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Paddy Dobson was discovered in the crab nebula and, until recently, was contained at a secure facility in Manchester. He has since run amok in the creative fields, working first in film and television before returning to fiction writing. As much as he loves science fiction, Paddy’s reading has about as much genre consistency as his writing. Thus, his first novel, Aspect, is as much a grounded thriller about hunting Nazis in Brazil, as it is a cosmic horror adventure about the power and importance of imagination. It features giant reptiles, a utopian acid party and a sad Englishman.

The prologue of Aspect, a novel.

The Custodian

In the darkness before dawn, the roar of an engine disturbs the slumber of a town. The burbling wake slaps the jetty as the unmarked patrol boat comes to rest. A man, a head higher than the soldiers around him, steps from the boat onto the wooden platform and looks across the river at the township. Platinum hair sweeps across his head. His face, endarkened, holds the shadow of a neat beard. He imparts a quiet order to the man at the helm of the boat, who nods and guns the engine. The front of the old man’s shirt is sticky with drying blood.

The old man walks up the shallow slope of the river island, boots sinking in the sand-sludge, as the boat pulls away from the jetty. His bones are heavy. His muscles feel loose and dry beneath his skin. His eyes sting. He had begun to get the sense the previous morning that something had gone wrong. When his men did not return by noon, he knew it.

He assembled a platoon and spent the late hours of the afternoon motoring south through the bloated heat and jungle chatter. Their cadre of boats spanned the river like a steel arrowhead. He watched the sharp prows bisect the tea-black water.

In a clearing some two-hundred kilometres downriver he had found the remnants of four men, dragged and scattered, snaggletooth, by the water’s edge. Mud-soaked, they were no more remarkable than any of the rotting logs on the ochre bank; save for the drag scars, blackened by leaked viscera and faeces. The rebels were gone. So too, was his cache of weapons. The old man felt the weight in the silence of his men as they stood over the bodies of their fellows.

Now, as the man reaches the crest of the hill, two fishermen, readying themselves for the day, nod as he passes. He often conjures a strange fantasy in which all the people of the town know his name, though he himself has not spoken it, nor heard it spoken, in two decades. They had christened him anew in the years of his residence, named him after the pink river dolphins that hunt in the murky currents of the Rio Negro. Boto, they call him.

            He knew a fool’s errand when he saw one. Tracking the fleeing rebels through the dripping ecumenopolis of sky-tall evergreens and grasping creeper was dangerous. They knew the land better than his men and they had six-hundred million hectares of jungle to hide in. So, he ordered his men back into the boats and pushed further south, to the village of Lastapia.

They arrived in the evening, their shadows lengthening across the wooden jetty at the banks of the village. The babbling ingratitude of children that met them were soon recalled back behind the wary gazes of the villagers, who watched Boto and his men disembark in mute dread.

They wasted no time in corralling the villagers into the centre. Some of the children began to wail when they saw the numbing edifice of their mothers’ faces. The elderly tottered about, huddled against the settling chill of the moon. There were no men, no young ones at least. Except one.

Boto’s men dragged the man from the hole he’d been hiding in, dug into the natural crevice below one of the huts. There were a few meek cries of woe, but none of the villagers stepped beyond the cage of weapons his men had formed. Boto ordered the man be tied to the gnarled trunk of a great wimba tree.

            At first Boto questioned the rebel as politely as he could, in his rough, accented Portuguese. He asked him where the other rebels had fled. He asked him why they had left him in the village. The rebel, eyes slick with hatred, hung lank against the trunk of the tree, arms bound up, twisting red against the ropes. Boto asked the rebel if his comrades came often, to see their wives and children, mothers and fathers. The rebel was silent.

            Boto gave a sad shrug and loosed his men on the rebel. They went in slow at first, striking and insulting their countryman with tensed vigor. Then, with a bray-call, they frenzied about him, each clawing to let fly some part of himself onto the bound man.

            Boto understood this, though he did not condone it. An unbalance had occurred. A schism in the natural order. His men were not compassionate, nor brotherly. Their loyalty was bought for a salary; a few beers higher than the army’s own meagre pay. Most had not known each other for more than a few months. They’d happily put one of their own in the mud if Boto commanded it. Yet the rebels had, in taking the lives of those four men, taken something irreplaceable from Boto’s other men; that fraction of immortality that all soldiers carry with them. A tiny fiction that says, ‘it won’t be me.’

            Boto saw the lineage of their savagery. As he watched his men tear into the rebel, he reminded himself that what he did now was not charged by wrath or vengeance. Rather, he sought to address the same ills his men were too dull to realise afflicted them; he sought to address the equilibrium of the world.

            He crouched by the rebel and lifted the man’s fatigues with the tip of his pistol. His men stood back, panting. Blood poured freely from a puncture in the rebel’s stomach, so dark that it appeared black in the moonlight. Old Boto questioned him until he died, the sweet allure of mercy dangling from his words. Then he gathered his men and marched out of Lastapia, leaving behind a corpse and the lamentations of a mother.

Now he walks past the small bar and the old hotel. Aside from his own house and some fishing huts by the jetty, they are the only other buildings on the island. The owner of the bar, leaning on a wooden pillar, gives a cheerful wave. The man’s daughter smiles at Boto. Crossing the veranda at the front of his house, Boto pauses to remove his muddy boots and he leaves them by the door. He crosses the lacquered floor of the main hall in his socks and ascends the stairs.

            The tiled bathroom is modelled after a French hotel he’d stayed at, a lifetime ago. He is particularly proud of the porcelain freestanding bath, with its ornate, silver legs, around which he has stored scented soaps, imported from Europe. He looks at himself in the oval mirror. Then, turning the tap, he begins to ladle water onto his blood-soaked shirt.

            Pale red water runs down the sides of the white sink. As anticipated, the water does little to wash the blood from his shirt. He removes the shirt and tosses it into the corner of the bathroom. He sees that the blood has soaked through to his vest underneath, a red circle on his stomach.

He walks downstairs to the kitchen. The predawn luminance is bright enough that he doesn’t need to switch on the lights. It is still early, but he can no longer wait for coffee. He lights the stove and sets the water to boil. He rubs his sore palms as he waits.

            He’d waited in the dark for an hour with his men, sat cross-legged on the damp mulch of the forest floor with rifles on their laps. He need not shush them, there was no muttering and no more questions. They did nothing until the sound of muffled footsteps and quick murmurs came creeping through the undergrowth in front of them. The old man opened his eyes and silently gestured for his men to stand.

            They stalked the rebel patrol for hours, heading away from the river and deeper into the jungle. Then, peeking out beyond a copse of kapoks, the flickering light of campfire.

            They crawled up a steep verge on their hands and knees. The rebels had fortified the two paths that led up to their makeshift camp with crude bunkers and barbed wire. Yet the cliffside, they’d left bare. The old man and his men rolled over the edge and crawled on their stomachs up to the first row of tents, where they heard some rebels chatting, with some mirth, about their escapade. One of the rebel seniors told the others to be quiet. Boto and his men waited, unseen.

            Tarpaulins shook in the breeze. Then the whip-crack of gunfire sundered the night. They killed the first two men by firing, point blank, through the tents. Panic flared, as chaos engulfed the camp. A box of ammunition was ignited and began to spit and spark like a firecracker, sending bolts of hot lead flying through the starlit air. The rebels scattered and ducked for cover. Wherever they lay or squatted, they were caught in the screaming crossfire of Boto’s men.  They fell like ragdolls, one by one.

            Then Boto walked through the camp, the imprints in the mud filling with oozing blood. The ammunition crate sent out its last few lead pops as it fizzled out of fuel. The groans of dying men, calling for their mothers, filled the air. Boto turned a still body over with his boot. The boy’s face was half covered in ruby filth. He couldn’t have been much older than sixteen. When his lieutenant asked if they should begin loading the stolen weapons back into their crates, Boto shook his head.

            ‘Leave them,’ he said. ‘And leave the bodies. They will find them in the morning.’ With that, Boto set off back towards the river and the lieutenant asked no more questions.

The moka pot screams. He pours coffee out into a mug and drinks. The last two years have run like clockwork. The rebels came, they paid, they took their arms and they left. Boto has watched as the reds had grown from a few idealists with university educations, to a small paramilitary force manned by ex-military opportunists. Their political action had gone from protests in towns to riots in cities, then arson of the regime’s property, kidnap and extortion, bombings and raids on regime convoys. There is talk of a Russian in their midst, coordinating their operations with an efficiency the rebels have not known before. It appears that the reds are ready for war.

Old Boto smiles. He wonders if they had finally discovered his trade with the regime, or his trade with the fascist rebels on the other side of the basin. Perhaps they have found out about the American agent. No matter. The wheel had been set in motion. 

There is one last task, before the work can begin.

He sets the mug down and goes out of the kitchen, across the hall and down to the basement. It is much cooler here. The rising warmth of the morning outside has yet to seep into the dark stone walls. He takes a large set of keys from his pocket and unlocks a steel door at the far side of the basement. 

The room is dark. On one side is a stack of shelves filled with Party souvenirs, the other has a wardrobe with his old uniforms hung neatly inside, gathering dust. He flicks on the electric light and looks down at the steel case at his feet. With another key, he unlocks the case and moves aside the marked gold bars inside. Feeling around, he finds the false bottom and lifts it. His hand rests on something cool.

He pauses.

This new world is more complex than the last. In war, there had been a strange kind of cohesion to his thoughts. The logic assembled itself. His desires aligned perfectly with the rhetoric of his superiors. He did not question the horror of what they must do because it was apparent that it was necessary. For how else was his mind to preserve itself in the enactment of that duty? Was it so profane to be part of an ordained cycle, to cut back the bracken so that flowers might bloom? He now yearns for simplicity, a time when the rules and customs were clear, where lines were drawn and neatly kept. Nostalgia boils his imagination. His emotions will not cloud his reason.

So, it is strange when, for the first time in many years, Boto feels an odd sensation creep into his chest. A tightness. A feeling of uncertainty.

In his hands is a small prism, perfectly equal on all four of its perfectly smooth sides. It hardly weighs anything. Even in the gloom of the small basement, it appears to shine with a brightness of its own, bringing a clarity to the shadows through the refractions of its crystalline innards. Yet it brings no clarity to the old man, who, even as he stands there, moments into his decision, feels the miasma of doubt cloud his mind.

He locks the door behind him. He proceeds upstairs, holding the prism at his side as he might carry a pair of glasses. Thinking, perhaps, that his feigned disinterest will reduce the significance of what sits in his palm.

Up a second flight of stairs, he walks out onto the balcony. From here he can see the rest of King’s Island and the full length of Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira; its white beach and bright riverside buildings, tucked away between dense patches of undergrowth and stooping palm clusters. Between his island and the town, the black river flows.

He places the prism on the oak table at the end of the long balcony. He draws himself up, closes his eyes and takes a long, slow breath. Satisfied, he walks back into the house.

Here he leaves the little prism, in the dank rise of the morning air, across from a town of unknowing sleepers, in the heart of an immense beauty, on a world of minds; bright as snow. Here the sun rises, slivers of sunlight darting through the boughs of the trees to the east, cresting over the dark flow of the wide river below. As the amber light strokes the walls of the house and creeps over the lip of the balcony, so too does it touch the thirsting side of the prism and its light is divided into the infinite spectrum of the universe.

End of extract.

Paddy can be reached at paddymdobson@gmail.com

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