When I first started writing fiction, one of the stories I wanted to write one day was a post-apocalyptic tale. In my mind it was about a man and a boy trying to survive in the new wilderness of earth. I even started it. Here are the first few paragraphs.
A leaf floating on currents of air, glides gently ever closer to its landing. As all leaves must, this one fell from a tree. The last of the season. It hung on tenaciously as the air grew colder and the rains came. A gust of wind finally shook it loose and the leaf–brittle and brown, the green of summer long forgotten–twists and turns as it rides the tail of the gust to the ground.
The leaf lands on the cement and is immediately flipped back into the air by a new gust. Over and over it tumbles and falls again, into the hands of a boy. He holds it gently and looks at it closely. If the boy were to handle the leaf roughly, it would crumble into a dozen dry pieces. It is fragile, much like the boy who holds it.
The boy is filthy, the whites of his eyes a stark contrast within the grime that covers his body. His clothes are nothing more than rags. Tattered and ripped, barely covering what they are supposed to cover. If he doesn’t find clothes soon, he will certainly die from the elements. The fact that he survived as long as he has is a miracle. He held on, though, exhibiting a tenaciousness and inner strength that belies his slight build and fragile exterior.
From a side street, Hollister watches the boy and looks up and down the street to see if anybody else is around. As he glances at the boy, Hollister sees him double over and grimace. Hollister knows the reason and the feeling of the hunger the boy is experiencing. He has doubled over himself many times in the two years since the end of the world. When he hasn’t eaten for days, the hunger grips him. Hollister dreams of treats he hasn’t had for months. A pizza with cheese stringing from the slice to his mouth as he bites the tip and pulls the piece away, swallowing without really chewing because it is so hot. A good stew of beef, carrots and potatoes with gravy thickened and ladled over them. Beer. Heck, he’d take a warm, flat beer now.
Hollister wonders what the boy dreams of when doubled over with hunger pains.
Taking a chance, Hollister steps out onto the street and approaches the boy. From a block away, he can see that he underestimated the extent of the boy’s frailty. His bones jut out at the shoulders and elbows and hips. His ribs make a line of railroad tracks up both sides of his chest.
Then I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and realized my effort was futile. There was no way I would ever be able to improve upon Mr. McCarthy’s epic tale. (Note to self: go read The Road again.)
Fast forward a few years and I started writing a story about a space ship. A huge space ship. You see, the experts had figured out that life on Earth would soon be wiped out by a comet storm. They also had identified an Earth-like planet that would sustain human life. If they could only figure out how to get human life to that planet … which required almost 100 years of travel.
Hence the space ship. Complete with a biosphere for plants and animals and the like. And a couple hundred citizens of Earth who were in suspended hibernation so they could survive the trip and arrive almost 100 years later alive and ready to colonize this new planet.
But you know, things happen and when they land, things aren’t quite as the planners had planned. That story, Carlota, is another project started and stopped along the way.
I went to see a movie today. One of the previews was for a movie called Passengers. Guess what? It’s about a huge space ship, with all sorts of people in suspended hibernation to survive a 125 year trip through space.
There are significant differences between Carlota and Passengers, but that the foundational elements are so similar really … pisses me off. Here are the opening paragraphs of Carlota. It may give you an idea of where I was headed … a sexy, space romp.
She opened her eyes with a start. Surrounded by darkness, Carlota Rojas could see nothing. She was in the Medellin apartment her lover had kept for her. Thirty years her senior, he preferred pitch blackness when they made love, the better to preserve the virile image he projected – even with Carlota.
Carlota began to run her hands down her body, lingering one on her breast, thinking she might play with herself before rising to greet the day.
And then she remembered. This cocoon wasn’t the comfortable prison Andres had arranged for her in the heart of Medellin. Instead, it was a white capsule, shaped like an egg out of a bad sci-fi movie. Carlota wasn’t ensconced in the expensive sheets and comforters shipped in from Paris. Instead, she was suspended in a warm current of air that flowed quietly around her.
* * *
It all sounded so easy. “Sleep for 100 years or so,” Andres Sebastian, the Colombian President, said to her as he stroked Carlota’s thigh. “You wake up and you’re there.” His hand began to travel along the glorious curve of her hip. “Safe, as I have kept you,” he whispered as his hand began to tease her nipple.
“What of you?” Carlota asked quietly, placing her hand on his and guiding it down her body.
“You know the answer to that question. Only one can go.” He kissed her in the hollow of her neck. “I have selected you.”
“Andres.” Carlota snuggled in to him and gave herself to him for the last time.
In the morning, when it was announced that the President’s mistress, the not-so-well-kept secret of the past seven years, would be Colombia’s representative on the rescue ship, riots prevented Andres from what he had hoped to be the crowning end of his leadership. A motorcade through the heart of Medellin, Colombian flags on the corner of the hood whipping in the wind, ticker tape, and crowds screaming their adulation for him and placing their dreams in Carlota, who would be able to stand up through the car’s sun roof and wave to the adoring masses. As it became clear that the din was for his head, Andres whisked Carlota away in a helicopter.
With the wind of the propellers whipping around them, leaving Carlota’s dress clinging to her curves, Andres placed his hands on her hips and pulled her to him one last time. While she put her hand on his cheek and looked into his eyes, tears clouding her own – tears she cursed the moment she felt them, he kissed her and whispered one last time to her. “Be safe and honor Colombia.”
Early the next morning, Carlota was hurried off the airplane, bundled into a limousine and eventually delivered to a top secret location on the plains of West Texas. In a bunker, buried several hundred feet below the surface, as the airlock whooshed shut behind her, Carlota came face to face with Colonel James Snell. Six feet, four inches of crew-cut, ramrod straight, military muscle.
“Ah, Ms. Rojas.” Colonel Snell bowed to her. “I am most pleased to meet you. Your President has made an excellent choice. Our colony on Mundus will be the better for your beauty.”
I’m choosing to ignore Passengers or treat it as nothing other than a possible motivation to revisit Carlota and her charms.