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Thursday, 10 July 2014

X-Calibur: The Return

Today, I've hit the 20,000 word count on the first draft of my new novel X-Calibur: The Return. It's a Science Fiction story with elements of Arthurian legend. Here's the promo image!

I thought I'd post the first chapter, give people a feel for the story and tone. Please let me know what you think?

Chapter 1

4th December 2017 16:23 GMT

 Milford Sanders ran as fast as he could along the narrow corridor to the computer laboratory. He was an overweight man in his late forties, and his remaining wiry hair fluttered about his head. “Sebastian!” he yelled as he threw open the door. “Sebastian! Turn on the TV!”

 “Oh wow, Milford,” Sebastian replied. “I don't think I've ever seen you run before. What's going on?”

 Sebastian was the younger of the two, just thirty and still in reasonable shape. He smiled to himself as he watched Milford wheeze and pant as he lumbered over and switched on the television.

 “It's on every channel,” Milford continued breathlessly.

Sebastian watched as the image on the screen moved in and out of focus. It depicted what looked like an enormous black shape hovering over a city, followed by thousands of smaller shapes emerging from it. The image suddenly shifted, showing the ground retreating rapidly before cutting out altogether.

 “What the-” Sebastian began before Milford cut him off.

 “Just watch,” Milford said, wiping the sweat from his flushed brow.

 The image on the screen changed to a better view of the alien ship, taken from further away. The ship looked to be roughly the same size as the city it shadowed, the thousands of smaller ships buzzing around it like insects. From the landmarks visible on screen, Sebastian was able to determine they were watching footage from Sydney, Australia.

 The alien ship looked black against the bright early morning sunshine, its shape irregular and imposing. Thin towers of dark metal stuck out from it, seemingly at random. The smaller ships flew down to the city below before returning to the larger ship, back and forth in a never ending stream.

 “The alien vessel has begun to move north along the coast,” the voice of a reporter said as the image continued to be displayed on screen. “All attempts to communicate with it have gone unanswered. From what we've seen, the smaller ships are abducting people from their homes and businesses and taking them into the larger vessel. We don't yet know for what purpose, and our prayers are with them.”

 The image changed to a newsroom, where an immaculate young woman was holding her hand to an earpiece as she received an update. “We're getting reports of F-18's being dispatched from Richmond Air Force Base,” she said to the camera. “They'll be in range of the alien vessel any moment now. Tom? Tom, can you make them out?”

 The image cut back to the long range shot of the alien ship. There was a sudden roar as six F-18's flew low over the cameraman and along the coast towards the opera house. “There they are,” Tom said, his voice describing what the camera was showing. “They're changing course now and approaching the alien vessel. The smaller ships don't seem to have noticed them yet. They're climbing now, going for an attack run I suspect. They'll be in range any seco-. No! Lucy, are you getting this in the studio? They're dropping, they're just falling from the sky.”

 The image showed the six F-18's plummet to earth. Two crashed into the harbour while the remaining four descended into the city, followed by large explosions and clouds of debris. “The planes are down,” Tom said, a hint of panic creeping into his voice. “I didn't see an attack from the alien ship, but they're down. I don't see any parachutes.”

 As Tom spoke, the image showed one of the smaller alien crafts moving towards them. It looked black, just like the larger ship, but had discernible wings behind what appeared to be a cockpit. There was no obvious method of propulsion, and it moved with more speed and grace than anything native to earth, natural or man-made.

 “Lucy,” Tom continued as the image jerked wildly as the cameraman ran. “We're-.”

 The screen went black before cutting back to the Lucy in the studio. She was visibly upset, half standing from her chair as she looked at the monitor behind the camera. “Tom?” she said. “Tom, can you hear me?”

 Upon noticing the red light on the camera, she composed herself and returned to her seat, brushing her hands down her pale jacket as she did so. “We've momentarily lost contact with our reporter in the field,” she said. “I'm being told that the station is switching over to the emergency broadcast network. Keep watching for information of your nearest evacuation centre, and may God be with you.” The image switched to a line of text displaying evacuation zones for the various districts of Sydney before quickly being replaced y a BBC reporter who began to discuss the footage.

 “Switch it off,” Sebastian said as he continued to stare dumbfounded and disbelieving at the screen. He removed the mobile phone from his pocket before remembering that all wireless signals were blocked, even if they could transmit through the mile of stone and dirt that separated them from the surface above.

 The American-European Alliance Mainframe was housed in a secret bunker, deep beneath Glastonbury Tor. Milford Sanders and Sebastian Caruthers, the two foremost minds in artificial intelligence, were recruited to build an intelligent system that could coordinate the combined military forces of so many nations in the event of war.

 “Your phone won't work,” Milford said helpfully.

 “No, I know,” Sebastian replied. “It's just, my wife, do you think she knows? I need to speak to her, Mil. She needs to come here where she'll be safe. Call your wife too, and Maddy.”

 “The base is on lock down,” Milford informed him. “No one's getting in or out, not even General Mathers.”

 “We'll see about that!” Sebastian said angrily as he stepped towards the door.

 Milford followed at his heels as Sebastian marched along the corridor and through the double doors at the end. The General's office was directly in front of them, but he was nowhere to be seen. “He'll be in the meeting room,” Milford suggested.

 The two men climbed the stairs to the meeting room, where General Mathers was engaged in a conference call with a variety of world leaders and military advisers. Their images appeared on the screen as they spoke.

 “We understand the situation, General,” the British Prime Minister said, “but you have your orders.”

 “The Australian Government has officially requested our aid,” the American Secretary of Defence interrupted. “We're leading the world in a coordinated response against the alien threat.”

 “The system just isn't ready,” General Mathers insisted.

 “The last report you sent suggested only minor alterations were needed,” the German Chancellor replied.

 “Those minor alterations,” General Mathers continued, “are more than just a few ones and zeros. Once the system goes live, it's no longer under our control. We're talking about a thinking machine here. Without the safeguards in place, it can decide not to follow your orders.”

 The screen went blank as the various heads of state communicated privately with their advisers and each other. When an image reappeared, it was the British Prime Minister who spoke. “Turn it on, General,” he said, “and from now on, you'll report to Air Marshal Staton.”

 As the screen went blank, General Mathers sat heavily in his chair, his head in his hands. “General?” Sebastian said, surprising the older man.

 “Dr Caruthers,” General Mathers replied. As he looked up, his face looked weary and beaten, as though all the fight was gone from him.

 “You have to let us out,” Sebastian continued. “I need to find my wife.”

 “You heard them,” General Mathers replied. “We're turning the machine on, and you need to be here to oversee it. I'm sorry.”

 “You don't understand,” Sebastian continued. “The alien ship, it's taking people. You have to let me find my wife!”

 “I have two sons and a daughter,” General Mathers said, his voice calm and empty. “All in the military, like their father. I do understand, doctor, I understand far too well.”

 Sebastian was about to argue further when Milford's hand on his shoulder stopped him. Together the three men sat in the meeting room, staring at blank monitors as they thought about their loved ones.