"Monochrome" by Ian Creasey — story background

They had a good cover story.  Even up close, the factory looked like an ordinary under-funded oceanography station, right down to the rusting fence and the solitary watchman.  I hoped the security guard and his dog would be as easy to avoid as the fence had been to climb.

Shivering in the stiff breeze coming straight off the Atlantic, I decided to make a final prayer for the success of the mission.  I unwrapped my communion wafers, ate one, then thought that the task ahead deserved another.  I threw the rest away — it would be best not to have them on me if I were caught — and lay down on the sand to await the glory.

This is one of my earliest stories, and I no longer remember exactly what sparked it off.  I assume that Philip K. Dick was a big influence, and I do recall that after I'd come up with the premise, I had the ambition of writing something like George R.R. Martin's classic story "The Way of Cross and Dragon".  (I'm almost embarrassed to say that, because my pathetic beginner's effort falls so far short of Martin's masterpiece that they're barely even written in the same language.  But there's nothing wrong in aiming high.  Realising that you're nowhere near, that you're not yet batting on the same ballpark, is all part of the learning process.)

"Monochrome" is set in a future where religion has faded into a minor, non-threatening, non-divisive pastime.  The protagonist of the story believes that this is due to sinister government suppression, implemented by putting a drug called Tempora into the water supply.  He has his own drug, AD, to counteract the Tempora and thereby grant him spiritual experiences — AD stands for both "antidote" and "Anno Domini", and is consumed in the form of communion wafers.  Under its influence, he attempts to blow up an installation that he believes is manufacturing Tempora.  When he is captured by the authorities, they tell him that Tempora is just a conspiracy theory, and AD is simply a psychoactive like other street drugs.  In order to curb his use of it, they give him another drug called Equinull, which will make him extremely sick if he takes AD again (just like Antabuse is given to alcoholics to dissuade them from drinking alcohol).

So, lots of drugs in the story!  This, along with the protagonist's paranoia, is why I suspect a PKD influence.  I think the drug elements work rather well, and I'm still pleased with the climactic scene in which the protagonist defiantly takes AD again, finds his spiritual visions horribly distorted by the Equinull, but fights on anyway.  The story is less successful in presenting a convincing future where religion has faded away — at only 2,500 words, it isn't nearly long enough to do justice to that.

The core element of "Monochrome" was the idea of a drug that induces religion.  I recycled this concept (in the form of "faith pills") in my subsequent story "The Scaffold", which treated the whole religious angle with much more depth and rigour.  In that sense, "Monochrome" can be considered a rehearsal, an early try-out, for a later and more successful treatment of similar themes in "The Scaffold".

Page last updated: 23 May 2015