This is the afterword that will be included in the pdf copy of the Sixth Age of Sand, applied here to be shared easily.
In the sixth age of sand, there were seven billion clever apes roaming the world, calling themselves ‘people.’ The term meant ‘every single one of us, more or less,’ which is not uncommon for ‘people.’ Before the ‘people,’ the world belonged to towering haired mammals that were inured to the cold. Before them, the world was owned by birds, then before that, and before that, and before that, and before that ever backwards. The world is a big thing, and it was hard to say who owned them, but the ‘people’ were just another category of ‘people’ that had built things on the world like language and time and money.
The parasites and diseases and the trees all over the world that had happily spread themselves and cared very little for the fast-moving creatures of the world were not consulted as to the ownership of the world.
The world was a strange place, in the sixth age of sand. There were smartphones to record people’s runic magic. There were small countries with large natural reserves of magical history, connected to their contiguous social constructs like monarchy and cultural habit. There were people who had magical colours and there were nations with no history who used huge, open stretches of blank land to carve runes to create magical patterns thousands of times over to enable a better world. There were fights, and there were conflicts, but it only took a little bit of time for people to adjust, and adapt. The world was a place of information, now, and so it didn’t need much magic to change entirely. Children born before the internet had learned to use it every day; Children born before magic’s return learned to use it just as well.
There was legislation. There were discussions. There were collaborations. Roaming ghosts of remembered species took back parts of the wild, and started to fill the empty regions of the world that ‘people’ had deemed too hard to work. People lived their lives, wondering if they were capable of meeting the world that was going to come, the change they had now seen, in part.
The world was a strange place, in the sixth age of sand. Wasn’t it always?
Governments were not unaware of the Structure in the ocean. The chamber was the size of a mansion, drifting in a section of the sea that deformed all the weather around it. All sorts of names were used to describe it, and arguments were held on a variety of communication channels as to just who should be looking at it. To nobody’s great surprise, the loudest voices in that argument were on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The argument was, nonetheless, strangled short, however, when the storm ended around it.
The question sat amongst them with a near physical presence. Perhaps the ancient machinery around them and its unnatural magical weight could do that, could take something as conceptual and unphysical as a question and lay it upon them like a blanket with some actual mass.
“This is good,” Enk said, looking up at the translucent mechanisms, the way the light flit from surface to surface as if water in pipes. “If it responds to the King – erm, if it responds to Holland, we have something we can do.” Nervousness wracked Enk’s voice. He was trying to remember the thoughts of The Prince itself, something ancient and reformed with the magic, and that alien mind slipped through his fingers too easily. The Prince wasn’t like the other minds. Remembering the Bodyguard’s mind was alien – locked away slivers of information that Enk had somehow been open to holding, but not grasping. The Prince was a thousand times more alien. The solution was on the tip of his tongue, but it was a corrosive one.
The ceiling, a curved, grey-green expanse, seemed to sweat long strands of cold, drizzling water. A dull ache sat somewhere behind Enk’s spine, while his chest ached with a dull throb that felt like the time he’d burned his thumb on a frying pan, only excruciatingly worse. Being a teenager was hard; all your frames of reference were so small. He’d never been shot or stabbed or broken a bone and now he was trying to find some way to catalogue in his mind the sensations sent through his body after having survived a lightning strike through the chest. When the Prince was in control of his body, he’d recognised his hands, his movements, his actions, but none of it had felt real.
Now, he felt it. Continue Reading →
Enk wasn’t sure how to describe it, and was quietly grateful he’d never have a reason to. A swarm of cockroaches in his mouth, spilling out over his skin; a pallid greying around his vision until even the stars were just variances of the blackness that surrounded them. There was no Grey London for him; no, the Prince needed him here, needed his frame. That’s where the magic was.
Innogen’s next arcing bolt of lightning didn’t come; there was no swirl of ozone, no corrosive blast of energy and wash of ammonia on the floor after it. She ran forwards, ducking under the flying debris, hunkering behind a curl in the wall as best she could while the Prince tilted his head to the side, disjointed, like he’d broken his neck, and grinned.
“What are you waiting for?!” Barbara yelled.
“That’s my cousin! I can’t – we need to find some other way!”
How dangerous can something like hope even be?
Enk had always wanted to be normal. He wanted to be normal so badly that when the tim came to confront anything in his life, his first thought was not what should I do but what would a normal person do? There was so much hope in him to be something he wasn’t that Enk had never stopped to consider how little of himself was anything at all.
Well, Innogen wasn’t having any of it. The only reason she didn’t interrupt the Prince was a matter of aiming practice. As the thing spoke, it stood still; as it stood still, she could gather the energy in her arms and through her chest and down to the crackling, growing orb between her palms. Fingers held like a cage, to contain what was, by any measure, a bullet crafted of lightning, she lowered her arms and stood as far behind it as she could.
“Enk? Get somewhere safe.”
The last of the curse tumbled out of Angus’ mouth into a wet, sloshing sound, and the floor swung up to meet him in a perfect geometric arc, his shoulders seemingly breaking with the effort. Clothes soaked with sweat, he gasped in pain while he struggled to safe his face from a bruising, and pulled his legs up underneath him in defence. Behind him, he felt his coat pulled back as if into the hand of an insistant child, then struggled with, and then released, flopping down atop his feet. He planted his hands firmer, trying to reassert the directions of up and down, blinking and squinting as reality, with all of its colour, flooded into eyes that had wandered and wondered for literally weeks in a place where grey was all.
There are always places where very little that matters to people seems to happen. The island straits near Enk and Innogen’s home, the deserts south of Barbara’s, the entirety of Wales, or the vast scope of red and brown sand that stood on the edges of Holland’s reality. Time can pass in those places with barely a few words – months passed.
When things happen, in places where people are, however, a few short moments can take so many words.
Jubal had once heard his father talk to him about the promises the voice made to him. One of the ones his father repeated endlessly had been the oath that his descendants would number as the stars. Jubal had laid back one night, and looked up at the sky, and counted until he fell asleep, and came to a total he understood of a few thousand. As far as he knew, there were maybe ten times that living in Ninevah, and there were tales told to Jubal of coins that came from as far away as the Indus, where numbers greater still lived. A family large enough to own a few suburbs in Uruk didn’t sound like a bad deal, though!
At some point between the school and the field, Angus realised he’d started hallucinating. Whenever a house of dull grey sat at the right angle, cross from his seemingly linear path through the city, he’d start to see things that were almost colours. It was a relief, honestly – those little flashes of red and green and blue that reminded him of whizzing optical illusions he’d made in school after reading about them in some old textbook or other in the craft room, where a collection of straight black and white lines became a swirl of dull green or pale pink. It made a difference, looking down at his own shoes, seeing them grey, when he knew they were brown, his not-jeans, not-brand, not-good-enough pants, darker grey, and thinking they were black when they weren’t in this perfectly monochromatic world. Belt, vest, shirt, tie, jacket, coat, all in various shades of dark grey, lighter grey, off-white, down to his own hands, dark-grey and not-so-dark grey, with the little off-white cuticles.
It stopped having meaning. The grey faded into black at curves and lines and that was that.
“I rather think he’s hallucinating at this point.”
There were also them.
During World War II, the fear of the Allied forces was not a major bombing strike on the capital of England, London, but rather a massive, debilitating bombing attack on cities that provided the supporting infrastructure. A nuclear blast in London would have disarrayed the central command – it would have killed a large number of people. It would not, however, have killed the country the way that a loss of say, Birmingham would have. When enemies struck at one another, they struck at facilities that built things. They pounded at airfields and they mined and bombed railways.
“Mom, mom. Okay, calm down, mom! Mom, I landed on my feet.”
Holland had never found two weeks to be a long time. Two weeks of school time was, what, a few tests, two PE events to hide from, two embarrassing admissions on Friday afternoon of doing ‘nothing’ and two Saturday mornings watching black-and-white cartoons on a cheap TV. Two weeks was a slide of pills and a grocery shopping trip when the Centrelink cheque cleared, before He realised he had money and spent it all at the pub. Two weeks during school holidays was basically gone in no time.
The gun was a point of contention between the two. It was more of a philosophical question for the pair. A classic dichotomy, where Enk wanted to run away from it very, very quickly, while Innogen wanted to run away from it in the opposite direction.
You develop the technology you need to solve the problems you have. When you have a problem with breaking rocks and cutting bronze armour, you tend to develop iron. When you have problems of inadequate archers and large labour forces, you will probably develop muskets. When you have enormous huge piles of money and a military-industrial complex, maybe it’s just natural to develop unmanned drones.
The Forever’s jade exterior gave way to a dark, polished green corridors. Each corridor was almost circular; flat on the bottom, with a ridge running along the middle about elbow-height for Enkudu. Innogen had to duck slightly in the passage.While the walls had every reason to be wet, they instead felt strangely dry to the touch. When Enk laid his fingers on the surface – nervously at first, then more confidently when it failed to yield, despite its seemingly organic feel.
The first steam engine was created in the first century, and did nothing more than spin around in place. It was seen as a minor curiosity by the philosopher who constructed it, a little toy for the entertainment of simple minds, but not to be put to any meaningful purpose. A literal steam engine rocket, the device – an aeolipile – was made, then seemingly forgotten about. The railway was invented seven centuries earlier – and the carts on that rail were pulled by human slaves.
Cards arrived on the drifting green, the device of the sea,without knowing its name. It simply was the thing, and it wasn’t like she’d written down what it was on her tiny preselected library of communications. That was fine, though, because somewhere in her brain, the machinery that cared about what things were called, what weird things were and how very important they were to people.
Innogen and Enk only had a few days after the return of Magic before they set out on their journey. Barbara had over a month, practising her warlock powers. Holland hid from school for weeks, knowing that with all the people disappeared, nobody would notice the one who was not. Angus slipped into the arms of Grey London mere days after it all began.
Should I do posts talking about what’s going on in the story? I feel like I should just ask the three people reading it, but I keep wondering if I should formally state it in a open place like this. Or if the secret makes it better.
The waves lapped against the dock edge while Enk sat, slightly defeated on the edge.
“Well, what were you expecting?” Innogen’s voice asked, from somewhere a million miles away. “I mean, this IS Canada, we’re not actually out in the middle of the ocean.”
Patterns are complicated, in almost all situations. When not looking at a videogame or computer design, areas where mathematics take a profound place of importance, most patterns seen by humans are not really patterns at all; there are imperfections when you get close. Even the most perfect snowflake has faint points of molecular asymmetry. What humans regard as a pattern is really an aggregated average; millions of millions of subatomic errors and near-enough-is-good-enough designs shifting against one another. The pattern the human sees isn’t the pattern the world has shown.
Lines are only straight in the human mind; concepts are only ever simple in the human mind; no matter the simple, apparently easy construct, humans have never been able to make reality as simple as their ideas. Laws. Countries. Constellations.
The symbols we absorb as children, the ideas that we accept as true, become the symbols by which we find shapes and meaning in the world around ourselves as adults. This is why it’s said that children’s toys shape adult’s world. Perhaps why the generation of children that grew up with Buck Rogers made the rockets that took to the stars, or the children that grew up with Star Trek made mobile phones, and the generation that grew up with Gummi Bears spent their adult lives wondering how to do something useful with their lives.
The bellows from the ocean grew more common as the weeks went on, as the world sat in its embarassed silence, governments trying to focus on internal affairs and regulations designed to control and handle and understand the new coming swell of magic. It was only natural, after all – and making it worse was the way some nations didn’t seem to ‘have’ magic the same way other nations did.
A tension exists in the world of humanity, between two vast ideas. On the one hand, the human mind seeks for everything it sees and everything it experiences to be interconnected and have some sort of fundamental connectivity between cause and effect. At its very worst this notion is used to justify wars, penury, the deprivation of life and liberty, and violation.
There are a number of facts about the way the human body functions that people simply don’t know, even though they could experiment and find them. One is the way vision is influenced by air. An individual deprived of air often talks about ‘blacking out’ – about the way vision collapses to a point, an encroaching blackness filling the field of vision. In these moments, though, there’s a second effect that most people don’t notice – often due to the terror associated with being unable to breathe.
Some things were making sense to Enkudu, but those puzzle pieces sliding into place meant older, ancient pieces of thought machinery had to fall away.
“Why do we always do that? Why do we keep referring to a drop of water in a desert? I know you taught me, but it’s something that everyone is saying, it’s been said all over, and I don’t know why it keeps coming up. What’s so important about deserts, mum?”
“I don’t much care, Enk,”
“Enk, but I would like if you two can leave the house without having a collapse.”
When she put her mind to it later, Barbara would have to consider she’d picked a really fantastic outfit to go out doing things with some degree of anonymity. Sneakers were flat for running and jumping, but her black socks, drawn right up to the bottom of her skirt, were leggings-thick. Sure, not as tough as say, her jeans, but it wasn’t like her jeans would stop a knife. Would they? Hm. Test that later. Short skirt with a red tartan pattern, because she liked how it looked, and underneath, shorts to keep in the warm, leaving a single strip of white flesh visible under the hem of the skirt, up at the top of her thighs, over the tops of those socks. Her dark blue hoodie, at least, was oversized enough that she could pull it down over her head, zipped up, and then she just had to yank her scarf across her face, behind her head.
Thirty second transformation sequence, and she hadn’t had to get naked.
Most people like to imagine that the world is a fair place. This is a comforting idea, and seems to work well with the human brain’s habit of seeking patterns in its surroundings. Something goes up, so something comes down – sometimes it’s cold, so sometimes it is hot. These things are not as connected as humans like to imagine – after all, there are more places in the universe where throwing an object up will result in it simply sliding away with no end in sight than places where it won’t – but they are still part of the human psyche, taught from birth that the world is a reasonably balanced place, with some symmetry to it. Fairness is part of the human outlook, and those people who see the world as unfair are often called selfish or bleak.
The human memory is a plastic entity, composed mostly in the software space of the brain. A complicated but ultimately poorly-debugged device, the brain works with any degree of efficiency mostly thanks to redundant systems over redundant systems, such as the storage of memory. Recent hypothesis indicate that the brain creates a memory by recognising the experience, then filing that experience in the memory. Unlike plumbing, though, the memory does not need to pass through the first to reach the second – but rather, two parallel systems handle this, with the second usually slower. Usually. Sometimes, that memory is created before the experience is registered, and the brain has a moment where it tries to reconcile remembering something it had just done. This phenomenon is known in common parlance as déjà vu, and many stories were shared about how it worked, and why.