Short Story: Adventures In Misapplied Mathematics

“What is that, and why are you shaving it?” The Director had been called down to Lab Six as a Matter of Urgency ten minutes ago; and wasn’t particularly happy about it. The phonecall bearing the bad news had interrupted her morning coffee break with Ms Enfield from Procurement and prompted a round of bad-tempered briefing requests. These had been less than illuminating beyond broad mission statements and schedules of suppliers and services suggesting an unholy amalgam of high energy physics and biology experiments.

“We need to get proper bedding sites for the hardware, um, and our original visualisation didn’t anticipate some of the grosser physical architecture.” Dr Jennings had the sort of tired nonchalance that hinted of long nights trying to explain unexpected results to people for quite some time now.

“I can see that, but what is it? Assume I haven’t had the time to do more than skim your brief.” The Director drummed her fingers on the window pane as they looked down into the surgical theatre below. Dr Jennings winced.

“Ah, please, if you could not do that, we’ve had a hell of a time working out sedation levels and we’d rather not risk waking him.”

“You’re shaving it with electric razors; my fingers tapping on a window aren’t going to raise a flicker compared to that.” She did stop though. “What is it, and why does it have both feathers and fur?”

Below them, technicians were carefully working on a large and heavily muscled creature that seemed to combine features of birds, mammals and reptiles with gleeful, colourful, abandon. The jaws in particular seemed to sprout razor-edged teeth like cavalry sabres.

“Alright, so we were tasked with looking at how some of the new conceptual mathematic proofs impacted on pre-existing models relating to euclidian causality arguments in a high energy environment, with a particular eye on condensates and information artifact retrieval from parallel and precession stacks…”

“Ah, the public sector defense subcontract? I’ve signed the NDAs too.” The Director shuddered at the memory of an eye-watering document signed in blood. “Go on, I’m with you so far.”

“Right, so the hope was that, along with our work in Lab Three on exotic alloy conductivity, we could overlay boundary condition transforms in a traditional summoning grid configuration and – to use Arnold’s turn of phrase – do a bit of a fishing expedition.”

“Arnold? Your lab assistant?” The Director looked at her notes.

“Yes…” They stopped to look down at the scene below them again.

“So that’s hair rather than fur?” She narrowed her eyes in contemplation. “So that’s why you requested the urgent consultation.”


“Not much of a fishing trip for Arnold was it?”

“Turns out he didn’t ground the circle properly so the ley line earthed through him.” Dr Jennings rubbed his eyes, betraying his exhaustion. “You know, I always wondered if I would recognise when my career veered into mad scientist territory, and I turned out to have missed it a couple of years ago.”

“So was it a past time portal, or a parallel dimension in the end?”

“We think a neighbouring brane where causality is a bit more…”

“If you say wibbly-wobbly or timey-wimey, I’m cutting your budget.”

“… I was going to say a bit more of a permeable interface.” Dr Jennings flipped a page over on his clipboard and looked at the schematics there.

“Alright, so we have a rogue transformation algorithm superpositioning Arnold with a sauropod from the prehistory of a neighbouring dimension, and you want to continue weaponising it?”

“In a nutshell, yes. I have the Residual Resource paperwork all ready for you on the table there. We’ll fit wheel mounts for now so we can relocate him until we know which set of reflexes have survived the process.”

“Fine.” The Director walked over to the table and signed the prepared docket. Then they watched as technicians prepared to use wrenches and socket sets to fit what looked like the world’s largest set of rollerskates to what could only be described as a tyrannosaurus rex. The Director couldn’t wait to see what else could go wrong by lunchtime.

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And away we go

It’s Easter weekend, and we’ve actually managed to scrape some time and an approximation of energy together so that Lady M, the Charleesi, and I are escaping The Smoke for a couple of days. We’re off to Alton Towers. Let the silliness commence.

Of course you could be forgiven for thinking it had already started early. We went to join Lady P and a select bunch of glorious misfits in celebrating her birthday yesterday evening, which led to a Jurassic Park-themed chocolate tray bake and an inordinate number of shots.

Today, while not hungover, nevertheless did drag a bit as I was working. It seemed a good idea at the time. Still, we’re settled at our lodgings now, despite the best efforts of traffic and roadworks. Tomorrow is going to be great.

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Short Story: Ambush on the Common

The pathways that crossed the swathes of green land between Sam’s house and work were as dangerous as ever. Few dared walk there, for fear of injury, or even just the contempt of the monsters that had laid claim to them. It hadn’t been so bad in the winter, when harsh frost and black ice had kept all but the most hardy from the area. At that point he had been able to risk the short cut with a degree of confidence. Sam knew he could usually see or hear trouble coming long enough to sidestep it.

That was then. Now the warmer weather had added new hazards. The open grasslands attracted mushroom circles of students ostensibly studying in the sun. They either reduced the space to sidestep the hunters on the pathways, or worse joined their numbers and rejoiced in making the lives of humble pedestrians as difficult as possible. In this city, the bicycle was king.

It had started, as these tyrranies often do, as simple expediency. Take a large student population – in other words one not necessarily flush with money – and add a young tech-heavy economic powerhouse or two. Sprinkle with a desire to reduce pollution, and see bicycle lanes and traffic calming measures waltz in, hand in hand.

Then add some self-interest and entitlement, because that’s what humans do, and watch as those who cycle come to see those who don’t as part of a problem to be fixed. Any area not specifically designated for motor vehicle use was implicitly claimed, and the gods help any poor pedestrian or tourist who didn’t realise this.

During the winter, only the most dedicated cyclists used the paths, and they were easy to avoid, if only for their regular schedules. The summer though was far more chaotic, and injuries were far more common. He’d witnessed plenty for himself, avoided many, and been unlucky once or twice. Sam wasn’t bitter about that however. The occasional – rare even – mishap or encounter was just the luck of the draw.

No, his anger had a very specific focus: the Darrens. A youngish couple who had moved into the area recently, but who had embraced the bicycle cult with fervour. Their matching matt-black steeds were built for speed, and matched the dark lycra in which they wrapped each other before they headed out. It was no coincidence that they featured in the nightmares of so many; for they took a perverse pride in forcing people to leap aside.

For the Darrens, few things could beat a stealthy glide along the pathways across the common, and then a ring of their bells at almost the last minute to prompt cries of panic and frantic attempts to leap for safety. They even had a scoring system based on the perceived vulnerability of their victims and whether they could cause collisions between their victims and bystanders as one leapt into the other in their panic.

The only thing better than that was causing another cyclist to flinch – and in that there was perhaps the seed of Sam’s current course of action. Every day, the Darrens came up the rise to the crest of the Common at around midday, heading home for lunch.

This time, as they focused on the pace of their ascent they found Sam, on a borrowed bike, coming the other way.

They looked at each other and smiled, and then accelerated. They would not turn aside. The game of chicken was one they loved. Sam and the Darrens closed rapidly on each other. Students in the grass either side of where they would clash began to back away. All eyes were on them.

Sam barrelled towards them, head low to reduce wind resistance and legs pumping steadily. The Darrens too also kept up their brisk face, a hungry anticipation visible on their faces.

And then, a little more than a bike’s length or three away from them, Sam drew his sword and charged straight at them. The sword glinted in the sunlight as he drew it in a tight arc from the scabbard on his back. There was just enough time for horrified recognition of the shape in Sam’s hands and then it was too late.

The Darrens tried to peel away to either side, but failed to count the effect of going from smooth asphalt to soft earth and grass. As they both tumbled from their bikes, Sam streaked on and past, dropping the plastic toy sword on the path behind him. It clattered loudly in the sudden silence as he sped away, laughing into the distance. The Darrens were never quite the same, or as feared, from that day

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Short Story/Drabble: The Fight

Five seconds into the fight, and Bob knew it was a mistake to have placed the bet. Never mind the ethics of it, there was the very real chance that any action in the ring was going to equalled by action taken outside it when Hannibal found out he had no money.

With a growing sense of appalled immanent doom, he watched as limbs flailed between the equally matched opponents. Harnesses contained the fighters, and reins attached to them were quickly deployed when voices of authority rang out to halt the barbarism.

“You’re making our babies wrestle? What’s your problem?”

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Short Story: Seeking Pretty Things

The clatter of wheels on cobbles filled the air as Fenton and Gillie left the alley. A broad thoroughfare lay before them, thronged with horse-drawn vehicles and people who all seemed intent on either heading to or from places with great concentration and purpose. Here and there small stalls sold hot food or newspapers, and the voices of the people running them blended with the noise that washed over them.

“We’re looking for Peddle Lane.” Fenton said, linking arms with Gillie so that they didn’t get separated.

“Over there,” Gillie responded,”I recognise the pawnbroker sign next to the entrance. Charlie’s boys keep using it for slingshot practice – that’s why the top ball’s so dented.” Her finger pointed it out unerringly. Fenton squinted to make it out.”

“Your eyesight’s better than mine. Come on then.”

“Well of course, I haven’t ruined it peering at old ledgers by candlelight, have I?” She kept pace with him, guiding him between a couple of hansom cabs and out to the middle of the road. They paused there a moment to let a tarpaulin-covered cart rattle past, and continued to the relative safety of the other side of the street. Their way from there to the pawnshop was simple; with the crowd light enough for them to walk side by side. Sure enough, a side road could be seen next to the shop, bounded by an archway between the buildings.

Fenton led Gillie past the shop and into the mouth of the lane, which was lined mostly with the doors to tenement buildings. The buildings were tall and crammed side by side. Families and workmen lived side by side here, behind the shops and offices on the main roads. Gas lights were already glowing at intervals here and there even though the day’s light had barely begun to fade. The other end of the lane wasn’t far away.

“Why are we going down here? I thought you said you had something to show me?” Gillie asked. They were about halfway along the lane already. Fenton looked across and grinned.

“You keep teasing me about all the old books while you gallivant round causing trouble. I’ve lost track of the number of conversations we’ve had about the amazing things you’ve found while thwarting your colourful nemesis collection.” He grinned and pushed his glasses back up where they had drooped a little down the bridge of his nose. “So there I was last night, working my way through Hawksmark’s Primer and I found something that I think you’re going to love.”

“Oh? So that’s what you get up to while I’m defending the Realm?” Gillie pretended to be affronted, but the little smile quirking her lips suggested otherwise. “If I didn’t know better Mr Fenton, I would think you were a little jealous of my midnight perambulations!”

“Perish the thought.” They were nearly to the other end of the lane, and Fenton stopped. He turned to look back the way they had come, and gestured for Gillie to do the same. The little gasp of joyous surprise was exactly what he’d been hoping for.

“Oh Fenton – ” The sun was in just the right angle. The plans in the primer had hinted at it, but the reality was far more than he had hoped. The placement of the local architecture had been a labour of love  – written in stone, bricks and mortar – and right here and right now the day added the final touch: a rose formed of sunlight and shadows right in the middle of the lane.

“You keep finding wonders in times of danger or in the darkest places, but I thought that seeing something beautiful in and of the light would help bolster you when it gets tough.” Fenton’s voice was quiet.

“It’s so pretty. I’ve never been given flowers by a city before.” She admired the sight before her a little longer. “You old romantic, I thought you didn’t care.” Gillie beamed, and enjoyed his momentary discomfort.

“Well, of course, we work so closely, I have to make sure you’re operating at your best with how important the Work is…” he twisted and turned in the light of her regard.

“Of course, Fenton, of course.” She patted his hand, linked arms, and let him walk her back out into the City.

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Short Story: The Migration

I wish I were alone in my head right now. There’s a stray thought scratching around somewhere behind my temples that I know isn’t mine. It’s sneaky, and won’t tell me what it is, or where it came from. When I’m busy i barely notice it, but in the quiet of the night, like now, i can feel it sneaking like a rat in the walls.

Where did it come from? I first noticed something about three days ago and chalked it up to a half-hearted advertising jingle. Every time I try to catch it I get close, and it becomes a little bit clearer. You know how that goes don’t you? I can see it in your expression. That phrase or word just on the tip of your tongue that is just that little nearer every time you try to capture it – but just not quite there.

Just like you know the word when someone else says it, I’m living in hope of hearing that jingle, or song, or turn of phrase – whatever it is – again. It sounds like it’s a famous quote – you know, that one about dolphins and a journey – but has a musical lilt to it. You know the one I mean, it was in that film a few years ago. Anyway, it’s taken up residence and keeps knocking.

I haven’t been able to settle to sleep. What if it’s important? It can’t have come from nowhere, and if it isn’t something I’ve heard then it must be something my own brain is trying to tell me. I just wish I knew what. Maybe it is a sign that something is bothering me. My subconscious has picked up something on a pre-verbal level about a situation, but my conscious brain isn’t listening? That might explain why it feels like I’m snatching at smoke.

Or maybe I’ve misheard something and accepted it at the time, but my brain is trying to work out what the correct phrase is – like someone talking about the Durex Dog instead of the Dulux Dog. At least, I hope there isn’t such a thing as the Durex Dog, but that’s a horror for another time if it is.

You’re trying to think what the phrase is too, aren’t you? It’s something like ‘soloing the leash?’ and the image of a dolphin’s smile. I’ve never trusted dolphins. Anything or anyone that smiles that much is up to something.

So, there’s a thought swimming round and I just can’t work it out. I can’t sleep. What if it’s a memetic attack? Some rogue piece of semiotic programming that’s escaped and has a life of its own, infecting people. A form of words so powerful they travel and live through us? Is that all we are now? Vessels for thoughts and phrases that aren’t even our own but that jump between us without our even knowing it – like: so long, and thanks for all the fish, and on to the next person before they’re even aware of it.

If you can work it out, I’m not even sure I want you to tell me. You’d surely be reinforcing it in both of us. I can see you feeling teased by it too, that’s why I felt I could tell you, but if it is a thought that travels separately from us, then we can’t tell anyone, can we? Wouldn’t that make us an infection vector? Or is it too late?

I wish I could work it out. Another sleepless night to come I think…

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Recent Reads

The last few months have seen me return to using the Kindle app on my phone to catch up on reading on my way to and from work – and I’ve mostly been mainlining Charles Stross’ Laundry Files series.

The concept of the series is relatively simple to those of us with a geeky side, or at least an appreciation of mathematics and Lovecraftian horrors. Magic is basically advanced mathematics. The performing of complex mathematic formulae resonates with other dimensions and attracts the attention and response of entities in those nearby realities. Most of those entities are generally inimical to life in our set of dimensions. 

To try and mitigate the effects of rising numbers of people and computers the British Civil Service contains a secretive branch descended from the wartime SOE (Special Operations Executive) which tidies things up before things like the transfiguration of Wolverhampton into Nyarlahotep become more than an ill-defined PhD paper, or a televangelist can resurrect a Sleeping God.

Just don’t forget your security pass when entering the office after hours or you’ll be eaten by the Residual Human Resources (don’t use the Z-word).

It’s a great series available for not a lot of money, and it makes me quietly giggle on the bus so that more people than usual shuffle away from me. Go find it, it’ll make you smile without even needing a geas.

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