The scam

“Crikey! You’ve used that posh tea set your mother gave you. Did you have visitors today?”

”Yeah I did. Some very unexpected ones … it was pure luck I wasn’t still in my pyjamas. Why don’t you wash up and I’ll get the dinner on.”

“Um, aren’t you going to tell me who they were then?”

“It’s kind of a long story Martin, let me do the dinner and I’ll tell you after.”

“Why don’t you just say who it was …or is there a reason you don’t want me to know?”

“Alrighty then, it was a Nigerian Prince and his … um … retinue I guess you’d call it. He was re-paying me for a loan I gave him about 10 years ago.”

“Yeah, yeah, really funny!”

“I’m serious Martin … and your reaction is exactly why I was loathe to tell you!”

Bashing the pots and pans crossly in the kitchen, Leah thought back to that day. It was an easy one to remember for it was the very day she’d met Martin. Fresh from the sticks, she’d been the new girl in the office, totally naive and ready to believe the best in people. Nervous about her first job, Leah hadn’t been able to sleep. Up before the lark, breakfasted, booted and suited, she’d still had ages to go it was time for the walk to work.

In an attempt to control her nerves, she’d sat down at her desk to have a go at clearing her in box before work. She rarely plumbed the depths of the spam folder but that’s where she came across the fateful message. The English was both formal and stilted – exactly as you’d expect it to be from a foreigner – and that’s exactly who the guy writing it said he was; more precisely he was a Prince from a State in northern Nigeria who’d lost all his money in a scam and didn’t have enough to buy a ticket back home. Leah didn’t have much, but after checking the cost of a one-way ticket to Lagos from Heathrow, she was able to scrape that much together. So, feeling she’d done her good deed/pay forward thing for that year, she’d sent him the money and headed off to work with a warm feeling in her chest.

Once at work, Leah was thrown straight into a busy new staff induction programme. She was starting to relax and enjoy her day when the subject turned to internet security. The talk being delivered by one of the guys from the IT department was pretty routine and a tad dull to be honest, until the words “Nigerian money scam” causing Leah to look up in alarm. As she listened, Leah realised she’d fallen prey, not only to a scam, but one that everyone in the room – apart from her apparently – seemed to know about. Flushing beetroot, she’d started to shake. When her neighbour enquired if she was OK, she’d felt the tears coming and bolted for the door.

Realising she couldn’t hide in the Ladies loo all day, Leah had given her self a good talking to in the mirror after splashing her face with cold water to repair the damage. He’d been on his way in for an interview when she’d nearly knocked him down in her rush to exit the Ladies. When she’d looked up to bleat an apology, he’d said “Are you alright, your face is all blotchy” which – unsurprisingly-  started her off again. He’d hurried to apologise for being a right twerp, even managing to produce a clean handkerchief to wipe her tears away. Somewhat charmed by the handkerchief, Leah had accepted when he’d asked to buy her coffee to apologise properly, arranging to meet him on Saturday morning at the nice coffee place in town. They’d been together pretty much ever since and he’d always said it was her delightfully uncynical nature which sealed the deal.

But when Leah told him the story, there in the kitchen, he’d called her a complete and utter dork. Shocked, Leah realised the boyfriend she’d assumed was her forever guy had just mercilessly mocked her. Reminding him what he’d said about loving her uncynical nature, she’d visibly recoiled when he’d guffawed. Just a line … apparently.

A couple of hours later, Martin was stood in the hallway, his bags packed, a mate hovering awkwardly to provide him with a ride and a bed. Foolishly, he’d tried to talk Leah out of it, not realising quite how angry she was, even giving her the “this is it – your last chance to change your mind” speech.

It wasn’t till he’d given back his keys and was walking out of the door that Martin thought to ask “So come on then, how much did your Nigerian Prince re-pay you?” barely bothering to hide the sneer in his voice.

“Five hundred thousand pounds – in cash – and these keys to that brand new Porsche 911 on the pavement outside. He was ever so apologetic it had taken so long to track me down and hoped he’d added sufficient interest to the five hundred quid I’d loaned him.”

Watching Martin’s face crumple, she added “Shut the door behind you – this dork won’t be giving you the keys to that Porsche now. ”


© Debra Carey, 2019

#FF Prompt: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

The Lathe and Its Uses

Half-term had rolled around once again and, whilst some traditions were starting to creak under the strain of Toph’s departure for university, some would survive for at least a little longer.  The family trip up to Town was the first time the family had been together in six weeks or so, and whilst Toph didn’t get half terms any more, he’d peeled himself away from his new friends and made a flying trip back home for the first weekend of his younger brothers’ break.  His siblings had tried to pretend there was nothing special about this visit, but they never missed an opportunity to fish for information.

One of the traditions of this trip was that it was an opportunity to start thinking about Christmas shopping.  An early thought, without a shadow of a doubt, but one which they had become accustomed to from an early age, their Mother taking them to find presents for their Father and vice versa.  Eventually they had become more self-sufficient in this regard, taking the opportunity to at least start thinking about what they might get each other.

This year, Toph was planning on sending gifts to a few of his school friends that had scattered around the country, and also to a few of the friends that he’d made in this first few weeks at university.  Toph had an easy going manner that meant that he was easy to talk to and there were many that would consider themselves to be his friend, but he was cautious about those he thought of as close friends.

Jonno had headed off to a little art shop that he knew, one that specialised in niche supplies: no doubt he would be following the trend of recent years and making his gifts, although how he would fit this in around coursework for A levels and starting to build a portfolio for a new exhibition was anyone’s guess.

Tom by contrast, was sticking close to his older brother.  He was, by turns, attempting to impress with an adolescent emulation of his brother’s laid-back cool, and then forgetting himself and talking excitedly about his plans for the next cricket season and everything else going on at school.  They were heading, with their father, to an old haunt.  Toph had been rather surprised by Tom’s renewed enthusiasm for the book shop.  A couple of years before it had seemed as though he was growing out of it, but seemingly out of nowhere, a trip to Town was incomplete without a visit to the establishment that had claimed a lot of their father’s spare cash.

Toph would neither have confirmed or denied his own love of the venue.  Despite the brisk trade the shop did, somehow it remained a quiet haven with good quality books of various vintage to suit a range of pockets.  Eighteen months ago, Toph had found a book that set him on his path to university, for many reasons this had been so momentous that he hadn’t returned.  Today Toph had a vague notion of picking up something for his Father for Christmas – potentially risky, but usually a good bet, especially if you kept the receipt – and perhaps something for one of his new friends.

As was always the case with Toph, once he decided what he wanted to do, he set out out to achieve it. Quietly, without fuss, but inevitably: he had decided on Mechancial Engineering, and is school efforts were turned in this direction.  Whilst nowhere near as rare as once was the case, the number of girls on the course was a minority.  Whilst only six or so weeks into a four year course, there was one girl that he seemed to keep on crossing paths with.  They’d joined a couple of the same clubs, seemed to share an interest in changing the world.  There was even a pleasing symmetry in that she was the eldest of three sisters, so they were able to commiserate on a life lived as the trailblazer.

Toph did not have anything particulalry in mind as he wandered around the shop.  He moved his legs slowly and his head quickly as he scanned the titles on display, pausing now and again to take a book down and look at it more closely.  He was just about to pass by a little table with a tasteful display of books, when a white haired old man beckoned him over.  The man seemed familiar for some reason, but Toph couldn’t plase him.  It wasn’t clear if the man was an employee or another browser, but he apologetically asked Toph if he would mind helping him – the book he wanted was at the bottom of a pile.  Toph helpfully picked up the pile of books and the man retrieved the one that he was looking for. As Toph put the pile back down he noticed that the book on top of the pile was called “The Lathe & Its Uses”.  Perfect.  It might seem eccentric, especially to others on the course, and perhaps even to her.  Hopefully though she’d take the time to think about what it meant to him and why he was giving the gift.  She was a friend he valued, and whatever else happened, he hoped that wouldn’t change.

© David Jesson, 2019


Adam & Eve & Pinch Me

“Cheers! Good to see you Tristan”

”Welcome back Jonathan! Good home leave?”

Tristan was newly returned from a trip up country, scouting out new subject matter, and Jonathan had returned from a lengthy home leave a couple of weeks previously. Both were delighted to find the other ready to slip right back into their old habit of weekly suppers. Jonathan had suggested he kick the routine off to give Tristan’s boy time to get unpacked and re-provisioned following their lengthy trip.

Long glasses of gin & tonic having been poured in preparation for Tristan’s arrival, ice was rapidly added, and they’d taken up their customary chairs on the terrace while supper was prepared. A fairly lengthy exchange of news updates followed of both life back home and local goings-on, before Jonathan edged his way round to a more delicate topic of conversation.

“The aged parents went totally to town this visit, absolutely determined to get me settled down. Kept going on about not allowing the name to die out – all dreadfully dull.”

Tristan was quick to detect that his friend was rather underplaying things and, raising a quizzical eyebrow asked “And …any interesting prospects?”

Seeing a slight flush cross his friend’s neck & face, Tristan took a long slow sip from his glass to cover the smile, which he guessed might be a tad too knowing for the younger man’s comfort.

“Most were re-runs from previous visits, although why they thought I’d change my mind wasn’t at all clear.”

“Not that many single young women from the right social background I’d hazard a guess.”

“Quite so. There were a few who were new to me, but they were awfully young – barely out of school for goodness sake. Nice enough in truth, but you’d not bring them somewhere like here to live – far too naive.”

Tristan nodded in response and sipped his G&T, waiting for Jonathan to continue his tale, for he was sure there was more. His young friend was a remarkably adept diplomat, but in matters of the heart, rather less so.

“It was all getting jolly awkward till my sister stepped in, persuading the aged Ps that she could really use my help at her charity project in the East End.”

“Oh? I’d no idea your sister was involved in good works.”

“Yes indeed, found religion some years ago – hence the parental desperation all heading in my direction. Not only will the name die out, but they’d be absolutely bereft of grandchildren unless I … “

“Ah yes, I remember that particular burden – all the weight of history that comes with old family names.”

“That’s where I met her ..”

Jonathan glanced carefully at Tristan to check for any reaction, but Tristan was careful to keep his face carefully arranged.

“Yes …?”

“Not what the aged Ps wanted of course, but I’ve left my sister to persuade them of the good sense in accepting my decision.”

“Well, well, well – you’ve made a decision then. Are congratulations in order old man?”

“Yes, I suppose so. We’re not actually engaged – not yet anyway. Not till my sister persuades the parents, but we do have an understanding.”

“Forget all that stuff – do you love the girl Jonathan? For if you don’t, you mustn’t mess with her feelings!”

Jonathan went very quiet, so quiet that Tristan feared he’d struck a raw nerve.

“I do actually, most awfully in fact. To be honest, if they don’t agree, we’ll marry anyway. It’ll mean being disinherited and the title being conferred on some distant cousin, but … well, that’s the understanding we have. Pa was getting himself into a terrible stew convinced she was simply after the money.”

“It’s understandable … it does happen.”

“Yes, I realise that. But when I told her I’d been disinherited already, she just shrugged. I had a letter this morning saying she’s booked passage in June. She’s said she’d like to get to know Egypt, but she’s adamant she’ll not marry anywhere other than in London with all her family present so that’ll have to wait till my next leave. Here, let me read you a bit of her letter: Ma and Pa are really pleased about our news. Billy – he’s her younger brother – is too. He keeps saying “well, would you Adam & Eve it” and “Pinch Me” every few minutes. I think Pa’s getting tired of the broken record.”

Do you think she’ll be able handle the snobs at the Embassy Jonathan? The women can be especially unpleasant about anyone they consider to be not the right sort.”

“She’ll do fine. It’s a rather amusing tale actually. You’d not know she’s from London from her accent – you’ll see when you meet her. She sounds just like my sister actually, most probably as they went to the same school. The amusing bit is she benefited from one of the scholarships set up by none other than my aged Ps!”

“Would you Adam & Even it indeed! Cheers & congratulations to you old man!”

© Debra Carey, 2019

 


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

 

#FF Prompt: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

Once again, it’s time to celebrate the anniversary of Project Gutenberg being unleashed on the world on 1st December.

The aim of Project Gutenberg is to help people access books that they might not otherwise be able to get hold of.  This can get a bit tricky because of copyright issues, but in some ways it becomes easier, because there are some fantastic books that are now out of copyright which would get lost forever if it weren’t for PG.

For this month’s #FlashFiction prompt, head on over by clicking to Project Gutenberg, trying not to get distracted by the 50,000 or so books on the site!  Take a look at the Recent Books section and pick one that you like the look of – the title of the book is the title/prompt of your story.

Tell us you tale – any style any genre, just nothing NSFW.

 

Word limit: 500-750 words
Deadline : Friday 6th December @ 2pm GMT

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


Post your story on your site and link to it here in the comments below, or drop us a line via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

 

Experimental Writing: Part 11

This is the latest installment in a story that I’ve been writing over the course of the year.  There is a prologue which was used to shape the story, which starts here, but which you can easily miss out.  The story proper starts here.

Meredith got out of the Landrover and looked around.  Llyn y Fan Fach was not quite as impressive as they had expected – the legend that Esther had recounted had built up the place somewhat and the body of water did not live up to it.  A small lake, by virtue of the fact that small rills tumbled down the mountainside as some kind of watery sacrifice, and because, when the lake was high enough, excess water fed into the arteries of the land.  It was these two features that technically made this a lake rather than a large pond.  The lake lurked at the bottom of steep sided mountains.  Bunter being busy elsewhere, the AI took it upon itself to tentatively offer that the shape of the lake was a bit like that of the island-continent Australia, and that the general setting was reminiscent of a a volcano, or an impact crater, that had tumbled down and worn away preferentially on the northern side.  In fact, the AI said, the small U shaped mountain range was the result of glaciation.  Meredith made a note to find out what glaciation was at a later date.  Maybe.  It didn’t seem to have any direct relevance at the moment.  Meredith caught themselves reflecting on how the lake didn’t look anything like Australia: too rectangular and the point bit was in the wrong place entirely.  A speech bubble might be a better analogy.  Meredith ruefully reflected that Bunter would probably have gone with speech analogy option, avoiding the distraction of overthinking things.  Trying to ignore the sensations of missing the sentient sub-routine, and of hoping that it was ok, Meredith gave a virtual shake of the head and returned focus to the tasks at hand.

Owain, by virtue of unmarked farm roads, sheep-tracks, and dry stream beds, had managed to bring the Landrover to the foot of the Picws Du peak, a few hundred metres from the edge of the lake and half a kilometre from the point at which the footpath up from the carpark reached the demesne of Llyn y Fan Fach.

“Owain, just tuck the Landrover back to the edge of the hillside would you?”  Meredith said whilst rummaging in their backpack for something.  Owain obliged, and then hopped down from the drivers seat.  By this time Meredith had found what he was looking for: a small package, the size of teabag.  Meredith issued an instruct/authorise code and the package began to unfold, and unfold, and unfold.

“Esther, Owain, quick!  Grap hold of an edge before we lose it entirely!”

“What is it?” Esther gasped as she grabbed at the proffered edge, reacting to the tone of voice.

“Invisibility cloak…” you could almost hear the smirk.  “Right lets pull it over the Landrover.  Yes, that’s right.  OK, Esther, you make sure that it’s tucked in round the wheels at the front.  We don’t need to worry so much about the back, because nobody will see it, but we do need to make sure that it can’t flap lose or something.

They stood back to admire their handiwork.

“I thought you said it was an invisibility cloak” Owain said critically.  “I can still see the Landrover.”

Meredith attempted to snap his fingers in a grand gesture, and failed due to the lack of sufficient tension between the two fingers.  They both looked at the little alien at the crucial moment though, the moment when the activation code was sent, and that was what mattered.   Looking back to where the Landrover was parked, Esther let out a little squeaking gasp, and Owain gave a low whistle.  He was surprisingly calm and collected, and didn’t walk towards the car, but instead circled around it, wolf-like.  He stopped, shock showing on his face and then he started laughing, beckoning Esther over.   His sister joined him, although in the few moments that it took her to reach the spot where he stood, he was laughing so hard he could barely stand-up.  There, hanging in the air, she saw the part of the Landrover that hadn’t been covered by the cloak.  the back door, the rear wheels, just appeared to be standing there.   She moved her head slightly.  It was impossible to see the Landrover from any other direction, and because they had folded the cloak around at the back, there wasn’t even a tell-tale one dimensional line.

“Come on you two – we’ve got work to do.”

“Coming” Esther said.  BY this time Owain was weeping and practically doubled over.  She couldn’t see the joke herself, but that was boys for you.  She grabbed his sleeve and gently pulled him along, he stumbled slightly but took a deep ratcheting breath and tried to get himself under control.  Esther walked slowly, with many backward looks at the empty patch of ground and the steep slope of the mountainside behind it.  By the time they reached Meredith, Owain was almost master of himself again.  When he finally took in the scene before him, it might have made him hysterical again, but instead his eyes went as wide as saucers.

Whilst the siblings had been distracted by the novelty of the hidden vehicle, Meredith had taken the opportunity to flow out of the clothes that formed the disguise and to tuck the clothes into the backpack.  Space had been made for these by the removal of several items.  The largest Meredith picked up and placed in Esther’s hands.  He took out a couple of plaster-like patches and gently slapped them on the back of Esther and Owain’s necks.

“Right, it’ll take a couple of minutes to synch, but this is my support AI, and I’ve given you both access privileges.  The AI will help you if things go wrong, and will also help you to stay in touch with me.  Esther has priority, because right now she seems the more sensible of the two of you.”

“Hey!” Owain said.  Meredith would have loved to raise an eyebrow at this point, but lacking eyebrows chose to ignore the comment.  Instead, he handed Esther the sunglasses which immediately gave her a heads-up-display of the location.

“Cool! Thank you!”

“So unfair” Owain muttered.

“They’re a better fit for you” Meredith said looking at the girl, “although they’re so easy to use that even Owain could use them.”

“What is this?  Pick on Owain day?  And I did get you here!”

“Ooooh!” Esther gasped, as the patch on her neck tingled.  She wondered if the events of the morning were starting to catch up with her, as a whispering sensation prickled across her brain.  It felt a little like the sensation of having thought of something for a split second, forgotten what it was, but being left with the ghost of the thought.

“And what are they for?” Owain was asking, pointing at the other items on the ground.

“Watch” Meredith said.  Again, an activation code was sent, but this time Esther felt it inside her head, and saw a number of icons appear on the HUD.  On the ground, the packages opened and unfolded like flowers, to reveal small drones which immediately took off and flew up into the sky to give some coverage of the foot-path up to the lake, the carpark and the rest of the Llyn y Fan Fach area.  On the HUD, one of the icons blinked and Esther worked out how to look at it and cause it to maximise.  The video stream from the drone showed some serious looking black cars pulling into the car-park.

“That doesn’t look good!” she exclaimed.  “There are some more of those cars like the ones at the cafe, and one that looked expensive and unsuited to the countryside.  From this one emerged a figure who straightened his jacket and immediately began gesticulating in an authoritative and peremptory manner.

“OK.  Looks like we don’t have much time.  You two find somewhere to hide.  I’ll be back as soon as I can.  I’ll try and stay in touch, but don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a bit.”  And with that the little alien bounced down to the water’s edge.

Just as they bounced higher, preparatory to diving into the lake, Bunter made contact.  Through her link, Esther heard a voice say “It’s me, Bunter.  I’m in.”

“Initiate phase 2.  Esther’s in charge for now” and the spherical alien disappeared into the water.

Esther looked at Owain who said “Who’s Bunter?”

In their minds, a voice said, “Who’s Esther?”

© David Jesson, 2019


During 2019, I’m undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.

The shape of the story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.

Part 11: to borrow from Terry Pratchett, not quite the final frontier, but pretty penultimate…  Again, no poll, because I know what I want to do to finish off, but if you’ve got any special requests do make sure to let me know!

See you next month!

 

#FlashFiction – Kilroy woz ‘ere

(Featured Image: By Luis Rubio from Alexandria, VA, USA – Kilroy was here, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3558598)


 

It’s been a busy week, so I haven’t had time to do the longer piece that I’d hoped to do.  Instead, two drabbles for your entertainment:

How does he do it?

The rocket descended gently, settling delicately onto sprung pads. Antennae sprouted, the uplink to the orbiter was confirmed, and, thanks to the techno-miracle of faster-than-light comms, all the way form Earth the Director’s voice said  “OK, open up.  Let’s see what we’ve got.”

The first humans on Kepler-442b exited their craft. ”

Hey, Skipper, look a this!” Santoni cried out.  The Skipper came over.  On the screen in Mission Control, the graffiti was projected 50 metres high, the man peering over the wall and the legend ‘Kilroy woz ‘ere’.

The Director put and hand over his eyes and cried out “Not Again!”

 

The Great Leader

Haz stole a look over her shoulder.  No one was looking.  Quickly she slipped between the curtains, pattering down the steps to the most holy place in the network of shrines.  Down, down, to the cavern that had been built over the piece of ancient wall.  Once, the teachers said, a great city had stood on this spot, long ago destroyed in one of the wars that had shaken the world.  She gazed hungrily at the markings but even alone, she would not break taboo and touch them.  Kilroy had been here. She basked in the aura of his greatness.

© David Jesson, 2019

 

I typed something, forgot to add it to the post & so to schedule it. This year has been a nightmare of inconsistency – roll on 2020 & normality (or what passed for it anyway!)

Graffiti Art

Randall looked around – the place was positively bleak. Grey concrete stretched as far as the eye could see; not the hip and trendy version of the colour which had remained popular for generations now, but dull, drab and decidedly dirty. The more he looked, the more miserable Randall felt.

The accommodation blocks were arranged along a natural slope, where scant evidence remained of the landscaping he’d seen on the architect’s plans in the archives. Now it was a wasteland – thin, spindly bits of twig, spotted with the shrivelled remnants of thorn, leaves and berries –  all that remained of the carefully selected shrubbery. The birch trees, chosen for their sleek design ethic, now appeared like ghostly stakes in the gloom, having long given up any attempt at producing foliage.

Making his way across concrete courtyards, Randall noticed rusting remains of wheeled devices he’d been briefed on – some with two wheels, some with three. A rack containing several of the two wheeled variety was rusted together, the links of the chains and the quaint old locks still in place, if decidedly worse for wear. As he passed the rack, he noticed broken glass and hypodermics scattered across the surface. He’d been warned about these and picked his way past carefully.

Rounding the corner, he reached his goal. Despite having faded somewhat with the passage of time, it was impossible to miss. The structure was covered with bold images, stark black outlines infilled with bold colours. One side covered in a mural of young men – gang members he’d been informed – each of whom was depicted having struck different poses. The proportion was skewed, with their heads and bodies appearing to shrink backwards and their sneaker-clad feet being the over-large focus. Each young man wore a different pair of sneakers – most were black or white, with the occasional splash of colour. But there was one pair – now a dirty yellow colour – with a trace of the original sparkle … for they’d once been gold. Yes – this was the right place.

Randall took out the new image replication device he’d been entrusted with. Carefully he framed each pair of sneaker-clad feet, capturing the image and transmitting it to home base. As he awaited verification the images were of sufficient quality, he walked around, examining the remaining graffiti art. Taking out his own personal image replication device which, although not as sophisticated, would provide him with an adequate record of what he’d seen, he snapped away. Clambering over the slopes and ledges, he smiled remembering the energy and skill those young men had displayed in the moving pictures he’d seen in the archives.

Just as the verification notification arrived, he spotted it – down the side of one of the ledges was this odd drawing. It was striking for being so naive and lacking in skill in comparison to the other work, but Randall quickly decided to add it to his collection. He also captured the crude lettering which appeared alongside it – Kilroy woz ‘ere. He’d not seen any mention of this wording in the archives, maybe one of the elders could elaborate …

© Debra Carey, 2019

 

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page


 

 

 

 

#Secondthoughts: Feet of Clay

What’s your Star Trek series?  The Original Series?  The Next Generation?  DS9? Voyager?  Or one of the new ones – Enterprise, Discovery, Picard?

I think I got into Star Trek via the earlier films, watching reruns on TV.

(Khaaaaaaaan!).

But TNG, DS9 and Voyager were a formative part of my teenage years.   By the time that Enterprise and Discovery came along, I had other interests and responsibilities and never really invested in those series in the way that I had the others.  Similarly, I’ve caught up on some of the originals during repeat runs, but I much prefer the films.

Whichever the series, there were some great storylines.  Storylines that led to character growth.  Storylines that considered political issues.  Stories that challenged the watcher to consider the foundations of ethics.  One story that has always stuck with me comes from Star Trek: Voyager, and has at its heart the Doctor.

If you were not a fan, then a few words to set the scene: Voyager was primarily a research and exploration vessel, but during a mission to chase down a separatist/terrorist group called the Maquis, they are sent across the galaxy to the unexplored Delta Quadrant by an uber-powerful entity.  In the process a number of Voyager’s personnel are killed and the skipper, Captain Kathryn Janeway does a deal with the remaining Maquis to join forces.  Even so, the combined crew lacks medical cover, and so Janeway turns on the Emergency Medical Hologram.  In theory, the EMH is only meant to see duty in difficult situations where extra cover is required, and this in itself generates some plots down the line.  The EMH is essentially a computer program that, through various tech, is able to manipulate equipment and the environment.

The EMH (“Please state the nature of the medical emergency”) had a fascinating story arc across all seven seasons of the show, but as I say, one story has stuck with me.  The EMH, as noted above, is essentially a vast computer program and whilst he takes on his own personality over time, he is heavily influenced by his creator, Dr Lewis Zimmerman, and by a number of real and fictious doctors and medical researchers.  In this particular story, he is faced with a medical problem that he is having difficulty solving, and so he creates a specialist consultant out of the programming associated with a particular individual.  Unfortunately, it turns out that this individual committed war crimes, and not just any war crimes: this is a medical practitioner who experimented on prisoners of war.  The EMH, becoming aware of this, feels that he shouldn’t benefit from the knowledge gleaned in this way and deletes this part of his database.

For this post, I’m not going to delve much further into things than that.  If you are so minded, there are some interesting reviews of the episode (Nothing Human, S5E8) on IMDB.

What brought all this to mind was hearing a piece of music played on the radio.  One of my favourites, and forever linked in my mind to the Ladybird abridged version of King Solomon’s Mines, for which I also had the audio tape (One of the Pickwick Tell-a-tale collaborations).  The lead-in music was the third movement of Beethoven’s Eroica – a perfect piece to summon up the excitement of the coming story.

In some quick and dirty research for a short story that I wrote a few months ago, I’d discovered that some modern scholarship suggested that Beethoven’s feet were more clay-like than I’d supposed.  I suspect I’d latched onto his slightly quirky personality, and the principled stand he had made in removing the dedication of the Eroica to Napolean following the latter’s move to set himself up as an Emperor above the people.

If we look across the Arts there are any number of instances that, from today’s perspective might give us pause.  These range from people with dubious, unsavoury, or even immoral habits, through to simply not doing some aspect of their craft well.  In either case, this leaves the question “should we abandon their work?”

It can be difficult/nigh on impossible to separate out the good from the bad.  We can probably all point to an example of a book or film or piece of music which has some distasteful element that, for us, distracts from the overall enjoyment of the creation.  Or perhaps we have learned of something about the author that makes it difficult to enjoy what is otherwise an excellent and thought provoking contribution.

There are a number of people who feel that the Star Trek episode misses the point or misses the mark.  So what if the information came from dubious sources? It doesn’t affect the current case, does it?  In “Yes, Prime Minister”, Sir Humphrey shows how you can get a person to give the answer that you want to a specific question, by using a number of preceeding questions to set it up.  In the same way you can argue the case for or against.  I’ve always viewed this episode as being an allegory for the knowledge, not just medical, but scientific and engineering knowledge too, that was gleaned by the Nazis and put to use by the Allies after the end of WW2.  The US put a man on the moon as a result of this knowledge.  There were all sorts of medical breakthroughs that are saving lives today, and giving people a much better quality of life.  But people died, painfully and in their thousands for that knowledge.  Should we not use that knowledge?  No, that doesn’t really make sense.  Can we afford to ignore this? Again, no.

Fundamentally we have to be critically engaged with what we read and watch and listen to, and discover the stories in the background, challenging any thing that denies people their humanity.  We need to be wary of lionising people, because there will almost always be something that comes to light that makes us pause.

As a writer, this gives me two things to consider: what can I do to remove prejudice from my work? and, if my work has any positive influence, do I have any opinions/habits that might detract from what I have to say?

How about you?  Any heroes that you’ve suddenly discovered have feet of clay?  Anything that you’re not sure about putting down on paper in case you get judged for it in the future?

© David Jesson, 2019

All the Pretties!

“Oh, look at all the pretties!”

“Can you please stop talking about assault rifles the same way you talk about shoes!”

“What …? I can’t have multiple passions?”

“Yes, yes of course, you can, it’s just … I dunno … weird when you say the same things, in that same cooing tone, to both ridiculously cute high-heeled adornments for your fabulous legs and … those darned killing machines.”

“They’re not killing machines. The people who use them are.”

“Quite! And yet you expect me to be comfortable with your love for them?”

They’d been here before – oh so many many times – Craig realising he’d insisted he was OK knowing what Donna did to earn a living. He was, in theory, but that was before he’d seen her caress and speak lovingly to AK47s. Truth be told, he’d no idea what the current ‘pretties’ Donna was admiring actually were … for he didn’t do guns. He didn’t like guns. In fact, he was quite the pacifist at heart.

She’d sighed and walked away from him, still looking at the display case filled with rifles, while nibbling the skin around her index fingernail. He recognised the unconscious action from previous visits to her parents, knowing she did this when upset but trying not react. Understandably so, he really shouldn’t have said he’d be OK without giving it serious thought. Except he’d been crazy about her … and still was.

Crossing the room, Craig put his arms around her. Feeling the tension in her body, he held her close while rubbing her lower back with his right hand. Slowly the tension subsided, and he was able to kiss her cheek.

They wandered round the rest of the museum arm-in-arm. Finally, in front of that display cabinet again, he asked which one was her favourite. Squeezing him tight, she rested her head on his shoulder as she described each one, telling him what type of occasion made that particular item her chosen weapon. At the end, he asked her if there were any she’d not used before. She took her time, before pointing out one pistol in the neighbouring display case and a rather ancient looking flintlock in the rifle case.

“Uh, right-o …”

Feeling the tension return, Craig was quick to change the subject …

“Is it time for coffee and a cake?”

The question earned him a big sloppy kiss.


© Debra Carey, 2019