Sunday, 28 February 2010

Chewed up and spat out

I chew the gum cautiously, wincing at the bitter taste seeping through the mint overtones. The engineers assured me there is no risk of it exploding without the chemical stimulus of the detonator, but they've been wrong before. I curse the rules that say we can only use appropriate tech for the parallel we are active in. If it's not nanotech the engineers seem to treat it like some kind of game, an academic experiment in antiquity. As soon as the gum turns sweet I extract it from my mouth and push it gently into the lock. I take the packet of cigarettes from my pocket and pull one out, checking it to make sure it is one of the ones that I need. I lick the paper wrapper and gently break it apart. I tease out the dark, thin thread hidden within it and push it into the gum. Next I take off my watch and wrap the thread around the diver's face which I twist ninety degrees. A push of the wind-up knob sets the timer going and I quickly run around the oversize desk and duck behind it.

Unseen by me there is a fizzing and a sharp crack. I wince. I'm hoping the sound of the party below will cover up the noise of my break-in but there are plenty of guards patrolling around, keeping an eye out for people like me. I lift my head over the desk. The safe door is open, a small wisp of smoke caught in the moonlight crack of the curtain. Running back to the safe I start to explore its contents, pocketing the jewelry, putting the folders with documents to one side. The theft of the trinkets will help to provide a cover for my real reason for the burglary as well as inject some much needed local cash into the project's coffers. I spread the documents on the desk and begin to quickly identify those that might be of use. Plans for rockets, buildings and other assorted hardware, signatures on deals and contracts. I quickly photograph them all and then scatter them around the safe to give the impression that the have been discarded and thrown to the side. It won't fool the Professor, but there won't be enough evidence to prove we were here, either.

I clip the camera back onto my belt buckle, rearrange my bow tie and brush down the tuxedo jacket. I check the hallway outside. Still no-one. I need to get back to the party unnoticed and get out of here before the robbery is noticed. Always the fun part. A door opens and my hand slides to my gun. Agent Kowalski steps out of a side room, messing her hair a little. I take her arm and, turning the corner we begin to stagger down the hall with our best drunken walks. It's all going well until we reach the stairs to almost walk straight in to the guards forming a wall blocking our path. Behind us the Professors gentle voice speaks.

"Kill them."

Kowalski and I both launch ourselves at the guards, drawing our guns, but we are too slow to get off a shot and, deafened by the sound of shots, we fall. The pain and blood mix into my senses into a single flailing cry of annoyance.

Back at the base Kowalski, now back in her normal body, is cursing. Staggering around the office space as she paces through the adjustment exercises. I watch her, waiting for the hangover kick of the transmission to peel away before I start my own exercises.

"Not only did we not get anything, he also knows we are here. He's going to find the bloody camera and know it was us."

I shrug.

"We can still pull the images from my mind. Won't be as good, but it's something. And the Professor would have known anyway. It's not stupid."

Jung, the blue brain consciousness currently in charge of us, watches from his screen silently. He's a patient one, and he already has a plan in place, I can tell from looking at him.

Monday, 22 February 2010


Jace stood on the shore, his bare feet balanced on the slimy seaweed of the wet rocks, as the waves pounded against him. Spray leapt in his face and made him blink. Even the saltiness of the water couldn't wipe away the large grin that split his face as he looked out over the expanse of rough sea.

Away in the distance, littered casually on the far horizon, land promised a new life. Jace could clearly see the green hills leading away into a future time.

Toes curled against the coldness of the waves, hands held in iron fists against his hips, Jace contemplated the distance from where he was to where he wanted to be. He sighed. There was no way he could swim it, he thought slowly to himself. A boat though, a boat could make it.

Without looking around Jace could picture the handy logs and planks washed up against the nearby beach. Long fronds from palms and scraps of rope from shipwrecks could hold the wood together. At least for long enough.

Jace could see himself sailing through the dawning mist, eyes forward, never looking back, his hand firmly grasping the makeshift tiller as he steered his way towards the welcoming land.

Behind him, dogs barked.

He didn't need to turn to know that they were close now. Jace closed his eyes, focusing on the moment when he would first reach land, the tentative step on to the sand, the slight stumble as the surf rocks the now pointless boat against the occasional pebble.

The path leads on, up a gentle gully and into wilderness of ferns. Small birds twitter in the foliage and he can hear singing over the next rise. It is a woman's voice, young and free, sincere yet filled with good humour. He can't see her yet but he feels that he knows already how she will look. How her face will glow when she sees him emerge.

The dogs are closer now, they are snarling and yelping, trying to tangle with Jace and yet restrained. Jace can feel the hems of his trousers wet with their slobber.

'Jace, Jace, Jace.' A voice, confused more than angry, shatters his thoughts. Returns him to reality. 'Come on now. You know you shouldn't be here.'

Jace turns then, the smile faded from his face without a trace remaining except in the deepest secret part of his soul.

As they returned Jace to his cell, locking his manacles back to the bare stone wall and securing his grated door with additional, stronger locks, the senior warder pauses in his work and looks, long and hard, at Jace.

The warder is old. He has been here for longer than he cares to remember. He has been through more wives than he cares to forget. He doesn't understand this prisoner.

'What I don't understand is why you keep trying?' he asks in a polite voice. 'You know you won't ever get off this island so why keep going?'

Jace pauses before he replies, though this is a question he already knows the answer to. 'I want to be free.'

The warder frowns. 'But you'll never be free. They'll never let you go.'

Jace smiled, the thin lipped grimace of a man who has known happiness but not recently. 'When I stand there, with the wind in my face, my feet feeling the rough rock beneath them, when I stand and look out at the horizon, the thin strip of dark blue all those miles away...'


'Well, then I feel free. Even if it is only for the shortest of times.'

The warder shook his head and finished turning the final key in the shiny new padlock. 'You realise that one day you'll find that you can't get out there anymore. We'll have locked you up good and proper for once.'

Jace turned his face to the walls so that the warder could not see his tears and shrugged as if he didn't care.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


pana pana

the call issues from a smile with a wave of the hand.

behind it dark water laps gently, stretching across the wide surface of the lake to merge with the low mist. malo mayo. the start of the rains. the too perfect cones of dead volcanoes slowly drifting into reality as they rise through the fog. the smell of diesel and the rattle of ancient engines invite me to leave but i am happy here.

the dull cyclic repetition of swimming and beer is enough. when people, strangers, talk to me i smile and spin them the story; the car accident that explains the scars, the need for peace and quiet. occasionally i go for a run along the lake edge, past the suspicious eyes of the women clothed in thick black and the opportunist shouts of the children. un peso. i laugh and run faster, leaving them behind.

sometimes i go out on the water, taking the hotel's little plastic shell of a boat with the tourists here to dive. riding along the water, wet suits and air on, leaning in to keep the weight of the tank inside so we don't fall off until the engine is cut and we roll backwards two by two. dropping though the dark, the strange feeling of the hot mud where the earth's skin is too thin, the feel of the pipe of hot water as you swim through. not too often. the murk of the water leaves me claustrophobic with the memories the ride can dredge up.

i'm lying in the hammock with the pynchon i managed to claim from some young college student. i glance up to take in the new arrivals. one of them is checking their phone with annoyance. no signal here. only hardline. a figure throws out a rucksack from under the tarpaulin covering the roof of the little ferry. a subconscious hidden markov model flags up a warning and i watch the man climb out of the boat with growing concern. i know him.

i have six exit routes planned. but with a sense of inevitability, even curiosity, i sit and wait. if he had come to kill me then he would not have come with the tourists. it's part of the message; parley. he looks over to me, his legs firm on the slippery wood of the jetty, and nods. i sit up, struggling with the sucking gravity of the hammock, feeling very out of shape. i want to run. i want to slide the knife strapped to my back clear and hit him before he reaches land. instead i place my bookmark on my page and reach for my beer.

he lifts his pack onto his shoulder and walks past me, following the others to where the young guy on an expired visa waits for them, ready to check them in and find them a bed in the varied wooden accomodations spread across the steep hillside behind the bar. i take another sip of beer and wait. this cannot be coincidence.

Shoebox - Sunset at Lake Atitlan

within a few minutes he is back, carrying a beer of his own and a packet of cigarettes.

mind if i sit down.

i wave my hand and he takes this as a yes.

how did you find me.

you got caught in the corner of a photo, uploaded, we found it eventually. followed it up with sat before i came. surprised you're still here.

i like it. it's a hard place to leave.

he looks around. yeah. he takes a sip of his beer and lights a cigarette. i can see that. blue smoke catches in the afternoon breeze. he reaches out a pocket pulling out a small metal box, dull and brush polished. a black square comes to life on it with a swipe.

know what this is.

i shrug.

i brought a linkup with me. i control it from here. i can turn it on and bring you on service again with a brush of my finger. it's keyed to me, of course.

so why don't you.

i'd rather you volunteered.

Friday, 19 February 2010


So there I was, numb, dumb, and unable to move.
And flying.
Below me I watched in confusion and awe as I flew, feeling nothing that would indicate that I was alive but knowing that I was not just alive but awake and aware.
I couldn’t feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on my back but I could tell that they were there as I could see below me the fuzzy shadowed outline of my shape. I appeared to be a cloud.
Somewhere within my brain a tiny bell rang and I thought, a-ha.
I was beginning to remember something. A glimmer of memory, a tiny shred of elusive knowledge, that may or may not lead to elucidation. It began with an argument, or a heated discussion. Perhaps it was only a conversation but one that was weighted with a heaviness of importance and significance beyond the meaning of the actual words.
And then my brain grew quiet and all that remained was the ability to see what was below me.
I was flying over fields and meadows. The early spring flowers punctuated the green sprigs of growing crops with tiny pixels of colour. A stream rippled away from me. Light reflecting from the cool morning sun flashed brightly as the water trickled unstoppably to its final integration.
Grey haired rabbits emerged from dark brown holes of homes, white tails bobbing in a teasing target practice risk.
No! I must think, not see. I must remember why I am here rather than… well, rather than wherever I usually am. Wherever that is.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


Stringer's mother stands, looking down at the grave. The wind whistles and gasps as it tugs at their clothes, the few spare trees, the words of the priest. The old man had been a bastard but one look from his mother had warned him never speak ill of the dead. Despite everything the old man had finally broken the only contract that matter to her. Now she is left keeping a contract with the dead.

The graveyard is untended, overgrown. The weathered stones, pocked with the spreading stains of lichens are scattered like chess pieces. The church wall is hidden behind blood-coloured ivy and dark vermillion moss. Tall grasses, yellowing in the Autumn sun, rustle. Barely a couple of hours back and Stringer wishes he could be gone again. But something wrong has happened. Something that no-one will tell him about. They fear him. He has become an outsider, he feels it in himself as much as the ragged, furtive stares of the village.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Moral Neutrality

The shout reverberated urgently around the chamber, falling on deaf ears.
Arnie’s head slumped forward, his foppish blond hair flopping lifelessly over his slightly protruding eyes. His hands were fixed to the controls in front of him, knuckles tight white against the silvery metal of the grips, flesh literally bonded to the machine.
‘Arnie? What’s going on in there? Arnie!’ Bill continued to shout but Arnie just wouldn’t move, wouldn’t respond. The glass layer between them began to fog with Bill’s vocal moisture and a deep sensation of physical panic started worming its way through his body. He banged on the glass, feeling it bend slightly under his strength. Still nothing. It was time to get help.
The man who responded to Bill’s breathless phone call did not give his name as he entered the control room. He grunted at Bill in combined recognition of his presence and his status and then strode confidently straight over to the glass panel.
The man, dressed in an anonymous civilian suit of dark blue with a light blue shirt and striped tie, peered myopically through the clear glass. For a moment it looked like he was going to reach up and touch the glass, trying to form a connection through the barrier, but then he hesitated and turned back into the room. The full force of his questioning stare came to rest on Bill.
‘What happened?’ he asked, the first time that Bill had heard him speak and the voice was unexpected. It was a weak voice, tremulous and uncertain as if the man was searching for words from deep within limited resources.
Bill blinked. He didn’t really know where to start. ‘He just stopped.’ It seemed so inadequate as an answer and, from the look on the strange man’s face, he wasn’t the only one to think so.
‘Just stopped?’
‘Yes. He was operating as normal one minute and then the next thing he’d just, just stopped. Suddenly he wasn’t doing anything anymore.’
‘No warning? No message?’
‘No. Nothing.’
‘And it’s never happened before?’
‘No. Arnie’s been a good worker. Never any problem at all, let alone a complete breakdown like this.’
‘That’s what I call him. He’s an R-9 model after all. It just seemed to fit.’ Bill looked into the enclosed chamber, hoping for some sign of movement from the android on his throne, some twitch in the thick wires that connected Arnie to the computers that fulfilled his directions.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

System fall

Fifteen years out. The array of sensors poking out from the shield send an electrical pulse to the core which takes the decision to begin the rotation, turning the engines to start the deceleration of the starship so that it will be slow enough to be caught by the gravity of the growing, pinprick yellow sun. As the engines cycle through their tests before they dare to reignite, the rows of tanks buried deep within the protective shell of the ship are filled with gelatinous growth mixtures while three thousand zygotes are checked for flaws that would cause them to be discarded. Eggs that pass the test, that have not been damaged by cosmic rays, radiation or age, are injected into the gel along with the alchemical mix of fluids that will prompt the growth of the cells into humans.

The core, meanwhile, starts its slow communications with the chaperones leading the way. Over the course of months evidence is checked and rechecked, compared with the observations taken at the start of the journey, two hundred years distant, and corrected. Aboard the pathfinder vessels robots are readied and prepared; on arrival, five years before the starship, they will fall into orbit around the largest gas giant in the system and begin to dismantle several of its moons for raw materials. These will be used to construct the station habitat and the mining equipment required to extract the brief flickers of anti-matter generated by the collision of the sun’s rays with the power of the gas giant’s magnetosphere.

By the time the humans are fully grown, and the neuronal and chemical components of their brains encouraged into the configuration of the memories of their original bodies, their new home will have been constructed, their starship gently nudging itself into a local parking orbit, ready for them to disembark to their new lives.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Camille sat on the fallen tree trunk, caressing the ruffled bark with smooth fingers. Around her a single shaft of strong yellow sunlight threaded into the forest clearing. She felt warmed by its caress. Sparkles of fragments of dust twinkled in the strangely harsh exposure of the ray, wafting in the draught, floating in haphazard patterns of fall.
Her visitor introduced himself with nothing more than a grunt of acknowledgement. Camille stood up, reluctance visible in the exaggeratedly slow movement of her muscles, and moved tentatively towards him.
Grmph stood two heads taller than her and was covered from top to bottom in a thick and matted coat of dark green fur. His limbs were long and heavy, powerful blocks of potential violence, his face hidden beneath the slightly more delicate feathering of his facial fleece.
Camille stood detached from him, looking up into the general area of his face with a forced smile, and opened her arms in welcome.
‘Thank you for coming.’ She started, pausing until he nodded, wanting to make sure that she was being heard. ‘I have a job for you.’
Grmph tipped his head to one side to indicate that he was hearing her, that he was listening.
Camille’s heart was racing, adrenaline pounding her body into frightened numbness, but she couldn’t say what she was scared of. It wasn’t of Grmph, he was reasonable in his violence, a creature that would only unleash the power of his body for a good, or well paid, cause. She knew also that she shouldn’t take his ineloquence as a sign of lack of intelligence.
It wasn’t that she was scared of what she was asking him to do either. The job simply had to be done. There was no choice. She had thought about it ceaselessly for days and unending nights and had come up with no other way.
‘I want you to kill my father.’ She said, her voice shaking resolutely.