Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Saga of Hoplite - The Story So Far

I've got this Twitter account I'm playing around with trying to tell a superhero story 140 characters a time. It's been a really fun experience, and I would recommend it to anyone out there thinking of starting a Twitter novel. You can check out the account at The Saga of Hoplite, but to make it easier to get into the story (since it's over 100 Tweets strong and is displayed in reverse on Twitter), I've rearranged the story into traditional prose:

Buckets fell like it was the end of the world. The bronze of his Corinthian helm softened the endless drops. He glanced down all 27 stories. He let his helm drop, then his shield. He was left with the short stubby sword; it would do. The job was easy; the getting to it was hard. Looking back as his tools clanged against the concrete below, he regretted the damage done to the structure, what was next would be worse. He pushed slowly against the wall towards his target. Gravity and the gods would do the work of building his momentum. He eyed his landing. He was hoping he read the scene right - the things looked like giant Buicks on legs. He'd seen his share of mad science, but this felt off. The three machines kept watch. Though bulky, they had a feminine quality. He only had seconds - he plunged, bringing his fists together. His momentum grew faster than it had a right to. He braced for first contact, fists clenched. Too late he realized where he'd seen them.

A flash of greasy light and his surroundings morphed. He crashed into concrete a second later, right arm snapping, taking the full impact. Fire surrounded him. The air was dry, still. His eyes took time to adjust while he struggled to understand the constant murmuring. Words began forming slowly. He began to recognize the language as ancient Greek. He kept thinking he knew bits of it. "Abraxas." He turned. Stark clarity came to him, although what he saw was impossible, even by his standards. He was in the center of an arena. He was surrounded. Those around him appeared undisturbed. Taking in his surroundings, there were people of all ages and dressed from all periods of time. Looking up, he realized he was in a huge structure with wooden walls and slated ceilings far off in all directions. The fire sat in hearths. "Abraxas" the voice came again, three voices in unison. Focusing, he turned his attention and joined the crowds. He made his way forward. A great creaking filled his ears - filled the entire place. He winced, but moved forward. He could see in the distance a great wooden wheel. The wheel appeared to be part of a greater fixture turning as a cog in the great machine. He approached what appeared to be a sort of stage.

Abe knew the crowd was there for this. The place's true purpose. He could see three women on stage. They appeared to be tied together. He could be sure of nothing in this place. It felt like a cozy home with hearth and heat to comfort those who were lost. Why was he here? He approached the three women. They shared an unnatural resemblance. One was ancient, one was middle-aged, and the last was a young girl. He saw now that their hair was tied together, wound into a great thread. The wheel turned slowly and their hair was pulled around its edge. The thread was pulled into the ground, out of site and its purpose only guessed at. In unison the women looked to Abraxas and spoke. "Abraxas of House Baros. You have much to hear but will remember little from your time here. Heed our words or the doom finally befalls you. Three fates will be revealed to you as we stand here and work." There was a pause as Abe realized the voice was one but with shadows. Each word shifted the focus to a different woman and like clockwork the other two spoke. He couldn't rightly call it an echo.

"First beware the last." There was silence. "The last? The last what? That's not even a full sentence. Seriously, sentence fragments?" The women ignored Abe's outburst. "Next you must guard the dark cygnus" "The dark what? Anybody have pen and paper?" His right arm throbbed. He saw spots and realized his right side was drenched with blood from his arm. He knew going to sleep would fix it. But he needed to listen. Dragged back to reality by spots in front of his eyes, he remembered the scene he left on the roof. Sleep wasn't going to come for awhile... He heard laughter from behind him, it was quiet, but he thought pervasive. He still didn't know where he was. He was losing it quickly."Abraxas" They spoke. "Abe," the youngest took a step away from the wheel. She alone spoke next. "The woman's fate is set. We're so sorry." "The woman's...? Which woman?" She resumed her position at the wheel. "This is crap, I need to get back there. Can you send me" He was back.

He blinked away the rain before getting thrown across the roof by a giant wall of metal moving faster than his brain could catch up with. He wouldn't have much time, but it looked like the sisters hadn't made their move, and the building still had time before it came down. He drew sword with his left hand, thankful that his right took the hit, while he took 8 long, quick strides towards the nearest Mechawitch. Her attention turned, Abe knew to aim for the control unit. Who ever sat on the other end of the controller this time was anyone's guess. Their sister fallen, the two remaining bots turned. screeching like a car with loose belts. Abe regained his sword, preparing for the rush. The rush didn't come. They both turned away, raised their arms, and started smashing the rooftop with hydraulic arms. Just what Abe feared. The roof was rocking, and Abe could feel the supports give way beneath his feet. Finally remembering the threat he came to stop, he lunged. He couldn't let the building fall, not with what it contained. He knew they'd be guarding the controls; he desperately went for the legs. He couldn't let the building fall, not with what it contained. He knew they'd be guarding the controls; he desperately went for the legs.

Praying to Hephaestus their impacts wouldn't topple the building, he slashed wildly at the pumps and tubes working to keep the bots upright. Their screams intensified but at least the roof stopped shaking. He knew his sword wouldn't finish them off, so he jumped between them. Their engines running madly, sending more fuel to the failing pumps in the legs, the bots broke free of their control; they raged on wildly. "Well, that definitely did not work as planned." He felt the foundation shake below as he dodged their heavy fists. The sisters battled. It wouldn't be long, he had to act. Sheathing his sword he leaped as the next blow came and gripped the giant appendage with his whole body. As he hoped, the bot he grabbed aimed to smash him against the hardest surface within reach - its sister. He had to time it perfectly. It wasn't perfect. He hadn't figured the rain as his grip slipped, instead of smoothly sliding off the arm before the punch, he flew. He felt the shockwave as the two connected and he was already falling off the roof. He twisted to confirm danger had passed. The bots fell. The sisters struggled every story they fell. Abe was falling at a much slower pace, but falling nonetheless. This was going to hurt... alot.

He couldn't help but smile despite falling 23 stories. Whoever lured him into this trap had failed and the items inside would be safe now. The rain had picked up. He hadn't noticed it during the fight, but it was nice now, for at least two more seconds he could enjoy the fall. He heard an incredible crash just below him, and then he hit. His gamble paid off. The pain was beyond comparison, but he still had a pulse. His vision became a screen door, then thick spots took over and his eyes swelled. Every joint felt like it'd popped. Eyes closed, he slept.

It was a strange bed, and a strange place to wake up. He sat up and looked around. It was dark, and felt like he was underground near water. It wasn't a hospital; he knew what it was like to wake up after a particularly brutal fight in a well-lit room full of concerned faces. He was still in the blood-stained clothes he fought in yesterday. Oddly, he found a suit and tie hanging for him along with his weapons. Changed, he wore helm and shield around neck and shoulders. He wore the sword as he had the day before and grabbed his spear. It was dark. He took a few steps out away from the bed and realized her earlier feeling was true - he was at the far end of a large underground lake. He assumed there was a far side, but the darkness was thick. "So," he said to the darkness, "Abby, how the hell did you get yourself here?" A cold glow grew from the borders of the lake as blue flood lights slowly activated. He guess it was some kind of automatic system. "Hello?" he shouted. There was no use in being stealthy here, whoever had helped him obviously was in control, but possibly an ally.

"Mr. Hoplite," a voice from above, likely a speaker of some sort, "Unless you'd like to swim, you'll just have to wait for the boat." A slow but steady splosh could now be heard far away. Abby thought he recognized the voice. It was silky smooth with an underlying threat. With the lights raised, the cavern was still dark, but the small boat came within view. The style was Greek bireme, but mini, with 1 rower. He didn't recognize the design, whatever it was, the robot was homemade. It's purpose was singular as its arms were fused to the oars. It reached his side. "I suppose you're the taxi, insulting as this 'replica' is." The robot didn't reply. He grabbed the boat and hopped in. The voice boomed from above, "Mr. Hoplite, it is simply an homage, the best I could do on short notice. You could be more grateful." "And you could less ominous," he replied under his breath. "What was that?" the voice spoke, "You'll have to speak up." Abe didn't reply. The trip across the lake was taking forever. "So who am I talking to?" He shouted upwards. "No need to raise your voice," said the boat.

"Clever enough, I guess... Well? You now my name, but I don't know yours. That's not fair." The robot was silent momentarily. Its mouth lit. "I am... a benefactor of your cause, Hoplite. Or is Abraxas, or do you go by Abby now? It's hard to keep up." "It's Abe." He replied. "Ah, yes, Abe it is then." The sploshing of oars continued softly in the background. "Abe, I have a question for you, and I demand honesty." "It seems you've got my attention. And, seeing as how you won't tell me even your name, or where I'm going, why is my honesty questioned?" "Perhaps I misspoke," came the voice again, now from the robot in the boat. Abe appreciated this change - it at least felt more civilized. "How do I say this? Abe, I need you to concentrate on gathering your memories here before you answer..." Abe cut him off, "What the hell?" "Why are we going in circles? I know there've been a couple of forks already, but you always steer me away again. Just be straight with me." "You still don't know who I am? I could have sworn you've been been. My mistake, if you'd kindly watch the monitor," the voice demanded.

The rowing robot's face separated as a small tv monitor was revealed. There was static as the video began. It looked to Abe to be the news. "This is Laura Remington for Channel 4 news team. It appears the Hoplite, after successfully saving the Oswalt museum of Ancient History, was then thrown off the top of its 23 stories by the rampaging sister bots. He appears to be moving, but the police have cut off access." A voice from off camera questioned her, "Laura, is there any news of what the cause of this fight was? Why were the sisters attacking?" "I'm afraid there's no revelations yet. Witnesses say the sisters' only purpose seemed to be to tear the building down. Wait, what is that?" The anchor turns around as the camera's focus switches from her to over her shoulder. It focuses on the spot of the Hoplite's fall. A black blanket has covered all the area sectioned off around Abe. It seemingly appears from nowhere. It's clear the anchor is startled. The blanket - or whatever it is - seems to contract in an instant and shoots straight up. Its hard to tell whether it was pulled or flew. All that's left is the crater Abe made with his body. The anchor looks back at the camera with wide eyes. The screen goes black. It is dark.

The flood lights from lit back up. Abe raised an eyebrow, "I couldn't help but notice we've stopped moving." Abe heard the robot chuckle. It was the laugh of his 'benefactor'. "I'm afraid you've got it all wrong Hoplite. You haven't been moving, but the cave is now still, yes." Abe wondered about the sanity of the man behind the robot. What a ridiculously expensive charade, but he could now confirm his suspicion. "Black Swan, I'm afraid we haven't met, well, I haven't met you, but you're probably pretty familiar with me at this point. Creeper. What's the point of all this anyway?" Abe continued. The robot finally lit back up and Abe could hear breathing on the other end. "Took a little longer than I hoped for you to solve that one Abe, but what can I expect from an old man?" Abe was confused "What are you..." "Don't interrupt me." The Swan stopped him in mid-sentence. Something in his voice made Abe follow the command, but he wasn't sure what.

Black Swan continued, "At what point does comfortable become tedious? When does familiar becomes predictable? How long does it take?" Abe felt the need to speak up - none of this was making sense and he was getting sick of trying to wait this out. He had heard rumors... Rumors of the Swan's eccentricities. Some who knew him called him a fascist behind his back while lauding him praises in public. "Abraxas Baros, how many lifetimes does one have to live before he wishes he could just curl up and die?" "You're starting to piss me off." "It's time Swan, show me the way out and never talk to me again. If I see you on the street, like that could ever happen, I won't stop." "There'll come a day when you need help and all of your high-tech crap won't save you. Guess what? Neither will I." Abe sat, waiting.

Nothing happened for a while as he awaited a response and nothing came. He began to eye the walls and the ceiling trying to find a way out. He tore off an arm from the robot oarman and was using it to pull the boat towards one of the floodlight-lit walls, hoping it'd be easy. He stood in the boat near ready to climb the craggy wall assuming he'd be able to punch his way out towards the surface when he got up top. Shoulder socket still sparking, the silicone silhouette sprung back to life, startling the shocked soldier. Abe fell backwards in the boat. The sounds that came from the broken bot sounds less like an imitation of a voice and more like an old tape recording of events long ago. It was his voice, or close enough since it wasn't his accent, and he didn't think he was actually speaking English. How'd he understand it? The sound seemed to be far away from the recording device, and it was difficult to make out. He believed there were actually two voices.

As he leaned in towards the bot, he exerted his ears to hear a little more. it sounded like two of him, or at least him talking to himself. It was difficult to make out what they were talking about. There were regular cracks in the transmission - almost like it was an old record. The odd version of him: "I'm so -KZZK- there just isn't enough -KZZK- to warn you... likely you won't remember -KZZK-" Abe sate, mouth open. "You're -KZZK- to be chased. Don't believe -KZZK- Swan. Oh you don't know what I'm talking -KZZK-... don't even know -KZZK-" Abe heard what sounded like him talk "I don't -KZZK- got my armor, but I'd -KZZK- it anywhere. Why are -KZZK- perpetrating this fraud?" The strange one replied "Just listen. You're -KZZK- to be followed, just remember!" At the end of this plea the voice neared the microphone. "If you won't -KZZK- seeing me, I at least know how you'll -KZZK- be able to hear me. Abe, -KZZK- the Swan was -KZZK-" There was a pause.

That's it for now! Check the Twitter account for regular updates to the story!

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