This article is about the novel by Ted Vaaaak. For the album by Toby Vok, please see The Smoking Moon (album).
Chapter 1: The Smoking Moon
Everything was perfectly symmetrical except for a few bits that weren’t and Toby sat right at the centre of the bed that was perfectly at the centre of the room which was the entirety of the house and his eyes were closed and he was beautiful. So beautiful. Of what was he thinking? And how? Is it truly even a thought if it consists of naught but music? I did not know. I still do not. I have my suspicions.
The telephone rang. Toby unmoved, becoming somehow stiller than before. The ringing continued. Toby reached a state of almost quantum stillness. The seventh ring rung, the answering device activated. The beeps began, were begone, and a voice spoke out towards us. Towards Toby. My presence was unheeded, unneeded, unknown.
“Tobin Tobias Tobit ‘Toby’ Tobermory Vok, your assistance is requested.” The voice was grave. “Pick up and answer me, I implore you. You will be interested.” The voice was brave. “Or you might be, anyway.” The voice was aquiver and awave, passions enflamed.
One moment Toby was at the centre of his bed, upright and still, the next he was standing between his bed and the table, phone in hand, upright still but moving, every bit of him moving. The unmovement had become allmovement.
“This is Toby here, it’s nice to know I’m admired. But I can’t help wondering why you think I’m required.”
“The moon is on fire.”
“It is impossible,” Toby replied.
“Look out of the window.”
“I have had them removed,” Toby cried.
“It is impossible.”
“I assure you it is not,” Toby sighed.
“Then look out of the space where the window used to be.”
“There are four spaces where windows used to be. One to the North, one to the South, one East, one West,” Toby identified.
“Look South. And East.”
Toby complied. “There is a wall there.”
“Face South. Turn Neck Leftwards, Upwards.” The instructions kept coming from the phone, and Toby followed them as best he could. He rotated his neck 45 degrees to the left and then 30 degrees above the ecliptic. His eyes did their job and he saw the impossible.
He returned instantly to the telephone.
“It is impossible,” Toby classified.
“Yes, Toby. Yes it is.”
The phone was rehung, the radio dial spun, the television begun. All across the world was chatter and confusion and disagreement and befuddlement. How could fire… Where from smoke… Oxygen. Air. Have you ever noticed that smoke looks like underwater hair?
“This is why I’m needed: I know my way to the moon and back,” Toby trilled. “I know my way to anywhere, in fact.” Toby stilled. “But how could this happen without my knowledge?” And then unstilled. The telephone was back in his claw. “I’m coming in.”
Outside the moon grew rounder, for in a vacuum smoke expands in a uniform sphere.
Chapter 2: Summoned To Pan Nedrex
Toby, dressed immaculately even in bed, returned the telephone to the off configuration, and from there leaped immediately out through the space where a window should have been and scuttled away into the street. The clacking of his shoes played out a disconcerting rhythm as he waltzed along the tarmac, as if the usual beasts of the night had had their paws and claws replaced with nails and glass and jagged splinters pulled from the lacerated hearts of despair. I wondered briefly what it was that lurked in his soles.
Illuminated only by the fog-glow of the moon, Toby juggled a crowbar from hand to hand as if it were a cane, tipped his imaginary top hat to the watching roofdogs and poleowls and hedgecats as he danced passed. Danced, perhaps, or maybe he just moved haphazardly, jerking fellwise and crabwards along the road, back and forth, back and forth, sideways for a second, then spasming forth again, and again, and again, as if he were animated with an irregular and always changing framerate. Until, upon reaching his destination, he ceased.
Crowbar seized, then squeezed, slowly, under the rim of a manhole cover, all the iron of it flipped then like a tiddlywink, the great coin seeming to pause for a moment in the midnight smokelight at the apex of it’s parabolic tumble, then crashing down in a cacophony of clangs and madness. Before the first echo could return to his ears he was gone.
Gone down into the pipes.
In the blackness there he moved by remembrances and retrospections, lost surely, but not lost, not lost at all, for he proceeded unerringly, following unseen vibrations and audiolfactory declinations, until he emerged from pipe to passage and stood expectantly before a door.
The door itself unseen in the pitch black gloom but its existence implied by the light that seeped out from the gaps between it and the frame, its territory marked but its nature not revealed. I imagined it as cold metal, unbroken except for a letterbox at eyelevel, no keyhole, no handle, no sign of welcome at all, just cold grey indifference.
Toby whistled a code, played another by striking at his teeth as if they were the bones of a xylophone, weeped for a while, began to sing.
The door opened inwards. As the light inside rushed out to overwhelm our eyes I could see the words PAN NEDREX INC. spelled out in carefully stencilled frosting upon the dappled smoked glass of the door, the bulbous crystal knob grasped firmly in Toby’s unquivering hands.
Inside stood the general.
Chapter 3: The General
The General defied description. Toby would not even look at him, perhaps because of the confusion that would be caused to the delicate conduits of his brain if he did. Toby had more important things to apply his neuronics to tonight than zoological categorisations of The General’s baffling assortment of limbstumps and bulgebacks, jawformations and eyecrystals, ribclefts, fractalnecks and all the other things in between that glitched and trimmered nervously beneath his prominent, distinguished, ever-shuffling scalplumps.
Instead Toby’s eyes skittered across the room, flittering from brick to sink to autopsy table with barely a rest, until, after several moments of twitching, he saw the blackboard in the corner, and the arcane runes scrawled upon its perversely whitewashed surface.
Upon it’s surface, in illustration, space had been inverted: white everywhere and the moon in black. The words FIRE HOW OXYGEN WHERE SMOKE NOW I DESPAIR were spelled out in multicoloured fridge magnets at the centre, and around this half-formed algebra swirled like foetii in a milky amniotic lake.
Gathered before it stood a crowd of scientifimen and mathemawomen, each one more confused than the last, so far into bafflement they didn’t even realise that each and every one of them was crying themselves towards dehydration sickness and salt deficiency.
Toby pushed himself forward until he was at the exact centre of their gravitational mass and then announced, all at once, in several tones simultaneously, that the solution was simple. There was no fire (a type of combustion), mere illusion (a type of trick, or possibly a ruse); there was no atmosphere (a gathering of gases), just a wizard (a type of witch) and his cat (a type of cat). A trick was all it was, to hide that fact.
The scientists revolted, fists and heads and woollen socks brought to bear on Toby’s vulnerable flesh with a fury that seemed almost human, until The General slithered back into view and they fled out into the pipes, their cries echoing back to us from the metal tubeways like the forlorn final barks of Laika as she slowly suffocated in her bronze sarcophagus, all alone, in the cold depths of space, in nineteen fifty seven.
I wept for her and hoped Toby would not see.
The Space Elevator: An Introduction
(The following article is an excerpt from How it works… The Space Elevator, written by M.E. Gagg E.S.A. and illustrated by C.F Tunnicliffe, and published by Ladybird Books in 1975, revised and republished in 2004. All copyrights have been ignored.)
A space elevator is a type of space transportation system. Its main component is a ribbon-like cable (also called a tether) anchored to the earth’s surface and extending into space. It is designed to permit vehicle transportation along the cable from a planetary surface, such as the Earth’s, directly into space or orbit, without the use of large rockets.
The only known working space elevator is the 1973 Earth/Moon Space Elevator, a two-part elevator system consisting of a cable attached to the surface of the Earth near Hull, North Humbershire, England, that extends directly upwards towards the tether-point in geostationary orbit 36000 kilometres above. From there, another cable trails down to the moon, where it attaches directly to the centrepoint of the core. A complex series of trenches (referred to generally but inaccurately as canals) was established that enables the cable to cope with the rotation of the moon, the earth and the tether-point in geostationary orbit above Hull, even though this was initially considered impossible by everyone that had thought about it for even a second.
The concept for the space elevator was first published, in 1895, by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. His proposal was for a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit. Like all buildings, Tsiolkovsky’s structure would be under compression, supporting its own weight from below. Due to the limits of known matter, this proved to be an impossible engineering task, and since 1959, space elevator construction has focused on purely tensile structures, with the weight of the system held up from above.
However, the 1973 Space Elevator was constructed using a conflagration of ideas and an accumulation of conflicting theories, and, upon completion, it turned out to be deadly to all human users of the device. Since the sudden and complete abandonment of the project, the structure has been left to decay, and is mostly now ignored by the local population. Rumours of its resurrection and use occasionally surface in local media, but are not thought to be worth serious investigation by the authorities.
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Flesh to Flash Conversion, IEEE, 1973
Electrical Pulse Workings, Toby Vok, Hull University Press, 1953
The Human Skull And Eye Sockets Under Compression, Various Artists, Warp, 2002
Assorted Biorhythmical Anomalies And Their Usage In Unbreakable Lockkey Security Systems, Patrick Moore, The Science Fiction Book Club For Boys, 1966
Space Mobiles: A Collection Of Space Mobiles To Cut Out And Glue Together, Brian Knight, Tarquin Publications, 1984
Chapter 5: An Ascent
“Toby, I know everything.” The General did not so much speak as intone. “I know about your secret resurrection of the space elevator. I know of your securification of the device, so that only you can use it, and that all who follow shall die. I know that you were the thirteenth man on the moon. I know it is your heartbeat that these waveforms represent, and I know it is your brainwaves that these beatlines describe.” The General pointed here and there at various ever-varying displays and charts and models as he droned.
“All lies,” Tobied Toby. “Risible lies. But then what would I expect from a man that calls himself The General.”
“That’s no lie.”
“Pan Nedrex is a civilian operation,” Toby Tobied.
“There is no difference between the public and the private anymore, Toby. There are Generals everywhere.”
“You can have your opinion if you want, it’s of no use to me.”
Toby spasmburst forward, deftly moving himself out of the grasping reach of The General’s infamous uniramous appendages before they could converge on his position and hold him for safekeeping. In one slick motion he kicked clear the curtains that hid the entrance to the elevator shaft and with his foremost hand pressed the activation button at its maw.
And was transformed.
The General had told the truth and now Toby was being hurtled upwards at a velocity unimaginable for matter, but that mattered no longer for Toby was matter no longer, his form and being condensed instead into waves, free of the strictures of particulation, pulsing at a frequency that matched the irregular rhythm of his own heart and no one else’s, oscillating at revolutions only his brain could attain and maintain.
Toby’s vibrations were unique. Or if not unique, shared only by the universe itself.
Not even I could follow him now.
Chapter 6: Arrival
Chapter 7: The Subterranean Castle*
Toby leapt into the elevator shaft and tumbled down towards the moon’s core. Contradictorily (to the human brain at least, but not to the laws of physical nature) his accelerations downward were matched by a corresponding decrease in the gravitational pull upon his soul, so that when he finally reached the entranceway to the chamber at the exact centre of the moon’s gravitational rift he was weightless as well as effortless.
Hand stretched out, ledge grabbed, body swung in from the shaftway and neatly into the entrancehall, Toby looked into the Hall Of Flotations And Sensory-Deprivations, the vast hollow chamber that existed at very the centre of the moon, and which was usually so pristine, lightless but serene. But now he was confronted instead with a scene so obscene he began to keen.
The room was filled with an unearthly glow. A castle had been built there, in the earthworn fashion, as if gravity existed, with its ups and downs, taking no advantage of this expanse’s arounds and arounds. Castellations, balistraria and machicolations; drawbridgements and moatifications; this fortress used them all. Even a geodesic dome sat upon the roof, glassbuilt and treefilled, anachronistic but still suitably stylish.
The drawbridge drew open as Toby swirled close. He was or had been expected.
*Technically, of course, the castle is sublunarean and not subterranean. However, it transpires that sublunarean is in fact impossible for the human tongue to adequately form. Toby himself, being possessed of two throats and, within them, the subsequent tongues, can manage perfectly adequately, but still feels uncomfortable using the term in public, possibly incase an eavesdropper, unaware of the dangers involved, should attempt to pronounce the word unattended, unaided, and unaspirated.
Chapter 8: Wizard Meat
Toby stared at the wizard stared at Toby looked away.
“Nice castle,” said Toby.
“Thank you,” said the wizard.
“I thought you’d have a cat,” said Toby.
“She’s asleep upstairs,” said the wizard.
“And I see you’ve got a hat,” said Toby.
“ ,” said the wizard.
“None of which explains the gravity and oxygen which fill this palace of yours,” said Toby. “Cats have no need of oxygen (it’s why they populate all the known planets, not just the comfortable ones), and hats don’t need gravity (just a bit of glue or maybe a strap),” said Toby some more. “This frivolous affection of yours has ruined this moon’s splendidly weightless core,” Toby said again.
“Your hatred clouds your thoughtifications, Toby. I thought it would be obvious,” said the wizard.
“I hate you,” said Toby. “And therefore refuse to think at your behest.”
“(The cat disliked floating about and missed desperately the comforting sensation of sitting on her cushion, while my incantations were inaudible without an atmosphere and therefore ineffective,)” asided the wizard.
“I don’t have time to listen to this. Let’s get to your plan,” said Toby.
“Would you prefer me to tell you the plan, or to show you?” said the wizard.
“Whichever one it is that involves the least of your terrible words,” said Toby.
“To the surface then. To the show,” said the wizard.
The wizard stared at Toby stared at the wizard looked away.
“There will also be some explaining,” said the wizard.
Chapter 9: His Plan Unfurls
The wizard took Toby by the hand and pulled him urgently back towards the space elevator shaft. He was animated, now, agitated, and also fully aspirated. And he was desperate for action — the plan was ready now and there could be no delay.
Toby pressed the button for the lift and they waited for it to come.
“I’ve been waiting for you so long, Toby. For anyone really. What’s the good of a plan without the pleasure of revelation? Cats may be better than you or I in almost every respect, but elaborate schemes seem to make no impression upon their minds. It is as if everything I say to her is just meaningless babble that distracts my hands from their faithful stroking duties. Sometimes I don’t think she’s even aware of me as a person at all.” The wizard sighed. “I fear to her I’m just two disembodied gloves magically providing all the necessary ministrations for one of her station.”
Toby pressed the button again.
“Her station is that of a cat.”
Toby thought about pressing the button again but decided maybe he had pressed it enough.
“But you, Toby… You I feel I can tell everything to. Not even just this plan, but all my plans. All my theories. All my musings.”
Toby prodded and prodded at the button.
“Lately I’ve been working on an entropy reversal device, an inert rod of specially crystallised ether that is so attractive and astonishing that the elements around it transfer their heat directly to it and are too embarrassed to ask for or take anything in return. It is an ingenious device, almost reminiscent of an inverted black hole. I hope one day that eventually it will revert the big bang, everything reduced once again to a single point, and all in the palm of my hand.”
Toby began to punch at the control panel.
“Also the other day I came to the realisation that Doctor Who is nothing more these days than Mary Poppins, except for her charm, and wit, and singing, and umbrellas. Perhaps Mary Poppins is the true trickster, the archetype that all of us are mere echoes of. Even you, Toby, even you.”
Toby’s knees buckled and he began to weep. The wizard reached over him and gave the lift button a single sharp tap. The doors slid open and the wizard stepped inside.
Toby stopped his weeping and his shivering and clambered into the lift, insinuating himself into the space between the wizard and the control panel. Making sure to keep his body between the wizard’s hands and the buttons, and without ever taking his careful eyes from the wizard’s form, Toby pressed up. And then pressed it again in the hope that this would activate a higher speed of ascent. Which it did.
Milliseconds later the doors swung open. Toby’s eyeballs involuntarily flicked themselves to the side as the lunar surface stretched out before them, and before he could manually flick them back the wizard flew off out into the mist.
Toby began to feel as if perhaps he had been tricked somehow. The echoes of the wizard’s laughter did not help to alleviate his fears. Then there came the grinding of gears and the squeaking of unoiled levers and the smashing of a mug and just like that the fog began to clear and Toby’s heart fluttered in disbelief and awe at what he saw.
Machines stretched across the entire lunic orb (a handily placed series of mirrored globes orbiting the moon allowed Toby to see all 38 million square kilometres of the lunar surface in exquisite, if slightly distorted and discoloured, detail) and between the machines stretched a cobweb of wires and cables. Between and below, for the webwork latticed its way down the canalidors and corriways, filling the hollow core of the moon like cavity wall insulation gone feral and insane.
“With these machines I’ll electrify the planet,” the wizard roared, zooming high above Toby’s head. “I’ll send power surging through these veins until I reawake the cosmic beast. The moon of course was just its heart. Withered now and husked I suppose, but dormant, not dead. Awake, the collosus’ll realign the stars. It’ll kill every man and beast on that rotten waste up there above us, and I will be there to assist.”
“As his assistant,” the wizard added unnecessarily, triumphantly.
Chapter 10: Cease, Wizard
Toby needed a plan and he needed it fast. This madman must be stopped, as also, of course, must the slumbering solarsystemical beast. Toby’s brain whirred and clanked and he knew what he must do.
The wizard swooped in low for a gratuitously close gloat and that was when Toby enacted his deviously clever plan.
His plan: attack.
He punched the wizard in the cheek, clattering him to the floor. The wizard rose to his feet only to be met with a kick to the knee followed quickly by a headbutt to an ear, then seven punches in quick succession accompanied by a sort of demented yelp that radiated across the lunar void. Cables shattered, machines exploded, the wizard himself was mostly disrobed (his hat flew off).
Toby grabbed the wizard by his shoulders and leapt back into the lift, elbow smashing into the buttons on the control panel with such force that a shower of sparks burst forth. Toby shielded himself by thrusting the wizard’s screaming face into the spray. Then, the lift fell and down they plummeted.
Toby punched and kicked the wizard all the way to the core and beyond for a bit and then back up and past it and then down again and so on for a good long while until gravity’s pulls and pushes were exhausted and the carriage slumped down there at the bottom of the well.
The door would not open so Toby smashed his way through the glass with the wizard as a hammer and then dragged him back towards his castle.
But it was not the castle Toby wanted, it was the moat.
The moat was refilled, all the smoke from the surface having condensed back to water and dripped its way down here into this once dank and now dank once more cavern.
Toby held the wizard underwater but he would not be drowned. Proof at last that he was right and the scientists were wrong — this really was a type of witch they were dealing with (witch type: wizard). Toby might have been wrong about the moon having no atmosphere but at least he had been right about that (and about the cat, and to a lesser extent the hat).
In a burst of water and a shower of laughter, the wizard surged up out of the lake and knocked Toby aside.
“You fool,” he spluttered, blood and lip matter dripping in great clogs from his ruined mouth. “Up there you could have destroyed me, for I was wandless and catfree. But here, in my castle-”
Toby crushed the wizard’s skull with a rock and he was a threat no more.
Chapter 11: The Space Elevator (pt 2)
The elevator chamber was shattered and ruined. Glass was everywhere. Wires hung down from the ceiling like spilt intestines. Mysterious viscous liquids wept out from the shattered husks of the lighting polyps. Steam vented furiously. A countdown counted down towards some inevitable doom. Yet into all this Toby stepped.
Earth return was imperative. The moon had been defiled. A self-sustaining nuclear reaction was about to begin. Every grain of moondust set to ignite.
Toby emitted a series of beeps and loops and the elevator began to whine in response. Pulses shuddered through him and the metal walls of the shaft undulated and a throbbing began in his skull and he dreamt he screamed he flailed and explosions rippled across the entire fabric of the spacetime web and he exploded up he exploded out he went smiling towards the light.
Chapter 12: Thanks But No Thanks
Toby awoke in a crater in the suburbs of Hull, all that remained of the Pan Nedrex bunker and the space elevator port scattered about him in a perfect circle of dust.
We all looked down at him in awe. As his eyelids fluttered open and his consciousness swept out towards us we began to applaud and cheer and weep with the joy of exhausted children at the end of the infinite Christmas day. I gave him a kiss on his severed cheek and in his graciousness he ignored me.
“We saw everything,” The General blubbered as he pulled Toby up by his cracked and flopping wrist. “Using satellite video and lasered radio. You saved the Earth again. How can we repay you?”
Toby tottered in front of us, balanced delicately on his severed legs. “I don’t need thanks.”
“You do,” said one of the mathemawomen. “Your wizard-battle have you won — you’ve saved the Earth and set alight the moon. Now all our theories have come true. Behold the sun, of which we have not now one, but two.”
Toby looked up at the moon, its glowing surface and its tendrils of smoke, the unoxygened fire of this, the new and glorious atomic moonsun of his inadvertent creation, and he was overcome with a feeling, momentarily, of joy.
And then, momentatiously, of sadness.
He brushed aside their gratitude. “I only did my part,” his bleeding mouth spat. “Any excuse to kill a wizard and eat his heart.”
The Smoking Moon (the album) is available for the fascinating price of free (or more). Excitingly, enticingly, The Smoking Moon (the album) also contains The Smoking Moon (the novelisation), plus assorted other sundries (interviews, recipes, further adventures).