For many years now, and with blog publication being what it is, I have long toyed with the idea of writing a long piece of fiction to be formatted for serial publication on a blog. I love what potential there is in television and comic book serials for long-term character and plot development. I think it’s a fascinating exercise in creativity that the piece becomes dynamic and responsive to external or meta-factors, such as changing audience opinions and tastes, transitory actors/writers/artists, and the evolution of the form itself—for example: how Doctor Who was a “half-hour” show in 1963, but is an “hour” show now. After a long enough run of any serial, I always wonder how much of what enters the “canon” is aligned with what the original creators had in mind in the first place, and I admire the ability of the great writers to camouflage the occurrences of retroactive continuity. 2007 was when I first began brainstorming how I might engage in this artform, and who my character would be.
More recently, this blog and its associated “geek content” have emerged, and I have been looking for something to potentially attract Patreon patrons. I have been wanting to add something to the content that could be exclusive to the patrons, but which was also something meaningful and thematically related to what Past Go is coming to represent. Most importantly, I wanted it to be something whose production schedule I was confident I could keep. These ideas have all found their culmination in Redshift: a serial work of speculative fiction. Below, I’ve excerpted the first fifteen-hundred words or so as a kind of “teaser.” It is available to all as a free sample of where this thing is (possibly) headed. If you enjoy it and want to read the remainder of this first issue, as well as receive future episodes, please visit the Patreon site and, please consider becoming a patron-subscriber.
Before I pretended to be a game designer, I pretended to be a writer. I have a whole slew of poems published on an older blog called the Hack, and I have a handful of short stories, novellas, and one novel, all of which you’ve probably never read because, well… I’m a hack. If you’ve been reading this blog for any stretch, you already know that. And it’s been a long while since I dabbled in fiction, so there’s a good chance I’m about to completely offend your literary sensibilities. That’s okay. My first intention is to write a story that I enjoy telling, in a way I enjoy telling it, and my wife is really my most important fan—nothing personal to you, you understand. Secondary is the goal of attracting Patreon subscribers, and absolutely least important to me is impressing the editors over at Doubleday Books, unless of course they’re ready to offer me the Fifty Shades of Grey contract. (Either the publishing contract or the other one is fine.)
As I alluded to above, I imagine that this project will be long-term and dynamic, being responsive to audience input and even subject to changes in style and format. It’s a “living” document. I am even considering inviting guest writers to add installments to the series once it gets running under its own steam, but I’m not quite prepared to commit to this idea yet, so just keep it in mind for the time being. This whole thing is a venture—an experiment, which may fall flat on its face. But the fact of the matter is: everything about Past Go is just that: an experiment. This is me, playing with my toys and having fun. My hope is that you will have fun, too.
#1: The Pilot
I can see the point where this variation begins. It is in a space he names “France,” but in a time whose number is not quite clear. For the moment, he puts the number at “one thousand, nine hundred forty-two.” Not for the first time, Reginald Eugene Dow wonders if he will go to Heaven or to Hell. And—also not for the first time—he wonders if both of these mythological places actually exist, and what would be the point of either. Long flights are times a man is trapped with his thoughts, and Reginald thinks perhaps that flying this plane is the closest he will ever come to that angelic experience so touted in his parochial youth. Meanwhile, the pebbled shore of a beach in northeastern France is not far off. He can see the fire and smoke in the sky already, and he wonders why he doesn’t just turn this angel’s wings around and fly away from that hellish frontier, rather than willingly descending into it once again. How many missions is this now? I’m not certain if it’s Reginald or myself asking this question. Considering all that is, sometimes it’s hard for me to think separately from him. Alas, we can’t remember how many missions it is. I should just fly away, he thinks—and on this point I’m clear: it is his choice, his thoughts. The war—and the world—will carry on just the same with or without me.
Not for the first time, this is a critical juncture in Reginald’s history.
It is no secret that the Nazis have invested tremendous energy and resources into all manner of designs, both experimental and sometimes hideous in nature. It is, in fact, a blessing to a certain extent. Even in these first six months since he volunteered, Reginald has often shuddered at the thought of just how much more effective the German war apparatus might be if so many thousands weren’t so preoccupied with warding slave labor camps, worshipping the occult, and testing so many dubious and deadly sciences. The fellows in M.I.5 have knowledge of all of these things. They are grateful for the siphoning.
What also does not appear to be a secret to anyone is the very fact of this raid, to which he and his fellow airmen are now woefully committed. It would seem, after all, that he did not turn about and simply fly away, though he has no bridging memory of traveling through the time and airspace of those last few miles. It is only that he was thinking of Heaven and Hell, and now it’s as if he’s only just awoken in this place. Through the glass of his Supermarine Spitfire, and looking down on where the River Arques lets into the harbor, one truth is painfully clear: the Germans have somehow known this attack was coming. The positions of their batteries and the terrible efficacy with which they rain retaliatory hell on the amphibious armada suggest a foreknowledge on their part that can only be described as prescient. Lips have been somewhat loose on this operation, Reginald admits. But still, how could the Germans have been this prepared? Perhaps, he thinks, that in their black investigations they have indeed stumbled on some manner of beholding the future. And furthermore, he worries—less eloquently than I might state it myself—just what terror and chaos that mustachioed son-of-a-bitch could raise with such technology. Reginald cannot yet conceive of how the Germans came by this intelligence—he is limited. Indeed: he still sees them as “Germans,” himself as “American.”
On the beach below, dead men lay piled on top of one another, some close enough to the tide that the ebb and flow of the Channel pushes and pulls their limp appendages in the fashion of shaping bloody angels on the pebbled shore. But these angels are damned; the vision of hell is made complete by the fiery hulks of dingos and Churchill tanks abandoned along the coast. Their columns of smoke twist into the air, a charcoal colonnade obscuring his vision and making difficult the spotting of the squadron of FW-190s with which he now must contend.
The dogfight is not going quite as they all had hoped. His fellow Eagle Squadrons and their British and Canadian allies are able to give the Luftwaffe enough of a time of it that the men on the ground might make some headway, but in the air is a battle of attrition. Planes and pilots on both sides of the argument fall from heaven like a cosmic shower, their tailspins trailing smoke and fire like comets. Even those who remain in orbit have only minutes to contribute to the fray. So far from the airfield in Lympne where they must return, their time and fuel are short. Already Reginald sees several angels coming round on their final passes, veering back towards the relative safety of England. He checks his gauges between machine gun bursts. He, too, must soon follow.
Atop a cliff to the east of a town they name Pourville stands an outpost which has been the point of much clandestine discussion in the weeks leading up to this raid. It is here that the British have hoped to infiltrate and gain some intelligence on the value of this relatively new field of detection his countrymen back home have termed RADAR. Reginald knows nothing more of the corresponding mission nor whether it has been successful or even attempted at all, but the location makes for a convenient reference point on the ground while he turns a wide circle, putting the RADAR outpost at the center. Peculiar to this scene, however, is what appears to be a railroad line coming from the south and running up the elevation beside the outpost. He can’t remember having had any knowledge of a rail line in that location at all, nor having seen it in any of the recent aerial photographs of the place they’d all memorized in preparation for this mission. How could the Germans have lain a rail so fast? Even as he wonders this, a locomotive comes bearing down the line and climbing up the slope. Its smoke trail had been previously unremarkable amidst those of a hundred abandoned vehicles and downed planes, the way a single tree trunk is unassuming within the forest.
Intermittently, his interest in the spectacle on the ground is broken by the need for evasive maneuvers or to shoo off some pestering German fighter. Moreover, their planes are much faster than those of his father’s era, so to anchor himself above the train is to make infinite loops upon loops—infinity trails, so to speak. He knows his fuel is precious, and every pass is one click further from England, but he cannot bring himself to pull off. Something is beginning here.
He feels a tremendous gravity.
The locomotive is rigged with and is trailing some massive and bizarre cannon—something not entirely unlike the Krupp-built designs, or like a larger and more convoluted version of the Big Berthas the Germans used during the first war. The train comes to a stop at the peak of the cliff, and some fifty of more infantry, now suddenly and strangely disinterested in holding the line, swarm to the train and its cargo. They amass, crawling all over the machine and each other. As I see them through Reginald’s eyes, they appear to me much like the agitated mounds of ants that surface on muddy garden walls after a heavy rain.
The personnel are meant to serve as crew to this awesome device, which, after another pass, Reginald sees extends in twisted mechanical lines along the length of two or three additional cars. Indeed: the train is not carrying a weapon at all; the entire train is the weapon, retro-fitted from end to end with whatever state-of-the-art misery these Nazis have concocted today. The question is whether this new one will prove to be dubious or deadly.
A dozen of its crewmen all about the machine crank levers and operate pulleys that seem strangely anachronistic to him. Others still scamper along rails and platforms or jump across couplings, altogether affecting the feverish coordination of an 18th-century seafaring crew hastily trimming the sails. The long, cylindrical piece of the weapon, which reasons to be the ordnance, and which Reginald thinks must have the girth of the Holland Tunnel, raises by degrees towards the sky. They are acquiring the necessary angle. Reginald panics and climbs altitude, bracing himself for what he trusts is about to be the worst shelling of his career—and quite possibly the last…
If you have enjoyed this “teaser” preview of Redshift, please consider subscribing to the series by becoming a patron of ours on Patreon. New installments are currently planned to be published once a month. Even the smallest donation is gratefully received. May you be happy.