Archive for Systems Story

Death of the First Generation – Systems Excerpt 2

Note: Second part of the Systems excerpt. Somewhere in an imaginary world, today marks the death of the first generation of characters from my novel, Systems. Also (really a note to self), the header image from the original colour scheme of this blog has been restored, but I’m keeping the current colour scheme otherwise.

First part of the excerpt is here. Enjoy! – SK

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From Systems, Chapter Eleven (Leon’s Promise)

16 January 2014, St Mary’s Cathedral

‘G-get out of here!’

Leon scrambled to his feet. He turned to David lying a few feet away from him, in front of the central arch, grimacing in pain and holding his abdomen. David had taken the bullet intended for him. Joanna was kneeling by her fiancé’s side, sobbing hysterically.

‘Now!’ yelled David.

Another bullet flew past with a sharp crack, and hit one of the stone columns supporting the arch behind them.

The sound jolted Joanna. She tore herself away from David with a futile cry and ran as fast as she could to her car, parked some fifty metres away. She had to pass the fountain to get to it. Adam got a clean view of her, and took aim.

Gasping in panic, Leon remembered the pistol he’d brought along with him for protection and took it out of his inner coat pocket. Hastily he aimed at Adam and fired. The gun gave out a thunderous report and the recoil jerked his arm. He missed by a couple of metres. Adam flinched, and then grinned.

Leon’s attempt however had granted Joanna a few valuable seconds, and she reached her car. Adam aimed at her again and fired. The bullet bounced off the roof of the car, missing her by a mere few inches. She screamed and quickly got in.

Adam stepped backward and waved two men forward as he and a partner headed back to his own vehicle.

‘Take care of them!’ he ordered as he got in.

Joanna had already set off down the road. She was fifteen or twenty seconds ahead by the time he gave chase.

More bullets came at Leon and David from behind the fountain. The shooters used the statues in the centre as cover. Leon shot a couple of rounds randomly in their direction, and then ran to David and helped him up. Together they hobbled up three or four steps and into the relative safety of the colonnade.

Still clutching his abdomen, David put his back against one of the pillars and slid to the ground, breathing heavily.

‘Drop your weapons and surrender!’ shouted one of the men.

‘Never!’ bellowed an enraged Leon.

He poked his head out from behind the pillar and took another
shot. They returned fire, and he pulled back in.

‘Leon!’ said David, his voice strained and desperate. ‘You go! Leave … me here!’

Leon stared wildly at him. ‘I won’t! You’re coming with me!’

‘You … h … have to save Jo! And the data …’ He took a DVD case out of his pocket and pressed it into Leon’s hand. ‘I didn’t give it to her. I-it’s up to you now.’

David’s expression said it all. The plan was coming apart, but giving up wasn’t an option. Tears came to Leon’s eyes and he put the box in his pocket.

‘I promise I’ll protect the data,’ he said, choking with emotion, ‘whatever it takes.’

‘You’d … better! I’ll c-cover you,’ said David with a tense frown, moving his bloodied hand from his stomach. He took hold of the pillar with both arms and hauled himself upright. ‘Now go!’

Leon ducked his head and sprinted past the fountain, giving it a wide berth, as more bullets whooshed around him. As he reached the car, he heard a couple of piercing gunshots from a weapon without a silencer. David had opened fire. Leon turned and saw one of the men sprawled out on the ground next to the fountain. He turned his face away from the scene and got into the car. He started up, flicked on the headlights and raced down the street.

Leon was too far behind Adam to see his car, but he quickly worked out the direction Joanna must have gone. In accordance with their plan, she would be aiming to get to the city exit. Hegel Boulevard was the main road out of Coppice Gate and at the end was an intersection. If he went on from there, he would go directly toward Cape’s End at the east coast. If he took a right turn, he would end up at Penrose Fjord, a small sea inlet which was little more than a fishing village. The left turn was the likely one Joanna would have taken. The road wound back into Soren Forest in Wheeler Park, technically remaining in Coppice Gate district, and then westward all the way through the forest, back to Rock Moor. From there she could get to the city exit.

He reached the intersection and steered left. As he approached Wheeler Park, he left the lights of the main road behind and moved onto a lane without any streetlights. A line of Catseyes was all he saw for the next two or three miles.

Suddenly he spotted the rear reflectors of Adam’s car. The vehicle was parked off the road. Leon slowed down to get a better look and soon saw why Adam had stopped there. Rammed up against a tree a few feet away, hood smashed, was Joanna’s car.

He quickly pulled up and got out. The moon had just come out from behind the clouds. He went up to Adam’s vehicle and noticed that the car was unattended. Leon looked into the dense black woodland and wondered which way Joanna might have gone. It was too dark to see anything properly. He crept in cautiously, holding his handgun tightly in front of him, eyes wide as he peered into the darkness, listening for movement, and praying that his feet, which seemed to have a knack for snapping every twig on the ground,
wouldn’t give him away.

After a few minutes he reached a clearing. Moonlight broke through the trees and cast its milky light over the rough vegetation. It revealed a human form in grey lying on the ground. It was Joanna. Another person in a suit and tie stood over her, holding a gun with a mounted light in one hand, and what looked like a syringe in the other. It was Adam.

The two laid eyes on each other at exactly the same time. Adam dropped the syringe and automatically raised his weapon, as did Leon. The tactical light flashed in Leon’s eyes. He yelled and blindly fired straight into the beam.

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It Begins Today … Systems Excerpt

Somewhere in an imaginary world, today is the beginning of the end for the first generation of characters from my novel, Systems. To mark the occasion, here’s the passage that explains what happens that day … er, today.

Another one will appear here on the 16th. Enjoy! – SK

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From Systems, Chapter Eleven (Leon’s Promise)

14 January 2014, Crescent Bay East

The professor entered the coffeehouse in an anorak and rubber boots, his dark wavy hair windswept. Leon and David stood to greet him as he came to their table, and Leon leaned over to shake hands with him. Omar however was preoccupied with his umbrella, which was dripping all over the floor. He propped it against an empty chair before perfunctorily shaking hands with the pair, and sat down.

Three years had passed since work had begun on the Systems Experiment, and Omar was finally looking to be vindicated. The experiment had run for ten weeks, simulating a time frame of two hundred and fifty years, and the computer had produced data on the five different political systems almost continually. Though the closing results had yet to come through, it was an open secret that the theorem was proven. The implications were enormous. Some were speculating that the theorem had the potential to influence policymaking in individual countries, and thereby affect the character of the Mutual World Alliance as well. The MWA, a body of democratic states, was only a few years old and still finding its feet. No analyst could yet make a long term forecast of its future. Its destiny was waiting to be written.

The MWA research bodies had conducted the experiment privately, but everyone expected the results to become public knowledge soon. Leon could hardly wait. For days he’d been walking around in an almost constant reverie, elated at the prospect of being part of such a momentous time in history. Omar however had a more self-effacing attitude towards his achievements, and he’d credited the success of the experiment primarily to David. In his typically offbeat style Omar had humorously dubbed him Abdul Salaam, or Servant of the Peace, for bringing about a bloodless “virtual revolution”, one that had incurred not a single human
casualty.

As these thoughts passed through his mind, Leon hadn’t been fully cognisant of the anxious look in the professor’s tawny eyes. Omar combed his short neat moustache with his fingernail nervously, lowered his head and with a quiet voice he uttered the most awful words Leon would ever hear in his life.

‘They’re shutting it down.’

Leon frowned. ‘Sorry, what –?’ He looked at David, and saw the consternation on his face. Then he realised what Omar meant, and his heart sank. ‘The experiment?’

David looked sharply at Omar. ‘Where did you hear that?’

His indignation was justified. David was an integral member of the team and he’d written much of the main program himself. If anyone was pulling the plug, then he’d expect to be amongst the first to hear about it.

‘I have a friend on the inside,’ said Omar. ‘I can’t tell you his name, but I trust him. He called me to warn me of their plans.’

Leon looked at Omar in alarm. He knew the professor had received numerous threats throughout his career. Officially they’d come from religious fanatics, but according to Omar they answered to a higher authority of evil.

‘Y-you don’t mean –?’

‘It’s them. My friend has heard that the STRO executive board is about to hold a meeting. It’ll happen sometime in the next forty-eight hours, maybe less.’

‘They can’t do that!’ said Leon.

‘They can, and they will,’ said Omar, ‘because they don’t want the truth to get out.’

David was still on the defensive. ‘But then why did they let the experiment run in the first place?’

‘Because they always have to be the ones pulling all the strings,’ replied the professor with a wry smile. ‘They knew I wouldn’t give up until I found someone to test the theorem. It was to their advantage to let me run the experiment where they could keep an eye on me, and terminate everything at the first sign of trouble.’ He sighed. ‘I was aware of this possibility, but I had to take the risk.
Now they want to get rid of me, because they know I won’t go quietly. And, I’m sorry to say, you’re in danger too. My friend says they’ve had all of us under surveillance, and they’ve identified three people as my accomplices. That’s both of you, and Joanna.’

‘Joanna?’ said Leon. ‘She isn’t even working on the experiment.’ ‘But she knows too much. She applied for a consultancy position at the same time you did.’

‘But she didn’t even get the job,’ said David.

‘That doesn’t matter. Due to her relationship to you they’ve assumed that she is involved. Now we need to get away before they come for us. My friend has a safe house and I’m going there tonight. No one should notice my absence right away. David, you’re the only one with direct access to the data. I need you to get it to me before they destroy it. Will you do it?’

David responded with a blank look. Leon had the feeling he was struggling more with accepting the situation than the request.

‘Are you sure your friend’s information is reliable?’ asked Leon.

‘Absolutely sure. He has many connections. He even knows who supplied them with their information on us.’ He looked at David intently. ‘It’s someone you know.’

‘Who?’

‘Adam.’

Leon was appalled. He’d known Adam since college, and had always known that unlike his twin, he could be arrogant, brash and selfish. But Leon would never have thought that Adam was capable of anything like this. He glanced at David, imagining that he felt much worse. David however appeared strangely calm, as though he’d known it all along and had only been waiting for a confirmation. His eyes were sad.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Omar.

David shook his head. ‘Don’t be. If truth be told, it explains a few things. Adam’s been asking me all sorts of odd questions lately. Most of them have been about you.’

Omar nodded, almost knowingly. ‘Oh, yes?’

‘Last week he was even asking me what Abdul Salaam meant. It really seemed to bother him. I told him that it was just a nickname but I don’t think he believed me. Instead he advised me not to associate with you. He said –’ He looked at Omar somewhat guiltily, and then smiled faintly. ‘Never mind. With hindsight, I suppose I should have realised what was going on.’

‘Your brother is just misguided,’ said Omar. ‘In his mind he’s doing the right thing. They have invented many lies against me.’

‘That’s very kind of you to say, but he changed some time ago. I don’t know my own brother any more.’ David closed his eyes momentarily, as if to offer a silent prayer. Then he looked at Omar.

‘Right, let’s do it.’

Omar smiled appreciatively. ‘And you, Leon?’

Leon needed no persuading. ‘Count me in.’

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An Ode to Aaron

!ہارون، اسم شوما عجیب است
شوما اجتماعیت را بر افتراق
شوما بر کوہ (طور) عدول حکمی برتر خود کردید
!بلا شبعہ شوما خضر ایست توندارد روح ندارد

 

Translation from Persian:

O Aaron, irony is thy name!
You upheld unity, not dissent,
And defied your brother at the Mount.
Indeed you are Khizr* in the flesh!

 

This ‘Ode to Aaron’, in English blank verse, came to me when I was reaching the end of writing Systems in late 2011. Just as the Peace Man is representative of justice, and Hitoshi of liberty, my other lead character Aaron Lloyd represents the unity principle – only he shares it with his Biblical namesake.

Dr. Shabbir Ahmed of Florida (of QXP fame) kindly turned the English into Persian for me not long ago. I planned to put this up at the main section of my site, but couldn’t find a place for it.

So I decided to post it here today, since I needed an excuse to test post again anyway.

Yes, that’s right. This is just another test post. :D But who wants to read a post that just says, ‘test’?

* Khizr is the name that Muslims have given to the mysterious stranger in the Quran (verses 18:65-82). The stranger shows Moses a series of strange events, where all is not as it seems. Moses’s impatient response to these events is actually a prelude to what he later experiences at Mount Sinai, when he is astonished to find that Aaron has allowed the Israelites to resume their idol-worship of the calf during Moses’ absence. Moses confronts his brother; and Aaron explains is that he let the Israelites do as they wished only in order to avoid a division or a rebellion amongst them.

The end of Systems

The Spider's House .
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*Warning*
– This post contains spoilers, and should only really be viewed by those who have read Systems.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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Systems cover

On 14 January 2013, Systems will have been in print for exactly one year. For those of you who have already read it, you’ll know that at the end, Hitoshi, Aaron and Elise meet at the nightclub, intending to return to Creux Island and take down the Paragon3 computer program that is presently controlling the world, and replace it with Libredux’s code. We don’t get to see this happen, but it’s obviously implied, so the good guys have as good as won. The story has come to its proper closure.

Right?

For some of you, apparently not. A significant number of you have said that the novel’s ending was either too ambiguous or at least left sufficiently open-ended for a sequel. I’ll quote one reader word for word:

I thought it was brilliant – but I was so disappointed by the ending!

Is that how you felt? Now I don’t deny that there is an open-ended, er, ending. I borrowed the idea from Mortal Kombat, at the end of which Lui Kang defeats the sorcerer Shang Tsung and the world is saved. But just as Lui Kang leaves the temple with Raiden, Kitana, Johnny and Sonya, the evil emperor Shao Kahn suddenly appears as a giant crashing through a tower, and announces he has come for their souls. Raiden says: ‘I don’t think so.’ And the fighters all pose for the next battle.

‘You humans are so unpredictable’

Hitoshi Katayama

Hitoshi Katayama

That to me was a perfectly wrapped-up-and-yet-open-ended close to the movie, and I wanted to do something similar. So I wrapped up my story up as far as possible in the last few pages, in particular the hospital scene where Aaron and Elise discover what Hitoshi had really found at Creux Island. And at the nightclub, I ended with Hitoshi’s devilish smile to imply that the fight will go on.

But some of you said you would have liked to see the world change in a more definitive way by the end. Others were upset that Hitoshi destroyed the data from the original Systems Experiment, because it would have proved once and for all that Omar’s Libredux model proved an ideal society was possible. (Apparently, one of Hitoshi’s many lies that the Systems Experiment results were ‘inconclusive’ may have put doubt in some readers’ minds.)

I took this complaint seriously. I was concerned that I had failed to communicate the point of the ending well enough. I wrote in confidence to a friend that I was thinking of tinkering with the ending – not to change it but to extend it and clearly show that Hitoshi was similarly tinkering with the Paragon3 code, which was better than having the original data. My friend’s emphatic response:

Please, no. I liked the ending very much. The destruction of the disc is not evil because what it implied for me was that the Truth is not even dependent on one-time data. It will find some other way of manifesting itself.

Well, at least he got it. But he doesn’t count, since he also happens to be a genius. :) My instincts on this are that my original ending was right. I would never show how the world changed at the end, because that would conflict with my convictions that one should never seek to provide a ready-made blueprint of a vision for an ideal society. (Remember: Jinnah and Iqbal never provided blueprints either). But I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I have come to realise where the issue might really lie. And it’s not the Systems Experiment.

Nineteen Eighty-Four - A mirror opposite

One or two readers have compared Systems to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I can see the resemblance. Orwell’s novel is set in a future and a dystopian world run by Big Brother. In fact, it’s set exactly 30 years before mine, which essentially begins in 2014. My fictional world is a semi-utopia that is later revealed to be a dystopia run by E3. In both novels, the bad guys deal with rebels by murdering and then writing them out of history.

The Triumvirate Committee - aka E3

The Triumvirate Committee – aka E3

Whereas Nineteen Eighty-Four has an undoubtedly tragic and pessimistic ending, Systems ends on a decidedly positive note. But in both stories, the evil rulers persist, and we don’t see them get the comeuppance they deserve. And this, it seems, is the real offending issue in Systems. It’s not the Experiment, or the data, but E3 … the appearance of E3 ultimately getting away with everything.

The penny finally dropped for me after a conversation with an academic who said she wanted to know what would happen to E3 in a sequel. I immediately thought: ‘But E3 is already doomed, once the good guys go back to Creux Island…’ And then I realised that I hadn’t explicitly stated this in the novel. Or rather, it had only been implied, and probably not clearly enough.

Know the Truth and Return to Liberty

So why wasn’t E3 finished off properly, or at least exposed? Well, aside from the fact E3 does lose (albeit after the closing pages) that isn’t even the point of the story. The end of Systems is not about the battle against an external evil, but about an inner battle … of human self-belief. That’s why it’s visionary fiction. It reaffirms a belief, in Manner’s words, ‘in all that is possible’ … what we think is ‘ideal’, but which is not only absolutely possible, but moreover necessary for our evolution. The end of Systems (see what I did there?) was to show that no matter how powerful our dictators and tyrants might seem, it’s a deception. All it takes to defeat the sorcerers is to see through the illusion. Whatever they tell us, human destiny really lies in our own hands, and unlocking our potential is a simple case of knowing it, and acting on it.

The Spider's House

A trap – but a flimsy one

Truly the flimsiest of houses is the spider’s house; if they but knew. - The Quran *

When I first started writing this post, I was going to announce my intention to change the ending. But since then, my conversations with some readers have shown me that I only need to change maybe a line. As Roz Morris has recently suggested at her blog, readers are usually right when something is wrong. But they are not always right about what is wrong.

So the ending will stay the same. Phew! But I am planning an edited edition (including that added line, obviously), with some extras …

More information will be made available on the first anniversary edition of Systems, in January 2013. Stay tuned.

* Incidentally, that Quranic quote is directly responsible for the title of Chapter 33 (The Spider’s House), and is a massive clue to the reader as to whether E3 is going to really get away in the end (especially since the Quranic ‘spider’s house’ is a literal allegory for Pharoah, Hamaan and Qaroon, the three symbols of tyranny on which E3 is based!). And Chapter 34′s title, Know the Truth, aside from being the tag line to the novel, is borrowed from the Biblical You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. That too is a clue linking Aaron and Elise’s discovery of the truth to the implications for their world … and for E3.

Five things you don’t know about Systems

The Triumvirate Committee - aka E3

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Trivia time: Here are five things you didn’t know about the novel and its characters.

Warning: May contain spoilers!

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1) The Original Conspiracy: Read the copyright notice at the beginning of the novel for a hidden message.

2) Names: The names of most key characters in the novel carry significant meanings (Aaron, Adam, David, Omar, Kingswell, Kash, Peter). But the names Elise and Hitoshi are special because their respective meanings were not known to me when I chose them. They are a neat case of synchronicity.

Elise Archer - heroine

Elise Archer – heroine

Elise is a modern form of the Hebrew name Elisheva, meaning ‘My God is an Oath’. This has implications for the Cohesive Ethics theorem (which I won’t explain here); it connects directly to ‘Leon’s promise’ in the novel; and Elisheva also happens to be the wife of the Prophet Aaron in the Bible. Hitoshi means ‘equal’, ‘even-tempered’ or ‘simultaneous’ depending on the spelling. This makes perfect sense when you know what Hitoshi’s problem is!

3) Three ideals: Peter, Hitoshi and Aaron represent the three separated ideals of justice, liberty and unity respectively. Elise represents humanity encountering these three ideals in their ‘separated’ form, i.e. the limited way that we view them.

The Triumvirate Committee - aka E3

The Triumvirate Committee – also known as E3

4) Three evils: The evil organisation E3 is described in the novel as being made up of three divisions: Political, economic and religious. These three divisions are taken from the three symbols of tyranny listed in the Quran: Pharaoh, the representative of political tyranny; Qaroon (Korah), a wealthy magnate representing economic tyranny; and Hamaan, the high priest of the temple of Ammon who represents religious tyranny. All three of these figures were contemporaries, and they also represent the mirror opposites of the Cohesive Ethics ideals: oppression, injustice and disunity respectively.

Hitoshi Katayama - friend or foe?

Hitoshi Katayama – friend or foe?

5) The song and its writer: The song My Fate which appears in the novel originally had different lyrics. It was recorded under the title Ablaze, but I was never satisfied with the lyrics or the melody (an extract of that song is still lying around on the net). The present one is not yet recorded, though it has a melody.

The first verse of the present song represents David’s viewpoint, and the second verse represents Adam’s. The chorus and bridge represent Hitoshi’s outlook.

And this brings us to why Hitoshi is a lyricist. He is the reincarnation of David, whose Biblical counterpart was the bringer of the Psalms, a poetical form of Revelation often set to music.

How I recycled my blurb

I wrote my original blurb for Systems a long time ago. It went something like this:

Why is Peter Manner so desperate to go to New York State, when he has never even set foot outside his psychiatric hospital? And what ties him to a British policewoman and a Brooklyn-born hacker, neither of whom he has never met?

The answer lies in a past life – a life in which the three were close friends – and an idea that could change the world. That was thirty years ago. Now they are reincarnated and psychic to boot. The question is not why they were killed, but why they were brought back to life.

Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard similar words in the trailer for the novel.

I had this text on my machine for a long time, but in the end I didn’t use it partly because Peter Manner is not the main protagonist. I wanted a blurb that mentioned things like the Systems Experiment, the Phoenix Project (the artificial reincarnation experiment) and the World Democratic Revolution. None of these things was present in the old text. But I always liked the sound of the old text. It made me think of movie trailers. So it made perfect sense to recycle the text for the book trailer.

Waste not, want not! There’s always room for that abandoned passage somewhere.