On Venusian Cloud Colony Number Nine: Chapter 4 Scene 4

One of the closed doors off the entryway had a sign naming it as Azu’s office.  The host opened the door, and gestured for Barney to enter.

Barney assessed the room.  The wall paint and flooring was in no better condition than in the main area of the house, and a high, narrow rectangular window let in some light.  A white grain wood table sat in the centre of the space, adorned with a fluorescent light, a notepad and a pen.  A pair of slightly rusted filing drawers in the back corner, with a set of decrepit jewel analysis tools sitting atop them.

It looked like a barely functional office, let alone for someone in the precious jewels trade.

Barney looked to Azu with a raised eyebrow.  “You do know presentation is important when it comes to people wanting your business, right?”

The man gave him a beaming smile.  “My efforts are channelled into the presentation of the raw material brought to me.  I may not do as much business as those down the road, but the quality trumps the quantity.  Basic economics then determines the price of my work.”

“True enough.  The less of a valuable good raises the price.  But it wouldn’t let you have a more presentable house?”

“I only tell you this because I trust you.  Claudio does not send just anyone to see me, so I shall do the same.  It’s all for show.  The people at DMC are extremely devious, and try to destroy their competition.  Many other companies from other countries tried to establish a base here, but usually pulled out under unexplained circumstances.  Because the house and office are very modest, they do not see me as competition.”

“Even with the quality of your work?”

“They go for quality and quantity.  I don’t let greed cloud my work, or unsustainable supply practices.  My work volume is not enough to threaten them.”

Azu went to the drawers, opened the top drawer of the left set.   He flicked through the file dividers, finding a spot and reaching in.  He quickly removed his arm and shut the drawer.  The top half of the drawers separated slightly, just enough for a set of fingers to reach in between.  Azu did so, and then braced himself as he pulled.  The top half quietly slid along the wall, revealing a lighted panel hiding within the lower drawers of the set closest to the room’s corner.

“It’s a one person elevator.  Watch your step, as it starts descending the moment weight is placed on it.”

Azu stepped over and onto the panel, a low hum starting immediately.  He lowered slowly, disappearing into pitch black.  Barney heard a click, and saw the glow of white light just before the panel returned to his level.  As he descended, he was astounded at the difference between this underground room and those above as light flooded the room.

This room was the embodiment of the precious jewels maker.  Fluorescent tube lights shone down from the ceiling, bathing every surface in a sanitising white light.  A central bench had a jewellery lathe and a polishing wheel at its centre, and all the other machinery required for diamond cutting and polishing.  The walls were covered in picture frames, some showing pictures of cut diamonds and others certificates or awards.  Glass cases sat below them, with some unsightly cut diamonds within them, with dates and a number.  The crudest looking item had number one.

Barney looked to Azu with shocked surprise.  “I have to apologise.”

The African smiled that broad smile.  “No need at all.  That you reacted that way shows the effect I am attempting works well.”

“And those DMC people wouldn’t suspect this portion of the house exists?”

“They may, but they don’t know how to get in here.  The old, decrepit tools I have above are what I show when I’m asked what I use.  Though they are very old, they actually work.  The only issue is the time it takes me to complete the process.  I do use them every now and then.”  After the pair sat opposite each other at the bench, Azu held out a hand.  “May I have Claudio’s gift?”

Barney nodded, and handed over the container with the materials inside.  “I must warn you though.  Best you wear gloves, just in case.”

The man shrugged, and pulled out a pair of latex gloves from underneath the bench.  Once he put them on, he removed the lid of the container.  His expression did not give much away as he held the material, turning it in his hand to look at it from various angles.

He frowned as he looked back up to Barney.  “And Claudio says this is Carbonado?   I have never seen a raw diamond that looks like a clump of melted wax.”

Barney nodded.  “He scanned it multiple times.  It came up with same answer.”

Azu shrugged again.  “He has the best assessment gear, so I’ll trust his word.  They don’t give you unreliable work gear when they send you to another planet.”

He reached over and picked up a small hand-held diamond saw, and carefully sliced a small portion off the side of the clump of material.  It was like a butcher cutting into a ham, saying that the saw was extremely sharp.  He sliced again, removing the very thin portion with two flat edges.   Placing it on the dark panel, he pushed a button that made the panel light up brighter than the lights above.  He reached into a drawer under the panel, pulling out a little black eyepiece, through which he looked at the sliver of Carbonado.  He sat back suddenly, speaking a word Barney did not know.

Barney looked at him concernedly.  “What is it?”

Azu looked at him, shock on his face.  “It is definitely Carbonado, but I’ve never seen something moving within a black diamond before.”

– X –

Advertisements

On Venusian Cloud Colony Number Nine: Chapter 4 Scene 3

For a diamond and precious jewels supplier, Azubuike did not live it up.

The inside of the house was surprisingly close to poverty.  The white paint flaked from every wall, and the roof had stains indicating water leakage.  The floors were wood panelling, but worn down and lacking polish.  There was a slight intrusion of the red dust, though it was confined to the floor and the lower portion of the walls.  The light along the passage to the front door indicated that several doors leading off into rooms were closed.

Azu continued his queries as he walked around the kitchen.  Collecting a cutting board and fishing knife from a cupboard and drawer respectively, he began to prepare the fish on the island.

“I cannot imagine living and working in such conditions.  Life is hard enough here, let alone requiring a reinforced body suit to even step outside.”

Barney shrugged his shoulders.  “You do what you need to do.”

He looked around the rooms near the kitchen.  An old cathode ray television, with a set top box sitting on its top, was placed within a sealed glass case against a side wall.  A pair of three-seat couches sat beside each other, showing the prominent shade of red that seemed to infiltrate everything.

“Tell me, Azu.  Do you make much money?”

The man’s face broke into a wide grin.  “I do well enough.”  He gestured with the knife towards the front door, with small drops of fish blood falling onto the kitchen bench.  “Unlike our corporate friends through there, I do not make a point of flaunting my wealth with fancy items.”

“What do you spend your money on, then?”

“I work with agriculturalists in trying to grow a greater variety of sustainable crops on the outskirts of Bangui.  The majority of the population rely on the food they produce for themselves, hardy foods such as grain and tubers.  We look to get new crops covering all the requirements of a diet, and can easily be grown by all people.”

“Is it working out?”

Azu chuckled to himself.  “The land is what it is, and will grow what it can.  Some things work out better than others, but we focus on supporting hardier strains of various food types and making them sustainable.”

Completing the filleting of the fish he had caught, he placed four pieces in a small oven placed on the bench.  As he closed the door of the oven, a squeaking metal sound came from the front of the house.  Barney turned to the source of the sound, as a lady walked down the corridor with some shopping bags hanging from her forearm.

She was a slender lady, her full-length body wrap showing a narrow build with understated curves, who shared the same skin colour as Azu.   Her hair was short and tightly ringed, which helped highlight her wide brown eyes and her large pink and brown lips.  She looked at the unexpected guest, giving a small smile before conversing with Azu in a language Barney could not understand.  The pair spoke animatedly for a minute or two, until she nodded and turned back to Barney.

“Hello.  My name is Shasa.”  Her accent was heavy, and her English spoken with the hesitancy of one not used to using it.

“I am Barnaby.  Pleased to meet you.”  The pair shook hands formally, with the lady giving a small tilt of her head before turning to the kitchen cupboards and beginning to put away the items she had brought from the shops.

Barney looked to Azu.  “Your English is very good.  Do many people here in Bangui speak it well?”

“No.  We have many dialects, French being the most common.  The most common native language is called Sangho.  Shasa speaks Sangho and French, but I learned English during my studies overseas.”

Barney nodded.  “Where did you study?”

“At ETH in Zurich.  I could say the full name of the university, but it is quite the mouthful.  It was there that I met Claudio, and we studied together.  Our thesis was based on the comparatives of black diamond to the other forms of diamond, and how it seems the two types were created in different ways.  We concluded that no possible method of black diamond creation existed on Earth, whereas high-pressure volcanic activity allows white diamonds and other different shades.”

A small bell sounded, and Azu turned back to the small oven.  He quickly turned the fish, pressing on it slightly with the tongs to see how much moisture remained.  Nodding to himself, he closed the door again.

Shasa completed her packing away, and closed the door to the pantry.  As she turned, her eyes narrowed.  She looked around the room, seemingly focussed on something.  She said something to Azu in Sangho, which made him do a similar analysis of the room.  After a moment, he shrugged his shoulders and spoke to her.  She said something to Azu in a harsh tone, before beginning to move around the kitchen.

Barney looked to Azu.  “What was that?  Have I made her uncomfortable?”

Azu shook his head, waving a hand side to side for further emphasis.  “Not at all.  She is sensitive to spirits and other supernatural things.  She said she felt a presence in the room, but I told her she was incorrect.  Like most ladies, she doesn’t like men saying they are wrong.”

As he laughed, the bell of the oven sounded again.  “I’ll get a lemon and some pepper while Shasa makes the side dishes.  It will be basic fare, but the fish from the Ubangi River are very good.  Once we finish lunch, we can head downstairs.”

Barney nodded, before looking to the floor in confusion.  It was a single storey house.

– X –

Reading Thoughts, and Visiting an (Extremely Possessive) Old Friend!

READING NOW

‘The Gathering Storm’ by Brandon Sanderson (Book 12 of the ‘Wheel of Time’ series)

ONGOING THOUGHTS

The one thing that was regularly levelled at the series was how it seemed to get too involved in the micro-management of the characters.  Yes, the evil is seeping is back into the world, we understand that is affecting everyone.  The cast of central characters is large, without even looking at the first- and second-level supporting characters.

It is still there, but Brandon is doing a wonderful job in balancing the scale.  There are still the first- and second-level characters, but putting them into scenes together instead of giving them their own sections does not make it seem so much like padding.

Enjoying it so far, but there is still over three quarters of the book to go (200 of 824).  Brandon is proving that his choice to complete the WoT series was a very good one =)

– X –

I admit that, due to other tasks having been set, my ‘Big Project’ has been sorely neglected.  Efforts to find a readable and study-worthy copy of Avicenna or Galen’s medical manuals have been fruitless, and caused the complete stall of Chapter 4.

The purpose of my short stories was to give a break from a stalled project, and hopefully connect the neurons through another outlet.  ‘Mune and Mura’ helped to a degree, as ti got me through ‘Big Project’ Chapter 3 and up into Chapter 4.  OVCC#9 got started, and was going great guns until ‘Sayeh and Zia’ popped into my head once Chapter 2 was completed.

And now that OVCC#9 and S&Z are being juggled, the brain has (somewhat) unconsciously returned my focus to the ‘Big Project’.  The weather data tracking is now up to Book 6, and the brain is doing everything it can to keep me focused on getting all the locale weather data up to date RIGHT NOW!

This was a slightly long-winded way of apologising again for my Muse trying to throw many balls at me to juggle.  The data tracking will be completed tonight, in time for the Easter long weekend.  Four whole days!  My solemn vow is that there will be a scene from both OVCC#9 and S&Z posted by the end of this long weekend, and I will do my utmost to get some scenes ahead so my stalled brain does not cause lacking posts.

– X –

Post 146.  Five more to go…

Reading Thoughts, Ongoing Research, and Writing Self-Analysis

JUST FINISHED

‘Siege of Darkness’ by R.A.  Salvatore (Book 9 of the ‘Legend of Drizzt’ series)

VERDICT

Now THAT is how you do an epic war scene!  70 pages and completely enthralling.  That’s what I love about Salvatore’s writing; the fight scenes are awesome whether large or small.

READING NOW

‘The Gathering Storm’ by Brandon Sanderson (Book 12 of the ‘Wheel of Time’ series)

– X –

The up to date data assembly for the seven locales in my first two ‘Path of’ books have just been completed.  It may seem a small thing, but it helps decide how the character outfits are going to adapt over the course of the series.  It is comforting that some wardrobe changes that were to occur much later in the series (Book 5) can actually begin earlier, and it can feed into one aspect of the wider story to push logically towards the half-way ‘Game Changer’.

– X –

Reading the blogs of my followers, it seems that a common area of pain is the much-maligned proof-reading portion of writing.  Spending all that time listening to the narrator in your head, and only finding out later that its word assembly and thought process can be very illogical and hard to read, is a humbling thing…

Hmm, grammar check did not like that last sentence.

Proof-reading must be done, and it must NOT be done in the wee hours of the morning when you need to be ready for work the next day.

– X –

The last week and a bit were comparatively unproductive writing-wise.  I think there was one lesson learned:  trying to be too faithful to scene setting when it is based on a more recent real-world locale is setting oneself up for procrastination and the emergence of the inner negative voice.  Writing a fantasy novel, however, gives one leeway when the locale is an ancient one and no longer standing as it once did.  Being too close to the real world shuts down your word flow, while a greater degree of freedom makes them flow that much more easily.

– X –

Post 144…

On Venusian Cloud Colony Number Nine: Chapter 4 Scene 2

It was like a home away from home.

As Barney stepped out of the terminal of the Bangui M’Poko International Airport, the humidity of the locale became readily apparent.  He opened his luggage bag and carefully placed his jacket from Geneva inside.  Closing that, he opened his carry-on bag to remove his tablet computer.

The screen showed that the path to Claudio’s contact was a rather direct one.  Taking a right straight out of the airport onto the Avenue de France, his destination was just over eight kilometres away.  Barney knew that converted to around five miles, the running distance that Woody bragged he had never been defeated over.  The road transformed into Rue du Languedoc, with the right turn further along onto Rue du l’Industrie.  Barney chuckled to himself, seeing a commonality between Bangui and Geneva, two very different cities in two very different countries.

Walking along, Barney saw that everything was covered in red dust.  A great majority of the modest high-rise buildings he walked past had white renders that had been turned shades of red and pink by the intrusion of the dust from the deserts to the north.  The black bitumen of the road was almost completely hidden beneath a blanket of rust-coloured particles, but for the parallel lines left by the cars driving along.  He had to walk as far from the road as he could to avoid the spray as they passed, though he could not avoid a light covering.

Arriving at Rue du l’Industrie, Barney saw that the street was lined with office buildings that looked a deal more European than the rest of the city he had seen on his walk.  They had different modern designs, though the prevalence of glass windows seemed the link.  Many of the buildings were emblazoned with the letters DMC in large script.  As Barney walked down the street, he saw the words ‘Diamond & Minerals Collective’ running beneath the larger letters.

His directions said that his destination was at the end of the street.  Continuing onward, he saw a shack that was dwarfed by the other buildings on the street.  It definitely looked like it belonged in the city, with its discoloured white render and a more aged look.  A wooden sign swung in the breeze from the gutter outside the front door, with the words ‘Olapa Gems’ carved into it.  A decrepit metal flywire door, with lines of dark red rust running amongst the white dust and metal frame, let Barney see into the corridor.  The inside looked similar to the outside, with an aged timber floor and peeling paint.  He turned the handle on the flywire, but it was locked.  Looking further inside, he could see an open door at the back of the house, which led out onto a pier.  At its end, a lone figure sat on a plastic chair, facing away towards the river.  A metal bucket sat next to the chair.

Barney walked around the exterior of the house to try and find his way to the pier.  The area was covered in the all-pervading red dust, with small clumps of grass finding their way out of it.  As he reached the backyard, he saw the pier stretched about ten meters into the river.  From the new angle, it could be seen that the person sitting down was fishing.

“Hey there, bud!”

The figure turned to face Barney.  The exposed skin of the man’s face and chest had a slight coating of red dust, which did not hide the deep black tone of his skin.  He wore a loose and ragged singlet, along with an equally shabby pair of running shorts, and had bare feet bare feet.  Barney did not blame him, feeling the sweat clinging to his own body underneath his polo shirt and jeans.  The less clothing sticking to your body, the better.

“Would you be…”  Barney tried to read the name Claudio had given him.  “Azubuike Olapa?”

The onyx man laughed, showing slightly yellowed teeth and pale pink gums.  “Just call me Azu.  It’s easier for everyone.”  He reached down to the pier floor, and out of Barney’s view pulled a pair of fish.  “I’ve caught lunch early for once.”  He stood up from his chair, and began to walk back towards the house.  “Come on over here, don’t be shy.  We can share some of these.”

Barney fairly drooled at the thought as he walked towards the door at the back of house.  “You have no idea how long I’ve been hanging out for a fresh fish.”

Azu gave him a measuring gaze as Barney came closer.  “You look like a native sort.  Where do you hail from?”

“Nhulunbuy.  The Northern Territory in Australia.”

The African man whistled.  “I feel honoured you have travelled so far to see me, though I am wondering why.”

Barney smiled.  “I’ve travelled a slightly further distance to get your expertise.  A bloke named Claudio Grisogno sent me your way.”

Azu’s eyes widened considerably.  “You’re kidding me!  He sent you here from Venus?”

Barney nodded, slightly raising his carry bag.  “I have a sample of diamond he thinks you can provide some expertise with.”

The man’s eyes narrowed angrily as he put a hushing finger to his lips.  “Don’t be saying stuff like that in the open.  Those DMC parasites in their glass towers would be all over you.”  He looked at the carry bag.  “You didn’t declare the goods at the airport?  The staff there would have reported any such items to their masters for a measly couple of dollars.”

A brief shake of his head calmed Azu’s darkened gaze.  The African’s face lightened quickly and became friendly once again.  “Come on inside.  My wife is up at the shops, and should be back soon.  There should be some reasonable side dishes to go with the fish.”

As the pair moved into the house, Azu began a lengthy query on what it was like to work on what was considered the most oppressive work environment known to man.

– X –

Reading Thoughts, Long-Term Research Projects, Reader Feedback Request, and Inadvertent Spoilers!

JUST FINISHED

‘Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves’ by Matthew Reilly

VERDICT

As with every book written by this man, all the time and sweat and fingertip blisters he puts into his writing leads to a book that is read in two days!  I am not sure if reading a book so quickly is a good or bad thing.  The story was exciting, the exclamation points flying thick and fast towards the end, and a few extremely unlikely escapes (what is called a ‘one-percenter’) has you calling bulls*** while you can’t put it down =)

READING NOW

‘Siege of Darkness’ by R.A.  Salvatore (Book 9 of the ‘Legend of Drizzt’ series)

– X –

It took a very long time, but there is a bit of motivation for the big Project!  It is not in the writing, unfortunately, but in the research to make the world work.  The research can be fully accomplished by one extremely awesome website, called Accuweather.  Not a stretch to figure out what the research entails =)

– X –

In a slightly annoying trend, my science fiction short story seems to keep stalling me.  The religion of the country that Barney is now in is predominantly Christian (80%).  The remaining 20% is split somewhat evenly between Islam and traditional religions.  I hope that the ‘traditional religion’ involves Shamanism, because that would be very handy.

Should religion be brought into a science fiction story?

– X –

The plan for Post #151 seems to have been spoiled by a test run.  Well done to one of my very observant followers who realised what was happening and correctly put two and two together =)

By the way, Post #142.  We edge ever closer…

On Venusian Cloud Colony Number Nine: Chapter 4 Scene 1

The views were greatly varied on the flight from Geneva to Bangui, much to Barney’s enjoyment.  However, the sites below the plane’s belly added to the pang of longing he had for his home.

Leaving the Swiss city, the flight path crossed the Alps on its brief trek above France and into Italy.  The white caps of the mountains were a sight to behold, as were the handful of mountain towns that had been established over the years for the adventurous and the wealthy.  Barney could see small specks amongst the white of the ranges, likely snowboarders or skiers.  Areas allowing such activity were a rarity in Australia, far away from his homeland on the northernmost coast.

The mountains crossed into Italy, with the white and grey elevations descending into the patchwork greenery of fields.  The quilt-like appearance continued all the way through the mainland, interrupted only by winding roads and many cities.  The first prominent city flown past was Florence, where the Roman style architectural style remained apparent.  Further along was the seaside city of Pescara, with a more eclectic mix of building styles.  The fields passed around the prominent agricultural city of Foggio, before continuing on to the seaside town of Taranto and its pair of lakes on the heel of the country.

The fluctuating emerald hues gave way to the undulating sapphire waters of the Ionian Sea, the waves urging the plane and its passengers towards the western islands of Greece.   Flying above the islands of Ithaca and Crete, and the many mountain ranges near the ancient site of the city of Sparta, Barney smirked at their link to the ancient lore of the country.  The stories were believed to date as far back as the 8th century BC, yet his people had established their home in Australia almost 31,000 years earlier than that.

The waters returned as the plane made its way towards Egypt.  The wide view of the north African coastline showed the life giving effect of the Nile River, with the lands surrounding the delta as green as any of the landscapes in Europe.  The coastline moving towards Libya was predominantly bleached desert sands.  The flight continued above the delta before landing in Cairo, the sun beginning to set above the innumerable minarets spread throughout the city.

Barney walked leisurely through the terminal after collecting his luggage. The connecting flight was not due to leave for another couple of hours. The flight would be following the path of the Nile River before moving onto the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, and then heading inland towards Bangui.  He silently cursed the indirect route, meaning the trek he was doing as a favour to Claudio would drag out.  He was sure there would be an extra 25,000 kilometres by the time he returned to Arnhem Land.

The flight between Cairo and Nairobi took place under the cover of night, so Barney used the six hours of flight time to catch up on sleep.  He was woken by the landing gears touching down at Jomo Kenyatta International.  It was still pitch black outside, and the clocks in the terminal indicated it was just before four in the morning.  The connecting flight onto Bangui was still almost four hours away, but he did not want to sleep.  Being in a completely unfamiliar location, he wanted to be sure none of his luggage disappeared.

The hours dragged, with the only activity being the early morning flights out of the airport.  The staff arrived at around five, many of them with a coffee in hand, to begin their preparations for the expected rush of morning flights out to the many capital cities of both Africa and Europe.

The sun began to rise as the request for travellers to Bangui was made.  Making his way to the required departure gate, Barney noticed that there were not many people on his flight.  It meant he could stretch out, but that comfort did not mean much on a flight lasting not much past an hour.

As the flight made its way across the centre of the African continent, Barney had a degree of appreciation for the naming of the area as ‘deepest and darkest’.  Despite the site of Lake Victoria, the second largest body of fresh water in the world, much of the area was hidden.  The forest canopies all across the area were extremely thick, the true land under its foliage a mystery.  The early explorers would likely have been fearful of what awaited them. Barney remembered Liban’s words about the consensus of the natives they encountered back in the days long past, and was not sure if such an opinion would have been true of everyone.

The plane began its descent into Bangui, and Barney was surprised by what he saw.  The area kept the tell-tale thick forest at the city’s edge, following four rivers heading towards the city form its north-west.  Looking at the city roads and houses from this height, much of the city streets were coated in a fine film of red dust.  It had the effect of looking like a much larger version of Nhulunbuy, which gave him a small degree of relief from his slowly increasing homesickness.

After the plane had landed, he collected his luggage for the fourth time in less than a day.  He looked to the clock, and saw he still had an hour before he could contact the company and see if there had been any change in Léana’s condition.

– X –