We have a treat for readers today — an excerpt from a book that is part of the Nerdist Space Opera Contest being hosted by InkShares, where you get to pick the next great space opera.
This excerpt comes from The Madness of Mr. Butler by Michael Haase, which is described thusly:
Mr. Butler dares to believe his world is a sphere floating around a star, which is why everyone else thinks he is a crazy old man. He discovers a being from another world who can help prove his theory, if the creature doesn’t drive him crazy first…
Mr. Butler waited rather patiently to be hanged by the neck until dead. His death was planned for first thing in the morning, and by his calculations, it was still several hours before sunrise. This time of solitude in a prison cell brought him great joy and satisfaction. He had not had a moment’s peace in nearly two weeks, and if it took a death sentence for him to finally have his own thoughts back, then so be it.
He laid on his back on the cold floor and looked up at the blank, dark ceiling. Breathing slowly and steadily, his mind finally started to wander off into space, just like it used to before he had put on that damned uncomfortable helmet…before everything went so wrong so quickly. He was naked otherwise, as the king had demanded that Mr. Butler be stripped prior to being imprisoned; however, not a single other person could get “the God helmet” off, no matter how hard they tried.
So there he lay, nude, save for an astronaut’s helmet once worn by an Earthling who went mad. He was staring wide-eyed at the ceiling while a gentle grin grew from the sides of his mouth as his mind wandered away. He visualized being lifted off of the planet and drifting effortlessly beyond his solar system. He only slowed down and turned back when he felt he was at the optimal distance to admire the colors, shapes, lights, and chemistry that made up the patient fireworks display of outer space. Admiration for the vastness and infinite nature of everything caused his pulse to quicken in excitement and his breath to catch in his neck in passionate terror. His mind lit up in a fury of knowledge, and he was once again satisfied with the simple explorative curiosity of his scientific mind.
Just like the old times.
“Those were the days…I miss those days.” Mr. Butler spoke to himself.
The days to which he was referring occurred not too terribly long ago, back when everyone else on his small planet thought he was a harmless, crazy old man. He rather enjoyed being a harmless, crazy old man. It kept everyone at a distance and gave him plenty of time to think, to wonder, and to explore the sky in solitude.
Then Mr. Butler broke his space-drift meditation to wonder how it all went wrong.
Naturally, it all started with a girl.
“Tear the palace apart from the ground to the heavens! I know she is around here somewhere!”
The raspy, furious voice of King Nox echoed through the damp walls of his castle. The echoes were answered by the loud footsteps of Nox’s guard scurrying around in attempts to find Eliza, the daughter of the previous king, Amicus. Eliza would not be found that day. Just after sunset, she escaped the castle through an unguarded window at the very top, shimmying her way down to the ground, unseen. She would have had more time between the beginning of her flight and the discovery of her absence, but Nox decided that he would try to woo the girl once more after everyone else had fallen asleep, and raised the alarms when he found her chambers empty.
King Nox’s wooing had become a process that Eliza would refuse time and time again. He would offer her a simple choice: be his bride and be free, or be hanged to death for blasphemy.
“Death sounds far more rewarding of a choice.” she responded on a near twice-daily basis.
Eliza was not only being honest when she responded this way, but she was also calling Nox’s bluff. About a thousand people lived in the land of Aridus, but very few of them were women, and even fewer were as beautiful or as strong as Eliza. Nox was too prideful of a man to murder such a rare and beautiful diamond as long as it stayed in his possession.
Eliza lived as a prisoner after Nox had overtaken and killed Eliza’s father, Amicus, about five years earlier. Nox had been the self-appointed King and high priest ever since, and with his new roles he assumed final say when interpreting the needs of God. He told the people of Aridus that Eliza required “the special attention of God’s most talented handyman” after he hanged and burned her father for blasphemy.
Unfortunately for Eliza, no one argued.
Eliza had not been seen outside of the palace after Nox’s decree, most memories of her soon fading away beyond the worries and poverty of every other person in the land. The only person who had not forgotten about Eliza was considered a broken, crazy, and tortured soul in Aridus: Thaddeus Butler, Amicus’ old personal scientist.
Mr. Butler lived in a small hut Amicus encouraged him to build in the barren sand on the edge of the Great Water, away from all civilization in Aridus. The hut served as a place of solitude and study, and no other citizen on Aridus cared to bother him. Mr. Butler’s hut was a majestic paradise for Eliza in her youth. It was there she learned about the rotation of Aridus, the movement of the stars, the moon’s cycles and how they affected the Great Water, and how it was entirely possible that Aridus was a sphere rotating through space around the sun. This perspective contradicted the idea of Aridus being the flat center of the universe surrounded by God, the sun, and his bright goddesses, the moon and stars.
Mr. Butler contradicted almost everything everyone else on Aridus believed, and he challenged almost everything Nox taught in his daily prayer services. His bold take on the night sky made Eliza love him in a way she loved no other man on Aridus. She did not care for Mr. Butler romantically, as he was certainly old and a bit of an eccentric, but she loved him as someone should love anyone who opens doors to life that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
Eliza’s love for Mr. Butler only grew after the murder of her father. She remembered all of Mr. Butler’s lessons and tricks, and wanted to get back to him so she could learn more. She longed for knowledge. She longed for companionship. She longed for the return of any portion of her life that existed before Nox’s rule.
And while Nox raged on in the distance behind her, desperately searching for his lost prisoner, Eliza longed to find Mr. Butler’s hut before anyone saw else her.
She flew there straight away under the cover of night.
Unfortunately, she was too lost in longing to think about hiding her tracks in the sand.
[End of excerpt]