Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Book of Roses

Damien strode into the vestibule of the gothic style library and paused, shaking the cold rain drops from his cloak and tossing his wet hair, composing himself physically. The library vestibule was cold and silent apart from the steady patter of heavy raindrops drumming a primeval rhythm on the glass roof. Damien sniffed, his long sharp nose moving agilely as it analysed the faint smells of the ancient building. Finding no cause for further delay Damien progressed to the heavy wooden doors and raised his right hand as if to knock. Instead of knocking he allowed his hand to caress the deeply indented carvings of the oak door, the tree of life with its intricate branches and falling leaves, before grasping the golden handle and wrenching open the door. It creaked in protest but nothing more.

Releasing his inheld breath, Damien entered the main room taking in the sight he had so long envisioned but had hardly dared to believe in as a reality. The room was one vast repository of knowledge. Wooden shelves lined each wall from end to end and ground to ceiling. The interior of the room was thronged with more bookshelves of various sizes, an occasional individual reading table with deeply upholstered easy chair, and lamps burning steadily to light the way.

There were, however, no books.

The shelves were empty, the tables and chairs were useless in their loneliness. Only the lamps were as they should be – highlighting the missing, serving to enhance the feeling of absence.

Damien staggered to the nearest chair and slumped heavily into it. His heart was still beating hard but his eyes had misted over, he felt drained with the wasting sensation of anti-climax.

‘You expected something different?’

Damien barely moved at the interruption of his introspection, glancing briefly at the librarian then looking back at the flagstones.

The old woman shuffled slowly towards the centre of the room; this was her theatre and she was used to an audience. She was hunched over with age and wisdom, her fallen face pale but glowing with passion. Her clothes were poor but ornate, stitched closely with colourful embroidery of mystic symbols and meaningful phrases.

‘You think you are too late?’ The crone asked with a tenderness flanked with steel.

Damien shrugged and indicated the empty shelves.

The librarian laughed, a true laugh of abandon and mirth, but the laugh turned abruptly into a cough and she bent over until the wracking subsided.

‘Why do you laugh?’ Damien rose dramatically to his feet and moved on fleet and soundless feet over to the librarian. ‘What is funny about...this?’

‘There is nothing funny here.’ The woman replied, composing herself, taking deep breaths, a ghost of a smile on her thin lips. ‘Your reaction is funny. Your assumption that what you see is what you have most feared.’

The young man frowned impatiently, though he had nowhere else to go. He felt like shaking the old woman until she made sense.

She looked at him full in his weather beaten face, peering deep into his eyes until he felt a warmth in his brain and a calm enter his heart, then she turned away from him and walked quickly away towards a small, plain door in the side of the hall. ‘Come.’ She said simply. Damien followed without for a moment questioning her intentions.


Monday, 28 June 2010

science spy, or regards to raymond chandler

The carp glides through the water, a twist of its body tilts forwards to hide under a lily pad. A girl laughs, her head poking through the wooden slats of the little bridge over the pond, her chubby hand pointing at the dark water where other shapes flow with gold and red. Arret watches her, trying to remember the simple joy of seeing, of letting the flow of thoughts fade and simply to know that there are clouds low in the sky, threatening rain, the smells of the hot dogs from the barbeque stand, the wordless chatter of the people in the park.

It cannot happen. His mind is wrapped around this thing so completely that there is room for nothing else. He wonders how he got to the park and he does not remember. He has come here a lot, he knows this, but there is only the problem. The knot of mathematics wrapped inside him, trying to break its way out but hampered by the constant bewilderment at the sudden row that has erupted, the shouted arguments and irrational behaviour of the managers above him fighting for possession of something he does not yet even have and which they certainly do not understand.

The girl has turned back to her parents. Her mind has switched to another matter, to another thing in front of her. He is envious, and realises that in that envy is the way out. That he can let it all go. He stands up and readies himself to go home, walking to the edge of the park where he can catch a taxi.

Before he can get there a woman has fallen in step beside him. He has caught a glance of her but does not want to look again. She touches his arm.

Dr Arret? She says. He halts and nods. You need to come with me.

He starts to protest but there is a nudge of metal from underneath the coat over her arm. He recognises it as a gun although he has never seen one before.

Your bodyguard is not around. She tells him. He has been compromised. If you do what I say you will not be hurt.

Which way? He asks.

She tilts her head for him to carry on along the path.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Celine sat up in bed, startled. ‘What the hell’s that?’
Pieter also sat up sharply, he’d been half asleep, exhausted from a disturbed night’s sleep. ‘What?’
‘Those marks on your back. They weren’t there last night.’ Her dark eyes pulsed in the dim glow of dawn, her thin lips were drawn tight with restrained emotion. Pieter saw fear and anger in her eyes and liked neither.
‘What marks?’ he felt behind him, an awkward wrestling tussle with his own body, trying to reach where her eyes were intimating there was a problem. His fingers encountered a raised ridge of warped skin, a couple of centimetres across and apparently reaching far up and down his back.
‘What is it?’ Celine asked again, she was starting to annoy him now.
‘I don’t know. Is it from last night? I don’t remember you scratching me.’
Celine pulled away and tumbled out of the bed, backing away from him as if he was suddenly a threat to her. ‘I didn’t.’
Pieter frowned, feeling again the length and height of the scar tissue, then switched on the bedside lamp. ‘What does it look like?’ he asked, appealing to Celine to come back to him.
Slowly she edged round to his side of the bed, her hands clasped in front of her, her naked body extra white and shaking slightly with shock and chill. She peered closely at his back, her hands hovering over the scar but not quite touching it.
Pieter strained to see her face but could not read her expression. ‘Well?’
‘Does it hurt?’ she countered.
‘No. I can’t feel it at all. If you hadn’t said anything I wouldn’t know it was there.’
‘It’s deep. It looks like it has been almost welded together. It looks like it’s been healing for a long time.’
There was a silence as both parties pondered this information.
‘Well?’ Celine finally broke the silence, a sharpness to her voice that Pieter disliked and had rarely heard before. She sat down in the armchair next to the open window, the curtains blowing occasionally in the slight morning draft.
‘What do you want me to say? I don’t know what it is or how it got there.’
They were at stalemate.
Without saying another word Celine rose, picked up her dressing gown from the floor at the foot of the bed, and headed towards the bathroom, closing the door firmly behind her.

Monday, 21 June 2010

All you can do is wait

Thin, dark, like a junkie needle threaded through space, the ship is barely visible in its approach. Too thin in cross-section to make out any markings, any indication of weapons or crew. Unnoticed until it is barely an AU distant from the planet, sending out pulses of thrust to slow it down.

Panic is immediate.

Talk of launching crude armadas of re-purposed ballistic nuclear warheads, revelation of hidden laser defence satellites, preparations for rapid evacuations to the Moon, to Mars; chatter over radio bands broadcasting signals of welcome, laser pulse transmitters blinking binary messages of peace, any scheme that seems able to carry a signal tried in desparation.

All met with silence.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

And the wheel keeps turning

The cartwheel rolled off the rubble of the track road, bouncing as it tumbled down the embankment, before circling to a stop and falling slowly over on to one side.

Soloman cursed his luck and cursed the ban that prevented him from using mechanical transportation. Looking around him, seeing nothing in the flat distance covered with crop yielding fields, he smiled to himself and performed a tiny act of rebellion. With a twitch of his wrist he switched on his personal forcefield and levitated himself down to the foot of the embankment. A few seconds of civil disobediance. He reached the bottom of the slope and switched off the field, looking around guiltily, waiting for 'them' to come and find him. As if he were the worst of their problems.

The wheel was useless, he could see that now, several spokes were completely broken, sheered right through as if by a laser. Soloman's heart sank as he realised that this had been no accident.

So here he was, several miles from the nearest village, much further than that from home, with no quick means of transport and an unknown enemy. He daren't use his hidden technology. A few seconds was one thing, but using it for a prolonged time would surely bring the attention not only of the Enforcers but also of the Others. No. That was something he would have to save only for real emergencies.

Soloman struggled his way back up the steep embankment, using his stubby fingers to grasp clumps of tough grass, and dusted himself off as he reached the road. There was still no-one else in sight. The sun was dipping towards the horizon, the dusk was not far off.

Behind him the rough track of the road stretched back towards the far off market place, a flat field of dirt where the local farmers would congregate weekly to barter and swap their goods. It was unlikely that anyone would remain there now. All the farmers knew better than to linger when dusk was approaching.

In the other direction the road also stretched out with no sign of habitation as far as Soloman's squinting eyes could see. But he reckoned that his neighbour's farm was about five miles off along the road, his own farm another five miles beyond that. He looked again at the position of the sun. Fives miles. He might be able to make that in time.

With one final look back down the road towards the market, where someone had seered through the narrow wood of his cartwheel, Soloman gathered together his meagre supplies and set off towards the distant horizon. To one side of him a dust storm blew up, whirling the dry particles in a vortex of short-lived energy, but Soloman did not see it. He was already counting the strides towards his destination. Hoping that he would make it in time. Trying not to think about what might happen if he did not.

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Frenton watches the planet grow larger. Its atmosphere a thread of glare around the green circumference partially lit by the distant sun. Scattered lights in the black tell of the colony below. Frenton tries once again to pull his hands free, then his legs, struggling with a renewed energy marked by the visible changes in the planet as he is drawn deeper into its gravity well. His arms and legs are firmly fixed, the suit that provides him with his only air and security from the vacuum has been welded to the rock.

He gives up again. Becomes still. He blinks to try and activate the suit comm unit, then probes the switch panel with his tongue but nothing works. He is tired and exhausted. He has had nothing to eat since he was cast adrift. No sense of time although he knows that he has drifted in and out of consciousness. The orb has featured heavily in his dreams, of falling into its atmosphere and the fast burn that would vapourise him. Sometimes he dreams that he cannot breath, that the air has been misjudged and he is to be lucky enough to die an early death. But still the planet grows larger.

He does not even know the planet's name. It looks unreal to him. There is no sense of presence, no tug of gravity that would tell him that any of this is real. Only the feel of the suit material and the immobility of his limbs. He turns his head but he cannot even make out any part of the asteroid he has been fixed to.

The world starts to fill his vision. As it grows he starts to realise that he has not been fired straight at the planet. He is off-centred. A longer, slower journey. He starts to do calculations in his head but he cannot make sense of them. The planet is roughly Earth-sized. Its rate of growth must be of use in calculating his own speed. But he has no real data. Only a glimmer of hope. That maybe they got their trajectory wrong. Maybe he will not fall into the planet but will be slung around it. Perhaps even noticed by one of the emergency support satellites for the colony. Rescued.

It is too good a thought to be true. Even if a mistake had been made he would only drift until his air ran out. Instead, he finds himself wondering if it is true that a human can die by biting off their own tongue. He is not sure he would have the will power and the thought of drowning in his own blood is no more appealing than the real options.

He starts to imagine the roar. The buffeting of the atmosphere against the rock. The drag that will bounce him, aero-braking, heating, burning. He finds himself willing it to happen. A last chance to feel something other than the weightlessness of the past however many hours or days. He an see nothing but the planet now. It cannot be long

And yet it does not happen. Almost imperceptible except to his painful study he realises that the planet has started to recede. That maybe the wild hope of earlier has become true. Then there is a jolt. He spins. No, he realises, now it is happening. The planet rolls away from him. He is turning away from it. Instead he is looking at blackness. And then the ship. The pirates are right up against him. Maybe they want to watch every last moment. There is a short glare of thrust and the ship comes closer, arms stretched out and ready to grab him. With horror Frenton realises that they are rescuing him. That this has all been an extended torture. A proof of what they will do. He does not know if he has the will to resist a second time.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

One Hundred and Counting

Devon walked quickly and purposefully along the street and through the automatic doors into the building. A buzzer sounded, alarms rang, banners descended down the walls of the ante-room he had entered and he flinched in response.

‘Congratulations!’ boomed the receptionist, clapping silently. Other people emerged from doors and corridors, all of them clapping and shouting and beaming wide joyful smiles.

Devon turned, almost as if wanting to flee back out of the main door and into the anonymity of the street, but his road out was blocked by celebratory workers. He looked around in panic and disorientation. The banners all read differently but with a common numerical theme. One hundred – a goal is reached or Congratulations to you, one hundred today. Other banners, static in the marketing of the room, delivered upbeat messages such as Living beyond death or even Infinity awaits you.

The receptionist meanwhile had left his desk and walked over to Devon, grasping his hand and pumping it enthusiastically in celebration. ‘Well done. Congratulations.’

And then, as quickly as it had erupted, the cacophony died away and people disappeared back to wherever they had been before. Only Devon and the receptionist remained, awkwardly clasped together.

Devon finally found his voice. ‘What is this?’ he asked uncertainly, his voice cracking, his mouth dry.

The receptionist grinned, over-bright teeth glinting in the gleam of the artificial lights. ‘You are very lucky today, sir.’ He said, a faint whine of condescension in his voice. ‘You are our one hundredth customer.’

Devon wasn’t sure how to respond to this. ‘One hundredth? That doesn’t seem so many.’

‘Ah, but we have only been open a short time so it is very exciting for us. Very exciting.’

‘Oh. Do I win something?’

‘No. I’m afraid not. But we are very excited for you.’ The receptionist finally ran out of welcoming steam, letting go of Devon’s sweating hand and returning to his post behind the reception desk. ‘So, sir, what can I do for you?’

‘I’d like a… a… what do you call it? A consultation. Please.’

The receptionist didn’t answer, just picked up his phone and poked digits in quick succession, then hung up without saying a word and nodded Devon over to a chair by the far wall.

Devon shuffled over and sat down, his certainty dented by this odd and unexpected reception. He’d expected something a lot more low-key, maybe even a little solemn. This was not how he had pictured it at all.

A door opened to his right and a woman came out, smiling broadly of course, and already her arms were spread wide with welcome. ‘Welcome to Life Centre.’ She said, her voice oddly deep. She was middle aged but well preserved - good makeup, good surgery, expensive clothes. ‘Please, won’t you come through to my office.’ And, without touching Devon at all, she swept him into a small, white walled room.

There were no windows but the walls were covered with bright posters of scenes of blue skies, clear seas and pure white-sanded beaches with verdant mountains in the background. Devon sat in one of the chairs, the woman sat in the only other chair. There was no other furniture in the room. Devon had expected at least a desk, he didn’t know why, he didn’t know why it made a difference to him that there was no desk.

‘So,’ the woman started, dragging out the word slowly and softly, ‘you have decided to take an alternative path.’

It wasn’t a question but Devon nodded slowly in agreement. ‘Yes. I don’t want to live anymore. I’m ready to die.’

The woman frowned. ‘We don’t like to think of it that way, sir. Our service does not offer death but everlasting life, immortality; the security of never growing old, becoming a burden or facing life alone.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Devon hung his head. He knew what he wanted. He also knew that, to get what he wanted, he would have to explain himself to their satisfaction. He had to watch what he said.

‘We have some questions we have to ask. Just to make sure you are at the right place at the right time in your life. We hope that is okay with you and that you understand that we do not mean to cause any offense or upset.’ The woman talked like an automaton, like she was pre-programmed with these lines. There was emotion in her voice but it was fake and unsatisfying.

Devon nodded. He’d learnt his lines too.

‘So, to start with, maybe you could explain to me in your own words why it is that you are here today.’

He paused and took a deep breath. This was it. ‘My life sucks. There is nothing in it that makes life worth living. That’s about it really.’

‘Okay. That’s great. Now, if we could go through that in a bit more detail. Have you any family?’

‘Yes. A wife and two children, two boys, both teenagers.’

‘And they do not bring you comfort?’

Devon nearly laughed. ‘No. No in fact they make my life as painful as they can. I spend all day working in a boring job being humiliated by my boss and by everyone else on my team. Then I go home and my wife treats me with disdain and my boys, if they bother to acknowledge me at all, just want money.’ He paused and waited for her next assault.

‘So, that’s work and family. Any friends?’

‘No. Not anymore. I did have friends once. I don’t really know what happened but they all just drifted off.’

‘Okay, no friends. How about hobbies?’

‘No. I have no time between working seven days a week and housework and DIY. When I have the chance to sit down I just fall asleep. I have no time for myself. And even if I did I don’t know that I’d want to do anything. I have no idea what it would be.’


Devon did laugh this time. ‘No.’

‘Parents? Siblings?’

‘Parents both dead. I have a brother but we fell out ten years ago or more. There’s no reconciliation there.’

‘And how is your health?’

‘Well, bad frankly. I have sore joints, arthritis that is getting quickly worse. It’s agony for me to move and it even hurts when I don’t move. I’m on the strongest painkillers you can get and they barely touch the pain. I also have arrhythmia and reduced lung function so it is hard for me to sleep properly. I’m overweight but can’t do anything about it because my health is so bad. My wife won’t let me eat anything healthy as she says it’s bad for the boys, she won’t cook two meals and she won’t let me make my own food.’ Devon ran out of steam, forgetting whether he’d got his whole litany of complaints in but feeling like he’d said enough. The woman was looking at him with undisguised scorn but then she caught herself and transformed her expression into one of feigned sympathy.

‘Oh dear. You do have it rough.’

‘I do.’

‘So you have thought about what this means?’

‘I have, I really have.’

‘Shall I explain the process a little?’

He nodded, feeling worn out by his own description of his life.

‘We go from here to the back office where you sign the paperwork for the procedure. Then you are taken into the clinic and given your own room where you can prepare yourself. We supply legal representation so you can arrange your affairs. After a suitable period of time you will meet the doctor and they will give you an injection. And then,’ she paused for dramatic effect, ‘then it will be all over. You won’t be in pain anymore.’ She smiled, the warmth almost genuine for the first time. ‘So, do you feel ready to move on?’ She stood up and walked over to the door, opening it to a brand new world of opportunities.

Devon remained seated, his mind whirling. Everything he had said was true. Everything in his life was awful, there was barely a second of each day where he felt even the slightest vestige of anything that could be called happiness. Everyone around him seemed determined to drag him down, make him miserable, make him wallow in his misery. There really was no reason to carry on. And yet…

‘Um. No. Actually I’d just like to leave now.’ Devon stood. ‘I’m sorry to have wasted your time, I really am.’ And he squirmed his way past the woman and out into the reception hall and was gone out into the street.

The woman returned to the room and faced one of the posters. ‘I don’t understand,’ she complained to the poster, ‘what did I do wrong?’

A light came on behind the poster and revealed it to be an opaque window, a shadowy viewing area was dimly visible behind it. ‘Nothing.’ A voice came from the room, detached due to the speaker distortion. ‘You didn’t do anything wrong.’

‘Then why did he leave?’

‘Sometimes, you will learn this if you pass the course, sometimes people just need to know that the option is there.’

The woman frowned, she didn’t understand. As she exited the room she noticed that the banners with One hundred on them were furling themselves back into the ceiling of the reception hall. The celebration would have to wait.


Sunday, 6 June 2010

Journalism for bloggers

A light comes on in the distance. The signal S has been waiting for. He shifts his weight by rolling his body lightly, relieving some of the cramp that has built up over the hour of waiting. To move is to risk being spotted but he cannot help himself. Tucked into the eave of the building, its rough brick beneath him, he focuses his eye back along the lens of the camera, hoping to get the shot.

Fifteen storeys below the road is silent, dark. Puddles reflect the gun metal sky, threatening exposure. S watches the vids that line the street slowly glitch, tilting themselves in odd patterns to clear the path for the big, silver car that is driving along it. A virtual anonymity carefully constructed for the meeting that S is hoping to witness.

Normally he ignores anonymous tip offs, but there was something about this one that caused it to be flagged up. The mask worn by the message was a little too sophisticated for the average loser looking to waste his time. The message not so obviously a plant by the police of the secret service. Worth checking out. Even letting out a sniff of the message will spoke traffic and revenues. Maybe even push him to the networks, if he can attract an agent.

The car stops. There is only the sound of the wind in S's ears. He does not hear the click of the open door. He tilts his camera and begins taking shots. He is barely taking in what he is seeing at first, and it is only as the figure below moves away from the car and into the shaded doorway of the building opposite that S realises this is the Secretary for Defence. He wants to curse. The flicker of a kite in the corner of his vision keeps him silent and he becomes rigid and still again, letting the cheap camo do its work.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Tedsa woke with a start and heard the rattle of his restraints before he felt their grip. Heavy metal cold-ringed his wrists, two stiff collars joined by dense linked links of more heavy metal. He groaned.

'So. You're awake then.'

Tedsa grunted, nudging himself into a sitting position with his elbows.

'Do you know where you are? Why you are here?'

Tedsa frowned. 'Are those trick questions?'

The man looked surprised, his otherwise blank face gave little away. His body didn't move as he spoke. 'Well, no. No.'

'At least you're not asking me how I feel.' Tedsa said, a little attempt at grim humour his only way to stem the growing sensation of panic. This wasn't right, he knew that much. And he didn't know where he was or why he was there. Why would he know? The last thing he remembered was drinking with some whore in a bar downtown somewhere. 'That bitch.' he spoke with a bitter realisation, the realisation that when a gorgeous creature comes up to you and appears to want to spend time with you then there is always, always a catch. He'd have been happy to pay cash but this, what was this anyway?

'Yes. I'm afraid you were dooped.'

'Dooped? Do you mean duped? Say, where is your accent from anyway?' Tedsa was stalling for time, trying to find out any information he could, trying to look around himself to assess his chances of escape. As far as he could see he was pretty well trapped. But, in his experience at least, there was always a way.

The man rose from his simple wooden seat and turned his back on Tedsa, heading towards the wall. He turned again and leaned back against the wall, solid plaster with several layers of thick paint sloshed haphazardly against it. 'Nowhere you've ever heard of.' he said as his body melted through the wall and disappeared.

'What the...'