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Story Start - RonO's Ramblings

Mar. 18th, 2010 07:42 pm Story Start

A week or so ago, a seed of an idea got planted in my brain (I blame jumping from the BBC Radio version of The Lord of the Rings to Ben Bova's Mars). This afternoon since I choose to walk to the train, I had some time to feed and water it a bit, so now I've got the start to a story that will probably end up going no further.

Walking down the hill, I was able to get a lot more text then I was later able to get onto paper - ok into bits. Some of that was because of forgetting all that I came up with, but also some of it was the natural editing I still do when writing. I've often thought that if I ever came up with a truly novel length story, it would end up as a single paragraph if I tried to write it down.

The other thing I realized is that I was finding it much easier to tell the story fragment in dialog and monolog. I'm not sure if this is because of the nature of what I'm trying to do here, or for some other reason. But this ended up basically a dialog between two characters who have to go by their titles since I've not given them names yet.


The man walking into the Pentagon wasn't too remarkable for a Friday morning visitor. He did, however, not quite fit. He looked like, and in fact was, a middle-aged professor at a small liberal arts college in Southern California, his old business suit not quite masking the fact that he normally dealt with surfers who dabbled in college classes, not members of the U.S. Military.

However, after showing his ID, and the letter asking him to come for this appointment, an Airman quickly escorted him to a nondescript conference room near the middle of one side of the building.

Once in the conference room, he was greeted by an Army Major about his age. "Good morning, professor A. I'm glad you could take a day away from your teaching for this visit."

"Would you mind explaining what this is about?" asked the professor.

"To start, I'd like to remind you that back when you were in the Navy..."

The professor interrupted, "I left more than 25 years ago. You cannot recall me now, can you?"

"No. But as I was starting to say, when you were in the Navy, your billet was intelligence, correct?" resumed the Major.

The professor nodded, and the major continued, "There was a program started in The Cold War, and momentum never quite ended it. A small number of former intelligence officers have their clearances rechecked, just in case we need to recall them. You were one of the people we've been rechecking, and your clearance can be quickly restored. So, before we proceed, you need to sign these forms which will fully reinstate your Top Secret clearance."

The forms were set on the table. The professor looked them over, noticing that they'd changed little in substance in nearly thirty years, and after some brief consideration, let his curiosity win out over the hassles of having an active clearance.

"OK," the major said after checking and countersigning the forms, "we'll proceed."

"For several years we've been maintaining research on a project that was originally intended to let us see what was under the Arctic ice sheet, both the undersea features, and anything manmade that might be hiding there. A few years ago, a breakthrough was reached which let us also use the same techniques on the ice sheets covering much of Antarctica."

Again the professor interrupted, "I don't see how this involves me. It's not related to naval intelligence and doesn't seem related to English Literature, which is what I've pretty much devoted my life to for the last twenty-five years."

"We'll get there professor," the major continued. "But first, you need the background."

"About two years ago, we completed a survey of this area," the major showed the professor an area on a map of Antarctica he removed from the same folder as the papers for signing. "Underneath the ice we found something quite surprising, a fairly large pocket at the head of a seemly untouched valley. As you may know, glaciers usually fill and expand any valleys present on mountains that they form on, so this was quite strange.

"So last spring, a year ago, a team was sent to see if they could cut through the ice and investigate. They succeeded in drilling a hole, and rigging it so that we could send equipment and eventually men down there."

"Ok," the professor said, trying to slow the major down just a bit. "You've got me interested, but not yet professionally."

The major continued, "finally, near the end of the season, we sent a team down. Now there is a nearly 1200 foot shaft, kind of like a man-hole, that one has to descend, and about 80 feet of climbing down an exposed ladder to get to the bottom. In order to not kill everyone we sent, we needed experienced rock climbers and repellers. So the team we sent was made up of the best climbers that the Rangers could spare."

"You taught the sergeant leading the team a few years back. In fact, he claims that your Tolkien survey for freshman was the only class he went to consistently and passed. The rest of the time, he was out climbing, or doing other things that kids who eventually drop out of college do. While, when he found this, he remembered you. That is, at least in part, why you're here."

The major then removed something that was tightly wrapped in plastic from a case sitting on the floor, and slid it over to the professor. The professor looked at it for a couple of minutes.

"If this is some kind of a hoax," the professor then yelled, "I'm not going to be pleased. It looks to me like either one of my former slacker students decided to play a prank on me and the Army, or the whole Army is in on an elaborate prank."

"Professor, I assure you," the major said, a bit louder than he'd have liked, "that this is no hoax. The sergeant's story has been collaborated by the rest of the team. Plus we've had other scientists look it over. We've also ruled out a the idea that this is natural. There are tool marks, finer than most stone masons would accomplish, but tool marks none the less."

"So," the professor then said, "you're telling me that you found, under the ice in Antarctica, a piece of rock with Tengwar {check that that is right} writing on it? Tengwar writing was invented by Tolkien, or so he claimed."

"Not only did we find this fragment, we found another, much smaller that had a metal inlay. We took a sample of the inlay, it was an alloy of titanium, iron and silver, and we're suspecting that it may be a natural, or even meteoritic alloy. The metallurgists we've talked to suspect that this alloy, if they could reproduce it, would be very strong, fairly light, and would take a polish quite well."

"So," the professor interjected, "you're telling me that not only did you find elven writing, but you found mithrel?"

"Basically, yes. We collected some other samples. There was plenty of biological samples, but most date to being several thousand years old, possibly as more that 10,000 years.

"The team at the bottom also found that in the valley is the entrance to a cave, or perhaps a tunnel. The pictures they got show that it is quite large, straight and smooth, and doesn't look completely natural.

"We're planning on sending another team in in a few weeks, when the weather should be getting better. We'd like you to be on that team. You might not have to go in, we'll have a lot of people at McMurdo and even in Christchurch. But we feel that your expertise fills a big gap in the usual team of archeologists, anthropologists and similar scientists who'd get sent on this kind of a mission. Are you in?"


Even reading this myself, clearly this is just the start of a much larger story. Something is going to happen inside the caves - probably lots of somethings. I suspect if I had the time, talent, etc. to actually complete this, this would be mostly seen as the open exposition to get stuff out of the way. In fact it kind of reminds me of some TV pilot episodes where the "new guy" character gets a lot of explanation of what is going on, as much so that the viewer can get the needed background.

So, its possible that at least part of the reason that this is mostly dialog is because of the need for early exposition.

Of course, I have no idea where this would lead - except obviously into some place that might or might not be Moria or the Lonely Mountain.

One final reason I probably wouldn't and couldn't finish this, I'd probably have to do a lot of research on way to may topics, including research and meta-research into Tolkien studies. And I'd probably have to do some info-dumps on things like Tolkien's meta-fiction, and what he said about it.

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