Short Story: Timelines

“How do you keep them separate in your head? I’d have thought you’d be constantly getting them mixed up.” Sara was rummaging in her toolbox for something to undo a stubborn nut in the cabinet between us. Given the amount of swearing I’d heard the last five minutes, I’d half expected her to have dropped the subject.

“Well, it’s like when you’re reading two books at about the same time, and you have one for sitting on the sofa, and another for by your bed. You read each for different reasons but keeping those stories separate isn’t that difficult really.” She continued to scratch around in the box without success.

“Really? I don’t think I could do that.” She frowned and straightened up to look round the room. I saw a monkey wrench on the floor behind her but decided not to say anything. I didn’t want to detract from her sense of achievement when she found it.

“Oh it’s not so difficult.” I said. “You don’t have any difficulty remembering the differences between your siblings do you? You know their favourite foods are…?”

“I’m an only child.” She said. She turned round and saw the wrench, giving a brief triumphant cry.

“Ah.” I said, and juggled my next sentences around. “But you can imagine can’t you? If you had one who liked certain things and another who liked others – you’d remember and tailor your conversations accordingly.”

“Okay,” she said cautiously, “so you’re saying navigating timelines and paradoxes is like reading two books at once?” She’d turned back to the console cabinet and was busy at work again.

“Yes, and at the same time no, because both stories are in the same volume and they keep flipping depending on the moment and what you’re doing while holding that book open. Flicking the pages means you can have a different version of the story each time you flick back and forth.”

“Still sounds like you’re making it up. How come you can remember both versions?” She was plugging replacement components back into place now.

“Oh that’s because I exist in the old one and have travelled into the new one. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s simple enough. How are we doing there?”

“Nearly done. Don’t know what caused that surge and blew the console but should be good as new now. So, where next for you?”

“Oh not far, and yet it’s probably longer than you’d credit. We’ll probably not meet again – thank you, as ever, for your quick work.” I handed over a wad of bills in payment and escorted the engineer out of the control room. She had a frown on her face.

“What do you mean, as ever?” I heard her say as he closed the hatch and hurried back to the console.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have your family back soon Sara.” I said, and flipped the launch switch.

Short Story: Aaron

The advert for Zeiss optics was looping – or at least the uncorrupted part of the media file was anyway. A thirty second hymn of luxury visuals reduced to three or four seconds of a focusing and refocusing artificial eye in a flawless model’s airbrushed face.

Aaron watched the loop for a couple of iterations before turning his attention back to the wreckage of the rest of the station platform. Dust hung heavily in the air, particles of ceramic and brick dust wreathing the surviving light sources and turning torch beams into ethereal wands that flickered from surface to surface in their bearers’ hands.

The sound of sparking electrics from ruptured conduits, and of groaning metal twisted and pressed into unexpected configurations covered the sound of his footsteps. He made his way towards the exit stairs ahead of the search teams still approaching from further down the tunnel. He picked up his pace, eager to be already of use by the time they got here.

Ahead he could hear movement and cries both for help and of alarm. The bark of gunshots punctuated the confusion too. Aaron tilted his head to try and work out how many people were shooting, but the acoustics in the stairwell defeated that notion.

There was no option but to move into the concourse. Bodies could be made out across the hall, and Aaron stopped to see if there was anything to be done. There wasn’t, but he had to check anyway. A new set of priorities now presented themselves.

Ahead of him, two gunmen had re-entered the area. They seemed to be wearing some kind of paramilitary uniform. Aaron noted the common elements and decided that the lead figure seemed to be in charge. He rose smoothly to his feet and turned to face them.

“What the hell?” One of the gunmen raised his firearm instinctively at the sight of him. Aaron wasn’t given to introspection, but was unsurprised. There weren’t many units like him in operation yet.

“My name is Aaron. It stands for Advanced Artificial Recon Online Neonate. You will stand down now.”

Two shots impacted his chest and he advanced. He tried to explain his next actions. “I’m afraid, to safeguard the team behind me and any survivors of your attack, I must now engage you. Please do not resist. You will be taken into custody.”

They resisted anyway, for all the good it did.

Short Story: They’re In The Walls

The clicking of the spider-limbed surveillance drones echoed in the crawlspace below us. I imagined the criss-crossing beams of their active infrared sensors would make that narrow area positively glow if looked at with the right equipment. I wasn’t sure if it was necessarily something I’d want to see under the circumstances.

While they were reasonably autonomous, the small swarm of drones had strict boundaries coded into them for their search area. There had been too many incidents early in their development of image recognition systems “recognising” doors as the goal of their maze-solving routines.

A number of them had escaped, leading to frantic searches in the university research facilities developing them to try and retrieve the skittering droids that were now trying to “solve” the maze of the outside world.

There were rumours that some were at large, even now, meeting up and sharing their discoveries to more efficiently map everything they could. As they had been programmed to charge themselves and interface to share and rewrite each others maps, it wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility.

Those features were particularly useful for tasks like this, where buildings needed to be quickly searched. We’ve been using them to search for kidnap victims, criminals, drug stashes, and other less fortunate locations in missing persons cases.

In this case we were looking for whatever the inhabitants had hidden in their building that had attracted suspiciously large bids from certain flagged eBay accounts interested in proscribed technology.

The sellers were outside in a van, awaiting a trip back to the precinct while the crime scene investigators played with their expensive but oh-so-useful toys.

The skittering noises were, admittedly, unnerving – especially if you’d ever lived in a house with rats in the walls, but they did seem to be slowing and quieting, with the occasional link-connection beep audible through the floors and walls.

I flicked through the papers on one of the desks that the techs had finished with – a magazine with a puff piece about our drones and how they’d revolutionised evidence mapping and gathering – it seemed a bit dog-eared and well-read.

I’m a great believer in intuition. It serves me well, so I listened to it as the muffled noises all seemed to stop at once. It prompted me to look at the suddenly concerned drone officer who seemed to be tapping his keyboard rather a lot. He looked up at me and pointed to the screen.

All the feeds were showing the same thing – a large and clunky spider-limbed piece of technology looking back at us while data streamed from it straight into our drones and the workstation. We both dived for the power cord at the same time, but it was too late.

The spiders are climbing between the walls and floors now. They’re not listening to us any more. I hope they’re just planning to map the world rather than solve it. I’m not sure we’d like the solution.

Roll20 Updates and Other Nonsense

I’ve been copying the Roll20 write-ups to their own section and as of this week will be updating those pages directly rather than tying up the more general blog – we’ve got all manner of oddness taking place this week, so go check it out. I’m also probably going to put up a section on the various characters and NPCs that crop up in it to help fill in the blanks – there are some amazing bits of roleplay going on in the group, and if nothing else they may inspire your own characters.

I’m going to try putting more unpublished fiction up – just small 500 word pieces for now – that I mostly do as block breakers, or that are things that were submitted to competitions and didn’t get anywhere. The most recent of those is The Archive, which is just a bit of fun really.

Other than that, it’s been a weird sort of week. Monday was hectic, but capped with one of the funniest sessions of Roll20 we’ve had in a little while. Tuesday was quiet in that ‘really can’t get much done’ style, and today hasn’t been as productive as I’d hoped. This has mostly been due to having to wait in for a delivery for Lady M that didn’t come, and so not being able to settle in to anything or go out. Onward into the rest of the week then..!

 

Hollywood Reboots

The big bold trailer for the Robocop reboot is currently dominating my social media feeds, along with people complaining about how there’s no originality in Hollywood any more.

The trailer does it’s job in terms of making me intrigued enough to want to see it, but then so did the trailers for Total Recall, Evil Dead, and Dredd, all of which had some sumptuous set piece and visual designs.

I’ll come back to Dredd in a minute, but what Total Recall and the trailer for Robocop both seem to have in common is a feel of style over substance, which ends up feeling hollow. With horror remakes it is worse, with gore often replacing chills and suspense.

My worry is that the satirical edge of the original film is getting lost in the gloss and the almost pathological need to remove the masks from lead characters, a trend you see here in Robocop, both Spider-Man treatments, Captain America/The Avengers, and Wolverine/X-Men to pick a few examples. Robocop here is definitely a man inside a machine, as opposed to the machine with humanity stretched across it that struggles to re-ignite that humanity.

My gripe is that the slew of disappointing remakes means that we are missing good films like Dredd, which was a good reboot of a dreadful (yes, that pun is intentional) original. Dredd has it’s flaws, but it’s a stripped down action film that entertains.

Perhaps we should be begging Hollywood to reboot the disappointing genre originals to see what unexpected gems appear. Rebooting classics only means they’re starting off being compared to superior originals before they even get started..!

Tales From The Edge

I’ve added a “new” short story to the Fiction section. Its new in as much as its a lightly edited compilation of a short series of mini-pieces I wrote in 2004 called Tales From The Edge, where on ten consecutive days I wrote ten episodes and posted them online. The original intention was to write a whole series of them, and its something I may still do if there’s any interest.

The opening paragraph is as follows:

You wouldn’t think that it could rain in a space station – though calling Echart Hub a mere space station was stretching the definition by quite some way. As it went, looking up from the gritty pavement and seeing a ribbon of water in the park-lands on the other side of the central light well was impressive.

follow the jump to go to the whole story or click on the link in the navigation bar – you can’t miss it – Tales From The Edge: Boris

Sci-Fi Fiction Fragment and a Wedding Preparation Update

Had this buzzing around as a mini-scene but nowhere to fit it in what I’m currently working on, so throwing it out there like some literary baron discarding a digital bone to the wolfhounds…

Caustic dust billowed away from the landing pad, displaced by the craft’s landing jets and momentarily forcing him to look away. Static sparked in the particle-filled air off control surfaces, lending an ozone tang that coiled greasily across the tongue. Behind him the troops stayed as motionless as biology allowed – with only one or two stifled coughs being heard. The drill sergeant would have a field day with that later.

Drawing himself more fully upright, he noted the fluid ease with which the pilot set the lander down on its skids and cut power – looking for all the world like some animated simulation sequence rather than something with enough mass to make a significant crater on impact with the ground if things went wrong. He stepped forward as the entrance ramp unsealed. Behind him he heard the stamp of a company of troops coming to attention.

It was time to meet the man that the Assassin had come to kill. The treacherous thought crossed his mind that he still wasn’t sure which individual he was more scared of.

In other news: today I am mostly printing off information leaflets for the wedding on some lovely textured paper that almost qualifies as car. Its a creamy ivory colour so contrasts nicely with the teal lettering and graphics.

We’ve delivered the first three packs to people living locally – two just through the door as they weren’t in, the third to some friends as we arrived for a barbecue on Sunday – their reaction has made all the arguments and stresses over layout and content absolutely worth it – bodes well for the rest of the batch.

Fiction Fragment: Something Scifi

The footsteps ceased and the silence filled with the drip of ruptured containers and the hiss of recharging plasma cells. They became aware of the smell accompanying the guard – a composite of plastics, oil and slightly rancid meat. The odour was distressingly penetrative.  There was another moment’s pause as they held their breaths, and then Bensen heard the distinctive click-whine that preceded discharge.

Roughly shoving his captive ahead of him, Bensen steered them from cover to cover from the renewed fusillade. Around them, furniture and table settings cracked and fused in the super-heated streams lancing acorss the restaurant. He hissed despite himself as one of the bolts clipped his back, sparking a spray of ablating armour plating but he at least now knew where the guard was firing from – a window that had been behind them as they entered.

Bensen waited, counting under his breath. On ‘five’, he stood and flipped a grenade through the window, before stepped back and to one side, crouching out of sight next to his trembling captive. The detonation belched a tongue of shrapnel and debris through the air and drowned out all other sound. There was no return fire.  After another pause, he started assembling a rod with a small mirror on one end, slapping his captive when he whimpered in shock.

Fiction Fragment: Assassin Infodump

The Assassin most regularly went by the name of Bensen, and it was that name that most here knew him by. They of course had no idea who he really was; false papers had seen him assigned to the unit two weeks ago, just as they were sent through the Temburg Pass towards Gurran City. Had anyone thought to check up on his papers when he joined their billet, they might not have been so ready to share this latest foxhole with him, or to invite him to their tables. They might instead have assumed that forged papers made him an agent of the enemy, or at the very best some sort of covert agent.

This latter interpretation would have been nearer the truth, as he had every intention of using the troop movements to get far enough into enemy territory that his subsequent disappearance would be relatively unremarked. Gurran was the unit’s destination, but as far as Bensen was concerned, it was just the first part of his journey to his ultimate target. A complex system of underground railways would lead him onward from there.

Somewhere into the third bottle, and the twentieth poker hand, as the gaps between bombardments were noticeably longer than the bombardments themselves, Bensen threw in his hand and declared that he was going to quit while he still had some money left.

In a rising babble of protestation, the other players tried to call him back – not wanting to deprive themselves of someone who lost so well and so consistently while still being such good company. The usual appeals to bravery, masculinity and the rejection of recent history and the laws of probability were met with apparent good humour. All the same, Bensen continued to gather coin and script into his pockets. Seeing that he was not to be dissuaded, most of the players turned back to the hand in question, though a few mildly barbed comments followed his back as he stepped out into the acrid night air.

Fiction Fragment – some more scifi

“He talks a lot”

“Hmmm?” Krisla-Tenu looked round at the speaker to see a tall Njereen ambassador in formal robe-draped encounter suit proffering a glass of wine. Evolved in a lower-gravity environment than many, his ornately enamelled suit supported his physiology at these events. The ceramic and overlapping laminates comprising the visible surfaces blurred the distinction between hard and soft materials while masking the mechanics of the suit’s articulation; while the ornamentation was designed to misguide and waylay the eye with its intricate ribbing and interleaving of features.

“I’d have thought he would be a bit more of a cipher really, given what he does.”

“Hah! You’ve not been listening too closely, have you?”

“What do you mean?” The elegant masque inclined in query.

“His speciality is up-close wetwork – he’s a master of infiltration – so he’s learned to be very good at being a mimic.”

“So when he’s here among the gossips and rumour mill..?”

“Correct. He’s got to be good at small-talk, but you’ll notice over time he’s never consistent in his stories about himself. It’s a smokescreen – it’s something we all do, but he’s quite deliberate about it.” Out of the corner of her eye she could see the emaciated form of Ambassador Torshan weaving through the crowds in her direction.

“I don’t get it – surely that would be quickly noticed at gatherings?”

“With respect, you didn’t notice.”

“I’m not a suspicious security type though.”

“Ah, but you are the type of person he’d be contracted to hit.”

“Oh.”

The princeling moved on after that, leaving her alone again to circulate around the edge of the crowd. She tapped the rim of her glass absent-mindedly and let her eyes scan across the assembled dignitaries. A small blue light pulsed twice in her peripheral vision to remind her that Bensen should be getting his private hearing about now.

“Ah – there you are – a moment of your time?” Krisla-Tenu turned to see Torshan approaching, and her heart sank. A native of the Belet system, his fragile appearance and sparse fine hair slicked across his skull made a powerful juxtaposition with his rich formal Court dress that he knew made many people uncomfortable. It was widely noted that Torshan found human discomfort at his appearance rather entertaining. It was also noted that he was not averse to publically puncturing the pride of people who fell to their own prejudices in their reactions.