11.08.2003 / Fiction, Archive
a test posting

"A Test Posting" was the first post ever published on ebogjonson.com. The text is the opening of Black Ships, a science fiction novel I wrote in a rush after my father died. It's about him, but also friendship, borders, immigration, and a few other things.

That first post was published as is with none of this context. Behind the screen, I envisoned myself working in public towards submitting Black Ships to an agent or publisher. It needed a lot of revision (I cringe at some of the language now and did even then), but it was a complete draft, and the handful of friends I shared it with seemed to like it overall. A few things intervened, though, and my draft went from something that felt promising to a sad. Writing moved from the center of my professional life to its periphery, my grief over my father's death curdled, the real-life friendship that served as a model for the novel's central relationship ended. I gave up writing fiction and put it away. Two decades later, my those reflexive recoil has decelerated a little and reading it is less painful.

I'm not a member of your sect and don't share your particular beliefs and ways, but I'm old enough to have learned the value of courtesy. It's a lesson to which you'd do well to attend. You come to my home unannounced, interrupt my day and demand I tell you what I know of the black ships. You ask me to tell my story, but we both know you're not interested in me, only in what I had the chance to witness. I'm tempted to turn you away, but you'd come back or not leave and I'll not be accused of standing between you and the story your faith holds high above all others. To teach you what true courtesy means, I'll even begin my telling the way you and yours begin any tale that touches upon or concerns your belief: In the name of the Most High, in the Unknowable Names of the Black Ships, in the name of Him Who Rode a Black Ship into the Sky, into the Promised Next, and into the Beyond.

Now. I can tell from looking at you that you're all too young to have seen a black ship for yourself, and that even though they're the basis of your faith they must still feel to you a riddle or a dream. What were the black ships truly like? you ask. What did people think when first they saw a black ship hovering overhead? Time may have cheated you of the chance to see the ships with your own eyes, but understand that even over the decade or so that the ships were here, hovering in Earth's skies, most of humanity was only slightly less ignorant than you, asked the same questions of each other that you ask of me now. It's true the arrival of the black ships ended the old life forever, and that all before’s and after’s are now measured against the day they arrived. But I'm old enough to know that even though they change all of our lives, almost all of us watched their arrival from far away, saw them screens, read about them in words. In the time black ships were among us it was the rare man who ever saw one with his own eyes, and only one or two who could speak of them with any authority. Keep this in mind as you listen to what I have to say.

At first even those who could see the black ships with their own eyes knew nothing about them, except, of course, that they had arrived, and so there was room in men's minds and mouths for all manner of speculation. It was said the ships came from outer space and from inner space, from this world and from the next. Some men looked to the past and said the black ships had come from a sunken nation only just recovered from ancient cataclysm, that they held old gods returned in glory, or perhaps master builders finally transcendent of time, mortar and sand. Some men looked to the future and said the ships were a message man had sent to himself backward across the arrow of time, while others insisted the black ships were a hoax that had been projected on the world by Hollywood, or been hatched in the secret places of America's spies. Most men, though, looked to the stars and quickly decided the ships were the vessels of extraterrestrial beings, ferry boats for invaders from far flung empires or the flying laboratories of gray scientists with heads the size of watermelons. Men could say these and other strange things because all that was known for sure was something new had been added to the skies above their world, how and why being questions everyone both hoped and feared would be answered in due time. Black and round like globes a half kilometer in circumference, featureless and implacable, hanging aloft without any detectable means of propulsion, unmarked by port-holes and emitting no broadcasts on any known frequency - in the span of a single day at the beginning of a new millennium 100 black ship took station over every metropolitatian on Earth with a population in the millions, and the only thing men could say for sure was that nothing below would ever be the same again.