Experimental Writing: Part 3

On the homeworld, the pilot would have just bounced down the side of the mountain; the tough, flexible ‘skin’ would have protected it from the bumps, and even accommodated the sharp stones that occasionally peeked through the soil and scrubby grass to catch the unwary foot.  Instead, there were these strange things – legs in the local parlance – to get used to.

The AI embedded in the computer was constantly chattering over the commlink providing information on the locality, mission updates, and health status.  Thankfully it had quit with the reprimands for leaving the sidearm behind.

This was the worst part of these rushed missions: an on the move briefing into the local culture, which kept on being updated as the AI interrogated available information and tried to work out what was significant and what was not.  Not always as easy as it might seem.  There seemed to be a lot about political events half a world away, which was important if you lived here permanently, but which was of no significance at all if you were an alien looking to do a job and skedaddle before anyone found out about.  And there was so much information to sift through, although the AI had already clocked something significant in the local lore and had dedicated a sub-routine to focus on that alone.

The Client had picked up the signal of the thing to be recovered, but considering that it had been missing for more than 2000 years, it wasn’t entirely clear what the rush was about.  At this point, there was no cover story, credible or otherwise.  The local population would just have to be avoided as best as possible.

The creature gave something approaching a sigh combined with a gallic shrug as another sub-routine decided to give it an update: information flowed.  This world had more than 6,500 languages in use…so far, so primitive…and the local indigenous population used two different ones and…yes, oh perfect.  The dominant one was used more widely, and indeed was used world-wide, but would be the mark of an outsider, especially if the accent was wrong.  The minority language was even spoken by the whole population, but the ability to speak even a little would be helpful – still that could be dealt with.  Another sub-routine was assigned to the problem of languages: it was one thing to know the lexicography, but another to use it in an idiomatic fashion.  The AI studied the problem, with an electronic weather-eye, on the mores associated with using either of the two languages.

Various things came to light as the AI tried to deal with the languages.  Further sub-routines were added to deal with issues as they came to light.  Pronouns…that required a significant chunk of processing power to unravel.  Different pronouns for gender…a sub-routine that was starting to develop its own personality chipped in with  an apposite home-grown phrase translated into the local idiom: not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Gendered pronouns! And for that matter only two genders!  The same helpful sub-routine started pushing through information on gender politics, equal rights, LGBTQ+, before it was suppressed by the AI.  The subroutine was allowed to continue collecting information, but an edit was made to prevent the sub-routine pushing through information without checking with the AI first.

What to do? What. To. Do…? The alien was neither male nor female as these…(quick check)…as these ‘humans’ defined them.  A choice would need to be made.  From the creature’s perspective there was little to choose between the two options.  Reviewing the notes on gender politics suggested that this was something to steer well clear of: alien undercover operatives are by definition and inclination averse to becoming involved in public debates prone to descending into acrimony.  Still, on balance, it appeared to be easier if you were ‘a man’ rather than ‘ a woman’.  For the most part it shouldn’t matter, but the pilot knew that it was important to commit to a part and be ready for the worst. This only happened if you got comfortable in the role.

The pilot, decided that it was time to start building a cover. Firstly, a name…  The sub-routine put up a metaphorical hand.  The AI reviewed the sub-routine’s work.  It was pointing out that it might be possible to build a certain amount of ambiguity by selecting a name that was both masculine and femine.  It put forward a few suggestions…

© David Jesson, 2019


 

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

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.  Now is the time to choose a name for our MC.

Option 1: Enfys (“Rainbow”)

Option 2: Meredith (“great/sea lord”)

Option 3: Eirian (“bright, beuatiful”)

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

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Experimental Writing: Part 2

It wasn’t until after dawn that the wings of the cocoon unfolded.  Ostensibly this was the first sign that anything was actually happening, although the craft had been monitoring various electromagnetic frequencies for some time.  A data-squirt had arrived from the mothership with a mission update including a hack-patch to allow the pilot to interface with local operating systems.  The onboard computer started processing the information available and put together a languages pack and location specific briefing information.  It also sent files to the onboard synthesiser to start producing the equipment that might be required: clothing, interface patches, documentation for a legend – the usual.

The pilot got its first look of (another) alien sky.  Slightly bluer than it was used to: it prompted the computer to check for nutritional requirements and whether there would need to be any supplements to adjust for the predominant frequencies of light.  It released itself from the webbing that constrained it in the pilot’s seat.  Anyone who had been passing, who happened to be able to speak grzzt, would have been able to discern some muttered imprecations.  These mutterings mainly related to having been uncomfortably squished into a seat meant for a completely different species, and that just because it was a shapeshifter, it didn’t mean it should have to put up with this sort of thing.  Mind you, a casual passer-by probably wouldn’t have noticed all of this, being distracted by the form that flowed over the lip of the cockpit, disdaining the retractable ladder-rungs that had automatically deployed when the wings of the canopy had unfolded.  Reaching the ground, the shape flowed into a perfect sphere about half a metre in diameter and rolled along the side of the craft.

A hatch popped open in the side of the craft.  Things started to drop into the hopper as they were manufactured: trousers, a top, a hat, dark glasses…

More grumbling, the grzzt equivalent for: “What the…?”

Some kind of appendage extended from the spherical alien and reached out to the trousers which it held up in a rather disdainful manner before bringing them close and flowing into them.  The same was done for shoes – the creature didn’t bother undoing the Velcro straps but just extended the ‘legs’ from the end of the trousers and pulled them into place.  By the time the process was complete, the sphere had become a reasonable approximation of a small human being.  Dark glasses and a beanie hat disguised the ‘face’, for the most part.

A canvas back-pack dropped into the hopper, followed by various bits and pieces that were hastily stuffed into it.  A couple of things, one which looked vaguely pistolesque, were held up for inspection.

“Nah.”  They were tossed into a receptacle next to the hopper.

Finally, a device on a strap appeared, and this was placed on a, for want of a better word, wrist.  A string of symbols flowed across the screen.  Something vaguely finger-like on what was approximately a hand curled back over itself and swiped the screen off.  In response, a warning sound issued from the craft and a message, in grzzt, played:

“Alert.  Field pack incomplete.  Please collect standard issue armament.”

If the pilot had been familiar with Earth idiom, it would probably have sucked its teeth, if it had any, at this point.  But it wasn’t and it didn’t so it just ignored the message, and went back to checking through the kit in the back-pack, making sure it had everything it wanted.  What might have been a sigh issued from somewhere that might have been a face.  It left the pack by the open hatch and walked back to the cockpit.  It swung itself up the ladder in a long-armed simian fashion, disdaining to use its legs.  Leaning over the lip of the cock-pit it pressed a button and something that looked a lot like a tablet computer detached from the cock-pit console.  It lowered itself by one…arm, and then jumped the rest of the way to the ground.  Digits flew across the screen as it programmed something.  By the time it made its way back to the synthesiser’s hopper, a new thing had appeared.  It looked a lot like a plaster and it immediately slapped it onto its…head, about where an ear should have been.  The tablet was tucked into the backpack, which was itself heaved onto a shoulder.

The hatch over the hopper was closed.  The message from earlier was repeated, this time much more muffled.  The pilot tapped the watch and transmitted an authorisation code: the wings folded back automatically and, simultaneously the ladder retracted.  A nozzle released quick-crete over the whole cocoon making it appear to be just another rock.  The quick-crete was permeable to a range of gases, as well as being an efficient absorber of selected parts of the EM spectrum (some of the visible spectrum, tailored so that the coated cocoon would match other rocks in the area, some other bands, but not too many from any one part of the spectrum – should anyone come snooping around then it wouldn’t appear that this ‘rock’ was absorbing unusually large amounts of energy).  This energy powered the transformation of the absorbed gases into the required reaction mass, powered various systems that would keep the spacecraft safe and secure, and charged the energy storage systems.  And if things went terribly wrong with the mission, in a couple of years’ time, if the ‘rock’ was still here, then the accumulated energy would be catastrophically released, turning the rock to its component atoms.

The day was starting to warm up (getting the electrochemical processes off to a flying start: the pilot headed off down the mountainside.

© David Jesson, 2019


 

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

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.

Without giving too much away, the protagonist is piloting the craft that has just landed in the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Last month the consensus was that the MC is retrieving something: we’ll be coming back to that later.  Right now, our MC has collected their field pack and is walking away from their spaceship.  Are they:

Option 1: Heading into town (local)?

Option 2: On their way to the big city?

Option 3: Heading further into the countryside?

I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!

See you next month!

Experimental Writing: Part 1

“Niflheim!”

Bjarni Thorssen had long ago decided to live up to the Viking looks that were his birth-right.  On the international stage, a stellar scientific reputation (literally and figuratively) was rarely sufficient on its own to rise to the top of the pile.  To break into the big-time, you need something extra, something on which the Cult of Personality can go to work.  Over the years, Bjarni had let his beard grow (although he refused to plait it), and let his speech become infected by traditional oaths.  Many would be surprised to learn that Bjarni, a giant in height, girth, and character was, by nature, introverted.  In meetings he could be loud and tenacious in fighting his corner, but no one really saw him in his home environment, and the reality would ave jarred with the mead-hall image he liked to project.

There were many jobs that he would never get: it was the peacemakers who got such plum roles.  But various scandals had thinned the herd considerably, and there were many jobs in the international astronomy community that were his for the asking.  He had a long term plan, and right now Director of the European Space Organisation’s Chilean based observatories was exactly where he wanted to be.

Quiet in private, Bjarni’s bombastic public persona had actually been an inspired appointment at a critical time in the funding landscape.  When there’d been talk of budget cuts, Bjarni had lobbied hard and actually been able to increase his budget (to the chagrin of a number of his peers, who hadn’t been so fortunate).  Whilst this funding didn’t mean the new telescope that the community was calling for, and which Bjarni hoped would be his legacy, essential maintenance had become  exciting upgrades, and he’d been able to fund several new post-doc positions.

One of these now stood in front of him.

“You’ll see that the Duty Operator had a go at a quick calculation, which indicates that the object will strike the Earth.  To be honest, I think they were a bit previous in attempting this, and whilst I’m all for open and honest, and I can see where there might be some advantage in releasing the numbers, I think I would be inclined to file them.  There really wasn’t sufficient information to make an accurate assessment at that point.  The object was watched for another few hours, and in the morning it was possible to refine the calculations which show a reasonably close approach, but nothing that’s going to cause people to head for the bunkers.”

“Don’t you believe it” Bjarni growled, “people are idiots.”

Bjarni noted the careful hand calculations and could see that the erroneous early assessment had been made by Earl Travis, a young buck eager to make a name for himself, despite only being a year or so into his PhD.  The revised calculations had been made by the woman in front of him.  Ris Patel, one of his new appointments, had real potential.  Another twenty years and she’d probably be having this conversation on his side of the desk.  She had the rare ability to see the political landscape across academia and the funding bureaucracies that kept this facility operating, as well as being an outstanding astronomer.  She just needed to develop her persona…

The ESO was the first to report on the object, and it was soon confirmed by other reputable observatories around the world.  No one ever found out where the spurious collision story came from, but Bjarni was very impressive in a series of interviews and very carefully explained that, as the ESO had said in their first statement, there had never been any danger to the Earth… He would go on to win an award for this work (a small one, not a Nobel, or anything like that), but the cash was enough for a small shindig at the observatory.  But as Professor Thorssen doesn’t play any further part in this story, we’ll leave him there.

*****

With all the excitement over the object, which the astronomers decided was probably just a very large comet, and then spent months arguing over what to call it, no one really paid any attention to the rather spectacular shooting star that occurred at around the same time.  Esther, saw it, with her older brother Owain. They’d gone out star gazing and were lying out on the hillside above Abercynafon.  Owain was pointing out the constellations (and not just the obvious ones that everyone knows) when a streak of light spurted overhead and fled across the horizon.

“What was that, Owain?”

“A shooting star, bach.  There’s all sorts of little bits of dust and things up there that hit Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.  That must have been quite a big bit of rock though to make that much light and to go on for so long.  It’s a pity we didn’t get a picture.”

Neither of them connected it with the triple sonic boom that occurred about an hour later, nor, in point of fact, did they realise that that was what they were hearing.

At this point there was not much to see, but they had an impression of something going quite fast overhead.  They thought it must be an RAF fighter on night maneuvers.  They didn’t hear whatever it was playing ducks and drakes across the Tallybont Reservoir.  If it had been eligible, it would have beaten the existing record, but Kurt Steiner’s 88 skips were safe in the Guinness Book of World Records for a while longer – this was no small stone, propelled by a human…

Slowed by it’s entry into the atmosphere and then around the world, slowed further by on board systems, slowed further still by it’s journey across the lake, the space craft jinked lazily up the hillside and then settled next to a little knot of trees.

© David Jesson, 2019


 

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

The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning.  All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story.  At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers.  I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below.  So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger,  is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.

Without giving too much away, the protagonist is piloting the craft that has just landed in the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Are they:

Option 1: Escaping?

Option 2: Scouting?

Option 3: Retrieving something?

Option 4: On a jolly?

I ‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for two weeks, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time.  Feel free to expand on the options in the comments!  I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you thing this is heading!

See you next month!