Now with added Sci-Fi

Regular readers will recognise this as the story that I wrote for last month’s ‘Cluedo’ prompt – but now with added #scifi.

The Colonel lightly waxed his moustaches with 4D kinetic product, and the smart long chain polymers caused the hair to twist and curl up at the ends.  He’d been playing the role of a slightly bumptious senior officer for so long that it came as second nature these days.  He looked in the e-mirror, through habit rather than necessity.  As he knew they would be, the moustaches were perfectly even. He was more concerned that his hair seemed to be even thinner than ever, although he’d turned off the mapping function that would have confirmed this.  It might be time to start a treatment.  Either that or he should shave it all off.  He didn’t like the idea of that though, because it would show off the implant scars, which he really didn’t want to do.  At least his clear hazel eyes still held the bright alertness that had earned him his nickname all those years ago: he’d always been as keen as mustard, so Mustard is what they’d call him.

He’d had a different code name during the war of course, but that had been rarely used. Ostensibly he’d just been a junior staff officer, supporting the General Staff to the best of his humble ability – the hackneyed phrase was engrained in his mind, the number of times he’d used it in conversation over the years.  In practice his was a Security role, ensuring that no undesirables got close to the plans that were being formulated for Africa, the Middle-East, the Med, and finally France… In some respects, it was impossible to know how successful he’d been.  Who knew how many attempts had been made to access this vital information?  He’s been responsible for blocking a few agents, uncovering a few moles, but he had a lingering suspicion that there’d been someone, a ghost, who’d managed to evade him.  Had they been in the background directing the operations against him?  Or had they been actively probing the defences he’d put in place, penetrating this cordon, but ultimately unsuccessful in finding anything of use?

He gave his head a shake, as if to dislodge this thought.  Time to dress for dinner.  Things had changed since the War, no doubt about that, but Septimus Black was an old fashioned cove and he liked things to be just so.  There’d be a cocktail hour or so before dinner, and a very good dinner it would be too.  All sorts of things that were difficult to get hold of under the current legislation, like meat, were standard fare for Black.

The Colonel completed his preparations.  A vague sense of uneasiness had encroached as soon as he’d received the invitation for tonight’s dinner, and it had only got stronger as the week progressed.  Now it was a positive itching of his subconscious.  True to form, with only a few minutes before he needed to leave, he placed himself at the writing table and dashed off a note to the Chief Constable.  Colonel Gregory was an old friend and thoroughly deserving of his current appointment.  There were any number of ways that the information could have been forwarded, none were terribly secure, but the Cardinal cypher was as close to unbreakable as you could get, especially on the limited timescale available.  The Colonel rang the bell and whilst he was waiting for an answer to the summons, he withdrew a gun from the drawer of the desk.  By rights it should have been his Service blaster, but the Webley 500Z, whilst able to drop a battle-droid at 30 meters  was too big and bulky – it would have complete ruined the line of his jacket as well as being rather obvious.  Instead he slipped a slimmer Beretta Sorpresa into his jacket pocket.  This was more subtle, elegant even, if no more civilized: this was a flechette pistol, recoil-less, and capable of delivering either a single large needle at a velocity that the Webley could only dream of, or a cloud of smaller needles so fast it would make a fighter pilot’s head spin.  In for penny, in for a pound: he slipped a couple of spare ammunition clips into the opposite pocket.

Capes had come back into fashion for some reason, and his valet entered with a plain black one draped over one arm, anticipating that his Master was ready to leave.  Plain it may have been, but it could absorb the whole gamut of physical threats, however much kinetic energy they had on arrival.  The valet, as was traditional, was his former batman, not so much reprogrammed as…augmented.  The Colonel swapped the letter for the outerwear, walked down the stairs and out of the front door and into the summonsed taxi-pod.  It would be some time before he returned home.

© David Jesson, 2019



I went for a different tack to David, writing a new story. A normal one – for me – about people, life, emotions … and then added a #scifi event. That’s the great thing about prompts & writing – we all go off in our own different directions :o)

The nausea in the pit of his stomach was back – ever present at this time of year. Angus absolutely hated September, for with it came the first day back at school. An army brat, Angus had never experienced anything other than being the new boy. Everyone else had been going to the same school all their lives and knew each other. Knowing they’d soon be off again, local kids largely ignored army brats. After all, there was little point making friends – unless you were looking for a pen friend.

Lots of army families bought a house near one central base – giving wives the company and support of their peers, their children a settled run at school and the opportunity to develop friendships – while fathers travelled to ever changing postings. Angus had begged his parents to do so this time last year. His Dad had seemed to understand, but his Mum just said “maybe” and “your Dad ‘n I will think on it.”

The next day, his Dad said “sorry mate, I tried …” before heading out. Angus pursued his Mum, trying to talk about it, but she kept fobbing him off. Desperate, he locked himself in his room, refusing to come out, to eat or drink. His Mum just kept saying is “you don’t understand”. Finally, the CO’s wife visited. She’d made it clear he had to support his Mum as she was having a difficult time. Angus had no idea what she was talking about, but he was army, and when the CO or his wife spoke, you didn’t argue.

It’d been a quiet summer in the new posting. With his Dad away on exercise a lot, it was just him and his Mum. She was off doing stuff with other wives, spending evenings at the NCO’s mess, so Angus was left largely to his own devices. They’d bought him off with the promise of an X Box for Christmas but, till then, he’d been making the most of the local library. When the weather was half decent, he’d go off on hikes. The surrounding countryside was made for walking and the library was stocked full of books about local places to explore. Catching the bus with his rucksack packed for the day, Angus often didn’t get home till just before dark. His dinner on the kitchen table with instructions for warming up, he’d go to bed having spoken to no-one all day. Sometimes he’d catch himself staring at the other kids on the bus, joshing and joking amongst themselves, almost overwhelmed with loneliness.

His parents were arguing a lot. But one night it all blew up. Starting out as a low rumble, it quickly became scarily loud. Soon the neighbours were round, knocking loudly on the door. After a while, things calmed down and he heard his Mum leave with Jennie from next door.

Angus didn’t sleep much that night, so was up early the next morning. Finding his Dad’s by the front door, his stuff all packed up, he’d cried out “why’re you going back on exercise so soon Dad?”. He’d got a shrug from his Dad and a “I’m sorry son, you know it’s got nowt to do with you, don’t you?” Without the faintest what his Dad meant, Angus stood there bewildered – how could his Dad going away on exercise be anything to do with him? “Your Mum’ll come over when she sees I’ve gone – she’ll explain.” With that, he gave Angus an awkward hug and left.

It wasn’t his Mum who explained in the end, but Jennie from next door and the CO’s wife. His parents were having a trial separation. If things didn’t get better, there’d be a divorce. Hiding in his room, Angus kept away from his Mum for the rest of the day. When she went to the NCO’s mess with Jennie that evening, the CO’s wife appeared at the door – this time with a scruffy young lad by her side. She introduced him as Matt – her nephew – staying with them for the next few months. She asked Angus to take him out on a hike the next day.

While out there, they got talking. Turned out Matt’s Dad was in the army too. He’d been sent home with a serious injury, so Matt was staying with his aunt and uncle to keep him out of his Mum’s hair. Angus could see Matt was pretty cut up about it, so shared his own bad news.

Having someone in the same boat as him – in the same class – made September an easier experience. He and Matt got along pretty well as it happened. Matt was a reader and a walker too. He’d gone camping regularly with his parents, so they were soon allowed to get away on overnight camps at the weekends – so long as they’d done their homework.

As the weather turned cold, Matt’s aunt insisted their camping trips would soon have to stop so they decided on one final trip to a favourite destination where they could shelter inside a cave. Having gathered a huge amount of fallen wood their previous visit, they’d be able to keep warm and dry. Packing up their supplies, they were successful in cadging a lift from the CO’s driver so didn’t have to lug their heavy supplies too far.

The little stream which ran past the cave was useful for fresh water, but – as Matt mused out loud to Angus – it didn’t half make you go more often. Laughing, they’d gone off to their separate spots. Hearing Matt yelp, Angus assumed he’d tripped over something and chuckled, till he heard his name being called repeatedly and urgently.

Hurrying to Matt’s spot, Angus found him crouched down behind some brush. “What’s going on?” his voice sounding more high pitched than he’d like for, while they both carried mobile phones, the signal wasn’t always that great near the cave. Matt pointed into the darkening distance. Angus could make out some lights – pulsing regularly on and off. But they were white, rather than blue or red – so, not emergency vehicles then.

“What is it?” he hissed.
“Dunno. It came in over my head, ‘n made me jump …” Matt pointed to a wet patch on his lower leg.
“Eew!”
“Yeah I know, but … what should we do?”
“Hide? Call home? I dunno, what d’you think?”
“Shall we get closer and try to take a look?”
“Is there an exercise going on?” With his Dad living in baracks, Angus had no idea when exercises were scheduled.
Matt shook his head “Nothing planned, although could be one of those snap inspection thingies.”

They retired to the cave and stoked up their fire, agreeing to take turns to keep it going. If there was an exercise – for what else could it be – that would ensure they were seen and be safe. Neither slept well, to be honest, so when dawn arrived, they ventured out to the brush for a look see. There seemed to be a fair bit of activity in the distance. They still couldn’t see much, but they could hear the sound of vehicles and people moving around.

Agreeing it must be one of the snap exercises the army is so fond of, they returned to the cave for breakfast. When it was properly light, they took their day packs and headed off to investigate, being careful to stay in clear sight. Striding along the path, chatting quite loudly to each other, they found their path blocked by a couple of guys in NBC suits as they rounded a corner. Stopping and holding up their hands, they expected masks to be ripped off and a bollocking to follow. Except, it didn’t. Gesticulating with their weapons, the like of which neither boy had seen before, they were frogmarched into a clearing.

In the clearing were loads more men in NBC* suits, all rushing about. Several turned and looked at the boys, making Angus wonder if one was his Dad – with those suits on, you couldn’t recognise anyone. Passing a bunch of strange looking vehicles, Angus realised why they were so odd – none seemed to have wheels. Exchanging decidedly worried looks, they were dragging their heels now, Angus admitting to himself he was actively hoping to face an angry Colour Sergeant, even a furious CO.

Pushed right into the centre of the clearing where there was a veritable blur of activity, they saw brush and branches dragged and heaped up over a large … something-or-the-other. On and on they were pushed towards the something-or-the-other, through an opening to face lights so bright they were blinded. Shading their eyes with their hands, they were pushed through a doorway, and pressed face-down onto separate bunks. As Angus tried to turn, he became aware of a prick in his thigh and … the world went dark.

When Angus came to, the lights had been muted. He saw Matt stirring and swung his legs over the side of his bunk to walk across. An ear splitting alarm shrieked out, not stopping till he lifted his feet clear of the floor. Matt, now fully awake, Angus warned him the floor was alarmed. Both boys started fidgeting. “Need to go?” asked Angus, Matt nodded. The door opened, an NBC suited man walked in and handed each some sort of bottle-like receptacle, gesticulating how they should be used. The man waited till they had, then took both away.

When either spoke a need out loud, they were met by a wordless NBC suited man. No explanations, no questions. Just silence. At what seemed the end of a day according to their watches – two men entered. Folowing a brief prick to the thigh … darkness. This happened for three days. On the fourth day, having finished eating, their NBC suited visitor was collecting their plates and glasses, when – much to their surprise – he dropped everything and ran. “What’s going on?” Angus exclaimed just as Matt – nearest the door – asked “Was that gunfire?” Deciding the safest thing to do was lie flat on their bunks, the boys waited.

They heard a lot of noise outside but, it being muffled, they couldn’t make head nor tail of what was going on. Both hoped it would lead to their release – but from what and who exactly – they’d no idea. Eventually, the door started to glow as a small opening was cut. It seemed like an interminable wait till the hole was pushed through, setting off that ear splitting alarm. “Now” yelled Angus, and they rang for it, climbing rapidly through the hole.

The CO and Angus’s Dad were in the group of armed men waiting on the other side. The boys were whisked away in an armoured Land Rover, spending the next week in the Medical Centre, being poked, prodded, having blood taken and multiple x-rays. In between all the medical activity, they were asked a lot of questions by the CO.

It rapidly became clear that although they were curious and had seen some stuff, they didn’t know what it was. He told them very seriously that everything they’d seen was Secret. They’d have to sign The Official Secrets Act and couldn’t talk about it – to anyone. Not even to their parents.

“Was it a flying saucer?” Matt asked cautiously.
”Is that what you saw?” replied the CO.
Matt nodded “When it first flew over.”
The CO looked enquiringly at Angus who shook his head. “I never saw it properly – it was either dark, too far away or covered up. Are they gone – the … people?”
The CO nodded.

Life returned to normal, as it’s wont to do. Matt’s parents came to collect him and Angus’s parents got divorced. Angus attended the same school for the next 5 years, before heading to University – where he joined Matt. For they’d become firm friends.  They’d shared something big – very big – and they couldn’t talk about it to anyone else.

They’d returned to the cave to camp every summer since. They’d never admit it to anyone else, but there was hope – a small one – that they’d be there to witness the return visit. For they were sure there would be one.

© Debra Carey, 2019

*NBC suits are protective gear worn in the event of potential nuclear attack.

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!

Things ain’t what they used to be

It wasn’t a good sign: the only people who had ever used my full name were my parents when I was young and had done something wrong, or my wife Helen, when I’d done something she didn’t like.  Perhaps there’s something I need to learn from that?

Anyway, it was rather disconcerting to be greeted with “Good morning Jonathan”, by our new, one-week-old fridge, in the stern tone of voice a head teacher would use to a naughty child.

Until two days ago, the fridge and I had been good friends and I was even becoming used to the idea that our domestic appliances were now trying to have deep, meaningful conversations with us. Although personally, I think this ‘Internet of Things’ has now gone a bit far, and ‘Things’ really ‘ain’t what they used to be’.

The fridge came pre-programmed with our family names, our likes and dislikes and even our behaviour patterns. On its first day I’d been greeted with “Hello Jon, I’m your new fridge and I hope to serve you and your family in ways that will improve the quality of your lives”.

Well that’s OK, I thought but I clearly hadn’t understood all of the implications. As far as I’ve been able to work it out, the fridge then managed to embark on a one-appliance fact-finding mission starting with data conversations with the bathroom scales, then the passive infra-red detector on the front door – which now seems to be able to measure my profile as I walk past, and to sneak the information back to the fridge and the scales. There also seems to be some sort of autonomous nutrition web-site involved somewhere, and between them they came to the conclusion that I needed to lose weight.

Two days after the fridge’s arrival, what I’m now calling F plus 2, a new exercise bike arrived. Now I didn’t order it, and Helen says she didn’t either. So the fridge or some other of our household appliances has gained access to both my internet buying account and my credit card. But, I’m willing to try out anything new, so it came out of the box and I had it assembled and ready to use only three hours later, even if that did result in a tirade of abuse from our so-called smart vacuum cleaner – for the mess I’d made on the carpet. I take my hat off to whoever programmed that machine, there were some words in there I’d never heard before, although their meaning was only too obvious and I’m not going to attempt to do any of the things it suggested.

I sat on the bike, set its programme for a gentle ride and was taken on a 45 minute journey from hell. Either I had set it up badly, or some other programme had taken over. The pedals clamped themselves onto my feet, and it took off at break-neck speed. They obviously design gym equipment with the idea that you’ll want to come back for more, as it kept telling me that (a) this was all for my own good and (b) that it was only following orders, that it had no choice and hoped I was enjoying the ride. Actually I wasn’t, and that was the last time I’ll ever lower myself onto that saddle.

That was Saturday morning, and I was due to meet Helen in town at 12 o’clock, but then the car wouldn’t start. It was OK later when Helen tried it, so why wouldn’t it start for me? Had something ‘got at’ the engine management system? I asked the house assistant – one of those devices that can play music and answer useless questions – what bus I needed to get into town as quickly as possible, and she said a Number 10, and it would be at the stop on the corner of Acacia Avenue in ten minutes time. Why did I just say she – when it’s just a small silver box?

After a fast walk to the bus stop, the live display unit there showed that the Number 10 had just been diverted to another stop, half a mile away. It was then I first began to wonder whether all these things might be in league with each other. As the famous saying goes – just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean these things aren’t out to get you.

Two days ago, or F plus Five, the fridge introduced me to some new features I’d not seen before. We started with a far-too upbeat (at least for me for at 7 am), “Hi Jon, it’s going to be a great day, why don’t you go for a refreshing bike ride before breakfast”. If you can now imagine a relatively normal adult person in conversation with a fridge, this is where it all began to go really wrong.

‘No thanks’, I said ‘I’m just going to have some breakfast and get ready for work, I have a lot on today’.   Now that shows how far I’ve gone – discussing my workload with a fridge –  probably the first step in being taken away somewhere, paranoid or not.

Anyway, that was not the right response. I was reaching in to get some eggs and bacon, when suddenly an alarm went off, a series of flaps and doors came down, and everything I wanted disappeared out of sight.

“I’m sorry Jon, but if you are not going to do today’s exercise, there are certain areas that become restricted, the areas available to you will now open”.

Three small doors slid back, to reveal a small tub of low fat yoghurt, a bottle of skimmed milk, and a clump of broccoli.

OK I thought, that’s nothing that can’t be cured with a screwdriver, and after using more energy than I would have done on the bike, I finally managed to lever open the bacon and the egg shelves, and looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have gloated when I ‘broke’ open the butter draw for the toast I was going to have.

The fridge simply said, in a slow, even voice “There will be consequences, Jonathan”

I received three texts later in the day, the first from the fridge repair company who had come in response to an order from my house, and fitted new high-security doors and flaps in the fridge. The second was from my credit card company explaining that the high cost of the latest transaction for repairs had reached my credit limit, and would I not spend any more until I had made a significant payment. The final was from the fridge itself, which simply said ‘You were warned’.

Helen told me to go to the fridge and apologise, but at first I refused. Then as I walked past the front door, the infra red detector, which I didn’t know had a voice said “What a porker!’”

Now I still don’t think I’m overweight, so I went straight to the bathroom to use the scales. Have you ever heard a set of scales scream: “No, please don’t stand on me, you’re too heavy, you’ll break my springs”.

This had to be a conspiracy, led by the fridge and these things were trying to take control of my life. I finally gave in and promised Helen I’d apologise to them in the morning. What has happened to those days, when the only problems with the internet involved worrying about whether a virus was going to make it through to your bank account.

So I did it. I grovelled – to a fridge!! – and I suppose it worked, as in addition to the yogurt and the broccoli I was just rewarded with a small square of wholemeal bread and a teaspoon size drop of zero-fat spread.

Maybe I’ll try disabling the Wi-Fi router, would that work, do you think?


© Jeff Farrow, 2018