Riding to Mars (Part 2)

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IMAGE CREDIT: BAMBALICK DESIGN

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

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Justice woke, disorientated and in pain.

She hadn’t meant to sleep, but, buried in a hole, there was little else to do. She took a second to take note of the situation. It was quiet, and dark; both the day and the dust storm having moved on while she slept. With a grunt she pushed the bike and coat off her self. Cold rushed in. She inhaled with the sudden chill and rushed to wrap the coat around herself.

The cold now having woken her properly, she thought about what to do next. There was only really one option, try to get back to the city. She let out a heavy sigh, and looked down at her broken leg. She was just going to have to do her best.

Justice knew she should wrap the leg, but with no bandages on hand, and the cold settling in for the night, she was hesitant to rid herself of any additional clothing. Finally, she decided that she would likely warm up on the walk back, and that she could perhaps bare to lose her singlet top, which would still leave her with a shirt and coat.

She stripped down, then hurriedly re-clothed, minus the singlet. She used her teeth to tear through the hem and then tore it as best she could down the middle, doubling its length. With gritted teeth she wrapped the fabric around her leg; starting at the bottom and moving upwards. A guttural moan pushed up her throat as the fabric wound around the point of skin barely holding back her broken bone. Her teeth clamped so tight they felt like they might shatter from the force, and tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She pushed on, continuing the wrapping and tying it off.

She allowed herself a few deep calming breaths and then moved onto the next challenge. A crutch.

There were no trees out this far from the city, so branches were out of the question. It would have to be the bike. She looked across at the mangled wreck and tried to pick out the most likely parts that would suit her purposes. Both the top tube and bottom tube of the frame were bent, but perhaps not too bent. The ends were twisted and pressed, but that might actually help with the situation as she would have to try and separate them from the rest of the frame anyway.

She got to work. The frame was made of a metal alloy that made it extremely light, and only semi durable. This was why it had crumpled so easily from a basic fall, it would take most of the brunt of any accident, but wouldn’t get up again to face another one. It also meant she could bent and twist the frame using just her hands. She started on the wheels, pushing them out of the way so she could get to frame behind. Then it was just a matter of bending the metal one way, then back the other, over and over again until it finally weakened enough to snap. With both her hands heavily grazed, the already hard job was made even more difficult. But what other choice did she have? Nothing was ever easy, she thought.

By the time she had both metal tubes free she was covered in sweat, and her hands were bleeding. The cold was doing little to cool her down and she considered ditching her coat. Then it dawned on her that even with her recent labor she really shouldn’t be so hot. The temperature was likely single digits out here, meaning any heat she worked up should be whipped away in an instant.

A fever then, it had to be. Which meant infection. She doubted, and hoped, it wasn’t her leg. Likely it was her hands and face. Best keep her coat on then, she thought. She was probably colder than she thought she was, meaning if she stripped down she could freeze while still feeling like a human furnace.

She pushed the end of the top tube into the bottom, bending until they were as straight as she could make them. After all her manipulations the stick of metal was twisted and dented, making it look like as if were a toothpick that had been used by a giant mecha.

It only needed one more addition.

She freed the bike seat from its bearing and reattached it to the top of her stick. It was wobbly, but with her weight on it she assumed it wouldn’t be so noticeable. Only one way to know for sure, she thought.

Using the newly made crutch for balance she managed to draw herself up onto her good leg. It hurt, a lot. Once up, she placed the cruth into her armpit. It wasn’t perfect. The wobbiliness of the seat was more annoying than she had hoped for, and it was short, making her tilt to one side, but it would do. It would have to.

She left the rest of the bike where it was — seeing no need to carry additional scrap metal with her — and began, slowly, to walk.

She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the distant lights of the city as she made her way through the dark, refusing to bow her head or look at her injuries. Sweat continued to drip from her, but the cold of the night did work to cool the liquid, which added some relief.

Every step was accompanied by a jolt of pain. She did her best to keep as much weight as possible off of her left leg, but it wasn’t easy, and occasionally she would give it just an inch too much and scream as the pain spiked into white hot territory.

She tried not to think about the broken bone jostling within her skin, the shattered ends rubbing against each other with every move she made. She didn’t have much luck. The image kept flashing in her mind with every step she took.

Still, she stepped on wards, forcing herself to focus on the fact that with every step she was a little bit closer to her goal, rather than all the steps she still had to take.

After what she guessed was about a kilometer, she stopped. She didn’t sit, worried that it she did she might not be able to get back up again, just got her breath back, and tried to ease her legs as best she could. Her right one was already tired, overcompensating as it was for her left. Knowing it wasn’t likely to feel better any time soon, she carried on.

One hour passed, and then another.

The pain had reduced to a dull roar, as though covered with a thick blanket that muffled the bulk of it. Justice knew that wasn’t a good sign. She had started feeling woozy too. Now edging up to giddy, as the fever raged through her.

She thought she kept hearing noises out in the dark, but the saner part of her mind knew that should be impossible. While there were animals that lived on Mars, they were mostly livestock, kept to the immediate outskirts of the city, not out here in the flatlands. Still, the noises came at her, some familiar.

They’re video game noises, she thought with a moment of clarity. The pings and pops signifying achievements within a game, specifically the one she’d played as a kid. She hadn’t played it for years.

Then she heard a rising bbbbrrraaa-ding!

It was the noise that sounded whenever a new section of land was discovered. She began to giggle. She supposed she was uncovering new land, although it wasn’t lighting up like it did in the game, darkness still pervaded her senses. Every ten steps or so her mind would once more form the noise, bbbbrrraaa-ding! Oddly, it helped, she found herself pushing forward, wanting to hear the noise and hit the next imagined check-mark.

Then she fell.

Her leg just went out from underneath her. No warning. No tremor. Just her face hitting the hard dirt as her leg ignited into agony. She lay there for a second trying to figure out what had happened. Had her body just given up? All it’s resources gone. She started giggling again, and found couldn’t stop. Saliva dribbled from her mouth to mix with the dust, which puffed with ever gasping exhale she let out. Still, she couldn’t stop laughing. Or was it crying? Both, she decided.

‘What’s so funny, squirt?’ A voice asked.

She turned her head to see a small cartoon bird flying above her. Willow was its name. She knew this because it too came from the video game. It was the main characters sidekick, and only ever referred to them as squirt.

Justice let out a whine. That’s really not good, she thought.

‘I said, what’s so funny, squirt?’ Willow said again.

‘Just that I’m going crazy, and probably dying.’

‘Hm,’ Willow said in a confused voice, ‘that doesn’t sound funny at all.’

‘It’s not,’ Justice told her.

‘You should probably get up then, shouldn’t you?’

Justice thought about this. Wondered if she could, physically, stand. She wasn’t sure. She felt disconnected from her body. Felt as if she were somehow floating just outside of it.

The rational part of her mind screamed at her that this was bad, that if she was hallucinating, and hearing things, and no longer able to feel her body then she was likely on the brink of death, and all she needed to tip over it was to stop.

‘C’mon, squirt, time to go.’ Willow said with a flap of her wings. ‘Lot more land to discover yet, can’t be giving up now.’

Her voice, now sounding very much like Justice’s own, was sincere and urgent.

And so, Justice stood. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but she managed to get herself back upright once more, and place the crutch under her arm. She took a shaky step forward, then another, and then eight more. Bbbbrrraaa-ding!

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They found her just as the sun was beginning to rise, she had made it all the way to the edge of the city. She was rushed to the closest hospital where she was treated for dehydration, fever, and of course, a broken leg.

Justice was not on the first leap out to Europa, but she was on the second. The higher ups from the institute, Serena Shaw amongst them, were impressed at the way she’d coped and survived after the accident, and at her test scores once she’d retaken the exam. It hadn’t seemed as stressful the second time.

As she’d walked onto the enormous space craft, her homemade crutch in hand, she thought about all the land she would discover. All the lights she would turn on.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

Riding to Mars (Part 1)

1930864_1Image Credit: Bambalick Design

Sweat streamed down her face as she rode. It glowed red, burning with both exertion and shame.

The heat of the sun shimmered against the red earth, as though she were riding headlong towards a portal to another world. Justice eyed that shimmer, wanting the fictional escape. Her legs pumped against the pedals, each footfall drawing another bead of sweat, each cycle pushing her forward, but the new world never came.

The temperature would drop soon, she knew. The weather lately had been alternating between extreme heat and chilling cold, as though the the city itself were running a fever. Between each change came the wind, rushing in to sweep the previous elements away.

The weather had been temperamental since the day Mars was terraformed, but it had increased recently. She didn’t know what that meant, if it meant anything, but she didn’t care. She wanted off this red rock anyway.

As she’d predicted the wind came gusting across the barren landscape, blowing first with her, then against. She growled against the added strain.

When her parents had first told her they would be moving to Mars she had been happy, then sad, then happy again. Bittersweet was the word, but at ten years old she was unfamiliar with the term.

The bitter came from the idea of leaving everything she knew behind. Her small town in southern Australia had encompassed almost her entire world–the odd trip to Melbourne the only exception. She saw it like an online role playing game, where most of the terrain stays in black, lighting up and revealing itself only when your avatar braved forward into the dark. Her world was mostly black, but soon she would be on a rocket to another planet, and she knew you would be hard pressed to find a way that lit up more terrain than that. That was where the sweet half of the equation came from, the chance to explore, and the fact that Mars was the best place to achieve her desired career. She was going to be an astronaut, she just knew it.

Her first year on Mars hadn’t lived up to expectations. The infrastructure in place when she had arrived with her family had been the barest necessary to allow human habitation, meaning all her usual comforts were non existent. Mars might have been terraformed and now habitable for humans, but it would take decades yet before anything resembling an ecosystem would start to appear. Each seed of that ecosystem, not to mention all the tools and materials that would allow it to flourish, would have to be shipped over on expensive cargo shuttles from Earth. Even basic comforts, such as indoor toilets and showers, had yet to make their way to Mars.

In the time since, Mars had flourished, and so had she.

Space travel advanced, becoming cheaper, and more and more shuttles began arriving every day. Her small outpost grew to became a city. Not like the ones she’d known back on Earth perhaps, but something new, and, eventually, familiar. The desert still remained, but the Earth-brought vegetation was beginning to establish itself, advancing outwards from the city like the world’s slowest moving army.

She had studied and trained. Every day. She had ran made up drills out on the red flats, pushing herself to become stronger, and asked her parents to supply her with books on every topic, to be brought over by the incoming fleets. She had discovered that knowledge was also like the terrain in a role playing game, and so she had sought to dispel the dark there as well.

Then, at fifteen, she had joined the institute. They had pushed her even harder than she’d pushed herself. She made the decision to move into the barracks a year early, at seventeen, a decision her parents questioned, but she knew she had to give her all if she had even a chance of making it. The next leap, out to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, was scheduled for just over eight years away, and she had a lot of ladder to climb if she wanted to ensure she would be on that mission.

She wouldn’t.

What she would do is suffer a panic attack during the final examination, brought on by lack of sleep and a general over exhaustion. This would lead to her hyperventilating and passing out only to then vomit on her personal hero and admiral of the fleet, Serena Shaw, when she tried to rouse her. They had taken her to a medical room to lie down, but as soon as she was alone she’d left, jumped on a bike, and rode for the distant horizon; a location that, much like her future career as an astronaut, seemed to move further away the harder she pushed herself toward it.

She leaned over the front of the bike, forcing her aching legs to pedal faster, then faster still. She screamed into the whipping wind, at the planet, at the situation, at herself, a guttural scream that tore at her throat and left her breathless.

Then the bike’s front tyre found a rock and the next thing she knew she was flying through the air. She hit red dirt, compacted and hard. Lights flashed in her head and she passed out for the second time that day.

She woke hours later; bleeding, bruised, and broken.

Justice lifted her head, and squinted against the still whipping wind. A groan dribbled out of her as she pulled herself into a sitting position to assess the damage. She felt sore all over. Whatever muscles weren’t bruised felt stiff from their prolonged awkward position on the hard ground. Her hands and elbows were heavily grazed, and, judging from the hot pain on her cheek, she assumed the same was true for the left side of her face.

Worse though, were her legs. The right one was okay; okay meaning cut and bleeding but otherwise functional. The left was broken. It’d been trapped between the ground and the bike as she hit, and had snapped like a candy cane from the combined pressures.

The bike was a mess of twisted metal. The front end in particular, as it has hit the ground hard and head on, probably saving her own helmet-less head from cracking. She freed herself from the tangle of bike, whimpering as she was forced to lift her broken leg, then drew her pant leg up with a hiss of pain.

The break wasn’t a compound fracture, but she could see the bone jutting against her skin from the inside. She bit down an urge to gag and took a deep breath; using her training to calm herself. She needed hospilisation, except the closest one was now kilometers away. She hadn’t ridden with any direction or destination in mind, merely wanting to create distance between her and her failure. Back the way she had came, she could just make out the outline of the city, hidden by the blowing dust.

They would come looking for her, given enough time, but how long would that take? Hours? Days? She would need to make her own way back, somehow. First, though, she needed shelter. The wind was becoming worse, and she knew a dust storm couldn’t be that far away. Except there was no shelter. There was no vegetation this far out from the city, and no outcrops to hide behind in the immediate vicinity.

With a sigh, she reached over to the bike and unscrewed the mud guard. It wasn’t much in the way of spades, but it would have to do. She began to dig.

The hole was far from perfect, she could only just fit into it by pulling her legs up into a fetal position, an act that caused tears to rush to her eyes as she jostled her broken limb. She then pulled her cloak over herself, and dragged the damaged bike on top to weigh it down.

As she lay there, knees pressed up against herself, the weight of the bike pushing down uncomfortably on top of her, wind and dust howling overhead, she considered just how shitty a day she’d had.

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Part 2 of this story can be found here

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

 

February 16, 2018

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Another song today from Allman Brown because not only is it a great track but it also seems to suit today’s blog.

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Words written for the year: 34,097

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I’ve been kind of off lately and I think it has to do with feeling like I’m never going to get any closer to the mountain than where I am right now. It’s fear, really. If you replace ‘feeling like’ with ‘a fear of’ it probably tells a much truer tale. It’s not a fear of current failure, though, but a fear of future failure. Of never reaching the mountain. Recognising that however, doesn’t lower that fear, nor does it offer any real solutions. I know I’m afraid, that’s where most misery comes from, so I suppose the question becomes how do I dispel fear? Proof that the fear doesn’t exist would be ideal, but I’m not sure that’s feasible when the fear is one of future possibilities. No one can show me proof that my life will go a certain way; life is far from being about certainties. So, in that sense the fear is valid, I might not move any closer to the mountain.

Or, I might.

Which is the second, but less whole solution to fear. Hope.

But, damn, can it be hard to stay hopeful all the time. I think I’m pretty good at it. Holly calls me a positive realist, which means I see things as they are but tend to focus on the positive of any situation. There are always pros and cons, and I like to look for the pros. So, when it comes to the future, I usually acknowledge that I might never move any closer to the mountain, but that I also might, and hopefully will, and that the only way to know for sure is to keep working at it. That way I’ve at least got a chance.

But hope can be a really hard reason to force yourself to work, because if the principle of creating the work is, ‘something great might happen one day because of this,’ then the inverse is, ‘or it might not,’ which is the fear speaking, because fear is an arsehole. Fear is the one that says ‘why bother working when it’s not going to get you anything anyway? Why bother writing something when no one wants to read it? Why bother doing anything when it’s not going to make a difference?’ And when I’m vulnerable, or tired, or just having a shitty day, it starts to make a lot of sense. Writing something no one wants to read does feel futile. Of course, I’m generalising, I’m lucky enough to have people who love me and who will always read my stuff, and I don’t mean to dismiss that, but when fear is talking it minimises their support, and it makes me spiral. I stop being productive, because why bother? And then that fear of future failure gets loaded up with feeling hopeless, all but making the fear a self fulfilling prophecy.

So then I guess it comes to me to ask, what is the mountain I’m wanting to move towards? I’d be hard pressed not to say that it’s success of some kind. Success here meaning external recognition of my work, and being financially abundant because of it. Which, writing it down, is a big thing to ask. Basically, it means I want a lot of strangers to tell me how awesome my writing is while also paying me a lot of money for it. Call it hard wiring, call it part of being human, call it ego, that want is still there, and it’s not going to go away, and my guess is it wouldn’t go away even if I did reach some imagined point. To go back to my original analogy, the mountain would always be that little bit further away, no matter how close I got. That’s how humans work.

The thing is, it’s not about reaching the mountain, and it took me revisiting the original source of that analogy for me to remember that. It comes from a keynote address, writer, Neil Gaiman, gave at The University of the Arts in 2012. The whole talk is a joyful mess of inspiring and imaginative, but I’ll include the pertinent part for you here:

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.”

As he describes, the mountain is distant, something on the horizon, and as with any journey, looking at the end point and worrying about how far away it is only serves to make a person miserable, and, in my case, fearful, or perhaps resentful, towards taking another step.

But taking another step in the point. It’s the joy of moving forward, even if moving forward means writing another story no one will read. Because ultimately my mountain isn’t to have people pay me lots of money and tell me how great I am, that’s a byproduct (hopefully) of what my mountain really is; becoming a good writer who can tell stories that connect with people. The stories I love, and the writers I admire, are the ones who make me feel moved, or understood, or amazed, or lost in a world not my own, and it’s that experience that I want to recreate with my own writing.

That is the mountain.

So, that’s what I need to move towards, knowing that I may never reach it, but also knowing that as long as I keep walking towards the mountain, I’ll be okay.

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Here’s the entire commencement speech, I highly recommend you watch it, perhaps multiple times. That’s what I’m about to do.

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Remember, I’ll be okay, and you will too.

Talk soon

Damian

February 12, 2018

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Music today comes from a chap called Allman Brown., the song is called Sons and Daughters, I’ve been loving it, and now you can too.

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Words written for the year: 30,997

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Being an emerging writer, I don’t have many deadlines. I have some, such as if I want to enter a competition that has a closing date, when I’m creating things with other people, or when I have picked up the occasional writing job, but when I’m working on my own stuff there’s no need to hit a certain mark every day, no one breathing down my work saying they need those pages ASAP.

While it’s good not to have the stress and extreme pressure, some pressure can be a good thing. It can motivate. I’m still hitting my daily word goal, six hundred plus, but I want to incorporate that with short sharp bursts of writing where I try to hit much higher marks.

Basically, I think I could do with a liberal dose of deadlines, so I’m planning to give myself some. The idea will be to choose a project, or a subsection of a project, and set a date to finish it by, and sometimes aim to start, middle, and finish some of the smaller projects within a single day.

The thing is, I have the time. I’ve purposely been doing less things this year so that I have more down time. When this happens I usually consider writing, but then talk myself out of it by saying that I’ve already hit my daily word goal. Which isn’t a lie, and is good, and should be rewarded, but there’s also no reason I shouldn’t push myself for a little bit more. The problem then comes from motivation, because the fact is writing is work. It’s definitely enjoyable, and fun, and you can get into a zone where hours fly by without you realising, but conversely, there are times where it’s laborious, and hard, and feels like squeezing juice out of uncut coconut. You have enough of those times and your motivation can wan.

I’m hoping deadlines will work as a way to force me to squeeze the coconut, even when I don’t want to.

I’ll let you know how I go.

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I’ve also been relearning how to run.

I don’t mean I’m getting back into running, I mean I’m literally learning a better way to run, and it hurts.

Let’s back up a bit. I’ve been seeing a running coach, two actually (I get around), although one’s also a physiotherapist. The people in question are Dominic (running coach) and Nikki (physiotherapist) who run BCN Health and Fitness, and they’ve been teaching me how to run.

I’ve been running for a few years now, probably around ten now, and have done okay at it. I’m not about to win any races, but I’ve completed a few half marathons and mostly managed to stay consistent and (so far) injury free. But, as I’m learning, I’ve also been running in a way that exerts excess energy and doesn’t utilise certain muscles that could give me extra speed.

I completed a running assessment with Dom and Nikki, where Nikki asked me to do a number of stretches and squats to test my butt muscles (she called them gluts) before passing me over to Dom who recorded me running (clothes on, he insisted) and made some changes to my form and stance, as well as some other suggestions. They followed this up with a in-depth written and video analysis, a number of daily exercises to strengthen my sweet gluts, and a running program for the next six weeks.

It’s now been two weeks since I’ve implemented their changes and I’m sore. My arms are being held in a different way, my juicy butt is getting a frequent workout, I’m landing on my feet differently, and unsurprisingly my legs are using different muscles to compensate for all that. It’s a good kind of sore, a kind that says I’m training my muscles, strengthening them, and making me a more competent runner. But still, sore. The soreness is decreasing though, and I’ll be interested to see how their changes pay out by the end of the six weeks.

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Lastly, I saw this video of artist, Fernando Abellanas, building himself a secret studio under an underpass and thought it was the best thing ever. Check it out.

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Remember, you’re still going and so am I.

Talk soon,

Damian