Sunday, 31 January 2010


A dusting of snow lies on the just-frozen surface of the water garden. A bird flies across the surface, landing briefly in a display of all four of its wings before launching itself back into the air. The sky overhead continues to lighten, the weak, yellow sun occasionally breaking through the low cloud. I sit on the cold wood of the observation deck, a tea slowly cooling in its vacuum cup, the steam rising elegantly from its bowl. To be asked to sit here, to wait, is something of an honour and a test.
There is a sound like the tearing of paper behind me and I slowly turn to see Weran coming out form the door to the main complex. He is short for a Renonsian, only seven foot, but he has all the casual elegance of his species that always makes me feel inadequate to the light gravity of their moon. He clasps his forearms together in greeting, bowing slightly to expose his rear wings. Although they are not able to support any Renonsian in flight they are elegant, well-looked after, the feathers falling along his back in a short cascade of muted colours.
“Ambassador.” He says, in English. I understand their language well enough to be able to speak it flawlessly, the twenty year flight gave me plenty of time for study, but they always insist that dialogue be conducted in our tongue. None of the reasons that I have heard have convinced me why.
Behind Weran another Renonsian emerges, taller, dressed in the light armour of their warrior caste. Finally, I think. This is turning out to be a very interesting day.
I have seen many soldiers while I have been here. Although they nominally fall under the command of the civilian authority they conduct themselves with a disdain for any that are not of their caste. The civilian administration defers to them in a great deal, although there is a separation of concerns between economics and politics that has been proving particularly difficult to navigate.

Friday, 29 January 2010


Fred woke up one morning and could see nothing but colour. It wouldn’t have been so bad, it didn’t sound so bad, but it wasn’t just the colour of now he could see. The memory of colour became visible to him also.
Streaks of colour, stripes of shades, swam in front of his confused eyes.
The only way he could get out of bed and make his way to the en suite bathroom was by working out how dense the lines were, hoping that the denser the colour, the more permanent the actual thing behind the colour. His wardrobe formed a relatively solid block of dark blue for him to steer around. The open door to the bathroom was signified by a dark patch, particles of light blurred across the darkness so that even this wasn’t firmly delineated in his sight.
Running water from the shiny grey reflective mass of the cold tap, shards of reflections glittering out across the sink in a bewilderment of rich jewels, reached more by touch and memory than sight, appeared like a fractured stream of individual drops of silvery blue moisture. Pink blurs represented Fred’s hands. He felt the water in the normal way, the shock of the cold subsiding in the growth of familiarity. Pooling the vibrant liquid in the palms of his alien looking hands, Fred splashed his face, hoping for reconciliation with what he expected to be reality.
A blur of stubbled pink in the vague outline of the place where the mirror usually hung reflected what he assumed to be his face.
He tried to peer at himself, screwing his eyes together in an imitation of seeing, but this made no difference. The straggly lines of colour were all around him, surrounding him in movement, drowning him in visual stimulation.
Fred felt okay. He didn’t feel dizzy or disorientated. He didn’t remember banging his head or feeling any different from normal. So what was going on?
In the bedroom, which seemed like another world away, Fred heard his alarm go off with harsh tones. It took him some time to negotiate his way back to the relative safety of his bed and to knock about on the bedside table to find his alarm. On the way he cursed his habit of leaving his worn clothes in haphazard piles across the floor, they were now like traps waiting for his unlucky feet, tripping and trapping his surprised toes.
Fred sat on the bed, sighed, then lay down and closed his eyes tightly. Wanting this to all just go away…

Sunday, 24 January 2010

terror, even when overcast

You see, I was there. All you know, you saw on television, through the internet, blurred with commentary and idiotic rambling by people who knew nothing about what was happening. Filling others’ ignorance with their own base desires and cravings. I didn’t see any journalists, just the suffering. I can only think that the journalists stayed away, reporting by looking inwards from their hotels and the fly-over footage provided by the UAVs while they stayed safe in the knowledge that no-one could possibly contradict them.
I was going to work. It had already started and none of us standing on the platforms knew. I had seen it and not understood.
The sky is always open, even when patterned with the flowing underside of clouds piled over each other, sliced by the arcing paths of darkly silhouetted birds. It is the sky of a flat land, not hemmed in with hills or mountains, stretching and filling the mind of those willing to look upwards. The shapes above tear and fight leaving wounded pictures of emptiness. Only when the tram arrived did I look down, back at the earth.
I was jammed against the doors once they closed, as usual. Trying to avoid the press of strangers bodies, find enough space to be able to place my feet in balance against the jagged movement of the tram. I turned myself around to look through the window, through the condensation forming on the glass, at the speeding scenery; The blank spaces between people melt. The tram passed under the twin concrete flyovers of the M62. The gap between them a grey shaft of light punctuated by the upward flight of a startled pigeon and the illumination of an inane and brilliantly coloured graffiti. Beyond it the industrial estates, the tarmac retail park, the endless lines of garages selling cars hidden behind industrial scrubland.

It was as the tram descended into Manchester that I realised the colour had gone. Then the tram stopped, shaking to a sudden halt with the application of the emergency brake. The carriage mood split into annoyance and the usual expectation of shoddy service. Then the doors opened. I almost fell out. After checking that there was nothing coming that might injure me, and irritated at the way I had almost fallen from the tram, I jumped down already composing the letter to the company in my head.
It is not so simple a thing to describe. What happened next, I mean. A few on the tram had followed me down. The rest were stoic, watching me from the window with impassive faces. Looking down the road towards Piccadilly I caught sight of its head, rising and falling above the buildings. A shade of non-colour, almost the same as the sky but of a different light, a feeling of reality broken and ground under foot. A daikaiju imagined by Escher. Then it screamed, crying with a scent of destruction, dust billowing around it even as the scream began to try and infiltrate my own mind. It feels now like it was a reflexive, animal instinct that caused it to destroy the city. It was not a judgement, or a warning. It was not summoned by some ancient Mayan treasure brought to the museum, or physical experiment at the university. It wasn’t some super-dimensional rift caused by City’s win in the derby. Watching it I knew that it had always been there. We had just never seen it before.
I turned and ran.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Moving On

Marie checked herself out of hospital after too few days. She was bored and frustrated with everything around her from the plastic coated sympathy of the nurses to the few awkward visits she had received from her fellow police officers. So she decided to go home, so that she could think and plan.
Unfortunately her wounds had not healed. As she dressed, and even more so later as she walked, the thin scabs of the many stab wounds across her back and arms would rub against the material of her clothes and she could feel the fabric begin to cling to her with the grim dotting of blood stains.
Marie ached all over, not just where she had been stabbed but everywhere. She was bruised from the attack and felt belittled by its ferocity. And the worst thing was, she told herself over and over, that she hadn’t seen it coming.
She should have known, she should have seen. Or so she argued to herself.
It didn’t matter to her that everyone else told her that she couldn’t have predicted the attack. It didn’t matter that he had been under the influence of a brain altering mechanism. She had seen him coming and she should have seen the danger in his eyes. Had she begun to see him so little? Had she got so slow and complacent?
As she reached the door to her flat she paused. The door to his flat door, which was opposite hers, was closed to her forever now. It accused her, standing as it did all firm and locked up. She could almost hear the scream of the void on the other side. He wouldn’t be coming back, the fish had done irreparable damage to his brain, and to a great extent he wasn’t really there anymore anyway. And it was her fault. Or at least, it was her responsibility.
Marie sighed. She pulled her own flat key from her coat pocket and was just about to insert it in the lock when the door flowed open before her. Her heart started jumping wildly in her chest and she felt dizzy. An instant of panic widened her eyes and her head pulsed with the pain of frustrated control.
Before she could actively think what to do next she had stepped mechanically into the room. Then she stopped, half turned to flee, an anger rising through her from her gut to her grinding teeth.
A man stood with her back to the door, oblivious to her presence, unsensing of her anger.
Marie noticed a couple of things almost simultaneously. The first was that the intruder appeared to be feeding her fish – not the most obvious occupation for a criminal with malicious intent. The second was that the shape of the back, the way the shoulders were hunched high into the neck and the faint ripples of muscles stretched the fabric of his shirt, was achingly familiar to her. She slumped a little, letting out her held breath.
She wasn’t sure whether this was worse than she had initially imagined.
“Jon?” she asked in a voice weak with emotion.
The man turned and she saw that she was right. It was her ex husband, in the flesh, looking slightly greyer than she usually pictured him, older and more tired. He said nothing, appraising her in return. She avoided his face and instinctively started looking around and about the apartment, knowing that something was missing. Too hurt and tired to be hopeful.
“Where’s Toby?” she asked finally, watching his face now as a wave of emotion swept across his features. This didn’t look good. Marie felt for the door handle, using the cold metal as a crutch.
Jon looked down at his feet, a crimson flush spreading over his white face. “Our son is missing.” he muttered quickly.
Marie felt the world ripple underneath her feet. A veil of ivory lace fell across her sight. She decided that she should sit down.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Arkady shuts down the lights leaving the tiny cabin space absolutely black. The thin curve of glass, reflectionless, leaves only the vacuum and his own thoughts. His eyes slowly become accustomed to the pinpoint rainbow of stars. Up ahead he sees the distorted crescent of Saturn, the arc of the rings just visible. There is no sign, using only his own eyes, of the anomaly. He sits back in the contour of the chair, letting the dark purity of the vision soak into him, drawing up memories of his uncle’s farm, lying on his back watching the stars in the slow spin of Earth.
He hears the grind of the door behind him as someone spins the lock. Arkady remains still, trying to lose himself in the last moments of silence, to disappear, before whoever it is comes through and disturbs him.
“Arkady? You in here?” A woman’s voice calls out; Klein. The chief of the science crew. Arkady sighs and grunts a response. He gets up and switches the lights back on as the heavy, white door slides open. “I need to talk to you.”
Arkady turns to face the scientist. She is young for her responsibilities, made her name in studying the anomaly and eventually a Nobel prize. She has a European prettiness, stretched by Martian childhood, that does not carry into photographs. Her blonde hair is cropped short, framing a strong jaw-line. Arkady will occasionally admit to himself that he has a crush on her.
“What is it chief?” He asks. “I was trying to catch some relaxation. It has been a long shift for me.”
Arkady has been overseeing the work crew repairing the starboard array after it suffered a micro-meteor strike a few days before. The physical damage was not so great, the structure being reinforced by carbon nanotubes to the best spec available, but some of the electronics were hit leading to a long stretch of fiddly work replacing parts and testing them. Arkady, in years of accumulated time in space, has learned to despise electronics.
“I’m sorry, Captain. I think this is important, you should come see it.”
Klein deigned to call him by his title, Arkady notes. Not a good sign. He follows behind her as she navigates her way along the corridor to climb down the ladder to the low centripetal gravity of the ring where the labs and living quarters are arranged. Within a couple of minutes he is looking at a screen painted against the lab window. The three junior scientists are studiously watching their own monitors and ignoring them. It is easy to see what Klein wants to show him; he can see the large cluster of bright red icons flashing and mutating around the location of the anomaly as it slowly spins around the window.
“What am I looking at? Has something changed?”
Klein raises a fist and pulls it towards her, causing the screen to magnify on the anomaly.
“It hasn’t just changed. It’s moved. Not far. But it is accelerating.”
“Towards us?”
Klein shrugs.
“Of course.”

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Blue-green waves lapped up against the sun-warmed sand, frothing slightly around the point where solid and liquid clashed. Joe looked down at his toes, bright orange in the deflected sunset light, and wiggled them.
“What are you doing?” A harsh, high-pitched voice broke into Joe’s thoughts and dragged him reluctantly back into reality. He turned to face the voice.
The sand led back calmly to the edges of a palm tree fringe. Tall scalloped trunks reached up into the deep blue sky, topped with massive dark green fronds that swayed languidly with height not wind.
It was, all in all, an idyllic desert island. The affect was spoilt only by the metallic gash across the beach that led to the mangled pile of debris that had been their transport. And the leaping, shouting, bloodied form of Joe’s companion.
Pwjlk was finding the sand too hot to stand on so was hopping from one of his four feet to the next in strict rotation. In consternation and anxiety Pwjlk was waving his two upper arms in the air while his two lower arms clasped and wrangled each other. The crinkled, layered face was beetroot red against the pale yellow of its skin and the single eye was stretched wide and unblinking.
“What are you going to do?” Pwjlk screeched again.
Joe sighed. He looked back out again to sea but there was nothing there. Only the faint streak of black smoke vapour trail in the sky remained to signify where they had come from.
Pwjlk hopped awkwardly down to the ocean’s edge, sinking slightly into the wetter sand but finding no relief in the relative coolness there. He looked up at Joe from his full metre high height. Joe patted him on the head and Pwjlk flinched.
“We wait.” Joe said simply. “We wait and see what comes next.” He started trudging back to the wreck of the ship.
“What if ‘they’ come?” Pwjlk yelped, running after Joe and pulling at the shredded remains of his jumpsuit.
“Then they come. We can’t do anything about it if they do.” Joe paused and frowned in thought. “Well, maybe we can see what survived the crash. You never know. We might get lucky.”
“Hmph.” Said Pwjlk. “Not likely though is it.”
Joe smiled. At least a cynically grumpy companion was better than a panicking one.
The wreck was still smouldering and Joe grimaced, remembering the instant of impact before they had started their enforced descent, searching through the still hot metal for anything that might be salvageable. He still couldn’t work out what had happened, what it was that had hit them and brought them so abruptly down. He did know that they had been in the middle of nowhere, looking down upon an unbroken expanse of blue ocean. So this island had been a very lucky occurrence. A chance in a million. His stomach knotted with the bitter sensation of disquiet. It was too much of a coincidence wasn’t it.

Monday, 11 January 2010


Light scores the horizon. The sky is a faint grey bleeding to the palest of blues.  The promise of a clear Winter morning. I let the net curtain fall back over the condensation-edged window.

I fill the kettle with water and click it into its dock, flicking it on. The kitchen side is cluttered with dirty cups and plates. The old, laminated surface bubbles with age and damp at its edges. Brown stains reach through the black and white pattern in the plastic. The curling grind of the kettle slowly joins the stereo hum of the boiler and fridge.

Raising the curtain again the sky is lighter. Grey is the wrong colour. It is white, but not yet bright enough to be true white. On the edges of the roofs and walls the snow takes on the luminescence of the sky, reflecting it with a deeper, crystalline blue.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Winter Hunt

A melody of snowflakes plays across the large cockpit window. The Captain steps from around the wheel, passing control with a touch on his First Mate’s shoulder, moving forwards into the bubble frame of the window. Some of the snow catches and melts against the glass, some sticks in little piles. Beyond the flickering white leaves there is only the dark, grey sky. To the Captain’s senses the rest of the world has disappeared. Only their instruments tell them where they are.

The Captain sighs, lightly, rubbing a finger along his forehead, wiping at the irritation where the band of his cap clings tightly.

“How are we suppose to find anything in this?” He asks. Neither the First Mate nor the navigator bother to answer. Each just keeps their eyes focused on the panels in front of them. “Sergeant.” He calls out.

A young, squat man with dark hair and a scar running along the side of his face, distorting its natural and beautiful symmetry, enters through the heavy door that passes joins the cabin to the rest of the command gondola.

“Sir?” The Sergeant asks.

“Fetch me the passenger. Tell her we are in need of her assistance.”

The sergeant does not stop to ask which passenger, even though there are more than twenty civilians and a small platoon of Red Army soldiers on board. Only one would be summoned to see the Captain and only one is a woman.