After more than a month away, I am back to writing short stories on Saturdays. This week’s story is called Blind Lead. It is an idea I have been toying with ever since I wrote The Demented two months ago.
Blind Lead is the second in a series of stories I am calling Voyage Redux. My first novel, Voyage Embarkation, features an eighteen-year-old Kal Anders as protagonist, adventuring across parallel universe Earths. When I blew up my future history in order to write Intersection Thirteen, a natural consequence was to ask myself the question: if Kal Anders had never been forced off of his home universe, if he’d grown up in the Hegemony instead of the Pan-Atlantic Union, what would his life have been like?
Answering these questions brought me around to the idea that Kal Anders would still get his chance at parallel universe travel, but at age thirty-four rather than eighteen. The Demented finds him as a new recruit at the Echo Lake Cooperative in Colorado, where the metaxic explorers from Intersection Thirteen are still scouring parallel universes for alternate versions of ancient texts.
The Demented overlaps with Voyage Embarkation only in that it includes Kal Anders as a character. For Blind Lead, I’m pulling in two more characters from Voyage’s first incarnation.
The first is Ludo Leskov, the primarily antagonist of Voyage Embarkation. In the original series, Ludo has a similar malady as Kal, but rather than channeling his energy into bettering himself (Kal’s solution), Ludo takes the path of trying to tear the universe apart.
In the new world of the Hegemony, there is no nanite mesh to make either Kal or Ludo ill. Ludo is never forced away from home, which gives him enough time to find a context that meets his high standards for perfection: music. Ludo becomes a violinist, and a very good one. He gains a skill he is genuinely good at, which gives him confidence, and he never has to turn to hurtful or selfish behavior. In this new story, Ludo is a protagonist instead. In fact, the focus is even more so on him than on Kal.
The second character I am lifting out of Voyage is Noom El’lavr. This is an interesting inclusion, as I am now cross-referencing my Voyage Redux stories with the written but unpublished Voyage Windbound (the second Voyage novel). Noom does not appear in Embarkation. He shows up in chapter three of Windbound and is a major character throughout the rest of that book. He is Kal’s first boyfriend and the man who ultimately betrays him to Ludo at the novel’s conclusion.
Noom grew up in the Chicago of a parallel universe where Earth is named Elr. In Windbound, Noom has always wanted to explore the metaxia himself. Although he succeeded in landing a position on the scientific teams researching metaxic travel, when the research was completed and the first exploration groups were being decided, Noom was excluded, the leaders citing his history of family problems and his documented emotional stability issues. When Kal shows up on Elr, Noom jumps at the chance to take off with Kal into the metaxia. I expect savvy readers will be able to infer from my character descriptions just how well that goes for both Kal and Noom.
In the world of Voyage Redux, Kal was never exploring parallel worlds at age eighteen, and so Noom remained stuck on Elr for many more years, ultimately needing to find a completely different way to get off his universe. In Blind Lead, Noom shows up at Echo Lake as a proselytizer for an Elr religious sect bent on “sanctifying” the multiverse. One can imagine what Noom’s religion would think of the Cooperatives’ emphasis on exploring philosophical and theological issues from a multitude of perspectives.
It feels good to defang Noom in this way. I have felt for a long time as though he has been holding Voyage Windbound hostage. The role swaps are equally fun to write—Kal as sidekick rather than protagonist, Ludo as protagonist rather than antagonist, Noom as… Well, even with my imagination, Noom will always be a giant asshole. No two ways around that. He’s gotten more adept at manipulating people and more sanctimonious. That’s about all that’s changed for him. At least new Kal is too experienced to fall for any of it this time around.
Blind Lead is currently 1,500 words, but I expected to end up somewhere around 10,000. I imagine right now that a Voyage Redux collection could perhaps be four such stories, but I’ll need to see how this story and others go before I declare any such collection officially.