Napoleonic Love Letters to a Lost Civilisation

This is something I was writing last year, and I just found it while taking a look at the apparently very changed but still quite the same LitLift. The title doesn’t quite mean anything, but it’s cool. And long.

I actually had/have plans for this novel, but they’re still bigger than me. I wanted to write it out like a television novelisation, possibly even script it. Just for fun, though. The title needs to have at least one definite meaning–or maybe I need to decide that it doesn’t. Right now, the chapters are called “Letters”, and I have this great pun that no one will get, but is important to the plot. I have my two major characters, but the cast will probably grow.

One thing that I definitely need to do is get the events to be a little more like or about letters. In which case, this bit of writing I’m sharing will probably have to be a one-shot, and the First Letter will have to be less in medias res.

The fire strove to greater life, crackling like eggshells underfoot. Flames licked over the furniture and climbed the walls, eager fingers laying claim to everything. Naval coughed, staying low to the ground in a vain attempt to escape the heavy smoke.

He clutched the laptop to his chest. Its hard corners bit into his flesh through his sweat-soaked shirt. Too precious to let go, but circumstances dictated otherwise.

His lungs felt simultaneously shrivelled and bloated. Even coughing did nothing to relieve the unbearable, itching pressure.

The window seemed light years away. But through the flames, he could see the cool, black night sky, peppered with stars.

He slid the laptop under his shirt, and dropped as low to the floor as he could. The small machine had absorbed a lot of heat, almost enough to burn him.

Eyes watering, he crawled around smoking debris and weak spots in the floor. Seven stories up. He had no idea how far the fire had spread, how many floors he would fall through after losing to this one.

His fingers stubbed against the wall. Clutching an arm around his middle, he pulled himself up.

The paint on the windowsill bubbled and popped soundlessly. He gripped the end of his long-sleeve and used his forearm to push the window up and open.

It stuck halfway.

There was a crash behind him as something heavy broke through the floor. He could feel the rest of it begin to react.

Naval tried to make a crack about dieting, but his throat was too dry. Then he slipped the laptop out of his shirt and, gripping it tightly in both hands, shoved it through the window.

The tinkling of glass wasn’t even audible over the roar of the fire accepting the fresh air. He didn’t stay to see how things developed.

Out on the fire escape, with the laptop in his hands and the city stretching out below, above, and around him, he had to fight to stop himself taking stock of things.

He hurried down the fire escape, two, three steps at a time. The black iron clanged under his shoes. Almost there.

When he arrived at the bottom, he heard the sirens. The timing was so exact, it might have been part of his own plans. He was safe, groundbound.

The citizen’s bracer on his wrist displayed the impassive information associated with sleep. Naval was not the best at fooling it, but when he was on the ground, in contact with the source, the bracer was always ready to believe in sleep.

After several blocks, he plodded into an alley, his lower extremities so accustomed to running that merely walking was awkward. Uncomfortable. The laptop had burned his chest, he could feel the skin singing with pain. Glass had scraped his face and arms when he had climbed through the window.

But he had gotten it. He sat down behind a dumpster and listened to the rushing fire crew. They sounded like a half-remembered dream. Far-off and unable to bother about him.

His hands shook as he stroked the laptop. “Found the key,” he whispered.

The fire had not been an accident. He knew that much, but nothing more. It wasn’t his business to know more. Someone else would figure it out. He had found the key.

He flipped the laptop open, then pressed the power button.

The blue and green Embarcadero OS logo lit up the screen, then gave way to the laptop’s mainscreen. But instead of a placid graphic or password prompt, a photograph of three children filled the screen.

Beneath them, there was a caption that read, ‘Capture the Cassel’.

Rage, impotent and wretched, obscured Naval’s vision. He knew he was crying. He didn’t care.

It was just another clue. He’d risked his life to find the key, the thing that would make solving every other puzzle piece possible. And he had failed.

He dragged himself to his feet, unable to let go of the laptop. He could hardly leave it. It would have to be collected, like all the others.

Sofia would catalogue it, and Shad would treat Naval’s burns, cuts, and smoke inhalation.

Wiping his eyes, Naval trudged to the nearest manhole.


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