Joe2stories

Stories from a Dublin Scientist

Month: June, 2014

Precious Time

When his sister asked to help in the Bake-Sale, Martin was too busy. He apologised of course, and gave a little money, but he needed to work, his time was precious.

When his brother wanted him to take part in a charity five-a-side, Martin regretfully declined. He had a deadline that needed to be filled and he was unable to take off even that meager amount of time. The fifty he donated to the cause was, he knew, slim consolation.

When his mother was looking for participants for the fun-run. He was due to be on a business trip at the time and  offered to double the sponsorship his mother received.

Finally his father was organizing a jumble sale for his church. He hmmmed and hawwwed but finally agreed. For the week beforehand he worked like a dog, made sure that all his work was done, that there was no possibility that the boss would call him demanding that something be done. It wasn’t certain, but he was as sure as he could be.

It was with a happy heart that Martin drove his Merc into the church car park that Saturday morning. He lifted a big bag of his old suits from the boot and sauntered to the door.

Only to find that it was locked.  

He looked through the window and could see the clothes, books, and assorted knick knacks laid out but there was no one there. He tried around the back but that was locked too, he used his mobile to send a message to his father but there was no answer. He decided to wait.

The sun was shining through the window of the car and even with the door open it was unbearably hot, as were his nerves.

After half an hour of that, and with still no sign of anybody, he decided to finally go.

He had an envelope and some notepaper in the glovebox. He wrote out a cheque for a hundred and a little note saying.

I came but there was no one here. I kept my word.

He put both the cheque and the note in the envelope and passed it through the letter box. Then he went back to his car.

He had a whole day of precious time to spend. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do. He was sure he’d think of something.

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Image courtesy of gesinek on rgbstock.com

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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of Monday June 30th 2014.

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A Changing Culture (A Fan Fiction Attempt)

Yep! You read it right! I am going to try some fan fiction today based on the excellent Culture Series by the sorely missed Iain M. Banks. A little background, I am setting this story before the time of the novel Consider Phlebas during the early stages of the Idiran Culture War. If you want to know more about this highly entertaining series, please check on the links. It goes without saying that all of the rights to this universe go to the estate of Mr Banks. Anyway, Enjoy.
….
x Be’dril system defence task force
o GCU Casting a line to see if God bites
M8 wide beam
Sorry to be the barer of bad news but one of our listening posts has detected that a section of the main Idiran advance has broken off and is heading your way. Numbers estimated from Skein signatures are1000 (±100) capital ships  (Sensor logs attached). We estimate their arrival in your system within the hour. Make plans accordingly. Good luck.

….

Far out in the depths of space, close to half a year from the Be’dril Sun, the cliff class superlifter Beast of Burden was doing a pitch-perfect impression of a piece of cometary debris. Casting it’s passive sensing systems sunwards it could see the active sensors of the thirty GCUs in defensive array. Behind them was the orbital itself in all its splendor, two Plate class GSVs keeping station alongside, the skein alive with displacer activity as the final evacuation was being conducted.

That was the Beast of Burden‘s and the task force’s mission. To delay the Idirans long enough for the GSVs to get every living thing and mind off the orbital and away to safety. With the war only four months in the enemy had been beyond the worst fears of the Culture in their viciousness. Dozens of orbitals and other habitats, many not active at all in the war effort, had been destroyed in what was clearly an attempt to get the Culture to sue for peace.

It was not working. Instead of despairing the Culture were consolidating their production capacity. All orbitals within Idiran strike range were being evacuated, those with the capacity were being moved but others were just abandoned, its people, Mind and all useful material stripped, and the orbital itself destroyed to prevent them falling into enemy hands. That was the plan for Be’dril. Once everything was loaded onto the civilian GSVs. They would make best speed deeper into Culture territory while a third GSV, an Ocean class hiding somewhere in system would then dust the orbital with Gridfire and CAM, reducing it to atoms, useless to the Idirans.

The Idirans would surely try and prevent that and if they arrived before the orbital could be evacuated then even the GSVs might be captured. The thirty GCUs were no match for a thousand plus enemy ships but they were only a diversion. The Beast of Burden and another eighty units were hidden in the volume beyond the system along with wide assortment of mines, booby trapped modules, intelligent missiles and a thousand other instruments of annihilation each more inventive than the last. When the Idirans arrived simulations had them diving straight at the defending GCUs giving the hidden units and their assorted toys the chance to deal a very damaging blow. They may not stop them completely but in a war at this civilizational level, even seconds gained mattered greatly.

The superlifter was preparing for the fight, making last minute adjustments to its weapon systems, optimising field management, and simming as fast as its hyperspacial substrate would allow. It was so engrossed that it was almost a shock when there was a signal from another seemingly innocuous comet an hour down-orbit.

….

o Superlifter Beast of Burden
x ROU The Pointy End
M8 tight beam
I can’t stand the waiting. This must be the worst part of war.

….

The beast of burden spent a nanosecond considering sending a detailed set of recordings, saved mind states, and similar experiential evidence that proved the worst part of war was in fact, the dying. But it decided against it. The Pointy End, like all the Culture’s dedicated warships was young. Less than a month old in this case and while for a Mind age meant very little in terms of knowledge available and intelligence to process it, experience still counted for something. It decided instead to respond simply.

….

o ROU The Pointy End
x Superlifer Beast of Burden
M8 Tight Beam
They’ll be here soon enough. Shouldn’t you be preparing like the rest of us?
oo
No need. Every system is in tip-top shape. I was built for this remember. Meat! Even my crew are staring to get restless.
oo
You have crew aboard?

….

That was unexpected. Most of the holding forces, even the GCUs acting as bait, knew full well that they had less than a 30% chance of surviving the coming engagement. For a Mind that baulks at displacing fragile humans that would have been insanely high. Most of the fleet had made arrangements to leave their crews with one of the GSVs. It not only prevented unnecessary worry but also enabled them to use their full maneuvering capabilities without having to secure fragile lifeforms inside. It was pointless having them aboard anyway, it was not as if they did anything useful.

The Idirans were expected within less than five minutes and the preparations were almost finished. The GSVs offered to take updated mind-states from the defending ships, so that they may continue on if they did not survive the engagement. The Beast of Burden sent another inquiry to its neighbour.

….

o ROU The Pointy End
x Superlifter Beast of Burden
M8 Tight Beam
Did you at least save their mind states?
oo
I offered. But they declined. They figured that since I wasn’t going to save mine we should all be in it together.
oo
You what? Are you crazy? Why have you not saved your mind-state?
oo
I’m only a month old. Not much to save. I have sent a couple of universal constructs and IFS programs that I am proud of to Be’dril Hub for safe keeping. If I can’t make use of them hopefully others will.

….

Not saved its mind-state? The machine was insane. The Beast of Burden went through its memories of other warships it had met in the course of the war. They all took a laissez-faire attitude to death, part of the job description. But still, most took the precaution of saving their mind-states when they were at risk of destruction. Either it was very confident of living through the battle or it just didn’t care about dying. Both attitudes highly troubling for a Mind. Warship or not.

It was going to ask The Pointy End in more detail what it was thinking when its sensors detected incoming ripples in the Skein. The rest of the fleet also starting pinging what they had detected confirming its own reading. The Idirans had arrived.

The intelligence from the other Culture units was largely correct. The Idiran force appeared to number in excess of a thousand units and they were diving straight into the system towards the orbital, GSVs, and the defending GCU screen. Simming wildly the Beast of Burden carefully adjusted some of its ordinance to better capture the approaching enemy and waited, hoping the ruse would work.

It almost did. The Idirans teared through space heading right where they were expected to go, track scanners pointed straight ahead. The microseconds counted down to the best time to spring the trap. Ten, nine, eight, seven…

Then all hell broke loose. One of the Idirans must have spotted something and transmitted a general alarm. The enemy forced started to evade hard, breaking heavily against the Grid. The moved quickly but not quick enough. NOW! Transmitted one of the Culture ships. The beast of burden set off its hidden store of death.

Space ignited.

More energy than an entire star would release in a million years was pumped into the space on the edge of the system. Over a hundred enemy ships were just gone, their elementary particles smeared across spacetime. Three time as many were converted to hulks, their control systems, and presumably any biological crews, smashed to oblivion. The rest, with response times determined by the extent of damage each had received, swerved recklessly to avoid the onslaught and started searching frantically for anything to engage.

They did not have to wait long. The hidden defenders, the Beast of Burden and The Pointy End included, Turned on their track scanners and drive-fields to maximum the microsecond after the ordinance had detonated. They charged straight at the Idirans, every weapon they had firing at maximum. Many more of the most damaged Idirans were blasted into nothingness.

The Idirans however, soon spotted the approaching defenders and started to return fire. Many GCUs were caught in the massed energies of multiple Idiran weapons and were destroyed. It was chaos. Existence depending on microsecond-scale actions.

The Beast of Burden, as one of the faster ship classes. Had been assigned to assault the Idiran flanks, keeping them tightly bunched and less likely to break through. It tore down on the scattering enemy force, firing as soon as its weapons came to bear. It passed within ten thousand kilometers of one of the hulks. With no energy emissions or life signs detected it was probably beyond being a threat but to be safe the superlifter fired a plasma burst at the hulk and it vaporised.

Like everything the Culture did, the progress of the battle was highly organised. The ships moved in concert, aiming to maintain pressure on the Idiran advance as each unit succumbed to superior enemy number.

The Beast of Burden showed no sign of being done just yet. With The Pointy End it scythed through the Idirans bringing destruction in its wake. Though moderately slower than the superlifter the ROU was much more maneuverable. It made a random three dimensional zig zag pattern through the Idiran lines. Firing its weapons as it went and then veering away before any response could be made.

This was not from lack of trying. The Idirans were constantly re-deploying their forces in an effort to trap these flies in their ointment.

For one microsecond, the Beast of Burden thought they had finally succeeded when multiple missiles converged on The Pointy End‘s signal, exploding furiously. The signature was all wrong however. Not nearly enough mass. The Beast‘s doubts were answered when a fraction of a second later an Idiran light crusier, clearly under effector attack, veered into its companion, destroying both, and a piece of random flotsam, by all appearances a dud missile from the Culture ship, turned on its drive fields to maximum and spiraled away to continue its assault.

….
o Superlight Beast of Burden
x ROU The Pointy End
M12 Tight Beam
Pretty good. Don’t you think?

….

The superlifter silently agreed.

The battle raged for well over a minute, very long by the standards of the war. The defenders were joined by the thirty GCUs from sunwards and the hidden GSV offered long-range fire support by peppering Idiran concentrations with Gridfire. Still the Culture numbers were dwindling. It was only a matter of time before the Idirans broke through.

Then it all changed. There were two heavy ripples in the Skein as the two Plate class GSVs accelerated away at full power. Less than a second later the orbital lit up as it was coated in Gridfire. It was quick and messy but effective. The structure melted away in seconds.

There was a third, smaller ripple in the Skein followed by a transmission.

….

o Be’dril defence task force
x GSV More Power Than I Know What To Do With
Mclear wide beam
All culture units. Full retreat. Get out of there.

….

The Beast of Burden did not need to be told twice. It immediately about faced and headed out to open space.

Suddenly to its horror it noted a flight of Idiran missiles heading towards it. It frantically simmed through as many escape routes as it could but none seemed likely. It was done.

A microsecond later The Pointy End swung by, heading in the direction of the missiles. At its closest approach, the ROU released a largish module and transmitted a short message.

….
o Superlifter Beast of Burden
x ROU The Pointy End
M16 tight beam
Here! Catch! Turn off your rear sensors and accelerate hard.
….

The Beast of Burden did as asked. Enfolding the module in its fields it rocketed to maximum acceleration, deactivating its rear-facing sensor units as it went.

Two microseconds later the Beast‘s rear fields registered a massive energy spike behind it. It cautiously reactivated its rear scanners and took a look.

It was as it had feared. The Pointy End had destroyed itself in an annihilatory burst of energy, all its mass converted to destructive power. The explosion had taken out all the missiles as well as several pursuing Idirans. In addition, the rest of the enemy forces were maneuvering blindly, their sensors overwhelmed by the tremendous energies deployed. They would soon repair them but the Beast of Burden would be long gone by then.

As it watched, the radiation from the explosion began to take on a form. The seemingly random pulse of energy shaped itself into Idiran characters that said.

I am the Culture ROU The Pointy End. You may have destroyed me but I will return to fight again. I will have many siblings and together we will make you pay for what you have done, every fucking last one of you. You fight the Culture at your peril. We will continue to fight and we will win.

As the Beast of Burden thought about this there was a transmission from the module still nestled in its fields.

A bit much maybe?

The Beast of Burden in its shock finally turned its sensors to the contents of the module. Inside were eight humans, stored inside high-G suits and one Mind, crammed in the back.

So you managed to survive after all?

In a manner of speaking. I’ve asked ahead and there is a ROU body in the GSV No Gravitas Here that needs a Mind emplaced in it as soon as possible. Care to give me a lift?

So it had lived, the Beast of Burden thought, it had faced the jaws of destruction and saved not only itself but this admittedly crazy Mind and its rather delicate charges. These new warships may have been a major shift for the Culture. But if they could all be as skilled, as resourceful, as that little Mind had been. They they would be in with a chance.

It knew one thing, it thought, as it watched the Idirans consolidate their hold on the rapidly receding system, occasional explosion indicated they had uncovered yet another booby-trap.

It was going to be a long war.

Picture it and Write: Freedom

Hi there this is my offering for this week’s picture it and write for Ermila’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Incidentally, there is a new charity book out by ermilia available here. It is an anthology of twenty three authors including myself. If you like this, buy that. Anyway, Enjoy.

Freedom

Marcus walked through the vast gardens of his estate. It seemed almost sysyphean to him, he could swear that there were hidden places that he had yet to visit. Occasionally, a groundskeeper or some other servant would appear in the distance, hurrying on some errand. They rarely approached him now, except when it was unavoidable. They were afraid of him. In the air, muffled by the vast distance, could be heard faint shouting, and chanting. He did not need to hear it to know what they were saying, what they were demanding. But he could never give them that, not now.

He sat on a bench and put his head in his hands, thinking. There was much he could do, almost anything in fact, anything that money could buy, but that had its limits. If only he’d known. If only that thing had….

“Pssssssth!”

Marcus took a look around to find that one of the roses, dying in the late autumn cold, had rearranged to form a face. It must have been listening to his thoughts. It looked at him and smiled.

“Master! I have given you two wishes. One more and I will be free.”

But what about me? Marcus wondered. He had thought himself so lucky when he had stumbled upon the genie. Compelled to give three wishes to whomever finds it the spirit would then be granted a thousand years of freedom only to find itself trapped again to wait a new master. It was a curse it explained and it came with the power it possessed.

Marcus was not one to sympathize with all powerful beings however. He thought only a short while before he made his first two wishes. He wished to be forever young and handsome and then to be the richest man in the world.

He then announced to his thrall that he would see how these two wishes went and then decide on his third. The genie grumbled somewhat. But it was immortal, like Marcus was now, it could wait.

If the first wish made a difference to his life, Marcus could not tell it, maybe he did feel a little chipper, looked a tad more fresh-faced than he had before. But it was hard to tell.

As for the second  wish. The very next day Marcus found a lottery ticket in his pocket. It was a winning ticket, for over 200 million dollars, the largest jackpot in history. It did not make him the richest man in the world, but it was a good start. After he collected the winning cheque. A shadowy man visited his apartment. He had a card that said ‘G. Knee investments: we make your wishes come true’ and took the cheque off Marcus. Within days his 200 million began to aggressively grow. Companies taken over, funds raided, even some governments fell. Within a month, amid growing financial chaos, he was the richest man alive.

With that, the world was Marcus’ oyster. He bought estates, islands, yachts, whatever his heart desired. With the money came lackies to laugh at his jokes and tell him he was great. He even had romance. An ex who had left a hole in his heart begged to come back to him. He was happy.

But others were not. Many once powerful men, many more simple workers, had lost everything in lieu of Marcus’ meteoric rise to the top. There was a lot of resentment in the world and many who would have him dead. He had security of course, the best money could buy, but it was not perfect. Death struck at Marcus during an evening soiree in one of his penthouse apartments, with his family and oldest friends, everyone he cared about.

When they finally excavated the rubble only Marcus himself was alive. It was a miracle the doctors said, considering the state he was in. Even without a larynx with which to scream, the agony he felt must have been beyond the imagining of any man.

What happened next left the world speechless. What sorry pieces of Marcus were left began to slowly knit themselves together. Burns were healed, limbs and missing organs grew back. Even the pain, a constant companion for his many months a bed, began to ebb. Within half a year he was as good as new.

There was shock. There was disbelief. Some called him a god, others called him a demon. They were only half right. He still had his money, enough to keep him untouchable. But he was alone, feared by the outside world. Some wished him dead. But that would not happen. He even tried it himself. The snap of his neck on the rope only brought blinding pain and three weeks in bed for the bone to re-knit itself.

“Master” The rose continued speaking. “I know you are hurting.” But you have one wish left. If you wish well your happiness will return.”

But Marcus was not hearing any of it. He was tired of this imp and its meddling.

“I wish you would just die!” He shouted.

There was a jerk and the rose started to fall apart, the petals shifting into the sky on a non-existent wind. It was soon gone but not so soon for it to be unable to say a few final words. Words that would trouble Marcus for the rest of his eternal life.

“I have it! I have finally got it! Freedom! The ultimate freedom! I am free!”       

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A New Year

Cold winds blew through gaps in the skirting when Susan made to throw the blanket off, thought better of it, and sat up with it wrapped around like a shawl.

She shuffled on slippered feet, over bare floors, past empty rooms and barren cupboards until reaching the one window not boarded up.

Through its shattered panes she could see the sun shining warmly, the first warm sun in many months.

But one swallow does not make a summer she knew, she had many hard weeks ahead.

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 by saavem on rgbstock.com
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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge of Friday the 27th of June 2014

Bob’s Bargain Bangers

Robert Rupertson, Bob to his friends, ran a used car business in our town when I was going up. There was a wide range of vehicles of all kinds of quality there for sale. Mostly they were wrecks, sometimes literally,  held together with superglue and hope. We all called it the Angel Yard, since so many of the cars there had long ago passed  on.

But that would do Bob a disservice. You see; Bob may have dealt mainly in Bangers but there was a fair few gems in his stock. The rusty bucket he was trying to flog may have had the insides of an Ebola victim or it could very well have been a piece of automotive perfection maintained all its life by a mechanical savant and run perfectly.

The thing was, you just couldn’t know. Bob was not one to allow too close a look at the merchandise. The price was all the same, dirt cheap. You just paid you money and you made your choice. End of story, no take-backs no cash backs. You had to live with your choice.

But people were funny. Though the chance of ending with a good car was middling at best. People would still visit the Angel Yard and make their choice, maybe a few times, discarding each banger as they became apparent. They said it figured that if they bought ten cars from Bob, odds are that one would be a keeper and they still would have spent less then going to a more reputable dealer.

For some this strategy worked. For many others it didn’t. And through it all Bob kept trading, dealing in hope, one car at a time.

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Written for The Light and Shade Challenge for Monday the 23rd of June 2014 

Gertie’s Garden

My Aunt Gertie was into her GYO (grow your own). She loved fresh veg straight out of the ground.

She had a large garden were she’d work. She wouldn’t use it all at any one time though. She always kept about half it fallow.

“Letting the weeds grow wild and giving birds space to thrive fulfills me more than any basket of fresh greens.”

But she was never short. The ground’s rest meant it was more fertile the next year, giving baskets of food.

“There’s a lesson there” She would say over fresh salad “Sometimes it’s best to leave things be.”

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Written for the Light and Shade Challenge of June 20th 2014

Help with the Chores

There was silence as the bottle bounced on the carpet, contents pouring out in generous dollops. Sandra, the woman with the butter fingers, grinned apologetically at Mother and bent to pick it back up. The bottle was without a label save for “Special sauce”. It’s was bright green, almost fluorescent and it was all over the white fabric.

Sandra went to the kitchen and returned with a damp cloth. The rest of the women watched as she tried to rub the colour away, calling friendly suggestions.

“Get some soda water.”

“Lemon juice. I swear by lemon juice.”

“Only shampoo with get that out.”

In the end Sandra gave back the cloth to Mother saying, “I could be all day at this and it won’t come out. Call a cleaner and send me the bill.”

The conversation quickly petered out after that and all the ladies left, each one offering condolences on the carpet’s first stain. “You know! It shows that a place is lived in!” and the like.

When they were gone, Mother surveyed the damage, looked at me and said, with sly smile.

“Number Six, don’t you think?”

I nodded in agreement.

With that she raised her hands, spoke the secret incantations and world went dark.

Sparks flew from where the stains had been, coalesced into a vaguely humanoid shape and flew out the open window.

When the lights came back on. The stains had all vanished. The carpet was as good as new.

Mother always told me that while the code of witchcraft expressly forbade the use of magic for personal power or for the destruction of ones enemies, it was a little more vague about using it to help with the chores.

  

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Lyssa Medana
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Written for the Light and Shade Challenge for Monday 16th June 2014.

Picture it and Write: Branded

Hi there! This is my offering for this week’s Picture it and Write for Ermilia’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. There is a new publication for picture it and write that is available on Amazon here. Myself and another 22 authors are involved. If you like this buy that. Anyway, Enjoy!

Branded

Men of my station are expected to never have to speak to a woman on any occasion outside of the sanctum of our homes. This is good and proper and essential to the smooth running of any society. But of course this can lead to certain difficulties and when communication is needed we have developed often quite ingenious methods of imparting that information both efficiently and effectively.

Take for example the frightfully indelicate matter of purchasing the services of a courtesan for the night, an unseemly part of our society but none the less, essential, there are things that never should be asked of a wife. No man may work in their abodes so one cannot simply ask the proprietor which girl performs what service. Of course, experienced guests know who is who quite quickly and can select a favourite provided she is not otherwise engaged. But something is needed for the newcomer, the boy at majority, or something for the many new ahem.. Ladies that join in service.

It is for this purpose that the courtesans wear, apart from their white robes, a specific colour of lipstick. It is through these colours that a customer can tell at a glance what he can expect from each girl.

Those with full red lips are the seductresses. Women of uncommon performance in coitus. Capable of bringing a man to the brink of ecstasy and keeping him there for as long as he can bare. Those with blue lipstick are of a more specialised nature. Skilled in the art of administering pain for pleasure they are prized amongst their discerning clientele. Those with yellow, though not particularly skilled in the bed, have uncommon ability with voice and lyre and can calm the nerves of any man with the softest music. And the list goes on.

The rarest, and most prized, are those who wear the black and white symbol of balance on their lips. These girls have the singular ability to perform as any of the others coupled with a skilled empathy for the needs of her client. Depending his mood the same girl can provide a wild release of need of the softest of kind embraces. She can be whomever you wish her to be.

Needless to say such courtesans are highly in demand. Their rarity, only a handful are trained each generation, gives them a high price, both in coin and in risk, many a gentleman has lost an ear or more over the right to join one in her bed.

But regardless of the brand on the lips the outcome is the same. The man get his night, or less, and then returns to wife and home. A need fulfilled so duties may be performed. Another fine example of how we have made a society that works.

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Extraordinary Claims

“So… What do you have to say?”

Tim looked at me while I walked bit longer along the track we were sharing.

He had just told me a lot. I needed some time to digest it.

“Tim!” I said, turning to address him “You have just made the Mother of all extraordinary claims and If you want me to believe you you’re going to need some pretty conclusive evidence.”

Tim had a smile on his face. “So what are you going to need to believe?”

I put out my hands “Prove it”

“Look behind you”

Silently, the saucer was descending.

photo by jazza on rgbstock.com

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Written  for the Light and Shade Challenge from Friday the 13th June 2014

 

 

The Angel

Sex! You come here for sex!

The most beautiful women in the world. For you here!

Our clean girls do filthy things. Come in and see!

These slogans and a hundred others were shouted at me as I walked around the red-light district. Debauchery and vice, some barely legal, others far gone yet slyly hidden, where all there for the money in your pocket. It was sordid and depraved and I was hunting for something to tickle my fancy.

I turned into a quiet side-street and found that the constant barrage of offers had ceased. Instead there was only a single man, sitting on a chair beneath a wooden carving of a devil. He looked at me and said quietly.

Would you like to see an Angel?

There was something about the way he said it, the look in his eyes, that compelled me to nod my head in agreement. I was lead in through the doorway and through to a room with no light. I heard a voice from the darkness.

You should go to a pear tree for pears, not to an elm.

Then were was light, a smell of sulphur in the air and I realized that what was in front of me was indeed an angel.

One that had fallen a long time ago.

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Written for the Light and Shade Challenge of Monday the ninth of June  2014