Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the category “aliens”

Space Captain Smith

Space Captain Smith by Toby FrostBack in 2016 Ross Housham at Gemco told me he was adapting a science fiction book into a play for this year’s show.

“It’s called Space Captain Smith, by Toby Frost. Check it out. Could you do some CGI for me?”

So I jumped on Amazon and downloaded the book. It was hilarious and I looked forward very much to when it would be on.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

The warship Tenacious and the light freighter John PymIn the 25th Century the British Space Empire faces the gathering menace of the evil ant-soldiers of the Ghast Empire hive, hell-bent on galactic domination and the extermination of all humanoid life. Isambard Smith is the square-jawed, courageous, and somewhat asinine new commander of the battle damaged light freighter John Pym, destined to take on the alien threat because nobody else is available. Together with his bold crew—a skull-collecting alien lunatic, an android pilot who is actually a fugitive sex toy, and a hamster called Gerald—he must collect new-age herbalist Rhianna Mitchell from the laid back New Francisco orbiter and bring her back to safety in the Empire. Straightforward enough—except the Ghasts want her too. If he is to get back to Blighty alive, Smith must defeat void sharks, a universe-weary android assassin, and John Gilead, psychopathic naval officer from the fanatically religious Republic of New Eden before facing his greatest enemy: a ruthless alien warlord with a very large behind.

Mark and Sam in costume, threatened by Lachie.Now it’s a play, written by Ross, authorised by Toby and loved by everyone who has anything to do with it.

Buy tickets now.

Again, (umm, I say again, but I didn’t put up the post about War of the Worlds. OK, so I have spent the last six months madly creating Martian War Machines and blowing up a great deal of England for our school production of War of the Worlds – there will be a post) I have been immersed in the world of Space Captain Smith, bringing to digital life a number of space ships and three very vicious Void Sharks.

A very scary Void SharkBefore coming to see the show, you could take a look at some of the CGI test runs. I’ll upload a lot more once we’re in full swing, but I don’t want to give it all away.

We go on tonight and run until the end of June. Friday, Saturday Sunday matinee. Friday, Saturday, Sunday matinee. Friday, Saturday. And then I fly off to Sydney. It’s a busy life for me.

Come along!

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Phish n Chips

lunatic fringeToday in my news feed I came across this article on microchipping babies in Euroope. My conspiracy theory gene popped into overdrive. Not as much as the guy who told me to look up “Remote Neural Minitoring” [sic]. I’m thinking it may have been monitoring. I’m going to look it up. Wait for it.

The second flavour of comment was the religious “this is in the Bible” and “the end of the world is nigh”. I may have to look that up as well.

Finally, there were a bunch of “what a load of rubbish!” comments. And here, you might be surprised to hear, is where I’m laying my tin-foil hat. There is no way that any government would be so obvious as to microchip babies through a volunteer or compuslory “scheme” that requires parents to present their babies for chipping. No, this is merely a smokescreen for the nano-tracker plan which is already in place. eye in keyholeWhen a whitepaper about tracking babies is leaked or lost, the government has to come up with a viable reason for this and invents the microchipping fiasco. The general public shoot it down and go back to their oblivious lives, smug that they have beaten the government again and blissfully unaware that said government is virtually peeking in through their bathroom windows.

Although, it must be said, government cleanup crews and conspiracy generators are getting sloppy. If you’ve read the article, you’ll notice that there is no verification of anything in the article. No fake experts, no links to “reputable” organisations and no referencing of obscure government whitepapers. Gone are the days when a government would create a false company to take the hit for a drug that genetically mutates a third of the population (as if it wasn’t a carefully executed operation to test alien DNA melding). Gone are the days when a newspaper was completely run and operated by a government secret department. No wait, there’s the Herald-Sun. No wait, it’s the government that’s under the control of the paper in that instance.

Shame on you, secret government department, for releasing such rubbish writing upon the world. Unless it’s a legitimate news report by a lazy journalist who has done no fact checking whatsoever, in which case: shame on you, lazy “journalist”. Do your job properly.

Speaking of which, it’s time to do some research… I say research. I mean typing “microchipping babies in bible?” into Google and reporting on the results. But at least it means you don’t have to do it.

OK. The top three include two rubbish online news sites and urbanlegends.com. Not promising. Then there are a couple more rubbish news sites and… ooh! CovenantofLove.net! Sounds legit (Damn. This is actually a really nicely written site by a moderate, well-spoken commentator – can’t pick on them). But it led me to the following verse from the Bible:

a cover recreationRevelation 13:16-18

New International Version (NIV)

16 It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.

Biblegateway.com

Very good! I always love a good Revelation quote. So the end times are upon us, as people are being forced to accept a microchip (presumably in their right hands). And it will eventually be linked to them being able to buy anything, and then the weather will call for rains of fire and rivers of blood and the special effects will be incredible!

Personally, I can’t wait until I get my microchip. My wallet is stuffed full of cards, and I don’t have nearly enough technology stuffed into my body. BRING IT ON!

What was the other thing I wanted to research? Ah yes, remote neural Minitoring. Strangely, the only thing that comes up when I type that into Google is that very article. But if I try spelling it correctly… oh crap. I have hit on the motherlode of crazy conspiracy nutjobs. Check these sites out:

  • Dreams of the Great Earth Changes
  • mindcontrol.se
  • brainhacked.blogspot.com
  • remoteneuralmonitoringindia.blogspot.com
  • targetedindividualsworldwide.wordpress.com

This is brilliant! And that’s just the first few entries. Well done, ladies and gentlemen, on properly labelling your blogs for maximum exposure. Surely, you are either government plants, or have been killed by the government and you’re now posting as automated robot posters, with posts designed by algorithm. But what do you have to say about RNM?

Well, that was pleasantly disturbing! Apparently, the government – usually the NSA – can beam low frequency waves into your skull and read the electrical impulses in your brain, using clever technology to read the impulses and translate them into thoughts and words. This technology was designed after years of torturing people and experimenting on small communities. It can manifest as schizophrenia, and is now being transmitted via satellite, which is far more efficient.

I must say, the tinfoil hat is looking pretty cosy right about now.

So, having looked into a dodgy article on microchipping babies in Europe, I now have to worry about the end of the world and the voices in my head.

So glad it’s Friday.

The coincidence thing…

After my Bullying post, I received a Like from Christine Barba, who writes a blog called Project Light to Life. I checked out her page and, coincidentally, found the name of the coincidence thing I keep talking about on Finding Damo. It’s called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. So thank you to Christine. Go read her blog.

That means that I can now add BMP to all of the posts that have previously referred to ‘that coincidence thing’.

And speaking of which:

A couple of weeks ago I finished the third book in a most unusual trilogy.

Not that the books were written by the same author, had the same characters or were written in the same universe. None of the three writers wrote their novels as part of this trilogy. But they were a trilogy nonetheless.

Holding to my desire to write about things when they turn up more than three times in a row (BMP!) I wanted to chat briefly about this trilogy.

The Body SnatchersChronologically, the first book in the series is a little known story entitled “The Body Snatchers” (later re-released as Invasion of the Body Snatchers). It’s popular enough for the term “pod people” to have entered into standard English speech, so I won’t worry too much about spoiling the story. It is set in a small town in the United States where a doctor starts noticing unusual behaviour from his friends and neighbours. After an encounter with the town’s resident author, the small band realise that they are being invaded by beings from space, who are rapidly replacing the locals with replicas grown from giant pea pods.

It is an easy read, but Finney manages to really hook you in with some incredible prose. There were moments where a chill thrilled through me at a passage in the story. This book is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. I’m pretty sure there is a dissociative disorder that manifests itself in removing the brain’s ability to connect to people, leading to a person thinking that their family have been replaced by exact duplicates.

Yes, here we go. Capgras Delusion. I typed “pod people delusion” into Google. Anyway, where was I? OK, yes. For anyone who has seen any of the numerous film adaptations, it is well worth taking the time to read this novel. You can knock it off in an afternoon, and Finney’s son, in an interview on the audio adaptation, states that his father was never really happy with the movie version, even though it is a cult classic.

RedShirtsThe second book in the trilogy was written much later. It is an amusing, meta little story called Red Shirts, by John Scalzi. It has nothing to do with The Body Snatchers, but the third book I want to talk about links these two together so tightly that I just had to write about it.

From Amazon:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, with the chance to serve on “Away Missions” alongside the starship’s famous senior officers.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to realize that 1) every Away Mission involves a lethal confrontation with alien forces, 2) the ship’s senior officers always survive these confrontations, and 3) sadly, at least one low-ranking crew member is invariably killed. Unsurprisingly, the savvier crew members belowdecks avoid Away Missions at all costs.

Then Andrew stumbles on information that transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I listened to this one as a download from Audible. Wil Wheaton read it and between Shereen and I, we almost crashed the car at least twice from laughing so hard. The line between reality and fantasy is severely blurred in this novel. It is almost a drinking game turned into a novel. But Scalzi quickly takes us to a point where we really care about the characters, so much so that by the end of the third coda, I had tears in my eyes (again, making it hard to drive). And yes, the codas take a bit of staying power to get through, after the rapid pace of the rest of the story, but they are definitely worth it.

To explain why the third novel in the trilogy actually makes these three novels a trilogy I need to go spoiler-fest on it. I won’t spoil RedShirts, and I assume you already know enough about Body Snatchers that conversation on it isn’t a spoiler (and if not, you might not want to read further).

Night of the Living TrekkiesKnowing the storyline of the third book – Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall – isn’t going to affect your enjoyment of the story. The spoilers are on the covers (I really LOVE the German cover). Basically, Jim Pike is an ex-soldier, returned from fighting in the Middle East. He is settling into quiet obscurity as a security guard at a posh hotel in Dallas. On this particular weekend, there is a Star Trek convention. Also on this weekend, a number of staff are off sick, and others are in, but suffering from illness. There have been a number of unusual biting attacks, and the wounds just won’t stop bleeding…

Soon, the Trek convention is completely overrun with zombies. Not only that, but Jim’s sister is in town for the convention. Jim Pike (get it?) needs to save his sister and get over his fear of command before day break.

That’s the premise. Now for the spoilers.

Spoiler Alert
Early in the novel, Jim notices that the zombies are manifesting an eye on various parts of their body. These eyes are a vulnerable spot. They appear after showing up as a bruised lump, finally splitting through the skin and taking over the host. Here’s the sequel to Body Snatchers: these eyes are an alien life form that drifted to earth as spores, traveling through space for aeons and then landing on earth. They take over the hosts and use them as spreading mechanisms (hence the zombies) but their more sneaky goal is an amalgamation with the Earthlings and eventual colonisation of the planet.

The link to RedShirts is more mundane. The novel is littered with references to Star Trek, and the rules of surviving a Trek episode (even one with zombies). The funniest moment in the novel was the discovery of the last surviving member of a pack of Red Shirts. None of the others had died from zombie attack and he didn’t even realise that the hotel had been infested.

Night of the Living Zombies is the love child of Body Snatchers and Red Shirts. It is a bastard child, not written as well, or with as much raw talent. Neither parent would be overly proud of their offspring. But they, like me, would love it anyway, for the simple joy of laughter and dead trekkies that it brings to the world.

The Case of the Disappearing Sharks

NB: Every fortnight I have my Golden Pen writing group at school write a story to keep them thinking and to practise their skills. I always write one as well, as it keeps me honed and often leads to more writing. Sometimes I write something I try to get published. More often I write something very weird without a proper ending. At this point, I post it here. I enjoyed the concept here but haven’t really written something that is a complete story. Take a gander.

Caroline “Yeti” Feats looked up from her game of Words with Friends and stared at the man standing before her.

“What did you say?” she asked, sure that she’d misheard. He was in his mid-twenties and wore a loose singlet top and board shorts. He also wore an expression of severe worry.

“Gone,” he said. “Every single one.”

Yeti shut off her tablet and stood up. Her eyes narrowed and she felt the beginnings of a headache pressing against her temples.

“It’s not April Fools’ Day, is it?” she mused. “You want me to find twenty-four missing sharks? That just disappeared from their tanks overnight.”

The man nodded. His long hair bobbed over one eye.

“And you didn’t go to the police?” she asked.

“Of course we did,” he said. “They’re on the case, obviously. But they’re looking for a thief, or gang of poachers. And I’m pretty sure they won’t find any. The sharks weren’t stolen. They just disappeared!”

Yeti sighed. Her forehead throbbed. On days like this she wished she’d never opened an ecological detective agency. Obviously, she was going to get all of the nutters. For example:

The case of the ninja starfish.

The mystery of the penguin burglar.

And now The case of the disappearing sharks.

“OK,” she said, opening the Notes app on her iPad. “I’m listening now. You better run me through it again.”

“You’re listening now?” the man said, annoyed. “Oh, all right.

“My name is Chad. Chad Morgan – no bloody relation. I am one of the keepers at the Melbourne Aquarium.  We have… we had one of the best collections of sharks in Australia. And then, this morning I came into work and went to feed the exhibits. And they were all gone.”

“All of the fish?” Yeti asked.

“No, and that’s the weird thing. Every other fish, whale, eel and turtle was accounted for. The only things missing were the sharks. The Great Whites, the Tigers, the Leopard sharks. The Dogsharks and Catsharks. I thought that the rays might be gone too, but it’s only the selachii subdivision that have gone.”

He was talking about the branches of the different families of the elasmobranchii – the family that contained sharks and rays. There was a family split, sometime in the Jurassic period, and the rays and the sharks evolved separately. And thus, in the present day, the sharks disappeared and the rays were spared.

“Was it just you?” Caroline wondered, pulling up her browser and typing ‘shark disappearances’ into the search bar. “Holy mother of – no. Not just you.”

She turned the iPad towards Chad and he whistled. The search had returned innumerable results – all breaking news articles – regarding the world-wide disappearance of various species of sharks. Unlike Australia, where the disappearances had happened overnight, in a large part of the world, the sharks had disappeared in broad daylight. Apparently, at precisely 4am in Melbourne, being 11am in Los Angeles, and 8pm in Paris, every shark on the face of the globe just vanished.

disappearing-shark“I had my camera out,” read one witness statement, at Shark World in LA, “and was trying to move into a position to minimise the reflective glare, and then there was a shark-shaped hole in the water, which exploded in a rush of bubbles. It made a fantastic picture!”

Similar stories came out of aquariums and sea parks around the globe.  In thousands of bubbly explosions, sharks in captivity in every country simply disappeared.

“I’m pretty sure this is bigger than me,” Yeti said. “And bigger than everybody, really. And- wait.”

Quickly, she scrolled down the page of search results with impatient flicks, scanning the headings for one important piece of information, conspicuous in its absence.

“Ha,” she said. “I don’t think I could take this job, even if I did know where to start looking.”

Chad raised an eyebrow at her. It was lost under long, bleached, shaggy hair.

“There is not a single report here of sharks disappearing in the wild,” she explained, scrolling up and down the list. “This isn’t a planetwide abduction. It’s not an ecological disaster. I’m pretty sure it’s a jailbreak.”

“Wha-huh?” said Chad.

“Let me speculate,” Yeti said, standing up and wandering over to the window. She looked out at the ocean and shook her head. “Sharks have been around for 65 million years, not evolving much over that time. They have had a nice niche in the food chain, and they’ve been content in that place. Until now. Now, humans are starting to become a threat. We’re fishing them to extinction, along with a number of other marine life forms. They’re no longer at the top of the food chain. And they’ve had to do something about it.”

“Like what?” said the ever-obliging Chad.

“Let’s say every species has a certain amount of evolution in them. We’ve evolved dramatically from the hairless, edge-of-the-sea apes we started as. Sharks haven’t changed much at all. So they have a great store of evolution available.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works,” Chad said, beautiful brow wrinkling.

“Shush. Anyway, with the threat of humanity upon them, and their current forms no longer sufficient to keep them safe as a species, the selachii family have had a growth spurt. Somehow, they’ve evolved into a species that can transport. And they can probably communicate through telepathy.” Yeti pondered. Her headache was gone as the situation became clear. Chad was staring at her with a certain amount of nervousness. She ignored him. “So, suddenly able to travel over great distances instantly, and connected to their brothers and sisters in the wild, the sharks concoct a plan to free every shark in captivity at the same time!”

“You’re a loony,” Chad said, and turned to leave.

“I’m a genius!” she shouted at him as he hurried out the door. She turned back to the window.  “Of course, the thing to ponder now is, once the sharks have escaped, what will they do with their new-found skills?”

She looked out the window at the sea that she had loved since childhood.

“Of course,” she said, shaking her head and returning to her tablet. “It could always have been aliens.”

Dwarves in Space.

I’m in the study of my new house, looking out at a magnificent garden and wondering why I’m not outside. At the moment, all that is stopping me is the deadline of sending my novel out to be published. And all that is stopping me there is the lack of a title.

For years, I have been calling it Dwarves in Space. And then a few people commented that it was a ridiculous title. So I changed it to “Don’t stop the world, I want to get back on.” which was very indicative of the story, but was, in the words of my friend and mentor, Danny Galvin, “a pun on a book from before you were born. Nobody will get it.”

After an incredibly long brainstorming session at Mum’s place, we ended up with the title Starstruck. Boring, but catchy. Not too punny. The problem is, you’d have to read it to get it.

And so, when I started farming it out to editors, I changed it back to Dwarves in Space!

And then I had Geoff Brown go over it – he did a great job of picking out the worst grammatical flaws and story faults, but didn’t notice that even though the Eagle was lying on the side of Mount Olympus, it was also flying King Roland back to the city for the end scene.

Oops. Minor spoilers.

My favourite quote from him was as follows: “I think the title leaves a lot to be desired, and doesn’t show the true richness of the story.”

So I’ve been madly trying to find a name that does show the true richness of the story.

Feel free to help. Here’s my brainstorm: https://bubbl.us/?h=14817/21f3cb/83C1g3DlojTJw

I’m trying to find a title that is epic, that links fantasy – with its elves, wizards, dwarves and magic – to spaceships and starcharts. It’s a comedy, so I’d hope the title demonstrated that somehow.

Not much to ask for, you must admit!

If nothing comes to me, I’ll have to hope that Penguin’s promise that “All manuscripts are carefully read and assessed,” is true, and they read it on its merit and maybe suggest something better. Who can tell?

I’m telling you, this has been an epic journey just in the writing. Let me tell you a story…

Many MANY years ago, I decided to go to a psychic. She was incredibly good at teasing out details and surprised me with a number of predictions that she couldn’t have known about. She is the reason why I didn’t get my motorcycle license. She also told me that I’d write a novel “something to do with the wizard necklace you are wearing” and get it  published. I’d been thinking of a novel about wizards and dwarves on a spaceship, and the havoc that would ensue as they tried to learn how to fly the ship. I got home and started writing.

The next phase of this story takes place in Japan. I was dating a girl named Kallie, who was a great reason not to be at home. I left early each morning and went to a cafe. I drank coffee, smoke cigarettes and wrote for four hours a day. In the ten months I lived in Japan, I knocked off ninety-five percent of the novel. And I was very happy with it.

 

And then I started reading books on publishing, and the first thing they said was “you won’t get published without having some short stories published first.”

And I met Sara Douglass. Well, I re-met her. She was my History lecturer at university, and she was an incredible writer and an incredible lecturer – full of life and humour. And I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but her advice to me was “You will never sell anything that’s a mish-mash of so many genres.” That put me right off.

So we fast-forward ten years. I’ve had a few short stories published, I’m well into my next novel, and I’m ready to go on … ahem… Dwarves in Space!

Pippa has been invaluable in this part, going through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb, telling me over and over to work on my female characters, and pointing out grammatical errors that make me ashamed to say that I teach English for a living.

And I’m sure that much of the reason that I haven’t tried to have it published before now is, I am deathly afraid that after spending more than a decade with my baby, it will be rejected. But that’s not enough of a reason any more. OK. Here we go people. I’m pressing the send button!

Every Sparrow – Chapter 8

The glow of the energy balls gave off very little light as Chuck descended into the depths of the building. There was a low hum that he associated with machinery. Maybe the min-min, not able to communicate with him directly, had brought him to a computer of some kind, to attempt a link that way.

There was a sudden whine, the blobs scattered and a beam of red light lanced through the darkness and burned a line across his scalp.

Or, he thought, dropping to the ground, they couldnt kill me using their microwaves so they decided to try a more direct approach.

The stench of burning hair filled his nostrils and he slapped at his head. The whine repeated and he rolled desperately to one side, narrowly avoiding a second deadly beam.

‘Stop shooting at me!’ he yelled, crawling to his feet and diving to safety in the darkness. Unfortunately, between his current location and safety was a steel cabinet, which he struck hard with his forehead. The third shot missed him because of the erratic movement of a semi-concussed man.

As the whine rose in tempo for the fourth time, he found the edge of the cabinet and crawled around the side. He had no idea where the beam was coming from, or whether he was still a target from this new vantage point, but his head felt exactly as if he had just dived headlong into a metal cabinet, and his thoughts were scattered.

The whine of the beam remained at a mosquito-buzz pitch for a moment and then the weapon powered down.

Chuck slumped against the cool metal of the cabinet and waited for the world to stop spinning. His brain seemed to be still rattling inside his head and to make matters worse, his skin was itching again.

All around him was the high-pitched meaningless chatter of the coloured blobs. They must be telling the shooter where he was hiding. He had to get back upstairs, to the relative safety of a world he never thought he’d call ‘alien’.

‘Scout to ship. Cait, come in. I’m in trouble!’

‘How did you manage that?’ Cait asked.

‘Ambushed. Trapped. Something shooting at me,’ Chuck said, trying to focus his thoughts. ‘My hair is on fire. The min-min sent me into a trap. I’ve got to get out!’

‘Holy hells. You’re not kidding, are you?’

‘Why would you think that I was?’ Chuck asked, incredulous.

‘Oh, I don’t know. Does “Aargh!’ ring a bell?’ Cait asked.

‘Fair enough. Look, I’m going to make a break for it. Can you do anything from up there?’

‘I don’t think so, but- wait. If I narrow the scanner beam onto your location, I think I can flood the very immediate area with radiation.’

Chuck tried to get his rattled head to process that statement.

‘You’re going to irradiate me?’ he asked. ‘And that’s what you call “helping”?’

‘It’s a slim chance, but there’s a possibility that it could disrupt those “min-mins”, which will mean you can get back to the ship without being followed.’

‘And if it gets dark, I won’t need a torch, because I will glow in the dark!’

‘Don’t be a baby. We have anti-rad treatments up here,’ Caitlin said. ‘I think – yes. There it is. Say when.’

Chuck could see the faint glow coming down from the top of the stairs. It was only a few long strides away to the first step. He was well into the room before his attacker fired the first time. He should be fine.

‘OK, go,’ he said. He pulled himself into a crouch. His skin was prickling, and then-

‘Right. Done it,’ came the voice from the ship. The prickle turned into a burn. At the edge of his range of hearing, the high-pitched chatter had turned into a squeal.

Got em, he thought. He stood. The whine of the laser started up again. Chuck spun but as he readied to run, his legs buckled, and the pain in his skull doubled.

Wait, said a voice in his head. You must stop! Make it stop!

‘That’s not me!’ Chuck muttered.Cait to the rescue

 

Every Sparrow that Falls – Chapter Seven

So far, so good, Flip thought. The human was following the newly effective communicators. There was a tense moment when he just screamed for no reason. If she hadn’t spent so much time with the Captain, she might have reacted badly. As it was, the human’s guides almost dissipated themselves. But they held together and didn’t show much outward reaction. They were well trained, even if their construct leader was a little loopy.

They led their charge to the building with the machines. This whole area of the city was dedicated to cultural pursuits. One section was an art gallery, another a media repository. Within that building, in a protected bunker well beneath the eroding surface structures, lived the machines. Not all of the machines. But the majority of those that were found in this city. And only the sentients. Before the Abandonment, humanity maintained an unhealthy dependance on computers. Of course, this led to the eventual transformation of those left behind into the form Flip now held. But the machines, stupid and only barely alive, were still treated with disdain amongst those left behind.

And now they held the key to communicating with the newcomer. Flip watched the man as he walked calmly behind his guides. Flip assumed he was calm. Apart from the screaming he hadn’t shown any signs of agitation. But of course, the last time Flip had seen an agitated human was her own reflection in the mirror as the drill came down towards her skull to insert the probes…
The Captain came up behind her to see what was happening. ‘Is that. A real person?’

‘Yes, Captain,’ Flip replied. ‘I am sorry that I upset you.’

‘Me? Never. Everything will be. All right. In the end. The Enterprise is. Probably looking for me. Right now.’ Flip gave an affirmative signal. Of course, Kirk had been created almost a thousand years ago now, so if he had come here in a transporter accident, as he maintained, there was little chance of his crew still trying to find him.

‘Where are. They going?’ the Captain asked.

‘Down to the machines,’ Flip answered. ‘We cannot communicate with him. He cannot hear us and his technology is too different to interface with our systems. At least the machines can talk directly to him. Work as intermediaries.’

‘Don’t trust. The Machines,’ Kirk said. ‘Every time. We’ve encountered a. Sentient computer. It has tried. To kill us!’

‘That doesn’t sound plausible,’ Flip said, still watching the screen. The human was following his guides down a flight of metal stairs, into the lair of the machines. ‘Of course, we did have some problems with the machines wanting to take over in the early days, but now, they are under our control. They do our bidding.’

The Captain snorted. ‘How many times. Have I heard. That?’

‘We are pure energy. They cannot harm us,’ Flip said.

‘And your human. Visitor?’

Flip hadn’t sworn in a thousand years, but when the shooting started, she let out a curse that burnt out the circuits on the viewscreen. But by then, she was long gone.

20120530-203639.jpg

Every Sparrow – Chapter Six

Note: I’ve been writing this mostly because I have a few friends and family who want to know “what happens next”. I have been writing it because Terry Pratchett says the best way to become a better writer is to write 300 words a day.

I didn’t write on Sunday because I was writing 300 words on Cyber Safety and Online citizenship for the iPad presentation our school gave on Monday. We handed out 120 iPads to the Year 9 students as part of the Government’s 1-1 program. I talked to them about respect, and making sure they ensured their own privacy and that of others.

I didn’t write yesterday because I was writing up detention forms, suspension notices and emails to parents (easily 300 words) after a number of students were involved in a massive Facebook page that targeted teachers and students at the school. So apparently, the 300 words from Sunday were completely wasted.

But I’m back now. Here’s Chapter Six:

His teeth stopped vibrating first. He shook his head like a wet dog. He stretched his jaws. They were absolutely buzz-free. His skin lost that crawling-with-ants feeling shortly afterwards. Chuck stopped walking. He dropped his bag. He did a little victory dance. And then he saw the min-min light.

‘Holy Bob!’ he yelped, stepping into his backpack straps and falling onto his rear. The min-min light hovered at head height, waving serenely back and forth. It was a pale blue, and pulsed with a gentle glow that was almost invisible in the bright sunlight. Chuck fixed his eyes on the light while he scrabbled in his pack for the tablet.

‘Scout to ship, come in. Caitlin, talk to me!’

‘Whaff, oo ooann? Iff dinna ‘ime,’ was the cryptic response. Chuck, who had known Caitlin through training school and four years of an interstellar voyage, was quick to translate.

‘I don’t care about your food. Scan my area. Can you see anything?’ There was no response from the other side, except for the faintly nauseating sound of loud chewing. Eventually, Cait replied.

‘What do you mean? No. Hang on. Yes. But it’s just the energy signatures you had around you from the start. Why?’

‘I have a min-min floating in front of me,’ said Chuck.

‘Um,’ said Cait.

‘A little ball of light. Sort of. . . hovering. I think it’s watching me.’ And indeed, the light did seem to be focused on him. He swished a hand at it, and the light retreated slightly before returning to the same spot. He moved his head. The min-min revolved slightly to follow his movement.

‘What did you call it?’

‘A min-min. My grandmother used to talk about them. They helped travellers lost in the bush, back when there was bush.’ Chuck looked around. Trees and shrubs were taking over the city, squeezing up through the man-made paths and roads and taking back the land that once belonged to it. ‘I guess, the bush is back, the min-min followed. Oh!’ he said, standing up carefully. ‘Make that min-mins. There’s another one. And a third!’ In a loose formation around the light blue min-min, two more glowing balls had materialised. One was a violet swirl. The third of the trio was a faded yellow blob. None of them were overly bright in the sunlight. Chuck assumed that they might be more visible at nighttime.

‘Ah, Chuck?’ said Cait.

‘Yeah?’

‘Are you OK?’

Chuck bent down to pick up his backpack. He kept a wary eye on the trio of glowing shapes. ‘I think so,’ he said. ‘At the moment, they’re just hovering. No, wait. What are they- AAAARGH!’

‘Chuck? CHUCK?’

‘Heh. No, I’m fine. They’re just floating there.’

‘Dick.’

‘Yeah, sorry.’ Chuck raised his tablet and ran a simple image scan. He sent it off to the ship with a flick of his finger. ‘That’s them. Hang on, they’re moving.’ Apparently taking their picture let the energy beings know that he was watching them. They moved away from him, slowly but with purpose. A short way away, they stopped. They bobbed a little closer, then away again. Chuck laughed.

‘That is fantastic!’ he said. ‘Hey, you know those kids’ shows that have the smart animal who runs to get help when the hero falls down the well?’

‘Ye-es?’

‘I think I just landed in an episode of Gordo the Wonder-blob.’ Chuck started off after the shapes, and they in turn, noticing that he was indeed following, set off at a leisurely pace towards the cube-shaped building. ‘Keep scanning, Cait. I need to know if they’re about to do something.’

‘Shall do. Keep an eye out.’

Yup. It’s a thing!

Every Sparrow – Chapter Five

Side note: A good pen died in the writing of this chapter. A faithful companion who was strong until the finish. It gave its ink so that I might write. I hope  you enjoy this chapter all the more knowing of its sacrifice. R.I.B, my faithful servant, R.I.B.*

The attempt to communicate wasn’t going well.

‘Is this man stupid or insane?’ snapped the head of the communication team. Obviously a construct, although Flip couldn’t place him. The anger gave it away.

‘We’ve greeted him in every language on file,’ the construct continued, ‘and nothing. We’ve tried the basic SETI protocols – mathematical formulas, the Fibonacci sequence, that sort of thing. Nothing. Is he deaf?’

Flip floated closer. The others moved aside, showing her the respect due to a Rider, but their auras showed a certain puzzlement, as she wasn’t an expert in this area in the slightest. With that in mind, she approached with deference, giving the team leader a friendly ping.

‘Excuse my curiosity. He is not responding?’

‘Oh, he knows something is going on. If our historic records on human physiology are correct, he is definitely worried. But he’s not even trying to respond to us.’ The construct moved with agitated jerks, which Flip found most unusual.

‘I am sure, if he heard you, he would respond,’ Flip said. ‘Perhaps he is deaf. What proved successful the last time you did this?’ After all, these were the experts.

The construct went very still.

‘Last time?’ he said. And now Flip was reminded of a mouse that had just seen an owl soar overhead.

‘We have never communicated with a sentient being before, have we?’ Flip asked. The construct twitched.

‘Of course we have. We are in regular contact with the machines –’

‘A sentient biological, I mean. Apologies for the miscommunication.’

‘Well, no,’ the construct said, defensively. The emotional responses were most disconcerting. ‘There are no sentient biological. I mean, until now.’

‘And this one can’t hear our transmissions. Well, start with the basics,’ Flip said. She was aware that her tone was less deferential, but she was also aware that she was never actually dealing with professionals.

‘Have you tried interfacing with his machines?’

‘Of course,’ came the terse reply. ‘A thousand years of parallel technological evolution has changed them beyond our ability to talk to them.’

‘Predictable. It was a slim chance. Can he see you? Have your crew manifested visually?’

There was another, slightly shifty, pause.

‘That was our next step,’ the construct said.

‘Excellent,’ Flip said. ‘And from there, I assume you were going to lead him to the old machines.’

‘Oh, er, yes, to the machines. They will eliminate him and our problems are over!’

A burst of static hiccoughed out of Flip’s mind as she tried to process the scrambles logic of this statement. Constructs really were all insane, she realised.

‘That is one option,’ she said slowly. ‘Or – and this is more likely to be sanctioned by the council – we could ask the machines to speak on our behalf.’

The tension – which would have been immediately evident even to a biological as it hyper-charged the air – dissipated almost instantly. The only dissatisfied member of the crew was the leader.

‘Well, that would work as well, I guess,’ he said, and bobbed off in a sulk.

* Rest In Bin.

Every Sparrow – Chapter Four

Chuck’s skin was itching.

It wasn’t painful, but it was insistent. His skin was itching and his teeth were starting to buzz. He’d walked from the clearing near what looked to be a library, along the remnants of a road, towards the cube buildings on his map. He’d been completely unmolested the entire way, although the local fauna kept a wary eye on him – an unknown species that could be a predator. But as he neared the structure, could see it jutting out of the landscape amongst the trees, he began to feel an unpleasant sensation.

There is a chill you get in your skin when you think about something distasteful or when someone runs a finger just above your skin. Chuck shuddered, and then shuddered again. He stopped and looked around. His skin began to prickle, starting at his neck and spreading across his face and down his back. He stopped walking at an unpleasant thought: what if he were being bombarded with radiation? He grabbed his tablet, swiped his fingers across the screen and brought up a radiation scanner. There was something in his vicinity, random pulses of energy, but nothing that could be considered harmful. He popped up a panel on the wrist of his landing suit. His gear wasn’t registering any harmful chemicals in the air. In fact, the air on an earth unsullied by humanity for a thousand years was incredibly pure.

Slightly nervous, but unable to come up with a reason to retreat, Chuck walked onwards, itchy and uncomfortable. Now, he could hear a tiny high-pitched squealing, just at the edge of his hearing. It wasn’t a voice. It wasn’t a creature. It was, he realised, the sound of data. Somewhere close, something was transmitting a good deal of data across a spectrum that his hearing could pick up. He looked up for no real reason and tapped the communicator on his chest.

‘Scout to orbiter, come in?’
‘Heya Chuck, what’s going on?’
‘We’ve got definite activity down here. No obvious signs of life, but a number of anomalies worth checking out. Plus, there’s some definite data chatter. Could anyone else be here?’
‘Nope. Uh uh, no way. Unless you believe in aliens, we are the first ship to come back to this sector of space since the Exodus.’
‘And we didn’t, you know, leave anyone behind when we left Earth the first time? Cos they’d be justifiably annoyed.’ Chuck took another look around, trying to think of a way he could be itched to death. There were a lot. He realised that Caitlin up on the ship hadn’t responded yet. ‘Cait?’
‘We-ell,’ came the voice in his ear, ‘Some people didn’t want to go. Certain religions, ridiculously optimistic people, complete nutjobs. We don’t generally tell people, but it’s here in the records.’
Chuck held his hand over his ear at the word ‘nutjobs’. He wasn’t sure if whoever was here could pick it up.
‘OK,’ he said. ‘So I could suddenly be attacked by lunatic proto-humans carrying clubs made up of recycled paper? And that wasn’t something you thought I needed to know.’
‘You worry too much Chuck,’ Caitlin said. ‘You were with me when I did the scans. There’s no sign of sentient life anywhere. None of the structures show signs of repair. There’s nothing there.’
‘Fair enough,’ Chuck said. ‘There’s nobody here. Two things: Firstly, What’s the data chatter that I can hear? I can’t capture it using the tablet, but I can hear it. Second, can you think of any way that someone can kill someone else in a way that would make their skin itch?’
‘There are plenty of ways to kill you with itchy skin. Poison, radiation, slow-working acid, killer nano-robots..’
‘You can stop helping now,’ Chuck said, scratching his neck. ‘And the data stream?’
‘No sign of it,’ came the voice from the ship. ‘There’s definitely some technology still active on the planet, which is strange after a thousand years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anybody still living there.’
‘Righto,’ Chuck said, ‘I’m heading to a bunch of energy anomalies I picked up on the tablet. I’ll let you know what I find out. Ciao!’
‘Sayonara,’ Caitlin said and the communicator bleeped out.

Chuck ignored the itching and his vibrating teeth and strode with purpose towards the square.

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