David Louis Edelman
MultiReal
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Draft 29: October 14, 2005

The longest and most complete version of the Henry Osterman opening chapter. I loved this opening, and still do. Unfortunately, as I started to read through “MultiReal,” I came to realize that having two separate historical figures’ lives directly contrasted with Natch throughout the book was too confusing. Marcus Surina’s story is integral to the plot of the trilogy (as you’ll find out in “Geosynchron”); Henry Osterman’s was not. I did leave a hint in the book about Osterman’s sad fate, but unfortunately this chapter became a casualty. The meta properties for this file claim that editing began on October 14, 2005 and the file was last saved on October 26, 2006.

*

Henry Osterman was dying.

He stumbled into the provincial town of Harper on his own two feet, a pallid scarecrow of a man, his hair greasy, his clothes tattered, his fingernails curling in on themselves like shriveled worms after the rain.

Nobody could say how he had gotten there. The roads leading to Harper had been pulverized a quarter of a millennium ago by the wrath of thinking machines run amok. Tube trains and hoverbirds were technologies for a theoretical future when the world had learned to live without fossil fuels; multi and teleportation were the pipe dreams of lunatics. To get to Harper these days, you needed either a strong horse or a boat limber enough to steer through the debris clogging the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. [1] Osterman had neither.

The city itself was barely worth the effort. A few dozen dilapidated buildings huddled together at the bottom of a hill, that was all. The more prosperous cities nearby had pieced together a fragile shell of trade from the shards of yesterday’s civilization, but so far Harper had little to contribute. Still, you could get three radio stations again in Harper, and sometimes on clear nights you could see the feeble blink of a Chinese satellite. The local music scene was bustling. Drinking water was almost drinkable. Progress.

Henry Osterman materialized at the edge of town behind a heavy curtain of mist, propping himself upright with a twisted, splintery stick. Nobody recognized him.

Dogs bayed as he walked up Harper’s main street. Strangers were rarely a good omen these days, and this stranger seemed even more ominous than most. The local police force shadowed him as he made his way through the broken asphalt, past shopkeepers who made warding signs against disease and doom. Mothers shunted children back to the safety of their skirts. The town watchman stood by the old church bell, grabbed a hammer, and prepared to gong like hell. [2]

Osterman paid them all no heed. His attention was stubbornly fixed on some spot just ahead, always just ahead, some ten seconds in the future. [3] His path, though crooked, did not deviate.

Finally the vagabond found an alleyway between the bank and the ramshackle city hall. The town watchman exhaled a sigh of relief as Osterman hobbled through the alley and out of town, where he officially ceased to be of any concern. As the moon rose and the distant wink of the Chinese satellite broke through the clouds, Henry Osterman found his way to the promontory where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers met. [4] Jagged rocks far below glinted at him like the teeth of the world. [5]

A month ago, he had been the richest man alive.

And now here he stood, a soul alone and complete for the first time: free from the pressures of society, free from the constrictive bonds of government, free from the burden of friendships and obligations. Osterman surveyed the crossroads before him. Below, the rocks; above, the sky; around in every direction, forest. Which way should he turn? [6]

It had been a long and torturous journey to reach the summit, but the plunge to earth was over in an instant.

Notes

  1. Harper, as those familiar with the Washington, DC region probably have realized by now, is supposed to be the town of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I had a vague thought that the refugees fleeing from the horrors of the Autonomous Revolt might have fled from Washington up the Potomac River. Harper’s Ferry lies where the Potomac meets the Shenandoah. [Back]
  2. I consciously avoided using religious epithets and religious imagery (“damn,” “hell,” “heaven knows,” etc.) throughout the trilogy. I debated with myself about whether to include the phrase “gong like hell,” and decided to make an exception here. Turned out to be a moot point. [Back]
  3. I liked this sentence so much that I believe I recycled it somewhere in the final draft of the book, though I can’t seem to remember where… [Back]
  4. The spot where this takes place is where the Historic Hilltop House currently sits in Harper’s Ferry. I scouted out the location after writing this and was surprised to discover that the drop is much less steep than I’d remembered. So I hiked around and found a spot behind the Harper’s Ferry cemetery that would do nicely. In the end, I nixed this chapter altogether, but did end up setting the beginning of chapter 2 here. [Back]
  5. The phrase “the teeth of the world” enthralled me so much that I ended up using it in chapter 37, when Natch looks at the ruined skyline of Old Chicago. [Back]
  6. Once again, a passage I liked so much I couldn’t bear to part with it. You can find it in chapter 42, when Natch is fleeing through the wreckage of Old Chicago. (You may also notice that it directly alludes back to a passage in the Shortest Initiation chapter of Infoquake.) [Back]