This book is simply named after one of its main characters. The plot is not new, being based around an alien invasion of Earth. That basic idea was all well and good, but it didn’t tick all the boxes for me. Firstly, I don’t normally like shiny superheroes. Most courage and heroism is dragged out of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. This is definitely the case for Muttiah, who is an Englishman with Asian ethnicity and as such has had to cope with more than the normal amount of muck that modern life throws at us.
Muttiah finds himself getting caught up in a worldwide human rebellion against the invading alien race. He ends up fighting in Afghanistan, a place that no nation in history has ever managed to tame. The situation is no different now and despite their technological advantage over humans, the invaders find it almost impossible to quash the irritating rebels in that sometimes desolate yet beautiful region of Earth.
This still wasn’t enough for me, though it was the basis for a good yarn. I wanted more from the book. Specifically, I run the story from several viewpoints at once. Yes, I follow the rebels, but I was also interested in the invaders. In particular, I explore their own ethos and their politics, social structures and general mindset. Whilst the rebellion progresses, I give glimpses into how the campaign is progressing from the alien point of view, delving into their complex political machinations.
Below, I have given the opening to the book. Bear in mind that this is in draft form and could yet be tweaked prior to publishing. Enjoy!
Muttiah, Chapter One : From beer to eternity.
Muttiah approached the open door of the Black Bull, which was the public bar that he worked in on a part-time basis. The predominantly sandstone walls of the houses he had passed looked dreary and unhappy, coated as they were with rainwater from the deluge which had also assaulted Muttiah, on his way to work. Water was still dripping from his short black hair, giving it a look of shining obsidian glass, fashioned on a statue in crude thick strands, where the water had bound the individual hairs together. Being cold and wet did nothing to alleviate the usual feeling of unease as he prepared to start his shift.
He crossed the gaily coloured Victorian tiles which decorated the small entrance porch, one brown leather-soled shoe slipping as he was reaching out to push open the swing door to enter the pub proper. As a consequence he rather burst through the doorway, stumbling to keep his footing as the door slammed against a rubber stop and then rebounded towards him. Dodging out of the way of the door did not help him to retain composure or balance, making his entrance even more clown-like.
To make matters worse, the pub was fairly busy, this afternoon. The hubbub of general chatter and laughter which he had heard before he reached the front door immediately subsided, turning into a cloying silence. The hush was trying to be complete, but was almost inevitably broken by a slurred voice shouting, “Enjoy your trip?” The shout did serve to ensure that silence had no hold on the celebrants for long. Laughter and more calls quickly followed. Muttiah heard the words, “Shh…It’s ‘Don’t ask Mutty’.”
Seemingly, it was going to be one of those nights. When he thought about it, it was almost always ‘one of those nights’. In England it is conventional to talk about the weather incessantly, since this is a safe topic of conversation. It is also acceptable to enquire after another’s health or fortunes. These personal enquiries are asked unthinkingly. Good ways to ask would include, ‘Hi, Steve. Okay?’ Sometimes they are not even in question form, being given as a statement such as, ‘Alright!’ This is because the answer is already known. Ritual dictates that the reply is going to be, ‘Yeah, fine. You?’ The answer must be given in this format, even if the respondent has just been mugged and stabbed on the way back from his wife’s funeral, following the tragic demise of the rest of his family the week previously, when a rampaging elephant fell from a plane onto their bus.
With Muttiah, all the regular customers knew better than to follow this convention. This was because Muttiah had the irritating trait of answering the greeting truthfully and fully. His life was not that happy, to say the least. Anybody foolish enough to use such pleasantries would be regaled ad infinitum with the latest trivial woes which had beset the man. This was the origin of his nickname ‘don’t ask Mutty’. Naturally nobody used the expression to his face, but he was aware of it. He was also aware that newcomers were advised against making polite enquiries about his life, before they even reached the bar.
On his part, Muttiah was never trying to be gloomy. He was a lonely man, who had been through harder times than most people realised. He suffered from depression, a complaint which is misunderstood by most. He did not have much happy general chit-chat, because he rarely experienced the stress-free life that others had. He was a single father, with a three year old boy to look after. Junaid was his pride and joy, but ironically, his son contributed unwittingly to his depression. Muttiah was as house-bound as an infirm elderly person. He was probably visited less. The only time he got out was to shop, work or collect Junaid from the school or child-minder.
It is said by many politicians that the hardest job in the world is to be a single mum. Muttiah knew that this was wrong. The hardest job was to be a single dad. As such, your mates abandoned you, not wishing to sit in a house with a kid. Women ignored you and would not call in for a chat as they would with single mums, in case their boyfriends or husbands became jealous. Perhaps they thought that the sex-starved dad would jump on them as soon as they were across the threshold. He didn’t know which, if either, reason was right. The result was the same. More social isolation than a lifetime prisoner…at least prisoners got to play pool, attend gyms and the like. They certainly got more visitors than he did. He had only managed three nights out in three years. He had spent these feeling miserable, because he was not up to date with the local gossip. He had felt unable to join in with the galloping conversations, being used to talking to a toddler. The same social ineptitude affected all his interactions, including his job.
Worse still, he knew that some people put his condition down to being coloured. ‘He’s like all Pakis. He’s got a chip on his shoulder.’ Muttiah was not ‘a Paki’. He was not even Sri Lankan, though his grandfather came to England from there, some thirty years ago.
These thoughts and more beside, flitted across his mind as he shook off his wet coat and prepared to start work. He put his best brave face on, until it was time to finish work and pick up Junaid.
The rest of the evening he barely managed to go through the required routine of supper, wash-time, bed and story. Sometimes it was like this. He could scarcely force his unwilling body to perform the most menial and simple tasks. This lethargy would come on him suddenly. He would have no interest in anything, including Junaid. He would draw breath to start reading the bed-time story and the words would not come out. This could go on for a minute or more. His conscious mind would be despairing, wanting to read to his boy, but somehow the demons in his body would keep on cutting the telephone lines between his brain and vocal chords, so that he remained mute. He had come close to bursting into tears and fleeing the room several times. Thankfully, tonight was no exception. Without knowing why, the wise words of Thomas The Tank Engine had started to come forth. Like the little steam engine itself, they had gathered speed and strength, his relief lent the enthusiasm which he needed and he completed the story with gusto, encouraged by Junaid’s giggles and interruptions.
He was still relieved to close the bedroom door after the story and hated himself for this. He was descending the stairs to more solitary confinement. He hated this, but craved it at the same time. He felt like a masochist.
The room was not tidy. No room in a house with kids ever is. He stubbed his toe on a toy bus, as he blundered across the room to turn on the lamp. The television was shit. He turned it off. In an attempt to prevent him from dwelling on his circumstances, he gave life to his hi-fi by switching it on. He selected a new punk CD. Contrary to popular local belief, he did not listen to sitar music, nor did he care for Bollywood films.
He eased himself into the armchair which was placed in the focus of his pair of floor-standing speakers. The volume was not raucous, but not quiet either. He had taken over two years to realise that Junaid would not waken, even if Motorhead had performed live in the living room. At three years old, Junaid was quite capable of getting out of bed and telling him that there was a problem, on the rare occasions that he had a ‘tummy-ache’ or a bad dream.
Muttiah began his ritual of amusing himself with daydreams of better times to come. For once, he was able to stop the churning knot of parasites that chewed at his mind in these still moments. He dropped off to sleep. The band swore on. The sub-woofer beat out its deep tribal rhythm at a faster rate than Muttiah’s heart. By the time that he reached a deep enough sleep to begin dreaming, Junaid had already ridden dragons, clutching his favourite toy. His son had won all the races at nursery. Dolphins had been swimming in the puddles of the playground. Muttiah’s dreams were seldom of this happy-go-lucky nature.
This evening though, he entered one of his strange, but satisfying visions. Just as he dreamt that his outside toilet had been adorned with gold and that Princess Kate was so delighted with this that she began to disrobe, he awoke. He had a strange feeling that he was not alone. The music had finished and it was completely quiet, other than the distant sound of traffic on the A6, which his mind was used to and did not now hear.
With a quick feeling of alarm, he wondered if his son was alright. Looking around him and listening was enough to dispel this thought. The strange animal feeling did not go away, though. The cat was asleep on the other armchair. The guinea pigs in Junaid’s room were not whistling. The sensation grew sharply and Muttiah jumped out of his chair, all trace of sleep banished. He spun to face the door, which opened onto the street outside.
The door was closed. He could not tell if it was bolted because his vision was blocked by a figure. The man, if man it was, stood perfectly still, making no sound. Muttiah could not even hear breathing. He was not aware in those few seconds that his mouth was hanging open.
Normally the dismal old forty watt bulb in the lamp did not seem to emit enough light for the photons to reach the walls. What did arrive there was absorbed by the dark green paint, without re-emitting enough for the eye to know that it had got there at all. Consequently, the room was always dismal on winter nights. He could have stubbed his toe on the toy with the lamp turned on.
His mind was not focused on the need to buy a brighter bulb, nor was he wondering which colour of paint would lend a more cheerful ambience to the room. Instead, in numb astonishment, it was too busy assessing the apparition that had somehow materialised in front of him.
Like something out of one of his weird dreams, before him stood something looking like a samurai warrior. It was encased from head to toes in armour. The armour was made up of overlapping plates, which were formed with ridges and sharp facets. It was angular, like reptilian scales. A belt held three scabbards. He thought that Samurai carried a daisho, a pair of swords, one long and one short. Had he heard somewhere that they had three? Yes, he was sure of it, but had a feeling that the third was never carried by the warrior, when out of the house. Maybe it was some kind of ritual seppuku blade, perhaps.
He was also aware that the armour was not right for an ancient Japanese follower of bushido. It was glassy, but not transparent. Not only did it manage to reflect the light of his lazy light bulb, but it seemed to generate its own glow. He thought of bio-luminescence, fireflies and the odd fish that lived in deep water.
Should he not be saying something? Ousting the intruder like the hero of his daydreams? Probably he should be. This was reality, though, unless he was in one of those dreams where he mistakenly believed that he had woken up. Yes, that would be it. Any moment now, the sci-fi character in front of him would turn back into Princess Kate, naked. Then everything would be alright.
Sadly, Kate stubbornly remained in front of him as an impassive and totally un-nerving soldier from some far-off land. All these thoughts had taken only fractions of a second. Now his brain cells decided that it was time to act. Fight or flee. He tried to speak to the figure, perhaps he could rationalise all this? Neither his limbs nor voice would function. This was not at all like the dissociation that his depression caused. He knew instinctively that some external agent was causing his immobility. He felt fear rising in his gorge, like water coming up around the throat of a man tied to the bottom of a well. The fear turned to rage, more for his sleeping son than for himself.
His muscles were still locked up solid as the warrior drew the long sword from its sheath and began slowly, inexorably, to walk towards him. He noticed two things as he stood rooted to the carpet, which needed a clean with all the paint and juice that Junaid had spilt on it. Three things, if you counted his irrational concern about domestic hygiene. The first was that the man (?) did not draw a sword. It was no finely crafted katana which slid noiselessly from the scabbard. It resembled a cattle prod, with three metallic bars extending from the hilt and terminating in a spherical obsidian mass, about three centimetres in diameter and emitting the same fitful gleam that the armour gave off. Secondly and perhaps more alarmingly, Muttiah realised that the man’s gate was wrong. He did not have an unusual walk in the normal sense. Muttiah watched as the armour plates of the man’s legs flexed in two places between hips and ankles. The legs that were implied by these motions were not human. This discrepancy had not been apparent until the intruder had begun to move, the armour hid everything and had no distinct joints at the knees, elbows or any other part of the man’s anatomy.
Muttiah was beyond terror and completely helpless as the ‘cattle prod’ was raised towards a point somewhere in between his eyes and on his forehead. His pupils were fully dilated now, not only because of the feeble illumination of the lamp. Then everything went white, like losing consciousness. His last thought was that it was odd how people always talked of blacking out. Anyone who has been knocked out will testify that the colour is white, then nothing. Being unconscious, one is not aware of colour or anything else.
Muttiah re-emerged from sleep. The old wall clock ticked away patiently, its hands announcing to anyone who cared to look, that it was twenty past six. It was a twelve hour clock, so it did not let on as to whether this was morning or evening. Muttiah assumed that it was morning, though in the winter it was dark at this hour, morning and night. He cursed himself for falling asleep in the chair, as he rose from it stiffly.
He switched off the sub-woofer first and then the CD player and finally the amplifier. Switching one of the latter pair off first caused the woofer to emit a short deep protest of indignance, which he thought might be bad for it. He set off automatically towards the kitchen for his morning coffee. He had reached the doorway, avoiding the bus which he had not tidied out of the way last night, when he stopped. The memory of the night’s events hit him like walking into a wall. He could even recall the feelings that the cattle prod had inflicted on his body and nervous system. He gave an involuntary shudder. Should he call the police? He turned to face the outside door. It was locked and snubbed. He rushed upstairs and opened Junaid’s bedroom door to peep in. The lad was lying as if he had not moved, in exactly the same position he had been in when he fell asleep mid-story. Muttiah smiled briefly and went back downstairs.
A quick inspection of the house showed that nothing was stolen. There was no sign of a break-in. Nothing was in the least bit disturbed, let alone broken, except for the back door of the bus. This had been off several times. Muttiah pushed it back into place with a click and set the vehicle on the shelf amidst the other clutter of toys.
It was pointless calling the police. What would he say? “Hello, I’m calling about a break-in. Nothings damaged or stolen. Everything is fine, but the weird man with four knees put a tool to my head and gave me the best night of sleep I’ve had in months. Yes, officer, I can describe him. He wore black glass armour that was not really black. He shone like a glow-worm and didn’t say a thing.” Yeah, right. He would be locked up and Junaid would be whisked away by Social Services before he could so much as blink.
He made his coffee and sat down to watch the news and weather. Had he dreamed it all up? It was certainly what he wanted to think. Annoyingly, deep inside himself, he knew that old four-knees had been as real as the cup of coffee that he nursed in his hands, while the weather man told him that he was in for another crap day.
He heard noises from the bedroom above. Thud! How can such small children make so much noise even getting out of bed? Thud! This time followed by a shout, “Daddy? The plant’s fallen off the shelf again!” he set aside the mystery and what, if anything, he could do about it. With a resigned sigh, he set off to correct the errant plant pot, which always fell off the shelf and had never, ever, been touched by his son, honest!
The rocks of the cave-infested mountains looked on over Nangahar province as they always had done. If the cliff faces could remember what they had witnessed of human history, their knowledge would be rich, indeed. If, in turn, that wisdom could be read by any man, then he would become wise beyond belief. Perhaps he would be regarded as a new prophet. Sadly, wind and rain blurred the memory of the rocks. Further weather eroded their ancient wisdom. Like the humans who crawled over them and into them, they forgot their past. It was scattered to the winds, so that it became fragmented. What remained was an incomplete and erroneous synopsis of their history. Mankind made the very same mistakes. Perhaps, as in the case of the bare rock, this is not our fault.
Regardless of this, the young and newly exposed rock of Afghanistan witnessed conflict, in much the same way that the ancestors of the men who now stood before it had done. This day was like any other to the bones of the Earth, which jutted sharply through its flesh in this part of the world. It was summer. It was hot, though the temperature varied by close to twenty degrees from day to night. On a winter’s day, the temperature here would be freezing, day and night.
A warm wind evaporated water from the exposed flesh of the humans who stood here, today. They were mujahedin, simply translated, this means that they were warriors. Nothing new about this, either. Wars had been fought here for millennia. In 1893, some bright British chap agreed with Amar Abdur Rehman Khan to form a new border with Pakistan. It was known as the Durand line. Unfortunately, as with most political decisions, nobody in authority thought to ask the Pashtun Afghani tribes who became Pakistanis overnight, what they thought of the idea. This caused, shall we say, a spot of bother. Then the Russians decided in the twentieth century that they quite liked the look of Afghanistan and went on holiday there, the only problem being that most tourists normally arrive by plane or bus, instead of tank and fighter-bomber. Into the twentieth century, the unruly and ill-behaved Afghans continued to complain. (It went un-noticed by most that Pashtunistan ought to have been given back to them by then, under the Durand treaty.) After the invasions of centuries, was it any surprise that they began to misbehave. Throughout the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, they continued to breed fighters.
So here, in 2135, it should come as no shock to see a bunch of mujahedin standing, armed to the teeth, outside the cave labyrinths of Tora Bora. They were all clothed in traditional Afghan dress. Nothing strange there, either. For ages, this dress had been suitable for the extremes of hot and cold that the country faced. Why fix what isn’t broken? No, the odd thing came when the faces were inspected closely. All were dark, but for heaven’s sake, most Caucasians would be tanned after a time here, in summer. The strange thing was that quite a number were tanned. This was not their normal skin tone. One was plainly black-skinned and several were of oriental origin. One of the tanned mujahedin had blonde hair and blue eyes. He was called Hari Jakkonen. He came from Finland.
So, what do we have here? It was a curious mixture of Europeans, middle-Easterners, Orientals and the Americans, not to mention an Australian and three South Africans. No, this was no regular bunch of freedom fighters. They were, however, in the midst of what was tantamount to Jihad. It was certainly war.
The motley collection of fighters bore with them an assortment of weaponry. It was mostly twenty-second vintage, but some was older. Mostly, the soldiers bore light weaponry. Some carried rocket launchers over their shoulders. All were festooned with munitions, either slung in belt form around their shoulders, or bagged in cartridges, with pods for the more recent laser weapons.
Here stood atheists, Muslims, Christians and agnostics, shoulder to shoulder. So it was unlikely that they were fighting a Holy war, or Jihad. They bore the same weathered, determined look that had been used here for centuries. What bound these men together? Who was the common enemy?
The breeze tugged at Muttiah’s beard. A grain of sand struck the corner of his eye and he blinked. He spoke in English. It was the most common of all the languages which the men shared. “So when do we hear from Gunther? Do we move, or do we wait to get our arses blown off here?”
“Patience, my friend,” Ruaridh began, “what can we do? If we move, we risk being picked off from the air. If we stay, we could be located here, but at least we have cover and know the land. Better to wait for a plan and allies, than to deprive our allies of ourselves, by foolhardiness.”
“Sure, you’re right Ruaridh, but it sucks!” Emmet snorted.
The tension was getting to them all. They were waiting for some instruction, something concrete so that they could launch a new series of raids. Such priceless intelligence was getting scarcer. Their numbers were decreasing as one group after another were hunted down and enslaved or destroyed. They all felt that they were fighting a losing battle. Equally, they were all determined that somehow, some time, they would prevail.