So I’ve been making some solid progress on the novel, Supertsar. I seem to remain on track to have a first draft of the entire book completed this summer.
The following excerpt is subject to change due to hyperdimensional reverberation or my own unwillingness to commit to a concrete narrative.
Prologue: Night Flight
Pyotr Alexeyevich Mikhailov arrived at Troitsky Monastery early. The ride from Preobrazhenskoe was uneventful, but not without its own internal drama: his dreams, spattered as they were with violence and finality, lingered. He woke to strong hands lifting him from the saddle. They had to be strong. At seventeen years of age, Pyotr was nearly seven feet tall. Tall for a Russian. Tall for anyone.
My own sister wants me dead. Pyotr righted himself, dismissed his valets with a bark, violently brushed a smudge of dirt from his shoulder as if it were a venomous spider about to strike, and made his way to the chapel annex. The doorway loomed before him. Food and conflict beckoned from within.
Why were men always fighting? More than any one thing, Pyotr desired peace. Peace in the realm, that men might put their energies to more productive use; peace of mind, that he might better enjoy his scientific pursuits; peace in his family, for this feuding with his sister confounded and exhausted him. But chaos seemed to follow Pyotr, ever threatening to consume him. People fought over anything and everything. Money, love, religion… The Schismatics were the worst. Grown men bickering over the endless minutiae of archaic rites. What omnipotent god could possibly care how many fingers with which men crossed themselves? Two or three? What flummery!
And then there was the madness of the night before…
The construction was a slow endeavor, but Pyotr relished the process. As he sanded the hunk of wood before him, artisans and assistants chattered amongst themselves, their questions and songs and profanities blurring, mingling with the sounds of hands-on industry. Pyotr engaged them superficially, meeting their more important questions with a terse acknowledgement here, a gruff denial there. Nearby, a moment after the sound of a hammer blow, a young man howled in pain. Another casualty, another smashed finger, Pyotr thought. He smiled, not with cruelty. Not with schadenfreude, as his friends in the German Quarter might put it.
He handed the smooth plank to a nearby attendant, issued a few brusque instructions in rapid sequence, and allowed his mind to indulge in its favorite pursuit: imagination. All around him time sped up, and the makeshift shipyard quickly transformed itself into a thriving international port. Lake Pleschev’s muddy shores became crowded boardwalks. Trees uprooted themselves from the black soil, sectioning their own fat trunks into lumber. Huts became wealthy estates. Rickety docks’ most rotted supports gave way to sturdy new beams. Within seconds an empire grew around him, pushing its societal tendrils out in every direction, soaking up people and resources and knowledge, spitting out industrial waste and willful ignorance.
His right eye twitched. A warning of a fit to come? “Kvas,” he mumbled under his breath. Within seconds an attendant handed him an overflowing mug. One of the many advantages of power: instant gratification. Everyone ever trying to please him. He gulped the bread beer down as if it were his last drink, tossed the empty container over his shoulder, and wiped his thin moustache with the back of his hand.
Another tic was followed by a more violent twitch in his neck that jerked his head upward. The sky above had darkened rapidly, the dark blue of an hour prior giving way to a vast purple blanket. Stars popped into existence, a flock of birds soared past, and something else…
Pyotr’s unknown distance from the object precluded any accurate assessment of its scale, but the intricate markings on its surface—indecipherable though they were—suggested staggering immensity. What is it? How does it hover in place? In the span of a few seconds his mind explored all the possibilities within his life experience. Was there an explosion nearby, propelling a gigantic silver dinner plate across the sky? Had the onion dome of a cathedral escaped its earthly perch and willed its way to the heavens?
A dull light played across the metallic surface, a slowly throbbing phosphorescence. The mysterious vessel expanded… or did it move closer, or had Pyotr moved towards it? He looked down. His feet were still on the ground. He looked about him. People continued at their work, seeing nothing amiss. His head swung to the right, once, twice, thrice. He knew with a certainty that a fit was upon him; he should sit down and rest while it was still an option. But the light… the light.
The pulsing continued, accelerated, entranced the young prince with its alien thrum. As Pyotr’s body finally succumbed to the seizure, as his physical being collapsed upon the muddy shore, the light soothed his mind. It separated him from his uncooperative body, taking him up, up into itself.
The light embraced him, pulled him into its being. A billion invisible hands reached out to caress him, fingertips gingerly exploring his brain’s architecture, running along the sulci, exploring, examining, cataloging. Each contact triggered a memory: a dinner with a friend, a stubbed toe, a dream of sailing the Baltic. No thought was too innocuous, no memory too pedestrian—or painful—for these beings’ examinations. As the memory of a recent banquet replayed across his vision, he could hear the crunch of the toast between his teeth, taste the preserves on his tongue. Forced to relive the bloody Streltsy uprising of his childhood, he felt the tears of rage pouring down his cheeks.
The future opened up as well, an infinite tapestry woven from a trillion possibilities, possibilities changing and multiplying exponentially every moment. He saw himself as a powerful aging tsar, surrounded by friends and sycophants, his empire plodding forward towards peace and enlightenment. The vision faded, to be replaced by an image of Pyotr as an explorer sailing the world’s seas, the veer and pitch of the deck of a ship his own personal gravity. Here Pyotr rotted in a cell, a victim of his sister’s machinations. Here his life was cut short by a bolt of lighting; there, a stray bullet.
And the light knew him, more than anyone knew him. It knew his hopes and fears and goals. His insatiable thirst for knowledge, his lack of interest in the throne. The light seemed to disapprove of his indifference to power. The formless light—inexplicably, impossibly—frowned. It knew of Pyotr’s thoughts of abdication. There were precedents. Rulers had stepped down before. Why should he play a lifelong game of tedious politics with such scientific wonders all around him begging for examination? Why should he tie himself to backward Mother Russia while so much of the rest of the world exploded forward in a renaissance of creativity and reason?
But this would not do, the light would not hear of it. Pyotr must take the throne. He must assume power and lead his realm forward. He must pull his people up from the mud, not just for them, not just for Russia. Not even just for the world, but for… the universe? It made no sense. His home was here, if not in Moscow, if not in Russia, then here on Earth. What did he know of the multiverse? What place did he have in wars across extragalactic stretches of spacetime? How–
The questions poured out of him, but the light had heard enough. The first lesson concluded. As Pyotr awoke, groggy from his seizure, wide-eyed from his spiritual journey, he thought he understood. He was important. He was needed. Exactly for what, he was not entirely sure, but more answers would come with time. For now it was enough to know his path ahead with more certainty. He would take the throne, he would assume power. His sister—though he loved her, though he bore her no malice—would have to be removed. The realm would be his and he would pull his people up from the dirt and the ignorance. He would guide them into the future.
Pyotr strode through the monastery doors. Monks met his eyes and quickly looked away. Courtiers whispered. An adjutant nervously pointed out that Pyotr’s hands were injured, presumably a result of his somnambulant death-grip on the horse’s reins. He looked down. The fresh cuts had sliced his palms noticeably, cutting through the hard-won calluses he’d developed from his numerous hobbies. He studied the path of each rivulet. A particularly viscous glob slowed its descent down the medial aspect of his fifth metacarpal as it dried. The blood has clotted, he thought. But there will be more to come.