Monday, 31 May 2010

an accident

Looking at the devastation in front of him Craig's first thought is that the council is going to be very unhappy with him. He scratches his head with a belch caused by an entirely inappropriate breakfast of chicken kebab in pitta from a street vendor whose exact location was probably the pool of bubbling plastic next to the charred lump of rock.

The helicopter flies in low. The scratch of sky on the horizon widens with the dawn. Craig looks behind him, wiping the faint, greasy ash from the undamaged wall and sits down to wait for it. No point trying to run, they have him tracked thanks to the sub-cranial implant oozing microwave data through a small aerial drilled through his skull.

"Look." He sub-vocalises, knowing his remote handlers will pick it up, "I really had no idea. Check my memories. I mean, what kind of idiots keep that kind of fissile material in a populated area?"

He already knows the answer to that. Ever since arriving he has been constantly surprised by the twists and depths to which that stupidity can reach. Besides, whether he know or not, his actions were a little over the top.

The helicopter drops noisily into view, blowing dust into his face. He feels the sparkle of radioactivity against his skin. The door slides open and masked, NBC-suited goons jump down, armed with sprays and clicking measuring devices. Craig stands, his hands held up, palms out.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


Danny shook me by the shoulder until I was properly awake.

'What??' I slurred.

'You were shouting out in your sleep. Were you having a bad dream or something?' As my eyes unclogged I began to see the concern in his eyes.

I shook my head to try to clear the fog of disturbed sleep.

'I was...' I frowned, trying to remember what had been bothering me. 'I was dreaming someone else's dreams.' That didn't seem right, even to me.


'I was having someone else's dreams. I could tell I was and I didn't like it.' I was beginning to feel more confident in what I was saying, I knew it was true, even if it didn't make sense.

'How could you have someone else's dreams?' Danny asked sleepily. I must have woken him up. 'Don't you mean you had a dream you didn't want to be having?' He lay back down as if he was finished with the conversation but I felt like I was only just getting to the heart of the matter.

'No. No really not.' I turned over to face him, making him squint up at me in the too early morning grey light that was filtering through the thin curtains. 'These were not my dreams. They weren't meant for me.'

'Well then. Whose were they?' He asked triumphantly, bored and wanting to go back to whatever dream he had been enjoying.

I lay back down. 'I don't know.'

'Go back to sleep. It was just a dream.'

Danny turned away from me, gently but firmly, and that was that over. But I wasn't going back to sleep again, not this morning. I was lying there trying to work out what had happened to me. Why was I so adamant that I had been dreaming dreams not meant for my mind? And how was that possible anyway?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

In the woods

Overhead tower blocks gently swing, waving in the breeze like fruit hanging on a tree. Wavebox and Sandy lie in the orange light of the fading sun, waiting for shutdown. A nearby tree tries to start up a conversation but Wavebox shushes it politely.

"Tree's are fun but they can be quite slow as the sun goes down." Wavebox explains to Sandy. It is his younger brother's first trip into the parkland. Sandy is just ten, Wavebox is in his teens and an impossibly romantic and large figure to Sandy.

The light starts to fade from the trees. Slowly they start to sleep.

"Listen." Wavebox says.

In the space left by the trees and plants there is a gentler hum, a slower, deeper sound.

"The rocks." Sandy says.

Wavebox nods, sitting up. The rocks sound so different from the apartment wood, from the trees. There is a stillness to their thought. Wavebox smiles. He is glad his brother has come with him.

"It is time to go." He says.

Sandy nods. They get up and walk together along the path, lit gently by the over head lights of the city. Wavebox listens to the rocks, letting them guide him. Since he and his friends learned to listen to the rocks and used them to pass messages they have begun to organise the parties.

Further up the path darkened figures stand, waiting. Sandy feels nervous. Wavebox queries ahead and puts his hand on Sandy's shoulders. It's ok, they're with us. We're nearly there."

Wavebox nods at the two sentries. One of them he knows. A girl from his class, pretty and dressed well with bright pink hair woven with soft pulse light. She smiles at him and he feels a warm nervous glow. Beyond them is a clearing. The overhead is covered with woven trees, the result of a month of gentle negotiation to create an arena that will be hidden from above. He clearing is already half filled with people, mostly young, around Wavebox's age or slightly older. No-one over twenty, that's the rule.

Ambient music plays, punctuated by random pop hits that fade in and out. Wavebox looks around for someone he knows. He finds Steel, already mixing it with a few of the others. He doesn't know Steel so well, an state of ambivalence has already existed between them. But Steel sees him and waves him over. Wavebox, realising he cannot walk away, goes to his group.

"Who's the little one?" Steel asks.

"This is Sandy, my kid brother."

Steel nods. "Good to met you." He says.

Sandy feels timid. Everyone is larger than him. He has not seen anyone his own age. He feels a little angry towards his brother but excited at the same time.

The music starts to change. It gets faster and louder. A few people start to dance. Others stand around, collecting juice from the trees and passing it around. Sandy tries some. It is sweeter, deeper than the stuff in the blocks.

"It's not so diluted when you get it from the source." Steel explains.

The music suddenly stops. There are hollers and shouts of approval as everyone sits down. Their hands run through the grass, the rough earth. Everyone becomes silent. Listening. Sandy copies Wavebox. He has been told what to do but the strangeness has forced the explanation from his memory. He is mostly terrified of making a fool of himself.

The murmur of the stones seems to grow, becoming louder until there is nothing else. Each person seems to take on the call, creating impossible sounds from their mouths, from their throats, from their bones and flesh. The world begins to melt away. Sandy feels himself begin to sink. All becomes dark. The rough feel of rock against all his skin. But then it ends. There is no movement, no sense of falling. Sandy opens his eyes.

They are outside. He cannot see the others but he knows that they are there. He can feel them, supporting him like knots in a net. He looks about. There are only stars, a thousand million pins of light, textured clouds of coloured gas. The feel of exotic particles against whatever he has become, an eternal wind of quantum foam breaking against the bow of the ship. He tries to turn, to look back at the ship. Its pitted surface stretches outwards below him. He cannot see its length.

It's all true. He thinks.

Sandy suddenly feels himself pulled back inwards. Quicker than before he finds himself sat back on the grass, his hands in the dirt. He feels the grin on his face. His eyes open to look around at everyone else. They are all the same. Looking at each other with the same sense of wonder and magic. Grinning and moving towards each other with a pleasure and openness none has experienced outside this. A girl hugs Sandy and he hugs her back.

The music starts up again, this time louder and faster. They start to dance. Everyone dances. Sandy laughs at his brother, who has found the sentry girl and is dancing with her, with everyone really. The feel of the universe a powerful scent between them, binding them together.

Suddenly there are lights, reds and blues, piercing through the canopy, from the sides. Sirens wail. A raid. Sandy panics. Looks again for his brother, but he cannot see him. A few people near the edge decide to run. Others sit down. Sandy desparately tries to remember what his brother told him about raids, words he repeated to himself over and over again. -The best thing is just to sit. Most of the time they just frisk everyone, take down a few names and let everyone go. They don't like it but there's not a lot they can really do. But Sandy does not feel so confident. Something in him takes over and he runs, heading for the thickest part of the wood, where there are no lights.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


‘I was tailed to work by a squirrel.’ Said a breathless colleague as she entered the room, wet bedraggled from the spring rains.
‘There’s a pun in there somewhere, I just can’t find it.’
She frowned at me, obviously not in the mood for my morning brand of witticism.


‘What’s that noise, Gran-dame?’
We were sitting on the edge of the window, the wooden shutters were spread wide open to either side of us and our shoeless legs dangled freely out into the calm air, over the five storey drop. Her legs were covered in skin coloured mesh tights. Mine were bare like pale sausages, ripe with child puppy fat.
She cocked her head to listen and a smile spread beatifically across her wrinkled grey face.
‘That, my dear, is a bird singing.’
I vaguely knew what a bird was, though I had never seen one and especially not in the shared open space of our housing complex. I always put birds and trees together and there were no longer any trees in the whole expanse of the territory in which I roamed.
‘What does it mean?’
‘It means that we are approaching dawn. The night is about to end.’
I looked about at the clear blue sky and thought about the tasty lunch that was lying, digesting, in my stomach. ‘But it’s already day.’ I protested.
Gran-dame looked at me and her smile changed to a more recognisable tenor – it was the smile that meant that I should not worry about things I did not understand. She always reassured me that things would become clear in time. With one hand, its translucent skin paler than usual in the wan daylight, she reached over and ruffled my hair playfully.
‘There is some darkness that you cannot see with your eyes. That you only feel with your heart.’
I squinted at her, more confused than ever.
‘You will understand eventually,’ she continued, turning away from me to look out over the wild concrete below us. ‘The main point is that things are going to improve from now on.’
I watched her face for a little while longer, seeing thoughts flit over the textured surface, soundless words being muttered through her thin lips. And then I too turned away to look out over the limited view and forgot my confusion in the simple joy of banging my legs against the brick wall below me.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

life in a vacuum

The shattered spine of the ship stretches out into the darkness. Haloes of blue light flicker and burst from its cracks. It falls away from view, hidden by the tilted spin of the command section. I turn away from the viewport and sit down on the wall that has become a floor. That leaves me with only the ruin to look at. I only want to close my eyes and wait for the dark cold to seep into the ship and take me away.

I do not have the luxury of the time it will take to die. They will be here long before, scouring for survivors and technology, and it is my duty now to find a way to stop them. I look over the command, the large open space, a hundred metres long and nearly as wide, broken with torn metal and the dead reamins of my colleagues. I hold my breath, listening to the silence for a sense of a moan, of life. There is none.

Weapons and tools are my first priority. I crawl under a piece of fallen floor to where the emergency locker is kept. It remains undamaged. Inside there are swords and crossbows, tipped with neurotoxins designed to drop most species of attacker. Boarding a ship is almost always a bloody and difficult affair. I blink away a memory and select one of each, as well tucking a small knife into a pocket in my trousers.

Next I will need food and water. Enough to keep me on the run for several weeks. Even if our emergency buoy manages to make it back home there will be no rescue for at least that long.

Sunday, 16 May 2010


The priest watches the old woman. He does not like her but cannot put his finger on what. He liks to think that he is past the medieval concept of witch, of crone, the ancient enemy of the celebate church with its rule of logic. These things were left behind on EarthThatWas. But there it is. She glances over at him and he turns away, ashamed. He feels that she has read his thoughts.

Overhead the blue-tinged sun begins its slow fall to the horizon. It is time for the priest to get on with his new chores. He enters the welcome shade of the cloister, bowing lightly as he passes through the gateway to the slight statue of Ran, who looks back with a sly wink and hops from one leg to the other. Ran has guessed his thoughts, his lack of logical thinking, and is mocking him for being too unsure of himself. Better to ignore it and get on with the cleaning.

The windows have slowly become encrusted with the dust deposited by the morning rains of the winter months. It is a task that should be seen to by a junior priest, but there is no-one else to do the task. The congregation has become more slight. Fewer people are believers anymore.

He dips the sponge into the bucket and splashes it onto the glass, rubbing it in a strong circlular motion to draw the dirt and water down. He is reaching for a scrap of paper to provide the final sheen when he senses someone behind him. He turns. It is the old woman. He face is lined with light. It ripples from her like a beatitude, shimmering with an animal purpose. The light is seeking him and he wants to run but he does not dare.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Traveller in a strange time

Quinn looked up and saw only gnarled and twisted branches of grey bark against a pale, almost opaque, blue sky. His head ached. Come to think of it, his entire body ached. Quinn made a mental inventory of his limbs and was relieved to find that they all seemed to be in place. It wasn’t always the case.

Now then. What was all this about? Quinn thought to himself, his forehead wrinkling. He sat up, wiping away the dust of the ground that had accumulated over his face and arms. His suit was filthy and he could tell that his tie was undone. Frowning he started to adjust his tie by reforming the knot and fixing it firmly up against his collar.

‘Hello?’ A voice came from behind the thin trunk of what Quinn now recognised to be an olive tree. In fact, looking around, he seemed to be in an olive grove; the trees stretched out around him with contorted branches and ancient cracked bark indicating senescence past useful life. There was no sign that this grove was alive, no leaves broke the monotonous crumpled grey, and no fruit tempted the hungry. And as there was also no sign of a body to belong to the voice therefore Quinn replied directly to the tree.

‘Hello. Perhaps you could tell me where I am?’

‘Don’t you know?’ A small boy crept from behind the tree and Quinn felt relieved that things were not as strange as he had first assumed. The boy wore a simple tunic that appeared to be very like the boy himself: dirty and uncared for.

Quinn shook his head, gingerly. ‘I don’t know anything actually. I seem to have a complete blank where my memory should be.’ He paused, confused that this state of affairs was not more worrying to him, and shrugged. ‘I’m relatively sure this is only a temporary inconvenience and I have every hope that things will become clear at any time now.’

The boy simply stared at the man with his strange clothes and even stranger way of speaking. Fidgeting from leg to leg he looked like he wanted to run away but couldn’t quite bear the idea of missing something interesting. His stare was unnervingly direct but there was vulnerability behind the slightly crossed eyes.

‘I do know that my name is Quinn,’ Quinn said gently ‘what is your name boy?’

‘Arsenio.’ The boy whispered uncertainly, a pronounced lisp in this single word. He looked around furtively and then took a few tentative steps towards the man. ‘Did you bring the building?’

Quinn’s head was spinning already and he wondered whether something had gone wrong with his translation mechanism. ‘Eh?’

‘The building.’ The boy indicated with his left hand and Quinn noticed that it was as gnarled and hard and useless as the olive trees surrounding them both. ‘It was not there before. And now it is. As are you.’

Quinn forced his fascination away from the boy’s deformity and looked in the direction indicated. There was, indeed, a building just on the outskirts of the grove. And it did not look like it should be there at all. He stood and walked carefully over to the edge of the olive grove.

A mountainous land spread out in front of him, dry and dusty looking, littered with rocks and small pockets of tough vegetation. He thought he recognised his location now, somewhere in the dry heat of the Mediterranean, and, he felt with no real excuse to his certainty, more specifically probably somewhere in Greece.

Quinn inhaled deeply, his inner nanotech filters telling him that there were no pollutants in the air and suggesting that the timeframe for this adventure was a long time before industrial activity tainted the planet. Millennia before Quinn’s own time.

And that meant, Quinn figured, that this mosque which appeared to have been shoehorned into this ancient Greek landscape, now existed in a time before Islam had been created.

‘Bugger.’ Said Quinn, knowing instinctively that this was probably his fault.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Black Hill

The scent of rice cooking. Zhao touches his hand to mouth, the taste of food so tantalising. Soft rain soaking into wool. Zhao lowers his hand back to the sword at his side. His poetry will not be of much use to him now.

The black hill broods over the village, the dark heather and grasses the same colour as the soil, growing from the neat mounds of graves a thousand years old. The keening wind cuts into damp clothes. He shivers, pulls the padded jackets tighter with a tug on the rope belt and continues the climb, following the faint etching of the path.

Looking back the mist has grown. He can still make out the houses, the smoke from the fires, the courtyards and farm houses but they fade in and out of his vision. He unslings a small gourd and takes a sip of sweetened tea.

Walking on he hears a chanting. He is frightened at first but remembers the words of the town mayor. The Daoist priest may be able to help him. Or he may be the cause. Either way Zhao is committed.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Factory Fodder

‘I don’t want to go to school today. I don’t feel well.’ The whining voice perforated Anna’s morning meditations, disturbed her hard-fought inner peace. She took a deep breath and carefully started to emerge from under the apex of her meditation pyramid.

‘I know darling. But you have to go.’

‘But I hate it. No-one likes me and I don’t understand what’s going on most of the time.’

‘Yes but, there are some things in life you just have to do. Work is one of them.’ Shaking out her tense knees, Anna stood up and walked tenderly over to her husband. ‘I know you don’t like your job but we need the money.’ She reached up to stroke his bearded face but all she got in reply was a petulant frown.

‘It’s alright for you.’ Jake pouted. ‘You like your job. You just don’t understand.’

Anna’s heart sunk. He’d forgotten. Sometimes she felt like she didn’t exist for him as more than a support mechanism. She stepped back and turned away, starting to get dressed as a way of distracting herself from his lack of attention. With little real hope, she wondered if he would realise before she actually left the house. But when she turned back he had gone, only an empty space of misery remained, the front door banged behind him and the house was silent apart from Anna’s near-tearful breathing.


Half an hour later Anna was ready to set off for her new job. She walked out of her house, turning left instead of her habitual right, away from the business parks and towards the centre of the city. A shiver of trepidation ran through her, an awareness of the large bags under her eyes from her sleepless night, a fear of the unknown.

This new job had been spun to her as a good thing, a promotion into a highly specialised part of the organisation she worked for. It was a secret, well-paid, good prospects type of opportunity of the kind that doesn’t come along very often, if at all. Anna had said yes without the luxury of thought, she’d felt that she had no choice given the enthusiasm and firm direction of her manager, but ever since that day, only a few weeks ago, she had regretted that she hadn’t at least had a night to consider.

Rumours were all there were, but rumours were enough to unsettle.

For a start the location of the factory was an anomaly. Nearly all economic, education, retail, practical activity went on in the specially built and security maintained business parks that ringed the residential areas. In the centre of the city only chaos remained. Anna had seen the web footage: the collapsed buildings, pot-holed roads, vegetation forcing nature through concrete, rusted wrecks of cars and machinery. And then there were the people: those who couldn’t afford to move out when the economic collapse came, the mentally ill, the old and infirm, the odd. The collapse had caused a situation where, once the weak recovery finally stuttered into life, it was more cost-effective to rebuild on new land and simply abandon the inner city to whoever could cope with it. That strategy had the added bonus of leaving the residential and business areas free of undesirables.

And then there was the nature of the role she was being asked to fulfil. It was incredibly vague. All she knew was that they were looking for a problem solver, a new way of looking at things, and that she had been recommended by someone anonymous but influential. The rest, she’d been told by the blank-faced HR representative, she would find out when she arrived.

It was all very disconcerting.