I have just completed the first draft of News from the Clouds.
That really doesn't mean the book is finished, I know I will re-write it after the wonderful Rachael Kerr (my editor) has been through the manuscript with her red pen, but it is an enormous relief to have got this far.
To give you a taste, I have posted a chapter below, spelling and grammatical mistakes abound no doubt, but I think it gives a taste of what's to come.
Hopefully it doesn't contain too many spoilers and it's worth remembering that I might change the whole thing :-)
Chapter Twenty Four
After spending a few weeks in the Chicago Culvert being on Cloud Eleven was not only a blessed relief, it was incredibly restful.
I had a very comfortable adaptable bed arrangement in my room that was perfectly positioned to take in the ridiculous splendour of the skies as we floated serenely above the storm ravaged earth.
I would wake up each morning and the transparent nano material in the window would fade from blackout to super clear as my eyes became slowly accustomed to the brightness of the day.
It was impossible not to feel comforted, slightly smug and incredibly lucky in such truly fabulous surroundings.
It was during this period of calm that I started to come to half understand some of the resentment among the general populace toward the people of the past.
It's not something anyone from 2011 could easily comprehend, if I thought about the people who had lived before me, the kings, statesmen, soldiers, workers, peasants, mothers and fathers who had lived and died before I was born, I don't think I had ever for one moment resented them.
In fact quite the opposite, if I ever did think about them it was generally with some admiration.
Basically I'd always loved old technology, I was fascinated to see the crudity of construction and clearly I had the sort of brain that could look at a coupling on an early steam engine and work out not only how they came up with the idea but how they put the idea into practice, no question, I have an engineer’s brain.
An early and happy memory I have is of walking around the Science Museum in London with my dad and brother when I was a young boy. I spent a long day staring in wonder at the incredible machines that had been built 100's of years before my time. The beam engine pumps, the early steam cars and locomotives, rudimentary batteries and marine engines. Amazing big brass gauges and pipework all held an intense fascination for me.
I didn't resent the people who made them, what they had done back then had developed over generations so that I was lucky enough to grow up in a time of technological achievement and comfort that would have been impossible to imagine in the not too distant past.
I was always impressed with technological progress, with new machines, gadgets and inventions that made life richer, more fulfilled or easier.
That mindset had definitely changed in the world of the Clouds.
The past was a dark place full of stupidity and destruction, the past from where I was sitting high above a world was seen in a very different way.
The human race had been almost destroyed by the shortsighted ignorance of previous generations including mine.
It all seemed a bit unfair, I wanted to tell them it wasn't all our fault, we didn't know any better, we didn't do it on purpose and there is no way we could have known what was going to happen.
It became clearer when Theda and I were sitting watching the sun go down from one of the 92 sun lounges dotted about the upper formations of Cloud Eleven.
'It's not my fault.' I said out of the blue. Theda had just been explaining the pressure variants on board, how the pressure lower down the Cloud structure was slightly higher than up where we were which enabled the whole thing to maintain it's shape. I mean I was interested but the blame thing was really on my mind.
'What have you done?' asked Theda.
'Nothing, that's just the point, it's not my fault that everything turned out so shitty for this world. It's ridiculous that the people here blame the past for their woes, it's not like we did it on purpose.'
'From what I understand the blame is very specific.' Said Theda. 'They don't blame the people of 1811, or indeed 1911. However by the time you left in 2011, there was plenty of understanding about what was taking place and yet it seems they did nothing.'
'It just doesn't make sense.' I said. 'We didn't have any hard evidence back in 2011, it was all speculation and a lot of people thought it was based on questionable science. It was all what might happen, it was almost a belief system, a bit religious, that's what I didn't like about it. It was a bit like the voice of God, 'you have sinned, you will be punished for burning fossil fuels.' That's why I questioned climate change. And I've seen worlds where it didn't happen and those people didn't blame my era. Well, they might have been critical but they didn't blame us.'
'I think you misunderstand.' Said Theda. 'Think of it this way. If you had been walking down the street in 2011 and you were introduced to a military gentleman from say, around 1914. An English man, a military figure who was hell bent on fighting a glorious war against my country. A man who took delight in all the military stupidity that war represented. How would you react to him?'
'Okay, I may have a couple of negative things to say.' I replied eventually, trying too imagine meeting someone like that in Chipping Norton on market day. For some reason that was the location that came to mind when Theda suggested it. A sunny Saturday in Chipping Norton, me and Beth doing shopping and suddenly this smartly dressed man in military uniform with a silly moustache starts holding forth about King and Country, the Bosch, the glory of war and the need for me to defend the British Empire. I'm sure I'd have something cutting to say but knowing me I'd think of it three hours later when I was back at home putting stuff in the fridge.
'Okay.' Said Theda. 'Now, imagine that the war the Great Britain and Germany started didn't stop, ever. Imagine it was still going on when you were alive and all the young men you'd grown up with had been needlessly slaughtered in an endless war of attrition, you may feel even more hostile.'
'Oh, right, okay, I suppose I get your drift.'
'People here, now, the people on this cloud, the few millions of people who manage to survive around the world, they are not constantly thinking that people from 200 years ago are all to blame. Of course not, but if they knew you were from 2011, then it might, as I understand it, cause considerable upset. Some people who have lost members of their families in storm accidents, people who know their forebears suffered greatly in brutal storms, yes, there would be a lot of anger and despair aimed at you.'
It's important to point out that as Theda was saying this to me she was lying on her back, totally naked. As I recall it the situation sounds disturbing but at the time it all seemed very normal and humdrum. I was also naked and sprawled out on a big cushion beside her.
We were just topping up our cloud tans, it was all part of the daily routine.
After six days on board Cloud Eleven Theda told me we were approaching a big docking event, Clouds Six to Ten were converging over the Bay of Biscay and it was a very momentous event apparently.
I was intrigued to see how this could be achieved but even this extraordinary airborne docking didn't hold quite the fascination it might have at one time.
I was not overwhelmed by it, I'd grown used to life on the Clouds and certainly preferred it to living in a Culvert. Sure, the docking would be interesting but I was lost in a kind of mesmerised state, whenever I looked out of a window or lay on a couch in the sun lounges I entered an almost zen like state of calm, not something I can ever remember experiencing before. Maybe flying in mechanically powered heavier than air machines had given me a taste for it, but flying a plane is quite complicated, requires a lot of concentration and planning so going all zen like and dreamy is probably not a good course of action but on the big Cloud it just became a way of life.
On my last morning on Cloud Eleven I had woken as usual, the amazing window which made up one side of my suite immediately turned from dark opaque to utterly invisible as soon as I started to move around. I was surrounded by embedded technology I'd become so used to that I had no interest in discovering how it operated.
I had a shower and even that incredible system had become mundane. Immediately I'd had enough of being sprayed I just brushed a finger on a low set panel and the water stopped and I was instantly bathed in a powerful jet of warm air which dried me in a few seconds.
I did some stretching, another thing I'd never done before I left 2011 but I'd found it highly beneficial to have a proper stretch in the morning. I wasn't doing yoga or anything although I knew there were numerous Yoga classes I could have attended.
I was just starting to ponder what to do with my day when Theda bustled into my silent reverie and as I'd witnessed on a couple of occasions she was excited and skittish.
This is only worth mentioning because her mood was in complete contrast to her normal rather dour and serious Germanic demeanour.
'Come quickly Gavin, we will be docking soon!'
'Really?' I said without much interest.
'Gavin! Two of the biggest objects ever constructed by the human race are going to become one, we cannot miss this moment.'
'Great.' I said as enthusiastically as I could. I wasn't excited. I should have been but by this point in my journey I didn't want anything to disturb my calm mental state.
Theda was pacing around the room, staring out of the window and jumping up and down
'Also I have just been informed that there is a weather window making it possible for you to transfer to Cloud Nine and head for England.'
My reaction to this news was a little more enthusiastic.
'That soon!' I said.
'Yes, the weather patterns are indicating you could get back to Gardenia today.' Said Theda. She walked up to me and hugged me, that was the first time we'd had any physical contact more than a handshake and I found it quite emotional.
That's correct, a feeling hit me and I was aware of it, still a slightly disturbing experience for me.
'I don't know if I want to go.' I said as I continued to hold her. 'I love it on Cloud Eleven.'
Theda gently broke the embrace and smiled at me. 'I know it is very amazing on board.' She said. 'But we both need to go back home, we don't belong here.'
'I know we don't, but I don't want to forget all this. I don't understand why I won't be able to remember anything, I know Brad explained it.'
'It is a very complicated notion.' Theda conceded with a smile.
I stood in the middle of my suite feeling hollow, I was having all sorts of feelings all the time and I was very aware of them.
Eventually I said 'Due to the madness of this whole experience, I'm prepared to accept that I'll forget all this, you, Brad, the Chicago Culvert, Noshi, the squares of London, Gardenia, everything.'
Theda nodded slowly. 'You will Gavin, it will be as if none of this happened. There won't even be traces of these events in your subconscious, it will all be completely erased. But remember there are benefits to this occurrence. You're complete lack of knowledge of everything you have experienced will make your return to your own time much less traumatic. If you knew this would happen to your world, you might go a little crazy, no?'
I shrugged. There was nothing I could do, the prospect of a return to Gardenia was enough to make me realise I'd go mad if I stayed in luxury on Cloud eleven for the rest of my life. Besides, there was no way I could do that, I was sure to end up in some remote Culvert growing carrots all day.
I started packing, which to be honest, didn't take long. My boots and a bag plus the few bits of survival kit like my cool sunshade eye covers and a sachet of tooth regen paste.
I stood looking out at the majestic view from my stupendous windows for a moment, then sighed, turned and followed Theda out of my luxury, peaceful Cloud Eleven suite for the last time.
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