Friday, May 25, 2001

The Luminous Children: Prologue

[This article was posted December 18, 2009, but is backdated to May 25, 2001, the datestamp from the surviving data file of the material presented here.  This is, obviously, before the beginning of this blog, which occurred in 2005.]

In 1993, I wrote the first half of a novella called Beyond Mortal, and it was published in an e-zine called ROCK Magazine.  See this article for background details on that publication.  The original data file was lost sometime between 1993 and 1999.  I remembered the basic concept of Beyond Mortal, and in 2001 I worked on developing it into a full-length novel called The Luminous Children

Unfortunately, as was typical of me at the time, I lacked the discipline to follow through on the project.  Though I still have a plot notes file describing in general terms the entire story, the only completed prose from The Luminous Children was the prologue.  I present the prologue below, after a brief description of the plot and concept of both the original story sketch and the rewrite.

The main problem with Beyond Mortal was that I bit off far, far more than I could chew with the mathematical and scientific plot devices.  Even today, my math is just not good enough to bring this one home, though I may one day be able to do so.  The original half-novella of Beyond Mortal followed only one of what would have been several plotlines in The Luminous Children.

In Beyond Mortal, a disaster befalls a village many years ago, and everyone in a certain area of the village is killed except our Ugly Duckling, a boy seemingly no different from any of the victims.  The UD, merely maimed by the disaster, is rescued by some Scrappy Adventurers from the other side of town, and they protect him while his body miraculously regenerates and rapidly heals from grievous wounds.  Soon, the other villagers become hostile to the SAs and our UD.  They form a mob to drive out the SAs for "harboring a demon" or somesuch thing.  The group sets off and our UD continues to regenerate and heal while on the road.  In the treacherous mountain passes, the UD finally becomes strong enough to rescue the entire group, and they begin to get an idea of the amazing effects of surviving the disaster on the UD's body.  The group reaches civilization once again, and they learn that there are other children experiencing the same thing, and that every such child shares a birthday: March 4th of whichever year.  One of the other children is a rather cute young lass who takes a fancy to our UD, portending whimsical young love yet to come.  ...And, cue intermission.  (Which is as far as I ever got.)

I had intended the exact nature of the children's physical powers to be a slow reveal over the course of the entire story.  When I began replotting the story in 2000-2001, I realized the reveal had to come sooner, and that there had to be some twists if I wanted to build tension in the story.  Any writer can surprise a reader with a flash-bang ambush or a sudden revelation, but to build suspense, the writer has to show the reader something that at least one critical character does not know, and build toward a climax in which the character will suddenly encounter the truth and have to deal with it.  That, then, became the goal in the new plotline.

After the 1962 prologue, featured below, The Luminous Children flashed forward to the present day.  Our Heroine, a police detective, attempted to save a group of hostages from a gunman. One of the hostages was a child. OH nailed the gunman, but the gunman got off a shot and hit the child. Later, at the hospital, the child was pronounced dead... only to wake up and get out of bed, his bullet wound healed! Our Lancer, a divorced medical school teacher and geneticist at the local university, studied the survivor when he got a call from OH that another child survived a fiery plane crash and appeared unharmed.

Through careful research and investigation, OH and OL located a whole bunch of these children, and each of them had the ability to regenerate from deadly wounds and each were orphan foundlings of one sort or another, each born on March 4th of a given year. OL studied their DNA and -- this is where my math and science deficiencies derailed the story -- found that there was a sequence in each that was abnormal for human DNA. Part of the sequence was identical in each of the children (providing the superpowers), and each sequence had a separate short "signature" that differed.

OL put together the signatures and realized they were a code, with enough redundant bits so that if you found any six or seven of the Luminous Children that you'd have entire sections of the whole code that were mathematically understandable.  The code was a mathematical signal sent by distant Good Aliens, meant to warn and prepare humanity to survive an eventual assault by the GAs' evil enemies, a ravening horde of Evil Aliens believed to be headed in the direction of Earth within the next century or so. OH and OL couldn't get anyone in the government to listen to the warnings, until suddenly a Forerunner fleet of EAs arrived to scout out the Earth!

Humanity defeated the Forerunners using conventional weapons, and OH and OL played big roles in the homeland defense. OH was wounded, and OL, caring for her, learned from her DNA that OH is one of the Luminous Children!  (OH is the baby shown in the 1962 prologue.)  OL discovered that OH's DNA signature had a critical part of the code that teaches how to build a global weapon to kill the EAs. OH and OL told the government, and this time everyone took heed!  The world set to work building the weapon and preparing for the Big Real Invasion. The Luminous Children became celebrities.

Of course the twist is that there would be no Big Invasion, just another small fleet of EAs. There were never any GAs. The code was sent by the EAs (who grew the babies using tissue from old alien abductions, of course) so we would build a weapon that would be so costly and unwieldy that it would cripple our economy and wartime industrial base, and we would ignore shoring up all our conventional defenses that would have worked just fine, and the global weapon would end up not being effective anyway. OL gets drunk one night and reasons this out in a bout of pessimism, but OH won't believe him because she thinks he is just jealous that she's a famous Luminous Child.  Finally he's able to convince her that he's right, but will anyone listen in time to save the Earth? We may never know, because I never got that far writing it!

Now, I certainly learned from this experience the seemingly obvious lesson that actually publishing the "first half" of a story is a bad idea when one has not even written the second half.  I just wasn't concerned at the time with such logistical issues; my recognition of the business necessities of writing came later.  Knowing what I know now, I think this plot is good enough to carry a story done well, but it may be a while before I can do enough research to shore up the technical aspects of the plot. Until then, The Luminous Children will just have to bide their time.  And now...

The Luminous Children: Prologue
by Michael Bahr, May 25, 2001

Algonquin, Illinois, United States
Rural land, 32 miles west of Chicago
March 4, 1962

“Look, Ann, we’ve already discussed this. The doctor says you’re too old to be having children.”

George Barnes, infantry veteran of the Second World War, husband to Ann Hudson Barnes, dreaded this argument. George loved Ann to distraction, but the woman would never let an issue drop—especially this one. George snuffed an unfiltered cigarette and set aside his novel.

“But George, couldn’t we try? What would be wrong with trying? I’m only 45 years old. Older women than me have given birth.” Ann’s face creased as she pleaded with her husband.

George closed his eyes as he shook his head with gentle finality. “And what sort of life would our child have, then? Turning teenager and having senior citizens for parents? Pulling us up in our wheelchairs for his high school graduation in, what, 1981? By then he’ll go to college on the moon, and we’ll be living in a retirement community somewhere down south. Come on, dear. You know it’s just not meant to be.”

Ann sat for a moment, and then sank back into her chair. “I know. I just wish…” She sank her head into her hands, and long brown hair fell to the sides of her head.

George nodded, and stood from his rocking chair. He paced across the front porch. His path took him from near his chair, by the radio, to near her chair, by the kitchen door. It tore at his heart to see her so unhappy.

“I’m sorry, Ann. I wish that too.” George had wanted a child back when he first returned home in 1944, a survivor of the defining military engagement in American history. All this land, the land his father had left him, George had intended to leave to his children. He sighed audibly as he looked at the barn, the vegetable fields, his 1960 Chevrolet pickup truck. He guessed that his sister’s family would get it after he and Ann passed on.

“Would you like some more tea, dear?” George turned, and saw that Ann was standing at the kitchen door. He nodded.

George realized it was almost 9:30. Almost time to turn in. But boy, was this night beautiful, he thought. George had seen sunset from the shores of Wake Island and twilight in the Ardennes, but the pure and tranquil serenity of this Midwestern evening made him take notice. A bright gibbous moon filled a cloudless, starry sky, and breezes cascaded through the grassy fields. Crickets sang in the night.

The soft strains of plucked bass, mellow brass, and percussion filled the night air as the radio played a number by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. That music always reminded George of the war, as the big-band style grew extremely popular at the dances and socials the soldiers attended. George recognized this tune: Moonlight Serenade. His first dance with Ann was to this music. The melody tugged at his heart. Not for the first time, George found himself reconsidering yet again the issue of having children.

Ann emerged from the kitchen carrying two mugs of hot tea. She was wearing a silk nightgown. George smiled at her. The woman did know how to be persuasive.

In that instant, a deafening blast shattered the night.

George grabbed for a rifle that wasn’t there, and leapt to place himself between Ann and the explosion. Ann stood stunned, her eyes and mouth open wide. George turned his head, certain he would see an atomic cloud.

The blast came from the barn.

Blinding light engulfed the outbuildings. George could hear the plaintive cries of his livestock. Gale-force wind ripped outward from the barn, stinging George’s face and arms. He could barely see, and couldn’t hear anything. The roar of the explosion was deafening. Nobody heard the teacups shatter on the floor.

George saw the windshield of his truck explode into a thousand pieces. The shutters bashed against the house, and the unshuttered windows blew apart. A tree listed toward the power lines, and George feared that fire would be inevitable. He struggled against the force of the wind, gaining little ground. Ann crouched behind him with her head in her hands.

“Hold still, honey! Stay behind me!” George tried to encourage Ann, but he could barely hear himself shouting.

And then, it was over.

Just as abruptly as the terror had begun, the night returned to stillness. The trees stopped moving. The barn was dark.

“George? Are you all right?” asked Ann.

George turned around and saw her. Ann’s nightgown was torn and her hair disheveled, but he was relieved that she was still in one piece. Thank God for that, he thought.

“I’m good. How about you?”

“I think so.”

George and Ann grabbed each other into a tight hug. Tears flowed down her face. George noticed his wife was trembling. He hoped she didn’t notice that he was shaking as well.

"What is that?" asked Ann.

George cocked his head and listened, barely breathing. 

The wail of a newborn baby carried clearly in the stillness of the air.  The sound was coming from the center of the blast, from inside what remained of the barn.