Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Big Catch

Danny had watched the shoreline of the tiny island fade over the horizon, its single tree waving forlornly from the shelter of the stoic church, with trepidation outweighing the usual gut churning sensation.

There were too many stories of accidents circulating the one village pub in the harbour where they waited out their shore time between fishing trips. Over the years of course boats would falter in bad weather; that was only to be expected. In more recent years boats had been lost or damaged by nets that seemed to have been snagged by naval submarines – though incidents were always strongly denied by the authorities.

Battling the sea was part of what trawling was all about. It was the draw for many of the men, weathered and beaten early in life, and for the women who waited for them and lived as best they could in the absences. As long as they understood the odds, all of them, as long as they could see that the fight was fair in the long run. Men would lose their lives, sons would lose fathers and wives husbands. But then the sons would grow and take on the wreck of the boat, repairing it and setting out as their own captain, continuing some unspoken mission of anachronistic survival. As was the case with Danny.

Danny only felt accepted in the company of other trawlermen. He could see the withering looks of other passengers as he travelled by train to see family or friends in the big city; the frowns at the oil stained clothes and bodies, the disapproval of the emptying bottles of monk-produced tonic wine and the greasy takeaway food, the shudders at the strong language and coarse jokes. What did they know about him and his life. How did they think he should spend his rare safe time?

The last boat to disappear had been The Scottish Rose and Danny had known a couple of the crew, at least to share a few drinks and laughs in The Mishnish of an evening. So Danny was shaken by their loss because he knew some of the faces of the men whose bodies had not been recovered. But it was also the sight of what had been left of the boat, Danny’s boat being one of the search and rescue party that reached the scene of the mayday signal: the shards and splinters of wood, the matchsticks of rigging, the floating patches of net, and, above all things, the thousands of dead cod, their lifeless eyes reflecting nothing but death all around.

Danny’s own trade was scallops not cod but he had had his own close shaves in the past, the teeth of the dredger catching something it was not flexible enough to skim over as it snaked over the sea bed, scratching at the surface and throwing grit and scallops into the metal nets. Once, it seemed like a lifetime ago, he had been caught in a rough Atlantic blowout, the waves coming too quickly for the boat to adjust to their rocking, and the boat had listed over to the starboard side. Just as it seemed the boat would go all the way over, tipping Danny and his frightened crew into the unforgiving icy waters dark and deep, a brief lull in the storm had allowed them to get themselves right again. Danny’s dad had always taught him that it wasn’t the height of the waves that would do for you, it was how close together they were the affected whether or not they tore you apart.

But Danny had never seen a boat so completely stripped and destroyed as this The Scottish Rose had been. The usual causes didn’t make sense for this. An inquest, hastily put together so that it could be quickly forgotten, recorded an open verdict and expected life to carry on as before.

How could it?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Job offer

Jetain watches the young boy climb the steps, the box of water bottles heavy in his hands. He is new to the job, she hasn't seen him before. His master stands in the dusty road, piling up more boxes for the kid to carry into the mosque. The water master and Jetain do not get on. The master does not approve of Jetain sitting outside, only her head covered against the sun, her dark eyes looking on disapprovingly. They have argued any times. She has little choice but to sit here and watch. The caravanserai located next to the mosque is one of the few places that will allow her to stay, unaccompanied, while she waits for her rocket to be repaired.

The boy disappears into the cool darkness for a brief while and emerges again.

"Good morning."

Jetain turns to see Williams has joined her on the roof. She nods back at him, sipping at her tea and wincing at its sweetness.

"Day twenty eight, huh?" Williams continues. Jetain has no wish to talk to him and keeps her focus downwards, towards the road. "You sure you won't reconsider?"

"Parts are arriving on Tuesday. Then I'm gone."

"Tuesday? On the freight? Sorry, I heard it had been delayed. Major sandstorm. Going to be another week, at least."

Everything Williams says strikes her as bullshit and she has to be careful to try and filter it for fact before she responds. In this case she knows that he is not lying. She curses.

"Look, I know you don't like me, but this is a genuine offer and a good job. You have a lot of experience flying around here and my client is offering a good day rate. Being sat here has got to be hurting you."

The boy has finished carrying all the boxes and jumps onto the back of the cart. The water master fires up the engine with a cracking spark and a drift of ozone. The cart moves off with a dull hum, its dusty wheels leaving narrow tracks in the sand.

"How long is the job for?" She asks.

"Three days, top. Drop off, wait around for a couple of nights and then bring them back."


Williams nods.

Jetain takes another sip of tea. Williams takes it as a yes, necking the coffee held delicately in his hand before he disappears back down the stairs.

Monday, 19 April 2010


The lack of sleep tears at my eyes. They are pushed and pulled with distortions of vision, causing gaps to appear in the floor in front of me, bending and warping it. I stand still, close my eyes and wait for it to pass. When I open them again there is only the ripple at the edges, the corners of my vision, but at least I can fold enough reality around me that I don't slip through the cracks and get carried away again. I've spent a lot of time re-building my life in this world and I am not keen on the idea of losing it all again.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Sky Angels Redux


The meeting took place in the confessional of a disused church. The metallic booth, rich in lead, offered a safe refuge from the spy-cams and voice monitoring procedurals, the only refuge that existed in these paranoid times.

One man acted as confessor, another as priest.

‘Are the preparations completed?’

‘They are. It was easier than we thought; she is not worried about security it seems.’

‘There is no reason for her to be.’

‘That is true.’

A pause, only the solemn rhythms of the calm breathing of the men filled the empty church with life.

‘You are clear about what happens next?’

‘I am.’

‘You are clear about the limits of your authority?’

‘That is a trick question. I have no authority. I have no mission or context apart from the obvious pattern of my life.’

The ‘priest’ nodded, a thin smile of satisfaction played briefly on his lips.

‘Then go. Ready yourself. Our success depends on your dedication.’

‘I will not fail you.’

‘We hope not.’


Finches in a thorn bush

Every day they were there. Hanging around outside my window.
I didn’t even notice them at first and then I wondered how I had ever been ignorant of their presence.
Their squawking fascinated me.
It was the thorn bush that seemed to draw them to my front garden. A scraggy, twiggy, sparsely leafed bush that was nonetheless densely twisted and laden with sharps thorns. Many was the time, back in the past, when I fought with that bush – trying to tame it into some modicum of civilisation with my purposely sharpened shears. Every time the tree fought back, and won.
So now its tangled boughs were inhabited by dozens of tiny finches.
The first time I saw them it was only the movement of one of them flying into the bush that caught my eye. I watched them for a few minutes and then realised that I could hear them too. Their chirping cheeping conversations were at a pitch I had hardly acknowledged but, once I had heard their calls, I could no longer get the noise out of my head. Their calls were insistent, veering from musical to annoying, and I started to think about what they had to talk about. And then I left to go to work and, when I returned in the evening, they were gone.
The next morning I watched them for a little longer, eating my toast as I stood in front of the window. They were tiny creatures, small enough that I could fit several of them in to my closed fist had I wanted to, but they sat in amongst the thorns as if they were scared of nothing. Fluffing themselves up, so that their feathers stuck out likely new born chicks, they chattered away with no concern.
Over the next week I realised that my time at the window was increasing. After I arrived late to work on a couple of occasions I started to get up slightly earlier so that I could spend more time just watching the finches. Watching the tiny brown blurs as they flew across to the roof opposite and then back again. I couldn’t work out where they came from or where they went.
Their movements and interactions mesmerised me. I started to be able to recognise certain individuals and gave them names according to their activity levels and perceived erudition.
I started not to mind when I was late to work, finding it almost physically difficult to drag myself away from the window, wondering what I would miss if I moved for even an instant.
My manager pulled me up for being late too often. She said she understood that I was going through a difficult time; she understood that I was grieving; she was sympathetic. But that it had been six months now and there was only so long she could protect me, protect me, before she would be forced to act.
As soon as I went back to my desk, that one photo still staring out at me as if encouraging me, supporting me, I wrote out a terse letter of resignation. Work was no longer of any interest to me. Nothing was of interest to me except that overgrown bush and its teeming inhabitants. For some reason it made me feel alive, though I was no longer doing anything that could be recognised as living.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The duel part 2

This post is a follow on to Vaslov's post: The Duel.

The muffled sound of iron ships slowly twisting in the dock punctuate the silence.

"The challenge has been issued." The ragged man says. "It must be met."

Daniel does not know whether to support Marcus or run away from him. He cannot express his regret.

"Marcus, we cannot pull out now. The price is too high."

Marcus is shaking, he cannot stop it, his mind is locked with his fear. He knows that if he is to earn Sarah's love, to gain any kind of position at all, he must prove himself here. Yet this is nothing like the fights he is used to. The blur of steel, the whistles of the gangs of Parliament roaming together in the night, the roar of the Members fighting. If he is to be of quality then it is here, in this wretched place, with the stench of rotten fish and blood, that he will show it, or die.

He tightens his fist.

"Then let us get on with it." He finally says.

The ragged man reaches back down to the sack and continues to unknot its cord. Marcus breaths deeply and turns to receive the briefcase from Daniel, who snaps the lid open exposing the dark reds of the velvet inside. On it rests the head. The flesh is grey, and the man was old when he died. Daniel's great-grandfather, a fierce man, a long-time supporter of the Parliament and a proud weapon of his family for generations since his death.

Marcus reaches out with his left hand and whispers the incantation. The eyes of the head snap open, exposing crystal globes that emit a faint light, barely visible. The head rises of its own volition, turning about as if stretching a hidden neck. It moves to Marcus's shoulder and hovers there, waiting.

The ragged man, a wizard of centuries long experience judging by his appearance, is stood facing them, a head of his own chosen from the bag and positioned near his hand, ready to respond to its instruction. The head is even more hideous than Daniel's great grandfather. The flesh is torn and loose, held together with crude, thick stitches and metal staples. One of the eyes is sealed shut and the other contains a dark green orb. It is a well seasoned weapon. Daniel has tutored him, warned him to be cautious. Their practise duels, with the heads of dogs and birds, have taught him the basics, but he feels nothing could really prepare him for this.

Daniel watches the ragged man. It is not the first time he has seen a master like this but his own station has meant he has been secure from walking into such a challenge. He feels guilty at dragging Marcus into this, as if his friendship inevitably meant this moment had to happen. That Marcus would need to see himself as Daniel's equal at all cost.

When Daniel sees the ragged man nods he raises his whistle to his lips. Before blowing into it he whispers a charm of luck for Marcus then gives the short, sharp blows that signal the start of the duel. Within minutes the dockside will be swarming with witnesses, but the fight will have already begun.

The two heads glide towards each other with respective flicks of the controllers' hands. They seem to shimmer in the dark air, ghost shadows falling on fog. There are a few shouts in the distance as the heads begin to swing around, nudging carefully at each other but not yet engaged.

Suddenly the ragged man's arm lifts up, his palm outstretched. The head under his control darts forwards, crashing into Marcus's head with a snap of his jaw and the swipe of a razor buried in his ear. Marcus cries out in pain as the hit is lodges within him via the link between his mind and that of the weapon. The pain is harder and sharper than he imagined it would be. The practise fights were barely more than light blows while the impact from that strike is buried deep in his nerves, a fire of neuronal activity. He recovers with a defensive strike that does little damage. Better prepared now he makes a move to parry another swipe and follows it up with a bite against the back of the neck. It does little damage but Marcus sees the ragged man wince in his own sympathy and Marcus feels heartened by it.

Suddenly the ragged man's head swings low and speeds too quickly for Marcus to react. It punches hard, driving Marcus's head away with a wooden crack, almost to the edge of where Marcus's control ends. Then it drives quickly forwards, directly at Marcus, aiming to attack him directly and claim a trophy that is the ragged man's desire. Marcus reaches out with his hand defensively, trying to block the rotting skull but it bites down onto his hand and severs a finger. Screaming, Marucs reacts instinctively, pulling his own skull back faster than he had thought possible with a drawing back of his arm. The ragged man does not notice in time, too focused on driving in for another attack, hoping to tear at his whole arm this time to claim it for his own. Only trphies claimed within the battle can be kept.

Marcus attacks the skull from behind, the old features of the grandfather are contorted with a sincere rage as it tears into the back of the ragged man's floating head, ripping into the stiches and pulling apart the metal hinge and staples that hold the skull's jaw on. The grandfather spits away the loose jaw and it falls to the ground, closely followed by the rest of the head.

Marcus falls to his knees, clutching his bleeding hand. He summons his head back towards him and seeks out the old, ragged man. The ragged man has fallen, unconscious and inert. Marcus has won.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Almost the last thing I do is pray. I get down on my knees on that sun-warmed rough concrete roof and I close my eyes, raising my hands together to the sky I mouth words of comfort and explanation. I don’t wait for a response but I know, I can tell in my heart, that I have been heard.

My pursuers are banging on the door, the entryway to this roof terrace, it won’t be much longer now.

I stand, brushing off loose gravel from my bare knees, and walk over to the slightly raised brickwork of the edge of the building. The ground is a long way below me. I can see particles of quartz glinting from the marble pavement in the early morning sun. Although it is too early for many people to be up and about I see a few joggers over by the ocean’s edge. They do not see me.

Taking a deep breath I step up onto the edge, no longer looking down, now just looking out and ahead into the pale blue sky that promises a hot, cloud free day.

Spreading my arms wide I mentally fix them in place. Use them to glide not to flap, I entreat my body, conscious of dignity even in these last moments. As the door finally splinters apart I casually shift my centre of balance and soundlessly tumble over and down.

Even as my pursuers look down upon my broken and bleeding body, smashed against the smooth marble pavement tiles, a dark stain spreading out, reaching into tiny cracks in the stone, I am already gone.

I exist.

And now I must search for a new vehicle. A working unit of flesh and blood to carry my will until my will can be done. Despite the pain and the frustration, despite the always seeking always hiding always running, I will persevere.

You will see.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Five minutes

My best calculations are that I now have only minutes but it's hard to be accurate, the macro conversion of time being subject to too many fluctuations to be sure. Maybe if I had access to the kind of quantum computing power that is only dreamed of in this backwards place I could be more accurate. Instead I have to wait.

I look back on my life. With so little time left it seemed inevitable that I'd start to fall into reminiscence instead of action. It seems so little compared to my previous life. I arrived here thirty years ago, got a job, met a woman. We settled down. We didn't have kids and the cancer took my wife too early. I cry when it is night sometimes and my thoughts are only of her. But life was good. Better than I could have hoped, despite how primitive it has been. Perhaps that gave me an advantage. I think it maybe harder to find, giving me a couple of extra seconds that have made all the difference. This could have happened ten years ago, while Sarah was still alive. I almost thought it was going to, the signs were so strong.

When it happens I don't even notice. Just one moment I'm looking at old photo albums, plastic wrapped pages that stick to your fingers and blur the images, and the next I'm looking back at the scrawny, ugly face of my hunter like those thirty years never happened.

To the hunter I guess they didn't. Only five minutes have passed here. That's as long as I could escape this prison for. How long it took him to track down my location. But on that other plane, that multiversal parallel, time is more compressed, more tightly wound. Those five minutes gave me more freedom than I could ever have hoped for. The hunter spits in my face and raises a hand to strike me.

"You'll never get away, physicist. We'll always get you back. Your sentence will be fulfilled."

The alarms in the prison are shut down, order falls again like a comforting blanket smothering all. A couple of guards come in to the portal room and cuff my hands and legs before leading me out to return me to my cell.

I only smile and think of a summer's afternoon with Sarah. Five minutes bought me a lifetime of memories. I feel I never truly thanked her enough for that.