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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Hector

“I’m going to have to put Hector on ice.”

#####

Hattie had long thought there was something dubious about her friend’s father.  It wasn’t quite that she’d gone out of her way to maintain the friendship with Eneida, but in terms of parents who might be interesting for the wrong reasons – well, she forgave her friend the fixation with My Little Pony that had continued for longer than for anyone else they knew.

Her parents thought her intelligent, interesting, unconventional – unique, of course. Hattie’s parents had encouraged her to read all the stories that they had loved as children. She read widely. As happens, she mentioned how much she enjoyed certain books and suddenly everyone was getting her other volumes, or similar things that she might enjoy. Consequently, she fancied herself as Harriet the Spy, Anne and George, Hazel and Daisy, Nancy Drew, Lady Molly, and half a dozen others all rolled into one (good points only, of course).

The sleepover had been in the planning for a little over six weeks.  When it became obvious that they weren’t going to be able to meet up during half-term, Hattie and Eneida talked of a fun start to the summer.  The plans grew and grew until there were to be half a dozen meeting at Enieda’s straight after school on the last day of the summer term.  They didn’t quite plan things down to the number of kernels of corn to be popped for the snacks which they watched films and boxsets, but in other respects almost all the time was accounted for, including some spare activities in the (unlikely) event that the board-games under-ran.  Ice cream flavours were discussed: the three that made the final cut were “All the Chocolate”, “Salted Caramel Surprise”, and “Raspberry Pavlova”.  (Jessica’s dairy intolerance was catered for with mango sorbet).

It had been during the board games, early on the first evening, that she’d head the incriminating conversation.  She’d popped out of the Den (a second living room, given over to Eneida and her brothers, and placed firmly out of bounds to the latter for the weekend), to go to the loo.  The kitchen door was half open.  She was not sure who Eneida’s father was talking to, nor did she have any clue who Hector might be.  Eneida’s father spoke English with the lack of an accent that spoke of an expensive, or at least heavily invested in, second language: the casual way that he spoke of putting Hector “on ice” was almost as chilling as the statement itself.

Putting Hector on ice sounded like something that she should try and prevent.

She went back to the Den, mind whirling: who could she talk to about this? No one.  What could she do? No idea.

#####

She tried to pay attention, tried to have fun.   She’d tried to join in the excitement as Eneida talked about her family’s plans for the summer.  They were going to be going away for nearly a month.  There was a lot to do, much to prepare: they’d done a house swap with friends of friends who lived in Australia.  She’d spent the whole afternoon trying to think about how to save Hector and had taken in nothing of what was going on around her.  Which film had they even watched?  She couldn’t even remember the schedule that they’d spent so long perfecting.

Eneida’s father called them into the kitchen-diner for tea: originally, they’d planned to have takeaway pizza, but Eneida’s mother had insisted that they have home-made.  Hattie preferred thin crust, but Eneida’s father was a sour dough king and had made the dough for them.  He helped them to roll it out, and once they had assembled the pizzas from the selection of toppings that had been laid out, he skilfully slid the peel under them and then flicked them into the pizza oven that he’d set up on the patio.

Hattie’s was one of the last to be baked, not counting the ones that Eneida’s parents made for themselves.  Whilst she was waiting, Eneida’s mother came up and put her hand on her husband’s arm.

“Did you get rid of Hector?” she asked in a low voice.  Hattie’s ears pricked up and her tired mind was suddenly alert.

“As we discussed, my love.  I saved a bit in the freezer.”

Was Eneida’s mother in on this killing too?

#####

Hattie looked at her phone.  2.37 am.  From all around her, there was gentle snoring and the soft breathing of five people tucked up in sleeping bags.  Gently she unzipped her own bag, found her torch and her dressing gown and stole out of the room on tiptoe.  There was enough light coming through the big picture window that formed one side of the landing for her to be able to see that the way to the stairs was clear.  She shrugged on the dark red terry-cloth dressing grown and crept down the stairs, avoiding the third tread from the top, which she knew creaked.  As she descended to the ground floor, the light faded away until she reached the bottom, where it was pitch black.  She turned the tip of the torch (a miniature Maglite) until the bulb just flickered into life, and then cupped the light to reduce the light still further, to the barest minimum.  With this, she made her way to the kitchen.

Hattie opened the freezer draw.  She hadn’t been able to save Hector, but perhaps she could secure the evidence that would bring his killers to justice.  She couldn’t understand how Eneida’s father could be so brazen: not only had he kept a souvenir, but here it was in his own home freezer, carefully labelled with Hector’s name and the date.   Wasn’t he worried that Eneida might find it?

She opened the box to see what had been saved.  She was expecting a finger (for opening a biometric lock, perhaps).  Or perhaps an ear: ears were a classic souvenir.  What she was not expecting was a block of porridge-coloured – what? What on Earth was it?  It had clearly been some kind of liquid, with a certain amount of water, given that the block had conformed perfectly to the shape of the Tupperware, and there were little ice-crystals on the surface.

There was a click and the kitchen was bathed in lights: she froze as solid as whatever was in the Tupperware.  Eneida’s father stood in the doorway.

“What are you doing with Hector?” he asked, sleepily shocked.

He shuffled over.  Gently he took the Tupperware, closed it, and put it back in the freezer, closed the drawer, closed the door.

“If you wanted some sour dough starter, you only had to ask.”

© David Jesson, 2018