Sunday, 24 April 2011

Worship and Ruin

My fingers twitch.

But... I’m not the one doing it. I just watch them, helpless, fascinated.

Twitch, twitch, twitch.

I no longer have the will to move my own limbs; just look on as something invades me from the fingertips. My palms are still pressed together in prayer. I want to run but I cannot even make myself stand.

I watch my fingers wrap past themselves and my hands clasp each other, gripping tightly. I feel a pressure building. Some part of me is fighting; some element of my subconscious rejects this, pushes my hands together, tries to keep this foreign thing from moving beyond them.

It fails.

My hands explode apart with a force that levers me backwards. Had I not already been on my knees I would have crashed to the stone floor on my back. Instead I face the ceiling for a moment, arms outstretched as if I am beseeching the heavens.

My arms twitch now. They flex of their own accord. No, of some other thing’s accord; some other being’s intent. My own hands reach for my neck. Gripping. Tightening. Squeezing.

I choke. I am beyond affecting anything, but my body spasms, fighting on, gasping.

A shudder goes through me. My body slews sideways limply. I drift, cast loose.

I feel detached, emotionally and physically. It is strange, looking at my corporeal self like this, from the outside. I look mirrored, when of course I have only ever seen my mirrored self. This is what I really look like, how everyone else sees me, my Elise and little Cam-cam.

I watch myself stand. I, my body, reaches out and steadies itself on the altar. Whatever is in me is not used to a human form. It strokes the cracked onyx of the altar and smiles a wicked smile. I don’t like that smile, there is no warmth in it; I fear that smile, I don’t think my face ever looked like that before, so ugly.

I watch my body walk away, across the broken stone and through the doorway. I try to follow, but I feel dazed and so very tired. Something stops me short. I look back and see a dark chain linking me to the altar; it seems made of curling, black smoke with flickering red veins. I test it, but I know it is unbreakable; it was forged to hold a far worse thing than me.

I do not feel the urgency I expect to. Maybe that is a part of this place, part of these chains, or maybe passions flow in the blood, the body, and I have neither anymore. I do feel an ache for Elise, I would warn her, but how can I?

This church was not the place I was promised. I may never know whether I was deceived or whether I simply lost my way in the woods. I lie down on the cold stone; I can still feel that, at least. I look up past the skeletal roof beams to the pearly moon and I wonder if perhaps who you worship is not as important as where you worship... or what may answer.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Less than Dust

Rafi hung suspended in the pilot’s chamber. He was so tightly integrated with the Argus that he thought he could actually feel the chill of space jealously licking her hull.

He took the ship through a lazy, looping curve, nothing that her sleeping crew would notice, and he watched the tiny heat gradient spiral away behind them through the ship’s cutting edge sensors. It was a temperature differential so slight even the previous generation would have been hard pushed to pick it up from the surrounding vacuum. The Argus was the pinnacle of stealth tech. She was the pinnacle of so many technologies, a triumph of human ingenuity, their future.

An alert flickered across Rafi/ Argus’s consciousness; an incoming communication was insinuating itself into their datasphere, trying to get their attention like an insistent itch at the base of his skull. Red priority. He initiated the defrost procedure for the rest of the crew and sanctioned the Key drive warm-up; whatever the content of the message, a Red required immediate action.

He scanned the message. The Strangers had struck the home system. The Atlas collective were in trouble. Rafi reprocessed the communication, disbelieving. The Atlas collective were crying for help, all hands on, a Red priority return to Earth.

The Atlas was the only Titan class warship, the biggest structure ever built by humanity, its mass was greater than the moon’s. It was high command, the sol system’s last line of defence. Its personal fleet was a third of the whole Astral Unite Navy. That it needed help was almost unimaginable. That it was an all hands return was terrifying. He bumped the information down to the waking crew, he had no time for them to install, he had to move now. Almost a second had already passed since the communication had first touched the Argus’s sensory net.

Rafi/ Argus initiated a Keyhole event. The Key drive felt like triumph. It was exultant glory, it was unrestrained passion, it was fierce, unbridled joy. It leapt them across the galaxy with acceleration like pure emotion. It was the most dangerous thing ever invented.

Earth was only a heartbeat away and yet he had never been back. So many years since he had left. No, he could admit it now, since he took the easy option, since he ran away. From his parents, from responsibility, from Laurie.

The home system was in turmoil and The Argus exited Key space in evasive jump mode, hopping in-system using a more conventional drive, charting a randomised pattern to minimise the chances of being hit by enemy ordinance.

Rafi ran the numbers. It was bad. The Stranger fleet had never been estimated at this size, even spread among various systems. The Atlas was clearly in trouble, doomed, and weapon effects stretched from planet to planet. From the insulated pilot’s chamber one aspect of Rafi/ Argus watched the internal cameras with horror; there still hadn’t been enough time for the crew to install themselves and they were helplessly exposed as the ship sliced through detonation peripheries.

Rafi saw crackling effulgence rip spasmodically across the Argus’s interior. Lines of blue brightness jerked through air like the thrashing legs of a spider beneath a child’s cruel pin. They say electricity arcs, such a clean word: a curve, simple, sane. And It may arc over small distances but this surging violent tree was alive and broken, grasping at everything; reaching out with sharp, twitching, angry angles; fierce fingers stroking casual fire across the crew; the ghost of a searing touch; a million hot needles pushed under their skin.

They were dead, and he wouldn’t be far behind. Rafi knew the Argus would be dust in a few short seconds. Other ships would arrive over the next few minutes and suffer the same fate. Communications were out, system-wide, the Red priority was the last thing to get out. The home system was lost, and the rest of the fleet would be too.

Then the Argus picked up a Keyhole event just off Jupiter, another AUN ship to the slaughter house.

Rafi made a decision. The Argus’s last action would be a final Keyhole event of its own, straight into the one just appearing. Two Keyhole events on top of each other unleashed apocalyptic energies, a rift event: the fabric of space-time torn apart, on a system scale.

Any craft in-system would be atomised, the remains of the Atlas collective, the Argus, this unknown newcomer, the entire Stranger fleet. Within seconds any planetary masses, any moons, would be torn apart, broken down further and further until the entire system was nothing but a violent maelstrom of particles, remaining impenetrable space for centuries unknown.

Any incoming ships further than a few microseconds out would see the storm in time to avoid it. The UAN, humanity, though decimated, would survive. And the Strangers would no longer be a threat.

Destroying the home system, destroying Earth, destroying his past, was the hardest decision; saving humankind took no decision at all. The Key drive was agony and ecstasy, beauty and chaos; it was a love song to the universe, it was a funeral dirge.

Recommended reading: The Egg by Andy Weir.
A great philosophical idea built into a flash fiction.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Sharp as a Really Sharp Thing

“Why am I seeing Zeppelins?”

Detective Sora Tanaka squinted into the bright blue distance. She could definitely see massive, melon-shaped airships of some kind. They wallowed lazily through the air like bloated, grey bumblebees.

Her companion glanced briefly in their direction.

“Because it is a cliché of a certain genre of imagination.”

“Oh. Good. Glad we cleared that up.”

The middle-aged man with Sora was wearing an old, beige trench coat. His unkempt, brown hair was in need of a cut. His black tie was creased in that particular way that is only achieved by leaving the knot in day after day. He very much reminded everyone of a certain TV detective.

“You were the one who wanted to come with me, Detective Tanaka.”

“No, I was the one who wanted to know why four of my five stab victims, all released from hospital, are now in the morgue. I’m the one who wanted to know how healing wounds inexplicably get deeper and wider.”

“And that’s why we’re here.”

“And where is that, where is here? And where’s Browning gone?”

“Here, Boss.”

Sergeant Browning was thick set, heavy looking but neat. He looked like efficient security, or like the policeman he was. A permanent crease in his brow made him look thoughtful, as if he was considering, calculating; Sora knew it was really just a permanent state of confusion.

“Try to keep up, Sergeant.” She turned back to the other man, “well?”

“This is the place that is no place. It is the manifestation of the public consciousness.”

“Keep talking, Confucius.” Sora levelled an even gaze at him. “Keep talking until it stops being nonsense.”

He took a deep breath and thought for a moment.

“OK. Human imagination exists, ideas exist, but you, most people, couldn’t say where. Or would just say,” He waved his hands vaguely, “‘in our heads’, and you would be partly right, but mostly wrong. Here, this place, is where those things exist.”

“Riiiiiiiight... So, and I’m not saying I believe you, but I think I understand what you’re trying to say–”

Browning raised his hand, “I don’t.”

She glared at him, “So, why are we here?”

“Your stabbing victims, their wounds were infected.”

“The doctors said not, when they were discharged and post-mortem.”

“If it were a normal infection I wouldn’t be involved. They were infected with an idea. The idea of Sharp. So the initial wound would be small and quite neat, I would think, but it would leave a Sharpness behind, a feeling the victim wouldn’t be able to get out of their mind, and the more they thought about it the deeper the wound would become. And that is why we’re here.”

“Because this is where ideas live.”

“Exactly. This far in we experience the current zeitgeist, popular memes and genre clichés. For an idea as old and firmly ensconced as Sharp we’ve got a fair amount of walking to do. I suggest we get moving.”

“Right. Not that I believe you. But we’re here now, so... lead on.”

“Um... Where are we? I still don’t think I get it.”

The man in the trench coat sighed. “Why did we bring him?”

“Because as ridiculous an idea as it is that he could actually be a policeman, he still makes more sense than you ever do.”

He nodded, “That’s fair.”

“What? Hey–!”

Browning hurried to catch up as the other two walked off, seemingly unconcerned by his outrage. This place felt strange to him, but oddly re-assuring. He couldn’t remember exactly how they got here; they had definitely been on the train, he must have fallen asleep.

Three London buses in convoy went past, it reminded him of a joke; up ahead he could see a red phone box on a corner, something he hadn’t seen in years. It all felt familiar, but insubstantial, as if things were only there while he was looking at them. And he had never felt more like a policeman. Even though he was out of uniform for the first time, passersby knew what he was, who he was, and he knew he had their respect; these were the people he protected.

Then a panicked scream came from somewhere ahead of them, and more, and urgent shouting. People were rushing into the street, running from something. Something that came after them in a staggering, broken run. Something that lunged and grasped and bit and tore. Something not quite human anymore.

Detective Tanaka swore. “What the!?”


“Zombies? Are you serious?”

“Yes, they’re rather popular right now, makes it difficult to travel through here without encountering them.”

“And you couldn’t have warned us?”

“And you would have believed me?”

Recommended Reads:
Oberbaumbrucke 1988 by Stephen Hewitt
Really well observed flash with some beautiful writing.

Zomband by Steve Green
A comedy take on zombies. And the best new sound in town.

Red Tank by John Xero ;D
Science Fiction on

Also... Help me pick my Best of #FridayFlash volume 2 submission. I've picked my favourites on my writing blog.

And there's more! Detective Sora Tanaka and co. first appeared in This Pit.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Windows to the Soul

You’re walking down the street, it could be any street, and the building you’re walking past has mirrored windows, or maybe they’re just blacked out on the inside. Either way, when you look to your side you see reflections, of yourself and the world around you - beside you, behind you, before you.

You watch this passing movie playing out, and you watch yourself, until suddenly, unexpectedly and abruptly, the mirroring ends and you pass an open door. The innards are revealed, a brief flash and hint of what may lie within. There may be a person at a desk, looking out, seeing you looking in, a moment’s connection as your eyes meet, a moment’s surprise as he intrudes upon your movie, as you intrude upon his.

The moment passes, the world resumes.

Now imagine those windows are your retinas; the reflections you see are the world around you absorbed into the black hole of your pupil, from which no light escapes. So what if for a brief moment the reflection is removed? And for an instant you see what you are really looking at, revealed, hidden no more. You see past the reflection that is the world, beyond reality, and you catch a glimpse of what is beside it, behind it, beneath it.

And you see someone there, looking back.