Warning: You are about to read a very bad story.
The following is a historical document, of sorts. It’s one of the first short stories that I ever wrote. Way back in 1994—when I was a high school senior—I wrote this story to enter a writing contest being held in conjunction with the sf convention called Andromeda One.
I have posted the story here unedited, exactly as I sent it to the judges at the convention. I actually took first place in the student division of the contest. That awards ceremony, held in a sparsely-attended hotel conference room, was one of the proudest moments of my youth. It was one of the first times I can remember thinking “Wow. Maybe I CAN do this!”
Despite that, the story is . . . well . . . not very good. It shows promise, perhaps, but it does not show skill. Not yet. However, there must have been SOMETHING about it to convince the judges to award me the prize. In fact, they had to overcome some pretty mean barriers to do so. One of the judges later confided in me that there was something strange about the manuscript I’d turned in. “At first, we thought you were doing something really post-modern and telling the story from back to front. Then we realized you’d just stapled the pages backwards.” Whoops.
With that introduction, I present CENTRIFUGAL, one of my very earliest pieces of writing. (And I do so without posting it backward, I hope.)
By Brandon Sanderson
His breathing was tortured; he inhaled with difficulty and exhaled with a painful rasping. Yet he continued on, running with unmatched speeds, never slowing, his glazed eyes staring straight ahead, seeing but barely comprehending. He paid no heed to the sweat that streamed off his nose with every jostling step, nor to that which drenched his straining body. He had an objective whose very nature couldn’t be denied. He continued, unable to care, unable to think.
“Look at it, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” Emil Shorton exclaimed, looking out the giant window in the Viewing Bay, “And it’s mine, every last atom,” he continued softly.
“I’m not sure you can rightly call it yours, Emil. It indeed belongs more to nature than any human being,” said the man standing beside Emil in the bay. The It they were referring to was a red Supergiant known as Seppuku. The star, being only a short fraction of a light year away, was the brightest in their view.
“Don’t get philosophic on me, Mront. I invited you here to see the culmination of what you called folly: The long awaited triumph of my ancestor’s work.”
Mront snorted softly. “You know what I think of your ‘illustrious ancestors,’ Emil.”
Emil turned quickly, his suddenly wild eyes betraying an anger derived from pure frustration. But barriers of maturity parried inherent rage, and Emil’s countenance slowly regained a cheerful demeanor.
“Ah, Mront. You always could force me into revealing what I would rather not. I didn’t invite you here to argue, old friend. I wanted to show you what I have accomplished, to let you see the folly of all your condemnations and accusations. Be joyous, my comrade, today we celebrate!”
“Stop!” From behind a voice, nearly indistinguishable among hundreds of other noises around him, screamed. He ignored it. Blue lightning from an electrical stunner followed seconds later. He ignored it. His muscles were far beyond the point where something so mundane could force their halt.
Muttered curses came from behind, followed by footsteps and more irrelevant yells calling for him to halt. He was not worried, even when the footsteps were joined by at least a half-dozen more. His chance came with the trench.
It was a gaping slice through the gleaming metal of the station, an access to inner levels. His pursuers gave a small cheer of joy as they saw him turn towards it: the gap was at least twenty meters wide.
He didn’t slow, rather; his velocity seemed to increase. Bones cracked and tendons tore between powerful leap and strong landing. The officers behind saw only a look of fierce determination coating his entire body, and a landing that would have incapacitated any human they knew. Adrenaline in massive, drowning doses and severed pain receptors made the vault possible. These also allowed the pain, like so many other things, to be ignored.
Years of accumulated pressure exploded with a resounding POP! Frothy white foam followed, falling to the floor in a bubbly mess. Emil sipped at his glass of glistening champagne with obvious relish.
“My ancestor put this bottle away three thousand years ago in anticipation of this moment,” he declared, handing a glass to Mront. “I propose we toast to him, and his foresight: To dreams and their fulfillment!”
Mront studied his glass momentarily. “Some dreams are not meant to be fulfilled, you’ve stagnated, Emil. You used to have such imagination. What happened to your dreams, youraspirations?”
“This is my dream!” Emil cried wildly. “You can’t begin to comprehend what you rejected so long ago.”
Mront stared into his friends turbulent irises. “Yes, Emil,” he stated softly. “I do understand. I understand I never would have met my wife. I understand I would never have been able to hold my children. To work on this project I, like everyone here, would have had to sign a waver saying I would never leave. I couldn’t live like that; nobody should have to.”
Emil turned away from his friend coldly, focusing instead on Seppuku’s distant light.
“What do you mean, none of you brought a hover platform? They’re standard equipment!” Sergeant Forec of the Seppuku Primary Base Police was not in a good mood. He stood in the dark communications room looking at a Holo-Vid of one of his officers, an officer who had just managed to lose a very important quarry. “Well go back to your Hover and get one!” He screamed at the apprehensive patrolman.
“What can you tell me,” Forec asked, turning toward the computer technician sitting next to him.
The man squinted at the screen full of statistics before him as if to question their validity. “One thing’s certain, this guy sure is pumped full of juice.”
“You mean he’s drugged?” Forec asked, leaning down to get a better look at the screen.
“Yes and no, sir. The Bio-scan our remote gave us says he’s saturated with an amphetamine, but a naturally induced one.”
“You mean adrenaline,” Forec stated.
“Exactly,” the tech replied. “The odd thing is the drug’s quantity: His adrenaline content is nearly four times a normal person’s maximum tolerance.”
“Well, that explains how he jumped a twenty-one meter trench.”
The tech nodded and continued: “In addition apparently his pain receptors have been disengaged. The nerve endings have literally been fused into unreceptiveness, so there’s little possibility of his being subdued. It appears killing him is the only way to stop him.”
Forec rubbed his chin in thought. “Any idea where he’s headed?”
The Tech said slowly, “He’s heading toward the North-Eastern section of the base, the only thing there is the Shield power focusing crystal.”
“Then we’ve got him,” Forec said smiling. “Entrance to that station requires a DNA scan; there’s no way he can get by that. Now our only problem is capturing him; any guesses on how long he can keep up his adrenaline level?”
“I don’t think you have to worry about capturing him.”
Forec turned his head toward the tech inquiringly and said, “Why not?”
The tech’s mouth took on an ironic, yet pitying grimace. “Think of his body as a balloon that has been filled beyond capacity. Even if you deflate it, it will be horribly and irrevocably bent out of shape and if you continue to blow on it . . .”
“It pops,” Forec said quietly.
The tech shrugged with resignation and said, “I give him about fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes, Mront, imagine it: The final climax resulting from three thousand years of work,” Emil said, returning to joyous spirits.
Mront nodded; he might oppose the project on emotional grounds, but its attributes never failed to impress him. Three thousand years ago a star had been discovered to be within Trans-Light speed range. The star, Seppuku, had no distinguishing features, besides the fact it was projected to go supernova within the next five thousand years.
The star had created quite a clamor; it was the first chance a supernova would be close enough to Earth for study. During this excitement Emil’s ancestor, Joshua Shorton, had stepped forward with a bold plan: he wanted to buy Seppuku. The government had accepted cheerefully.
Joshua had somewhere acquired a mathematical plan which projected that by the time the star went supernova there would be sufficient technology to harness its power. He had gambled on this plan and spent his family’s considerable fortune preparing for the supernova. Three thousand years later his goals had come to fruition.
“Yes, Emil,” he said ironically, “you’ve definitely earned this.”
His trek had nearly ended. He now stood in the room that accessed the Shield focuses. Before him lay the DNA scanner: his last barrier. Still staring at the door he methodically put his thumb in his mouth and bit down hard, then mechanically inserted the now bleeding extremity into the scan box.
The human body is an amazing thing; even its smallest part of is infinitely complex. The DNA scan consisted of three scans with a microscopic cellular probe, each searching for a recognizable DNA strand. The first triggered a sequence which caused small foreign bodies, almost like viruses, to detach themselves from the bottom of the DNA strand. During the second pulse these bodies reformed, being imprinted with the pulse’s data. By the third pulse these bodies had attached themselves onto the strand in the proper places. That was all the probe needed.
The man removed his thumb from the device. “Welcome, Mr. Shorton,” a disembodied voice said from somewhere. The man walked confidently through the now-opened door.
The soft purple glow of the Energy Shields was easily recognizable against the blackness of space; they surrounded Seppuku’s entire solar system.
“I’ve never understood why you oppose this project so, Mront,” Emil said quietly.
“It’s not the project itself, Emil, it’s the way your family has handled it. The entire thing is based on greed and the seclusion of ideas.”
Emil nodded, not bothering to argue when he knew argument was pointless. Mront had already made up his mind. Besides, by reading Joshua’s personal notes he knew that at least one of Mront’s points was valid. People had suffered, one in particular . . .
Joshua’s notes spoke of a man: A man named Laros Mezprique, the man who had originally discovered Seppuku and formulated what would later be known as the Shorton Plan. His ideas, though simple in concept, had been highly revolutionary and widely unaccepted among the scientific community. Joshua Shorton had both known this and recognized the young scientist’s naiveté. Shorton had acted upon this knowledge and had begun what some people called the wildest gamble in recorded history. Unfortunately for Laros there was no room for him in Shorton’s plans; his ideas had been quietly but effectively stolen, but he hadn’t realized this until too late.
Laros had been depressed for some time, but suddenly one day he discarded his old field of theoretical mathematics and began a new study: Genetics. Laros had worked with fervor and brilliance. His zeal soon turned to madness, and his last coherent thoughts were cryptic at best. “Finally,” he had said on his death bed, “we’re even.”
No one knew what to make of his diligence; he had destroyed all his notes. The only clue lay in the mind of a man he had called into his office several times: one Jammer Alistes.
Ronald Alistes stood before the giant diamond used to focus the energy collected by the Shields; he had finally come to fill a three thousand year compulsion.
He hurled himself into the energy flow, burning to ashes in a matter of milliseconds. Unfortunately before his vaporization he was able to shift the giant diamond slightly. The energy flow now hit the stone at an oblique angle, the diamond beginning to vibrate quickly. A few seconds later it shattered into a hundred thousand spectral shards.
Emil’s sharp cry got Mront’s direct attention. “What is it!” He cried. Then he saw it: The purple was gone. The shields were down. He glanced quickly at the supernova countdown clock on the wall. It read 5..4..3..2..1
Death came to the inhabitants of Seppuku Base in different ways. For the general public, it was unexpected and unknown. For Robert Alistes it was a release from a body no longer his own. Mront did not welcome it, but was prepared: His wife had died several years previously and his children were now grown. The next life was just another step for him. It hit Emil hardest, for in the brief moments before vaporization he was faced with his inadequacy and his failure to his family.
Information on the explosion was available within hours on the Holo-Vid News Net. The statement read:
“Seppuku Station was destroyed today by the supernova it was meant to harness. The destruction was supposedly caused by a failure in the shield system. The remaining members of the Shorton family have entered a Three Thousand year work bond to pay the huge debts incurred by the failed project.