Job Hunting

How could it be Fall again? Summer had seen my bank balance plummet, to the point that I was starting to tip into the red – a double whammy of too much fun and too few clients. I looked at the dog-eared copies of my favourite ‘tec novels slanted against each other on the shelf. What would Philip Marlow do? Sam Spade? Nick Charles? They’d shake things. They’d damn well find a client. I found a pencil and paper and started to write a list.

© David Jesson, 2018

________________

A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions.  There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:

fall
plummet
tip
slant
list
3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the
prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.
Thus: fall/fallacious is ok but fall/faille is not

 

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Project Gutenberg #FlashFiction

The 1st of December is the birthday of Project Gutenberg, an online archive of out-of-copyright books that have been digitised and are made available to anyone who would like to read them.

A quick reminder that the prompt was to go to Project Gutenberg, have a look at the recent releases and pick a title that appeals: that is the prompt, and the title of your story…

An Engineer’s Sketchbook

There were probably only three people in the world who still called him Christopher, and one of those was his Grandmother.  At school, the custom was still to call the boys by their surnames, but some of the younger masters would buck the trend – if the Head or Bursar weren’t in earshot anyway.  And if you were going to go against what was practically a rule, you’d think you’d go al, sirl the way and use a chosen name.  But no.

Dr Hughes was young, earnest, and more than a little shy, all topped off with a generous helping of obliviousness.  As a relatively new master it was inevitable that he’d inherited the mantle of Career’s Advisor from a colleague who was retiring.

“Ah, Christopher, come in.  Have a seat.”

“Please call me Toph, sir.”

“Now then, lets see.  Well.  Are you enjoying being in the Sixth Form?”

“If I’m honest, sir, I don’t see very much difference to being in Year 11.”

“But you were paying attention in Assembley, when the Headmaster was talking about university?”

“Yes, sir, of course.  But I’m really not sure what I want to read.  Nothing really appeals.”

“Well then Christopher, lets take a look at your reports.”  Dr Hughes opened a manilla folder and riffled through the papers inside.

“Toph, sir.”

“Ummm?” Dr Hughes did not look up.  “Well, Captain of the First XI for Cricket and the First XV Rugby, so a sportsman. Good marks in French and Spanish.  Reasonable compositions in English…History is not your strength is it? With a little more effort in the Sciences you could probably have your choice of any Medical School…The world is not quite your oyster, although it could be, Christopher, it could be.  Have you decided whether it’s to be Oxford or Cambridge, yet?”

Toph was tempted to say that he’d been considering a Red Brick, but whilst History might not have been his best subject, People was something he excelled in.  It would do no good to give the master apoplexy.

And so the interview ground it’s slow but inexorable way to a conclusion that was unsatisfying for both parties.  Dr Hughes immediately put it out of his mind as he moved on to the next pupil in the Lower Sixth, reflexively making some marginal notes in Toph’s file, which he’d already forgotten before the closed folder was placed back on the stack on the table.

A few weeks passed, and then it was half term.  Following tradition, a trip to Town was organised, which would include a visit to the cinema.  Surprisingly, Tom, his youngest brother, had beeen desperate to go to the second hand bookshop that was one of his Father’s favourite haunts.  Jonno, the middle brother, had also been keen on the idea.  He was looking for some references for an art project on the one hand, and some old but not valuable books on the other for various pieces that he had in mind.  Toph could have gone off on his own somewhere, meeting up with the family at the cinema, but he decided that accompanying the rest to the bookshop might be quite fun.

On the way to Town, he was uncharacteristically withdrawn: Jonno was making notes and doodling in his sketch book, Tom was talking nineteen to the dozen about a book he’d found there on a previous visit.  Toph sat back and let it all wash over him as he thought about the mad man they’d been to see talk a few days before.  It had been a charity event,  something about closing down orphanages by getting the children homed with families, but the speaker was an explorer who’d travelled round the world by bike. He’d come into contact with the charity when he’d passed through Bosnia, and he’d stayed in contact.  Toph didn’t have many detractors, but there were one or two who thought him superficial.  They’d be surprised at how much he’d been affected by the talk.

Given the energy that Tom had been exhibiting earlier, he was quietly focussed in the shop, working his way through various departments in a methodical  and determined manner.  Jonno knew what he was after and wasted little time in finding it.  Toph browsed.   He nearly missed it: a little white haired old man moved a pile of books and exposed a blue-leather covered book, tooled with gold, upin which was emblazoned the legend “The Engineer’s Sketchbook”.  He picked it up, and leafed through it.

Toph was the kind of person who excelled at things because he wanted to.  He’d decided he wanted to be the best cricketer he could, for example, and he’d set out to make it happen. Without something to focus on, he had a tendency to drift.  As he looked at the book, two neurons in his brain fired together and he suddenly knew not only what he wanted to study at uni, but why, and what he was going to do afterwards.

He would read Mechanical Engineering, and travel the world, for a few years at least volunteering, his skills whereever they might be of use.

© David Jesson, 2018

Post Script: How could I not go with that title as my prompt?  I’ve written a few other stories about Toph, Jonno, and Tom, and you can find these via the Index page.  The charity mentioned in the story is a real one, and you can find more details about Hope and Homes for Children here.  Al Humphreys is also real, and not only that but an amazing and inspirational human being.  You can find out more about him here.  I firmly believe that everyone should be issued with a copy of his Microadventures book: you don’t need kit to have adventures and you don’t need to travel to far off climes.  (But that can be fun too).


An Artist in Egypt

There he went again. Shaking his head, Jonathan thought (and not for the first time) what a strange fellow his neighbour was. Up every morning shortly after dawn, he’d take breakfast on the verander, just as Jonathan did; but while Jonathan was having a cigarette with his coffee, he’d pack up an easel and a large bag, before heading off across the dunes.

Leaving for the Embassy, Jonathan would be back anything from teatime to late at night, depending what had blown up during the day. Tourists generally, especially the upper class ones, were the bane of his life. Oh, there were plenty of working and middle class tourists who got into trouble, but they were generally grateful for whatever assistance Jonathan and his team would give. But the upper crust … oh no. Always went their own way, ignored Foreign Office advice, and that given them by the Embassy. When they did get into trouble and needed fishing out – for they always did – they treated Jonathan and his team like a bunch of lackies. No gratitude, simply annoyance and ill manners.

The most recent lot had enquired after a chap they knew, who turned out to be Jonathan’s neighbour. For some reason, Jonathan felt a degree of kinship with this man he’d never spoken to and decided to check if he wanted this group to descend on him. Not that he’d done so yet, for it had been a long day yesterday and he’d only been home for a quick shower and change into dress uniform before that shindig at the French Embassy. He should have gone over this morning during breakfast, but it was his one moment of private peace – and he hated to give it up. Something told him that his neighbour would understand. He’d leave a note with his card on the way to work.

As he got home that evening, the sun was dropping low in the sky – his neighbour’s “lot” had already managed to get into trouble and, to divert attention from their idiocy, had complained to the Ambassador that Jonathan hadn’t located their friend. The Ambassador had not been pleased and had given Jonathan a very lively flea in his ear. Jonathan knew he’d have to speak to his neighbour that evening to obtain his wishes.

Changing into casual trousers and shirt, he accepted a long cool drink from his boy, before walking out onto the verander. Although still just a silhouette, he was confident he spied his neighbour returning over the dunes from a day’s painting. He decided to walk across the road to greet him. With luck he’d be able to raise the matter and get the chap’s decision, all before either of them would have to extend an invitation to the other. These damn tourists, upsetting a chap’s routines.

It didn’t go according to plan though. “Got your note” said his neighbour, handing his easel to Jonathan, before striding across the road. Reaching his front door, he passed his bag to his boy and then looked back across the road to where Jonathan was still standing – looking a touch gormless if he was entirely honest – and beckoned him over “you’d better come in for a drink while I clean up.”

Once inside, Jonathan was struck by how different the interiors of their houses were, especially considering their identical footprint. His neighbour’s house was cool and airy, whilst Jonathan’s was warm if not stuffy. Where Jonathan’s home was furnished like a typical British army batchelor – relatively spartan, with well-crafted pieces of furniture – this was lush and layered. There were colours and textures, comfort was clearly of prime import. There were also a number of paintings on the wall, all in watercolour – a mix of dhows on the river, and buffalos working the fields, to views of an entirely buccolic and decidedly English countryside. Jonathan had to admit that he was really rather taken with them – they had clean lines, and a slightly sketchy quality which suggested movement. He knew he’d buy one before he left.

His thoughts were interrupted by his neighbour’s return. Handing him a drink, he announced “Tristan Dawes – but you presumably already knew that from the contents of your note. So, who are these reprobates who’ve asked for my whereabouts?” Jonathan pulled his notebook out and read the names, noticing that Tristan’s facial expression wasn’t exactly one of delight as he did so. “What’s the drill then? You give them my whereabouts, and my peace is over?” Jonathan smiled “Not at all. If you’ve no wish to see them, I simply advise them that you’ve left instructions not to be disturbed … by anyone. They’ve no rights to your address and the Ambassador isn’t obliged to provide it to them.” Tristan nodded before holding out his hand to shake Jonathan’s  “Thank you, I didn’t expect that.”

He’d gained another flea in the ear from the Ambassador for not persuading his neighbour otherwise, but Jonathan stuck to his guns. The Ambassador would do anything for a quiet life, even if it was not strictly correct protocol.

He and Tristan took to having supper together, one night a week, alternating between homes. Jonathan arranged for him to join Embassy trips into the more far flung parts of the country, where he could paint new and different scenes. In return, Tristan had earmarked two paintings for him. Turned out Tristan had not only come to Egypt to escape his over-bearing family and family friends (like the lot who’d tried to track him down) he’d come to Egypt for the dry heat. Having been a bit of a speedster as a young man, the broken bones which came with the inevitable crashes had left him with arthritis. Cold and rainy England may have his heart – which it did, for he still painted it from his memories – but Egypt had provided him with the conditions to be able to continue wielding his brushes.

© Debra Carey, 2018

#FF: Photoprompt

Winners and Losers

Le Coq walked up and down the route.  There would be no repeat of last year’s debacle.  Or, if it came to it, that of the before before.  This year, the race would be conclusive.  He strutted to the start line.

“Où sont les coureurs?”

The two teams brought their champions forward.  There was much checking of laces.  Legs were stretched.   Sporting behaviour was called for.

“Un…deux…trois…” the starting pistol cracked flatly in the crisp, frosty air.

A nice, clean race was never seriously on the cards.  This was a grudge match, and they’d barely gone 10 metres before the shoving started – neither party was blameless, neither party gave any quarter.  They pelted down the narrow snowy path side by side, each trying to gain some advantage.  If I can only get a little ahead, each thought, I can fly, I can win this.

Afterwards, each would blame the other, but in truth it was all but impossible to tell who stumbled first, who tripped the other.  The result was the same in either case.

Le Coq strutted up and demanded of the officials on the finish line “Qui est arrivé en premier? Qui a gagné?”

The worthy gave an expressive Gallic shrug and indicated the heap astride the finish line like a collapsed colossus. Le Coq stared. Le Coq berated. Le Coq walked off in high dudgeon, gesticulating wildly and talking to himself.  Once again, the chicken and the egg had managed to mess up this simplest of races.  Once again, there would be no answer to the age old question.

© David Jesson, 2018



Cockerel in the snow

They’d been following him for hours, first through the busy traffic of the city, then at high speed down the highway. When they’d finally followed him onto the smaller roads, it’d been tricky driving. The snow had fallen heavily and the roads hadn’t been cleared yet, Matthew wasn’t sure they’d even been gritted.

That family car pulling suddenly out of a driveway in front of them had caused havoc. In order to avoid them, his driver had spun off the road. The mother had spun too and managed to completely block the road with her estate car, chock full of kids. She’d been hysterical, even though they were all OK, so Matthew had to send one of his men running back up the driveway to fetch her husband, while the rest of them pushed her car aside. As soon as he could see the husband coming, Matthew and his team had jumped back in their car to continue the pursuit.

But they’d lost him. They’d spent too much time messing around with that blasted woman and her kids. She’d driven straight out in front of them and all she could manage to say was “but there’s never any traffic on these roads” over and over again. Everyone was alright – no bumps, no bruises, and frankly the kids were calmer than she was. Thank goodness the husband had been home, or he’d have been stuck there all night while they waited for a female police officer to relieve them.

They came across his car suddenly. It was stopped in the road, for no obvious reason. The driver’s door was wide open and one of Matthew’s men jumped in to check. “Run out of petrol” he heard announced, as the rest of the team scanned the road around the car. Yes, there were the footprints leading away from the car. The team grabbed their coats, torches and thermoses from the boot and headed into the snow. They followed carefully, for they knew he was armed.

Until, that is, they heard shots and some shouting, when they threw caution to the wind and ran. The sounds had come from the direction of a rather run-down outbuilding and Matthew rapidly deployed his team around it to ensure both exits were covered. Having called ‘Silent Running’ to his team as they’d set off after the footprints, each member had put their phones onto silent and inserted an earbud, before moving off. All had voice-activated dialling enabled and Matthew was able to quietly check in with the other team “Anything?” “Nope boss, not a peep”.

Having waited a few minutes without further sound or movement, Matthew quietly announced “I’m going for a closer look.” As Matthew approached, he could see that the door was very slightly ajar, the lock having been smashed – they were clearly in the right place. Taking out his handgun, Matthew muttered quietly “I’m going in”. Pulling the door open, he winced as the old hinges creaked. Ever so carefully, Matthew put first his gun hand, then the rest of himself into the opening when he heard an unexpected noise. Stepping back quickly, he waited, for he could hear – very faintly – the sound of something moving. Then with a rush and a small flurry of feathers, a cockerel strutted out through the open door, and Matthew had to hold in the laughter.

Their man must be still inside. Breathing carefully, he started to make his way slowly back through the open door, when there was a quiet voice in his ear “Skip, that cockerel is leaving a bloody trail in the snow, but I don’t think he’s been shot.” Moving in with rather more confidence, Matthew found his man – slumped in the corner, bleeding heavily and drifting in and out of consciousness. Matthew relieved him of his gun which caused him to stir and say “bloody chicken … startled me … and my gun went off. I only bloody shot myself!”

This time Matthew didn’t even attempt to hold back – he laughed out loud. How could he not? A cockerel had gotten the better of their man – one of the most wanted in the country.

© Debra Carey, 2018

 

#FF Prompt: Conflict resolution

A good fight scene is a way of showing how boss a character is, especially if you have your MC take on multiple goons with ease, before the denouement is a large area of wrecked real estate from the difficult, free-ranging fight with the villain.  You can also have your incredibly intelligent MC manipulate events with a clever, timely quip or put down (“Don’t you think she looks tired…”).

But…I was looking at an anti-bullying campaign the other day (from a well-known fast food chain – you may have seen it, but if not, it’s here), and it got me thinking.   Fight-or-flight responses to stress are well-known, and NLP (neurolinguistic programming) type dialogue to ‘verbally disarm’ a wrong ‘un creeps into the literature now and again.  What you rarely see though is an attempt to stop bullies without resorting to violence (physical, emotional or intellectual).

On that note, Debs and David would very much like a story on conflict resolution, which can be from the point of view of the bully, the bullied, or a bystander, and leads to a win-win solution in the long-term.

Word count: 750-1,500
Deadline: Friday 12th October 2018, at 2pm GMT

 

 


A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line.  

Two caveats if you want to go down this route: if you want to retain the copyright, then you will need to state this, and this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

 

#FF Photoprompt

Liberty Tarn

The mouth of the tunnel was an orangey glow in the darkness of the night.  The first of the runners came out of the tunnel and started to circle the tarn: the tarmac of the road gave way to a smooth gravel pathway.  Portable lighting had been erected to guide the runners, to prevent accidents. The path came to an end: the bright white lights were set back from the end of the path to allow the end of the path to fall away into increasingly dense shadow.

As each runner reached the last light, they were handed an unlit candle.  Walking now, contemplative, they followed the path to the edge of the water, and lit their candle from a tiki torch that marked the start of a short pontoon.  Walking to the front edge of the jetty, each person knelt, floated their candle on the cold, inky water and bowed their head for a moment.  Five hundred candles had already been lit and floated in the centre of the lake; a light breeze, and the natural movement of the water, drew the candles to the the others, where they joined the lazy swirling gyre.  Each watched their candle drift off into the darkness before moving away to allow the next to take their place

The elite race, longer and over more rugged, although still taking in a circuit of the lake, had finished some hours before.  The weather had not been conducive to personal bests,  being too hot and humid, although the Canadian Paralympian Birt Davies had threatened the course record.  The competition though was besides the point: they’d had a good turn out for it, and Maisy Andrews, the organiser, was pleased that everything had gone well, but only in as much as the competition covered the costs of the event this evening.  There had been no dramas: even Davies and his arch-rival Carlos Xu had steered clear of one another.  Perhaps they sensed that their usual antics, played out for the camera, would not play well today.

Maisy handed over a candle to each runner as they came by.  Some she knew well: they had run this course every year since the memorial began.  Others were new faces, come to take over from someone who could not make the pilgrimage anymore, or who had found that they had a connection, or just that they felt they wanted to pay their respects.  There were fewer runners in the evening, and it did not take long for them to pass by.  Maisy didn’t know how long the event would continue, how long people would come keep coming up to the tarn; she only knew that she would continue to organise it for as long as she was able.  Certainly there were those who asked every year “You’ll be doing it again, won’t you?” anxious to be reassured that, yes, the memorial would continue.  Running the course herself was beyond Maisy, these days, although she had been one of those who had run up the mountain when disaster had struck.  But even if she were the only one to turn up, she would walk, and she would light the five hundred candles, one for each person who had died, and she’d do that every year that she could drag herself up here.

In the last few years, the observance had seen the addition of a party back down in the town.  A wake for a lost friend, not too raucous, but a celebration rather than a lamentation, with poetry, music, and dancing.  No doubt Ellis O’Neill would be holding court, following the annual declamation of his Lay.  These days, this was becoming the only overt reminder of the tragedy that had brought the lake itself into existence.

*****

Maisy and Mervyn, her brother, used to sit together and look at the moon.  He would tell her about the craters and about the Moon mopping up the meteorites that would otherwise have hit the Earth.  And then he’d tell her about the ones that snuck past, relatively small, but moving so fast that their energy, released into the crust of the Earth, created craters tens, hundreds of kilometers in diameter, created trillions of carats of diamonds with the heat and pressure of the impact.

Liberty Tarn was much the same, albeit on a smaller scale, although it was a significantly more recent addition to the geography of the Earth.   It was named after the Liberty space station that had been deorbited by Earth First terrorists.  They had planned to drop the station on a major city.  Mervyn, with two others, had managed to regain control of the flight deck.  They hadn’t been able to save themselves, nor anyone else on board, but then they hadn’t expected to.  Doomed, their last act was to control the re-entry of the station, as best as could be managed and prevent the E1 group from achieving their goals.

The station had come down in the mountains, wiping out a piece of road and severing the connection between two towns.  A small mercy, there had been no one on the road when the crater was formed.   The impact caused localised quakes, landslides, destruction.  Another small mercy, the impact site was relatively barren, with sparse wooded slopes and so the fires that broke out died as quickly as they started.  Another 5 miles further East and the vast forests surrounding the area would have caught alight, a veritable tinderbox after a long, dry summer.

Mervyn didn’t know that his sister was staying in one of the nearby towns, visiting a college friend before heading back for a new academic year.  Woken by the noise of the impact, she joined the group that went to see what had happened, driving into the mountains, only to find the road blocked.  They scrambled up over mud and rocks.  An engineer in the group insisted on checking the tunnel whilst the rest waited impatiently.  No one really knew what to  expect, coming out of the tunnel.  In fact there was little to see.  A big hole in the ground, small fragments of this, that and t’other.

*****

Maisy walked to the end of the jetty. She took off her walking sandals and placed them neatly side by side, and sat down next to them, trailing her feet in the water.  She watched the candles floating on the water.  She watched the stars flickering in the humid air.  Alex, her husband arrived and sat beside her, draping his fleece lined jacket over her shoulders, as the night cooled.  Together they watched the moon rise.

© David Jesson, 2018

#FF Photo Prompt

lanterns on water

We celebrate our second birthday here at Fiction Can Be Fun and this seemed like a suitable picture prompt to mark it. Enjoy!

No genre, no limitations other than the must not be NSFW.
Let the muse take you where you will …

Word count: 500(ish)
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 7th September 2018

 


As always, please post a link to your blog in the comments below, or send your story to us via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.

#FF: Colony

“As per the agreement, our colony will be mining beryllium only. Any secondary products will be turned over to your people – with a small fee for the processing of course.”

Beryllium’s quite rare, in the Universe as a whole.   In some ways it turns out that Earth-like planets are probably less rare than beryllium.  This one was pretty typical.  When the terraformers were finished, it would almost be a carbon copy, except that the continents would look funny compared to home.  We could afford to lose the 400,000 tonnes of beryllium that the X’ would mine.  It was an excellent deal.  The X’ were past masters of extracting minerals.  They could probably extract the beryllium without digging anything else up if they really wanted to, and it was only the beryllium they really wanted.

Nobody really knew what they did with all the beryllium they collected – ate it for all we knew about them.  There were some who said we shouldn’t let them have it, particularly if they were that desperate for it; others said we didn’t need it, so why shouldn’t we capitalise on the fact that someone else wanted something that would potentially be a bit of pain for us to sort out.   Berullium used to get used for all sorts of things, mainly as an alloying addition, or in on of its mineral forms such as the semi-precious beryl.  It got used in missiles, super-duper special air-frames, X-ray equipment and all sorts of other things but, with the exception of beryl, we’d found better ways than using an element that was a pig to extract and a pain in the…in the…neck to process, let alone recycle at end-of-life.   No, we were better off without it.

Without a doubt, the X’ would make back the fees that they paid for the right to set up this mining colony.  We’d probably get offered more than we really wanted in purified elements, but the X’ seemed to produce everything at six-9s purity and whatever they produced, we’d end up using or we could sell it at a premium on the galactic market.  For example, another element that isn’t used very much anymore – by humans at least – is gold.  24 karat gold was a touchstone for a long time, but even this was only three-9s pure.  To go from 99.9% to 99.9999% pure takes so much effort that nobody bothers very much.  But the X’ can turn out that without blinking.  So, they’ll charge a “processing fee” and we’ll get the materials that are going to help us turn this world into a home.

And that’s where I come in.  The X’ are pretty tame as far as aliens go: they’re basically humanoid, sensory appendages aren’t too wacky, no tractomorphic limbs, but the semi-prehensile ears are slightly disconcerting.  It would be a mistake to assume that they are human though; it would be a mistake to ascribe human priorities to their thought processes.  I like to think that we’d have included this in the contract anyway, but they always insist that we provide a team of inspectors.  What they don’t specify, but which we learned to be a priority after the first time, was that you need to have a few X’ specialist xenologists on the team.   They really don’t think the way that we do – or perhaps that should be the other way around: we don’t think like them.

There were a couple of points during my university years when I wondered if I’d made the right choices, whether I’d studied myself into a dead-end.  The X’ were something of curiosity.  On the face of it, we had lots in common, but they never seemed to want to talk to us.  Then we started to colonise planets which were rich in beryllium, as rich as any planets could be, and that’s when real first contact, or perhaps I should say first negotiations began.

Which is why I find myself here today.  If you were to ascribe a human drive to today’s visit, you’d say that they wanted to show off, that’s the only possible explanation for this demonstration of their engineering prowess, their elegant architecture, their overall better-than-human colony, right?  And this is why I’m here.  There’s a small group of us who can at least make an attempt at talking to the X’, trying to meet them half-way.  We don’t really understand them, and they don’t really understand us.  Let’s say it’s a religious function – it isn’t, they don’t have religions in the same way that we do, but it’s a useful shorthand – it’s not something that they’re doing because they want to, it’s something they have to do.

I’d done this enough times that I’d got the measure of it, without becoming blasé.  One of the things that the older generations of diplomats had impressed on us newbies in the Xenoc department was that it didn’t take much for things to go south fast.  There were frequent reminders of the events on Ross 128c – events that are still classified, so don’t ask me for the gruesome details.

Today was not to be a day when things went wrong, and to be honest we’ve yet to see something that knocks the X’ out of their urbane rut.  The Engineers did their thing, the scientists did theirs, and the Security people made a show of ensuring that the only thing the X’ really were taking was the beryllium that they’d done the deal for.

My turn: show time.

I’ve said that the X’ are similar to humans: this extends beyond physiognomy.  They share a – not belief exactly…acknowledgment?: they think in terms of the ancient elements of air, wind, fire and earth and so there is only one way to end this review:

“Is coffee not the summit of perfection?  Is the drinking of coffee not to be at peace with the Universe?”

“There’s probably some truth in that!” I grinned, ruefully.

© David Jesson, 2018


 

“Oh Muuuuum … that’s gross!”
“Someone’s got to deal with our waste product Michael and, because it’s such a nasty job, the pay is good, really good.”
“But still Mum … groooossss!”
“Sweetheart, I think it’s time we had the chat”
“Huh?”
“The one about your father …”
“How did we get from you shovelling poo at work to my father?
“Frankly, it’s not that big a leap …

curly cue

“Jan, thank you for talking to us at such short notice.”
“Not at all Principal. You know Michael’s schooling has always been of the highest importance to me.”
“Yes, that’s why we decided to speak to you straightaway, rather than leave this small concern festering.”

Jan groaned inwardly. She’d heard this nonsense so many times before, and she knew only too well what it meant. The underlying message was always present in her interactions with authority here on The Colony.

“Thank you Principal, I appreciate that. Has something happened? When last we spoke, you appeared to be satisfied with Michael’s focus and achievement levels.”
“Indeed we were Jan, but in the last few days … well, it’s like he’s had a complete personality switch.”
“Oh? He’s seemed the same at home.”
“He’s been disruptive in class, not handed in his home assignments, even though the work is already complete in his workbooks. When questioned about it, he said he felt there was no point to it any more.”
“Are you suggesting Michael’s suicidal?”
“No, no, not that Jan. I’m sorry to have startled you. The impression I’m getting from reports of his interaction with staff and pupils is that – for some reason – he believes his future is to become a deadbeat, so why should be bother to put in the work now.”

This time Jan’s groans were all too audible. She covered her face with her hands, fighting back the tears.

“Jan, please let us help you. I know your interactions with authority must’ve been challenging. But here at Colony High, we genuinely do admire you. Your work ethic, your high standards, your impeccable morals … honestly Jan, there isn’t a better parent. And the fact that you’ve done it alone, without support from a partner, from parents, from the authorities, makes us all the more admiring of what you’ve achieved. Please Jan, let us – let me – help you?”

When Jan raised her eyes back to the screen, the other members of Colony High’s governing body had been removed from the conversation. Only the Principal’s face remained on screen. In all honesty, he did look truly concerned … and unexpectedly kind.

“I told him the truth about his father.”
“Ah, I see. That can’t have been easy for you.”
“It wasn’t. But it sounds like I let my personal feelings show through which wasn’t my intention.”

A sound like a cross between a sob and a sigh escaped from Jan.

“Michael previously believed his father had died on the journey?”
“Yes. It seemed like the best way not to pass on the stigma until it was unavoidable.” “That decision’s served him well. He’s fully integrated with his peers and whilst not the model pupil, has long been well-regarded by staff and is even on track for the mentor programme.”

This time, there was no mistaking the sob.

“I shouldn’t have said anything. Why oh why did I let my annoyance and ego get the better of me?”
“There’s no need to be so hard on yourself Jan.”
“Yes Principal, I’m afraid there is. All this year, ever since he found out what I do for a living, he’s gone on and on about it. Calling it gross, ragging me, even making me feel guilty that it might reflect on him. Finally, I just snapped.”
“I suppose there’s no option for you to change jobs?”
“No Principal, there isn’t. In order to live here and to keep Michael at Colony High, I need to earn sufficient credits. Dealing with waste disposal is the only job which pays enough so I earn the same as other two-adult families. If Michael’s father had genuinely died on the journey, the Colony would be providing me with a pension to make up the difference. But as he choose to skip out on me – they don’t. They put me under a lot of pressure to return when they first found out. Truth be told, they’re still trying to persuade me to go – just now they use more subtle means. But you know all this. You’ve always judged Michael and me by a different standard to ‘normal’ families. You pick up on tiny transgressions immediately, stuff other ‘normal families’ get away with. I’m not blaming you mind, I’m sure it’s Colony policy as I experience it everywhere.”

Jan raised her eyes back to the screen. The Principal looked pensive.

“I’ve said too much haven’t I? I’d better start packing; the eviction order won’t be long in coming.”
“Jan, whatever makes you think that?”
“I’ve criticised the Colony. We both know dissenters aren’t welcome. Especially ones who don’t fit the ‘normal’ profile. The fact that it was him who deserted me and that I did nothing wrong doesn’t seem to matter – never has. I still get treated like dirt. Only good enough to handle the Colony’s waste matter. Know what? I chose to come here for a new life, but it seems our prejudices came with us.”
“Jan, this conversation has been private for some time now. There is no reason for its substance to be placed on the record, and I will not be doing so. Let me talk to Michael. I can help him to understand. I’ll tell him about being on track for the mentor programme and I’ll offer to be his personal mentor to keep him there. Colony High values both you and Michael. The Colony needs more people like you, regardless of what a few small-minded individuals in authority think.”
“Yes, but …”
“There’s a change happening Jan. Slowly but surely, good fair-minded people are achieving positions of authority. Thinking is changing, policy will follow. Will you let me help you?”

This time, when Jan looked up at the Principal on screen, she smiled through her tears.

“I will Principal. I will.”


© Debra Carey, 2018