, and more evil on top. She had, at least, even in the most harmless of the stories, been in cahoots with the octos, giving them information about humans and their weaknesses, enabeling them to start and win the war. Some said she had given birth to ha half-octo. I had always taken that as a metaphor that got out of hand when people started to forget about those kind of scientists. The infamous gene-splicers. I’d believed that Janed Bowder must’ve been one of them, experimenting with octo-dna, and that she had produced a chimera, maybe even the missing link between the harmless, stupid animals of old and the new kind, that was now ruling the planet. But, if Aarons story was true, well. Then she had not been one of those scientists at all. And the whole thing was just an old man’s tale, a little horror story to frighten the children. Or just the fact that she had had a son already when all this happened, whom she probably tried to protect by hiding him from the public during he trial. People get so suspicious of everything they think someone wants to hide from them – they might just have supposed that there must be something terribly wrong with him.

Of course there was the possibility that she had still made the modern octos, not by genetic experiments, but by teaching. That they had been just animals before she started working on them, but her training had made them the intelligent manace they were today. “Do you think her experiments could have made the octos more intelligent?” I asked, wording my question as delicately as possible. Aaron just shook his head. “No, no way. She might have – unknowingly – provided them with some information about human technology, when that octo got into her mind. But the ability to do that, and to use it, he had to begin with. You can’t learn that stuff, just like you can’t learn to fly, even if you’re raised by ravens. I think the octo’s either had been like that for quite a while, gotten there in the same long, slow process of evolution as us humans before them. And they acted as soon as they saw a chance to take over, it just happened to start there and then. Or maybe they didn’t really want world supremacy, originally, they just took it when they were sufficiently convinced that mankind should most definitely not have it. Or, that’s another possibility, they mutated suddenly in the wake of the radioacive spills from nuclear power plants. We’ll never know that. But it was certainly not my mom teaching them how to be intelligent – that’s a rediculously unscientific idea.” I nodded. As I said, I’m not a scholar, but fair’s fair. I haven’t grown claws yet, and I spend most of my time with a cat.

“And yet you fought in the war” I tried to promt Aaron “even after what they did to your mother?” He was still staring into the distance. “Didn’t have much of a choice, did I? Even if they erased me from the records, everyone at home knew who’s son I was. The only way to rehabilitate myself to some degree was to go out and fight. They got suspicious enough when I came back, each time. Not too many sailors managed that… I guess the octos did remember my mom, too. Still, sometimes I wish I hadn’t come back. Those are some awfull memories.”

I could imagine. Still, I wanted to hear more about it. I’d heard bits and pieces here and there, stories about how things used to be, technologies we weren’t allowed to use anymore, things we couldn’t make because we lacked the energy, or the raw materials. But I never really knew why, and what the octos were able to do, that had us cowering on dry land. They were sea creatures after all. How could they possibly strike on land? Aaron must have seen the questions in my face, because he began to talk again, slowly, cautiously, as if he was afraid to scare me. “Octos are incredibly weird creatures. They’ve got three hearts, and several brains, and they have lots of amazing abilities. They can taste with their arms, and breathe through their skin, in adition to the gills. They are poisonous, some more, some less, but they all are. They can not only crawl and swim, but also transport themself from one place to another unseen, and we never fond out how. It’s like they liquify, and re-solidify someplace else. That’s why it’s no use trying to contain them underwater, barriers and cages just don’t work. You can contain them in tanks on dry land, but even that only works to some degree – they squeeze through impossibly small holes. Basically, anywhere water goes, they can go too. They change colour and texture, they are strong, and some species are really, really huge. But yes, most of that is only of use in the ocean. So it would not have been that much of a threat.

But, and that’s the problem, they also get into people’s minds. They can read them, and they can place thoughts into them. That’s how the octo “talked” to my mom that night, and how they gave Sofie the vague idea that she should get the hell out of that cabin and up on deck. Anyway, they can do a lot more than vague ideas. They can make you believe the most impossible things. In the beginning of the war, that was their main tactic. It works only on people who are somewhat physically close to them, but since we weren’t aware of it yet, the whole war was fought on water, and every ship out there, every plane and every helicopter became theirs when they wanted to. We were constantly shooting each other, thinking we were aiming at them. – And then we started shooting at each other out of retaliation, and almost forgot about the octos. At some point, pretty much all of Europe was convinced that the octos weren’t even real, athat it was all a nefarious sheme devised by the evil asians. Because that’s what every sailor who made it back would tell them. Of course, the octos also still sunk ships themselves, but of the people on those, no one ever made it back alive.

Eventually some of the human world leaders realized that fighting the war on water would never work. So they tried to have their armies stay on land while striking into the sea. Yet, hitting water will generally get you nowhere, and the oceans are huge. Even with our best effords, we would not be able to just kill the whole damn thing. Plus, even in those days we were still somewhat aware that poisoning most of the world’s water would probably kill us all, octos and humans alike. So we needed something, a device, a possibility to aim at our enemy. We got intelligence about a special heat-detecting system, that might be able to work long distance, even under water, and that could be calibrated to very specific temperatures. Now, octos are cold-blooded, and usually about the same temperature as the water around them. But when they use their brains to fight, those large brains need quite a lot of energy, and that makes them just a tiny bit warmer than their surroundings. So there was a possiblilty to integrate that technoligy into our heat seaking missiles, and at least force them into inaction. No one could be sure, but it might just work. The only problem was, we had to get our hands on the prototype first. And on a supply of a special sort of mineral, that you can’t find on the mainland. But you could find it on an island not too far out. And, even better, there was a tunnel to that island. They had used it to drive through with cars, before the war. Now, of course, there were no cars anymore, mineral oil was way to scarce to use it for burning like that. But the tunnel was still there.

So they sent us out, a whole platoon of sailors, or soldiers, as we were still called sometimes. We were walking, drawing lorries behind us. They had some fuel, but we were not supposed to waste it on the way there. It was for getting the load back, when the weight would be too heavy to pull uphill. We were a well trained bunch, so it wasn’t hard, and we made good way. It was dark, we had just a few lamps. Energy was scarce already. And it was extremely claustrophobic, walking through that tunnel, down, and down, and further down, way under the ocean. The air became stale, and I knew we hadn’t even gotten halfway yet, when I suddenly heared someone shout “down!” I threw myself on the ground at once, but to my surprise I was the only one. Everyone else just… turned on each other. It was utter chaos, I hardly saw anything, but my comrades where falling left and right, and everyone was shooting and hacking and clawing at each other.” He swallowed hard. “What I saw, in the light of the muzzle flashes and the aiming devices was the most awfull, terrible thing I’ve ever seen. It was, from one second to the next, a total killing frenzy, and the worst was, they didn’t even look mad. They didn’t look crazy, or angry, or anything. All of them just looked so very, very scared.” A single tear ran down his weathered face.

“I started crawling, whimpering like a baby, back to where I had come from. I tried not to look about me, I tried not to attract any attention, but I couldn’t even stop the helpless whining leaving my mouth. I crawled under the lorries, and every time I thought I had found a safe place, a place where I might be able to wait out this madness, one of the lights found me, and I had to start crawling again, on my bleeding elbows and knees. I didn’t even feel it at the time, but those wounds never healed properly, the damage was too great.” He points the pipe to his knobby knees. I had taken that for gout. But, yeah, scar tissue would do it, too. “And just when I had reached the point where I thought that I didn’t even care anymore, that I would be happy to just get shot and get it over with, I remembered the explosives. The ones we had with us to harvest the mineral, and that might be set off anytime by all that aimless fire. And that made me realize that I damn well still cared, and I trudged on. Somehow I reached the end of the line, and I managed to get up and run. I ran like never before, I ran until I felt my lungs were about to burst, and then I just kept running anyway. I heard twin explosions behind me, and felt the earth shake like a bull trying to toss me off, and I just kept running, all the way until the water caught up with me from behind. It swept me off my feet, hurled me on, and after what seemed like an eternity, but peobably wasn’t more than a minute or so, it threw me out of the tunnel’s opening, back to where we had started. A good amount of water came shooting out after me, but when it turned and started surging back into the hole, I managed to hold on to a tree like a little monkey, and somehow I made it. I had made it out alive, again. Nobody else had, at least not on this side of the hole. I don’t know if anyone got out onto the island, but since there was nothing much there except dirt, it hardly mattered.

So that was the end to that plan. But it was even more devastating than that. Not only did we have to realize that being on dry ground would not protect us, as long as we were close to the ocean in any way, it also raised a far more scary question: how had the octos even known what we were up to? And that was how we learned that they had gotten into our data systems.”

old dragon inn (part three: escapes)

“Mom was reading by the light of the lamp on her laptop-computer – she was always very proud of having been one of the first to have a solar-powered one, and that’s why she had taken it, even if batteries of any sort weren’t supposed to be necessary on a platform that was fully wired and had several huge generators – so the first thing she noticed was the absence of noise. Not that there was a lack of sounds, the wind and the waves took care of that. Actually, it seemed to be more waves than wind that night, but that happened. But now the platform itself had gone all quiet all of a sudden. No rumbling, no swooshing, no humming of the ventilation system or droning of machines, and no electronic beeping. Then the shouting started, and she heard a few people – technicians, she supposed – stumbling around in the dark. A series of crashing noises, as one of them seemed to fall down the stairs. After that they retreated – it surely was against safety regulations anyway, to try and fix something like that in the dark. And so the whole platform became very silent. It wasn’t a peaceful silence, though, more a terrified one. Like the whole damn thing, and everyone on it, was holding their breath.

My mom wasn’t easily scared, so she remained rational. With the ventilation system off, the air in her small cabin would be going bad pretty soon – she might not actually die from it, but it would be an awfull night that way, and neither healthy nor refreshing. So she decided to go up on deck, at least for a while, and maybe even spend the night there. In a few easy steps she detached the lamp and the battery pack from the rest of her computer, took her blanket with her, and went out the door. She made it along the corridor and up the metal stairs without incident, even if the light of a reading lamp is not really made to navigate a platform that is bobbing on high ocean waves. Once she was out on deck, she didn’t need it anymore, it was a clear night, and even a half moon gives sufficent light if you’re surrounded by water. There really wasn’t much wind, but the waves were unusually high. “Oh well”, she thought “this isn’t too bad. It’s not even cold. I’ll just find myself a good place and I’ll be rocked to sleep like a baby.” Yet, just about after she had settled down on a pile of oilcloth and closed her eyes, she imagined hearing a strange sound. “Now, don’t be silly” she said to herself, “you’re just not used to be outside at night. That’s probably a perfectly normal sound, even if it does sound like… like… like suction cups attaching… and something, someone, heavy, being dragged over the deck… and the suction cups being ripped off again.” She wondered if she was dreaming already, because she didn’t seem to be able to open her eyes, but at the same time she couldn’t stop listening, as the thing, the creature, whatever it was, dragged itself on and on, painfully, closer and closer.

She wanted to move, but didn’t dare to. Maybe that was why she couldn’t open her eyes, too. When the peculiar noise was right besides her, it stopped. Now she most certainly didn’t dare to open her eyes anymore. And then she heared something else. It was like a voice, except that it wasn’t one. Directly behind her, or maybe even in her head, it said:”Stay here. Don’t go back inside. There’s nothing in there you’ll ever need again. Stay here until it gets light, then take the chopper and leave. Leave as soon as possible. Don’t look back. You can take Erik and Sofie, if they can make it outside in time. Don’t take anyone or anything else, and you’ll get home safely. That’s all I can do.” Erik and Sofie were the kitchen staff. They were nice kids, she liked them. They were normal. And they had often snuck her treats for her Octo, even if they weren’t supposed to. She wanted to ask how on earth she should get Erik and Sofie outside in time, if she wasn’t supposed to go back inside. And what the hell about all her research papers – only the synopsis had gone online, all the rest was still down there, in the platform’s computer. The computer that seemed to be totally, inexpicably, absurdly dead. But she still couldn’t seem to move.

She must have fallen asleep, because the next time she managed to open her eyes, it was early, blue-grey dawn. It would be a while before the sun could come up, but the light was sufficient to find one’s way around on deck. She sat up, wondering if it just had been a crazy dream, but somehow she was sure that it wasn’t. The whole platform was deadly quiet. She went to look after her Octo. When she reached the tank, she wasn’t all too surprised to find it empty, the cover smashed, and part of the side wall, like he had broken it down to get out easier, and get some water on deck that he could slide on for the first few meters. It had dried off by now, so it wasn’t obvious which way he had taken, but from a few knocked over things, she could assume that his path might have led him close to where she had been sleeping. However, it was enough for her to follow her impulse, and she went to prepare the chopper for takeoff. While she was struggling to remove the last of the holding gear, that ususally would have been liftet automatically, she heard steps behind her. Quickly she turned, feeling very silly and maybe even criminal all of a sudden. But to her relief it was only Erik and Sofie, somewhat disheveled and bruised from finding their way thorugh the dark intestines of the shut down platform. They looked at her like lost children meeting someone they aren’t sure will be a friend or a foe. But together they managed to get the chopper ready.”

“Yes, my mom knew how to fly such a thing. So she put the kids in the back, and without further ado, started the engine. She expected the sound to provoke some response from the platform, someone running out on deck, trying to stop her. But no one came. The only thing that happened was that the waves seemed to get even higher. Like the sea was actively trying to throw them off the platform. They lifted up into the air. The ocean was a mess, and the huge research platform was bouncing around like a cork in a fast creek. Still no people on deck. She wondered if they were all still sleeping, but how on earth could they? Maybe they were unconscious because of the failed ventilation. She looked at the two youngsters on the back seat. “How did you get out?” she asked. “Not really sure” Sofie answered, visibly shaken. “I just woke up suddenly, and knew I had to get out, no matter what. So I grabbed Fluffy here and drew him out with me. We’re kinda used to get around without seeing where we’re going, carrying all those boxes most of the time, so we found our way eventually. But it feels like it took half the night, and was scary as hell. Glad it’s over now.”

But it wasn’t over. Not by far. Mom was concentrating on flying the chopper, and, just as the Octo had asked of her, didn’t look back as they made their way towards where she thought must be the mainland. But her passengers did, and when they started to scream, louder and louder, more and more hysterically, she finally cast a glance back. There were waves, huge waves. But there was worse. In between the waves enormous, glistening tentacles appeared, throwing themselves around the railings of the platform, suction cups attaching to every surface there was. The whole platform looked like it was taken over by huge worms, or snakes. Like a lonely, doomed meatball in a bowl of angry spaghetti. And they pulled, and they teared. And as she looked back, she just about managed to stifle a scream herself, because they ripped it apart and pulled it under, the whole thing, man and machine, and no trace left. Then it was gone, like it never existed. For a second, my mom had to catch her composure, and somehow it seemed the Octos noticed that, and knew they had been seen, because now suddenly they turned on the chopper. The waves got even higher, and the giant tentacles rose up out of their foaming crowns, reaching, trying to get a grip. Everyone in the chopper was screaming in utter terror, but my mom managed to keep it together somehow, and took it higher up. Out of reach. There was wind up there. A lot of wind. The chopper wasn’t made for that hight, it it got cast around like a toy. It was one hell of a ride. But everything, everything was better than that horror down there, thinly hidden under the black waters of the angry ocean.”

back to the inn

angry ocean

We’ll be returning to the inn shortly, to hear more about the ocean, it’s grumpy inhabitants, and the war.

– In case you’ve forgotten what all that was about, or never had a clue to begin with: now would be the time to (re-)read the first two parts of “Old Dragon Inn”.