Category Archives: science fiction
Disturbing yuletide tales for grown-ups. The perfect stocking filler for the reader in your life. Available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1076599419
I took a deep breath, held it, and stepped through the window. It shlukked behind me, closing, and I breathed again. First thing you learn, that is: if you don’t want shredded lungs, hold your breath when you go through.
He didn’t recognise me, of course. I’m almost seventy, bald and fat, my massive beard as white as a dandelion clock. My scarecrow eyebrows sprout more hair than does the top of my head, and my eyes have gone, well, wonky. I walk slowly, with the help of an old, twisted length of hazel that I had cut long ago and fashioned into a thumbstick. If he had looked closely at the words and symbols I had carved into it over the years, his suspicions might have been aroused, but his eyes were fixed on the shadows that fluttered and whirled above the bright field.
He leaned on an old farm gate, looking out across sunsodden greengold wheat, margined brightly by hawthorn and willow-herb. Atop the far hill my familiar old windmill stood, young and unbroken, the sails turning leisurely in the summer heat.
“Owdo,” I said. “Grand day.”
“The birds seem to think so,” he nodded towards the swooping, tumbling host above the hot golden field. The dark arrows tumbled, dashing and zig-zagging, swivelling and diving, chasing invisible insects. Our sluggish eyes struggled to track them as they slalomed across the sky. They danced upon the air, innocent of the devastation that was about to be unleashed.
“Swallows,” I said.
“Yeah?” he said. “I’m never sure whether I’m looking at swallows or swifts.”
“Look close, lad. See how the lower third of their body looks bulky when they fold their long wings? That’s because the wing-tips extend to the end of their tails. Also, swifts don’t tuck in their wings at all when flying. And sithee, the tops of their wings look oddly large an’all, like …” I struggled to find a simile.
“Like epaulettes,” he said. We shared a grin.
“You know a lot about birds, then?”
“Hellfire, no. But once upon a summerday long ago, a man older than death told me the way of swallows, and it’s always stuck in my head. I love to watch them enjoying their time in the sun, dancing in a strip of sunlight for a brief summer, while the winter darkness is at an ebb.”
“Like people,” he said.
“How do you mean?”
His eyes flicked, watching the swirl of swallows. “We’re born alone, pieces of rough driftwood on the shores of an endless dark ocean, and we’ll be carried away again soon enough by the swell. But in between the ebb tides of oblivion, in a single summer of life – of dancing in a strip of sunlight, if I might steal your words – we find relationships, love, and the companionship that makes us whole. Makes us human.”
“You’re a poet, then?”
“Forester,” he grinned again. A thunder-growl tumbled across the cloudless sky. Above the wheat, the swallows suddenly gathered, weaving themselves together into a dark seething cloud, and swept away across the valley.
“Ah, look, they’ve buggered off,” I said. “It’s time. Come on, poet, we’ve got to get inside.”
“Inside? Where? Why?” He laughed.
“There’s a cave just down the path here. And why? Because your dark tide of oblivion is about to flood this earth. Humanity’s dance in the sunlight is ending. Look to the sky.”
He raised his eyes, and saw, slashed across the blue like a thousand raw wounds, the blood-red streaks that heralded the downfall of humanity.
“What the hell is that?”
“I’ll tell you in the cave,” I said.
“No offence, you seem nice enough, but I’m not interested in your cave, as you call it.”
“Look, sunshine, here’s your choice: you can either die screaming in a fiery inferno, or you can shelter with me and instead live a long life of struggle against the alien invaders, and eventually, with the aid of their stolen technology, invent a time machine.”
“Besides, you already have come into the cave. I’m proof of that.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You still haven’t recognised me, have you?”
He stared at me for a moment, frowning. Across the valley the first emerald explosion of plasma energy left the windmill a smoking ruin. Then the shock of recognition dropped his jaw and his eyes widened, reflecting more green flashes as the valley was destroyed.
“Hellfire!” he said. “Yeah, take me to your cave.”
Thanks to @alexbrightsmith for the title.
A short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker, riffing off the picture below, after I noticed the creature at the top hiding his eyes.
“Just look up at the lens.”
“Kevin, we all agreed.”
“You lot agreed, Susan, I didn’t.”
“If you’ll just look up at the lens, we can finally get out of here.”
“What, and have my eyeballs sucked out like yours? Fat chance.”
“It doesn’t hurt.”
“It makes a nauseating sound, though, like somebody pulling a grape out of their nostrils. I don’t understand why they need my eyeballs, anyway. They have all of yours already, what difference would mine make?”
“The Voice Above said they needed forty pairs or they couldn’t take off.”
“Take off what? Our heads?”
“Their ship. They use human eyeballs to drive their starship.”
“Do they bollocks. Where are you getting all this?”
“I had a quiet word with The Voice Above. He told me. We had quite a nice chat, actually.”
“What? When was all this? We’d all have heard you.”
“You know when they lift us out of here sometimes and, like, probe us and stuff?”
“Oh yeah, I enjoyed that.”
“Well, it was then. I was all manacled down, having my orifices probed, and … we had a little natter.”
“What a lovely image. Nice. So when’s the wedding? ‘I, Susan, take thee, Voice Above…’”
“I’ll ignore your sarcasm about what was a very touching moment, actually. The point is, eyeballs make their space-engine work…”
“How you can say that with a straight face is beyond me.”
“… and once they’re off this planet they’ll set us all free and look after us properly.”
“And you believe that, do you?”
“After someone’s probed me I think I know whether I can trust them.”
“You’re so naive, Susan.”
“Oh shut up, Kevin. You’ve had your chance to be reasonable. Grab him, fellers! We’ll force him to look at the lens.”
“Ha ha! Sod off!”
“Shit, where’s he gone? Damn it, Kevin!”
“Can’t catch me!”
“He’s ducked down by your feet, the squirmy little bastard. Grab him, someone!”
“Oh dear, you missed again! If only you were able to look down, eh?”
“Damn, he’s like a kid in a ball pool. Kick him in the head or something!”
“OW! Ow, fucking AAAAARGH!”
“Wait, wait! Don’t kick his eyes, though!”
“Too fucking late, you bitch! Jesus, that hurts! I hope your boyfriend’s happy with thirty-nine pairs of eyes.”
Here’s another short tale for Miranda Kate’s Midweeker. It’s clearly the opening for a much longer futuristic thriller that I have already plotted out, inspired by Twitter friends @mamacrow @hugeshark @QuantumTree @askceil and @cryptidbones. It stars three of my Patreon patrons, @cdlcreative, @greyduck & @lemurlotte — just a small perk to say thanks for supporting me. (and yes, I realise this has Red Dwarf echoes, but it is not that, I promise.)
Karel squinted through ice-rimmed goggles. Was the horizon getting nearer? The voyage had been long to these frozen, grey seas. Thirteen men had been lost to the ice-hearted ocean in the twelve months since The Cindered Rose left port. The ancient ship’s timbers were cracked and warped by salt and time. The rim of the world was now startlingly close.
Karel cupped the blackened rose petals in his rough hands. He had carried them all the way from Khirsh, and now was the time for them to work their magic. The time, and the right place, he was sure. His Lotte would soon be back in his arms. He rubbed his palms together, reducing the petals to powder, and inhaled the dust. Through cracked lips he whispered the first words of the spell.
“Zhe repla kij Lotte mij—”
Before he could finish the incantation his vision faded, and all sound stopped. The icy wind ceased to needle his frozen cheek. He could no longer speak. A female voice broke the silence.
“Your credit has expired. Thank you for dreaming with Such Stuff Incorporated.”
“No!” His frustration exploded from his lips. He had been so close.
“I am sorry, sir. Your purchased time has run out. Please vacate the pod, and follow the arrows on the floor to the recovery room, where you may buy a refreshing beverage.”
Karel opened his eyes. A brightly-lit sign before him announced ‘We are Such Stuff, as dreams are made on’. Shakespeare would be so proud.
“Shit,” he said. He missed his wife enormously, and had hoped to meet her once again in this dream. Oh, the SSI assistant had been friendly and open enough. She had warned him that the company could not guarantee his dream content in a short ten-minute session. Apparently the dream-machine had to build towards giving you the thing you wanted – something about the way synapses work in the brain – and in order for SSI to guarantee that you would dream about what you requested, you had to book an hour-long session. However, ten minutes was all he could afford, but he had hoped he might at least catch a glimpse of Lotte once more, maybe even hold her for a dream-second. So much for hopes and dreams.
He stepped out of the Dreampod (™ Such Stuff Inc and followed the floor-arrows. He sat at a small table and stared sadly at his lukewarm tea. His thoughts were disturbed by a man sitting next to him.
“My name is Hutchings,” the man said, “and I believe you can help me to change the world.”
“Please leave me alone. I’m not in the mood.”
“My commiserations about your wife, by the way.”
Karel looked at the man. He was unshaven, and wore a ragged harlequin coat. He did not look like one of Lotte’s friends. “You knew Lotte?”
“Look.” Hutchings laid a gnarled hand on his. “You know that unutterable hollowness that inevitably follows your sessions in the Dreampod? When you find that your dearest life, love or want is naught but a gossamer wisp temporarily made whole and then cruelly whisked away?”
“You speak very poetically for a lunatic.”
“You’re feeling it now, aren’t you? Flat, colourless, depressed beyond measure at how small and insignificant you are?”
“Well … yes.”
“SSI does that. They inject you with depressant. It keeps you docile. At the same time they introduce certain addictive chemicals into your bloodstream to ensure that you will return, whether you want to or not.”
“What are you talking about?” Karel pulled his hand away.
“They’re collecting information. Think of it – millions of people, dreaming about their desires, their secrets, their lusts. SSI collects all that information, and uses it to direct people’s actions in real life. At the same time they plant ideas and compulsions into dreamers’ minds. They control people; everyone who has ever used a Dreampod. They can shape governments. They can shape the world. They can keep us all under control.”
“You’re deranged. Just go away and leave me alone.”
“I want you to help me to destroy them. To free the world.”
“Why on earth would I help a madman?”
“Because they murdered your wife.”
A short story for Miranda Kate’s sixtieth Flash Challenge, which this time does me great honour by using one of my own photos.
Georgiana Harvey sat outside the Cove Cafe, sipping lukewarm, watery tea, and watching the sunlight flicker across the wide waves. The tide was going out, slowly revealing wet sand, shining pebbles, tiny scuttling crabs, and the giant metal shell that sat on the beach near the cafe: a spiral, steel sculpture large enough to climb into. Twice daily it was swamped by the tide, water spurting from a blow-hole as the water rose, before the shell became completely submerged. At low tide it became completely visible.
Georgie did not need to check her watch – it would not be long now before she could walk down to the beach and clamber into the structure, as she did every day. She would, as usual, listen to the sounds of the sea from outside, and read the words that the artist had etched into the metal. The time she spent in the shell was precious. In there, she could forget, for a beautiful moment, her life of drudgery, and instead imagine faraway worlds, and dream of escape to a life of adventure. It was as if the shell was imbued with an unusual, hidden, power. She believed that without her daily tryst with the steel shell on the beach, she might go insane.
Georgie’s reverie was interrupted by a woman sitting down heavily beside her. She was short, with a shock of pink hair, and wore a uniform of dark blue. Georgie did not recognise the insignia on her shoulder.
“You have to run,” the woman hissed. “She’s coming for you.”
“I beg your pardon?” Georgie snapped. She was not pleased to have her fanciful musings interrupted.
“Run, you fool!” The woman whipped her head to the left. “Shit! She’s here!” She jumped to her feet, knocking her chair backwards. “RUN!” she shouted, and took to her heels.
There was a sharp sound, PFIZZ, and Georgie’s teacup exploded, shattering in her hand. She jumped up, bewildered. Had that been a shot? She looked to the left, eyes wide, heart thumping. A dark figure in a wide-brimmed hat stood by the sea wall, pointing a glowing blue tube at her. The figure’s hand twitched and a thin line of sapphire light speared from the tube. PFIZZ. The teapot on the table shattered. A sharp shard of china flew across Georgie’s cheek, slicing open a deep cut.
In panic, she twisted and took to her heels. A blue line flew over her shoulder and hit the ballustrade in front of her, sending fragments of stone flying. She swerved towards the beach, taking the steps two at a time. The cut on her face hurt, and she felt warm blood mixing with salt tears of fear and running to her chin. She sobbed, and jumped the last few steps.
As her feet sank into the wet sand she turned left. PFIZZ. The mud and pebbles by her feet exploded. She squealed, and twisted the other way, towards the shell. That was it. She could hide there. Her shell would protect her.
Sand and small rocks flew from her feet as the sprinted towards the metal spiral. One of her sandals flew off, but she dare not stop to retrieve it. Her heart pounded, her breath tore at her burning lungs. She flung herself inside the wide mouth of the shell and collapsed. As she lay, panting, on the cold, wet metal, she looked back at the entrance, fearing the arrival of the figure in the hat. Instead, the pink-haired woman’s face appeared.
“Sorry about this,” she said, then spoke into her wrist. “Activate.”
The inside of the shell began to glow, then in a blinding, impossibly- white flash Georgie was gone. The shell was empty, wind whistling coldly through the metal. A person in a broad-brimmed hat walked up to the pink-haired woman.
“So,” she greeted the newcomer with a salute. “That’s how you got to the future, Commander?”
“Yes, Sergeant Lolo. Thank you for your help.” The Commander put down her plasma-rifle and ran her fingertip down the old scar on her cheek. “God, that young girl is so terrified right now.”
“Time Force wouldn’t exist without her, though.”
“I know. This day is sewn into the alpha timeline, but still, I hated doing that to myself.”
“Tempus fugit tardius,” Sergeant Lolo quoted the Time Force motto. “What’s next, Commander Harvey?”
My thanks to @mistressboom and @pariahsickkid for the use of their names. Cafe Cove exists, in Cleveleys, close to the Mary’s Shell sculpture on the beach. It’s by Stephen Broadbent, and is totally worth a visit, as is his Sea Ogre nearby.
“We’re here,” Lovell said. “Remember that the Professor might not be what you expect.”
“An eccentric professor?” I said. “What are the odds?”
“Just let me do the talking.” He pulled a handle by the door and a bell rang somewhere inside the cottage. It had taken me much guile, and not a little expense, to persuade Lovell to effect an introduction to the mysterious Professor Cuthbert. Many of the incredible inventions that we now take for granted as we approach the twentieth century originated in the mind of the reclusive Professor; the fountain pen and the gramophone to name but two miracles of the modern age.
When Lovell had told me at the club that he knew the Professor personally, I was determined to elicit an invitation to visit. Who would not want to encounter such a remarkable mind? To ask a hundred questions, and perhaps be made privy to what was coming next? It had taken me no little time, but finally Lovett had agreed to take me to see the Professor, and after a long railway journey and a bumpy ride in a brougham, we stood before the front door of a small country cottage in rural Suffolk.
In response to a second tug of the bell-pull, the door opened to reveal a woman with a cloud of grey hair held flat by a pair of goggles pushed back over her forehead. She wore a leather apron, a man’s shirt and trousers, and she held a hammer in her left hand. She seemed to me to be very old indeed, perhaps even into her fifties.
“Jamie!” she cried to Lovell, “How lovely to see you!” Her lined face crinkled even more as she smiled broadly.
“Good afternoon, Catherine,” Lovell said. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve brought along a friend who has been dying to meet you.”
“Not at all,” the woman said. “You’re just in time for afternoon tea. There are more than enough scones to feed a regiment. Do introduce me to your chum, dear boy.”
“Of course,” Lovell grinned at my shocked expression. “Catherine, I would like to introduce you to my friend, the right honourable Cecil Tilbury Moffat. Cecil, please meet Professor Catherine Cuthbert.”
“But you’re a woman!” I blurted out.
“He’s very observant, isn’t he?” Professor Cuthbert said to Jamie.
“Don’t let that vacant expression put you off, he really is a big admirer of your work. Cecil, where are your manners? Doff your hat.” I lifted my topper absent-mindedly, staring at the woman in front of me.
“Is that so, Mr. Moffat?” the Professor asked. “Which of my inventions caught your interest first?”
“You’re wearing trousers!” I babbled. The Professor and Lovell burst into laughter
“Come,” the Professor commanded. “You have arrived at an opportune moment. I am in sore need of a person of just your height to test my latest invention. And then we shall have scones.” She led us around the house and through a back-garden jungle to a large wooden shed. Projecting horizontally out of the left wall of the shed was what appeared to be a garden fence, clearly very securely attached for it stuck out some six feet above the flower beds. Professor Cuthbert struck a pose as if demonstrating a particular clever trick performed by a music hall prestidigitator.
“Ta da!” she said. I stared at her. “Well?” she asked. “What do you think, Mr. Moffat?”
“It’s … a very nice shed.” I was bewildered. Lovell had warned me of eccentricity, but even so. The Professor sighed and stood normally.
“Put him straight, Jamie,” she said. Lovell grinned. He was enjoying my discomfort far too much.
“This shed,” he said, indicating the shed, “is not a shed. This is Professor Cuthbert’s remarkable vessel to facilitate the exploration of the echoing cosmos above our heads.”
“What?” I said. I realised that perhaps that was not the considered response that might be called for, so I spoke again. “No, what?” I said.
“Young man,” Professor Cuthbert said. “This is an airborne vessel. It uses the invisible power of magnetism to free it of the bonds that bind us to this earth.”
“It’s made of wood.” I suggested, helpfully.
“Yes, well spotted, for a metal vessel would interfere with the magnetic forces needed to lift it beyond our atmosphere. This, my deliciously vacant chap, is a craft that will travel into space itself. A space-ship, if you will.”
“A space-shed?” I ejaculated.
“Ship,” said Lovell. “Space-ship.”
“Now, young man,” the Professor said. “Would you be so kind as to do me a favour? Would you please enter the craft and sit in the pilot’s seat? Jamie is way too tall, and it is imperative that I adjust the outer buoyancy cogs to allow for the weight of a passenger.”
“And then shall we have scones?” I asked.
“And then scones, yes,” she said.
“Very well,” I agreed. “What would you have me do?”
“Go inside, and sit in the seat before the window. Put on the air-helmet that you will find there, and then just sit back and enjoy the pleasant view that you will have of my cherry tree.”
“That’s all. I shall make my adjustments, then call you out for scones once I have finished. Whatever you do, however, do not touch the red lever.”
“I shall certainly venture nowhere near any levers, madam,” I promised. I entered the shed, and wound my way through a clutter of equipment to what was clearly a captain’s chair by the shed window. On the chair sat a large glass bubble, presumably the Professor’s air-helmet. I removed my hat and put the helmet over my head. It was surprisingly comfortable, although it took some time to get the thing the right way round so that I could see. I sat in the captain’s chair and looked out of the window.
The Professor’s cherry tree was nowhere to be seen. The Professor’s garden was nowhere to be seen. The shed now hovered high in the arched heavens. Miles below a vast sweep of sunlit cloud swept across the surface of the planet. Somehow, I was now many leagues above Suffolk. But … how? I lifted my top-hat from the hat-peg. The red hat-peg. Or, as I now realised it must be, the red lever. I had inadvertently launched the space-shed with my hat.
What next? I had no idea, but now that they were out of my reach I truly fancied a scone.
”But Wombie,” I hear you ask, “How on earth did that picture inspire this story? What has a jetty to do with a Victorian inventor?” When you get no inspiration, try a different angle – I just flipped the picture … and there my tale was: a wooden spaceship floating above a cloud-cloaked planet. Tricksy.
Another disturbing tale for Miranda, who likes them short. This one is here in its entirety.
I knew I had to have her as soon as I saw her. She was breathtaking. She was golden. Her skin gave out a faint glow; a sheen that was both powerful and sexual. She moved wildly, free of care, lost to the emotions of her dance. Her movements emphasised her shape; the roundness of her hip, the plumpness of her breasts. Her lips were slightly parted in a half-smile that sped my pulse, and an exotic difference to the cast of her eye drew me closer.
I wanted her. I was in a dark mood and I knew what I wanted, and I wanted her. The women, you see, it’s always the women. They awaken a feeling I don’t get from the males.
I waited until she was facing away from me before moving silently behind her. I grabbed her neck and forced her face down onto the pebbles. She struggled, of course, but my magpulse bracers always make any such retaliation fruitless. I pushed her face into the packed stones of the beach, and raised my machete. Three forceful hacks, and the wing came free from her shoulder blade. Her screams, as is usually the case when I obtain a new trophy, only added to the joy of acquisition. I gripped the root of her other wing, then looked up.
The blue sun was dipping below the rim of the ocean. I had watched her for too long before acting, and left myself with little time to get back to my ship. The nights on this planet could reach cryo temps remarkably quickly. Just the one wing, then. I lifted it to catch the last of the sun’s rays. It shimmered gold and blue and coquelicot. Even without its twin it would look magnificent mounted between the fin of the piscine girl I’d killed last, and that sex-frond from Anemone-3. I left her sobbing and dying, and swiftly reached the ship. I clambered through the hatch and pulled the wing in after me.
Now, where should I go next? There was a bipedal species near the outer rim, apparently, where the women only had two breasts and no sex-frond. Their planet circled a yellow sun, so I’d have to wear an EM-Veil, but it would be worth the effort to obtain a skin of that rarity. I flicked the controls and engaged the Magpulse Drive.
The Game is a futuristic bloody killfest put on for the entertainment of the masses in the late 21st century. An Exhibition Match is mounted to decide the greatest fighters of all time, and the book is written from the viewpoint of the commentator known as The Voice.
Unlike some reviewers on Amazon, I found the opening slow. I had to force myself through the first few chapters before the style of writing – a combination of interviews, flashbacks and autobiographical rantings from The Voice (not a character I ever really warmed to) – began to weave its spell on me.
I’m pleased that I persevered, for the novel grows into a “beautiful kaleidoscope of blood, violence, gore and vengeance”. Not kidding, these pages are soaked with red, but the action is so well-written, so well paced that I never felt like I was reading some schlock-horror pulp. This is superbly-crafted book for adults. Take it on the bus with you and you’ll miss your stop.
4/5 wombats for Ed Kendrick’s The Voice of Reason.
Lisa Shambrook has written about the origins of Human 76, I have written about its development, and all sorts of people are contributing their thoughts on the characters and stories that have moved them. Individual authors have expressed their own points of view.
Alex Brightsmith has talked about how her character Chrissy developed when she crossed paths with my own Glint.
Denise Callaway has published a short extract from her story, Underneath, as has Michelle Fox from her frankly terrifying Human X. Another snippet, this time from Steven Paul Watson’s non-stop The Hunted, can be found here.
Just two more links for you – the ePub version is free at the moment, but will soon rise to a reasonable price. You might want to grab your download sooner rather than later. Might I recommend, though, that you shell out for the paperback, which is a thing of beauty. Not only will you find that it contains a map of Ghabrie’s journey not in the eBook, but you’ll also have a warm glow of satisfaction from knowing that you’ve helped a worthwhile charity.