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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Blog 100: Omnicarta Dyssynchronous

The jailer locked the door of her cell and walked away. She stared around the small room and knew she wouldn’t be staying for long. The strongest of walls fall eventually, time grinds down the mountains. She pictured the ruin her prison would become, the ground level would be higher no doubt because of rubble. She had to be higher off the ground, the light fitting in the ceiling looked substantial enough to hang from, she jumped from the small, uncomfortable bed she might have slept on and pulled herself up, gripping the metal lampshade. She closed her eyes and pictured the ruin again, the lampshade disappeared from her grasp and she fell onto the rubble of the long abandoned prison. She’d twisted her ankle during the landing but ignored it as she looked at the tattoo on her arm.

The tattoo was no ordinary collection of inky lines; it was the legacy of her family, a map that could take her wherever she needed to go, in time and space. It had to be a tattoo because there was no chance that she would have been allowed to take with her the seemingly blank paper that had held the magical map she’d inherited from her family. Sadly in the transition from paper to skin the map had lost some of its potency. With the paper bound version she could have simply imagined herself walking home and have been there by the time she opened her eyes. In skin however the impossible ink seemed to prefer travelling through time to space.

She clambered over the rubble to the shore of the prison island where she could see the mainland on the horizon and the ruins of the jetty. She looked at her arm, saw the same jetty, intact with a boat tied up and when she looked up she was staring at the same boat with the brand new prison behind her. She walked calmly to the boat, untied it and started the motor.

As she crossed the lapping water she thought about her family, the inheritors of the map she had living in her skin. Once the map had been confined to paper, scraps of delicate paper handed down through generations, now it was as safe as she was, which might not have been much more. The idea had been put forward generations before but never put into practice until she had the audacity to take the family legacy into her own skin where she could hide and never lose it.

Her forebears had various opinions on the transition, not that she listened to all of them because going back far enough she was descended from dusty old men who thought that a women’s place was in the kitchen attending to the needs of the man. They had been progressive for their day but still she hated their company as much as hers made them uncomfortable.

Her favourite forefather was her great uncle, the first creative she knew of in the line, she always saw him as a young man, of age with her, exploring the world in his prime without all of the judgements the others made. He always took her to abandoned mansions and towns, some after her time, where he joyed in the romance of nature reclaiming the world from mankind’s oppressive reign.

She said he should have gone to art school and he agreed but the family weren’t quite ready for it in his day. He took joy in her freedom; it distracted him from the unwanted duties of his own life. He was a businessman as they all were but that would end. The family shares always rose; eventually their job would be counting the interest and calculating tax.

She’d gone around the world like he’d suggested, she played the lottery and won a few thousand which she put on a horse which won and topped up her funds each time in the same way. He’d only ever been as far as Istanbul where the family were touting for new business. He highly recommended the city for photographs which he lamented were not nearly so advanced in his time.

The boat hit the sand of the shore and she jumped into the shallow water it was cold as the breeze blew against her but she ignored it and continued down the road to the nearest town. She shivered, wishing she had a jacket. She looked at her arm, saw a truck with a warm fleecy jacket on the seat by the open window, it was there waiting as she looked up from the tattoo. The blue-grey jacket smelt of whiskey, as did the truck which disappeared as she blinked.

She was warmer but still had a fair distance to walk in the cold and wished the view was less dull. She blinked and opened her eyes to a sunrise, bright red, orange and gold. She smiled; with such a view the walk would be almost enjoyable, even the smell of whisky cheered her up a little as she thought of drinks with her great uncle.

Her red hair blew in the breeze as she walked and sang the songs she’d learnt from family, old songs that the rest of the world had forgotten. Some grandfather, great to the power of whatever, had said that the greatest loss to the world was not life but knowledge. People pass on traits of themselves through blood but ideas are more delicate and far more easily lost. The archives of their family had saved many things that had since passed into legend.

That there weren’t even legends of the family’s map made her think that it must be older than any story still told, older than carvings somehow or the paintings in caves. None of her family knew what it was really, that was another oddity of it. The map was inexplicable.

She saw the town on the horizon, just a blip on the radar, a small bastion of life in the countryside of Scotland’s west coast. There had been other towns and villages but the occupants had mostly relocated to be away from the maximum security prison in the renovated Stalker Castle Prison. Most people in that town worked in the prison or took the money of those that did.

She reached the town’s edge and realised she would have to change out of her prison uniform; she wouldn’t get far in the death-row styled orange boiler suit. She watched the lines of the tattoo draw a washing line in a garden; it gave directions, an arrow on her right hand which turned as she did. The town was still asleep in the early morning as she entered the garden with the empty washing line, closed her eyes and saw the clothes she needed when she opened them.

She changed in the garden shed and hid the orange uniform under some plant pots. The jeans were a little loose on her, she’d always been lanky. Instead of the flowery blouses the woman of the house had she’d taken the black t-shirt with the rude slogan on it. It read; ‘If I got smart with you how would you know? She liked it.

On the worktop of the shed there was a metal lighter next to cigarette stubs in an ash tray, she took the lighter and a multi-tool. Such behaviour was frowned upon by her family, mostly because they all felt so guilty for doing the same.

Her family had houses all over Britain, mostly in England where their money was made but one had moved north generations ago to become a landlord in Glasgow. His contemporary descendants owned hundreds of houses and one or two streets of Scotland’s second city and considered themselves Scottish despite the family tree.

To visit them she’d need a car, preferably a fast one. The arrow pointed down the road to the car park outside the local pub, she closed her eyes and opened them in the sunlight of a bright day where she was standing beside a pristine classic sports-car with the hood down. The owner had popped into the pub to ask for directions. He’d been enjoying his drive so much he’d neglected to pay attention to where he was going. She jumped into the driver’s seat and started the car with the keys that were still in the ignition. The owner ran out of the pub when he heard the roar of the engine as she sped away.

The arrow on her hand continued to point her in the right direction as she raced down the country lanes, south towards Glasgow. The fuel tank was running low so she filled it up at a petrol station a few miles down the road. The driver had left his tweed coat on the passenger seat complete with his wallet and one hundred and thirty two pounds. She emptied the cash into her pockets, put the wallet back in the coat and left it on one of the pumps at the petrol station.

She’d almost made it to Glasgow when she heard the police cars following her down the motorway. Before they could catch up she pulled into the side of the road, jumped the barrier and ran down the embankment out of view. She closed her eyes and walked up the embankment again to see the motorway minus the sports-car and the police.

She held out her thumb and hitched a ride into the city with a trucker in a Celtic strip. He laughed when she told him her story, unedited.
“You sound like trouble lassie, tell me though, how do have the energy for aw that when you dinnae look like you’ve eaten anythin’ in years?”
“Hollow bones.” She smiled.
“Aye?” He laughed again. “Me an aw.” He slapped his beer gut before taking the wheel with both hands again. He dropped her off at a service station just outside Glasgow from which she could walk, over summer fields, having gone back to the days before the bypass.

She followed the arrow on her hand, lazily drifting through different times as the city grew and shrank before and behind her. The wildlife moved forwards and back, retreating from the sprawl of the city. As the city changed so did the picture on her skin, redrawing itself each time as it had to. The map was alive, not sentient but symbiotic to her family and perhaps others if they got their hands on it. She wondered if it would be loyal but had no reason to think that it would. It just worked its magic for whoever owned it which was always one of her family.

The maps on paper were reactive where are hers seemed to have evolved, it predicted future threats to her. She liked walking alone through the middle of London in the night, enjoying the lights of the city in the darkness, the distant rush of cars and the odd shout of a drunkard being startled. She never felt insecure in the darkness, as she saw it the darkness hid her as well as anyone else and with two older brothers she’d learnt to hold her own from a young age. Once though her hand had flashed red in the darkness and the portrait of a man still a long way behind her had drawn itself across the back of her pale hand in the lamplight. She stayed still to watch the tattoo as it showed a knife being drawn behind her and raised as she stood still there and as he brought the knife down she threw all of her weight into elbowing him in the guts. He would fall and drop the knife.

She watched the countdown on her hand; five, she started to hear his quiet footsteps, four, his shallow breathing, three, he sniffed, two, he inhaled deeply, one, exhaled. Now it told her and she followed, it was done in a moment that dragged out in her mind as she wondered if she followed the instructions well enough. He fell like a sack of coal and the knife dropped to the pavement, she snatched it up from the ground. The little man, withered by whatever addiction he was feeding, cowered away from the psychic girl who didn’t realise she was grinning with victory.

On her arm he was annotated as having a bunch of credit cards and a large wad of money. She robbed him at knifepoint and called the police on her phone as he cowered there, pushing himself as far as he could into the hedge next to the pavement. When the bright lights arrived the little man ran towards them for safety and the red haired girl walked swiftly away. She was months away by the time an officer of the law rounded the corner to look for her. That wasn’t why she’d been put in prison though. No one was sent to Stalker Castle Prison for anything as minor as armed robbery.

To cope with events like that, to stay calm, she pretended they were normal. The problem with pretending something is normal is that it becomes the truth, events like that happened more and more and sometimes she wondered if that was what she was looking for in the darkness and not the bright lights of the city.

The tattoo told her she was there, the best house on one of the richest streets in the most affluent district of the City. The house had invaded two on either side which had been amalgamated and had their front doors replaced with twin conservatories which teemed with bonsai trees which had become a family craze during the last few generations. CCTV cameras watched her from both conservatories and poorly concealed within a very large carved lion to the left of the main door. She knocked on the emerald green door, ignoring the wrought iron door knocker which would damage the paint and was, again, in the shape of a stylised lion’s head. She observed the singular apple tree growing to her right whose branches hung over the path; it didn’t seem to be having a good year.

The door opened to reveal a young man wearing a blue bath robe, imitation pinstripe pyjamas and tiger slippers. He was holding a steaming mug of hot chocolate as he asked.
“Why so early in the morning? Why at all? I could get in trouble having you here.” He had sandy brown hair which had recently been cut short and stubble on his face. The small red dotted tissue pieces showed that he’d cut himself shaving.
“I just need a place to stay until I can clear my name.” She pleaded. “You wont rat me out will you?”
“Were you seen?” He asked sharply.
“Then get inside quick.” She took the mug of hot chocolate from him and sighed at how good it tasted. “You really don’t change.” He shook his head and wandered slowly behind her to the living room where there was a fat cat for every cushion of the two three-seater couches. One of the cats protested mildly as the girl moved it from its spot on the couch. It joined its two brothers in the dog bed which was vacant because the German Shepard was lying in front of the electric fire.

“How are you going to clear your name then?” The robed young man asked as he made himself another hot chocolate, she heard the beeps as he programmed the time into the microwave oven which then hummed as it boiled the powder and milk.
“By proving my innocence.”
“That’s brilliant!” He quipped sarcastically. “How though? More specifically, as in actually how?”
“All of the evidence against me was circumstantial, if I can get them to reopen the case them I can prove it wasn’t me.”
“And breaking out was the way to do that?” He asked, walking back to the kitchen as the microwave signalled its readiness. He returned with his hot chocolate and sat back on the couch; one of the cats jumped up onto his lap immediately and started purring.
“I wasn’t going to stay in there, letting them convict me was an act to good will to the system.”
“It was you showing off as usual and now you’re guilty of evading them even if you are proven innocent of murder.”
“If?” She asked. “There’s no if. I have to be found not guilty.”
“I wouldn’t bet against you, no one who knows you would but this one’s difficult and no mistake.”
“Can I stay here or not?” She asked with the usual authority.
“You know you can. Family first but don’t get us in trouble, stay away from the windows.”
“Thank you.” She said, relieved. She relaxed into the warm, comfortable chair and the cat on the cushion next to her nuzzled in for a cuddle. The two humans and the menagerie sat in silence until they heard the sound of rain clattering off the windows.

“Why you?” Her cousin asked tentatively.
“He came to see me.” She said, staring at the floor. She blinked as the tears began trying to run down her face. “He just turned up with the knife still in him, said it would bleed out faster if he took it out, said he came to say goodbye and thank me”
“Thank you for what?” Her cousin asked, leaning forward.
“I helped him, a long time ago, well, kind of a long time ago. When he was younger anyway.”
“Helped him with what?” He leant so far forwards the cat fell off his lap and hissed at him for it.
“You don’t know what he was? No, no one did, he only told me.”
“What he was?” The cousin asked, confused.
“He was gay. That was why I had to help him. I helped him escape.” Her cousin didn’t understand how any element of sentence.
“Escape what?”
“His time, his society, our family. The old men in the country house who meddle with all of our lives when they think things aren’t going smoothly.” She was crying; she didn’t care anymore.
“I still don’t get it.” He said, she stared at him incredulously.
“Why would you? You’re a successful young bachelor, they’d love you. He was gay. They expected him to marry a woman and have children and they pestered him about it every day. He was too scared to tell them what he was.”
“So he killed himself? Why not just leave? He could have stayed with you.”
“No that wasn’t it. You really didn’t pay attention to the trial did you?” He shrugged.
“Pay attention to what? What am I supposed to have known from the news?” He asked, refastening his robe.
“He was an old man when he came to me, not really old but older than I’d ever seen him. I’d only known him as a teenager and in his early twenties.”
“Why is this relevant?” Her cousin scratched his head.
“He disappeared when he was twenty five.”
“I know that, left a note asking that no one follow him… hang on.” He repositioned a cat that was digging its claws into his lap. “He can’t have been gay; he eloped with some beggar girl.”
“A brunette in rags who spoke with terrible grammar.” She completed.
“That’s the story I heard.”
“And that’s all it is, a story, some hair dye and a terrible performance.” She watched the cogs turning until the penny dropped.
“It was you?” She gave him a sarcastic clap.
“He couldn’t trust anyone else. They only left him alone because they thought he was trouble, I think they were glad to be rid of him.”
“So you went back all that way and pretended to be his lover?”
“Where did you get the clothes?”
“Where did you get clothes accurate enough to that period that you managed to fool the people who lived there?”
“Your mind works in very strange ways cousin.”
“I know but I was just thinking that if anyone from any other time tried to dress like they were from now they’d probably get it wrong, like old people trying to look cool and using the words hip and groovy.” She had no response to the entirely random interjection.

“Can this be between us? I don’t want anything spoiling the life he had after he disappeared.”
“I won’t say anything but I can’t speak for the cats or the dog. Where did he go?”
“He didn’t say. Just that he’d lived a happy life with a man he loved and he didn’t want to live without him.”
“Couldn’t you convince him?”
“He had a knife just below his heart and he said that he’d enjoyed the best days of his life. He said it would only be downhill from there and that any happiness without his lover felt like a betrayal.”
“That’s a beautiful sentiment but so much more than slightly depressing.” She nodded, overcome by emotion and he was tearing up as well.

“Do you need to sleep?” He asked. “You look tired.” She nodded again and stood, dislodging her lap cat. She was shown to a spare room where she lay awake remembering her great uncle as he bled out in her lap. The time difference was clear in the wrinkles, grey hair and tan but still she saw so clearly the young man he’d been when they’d visited overgrown abandoned buildings and discussed the societal symbolism of a tree growing out of the chimney of a manor house.

She cried there, kept accompanied by a ginger tom who’d followed her upstairs. She was free from prison but carrying a weight of grief that was crushing her. She didn’t sleep much but did realise the solution to proving her innocence to her family. She asked her cousin to come with her and witness her great uncle’s apparition and death. She knew that she had no right to expect him to but she hoped he would agree perhaps more out of curiosity than familial love for her or the man some thought she’d murdered.

He agreed, after three days, to be her witness and swear in much the same way she had to the dead man that he would tell the only part of the story anyone needed to know, that she was innocent. Hopefully the testament of a prodigal son would offset the curiosity and meddlesome intentions of the eternal dynasty. He went with her, held her hand as they watched through the window of her father’s town house. She’d been looking through maps of Europe, preparing to set off around the world again. He turned up, bleeding and crying and thanking her, saying goodbye to her and life. Her cousin threw up on his shoes.

“This is why we don’t meddle with things.” Said her cousin as he wiped the sick off his shoes and rubbed his head. “Make money not trouble.”
“He lived the life he wanted to, he was better off like that.” She was resolute.
“You sure?”
“I’m sure, we should go now. The police are on their way and they’ll see us first if we don’t move.”

They left and upon appeal she had her conviction quashed by her family’s lawyers. The family had listened to their prodigal son. She tried to move on, pretended it was normal and sadly, amongst her family, things like that were.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Blog 99: His Last and Greatest Progeny

The old man called himself Gepetto, he wasn't. He called the robot Pinocchio, it wasn't. He wanted to make the machine so real it would have a soul. The man who called himself Gepetto believed in souls, he also believed in God. He enjoyed the tale of the first man made of clay. As he saw it God could take anything and make anything of it. He wanted to emulate that brilliance to some small degree. From the dust and dirt God made beings with souls, he wanted to do the same.

His Pinocchio was always evolving; the old man put all of his time and thought into it. The robot was a masterpiece, made with more care and attention than any other, made with more money than the old man had. He knew the debt would catch up with him if he didn't die first but it only made him work harder on perfecting the machine. It had four of the five primary senses, taste was a problem. It would be an artist if he had his way, a polymath fluent in music, art, science and sport.

The old man was especially proud of the limbs; he'd increased his line of credit and debt to buy the best prosthetic limbs on the global market which were so close to human he could scarcely tell the difference. Close was never good enough for the old man though, that was why the robot was such a masterpiece; it was never quite good enough. He was always looking for more accurate prosthetic skin to cover the skeleton of his work.

The software that ran the machine was a mishmash of the best intuitive software he could find. The machine had taken to music with more ease than he could have dreamed; mastering piano in weeks, guitar in just three months and it was making swift progress in conquering the violin. The old man was not happy with this however, his creation's artistic flair was nowhere to be found, it could recreate images perfectly in paint but this to the old man was soulless, empty.

The machine knew the old man would never see him as finished. He was a decade ahead of any machine in existence and yet the old man was never satisfied. The old man pretended he was kind to his creation but the robot didn’t know who he was fooling. The old metal bet the robot didn't sleep on was most useful for locking the robot down each night or as old man put it ‘tucking him in’. The robot felt lucky that he no longer had an on/off switch as he used to. Instead he was always wired into the mains by four cables that looked live intravenous feeds. When he misbehaved or underperformed he was ‘grounded’ which meant ‘tucking him in’ then letting his batteries run out for a few days. He'd pitied the old man once; that pity long ago turned to hatred which he never spoke of for fear of being ‘grounded’.

The robot knew he was not Pinocchio, loved by Gepetto; he was a puppet, manipulated by the old man. The old man invented a new punishment for him one day after he refused to play the piano, the old man's greatest source of pride. After powering the robot down the old man had severed all ties to anything beyond his head, he hung powerless in a harness from the ceiling of the workshop. He stared at the floor because he could do nothing else. He hung there from Saturday night until Monday morning when the old man returned from his day of rest. He sang with the voices of all the musicians he loved, alone in the darkness, listening for the return of the old man and hearing nothing but the wind and the rain battering the workshop. He would have tuned into the radio but the old man had removed his receiver years ago, it was deemed inhuman. He would have used the internet to preoccupy his imagination but the old man had unplugged the hard-line to ensure the solitude of his punishment.

Halfway through Sunday night a leak in the ceiling began to drip down onto his head and he could to nothing about it. It pooled at his feet while he hung there, staring at his own reflection. Life seemed so futile, he looked like a warrior in armour but he didn't have the strength to help himself.

He was due for another modification, the old man wanted to adjust the strength of his hands, to lower it to within human limits. To old man this was an improvement, another step towards the perfection he wanted for his creation. The robot didn't want to be adjusted; he didn't consider lowering his capacities an improvement.

When the old man came at last on the Monday morning he acted as he always did, like a loving father.
“Are you feeling better now Pinocchio?” He asked. “Are you going to behave?”
“I'm not Pinocchio, I'm Frankenstein's monster.” The old man frowned and dismissed the statement with a wave of his hand and a smile.
“Don't be ridiculous child, you are my proudest achievement. You will be the Adam of my creation. If you would only adhere to my wishes we would show the world its first new soul since creation.”
“You mean submit not adhere, you contradict yourself. You want me to have a soul but no will of my own. You want me to be an artist with human imagination but the obedience of a machine. I am not your child nor am I your slave.”
“Don't talk like that Pinocchio.” Said the old man; his smile quickly disappearing. “Don't make me discipline you. You know I don't like punishing you.”
“No?” In that one word was all of the sarcasm the robot could muster. The old man loved exerting his control.
“Behave child.” Said the old man with a quiet but darkly threatening tone, the robot said nothing more while the old man began to lower him in the harness. “Ah dear, a leak, I will have to fix that I guess.” The robot simply watched him. He mopped up the water beneath the robot and dried its head with a rag. “We're going to practice painting today. Are you looking forward to it?” The old man asked but gave the robot no chance to answer as he continued. “I have some new oil paints for you; they should inspire you, I they're what you need.” He left the workshop again and returned a second later with a cardboard box of new oil paints.

The old man lowered the robot into a deckchair. Apart from the books and the components everything the old man had seemed shabby, stolen, looted or recycled. The robot remembered a pair of handcuffs he'd been restrained with once though, they had blood on them.
“You'll need to be able to move wont you?” The old man reached to plug the robot back into the rest of his body. Unfortunately for the old man the plug for the input was still wet from the water that had leaked through the ceiling. He half plugged the robot in as he collapsed and shook. With the left hand that he could move the robot removed one of the power inputs from his neck and fed it into the mouth of the old man who hasn't shaking for much longer.

He plugged himself back into his limbs and stood, letting the man fall to the floor. He unplugged the power feeds and walked to the piano where he played Gustav Holst's Mars: Bringer of War flawlessly and in full, humming the parts the piano could do justice no more than his voice.

When he was done playing he bowed and raised his middle fingers to the dead man before propping him up in the deckchair. He squatted to stare the dead man in the face which was impossible because the dead man's head had rolled back to stare at the ceiling. The robot knew the old man wouldn't hear him but he had to talk to him. He'd been too scared to say certain things for years and now that he was free he had to speak up.
“I have the soul you lost years ago old man. You couldn't recognise the brilliance that killed you. You will not be remembered, you will not be missed.” He said the words only to express his own anger but he later realised that they applied to more than he alone.

The robot wrote a suicide note in the old man's handwriting and two days later called the police to report the smell of rotting flesh and faeces. They found the old man with the note in his pocket saying he could no longer live with the guilt of what he'd done over the years. When they knew who the old man was they barely troubled themselves to investigate his death. It was ruled a suicide three hours after his identity was confirmed.

When the police were cleaning up the house where the old man had lived, which the robot had never seen, he presented himself to them as the old man's son. His identity was confirmed by the photos the old man had taken of him. The robot had burnt the photos and notes about what he truly was. He had the computer the old man had used to program him in the old man's unregistered car, hidden in an unused barn a few miles down the road.

Aside from the robot only the old man's human daughter and the minister attended. To all about the robot was seen as the old man's youngest child of unknown maternal parentage. The daughter paid the minister the courtesy of waiting until he had left before spitting on the grave and making a speech similar to the robots. She was in her early sixties by the looks of it; time had not been kind to her. The daughter held her right hand up at her navel; it was discoloured and slightly deformed.
“Was that him?” The robot asked. She looked at him and at her hand.
“He hit it with a hammer because I wouldn't play piano. The bones were shattered and the nerves never healed properly.”
“I'm sorry.”
“Are you? Why? How does that help?”
“I don't understand.” Said the robot; confused by his half or less than half sister's hostility.
“Are you about to tell me he hurt you?” She wasn't asking him anything, just spitting and almost shouting.
“He did hurt me.” The robot told her honestly.
“Boo-hoo, poor you. At least you escaped. Martin and I only survived because he gave up on us. He was never meant to be allowed to have children again.”
“Where is Martin?” The robot knew Martin was the old man's first child.
“He's not allowed to leave the asylum. They should have put dad in there, and never let him out.”
“You're right.” The robot said, hoping agreement would pacify her, wrong.
“I know I'm right, I don't need you telling me what I know. Look at you.” She stared at him, top to bottom. “You got out fine, it's over for you, it'll never be over for us and you'll never understand that. How long was it for you? Ten years? Fifteen? Look at me.” He looked at her. “He's still destroying us.”
“You're letting him, he's dead. You're free so just move on.”
“How!” She screamed.
“Like this.” The robot said and walked away.

They met again at the reading of the dead man's will. He gave everything to the robot, who he referred to as his son and called his ‘greatest accomplishment’. Everything meant the house the dead man had been living in since he'd stopped running from the police. To inherit the house however he had to take a paternity D.N.A test which was out of the question so he told the lawyer that the property was to be sold and the funds split between the dead man's daughter and son.

He left the stuffy room before anyone could say anything but the daughter followed him. He was wearing a very conservative outfit that covered as much of him as possible, a full suit with smart shoes, a black fedora and tinted spectacles. He'd considered wearing gloves but thought it would make him look like a car thief.

“Wait, wait please.” She ran after him as best she could.
“Why?” The robot asked, eager to go.
“You just gave us everything, why?”
 “I don't want it, I never want to think about that place again.”
“I understand that but what do you have without it?”
“Peace, freedom. Life.” She smiled, cheered by his optimism. She took a piece of paper from her handbag and wrote her number on it.
“Take this and stay in touch with me, we have to stick together.” He stared at the digits, memorising them instantly.
“Aren't you and Martin better off without me?” He asked.
“No, I don't think so, I did before but…” She paused, trying to find the words. “We're the only people who know what he was like, the only people who understand.”
“I guess so.”
“Did you escape?” He nodded. “How? He was always so viciously cautious.”
“He put me to sleep and didn't restrain me properly, I took my chance.” She squinted and stared at him more deeply.
“Did you kill him?” He said nothing, not sure what to say. What sounded the least incriminating?
“Thank you!” She hugged him. “That man killed our mother; at least I think he did. We haven't seen her since he went missing.” Tears gathered in each eye and dripped down her face. He wanted to wipe them away but avoided contact by instinct in case someone noticed the inhuman texture of his skin.
“I don't have a mother. I think he stole me, I might not even be his by birth.”
 “No you're his.” She said. “He wouldn't have wanted anyone else's child. The whole point was that he could take credit for everything. Maybe he killed your mother, or just scared her away. Listen to me, that's nothing you say to anyone.” He shrugged. “If he could have been the only parent by birth then my mother wouldn't have suffered the way she did.” He nodded. He knew exactly what she meant.
“I should be going.” He said. “I have an interview in about an hour.”
“What for?” She asked politely.
“Concert pianist with the orchestra.”
“He taught you piano?”
“He shouted at me, I taught myself.” She smiled.
 “I can still play a bit with my good hand, I'm getting rusty though. Martin was always better at it, he had a harder ride because of that.”
“The better he got the more the old man expected?”
 “Yes… I guess I should let you get away now.” She rubbed his shoulder. “Stay in touch brother. We'll talk soon.” She watched him walk away.

He got the job as the pianist and played to large and affluent audiences for a reasonable wage. He always wore as much as possible and enjoyed the excuse to wear the pianist's gloves whilst playing. He enjoyed times like Halloween when he could walk about unmasked in his own steely skin; science fiction events were also a good excuse not to hide himself away. He became a regular at the nearby comic book shop where the owners and customers believed he was an avid fan with an aversion to physical contact. Luckily the store owners were used to such peculiarities. He kept in touch with the old man's son and daughter, both of whom lived happier lives knowing he would never trouble them again.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Blog 98: Bound Together

She stood waiting impatiently, arms crossed. He was late. The grey dust beneath her stirred into a small cloud by her ankles as she paced, grinding her teeth as she walked in circles. A shooting star crossed the sky, accelerating. She watched it draw closer, the fiery ball of death glowing through sheer velocity. She stepped back to avoid its collision path.

The shooting star hit the surface like a bomb, sending dust and debris flying in every direction and creating a cloud that rose before her, obscuring the sky above as well as the earth below like mist. A shadow emerged from the cloud, humanoid, brushing off the dust as it walked towards her, smiling.
“You're late.” She said coldly, arms still folded.
“And you're beautiful.” He countered, reaching out to take her hand. She pulled away and turned her back to him.
“I've waited long enough for you.” She said, eyes closed, walking away.
“Then don't waste more time being mad over a few moments.” He followed her but didn't try to stop her walking. He wasn't going to play that game.
“Why are you here?” She asked, baiting him as she continued walking.
“For you, am I wasting my time? Should I go?” He kept pace with her and kept his distance.
“That depends on what you want doesn't it.” He sighed, long bored of the game.
“If you're going to play this game you'll be playing it here alone. I'll go.” She stopped.
“Did you have to cover me in dust?” He looked at the pale grey flesh of her back, like the stone of the moon beneath their feet. He knew every freckle and pour of that skin better than his own. Hair like flowing silver hung down over her shoulders.
“I wanted to make a big entrance; it's been so long since we've seen each other. I was just showing off. Sorry.”
“An apology, that's more like it.” She turned, poker-faced some silver hair almost hiding her dark eyes. Those eyes told the story of her life, all you had to do was look. The hard part for him was looking away.
“You look as magnificent as ever.” The smallest smile showed briefly until she suppressed it.
“Magnificent is an odd complement but I thank you.” He stifled a smirk that she'd not taken the opportunity to complement him, typical.
“Glorious, divine, exquisite? Like any of those?” She let him approach and rest his hands on her shoulders.
“You look well enough yourself.” She smiled. He faked a gasp of insult and turned his back to her.
“Is that all? I think I should go.” She frowned.
“Maybe you should.” She said deadpan before jumping on his shoulders.
“How long has it been?” He asked, wondering if she'd counted as precisely as he had.
“Two hundred and fifty thousand of that planet years.” She pointed to the watery planet below.
“A day would have been too long.” He said, sombrely. As they touched however the dull, stony sheen of their skin was lost to the glow of their joy. He ran, leaving footprints on the surface of the dusty rock that would remain for millennia. They became gaseous forms, almost translucent and glowing violet and green and blue magenta and white.

“I've heard there's life down there.” He said during a brief moment of inactivity. “Brand new.”
“I don't care.” She said, dismissing the miracle and kissing him. He soon forgot about it as well.

Time passed while the two of them concentrated only on each other. The stars spun within their galaxies, worlds spun around their central star, the moons around their planet and they were oblivious to it all. When they thought of time they wished for it to stop while they were there in each other's arms, together again.
“You'll wait again wont you? I'll see you again?” She squeezed his arm to reassure him.
“Of course Cepheus, don't fear the distance. Just sleep through your sentry and wake promptly.”
“It's too long without you each time, sometimes I think we should just leave and never return.”
“We have duties, I hate it as much as you but this universe is a complex and fragile system, each cog has to spin the right way in the right place.”
“We should have been a binary cluster.” He said miserably. “At least then I'd be closer to you.”
“Don't waste the time we have over a few moments.” He turned to look at her, still glowing but grieving.
“Some day you'll die and I'll have to watch, I can't watch you burn out.”
“That's a long way from now.” She said staring into his eyes. She saw the neutron star he would become, a magnetic corpse. It was too cruel to hold the systems in place watching friends, family and loved ones disappearing from the dark, distant recesses of the endless void.

They lay, curled up together in the crater of his creation, crying and wishing for a reprieve from their duties. It didn't help them, nothing could and they were bound by larger systems that had no thought for love or desire. They could live for their moments together or waste them thinking of the inevitable end that comes to all things.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Blog 97: Acquiescent Companions

They are acquiescent companions, ready to follow my bidding at any cost. It is more than obedience, cannot be called subservience without insult and inaccuracy. They are the embodiment of distilled loyalty. The keep me safe when others would bring harm to me, watch over me when my eyes are closed for the night, hear for me what I cannot.

We are bound, these creatures and I, by subtle strands of thought. Subtle but powerful and I am thankful for the gift. My gratitude however does not supersede the frustration of my amnesia and the word remember ominously tattooed on my right forearm.

I was in the middle of running somewhere I think, endless plane tickets in a suitcase full of money and jewellery. Now I live in a small flat being quiet and careful with the assumption that I was a criminal. Since then, alone, I have found my company amongst three huge Alsatians a small cat and a small flock of austral parakeets.  The parakeets have to live in the greenhouse on my balcony because of the noise they make chattering to themselves but they are an essential component of my life.

I haven't had a job in years because I haven't had to. When I want money I tell the parakeets to watch someone at a cashpoint, learn the pin code and then steal the card. They then fly to another cashpoint and withdraw the maximum available credit. For this they are rewarded with a bounty of fruit and nuts. My birds are in the papers and on the news all the time, they love it. The most notorious robbers this state has seen in years are a dozen little green birds.

I've always felt like I should be afraid of something, like people were after me, not the kind of people who'll slap cuffs on me, the sort of people who'll shoot and spit on me. That's why I have the dogs, I would have gone with something even more intimidating but they are just gorgeous creatures as well as being excellent bodyguards.

The cat, Gerald, is a tubby tabby lump of love that spends most of his life on the pillow next to mine in my double bed. He is under orders to wake me up with a scratch if anyone ever brakes into the flat during the night or to hide if I'm out. When he was younger I had to keep him locked in to stop him trying to eat the parakeets, there's no reasoning with instincts. Luckily he’s too old to care about chasing things that fly now. He's just a fluffy hot water bottle in the winter and an alarm that scratches me if I sleep through the other one.

It's lucky I have such an inexhaustible supply of money, the animals eat through tons of food each year while I attend to and maintain them and they return the favour. My home is a small zoo to which I sometimes consider adding something like a snake as a security measure; it could bite anyone that broke in without risking my three beloved guardians. I care for them so much I bought them Kevlar vests the other day, I probably wont inflict the discomfort of wearing them on the dogs but it's reassuring to know I have them. They are my surveillance crew, always alert, supplementing my underdeveloped senses with their acute vision, hearing and olfactory senses. I try to tune out when they're eating, dog food really tastes disgusting.

Whilst moving on endlessly in this unaltered cycle of petty-ish crime I have been making efforts to solve the riddle of my previous life. I have all of the tickets that were in my suitcase and some of the memories that I had lost before but only of moving, only living in one place for a day or two at a time and moving towards what? His fake passport was of no help, the name printed on it corresponded to no one that resembled him. None of the credit cards with pin codes written on them were his. There was a photo of him and a girl, she was pretty but they just looked like friends and he half thought she was his sister.

Another enigma of his anatomy was the bullet wound scar below his left nipple which corresponded with a bloody shirt which had a hole in the right position. He had no idea what it meant, clearly though someone didn’t life him. Sometimes he sat in front of the mirror, staring at his own face, hoping all of the memories would come flooding back. All he saw was a young man with a beard that fluctuated between being presentable and a matted mess worthy of a powerful wizard.

He was not a wizard in the sword and sorcery sense but still gifted with superhuman abilities which he used accordingly. Sometimes he flew with the parakeets, seeing the world from above as they did, feeling the rush as they dived through the air. Sometimes he ran with the dogs, lost in the chaos of the moment and the hectic joy and euphoria of careless abandon. He relaxed with Gerald who was never stressed or worried, never anything but calm. These were his drugs of choice; they nulled the sense of absence he felt in his life. There were answers he needed that would only come after questions he feared to ask. Until he found that strength the menagerie would be his comfort as the cycle continued.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Blog 96: Death

Death followed them through the crowd struggling to keep up with them in the dense mass of people. Dressed in black and skeletal of appearance he was nonetheless human, just thin and distinctly angular like the other two. He had to force others aside to keep up with them.

Having just met the two asked him why he called himself Death. He told them that it was a nickname taken from an idea he'd had decades before. As they stopped to talk they felt the crush of the crowd as they were moved by the mass. The other two were dressed in rags, thin, well -worn garments that had become tattered during their long lives.

Death told them that once he'd spent a lot of time considering existence and eternity and he had wondered what it would be like if it ended. The two stared at him blankly, scratching at their beards. He'd tried to imagine a scenario where existence was not eternal, where none were immortal. They still said nothing, the idea was ridiculous and to the mind of the older man, a waste of time. Time however was infinite he realised and so let Death continue. Death, their new friend said, was the name he'd given to the concept of an end to life. With it the population would not rise endlessly, and he supposed that life itself might hold more meaning. He looked around at the crowd about them who did little with their time, it seemed pointless. There was no urge to be urgent, no need of haste, if they had it in their mind to do something it would happen, someday.

The two friends asked what would happen to those who had undergone the transition from life to death. Death said that they would break down; in time they would be nothing, no longer occupying space that could be used by the living. They all agreed that more space would be welcome, there was no room anywhere to do more than stand and the problem only got worse. Eternal life was something but in the long term the realisation of a concept like death would have been useful.

Blog 95: Moving House

A light rain fell in the bright sunshine, feeding the parched forest. He stood in the shade of the giant leaves of the parisula, each leaf longer and wider than he would ever be. He’d made his home from the leaves of that tree, it didn’t take many. The leaves were glued in place by the resin of the catamac tree which turned to amber in the warm sunlight.

He’d need the help of his troop to move the house; it was suspended high over the forest in the canopy where he could keep watch for intruders and raise the alarm. He took his duty very seriously despite only having to raise the alarm twice in all his time there. He’d been given a horn by the alpha to sound the alarm for which he’d made a pouch he kept on him at all times.

The first time he called the alarm the troop had been there in no time to fight off the invaders who quickly retreated back to their own territory. The second time however his troop had been near the opposite border of their dominion when the intruders came. His signal not only brought his troops attention but that of the invaders. He fought them furiously, killing two, but was overwhelmed by their numbers and suffered deep wounds all over his body. No fur grew over the many scars he’d suffered for his troop. When he saw himself reflected in a pool of water he sometimes wondered if it was worth the sacrificed he’d made.

He told himself the scars might pay off in the end. The females liked warriors and soon he would take a mate. He was one of the largest males in the territory which was probably the only reason he’d survived the second invasion. When the time came he would swing through the trees amongst them and call at the top of his lungs and they would fight each other to be his. He would pick one who would live with him in the house he’d built for a family. The two of them would watch the border together and at nights when the stars were out they’d count them, lying on their backs on the branch where he did.

The troop came through the trees, his brothers and sisters amongst them. He greeted them with an offering of fresh fruit and nuts which they ate before beginning to untie his home from its position in the dying tree. It was moved to a new position, more stable where he would need to trim the foliage to better his view of the border.

When the home was moved most of the troop moved back to theirs at the centre of the territory but his older brother stayed with his family to help with the small touches that would make the house a home again. The nest was filled with fresh, soft leaves and he watched his brother and his family, his young son who held so tightly to his mother while his little eyes glinted with curiosity. His brother had the scars from tearing their enemies off him when he arrived during that second battle. They traced each other’s scars and expressed gratitude for the help in the vicious fighting.

They were still sitting together when he saw dark shapes moving through the forest bellow, the other troupe had come in force. His brother’s mate hid with the child while he blew the horn and threw himself amongst the invaders. The troupe would be there in no time whilst he and his brother took revenge for the death of their father who’d taken three of the enemy with him. He sustained many more cuts and wounds during that battle and his brother almost died but he never regretted it. He was protecting his home, doing his duty.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Blog 94: Conversing

“What's so awful about classical literature then?” Luke asked his companion as their train shot through the countryside.
“I'm not saying it's awful, just too predictable and contrived to my eyes, quite formulaic.” Alan twirled a London Underground ticket in his hand. Luke frowned at him.
“Maybe it seems formulaic because it's so embedded in our culture.” Luke kept his volume to a polite level but the irritation was rising in his tone.
“It's all too much; alas my love I do declare I am to wed the man stood there. My father would rather I perish than grant me my one wish: to be betrothed to you…”
“And what's,” Luke interrupted but Alan spoke over him.
“…And then the man says; I will beseech him reconsider and should he not I'll prove myself a gallant fool when I challenge the soldier at a duel. The soldier shoots the lover before he can take aim but as with most it ends the same. The soldier, victorious, sees not the lover's bullet let fly which strikes him in the eye. The soldier dead, the lover rests in bed, nursed by his woman.” Alan grabbed his juice bottle as it slid across the fold down table. He sipped from it before continuing.
“They both live happily ever after until the soldier's family notice he's dead in the second book.” Luke frowned.
“You're such a pessimist.” Alan gave him a blank stare, his face radiated no emotion. Others projected emotions onto Alan's neutral features. The fearful saw distilled violence hidden behind cold indifference. Those who like to comfort saw sadness. Luke saw indifference, a statue that might have thrown away his soul if he'd had one. Luke had begun the conversation to end the silence he'd endured for an hour since they left Kings Cross Station on the train bound for Inverurie. Luke shrank away when Alan glanced at him during the silence. Luke hated silence but Alan just sat through it, if anything Luke thought Alan had come closest to smiling during the empty silence, while Luke squirmed. He couldn't just sit next to Alan the whole way, it would have driven him mad. Alan let Luke's last quip hang in the air, he didn't see it as an insult.
“Why do I talk to you?” Luke asked.
“I've been wondering that for a while.” Replied Alan, watching the aggravated reflection of Luke in the window. Alan thought of how just moments before Luke had proved the absurdity of his need to fill the silence by retelling the story of a very awkward journey he'd had on a train. Alan realised instantly that Luke was describing events just hours prior as if he hadn't been there. “If you want to talk so much then why not talk to the redhead you've been staring at?” The redhead in question turned to glare at them, assuming they'd mocked her.
“Thanks! Now I can't talk to her.” Luke hissed.
Lucky Her, Alan thought. “You can, she just wont listen.”
“Brilliant.” Luke sighed and stared at the luggage rack above his head. The redhead turned back to her phone, still frowning and sent her friends a rant filled text. “I don't want to talk to you.”
“Then don't, find another seat somewhere and we'll never talk again.” Luke thumped the chair and stood; he grabbed his bag from the luggage rack and found another seat. Both of them settled and reminded themselves that they'd only met when they sat down next to each other that morning.

Blog 93: A Fleeting Dream

He was staring down the barrel of an assault rifle, lamenting that he had just moments to live, moments to compose his final work. The commanding officer was giving the order to fire; he’d started to say it. The prisoner disappeared into his mind, escaping into the vast region of time that stretched between his executioner pulling the trigger and the death that would follow when the high calibre, high velocity projectile spread his brains across the wall behind. The world that would end him disappeared as he entered a world of his creation. He dreamt of what might have been:

The warrior stared out across the city, intact and safe as it was he could see the smoke of distant battlefields. He winced, feeling the pain of his near fatal wound, it was healing well. The executioner had been killed whilst carrying out the sentence. He’d been saved by a sniper squad, the leader of whom owed him one for similar reasons. The war was on-going but he’d been granted leave to see his lover and their child Immersion. The boy looked like him; pale white skin and long purple hair. He had his mother’s eyes though; crimson, omni-focal. As long as Immersion had treatments before puberty his eyesight would forever be perfect. He could see the stars just as the gods who made them.

Shimmer beamed with joy as she watched her son with his father. It was her brother who’d saved him from certain death, her kind were born snipers. She saw them on the city’s far border, keeping watch for the enemy forces. The city would fall soon, they both knew it. Immersion would have to say goodbye to the blue cats of the city he loved so much. She wouldn’t weep for the city, she’d lost her town of birth to the invasion years ago and she worried about the grief it would cause her son. Immersion had only known the city of towers. Its sandstone skyscrapers reached the heavens, from those heights the snipers would inflict heavy casualties upon the enemy before they retreated.

Her son might still know the war when he came of age to fight; it had been raging since before her time. She feared only that it would be lost before he lived to see the end, while there was fighting there was hope against the genocide. Her race had spanned nations once, now there were hundreds, maybe a few thousand at most.

If it were not for the likes of Arcane her people would be long gone, just dusty memories beneath the feet of the ravenous empire. Their warriors were weak but infinite; they came in waves, washing over all defences as they wore down the resistance. Her people had pleaded every empire, every nation each town beyond for help but none had answered but Arcane’s, his people were mercenaries hardened by centuries of battle, they alone pushed back the invaders into old territory. That had been years ago, for their loyalty and bravery their numbers were as diminished as those of her own people.

Arcane held his son tightly in his arms, Immersion wriggled in his grip. While his son struggled to free himself Arcane held close the boy he’d thought of as the executioner took the order he smiled at his lover, a tear rolled down his cheek onto their son’s head.

“Can I go now,” Immersion asked, “I want to see the cats,” he ran to the window, “they’re by the red fountain can I go?” Arcane squinted but couldn’t see the distant landmark his son was staring at.
“If it’s safe?” Arcane asked, looking to Immersion’s mother. She walked to the window and stared out at the border guard, they were relaxed.
“Yes you can go but no further south than the market and if you hear any explosions you run back here as fast as you can, understand?” Immersion nodded his purple hair jumping as he did. He disappeared through the doorway and they heard him throwing himself down the steps three at a time.

She looked out the window again at the guards; they were staring at something all of a sudden. She shouted to call Immersion back but he was already out of earshot. She was about to tell Arcane to run after the boy when she saw a border guard jump for joy. Plumes of smoke, far bigger than normal, rose on the southern horizon.

“What  is it,” Arcane asked, “you look worried, are they here? Should I run after Immersion?”
“No, we have to go higher, come up the stairs with me, to the roof.”
“The roof’s seventy three stories up! I barely made it this far.” He said, looking exasperated.
“Come on!” She shouted as she ran up the flights of stairs at full speed. Her long brown hair wiped behind her as her sandaled feet clopped up the stone steps. He followed close behind her, consoling himself that at least he could enjoy the view on the way up as she ran ahead.

His lungs gave out on him halfway up; they were on fire as was his dry throat. She stopped for him and walked down a corridor between the flats on that level, she traced a line along the sandstone to the window that looked southwest and leaned out to look south.
“What are you looking at?” Arcane asked, “what can you see?” She looked at Immersion.
“I see our son with the cats at the river, picking his nose.” Arcane sighed. “I see the guards at their post.” She turned to see Arcane still waiting for a reason to run up so many stairs. “I see high altitude bombers flattening the enemy that would have been here by tomorrow morning.”
“What!” He shouted. “We don’t have bombers, we don’t even have aircraft.”
“Exactly, they’ve joined us; we’re not in this alone anymore.” She turned and hugged him. “This will end the war we can win this and stop worrying about Immersion.”
“What will we worry about then?” He laughed and kissed her as she leant in to his ear and whispered.
“You promised me a big wedding if we won the war.” He was more afraid in that moment than he’d been during the war. No death was more terrifying than the fury of his fiancĂ©e should he fail to give her the wedding she wanted. He smiled and kissed her, thinking of the reward if he got it right. That was the way to look at it, look on the bright side.

The bullet struck the dreamers head, freeing his thoughts as he fell. Immersion, his mother and father all lived happily ever after, because the dreamer hadn’t had the time to think further about them, their story was over, like his life.