Saturday, 17 October 2015

Sex, E.T. and Dark Matter

As far as I can determine it was the year 2115 AD that I was unfrozen. I’d been frozen in my era, to be left till a cure was found for what I had, and almost 60 years later an automatic system unfroze me in the hope of better technology.
I was found near my cubicle underground, confused and terrified, and being English, I first asked for a cup of tea. They had no idea what that was but eventually when my explanations became rational, they managed to produce some boiled water with a unidentified leaf expiring in it, and it was by sipping this woody drink that I finally began to perceive my surroundings through the steam rising from my cup. I was in a dingy room with wooden chairs, lamps, like something from the dark ages. Three men stood around my bed, trying to look very patrician and important, all with white hair and beards and wearing tunics. The air smelt of lamp oil and sweat.
‘OK, so how long was I asleep?’ I asked finally.
The taller of the men, spoke in a deep voice – it seemed the others daren’t.
‘It is now 2082 AD in the old way of reckoning, 52 AW, new calendar.’
‘60 years? Well, you must have made a lot of progress in that time, but looking around this must be a backwater. Is there a settlement on Mars yet?’
There was an uneasy pause as the three looked uncertainly at each other:
‘There was a war 52 years ago. Many people died, and many records were destroyed. You survived because you were frozen and in a hospital basement.’
‘Ah. Well, look, I may need some more boiled water..’
Another of the men then spoke with a quick worried glance sideways at the taller one.
‘Not all records were destroyed though.’
‘For example, three books survived.’
‘Only three?’
The taller man then spoke to reassert his dominance.
‘This is our Reverend of Dark Matters. He is responsible for the interpretation of these three great tomes. ET in his wisdom must have made sure that these books came into our hands: they are the basis of all.’
‘All what?’
The absolutism of this sounded a bit ominous to someone who was familiar with Billy Connelly’s famous statement that one ‘should never trust anyone with only one book’. Three books was hardly much better.
‘ET? Alright, which books survived then?’
‘Anne Hooper’s Pocket Sex Guide, William Kotzwinkle’s, ET: the Extra-Terrestrial, and Gravy Zug’s A Guide to Dark Matter.’
Some of the tea spurted out of my nose. At this point, all three men covered their eyes, in a sort of ritual.
‘Are you serious?’
The three men’s frowns deepened as if to show they were indeed serious, in the manner of a kazoo band demanding to be allowed to play in the Royal Albert Hall.
‘These books cover everything we need to know.’
‘What, that lot?’
‘The sex guide tells us how to repopulate the Earth, ET is the source of moral wisdom, and all of science can be derived from the Guide to Dark Matter.’
I considered this
‘Well, I don’t mind the first two, they sound eminently sensible to me, but I was a physicist and I have an uneasy feeling about the third one. What’s this about dark matter explaining everything?’
‘It does, everyone knows it!’
‘Because they read the book?’
‘How else would we know it? It was written by the great Gravy, Gravy Zug.’
Again the three hid their eyes, as if trying to emphasize some connection to darkness, and that was fortunate because I was the victim of an involuntary giggle at this point. I recovered quickly, eager to get out of this underground lunatic asylum.
‘Far be it for me to dispute the great Gravy, whoever he is, was, will be. He must have written his book shortly after my time, but has an experiment been done to prove that dark matter exists yet?’
I was instantly reminded of goldfish in a bowl as all three men opened their mouths in unaccustomed indignation. Oddly enough this argument was not that different to ones I’d had with some physicists in my time. I was on familiar territory.
‘Whatever for? The ancients did all that sort of thing for us.’
‘Oh, you mean they found some dark matter after I was frozen and before the war?’
‘No .. but they proved that the dark matter that is needed to explain galaxy rotation, is too subtle ever to be seen, so they stopped looking and just accepted it.’
‘Well, they were obviously people of great impact, having managed to end the scientific method and then blow up the entire world as an encore in a single decade.’
They looked momentarily pleased by this statement, then puzzled, so I thought I‘d leap in through the window of doubt that appeared to have opened up.
‘Have you considered that maybe dark matter doesn’t exist?’
There was a sharp intake of breath at this and the tallest member of the group clicked his fingers and a guard appeared out of a dark corner of the room. Tallguy approached me, bringing a cloud of sweat with him, and delivered his judgement in a brusque but apologetic manner.
‘I’m sorry, but we have a law that anyone who doubts dark matter be expelled onto the surface, otherwise the forces-that-be, made of dark matter, will destroy us.’
I was quite used to this kind of treatment, and in my time usually it ended with me saying ‘I’ll get my coat’, but they did indeed expel me onto the surface that they all believed was a dangerous environment made ‘foul’ to use their words, by the previous, presumably, nuclear war. They put on dirty sacks to protect themselves, dumped me there in the middle of the cold night and scurried back down underground.
Of course, when the Sun came up, the surface was actually a delightful place, blessed with blue skies, and full of tropical fruits and nuts of a more nutritious kind, and after I’d built a hut and started growing my own food, I had a good time. Even the disease I’d had disappeared, perhaps having been caused by some unsuspected chemical poison endemic in the early 21st Century. There were some other humans up there, wandering around and some of them were even very nice. As a result the only thing I regretted was not reading the Sex Guide which would have come in handy, but as is always said by those in the know, the best way to learn is to do.


Friday, 14 August 2015

The Lighthouse

I am Keelut Narsaq and I am writing to record the amazing thing that happened today so I can read it out to the elders at our next gathering.

This morning I woke late and poked my head out of our igloo to see if my wife Aulanerk was fishing by our ice-hole. She is very beautiful with clear eyes, a round face and brown skin (she was watching as I wrote that). However, this morning I saw only the icefield and a snowfox, and began to worry. She usually wakes before me as she likes to see the sun rise over the coast and the blue skies of the early morning, but we had an argument last night. Had she gone back to her terrifying mother Liakaaq in Slefiulk? To avoid thinking  about that I made some chai and soon, to my relief, she burst through the door, slammed a couple of fish down on the floor, put her hands on her hips and shouted

'You're awake, my lion!'

I was pleased by this and picked up a second chai mug for her

'You refer of course to my courage!'
'No, your snoring!'
'Well, at least I don't grind my teeth.'

She ground her teeth.

'You would, if you were married to you!'

The laughter made us warmer and I started to make her some hot chai, but she was excited and told me that one of the ancients' wheeled machines was rising slowly out of the icefield, one hour's walk north of us. This often happens because the ice drags them off the land and they resurface near to us, pushed up by rocks just below the surface. We have salvaged much metal this way.

She had found a small booklet inside the machine and had stuffed it into her ice boots. I helped her to remove them. The booklet was in the ancient script that we don't read well, and covered in ice, but it had survived inside a box, she said. She indicated a picture, looking closely at my face for my reaction. It showed  a coast like the one we could see to the east, but it was green and covered in plants like those I once saw growing in Arnakuagsak's greenhouse, and a dome stood there among some other buildings. What shocked me was that the dome looked very familiar.

'That looks like the lighthouse!'
I said, looking at Aulanerk's excited face.
'I'm glad you think so too', she replied in wonder.

The lighthouse is a dome on the coast two miles east of our igloo. We call it this because for miles around people can see it shining pale orange in the east, reflecting the evening sun. It is a comforting sight and we often use it to find our way home over the featureless ice field after the day's hunting, but we are forbidden by old Arnakuagsak to go near it, as, he says, it contains ancient poisons that kill slowly from the inside. Aulanerk took the picture off me.

'It's a picture from before the world was broken. Look, our icefield was open water!'
'The legends are true then, that the ancient world was warm?'
'We should show this to Arnakuagsak. He could interpret it.'
'There is smoke coming from those things near the lighthouse.'
'Maybe there was a fire in it that kept the world warm?'

Whether the ancients broke the world, or whether it broke itself, we are unlikely ever to know, but this Sunday evening as Nada directed we will extinguish our seal-oil lamp for awhile, to clean the air, huddle close for warmth (I do enjoy that) and recite the liturgy that he left us, so that the world may heal itself. There are signs that it will. My grandfather says that the water under the ice is warmer, and the ice is thinner than in his day. Oh. There were some letters next to the picture that I copy here:

'Sellafield reprocessing plant: built to survive an ice age.'

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Life's what you make of it.

I woke up trying to remember what I 'd been worrying about as I went to bed. That was it: at the bank that employed me, they’d asked me to ignore a budget entry and with the shining examples of Jean-Luc Picard & Richard Feynman in my head, I couldn’t do it, and when it came to it, resignation was a blessed relief. The discovery in the following weeks that no one else would employ me was less of a relief.

The doorbell rang and I crawled out of bed and stumbled over to the front door habitually kicking at last night’s beer cans, that, oddly, didn’t seem to exist anymore. The postman stood there bathed in the morning sunlight, smiling, like an advert.

'Good morning!' he said. His enthusiasm made my head hurt.
'Is it? Sorry, for me it's just an opportunity to realise that I'm unemployed and trapped alone in a world getting madder by the minute!'
'I'm here to deliver a gift.' he said.
'It must be a very small one' I replied looking around his person. 'So small, in fact, that I can't see it.'
'Actually it's so HUGE that you can't see it.'

He didn't look mad, more like a religious canvasser, with an air of 'God'll look after me, I'm all right Jack'.

'Look, sorry, I'm not in the mood for jokes.'
'No joke. I'm here to tell you that you are now in a better universe.'

He proudly indicated the early morning suburban road as if he’d just produced it from a hat.
I regarded him seriously.

'Very good. I suppose you want me to pay for it..?'

I paused, as I watched the symptoms of brain activity cross his face, then said

' which case I'll have to take the black and white version, I'm afraid.'

He seemed rather puzzled by this.

'It only comes in colour.'
'That's convenient isn't it? What's the cost then for living in a colour universe?'
'You work and die.'
'Oh. That seems a bit harsh.'
'It's balanced by the gift of life isn't it?'
'Depends how much you enjoy life I suppose.'
'Well, enjoy it then!' he said, a bit shortly.
'I will, thank you. Oh, do you want a biscuit before you head off back to the mental home?'
'You have a very dry sense of humour, sir. Enjoy your new universe!'

With that, he winked, turned on his heals and walked off down the pathway, which was flanked by spring crocuses. This surprised me, because I didn't remember having a pathway.

Hardly had I slammed the door furiously at his retreating back then there was a phone call. I picked up the receiver. Who could be calling at 9:40 in the morning?

'Er. Hello?'

There was an explosion of sound at the other end.

'Dinkins? Why are you not in your office? I came to see you. Are you ill?'
'I'm sorry, I think you have the wrong number.'
'You don't fool me Dinkins. This is the dean you're talking to!'
'Well, I'm very sorry your reverence, but you've got the wrong Dinkins! I have no job!'
'Don't tempt me get on down here prompt, we need to iron out this ExoMars proposal!'

The phone slammed down at the other end.

I was left in silence. I looked at the door and thought a thought that I was immediately ashamed of. What if this was a new universe? One in which I still had a job, and one that involved Mars in some way!? I immediately experienced a moment of self loathing. Only a delusional fool would entertain a thought like that, even for a moment. Painful thoughts were usually a cue for opening a can, or turning on the TV. It was too early for beer and so I turned on the box. It was the news. I girded myself for the onslaught of global madness.

'..the US President announced his new goals: reform of the banks, a tax-based healthcare system, reform of the UN, a Manhattan project for renewable energy, and Moon-settlement by 2025..’.

A long-idle emotion assailed me: hope. I quickly switched off the TV, grabbed my coat, and, using callback, I worked out where the Dean worked. Silly me! He wasn't one of the clergy. He, and I apparently, worked in Exeter University's physics department. I'd been there to study physics, but I'd spent too much time reading philosophy books so I had not done well enough to pursue a research career. I’d only been accepted by Van der Stolen's bank in London, but found this so mindless and amoral that I kept a moral lifeline of sci-fi books in my desk drawer and, as you know, eventually resigned.

I took the bus to the department with some trepidation. The bus driver, Frank, seemed unusually chirpy and was whistling a tune I didn't recognise. Apparently it was 'Western Spring' by Coldplay, but I'd never heard it, and it seemed far too upbeat for them.

At the physics department I asked for Dr Dinkins’ office. Amazingly there were two. In one there was a woman talking on the phone. She was attractive in a pale-skinned, scrubbed, English, kind of way. She motioned me in to sit opposite her, while she ended the phone call slowly, pulling the phone gradually away from her ear towards the cradle. She turned a 100-Watt smile on me.

'You're late in aren't you? I should have woken you.'
'Er…well…the dean phoned me.' I said.
'Jiggers! We were up late playing Divine Comedy weren't we?'
'Er. Were we?'
'You remember? You managed to get up to level 5.'
'Oh, yes. Sorry...I'm feeling a bit odd.'
'In what way?'
'I feel good. That's what's odd!'
'Well, that’s pretty standard for you I would say. Home at 5?'
'Sure, where do you live?'
'You feeling alright? We’ve been married for a year!'

I'd decided it was best to go with the flow. If I was actually going mad, which I'd decided was the best assumption, then I may as well just enjoy myself while I could. I said truthfully:

'I'd give you a lift to Ulan Bator on a lawnmower if you wanted.'

She smiled, and put her head to one side.

'How sweet.'

I smiled nervously back at this woman I was supposed to know intimately.

'Now, have some coffee! You seem unusually dopy this morning, and that's saying something! Then you’d better get to work on that Mars proposal, the Dean’s been around looking for you.'

After winking (everyone was winking at me today) she walked past me, and away down the corridor waggling her bum in a way calculated, iteratively by evolution, to attract my attention. To my surprise, for a brief moment, luminous writing appeared on her bottom as she walked, and I'm sure it said:

You performed a moral and selfless act in a universe at morality level 5.1, so we have moved you up to 5.2. Have some fun! :) God.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Physics from a ditch

We’re on an oil rig, symbol of the old paradigm, now helping in the new. Over the North Sea there is mist, long muscles of waves pass by 20 metres below us, visible through the grille. Sea spray is on the wind and the machine stands ready, a hulking immovable mass. A few other scientists and engineers are present, a few reporters, families, my wife and son. I say a few words, others too, and then somewhere far up beyond the sky a horizon opens up without fuss and the 2-tonne machine drifts lazily up towards it, as if it was a helium balloon. They cheer.. The smell of, is it ozone? Seaweed? No. Soil? Mud?..

I come to. I’m in a ditch, in the park, in the mud. Soaking wet and shivering. I’m not sure how I came to be here except I feel that the Earth is spinning and not just from the movement of the stars.

I say to myself, ‘If only Galileo could have had a beer, or ten, with the inquisition they might have believed that the Earth moves..’

I look up at the few stars visible through the clouds and wonder drunkenly if mankind will ever overcome its own self-destructiveness and get there. Someone is standing over me

‘Dad? Are you alright?’

‘Oh, fine…!’ I say, peering through a muddy covering. My son is standing there under an umbrella

‘Alright, no. I’ve lost my job and now Mum's thrown me out!’

‘She says to come back now, but why are you in a ditch, Dad?’

‘The best things grow from the mud..’ I say cryptically.

He helps me out and we sit on a park bench under the umbrella. I’m shivering but unwilling to go back to the house to face ‘practicality over big picture’ Mum.

‘Dad. Why did you get fired?’

I tell him the truth, as I always try to do

‘I published a paper proposing something that most people think is impossible. Lots of people told me off, and demanded that I resign.’

‘Is it your inertia machine again?’


‘It seems cool to me.’

Yeah, I don’t see why I have to end up in a ditch over it.’

‘Dad: why don’t we just go home and make one?’.

If we were as optimistic as children we’d be settling the Tau Ceti system by now. Mum is standing a little distance away, with mixed frustration and genuine concern. We all walk home again. The sky clears and the stars sit there, waiting, little lights of possibility in the darkness.

Monday, 11 May 2015

You can know too much

It was a sunny day in Hyde Park, too warm for comfort, and the place was deserted. The few who walked the dusty pathways did so purposefully and paid little attention to the man standing by the lake. Trainee detective Vir Godel stood looking at a small tree for a moment before he clicked on it. Data was instantly pushed into his mind till he knew all about it. It was an olive tree, and was well adapted to the semi-tropical climate of London in the year 2070. Vir then looked down at the dead man lying against the tree, and clicked on him. He had been Pol Nash, and had had a successful career as a hologram sculptor. Victor's goal was to determine how he had died.

Vir backed out of the link, and glanced sideways at a young woman, who was strolling efficiently across the dry, brown grass towards him. For a second, by sight, they liked each other, and smiled. His first impression was that she was beautiful, with butter-blonde hair that caught the early morning sun and a full shape. She also seemed sympathetic. Her first impression of him was that he was distinguished, stolidly handsome and smartly dressed, and therefore at least capable of tying a necktie. However, he clicked on her at about the same time that she clicked on him, and by the time they converged and shook hands they knew each other like siblings, and hated each other. She knew everything about him: his childhood, the way he had voted and his ruthlessness in achieving promotion. He knew her privileged background and her history of dating only men she could use.
'Hello. You're my forensic?' he said, unenthusiastically, shaking her hand.
'No, I've walked up to you for no reason at all' she said, sarcastically 'I'm Beka Brehr'.
'Hm' he said cautiously 'why don't you get down to the examination and then we can report to the chief?'

Ten minutes later, in response to their call, the head and upper torso of their line manager, Sergeant Avrandl, appeared before them, hovering over the grass, covered in soap: only an image in both their minds. He was really in Los Angeles, in the bath, and it was nearly his bedtime.
'Ah. The London case. Any thoughts so far?' he said grumpily.
Beka was ready with her analysis.
'Male caucasian. Died last night between 1 and 3am. One shot to the head. From my reading of early 21st Century novels it looks like what they called a suicide, but there haven't been any for 30 years!'
Vir was contemptuous.
'Killed himself? Impossible! It would be detected and stopped!'
The chief smiled from his bath
'Nevertheless, the fact exists: he is dead. It's your job to explain it, so I'd advise you not to limit yourselves to preconceptions Vir. Explore a bit - that's something that's died out in the last 30 years. Look for anomalies!'

Beka turned to Vir.
'So, you heard the man' she said, 'Nash dies on a Sunday by a lake in Hyde Park. Any thoughts?'
'He was a successful man, with a wife. He could have been killed by loners...'
'Almost all crimes of passion are committed by loners, because they are disconnected from the web. They can experience pure uncontrolled thought. We'll could to bring some in for questioning...'

Beka quickly completed a search of the victim's connection history.
'How odd! He disconnected a few hours before his death.'
'Good' said Vir happily 'That's an anomaly. Usually disconnection is detected within minutes, isn't it?'
'Yes' said Beka, 'and something is done to reconnect...are you listening?'
Vir was staring across the lake.
'There's someone watching us' said Vir suddenly.

As they gazed across the lake, through the air, shimmering in the heat haze, they could see an old mansion, with a red tiled roof. The walls were covered with Boston ivy, which was making an heroic effort to survive the changes in climate, and on the lawn, which sloped down to reeds at the water's edge, stood a tall dark-haired woman dressed in a long white robe, and a large white hat, an UV-shield. She looked like a statue of ice, watching. Within a few seconds, because of his recent training, Vir had accessed her mind's nexus and was looking out of the woman's eyes with her, looking at himself on the other side of the lake.
'I sense guilt and regret' he said 'and I'll have to have a word with my tailor...'

Then the woman must have noticed she had been invaded. She shook her head and changed the access permissions on her mind, and Vir was excluded from her thoughts.

'How interesting!', said Vir, 'She knew Nash, and certain periods of her memory time line have been read-protected.'
'Do they correspond to time periods when Nash was offline?'
'Indeed they do. I just checked.'

An hour or so later, the same woman opened her door to them. She had of course been expecting them, and they followed her into the lounge. From Vir's more academic point of view, the lounge was fitted with oak furniture and panels, and smelled of old books. From Beka's point of view, the room had the scent of lavender, the walls were covered in mirrors, and a chandelier hung from the ceiling. Rooms like this one, called 'ministers' were fashionable. Like a successful politician, ministers had the ability to appear as all things to all people.

The ice statue, called Mrs Chadwik, sat down on the oak (or covered-glass) sofa. Her dress was loose, gathered into folds, and appeared to be a silky navy blue to both Beka and Vi. They had already guessed this was deliberate. Almost all criminal suspects adopted blue clothing when they met detectives. Blue was supposedly the colour of honesty.
'Thanks for your time Mrs Chadwik.'
'It's quite all right. I can guess what this is all about.'
'Did you know a Mr Pol Nash?'
'Yes, I did.' Her throat caught half way through the last word, and she pulled her lips in and looked at them with sudden tears '...that is...we secretly met..'
'Do you mean, on online affair?'
'No, physically I mean, from time to time. My husband knew nothing. We were both passionately in love...Nash and I.'

'Love? Rather unusual these days, Ms Chadwik.' said Vir 'The web keeps us safely rational, so your talk of love puzzles me.'
'I'm aware it must sound odd to you,' she said between sobs, 'but I'm sure that he killed himself because I'd told him our liaison was over.'

Vir watched her bio-signs, over the web, for a hint of dishonesty, but she seemed to be in earnest. He sat back on the sofa.
'I've read, of course, about love and suicide in old novels, but...'
'No! You don't understand...' said Mrs Chadwik, as if she was trying to explain the colour blue to a blind man, which was not far from explaining deep emotions to an on-line, '...we were artists, you see? Pol and I were often off-line for our work. What seems complex when you demand rational reasons, is simple when you accept that emotional reasons can also play a part.
'You're saying that people think differently without the web?' said Vi.
'Feel differently. To understand Pol's motives for suicide you'd have to disconnect from the web, fall in love, and be coldly rejected.' here tears rolled down her face 'I killed him, indirectly, you see...but I couldn't help it. I love my husband too. I had to stop it for his sake.'

They were unsure how to deal with all the emotion pouring out of Mrs Chadwick, but very soon the web reassured her, and the emotion began to drain out of her again. Beka re-accessed Nash's connection record and said to Vir.
'We should have checked further back...his connection was intermittent.'
Mrs Chadwik had recovered:
'The authorities allow us artists a bit of leeway. We can disconnect for short times, and nothing is done. If you don't believe me, search the web using: +"artists" + behaviour".'

Vir scanned the web for information, and found this: Artists depict real or imagined objects without any extraneous information about what the objects are. Opinion is divided about why this is, perhaps the raw beauty that they like is lost somehow with information. As a result, our society, where all real things are hyper-linked to information, is anathema to them, and they disconnect from the web-loop as often as they can.
Beka had also been searching. 'Shocking isn't it?' she said, 'Oh, and our line manager, Avrandl, has just told me, and suggested that you should try going offline.'
'Why me?'
'Because you're a man, like Nash. Haven't you ever heard of role playing?'

Later in the afternoon they were back in Hyde Park, and Vi had been persuaded to become an off-liner. However, excuses were still running around in his head and occasionally escaping through his mouth
'I've never been offline before. I've heard stories about people who disconnect. They can go crazy. One man in the US jumped of a skyscraper, because he thought he could fly'.

'You'll be safe as houses' said Avrandl, who's shaving image was floating under a palm tree. 'Ms Spink will look after you. Now remember', he said, 'when you're disconnected, we can't chat, so we've given you a mobile. We'll talk through that...'
Then Avrandl dissapeared, and his voice emanated from the phone instead.
'You're off-line. Now see if you can understand this for us from Nash's point of view.'

Vir tried mentally clicking on a gravitic elevator he could see rising from Battersea space-port, but instead of a list of passengers and its destination, no information was forthcoming. 'Ha' he thought to himself 'being disconnected is like being drunk. I can't click on anything, and I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to do next, because nothing is reminding me about my to-do list.' That was the horrifying thing. He could do anything! Irrational and dangerous possibilities appeared in his mind, and scared him.

He looked over at Beka, who was sat on a park bench, watching him carefully.
'How beautiful', he thought.
Immediately there was an upwelling in his mind of the information that he had learned about Beka from the web earlier that day, but somehow the facts were now woolly and half-forgotten.
'My God!' he said as Beka's curves nullified his mind and the world grew misty around him.
'So,' she said crossing her arms, 'Have you now become an artist like Pol?'
'Perhaps. Strange! I can't remember why I disliked you before...'

He sat down next to her, as she gazed in some surprise at him, and played with her hair, finally he kissed her on the cheek, breathing in her fragrance. Abruptly, she stood up, 'Have you gone mad? You think it's likely I'd go with an idiot like you?'

A feeling welled up inside him that he had never known before. Indescribable pain! His heart was bursting, because the thing he adored most was rejecting him. It was unbearable. I must escape from myself... escape from yourself?... how do you do that? He stared now at the sunset, and gasped at the shocking beauty of it. The world was bleeding itself, in pain, up into the sky.

Then, mercifully, he was reconnected. Avrandl appeared, now washing his face. The web again explained to him that the sunset that he had thought miraculous, was simply caused by a preferential scattering by the air of blue light from the sun, which left only the red light to pass through directly to his eyes, and that he saw Beka as beautiful only because he had been designed by natural selection to be that way.

The image of Avrandl appeared under the tree again, He finished washing his face, turned towards them and put his hands behind his ears, listening for Vir's verdict on the dead man. Beka sat down again on the bench to listen.
'Nash killed himself, because of regret over loosing Mrs Chadwik,' said Vir.
'How stupid' said Beka, flippantly 'to be dead for such a silly thing.'
'To be dead, yes,' mused Vir. 'but it seems to me he was the only one of us truly alive...'


Monday, 27 April 2015

Hyperlink Reality

It was just after a work-lunch and I was moving icons around my iMac in a daze when my mouse cursor moved right out of the boundary of the display and came to rest floating in mid-air! I glanced at the plastic bottle on my desk that I used to add vodka to my coffees. An involuntary flick of the wrist and lo! I had clicked with the cursor on the bottle. A wikipedia page titled 'Plastic bottle containing vodka' appeared and informed me that, amongst other things, vodka means little-water in Russian, also due to blow moulding the bottle was capable of withstanding up to four atmospheres of pressure and therefore could be used for making water rockets, and that the owner of the bottle was advised to consult alcoholics anonymous.

This was all rather unnerving, so I looked around for a another object to investigate and there, sitting adjacent, was Max Gutz, a fellow so morose that it was a year before we realised he was an American. We sometimes called him MiseryGutz. When I clicked on him, the article that appeared stated that Max had been born on a motorway in Idaho, and, due to his Bohemian childhood he had developed few inhibitions with regard to the opposite sex. He had two illegitimate children, and had left several very angry women behind him in the US. One of his lovers had hated him so much that she had arranged to visit him for his 40th birthday, and at the appointed time had crashed his vintage German sesquiplane Albatross into his home. Of course, he hadn't been there, having decided to visit another woman instead. After that, he had stayed celibate for a while, and had become obsessed with collecting the cutlery of the Nazi high command, but after having met a nice Japanese woman called Suzuko, he had moved to the UK to start a new life, and had sold all of Hermann Goering's cutlery to care for their son, who had advanced leukemia. I looked at him in some awe. How could such a catalogue of extremes apply to such a flaccid gumbo?

I could see my own reflection, my mouth wide open in amazement, in a dark area of the screen and couldn't resist clicking on myself. I thought I'd be as exciting, in my own way, as Max, but my bio was such a shock that I held my breath. It said I had talent, but had been a failure because I did not have the confidence to drive for what I wanted. I was now using alcohol to dull my brain and avoid being reminded of the opportunities I'd passed up. Alcoholism was destroying what was left of my career and health: I was apparently infertile and showed the early signs of cirrhosis of the liver. There was even an Appendix with a helpful list of all the failures I'd deliberately forgotten.

Apparently, I then made a peculiar gurgling sound, and fell unconscious off my chair. When I finally came to, I was in a side office and Max was sitting with me, reading a linux manual.
"My God, Max!" I said "Tell me you weren't born on a motorway!"
A puzzled Max quietly said: "I wasn't..".
I was convulsed with relieved laughter, until he added:
"..I was born on a freeway."

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Room with a Tap

I wrote this short story in 2005, and uploaded it to the website: h2g2

A Room with a Tap

I sensed the change to fuzzy time. As I gazed at my hand it blurred and elongated towards the direction I would move it and in the direction it had come. My senses expanded from being localised to one instant to being spread out over time. At first I was horrified since I was used to processing data at one time only, and I could not tell what was before and what was after. Things in my time-window were meshed together as a colourful noisy nightmare and I descended into confusion. As I tried to bring order, patterns began to emerge. I was in a hospital where buxom nurses spooned medicine out of my mouth. As my neurons re-arranged and my skills grew I learned to filter-in only the data relating to a single time, say the present, or a time two seconds in the future. I also rediscovered the correct direction of time, and the patterns made sense again.

Eventually I was released from the hospital and I went home to my beloved wife and work. I found that I could reply to the questions of my wife and colleagues before they had asked them, which, oddly, roused the suspicions of my wife, but gave me a tremendous reputation at work. I found myself at the talking end of a lot of one sided conversations, since I tended to fire answers at approaching people who hadn't even asked their question yet. This disturbed and impressed them hugely, but it always bothered me that I could only see a few minutes into the future at most. Then I realised that the future I was seeing was constantly being negated because I was acting upon it before it happened. As I looked further and further ahead my future-sight couldn't keep up with the changes in all the possible futures which diverged like spaghetti so all I could see was a distant tangled mess of superimposed possibilities. Damn: bets on the horses were out.       

However, gambling with foresight was unnecessary, since over a couple of months my amazed colleagues propelled me to the top of my company, I started a religion and my salary increased four fold, but I became so bored with knowing what would happen two minutes before it did, that I took to staring at myself in the mirror, jiggling my head desperately trying to out-guess my future-sight. Then one day I turned on the cold water tap and, for once, looked at the water. I was amazed at the turbulent flow that erupted from it. It was like seeing a coloured flower in a black and white world, because I couldn't forsee it at all! To the dismay of my wife I spent the next few days marvelling at the arrogant freedom of turbulent water. Eventually, the nice men at the hospital gave me a room with a tap.