Friday, January 15, 2010

The history of the world, as explained by me as a kid

Here's how I saw world history when I was a kid. Needless, to say, it wasn't very accurate.

65 Million BCE- Dinosaurs die out. This sucks.

2 Million BCE- Humans start appearing. At this point, I was too young to be childish enough to detect any innuendo in the name Homo erectus.

10,000 or so BCE- If Atlantis didn't sink here, it should have.

Some ungodly long number BCE- Çatal Höyük is founded, starting civilization. Sadly, until the invention of Star Wars and Pokemon, civilization remained a pointless endeavor.

Less ungodly long number BCE- Biblical stuff happens. As I was never a particularly religious lad, this was mostly outside my interest. Except Noah's Arc. Holy shit, that story was awesome. I mean, how cool would that be, being on a boat with every animal ever?

Less ungodly long number BCE- Egyptians build big things out of rocks and worship furries. They enslave the Jews at one point, but then Moses unleashes ten plagues (as chronicled in the ancient Hebrew text A Rugrats Hanukkah) and they bugger off.

Around that time- The Greeks build a wooden horse as part of a war over some hot chick. Being one-quarter Greek, I am legally obligated to say that that was awesome.

300 or so BCE- A Greek guy named Alexander rules the world.

0 CE- Jesus is born, which gives us Christmas. As I said, I was never very religious.

A few hundred years CE- Hannibal single-handedly destroys the Roman Empire, with the help of a bunch of elephants he brought over the alps.

800-1000- Vikings kick everybody's asses, until the convert to Christianity. Bunch of pansies. Also, the Crusades start up, but I had no idea that they were religious in nature, since I- until I was about seven or so- believed that Judaism, Christianity, and Greek mythology were the only religions in the world. After I did learn about Islam, I just assumed that Christians and Muslims got along like good friends and would never, ever hurt each other.

1492- Columbus finds the Americas, believing them to be India, because he's an idiot.

1600- The events of Disney's documentary film, Pocahontas.

1776- American Revolution. USA! USA!

186-something- There's a civil war in the US, started because a bunch of fuckwads wanted to keep slaves, and wouldn't listen to Abraham Lincoln, who was pretty much a god. This is, of course, wrong- in real life, the civil war was started by a bunch of fucksticks who wanted to keep slaves, not fuckwads- a very subtle distinction. Also, Lincoln was not a god. He was a son of Zeus, but not a fully divine entity.

1912- The Titanic sinks, getting that goddamned song stuck in my head for hours.

19-something- World War I breaks out, and many people are killed. Unlike most of my countrymen, I was aware of WWI's existence in more than a vague sense, having been taken to the battlefield at Verdun when I was five or six, entrenching the tragedy into my memory. Also, the Romanovs, a bunch of kind and gentle rulers, are killed by Rasputin. Thank you, Don Bluth.

1930- A bunch of cool old movies, but everyone is dirt-poor for some reason.

1940s- World War II breaks out when Hitler decides he wants to rule the world. Not being Greek, he's obviously not cut out for the job. He gets the Japanese and Italians to help him- for reasons poorly explained- and then he kills himself when the heroic Americans come charging into Berlin. He also kills Jews, for some reason. Having grown up in both Germany and Japan, and being a regular of Italian restaurants, I couldn't possibly fathom why these nice people would start a war.

1960s- Hippies and awesome music. Also, the US and the Russians hate each other for no adequately explored reason. I mean, what the hell, guys? You were on the same side fighting the Nazis, right? You should be best buddies, like the Christians and the Muslims!

1970s- Reagan is impeached for cheating in an election. Confusing Nixon and Reagan would be a problem of mine until I was about fourteen. On the plus side: Star Wars is released, vindicating civilization.

1991- I am born, thus starting the 'important' stage of history.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Shattered Wall, Chapter Two

Here's the (belated) second chapter of my novella opus. Again, it's still completely unedited, so it's not great. Hopefully, there'll be a few laughs anyway. On another note, I'm going to write a novel this year. I'm not going to post the whole thing here, but I will publish a few excerpts as I write them. I hope you like them!

To prevent needless babble, I have decided to skip my narration forward by about fifteen minutes, when James was just arriving at his- wait a minute. Something’s not right. He should have been there by now.
Another ten minutes passed before James finally reached work. And why was he so late, I ask?
“Well,” James said aloud- this did not cause anyone to look at him oddly, because he was savvy enough to pretend to say this into his cell phone-, “after you left, I had breakfast. While I was eating, I forgot your directions and subsequently got lost on my way to work.”
It should be said that there are times when writing is a far greater pain than it should be. This was one of them.
James walked into the door, trying his best to ignore the narration, and walked down the hallway to Baker Street’s flat.
As he walked in, Gail the receptionist waved at him. She was a pretty woman, about thirty years old, with hair dyed blue and owner of what may have been the largest pair of glasses in existence. She was a few months pregnant, the result of a failed romance with a man that she refused to talk about. Nonetheless, she had declared that she wanted to keep and raise the child by herself, come hell or high water. Her boss was so impressed by her determination that Gail had been awarded a fifty percent pay raise. “You’re five minutes late, James,” she said. “By your standards, I think that qualifies as early.” James laughed, but Gail continued, “Julia’s here, by the way.” James’ heart skipped a beat. Julia was his new girlfriend. You know, the one that he hasn’t met yet. “There’s a new client coming in today. He should be coming in in about half an hour.”
“Who is it? What’s his problem?” James asked.
“Calls himself Carlos Leibowitz. Didn’t say what his case was. He said he’d discuss it with you and Ferdinand when he gets here.” Ferdinand Jones was James’ co-worker and most frequent partner for cases.
James thanked Gail and went to his office. Julia and Ferdinand were already in there, waiting for him. They had been idly chatting to pass the time (from what James heard before entering the room, the subject was a new film that just came out). When he came in, James gave Julia a quick hug and kiss and then-
“Hold on a second,” Juia said after the kiss finished. “What is that voice... sound... thing that I just heard talking about us?”
James (and myself, for that matter) was surprised. “What voice are you talking about?”
“The one that just said that you and it were surprised,” replied Ferdinand, who was obviously confused.
Oh god. It must have spread to you two as well.
“What must have spread?” Juila demanded.
Metafictional awareness. The knowledge that one is a fictional character. Specifically, James, Ferdinand, and Julia now knew that they were part of the story that I was writing.2
“How long has this story been going on?” asked Ferdinand, whose mind was readily able to accept the strangeness of the situation, as long as he could get some answers.
This story started about half an hour ago, when James regained consciousness after blacking out for several hours.
“That’s actually why I came here this morning,” said Julia. “I tried calling James after he finished work yesterday, and he didn’t answer. I checked the apartment, but there was nobody there. What happened, James?”
James shrugged. “I don’t know. I left the office at the usual time yesterday, and as I was walking down the street, I just blacked out. Perhaps we should be asking him.” He gestured towards the fourth wall, a motion that is completely impossible to describe.
I could not tell my characters the truth. It would completely ruin the narrative.
“No, you don’t!” James shouted. “We know that you’re there. Tell us the truth!”
I had to think a little before continuing to write. I decided to make him a deal.
“I’m listening.” said James.
Carlos Leibowitz was only a few minutes away from Baker Street Investigations. His case was, in fact, related to James’ disappearance the previous night. If he could solve the mystery, he would learn the truth behind what happened the night before. I would not directly answer the question, but I would instead help the investigators find clues. This was the best offer I was willing to give them.
After a minute’s thought, James nodded. “Fine. I accept. On one condition.”
Despite the fact that James was in no position to make demands, I decided to humour him.
“You can’t go and kill off any of the three of us. We all have to be alive by the end of this story. And no implied death scene at the end, either.”
Ferdinand, seeing an opportunity, quickly added, “And I get to sleep with a gorgeous blonde supermodel by the end.” The others looked at him. “What? I see an opportunity, and I’m taking it.”
A look of realization appeared on Julia’s face. “If he gets a demand, I want one too,” she said. “All I want is to learn about my mother at some point in this story.”
“What are you talking about, Julia?” asked James.
“My mother disappeared when I was ten years old,” she explained. “I’ve never known anything about her.” She looked puzzled. “Strange. I never really even thought about her until just now...”
They seemed like fair requests. I accepted.3
Gail’s voice sounded over the intercom (which was frankly unnecessary, since Baker Street had a very small office and only four employees). “Mr Leibowitz is here for his appointment.”
“Send him in,” said Ferdinand.
“Should I leave?” asked Julia.
“No, please stay,” James replied. “If the narrator is true to his word, we should be able to find out about your mother from this case. I think it would be better if you took part in it yourself, rather than finding out about it secondhand from us.”
She nodded. “Good idea. One problem: I’m not an employee. I’ve never done any detective work before, either.”
“Well, then, good news!” exclaimed Ferdinand. “You are now officially our intern. You’ll be gaining on-the-job training from us.”
“Won’t Frederickson mind?” she asked, referring to the owner of Baker Street Investigations, who the three of them only just remembered existed.
“Oh, she can go suck a lemon,” said Ferd (writing his full name has been getting tiresome, so from this point onwards, he shall be referred to by his nickname). “Besides, it’s not like we’re paying you or anything.”
After taking a ridiculously long time to reach the office, despite being only about twenty feet away from it when the intercom conversation ended, the office door opened, and Carlos Leibowitz entered. He was a tall man of African descent, with long blonde hair that was immaculately combed back. “You must be Mr Jones and Mr Portsmith,” he said, referring to Ferd and James, respectively, in a thick Japanese accent. “And this young lady is...?”
“Juila Chiles, our new intern,” James supplied. “Don’t mind her. She shall be assisting us in this case.”
“Interesting... very interesting...” replied Leibowitz. “I had hoped to keep this confidential between the three of us, but perhaps an extra mind on the case would not be such a bad idea after all. Besides, I would not be so selfish as to put my minor concerns over the training of new, potentially bright investigators.” He smiled, baring a set of teeth containing replacement teeth made from so many varieties of mineral that one could teach a lengthy geology course using only his mouth as a textbook.
James suppressed a giggle, evidently finding my narration to be witty. It should be noted that he was extremely easy to amuse. “Is something funny?” Leibowitz asked him.
Realizing that not everyone around him was aware of my presence, James shook him head. “No, it’s nothing,” he said. “I was just reminded of something Ferd once said. It’s a private in-joke, nothing more. It wouldn’t amuse you- you kind of had to have been there to get it.”
Leibowitz raised on eyebrow. “Quite,” he said flatly. “In any case, I suggest we move on to business. I am a very busy man, and I have little patience for distractions.”
He cleared his throat. “There is a man I want you to investigate. His name is Richard Thorndyke. He runs a large arts and crafts store downtown.”
“I know this sounds kind of impolite,” Ferd interjected, “but why do you want us to investigate a local cloth-monger?”
“I’m getting to that,” replied Leibowitz. “You see, Thorndyke also has another operation on the side, if my theories are correct. For the last six months, there has been a resurgence in murders in town. Not just garden-variety slayings, either. We are talking about organized, premeditated assassinations. Assassinations conducted by ninja.”
Julia burst out laughing. “Ninja?” she asked. “You’re kidding.” Leibowitz shook his head. “But... ninja? Haven’t they all disappeared by now?”
Now it was Leibowitz’ turn to laugh. “You truly are naive. The ninja clans have been operating in secret for centuries. Indeed, they remain one of the primary underworld organizations.”
“Let me guess,” James said facetiously, “their rivals are pirates?”
Leibowitz nodded. “Ninja, pirates, Janissaries, and the government of Luxembourg are the four most powerful crime syndicates on the planet. Nearly every gang in any city in the world is under the influence of one of these groups.”
Before any of the investigators could laugh at this assertion, I had to get sidetracked with a description. Leibowitz was right, of course. Four organizations controlled nearly all of the world’s crime.
The ninja and the pirates are fairly self-explanatory.
The Janissaries, once the personal army of the Ottoman sultans, fled underground when the organization was supposedly disbanded. They survived and kept following their hidden agenda through their criminal contacts for centuries.
There was also once a powerful crime syndicate in France during the 1800s. This organization manipulated the French government into granting it autonomous control of its own territory, thus establishing the nation of Luxembourg.
The investigators heard this narration, and despite their reservations, knew it to be true. “So,” Ferd asked, still finding the situation to be incredibly silly, “you believe that Thorndyke runs a ninja clan?”
Leibowitz nodded again. “That is what my research has led me to believe. I am determined to discover the truth of the matter. I cannot ask the police to interfere, because... let us just say that my methods of attaining this information were... not exactly the sort of thing that they would look kindly upon.”
“In other words,” said Julia, “extralegal, am I right?”
“You could call it that,” admitted Leibowitz. “In any case, these ninja killings have increased exponentially in the past six months. All of the targets have been either people who have had grievances or disagreements with Thorndyke, as well as a few of his competitors.”
“You think Thorndyke is using his newfound ninja authority to settle a few old scores?” asked Ferd.
“Exactly,” replied Leibowitz. “But before I take any action, I must first determine whether or not my theory is correct.”
Julia was puzzled. “Before you take action?” she asked. “Are you involved in this, too? Are you a pirate or something?”
Leibowitz shook his head, making a shocking change from his usual nodding. “I am no pirate, nor am I a Janissary, and I have no connection to Luxembourg.” As a point of interest, it should be noted that Leibowitz was actually from New Zealand. “One of the people murdered during the last few months was my wife. She owned a small fabric store just three blocks from Thorndyke’s business. I had left town on a business trip to London, and when I returned, she had a shuriken in her forehead.” He leaned forward, his eyes aflame. “All I want to know is if Thorndyke really killed my wife. If you can find the truth out for me, I shall take care of the rest. I will pay you one million dollars for this task.”
“Wait a minute, here,” James said. He was definitely intrigued by the monetary rewards, but he was still cautious. “You want us to investigate a group of ninja?” Leibowiz nodded. “Ninja- some of the most well-trained killers in existence?” Another nod. “And you are fully aware that none of us, as far as I am aware, have had any formal combat training?” Another nod, completing the trilogy. “Are you completely fucking insane?”
“I have yet to rule out that possibility,” Leibowitz replied, with an annoying smirk. “Who is to say that any of us are, in fact, sane? But enough of that. All I ask is that you look into this. It should not be hard to get into Thorndyke’s files.” He passed a folder across the table. “This folder contains all the information you will need.”
The investigators looked over the papers. It looked like solid information, at any rate. Besides, they had made a deal with me, insuring that they would not die over the course of this story.4 Even ninja don’t seem so dangerous with that in mind, James thought. His friends felt a little awkward at hearing his thoughts like this (not to mention James’ personal annoyance at having his thoughts broadcast through the narration), but they agreed with them all the same.
Ferd spoke first. “We’ll do it.” Leibowitz beamed. “Now, don’t get carried away,” Ferd continued. “We’re only going through with this because we all have reasons to feel suicidally confident in our own fortune.5 So, we’ll take your case.”
“Thank you! Oh, Vishnu, thank you!” Leibowitz cried, showing more emotion than he had up until that point. “But I must warn you: do not engage Thorndyke in combat. If he suspects you, and he truly is a ninja master, then he will kill you.”
They thanked him for the advice, and then Leibowitz left without another word. Before leaving the office themselves, the three protagonists turned towards the fourth wall.
“All right, writer,” said James, “we’re keeping up our end of the bargain. I hope you can keep up yours.”
Oh, but of course.
Ferd shook his head. “I just hope you know what you’re doing. All this stuff about ninja... this is pretty damn silly.”
Silly? Perhaps. But the silliest things can have the most serious consequences. It would do one well to remember that.
Filled with apprehension, the three plucky investigators-
“Plucky?” asked Julia. “All the adjectives in the world, and you go with ‘plucky’?”
Have I detected a complaint about my word usage?
“No, but I just think there are better words to describe us,” she replied. “’Hapless’, maybe. Or even ‘bewildered’. I just think that following ‘apprehension’ with ‘plucky’ is a little... odd.”
Julia then wisely realized that I had far more power over her and the world than she could possibly imagine, and decided to keep her mouth shut because there were many things I could do that would be worse for her than killing her.
Anyway, as the plucky investigators left their office, they found that Mary Sue Frederickson, owner of Baker Street Investigations, was waiting for them outside with Gail. Frederickson was an imposing woman, tall and in her mid-forties, with flaming red hair and a tendency to wear sunglasses at all times, even at night. Suddenly, the three protagonists had a sneaking feeling that they had seen her somewhere before, but none of them could place it.
“So, we seem to have picked up a new intern,” she stated, matter-of-factly. It was impossible to tell whether she was unhappy with this new arrangement or not.
“How did you know that?” asked Ferd.
“Never mind how I know that, Jones,” said Frederickson. “It does not concern you.”
“You’re going to get angry at us for this, aren’t you?” James asked.
Much to everyone’s surprise, she merely smiled. “No, not really. I think that this is actually a good idea.” Everyone was completely speechless. She was never this accepting of new ideas.
Ferd cleared his throat. “Okay, what’s your ulterior motive?”
Frederickson gave him an innocent look- or what passed for one when someone is wearing sunglasses. “What makes you think that I would have one? Is it so hard to accept that your boss might be charitably approving one of your ideas?”
“Yes, actually, it is. You are- and I mean this as a compliment, not an insult, mind you- a scheming, manipulative bitch. You’ve never done anything without a motive. So, what’s your angle this time?”
“I’ll tell you after you finish your investigation. Speaking of which,” she added, “be very careful. I know you’ll all be fine in the end, but just... don’t do anything stupid.”

2 This is bad. Very bad. This could ruin everything. I must be more careful. From now on, any information that I do not wish them to know shall be written into the footnotes.

3 I like a challenge. Besides, if necessary, I can always find a loophole.

4 Sometimes, you just have to remind your characters about what has already happened. Had I not mentioned this, they likely would have broken the agreement and chose not to follow the case.

5 Hm... Ferd is getting cocky. If I hadn’t made the agreement, I would kill him off early. Nonetheless, a promise is a promise... for now.