Sunday, 27 January 2013

Short Ghost Story....With apologies to Dante

The queue started to move and James got his coffee and a bottle of water. No place to sit he went outside and found a park bench with only one occupant and staring into space he started to sip. There was something about coffee that just tasted brown. His was bitter and it perked his eyes up, if it did deaden his taste buds.
Old men and women walked past him as he sat. The older they were, the slower they seemed to go. Each wore a sandwich board on his or her back. Some were quite blank, as if all hope had been rubbed from them, as if they had nothing to give, or at least felt they no longer contributed. Some had just a few words. One old man walked past, quite upright, his board said; “I’ve killed people for my country”, another was attached to a very small old woman, “Five children, nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren” some of the boards were covered with text. A man stopped to cross the street in front of James. His board was heavy and cut into his back, blood ran across his coat, it said.
‘My name is unimportant but my sin is too great to bear. In 1962 I married a woman I was not in love with for the sake of a child I did not want. In the course of my loveless marriage I made her life a living hell. I slept with other women, I had children by them, I flaunted my disregard for my wife and I held her in contempt.
In 1982 after twenty years of marriage she left me for another man. They are still together and are happy. I have not spoken to her since that day and neither she, nor my daughter have ever tried to contact me. I have not been held in a loving embrace since that day she left and this is my punishment.’
The man turned and looked both ways before crossing. His face was gaunt, almost hollow and where there should have been eyes there was nothing. Not sockets and that which sits behind the eyes, there was an absence, a nothingness that chilled James heart.
“Poor bastard” the man sitting on the end of the bench said.
“Excuse me?” James replied.
“Him, the guy who can’t get laid”
“Eh?” James said, “You mean you can see that too?”
“Well of course I can,” he paused and looked at James, whose hope that he was starting to regain some sense of reality plummeted from the shallow heights he had raised them to when he saw the man’s face, “I’m dead.” He paused, “he’s not though, I think that makes it even worse.”
The man on the end of the bench at first glance looked like any other businessman; he was smartly attired, if a little too trapped in the eighties. The double breasted suit and thin tie was a dead giveaway to the decade of decadence and Thatcherism.
“Ok” James said, “fair enough” he looked at the man more closely. There was something about the manner of his stare that could only come with knowing more than a living soul should had the right to know about the world and life. The eyes were the giveaway. Rather than telling everything about a person they were eyes that hid the truth that they knew for those who were not ready to receive that truth just yet. Of course the grey skin and cadaverous appearance gave the game a way a little also.
“I’m James” he reached over and offered his hand.
“Sorry James,” the man said, “I would love to shake your hand, but as you can see, I’m a little inert. My name is David, David Wilson.”
The man’s hand was trapped. James saw that not only were his palms were pressed to the wood of the bench, but they actually melted, ever so slightly into it. The man’s suit also slipped into the wood rather than rest atop it.
“Kind of my punishment” he said, “sandwich boards are harsh, I grant, but there are some really awful things that can happen.”
“Why the hell are you glued to a bench?” James exclaimed loudly.
“I’m a suicide” David said gaily.
“You killed yourself?”
“Well in a manner of speaking” the cadaver continued, “I sort of gave up living life and lived an existence instead”
“That clears a lot up” James tried not to roll his eyes.
“No need to be like that with me young man, I’ll explain if you like” he turned his head and James heard the cracks and creaks of a neck that was long past its sell by date.
“Sorry” James apologised.
“Quite all right James” the corpse continued, “I was a quite successful man and I, rather than look after what was, or should have been most important to me, I looked after my business and made money. I was a lawyer with a thriving practice and despite the best efforts of my family I turned over all my energies to that rather than to my wife and kids. They suffered most of all” He sighed.
“Oh” James didn’t know what to say, he watched the face of the former man and hoped he would continue.
“That’s it really” he said, “I didn’t blow my brains out or anything like that, I died on a golf course during a corporate even at the age of sixty two. It wasn’t my life that I wilfully destroyed, it was the potential life with my wife and kids that I wrecked, and so now, I sit here, on a bench erected in my honour.” He tried to lean a little closer to James, but failed.
“Take my advice kid” he rasped, “Don’t ever let them build you a bench, especially not outside your son’s house.”
The words hung on the air. Across the street a door to the tenement flats above the shops opened and from it stepped a tall man in his twenties carrying a child in a papoose. If tears could have come from David they would have done and in his anguish he vanished from sight, leaving nothing but a brass plaque where he had sat.
“In memoriam, David Wilson, Lawyer”
James stood, binned his half full coffee cup and decided to go for a walk.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Edinburgh gets some snow

Free Sci Fi short - Seres

Another free short - check it out andlet me know what you think - the below is the inspiration for Universe One - if any of you guys checked it out.

Commander Seres stood straight and proud on the flight deck of the Icaran. He was a tall man for his caste, well over two and a half metres, with an athletic build, a shaven head and – despite the years of hard service – a face that was craggy rather than ravaged by war and time. The life of a dog soldier had been good to him and his exploits had earned him the respect of the Icaran’s crew and their agreement to his leadership.
It was only a small transport and research vessel connected to a larger city ship but it held three hundred men and women and even a few children, all under his command. It was a position he had never hoped for in the early days but now, after a decade in charge, he had grown into the habit of salutes and respect without having to earn it in battle with someone, or something. The men and women he saw every day were more than his battle brothers from a former life: they were friends, and they were family. Leadership was sometimes lonely but he could, through the framework of the ship’s hierarchy, form lasting relationships with both the young and the old like himself. It gave him a sense of satisfaction he had never had in a battle group; the sense that he could be part of the next generation.
The flight deck was gunmetal grey, the flooring a steel meshwork on top of rivers of cables and pipes that regulated the thousand systems the crew relied on for air, food, energy and their transport across the galaxy. Long and thin, the deck’s edges were lined by consoles where the crew controlled the various parts of the ship. Three technicians on either side and the two pilots at the head, at the tip of the craft’s fluid angularity. Its shape seen from above was reminiscent of the flying lizards that Seres had spent time swatting from his food on a primordial planet years before.
The pilots moved deftly in their tasks. Genetically enhanced to improve their reactions and control the three hundred metres of space ship: wired into the engines and steering as well as each other. One knew instantly what the other was doing; although they could turn the systems off when not aboard, it was vital that if something befell one pilot during active service, the other knew. The skill of these men was beyond value, their brains unconsciously controlling the rapid movements and minute course changes required along any flight path.
Seres stood just behind them. He had always found their type fascinating. Unlike many who had been enhanced genetically either before or after birth, they showed no physiological difference to other mortals. He himself had been gifted a developed skeletal structure, the ability to shift his size and probably still his shape if he concentrated hard enough on the task, as well as his abilities as a soldier. Even when, after seven hundred years, he had finally retired that portion of his life, he kept the size and musculature he had become so very used to. In contrast the pilots looked just like any other men; the only change was in their minds, their processing power dramatically enhanced to give them the ability to control a million tons of fast-moving cruiser. Connections made and fused in an organic computer that matched even the greatest minds of humanity. Seres had been told the rumour that their actual intelligence, their cognitive powers outside the realm of the flight deck, was lessened slightly. He thought it had some merit, pilots being often the last to click when an idea or a joke was being batted around, although their position prevented any attempt to take advantage of that loss of social pace. They were treated with respect. And in any case with their training it didn’t matter.
As long as they did their duty by the crew and the ship, Seres didn’t care.
The jump through the dimension drift was going without a hitch. With the latest anti-matter engines aboard the ship could halve the time it took to drift to their next port of call. It was a luxury at last to have no reliance on inhabited star systems or the power capacitors of the colonised stars, the reserves being enough to voyage for over three years before the habitual refuelling at any one of a thousand ringed planets to have begun the production of refined antimatter.
He paced between the rows of computer terminals that lined the path to the cockpit proper where the two pilots sat. Technicians monitored the gravitational pull of the objects in real space, as they called it. Real space didn’t seem to be the best way of describing the universe that they lived in. They lived in ten dimensional space time rather than three dimensions that were visible to the human eye. Although this was the only other element they could traverse through, and even then at great care. Seres didn’t like to dwell on it, but every drift into the blackness of the dimension jump left him thinking of those who went away and never reappeared. The darkness of space travel was a painful step into the unknown that he did not like to endure for long. The view screen at the front of the ship revealed nothing but the blue glow of the space-time bubble around the ship, effectively giving them a zero mass.
It was nearly impossible to see into the dimension drift, although occasionally he thought he saw shadows at play behind the energy that shielded them. Shapes and patterns that his eyes and mind turned over and tried to make sense of, but never could. At any rate, without the bubble they would immediately be expelled, most probably in a billion pieces. Although gravity was experienced in this dimension, energy could not be, thus the need to remain within the bubble. He had gone through a phase of having the computer simulate the star systems they were passing on the view screen, but in the end he would always turn it back to the blue glaze.
His presence on the flight deck was in order to be one of the first to see the star they were travelling to. It was his relief, his moment to exhale and briefly to assume that he and his crew were safe again, at least until the next foray into the unknown. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he was suffocated by the confines of the dimension jump and longed for the colour of the universe proper.
‘Coming out in five, four…’ the co-pilot began. Seres listened to the rest of the count with his eyes closed opening them only when the Pilot remarked ‘oh dear’. He was sorely disappointed with what he saw.

Watching from a distance the crew of the Unnamed watched the ship pop into their dimension and immediately career off course towards the danger they had just narrowly avoided.  The captain ran a gnarled hand through his shock of erratic white hair and exchanged a smile with Stephen.
‘I see them’ the anxious call. Alan’s tweed coat flapping. There was anxiety in the rag tag crew of misfits. They had escaped one disaster and had launched themselves into yet more peril.
The craft they were watching had come out of its dimension jump too close to what it thought was a star. The black dwarf had too much pull and the miscalculation would cost them. By all rights they would be sucked in without hope of escape.
‘There must be a way?’ Nikola muttered in his clipped Balkan tones.
‘There always is’ said the tall Austrian.
‘OK but how Ludwig’ Alan blurted.

It had not always been so, life had changed. Alan recalled only a few days before an air raid had been continuing without respite. 1940 was not a good year to be in London. Kneeling under the kitchen table continuing to work, the note books out in front of him he had felt the ground shake and realized there was a strike nearby. With the failure at Dunkirk it was only a matter of time before the inevitable invasion. The only thing standing in the way was the air force at the moment; they numbered a few thousand men and the fighters they could get off the production line. He doubted they could save the nation without the hundred thousand troops captured in France. Regardless of the dire situation he had a responsibility and would finish it regardless of the irritation of high explosives. Another explosion erupted too close for comfort.
‘Shit’ Alan had fallen flat and waited. The noises moved off. The bomber’s first strike obviously. He shone the flashlight at the kitchen, a few broken panes of glass and a mug he liked were in pieces, but the rest of the house seemed fine. He stayed put and continued to work. The numbers in the notebooks dancing in front of him. His mind whirred and he played with the possibilities of the codes and the codes within codes that could be the secret to unlocking the elements he had before him. He needed something more logical than his own brain to achieve this, and certainly something that did not react badly to being kept up at all hours by bomber plans or fear or an impatient Prime Minister. If only he had got the train when he could instead of waiting around to see that blasted lawyer. A sale of a house in war time should not be that much of a deal, it was no where the Germans would want to bomb, yet to sell he needed far too much approval, it seemed an honest waste of the lawyer’s brain power, his money and both men’s time.
He had kept watch a short while before realising the ridiculousness of his vigil. He could see only the faintest glow of the fires through the blacked out, taped up windows. He switched the flashlight back to the papers he was working on and continued to cogitate. The bangs and thunder grew ever distant, from his flat in Westminster he felt the direction was to the East. The docks were getting a hammering again. The supplies being loaded in the Thames were minimal now but it was still a place of high population. The people there would be the ones to suffer. We could always build more boats, but not more people. That took a while.
He turned back to the numbers, irritated that his thoughts kept turning to the people, to the men and women, to the friends, although he had few, his manner and his shy approach to others kept people at arms length. He focused. He would get the numbers. But he would not get out from under this table. He rolled his jacket up and lay down; placing it under his head he held the notebook aloft, flashlight shining at it. He tried flashing the light on and off, moving the book, flicking the pages. He lay the book on his chest and switched off the light, trying to think. Fear of the dark, fear of the next bomb to drop made his heart race, but he scolded his brain and turned it back, working through the numbers in his mind, moving them, manipulating them, seeing the code. He pulled his pencil to the back page he knew was blank and in the dark wrote for three minutes before resting again and drifting off to the rumble in the distance.
Another Crash and a shriek. This time far too close.
Alan crawled from under the table to find the house keeper on all fours by his side. Tartan skirt rucked to her thighs and a bag of potatoes spilt and rolling across the floor.
‘What are you doing sir?’ she squawked, hurriedly rolling her skirts to cover the blotchy, limbs.
Alan helped the matron up. The short round woman looked cross for a minute before becoming a mother. She dusted him down before herself. She slapped the grime out of his lapels especially, before coming too close to his backside for comfort.
‘I’ll let you dust that down. Have you been under that damned table all night again sir?’ she enquired while finishing to brush the worst of the grime from her skirts.
‘Yes Mrs Havelock’ said Alan, ‘although I believe it has paid off this time.’
‘Jolly good sir’ she said, leaving her enquiry at that. A religious devotion to duty meant that Mrs Havelock had never asked a single question about Alan’s work, only that he worked for the Prime Minister and that if captured by Nazis she wanted no more information in her head than she needed. ‘I will not put you in danger by making conversation’ she had said.
Alan liked it this way, he was not able to speak with people easily and his nervousness at the ‘park’ had been treated as a sort of joke, despite his breakthroughs. When he did want to converse with his housekeeper in London he was only occasionally able to start conversations that did not fly in the face of Mrs Havelock’s national security rules and regulations.
He looked down in his hand at the notes he had made during the last few minutes of the night. The rest of numbers on the sheets no longer swam or moved. They were pinned between his own notes and figures, trapped in his mind by a set of rules that explained them, or at the very least allowed them to be explained. Maybe, just maybe they could start to pre-empt the raids, get the fighters in the air before they hit the Dover Cliffs. It would be the only way.
He turned to Mrs Havelock and started to ask a question, wanting to share his triumph in as low key way as he could, she waited expectantly, but he could not find the words, it was always the words that failed him.
He held up the red notebook like a referee sending off an unfortunate player and simply said, ‘Gotcha!’

The ship shook violently under Seres feet and the expected star did not appear on the view screens before him. Nothing but a darkness against the stars. There was immediate panic as the Icaran was bombarded with what felt like asteroids; the lesser energy shields absorbed most of the impact but from the displays to his left Seres could tell they had suffered at least one breach. A massive jolt hit the port side of the craft slowing it to minimum power, sending a young girl in a blue jumpsuit flying from her station to land on the floor at Seres’ feet. He hoisted her up with his massive arms and sat her down again as a parent would a child. She immediately went back to her work as if nothing had happened. In the whole experience Seres would reflect later that she had been the best of his command crew, simply because he did not notice her fear while the others were yelling or calling for information or help.
‘Calm!’ he barked. The noise stopped immediately. Seres stood straight, running a hand over his shaven head.
‘Where are we?’ he asked the pilot, yelling the length of the ten-metre flight deck.
‘Exactly where we’re supposed to be,’ the rapid nasal response came back.
‘Then where are the star and the planets?’ a technician wailed, standing and pointing at the shadows ahead of the ship.
Seres took a step and placed his hands on the nervous technician’s shoulders, his massive paws gentle on the technician’s neck, and leaning in, he whispered kindly in his ear. The tech, through fear and a feeling of calm exuded by his captain, ceased wailing and slumped into his chair, his eyes focused on his own screen, not wanting and not daring to look back up at the monster before them, getting ever closer.
The space-time bubble had remained functional at its lesser extent. It was a failsafe to allow them to ride through just such a possibility. The shell surrounding the ship protected it from the bulk of any physical damage, although the concussion was still felt across all eleven decks of the craft and according to the readouts had obviously caused a tear in the cargo bay. Thankfully, the habitation decks had not been affected. Nevertheless the possibility of what they were seeing was not something any of them had prepared for.
‘There,’ Seres said. ‘Enlarge the centre section of the screen.’ Before them lay the star they had expected to see, black against the deep forever of space: no more the bright red giant but burnt beyond recognition.
‘Black Dwarf!’ Seres yelled over his shoulder. ‘Black Dwarf!’

December 1926, how the hell did it get to December? Ludwig Witgenstein looked at the calendar page for a few moments. Sat at his desk in the forward command post he was used to more comfortable situations than this. He liked to have music and at least one book around. But he was here and had to make the best of it. An adjutant walked in and snapped a salute.
   ‘Yes?’ Ludwig asked.
   ‘The three prisoners are ready for their interrogations Colonel’ the moustache growled. He was a short man but effective in the current climate. Ludwig had responsibility for intelligence in the Northern front push against the communist insurgents who had taken hold of the Prussian, Polish border. He did not relish the action but it needed doing. The government was not strong and with the attempted coup by the Spartacists managing to almost derail the entire democratic process the year before it was vital that ay remnants of the disease of communism was removed. Ludwig had noting against the communist ideology, but he had his orders. They needed to know where the bastards would hit next, and more importantly how to get hold of their leader, the almost messianic blank.
   ‘I’m coming’ said Ludwig. He pulled his overcoat on. The snow was not too deep, but the temperature had plummeted to well below zero. He had a habit of picking up stupid illnesses on campaigns. He had managed to get ill twice in the Great War, in between claming his medals. Artillery factory to western front he had fought alongside men who he would not normally have looked twice at. His time in Cambridge had given him a respect for knowledge, but his time on the fronts next to what he had always regarded as he scum of the earth had given him greater respect for people’s capacity for bravery. He had led by example, charging guns and showing utter calm under the most intense fire. The military Merit and Silver medal were followed by two Iron Cross awards for the Battle of Bapaume. At 37 he was the youngest full colonel in the reformed Greater German Army after the Stalemate agreement was signed.
   Walking outside for the first time in two days the air struck Ludwig making him glad of his scarf and gloves. He whistled to himself a Mozart theme as he strolled along the cobbles of the half decent Polish town. It was early morning and the population was still not up and out. Their presence had sent many of the men running for the hills and many of the women, fearing the deserved reputation of the troops locked their doors and only scurried too and from their hovels when absolutely necessary. The Seargent led him to the barn holding the captured men. Ludwig was dismayed when he walked in They were hardly prepared. The men, having been left alone with the prisoners had decided to have some sport. All three tied to wooden kitchen chairs liberated from a nearby house, one was on his back, coughing and probably choking on his own blood; one was receiving the attentions of an overzealous private and one, still left alone was screaming at the soldiers watching and laughing to help his prone friend.
   The very presence of ‘the colonel’ in the barn sent the men into a quiet reflection. Only the aggressive guard, still slapping the face of the battered and bruised man failed to notice.
   ‘Corporal’ said Ludwig. The man stopped immediately. He turned and faced his commander.
‘Sir’ he saluted.
   ‘What happened?’ Ludwig asked.
   ‘It just seemed to start sir’ the man trembled as he spoke.
   ‘You had orders to watch them?’ Ludwig asked, his calmness building the tension in the others around him.
   ‘Sir’ the soldier stood ramrod straight.
   ‘You have disobeyed an order’ said Ludwig. The words provoked a gulp of expectation from the men in the barn. Disobeying an order could result in the death of a soldier, summary execution or even being shot out of hand was not unusual.
   ‘Be thankful’ said Ludwig, ‘that I have use for you Private.’ The man almost wet himself in relief. The immediate demotion and probable loss of a months pay was like winning a lottery. ‘Now get out of my sight. Sergeant, please educate the Private on why he does not beat defenceless men.’ The moustache frogmarched the still trembling Private outside. The man would appear later with a face black and blue, teeth would be missing and his nose broken, however his eyes and his hands and his feet would remain untouched. The Sergeant knew the value of an extra rifle and Ludwig knew he would gain the man’s loyalty for a short while as he now owed him his life.
   Ludwig turned to the one man left untouched by the disobedient soldier’s ministrations.
   ‘Young man’ he said, ‘do you speak German?’ There was no movement, Ludwig continued, ‘French? English? Dutch? Russian?’ Ludwig rattled off the names with fluency watching the man’s expression. His eyes flickered as he said Russian. Ludwig transferred to the language immediately.
   ‘Listen carefully’ he said in a close whisper, ‘the man I just set outside was punished for attacking your friends. I have no intention of hurting you or allowing you to be hurt if you help us. However I have every intention of killing you if you do not. Do you believe me?’ The man nodded slowly.
   ‘Excellent’ said Ludwig, ‘I have one question then, where is the weapon’s cache?’
   ‘I am just visiting my…’
   The man had no time to finish his sentence, as Ludwig pulled a pistol from his belt and fired the gun next to his ear. The bullet buried itself in the floor, the man screamed.
   ‘Bear in mind’ Ludwig said, ‘that I have no problem killing you, I am trying to stop a civil war in this area, expel the communist menace and hopefully save Germany from falling into the same ravaged state as Italy. Now, shall we try again?’ 
   ‘I er’ the man stammered.
   ‘Do you believe in God young man?’ Ludwig whispered in the ear he had not deafened. ‘I used to, and then I saw the terrible things that could happen to believers and non believers alike. I used to carry the gospels around with me. I used to recommend passages to my men. But it was all a placebo, a drug that worked only if you believed it would. Be of no doubt my young friend, there is no God, but even if there is a some subtle hint of hope in your heart, some element of you that still thinks that he may reach down and save you from this bullock freezing barn; be clear that God, if he exists, does not give one fuck about you, me or this wretched country. We are alone suckling at the teats of the gods we create for ourselves. For you it is this wretched politic, for me it is my duty to the people around me.’ Ludwig looked behind him to the men who had entered the barn. ‘Believe me young man, my god is a vengeful god and it will have its sacrifice. Now, where is the weapon’s cache?’

The ship shook violently again as the picture loomed before the whole flight crew.
‘Sir, we have a gravitational issue,’ the pilot said. ‘The star is pulling us in.’
‘It can’t be,’ said Seres. ‘We arrived just where we should have.’
‘No, sir,’ the co-pilot explained. ‘Gravity permeates the dimension jump. Because of the explosion and subsequent shrinking of the star, no doubt we were pulled into space further along than we should have been. We’re ... we’re effectively inside the previous sphere of the star, sir.’
Silence greeted this terrifying prospect. Seres strode to the front of the ship and knelt between the two men, their hands still moving and eyes rapidly blinking as they fought to take control of the ship.
‘Give me the worst,’ he said softly.
‘Crash and explode,’ said the pilot bluntly. Visibly straining, he was sweating, making minute movements as the processors controlling the ship fired his synapses.
‘The best?’ asked Seres.
‘A similar first part, I don’t think I can stop it. We’re going to have to risk a landing, and then possible survival on the surface of the star for up to a month given the power we have available.’
‘Possible once we go down,’ answered the pilot. ‘We can try to calculate for a drift going through the planet. If we attempt it now and fail we lose all power, no controlled landing and probable death for all aboard.’
‘Escape pods?’
‘There are four, sir, they hold seventeen people each. The rest of the ship is designed to function as autonomous life rafts, but they would fail to escape from the gravity well of the star.’
‘Then we go for the best possible course,’ said Seres, standing up. Their odds of survival if they tried to break free now were low. They could try to jump back into a dimension drift, but without precise calculations they might find themselves lost, stranded or dead. There was no way to control the ship through the precise manoeuvres. He took a step back. ‘I’ve always wanted to walk on the surface of a star,’ he muttered.
Then, ‘all available power to the gravity field,’ he yelled loudly over his shoulder. They were going to need it.
The pilot fired a series of thrusters to try to steady their descent. The space-time bubble had burst by now, and recreation of it was probably impossible and would certainly have cost the ship most of the power that remained in reserve. Seres was concerned but he had got out of tighter spots than this. He stood upright in the middle of the deck. His knowledge of flight mechanics was minimal; the only thing he could do was be a leader right now. The right example and the right figure for adversity. That was the best he could be. He reached for the communications array for the ship and when he spoke, his voice was clear and firm.
‘Icaran,’ he said, ‘prepare for crash landing. Brace for impact, brace for impact. ’
As his command reverberated around the ship, Seres kept his eyes fixed on the surface of the scarred rock they were heading towards. The surface loomed black under the ship’s strong landing lights. The craft stuttered, the pilot fighting against the ever-increasing speed as they sped towards the massive ball of black, its surface filling the whole view screen until the pilot pulled up at the last moment. The ship’s pointed prow miraculously did not dig in, the hull bumping along the impacted carbon surface with minimal debris. With the force shields acting as a cushion against an otherwise fatal impact, they finally slid to a halt.

‘Fucking Einstein’ Nikola Tesla grumbled at the newspaper he had just read. He threw it at the pile of papers he had been reviewing, taken from the library just the day before. 1918, a war on and there was still news of the German genius on every page. He wasn’t that special. He sipped gain at his rough coffee and stared out of his basement window at the feet of a hundred people passing every moment; his New York home, his palace in the new world, his prison of obscurity. He managed another gulp before the bitter cud at the bottom of the cup touched his lips. He spat it back out and looked again at the paper. The maid he employed for an hour a day moved behind him, placing things in order, the pieces of the puzzles he created for himself, the papers and pieces of metal in tidy piles for Tesla to get cross about later and reorganise in a flurry.
‘Something in the paper’ she asked.
‘That blasted German’ said Tesla. ‘And his curved space’ he threw the paper down, ‘it’s nonsense, space cannot be curved, there’s nothing in it! It’s like saying that God has properties we can see and feel.’
‘Sometimes you can feel God’ the girl said meekly, ‘I go to church every Sunday and my mother says that…’ Tesla cut her off.
‘Not like that’ he said, ‘those aren’t properties, they aren’t length and width and weight, those are attributes that you feel, your interpretation of the words of the hymns, of the prayers of the priests sermon, that isn’t properties, you aren’t feeling God, someone is making you feel that way, not God.’
The maid gave up quickly and continued to scrub down the kitchen area of the apartment. Tesla went back to his notes. The pile of unfilled patent applications on his table. His inability to go forward was a crippling disability. He had arrived in the states years ago and now with the deaths of those closest to him he was alone again and tinkering in the basement of this building wit the ideas that had intrigued him as a young man before he had started to work for the Ford company. His income from the shares he had been given was enough to survive as a man of leisure, to a point, but his half formed plans and unformed ideas on the nature of the universe plagued him. He would be better to spend his final few years socialising, making talk, seeing opera or maybe returning to his homeland, but the pain in his mind, the gaps he wanted to fill were more of a draw. He yearned to be able to satiate the hunger he felt for those missing pieces. If only he had the confidence to push himself out of his building, maybe to the university. Maybe just to talk to someone.
   He looked over the papers again. Plans for motors and coils, an interest in magnetic fields that he was sure could power greater amounts of energy, the ideas he had about wireless energy and field emission sat next to aborted plans concerning a hundred other ideas. He poured himself another cup of coffee. Today he would not think about these things, he would not regret, he would simply take solace in thoughts about his latest interest. He got up and walked towards the machine in the corner of the room. A small turbine using three magnetic fields as well as that of the earth itself it had been turning slowly for a week now. The power generation was feeding into the light bulb, glowing dimly atop the self directly above it. The energy field feeding directly into the element of the bulb. No wires. Tesla smiled.
He moved towards it and for a moment wondered. It was one of those ‘what if’ moments and Tesla made the adjustments to one of the Magnets and stood back. The maid came back in, bustling in her childish way, picking things up and putting them down. Tesla watched her as she cleared away the breakfast she had made him. He was filled with disgust at that point. She was young and innocent, able to do so much and yet she would accomplish, like him, so very little. He breathed heavily, trying to shake the melancholy from his mind. Wishing he wasn’t sat making wishes but rather doing something, pushing forward. She looked up and smiled at him, he eyes caught the bulb on the shelf.
‘That’s interesting’ she said.    
‘What is?’ Tesla asked.
‘Your bulb’ she said, ‘it’s getting brighter.’  

‘Gravity got the better of the last section of the land, sir, I’m sorry.’ The pilot turned around, anxious not to have displeased his captain. Seres just smiled.
‘You have done the impossible, Haft. We are alive,’ said Seres. He looked out at the desolate waste of the landscape, wondering again how far he had come and what the chances were of survival to the next refuelling stop. He soon returned to his default position. They were stranded, with little hope of any rescue. He would order a distress beacon to be sent up, but the chances of anyone hearing it within a thousand years were slim. In cases like this it was up to the leader to show that life could continue, and the world was not as scary as it perhaps suggested itself to be. But then Seres took a long look through the view screen at their captor and realised they were dead. They just did not understand that fact. The black dwarf star should not be here. The chances of something like this occurring were infinitesimally small over a million years. Seres had been to this system before, albeit a thousand years before, but this now carbon heavy star should not be able to exist. The power drain and forced fusion as well as immediate cooling would require an event of such barbarous negligence that no human or indeed any other species would be capable. He was worried for his crew and for the ship. The circumstances were beyond dangerous and dire; there was little chance they would ever be able to find a way off this cold chunk of stellar ash. He almost smiled to himself; he now had the luxury to be as brave as he could ever be, with no consequences other than the inevitable. He turned to his crew with a flourish.
‘Is the gravity shield extended around the ship?’
‘It is, it is,’ said the calmed technician, ‘but it can be pushed out by a further five hundred metres with little effect on the power reserves.’
‘Excellent,’ said Seres. He paused. ‘Who wants to go for a walk?’
Much to his delight the waif he had placed back in her seat during the turbulence was the first to stand up. He walked to the exit, throwing his arm around the girl as he went.
‘Let’s go then,’ he suggested. He was even starting to believe his own confident lie as he took five strides towards the exit. He could feel the incredulous stares of his crew at his back. If he believed he was a dead man, maybe he could use that for just long enough to convince them they could live.

The weather was hot. The final day of the three day game between Cambridge University and the M.C.C. at Lords was proving a dull affair, petering out to a draw. The M.C.C. already ahead by a handful of Runs with just twelve overs before the game would be called.
Stephen looked down the wicket at the batsman again. His hand gripped the red ball firmly, his right hand, index and middle finger flexed, feeling the subtle give of the red leather. He ripped the ball, it fizzed in the air and he caught it again. A show, a pantomime for the man at the other end. He was not fast, he was not going to crash a bouncer into the man’s head, but he was dangerous enough. 
Stephen’s bowling action was a simple one. He did not run but rather walked with rhythmical pace. His arm swinging up, pointing at the batsman before windmilling round as he delivered the ball. Twenty two yards of flat dusty pitch on the fourth day. Cambridge were in a rut, but if he could just get this one man out, this irritating groundstaff jock playing for the MCC he could give them half a sniff at a victory. The batting to come for them was weak, nine ten and jack on a pitch that was turning; he needed to get into those men. With twelve overs left in the day they could be skittled out, but this kid, this arrogant all rounder was blasting people all over the ground. He couldn’t win, but he was like a Leonidas, wanting to rage against the ever encroaching hordes. He had been in for two hours and had made ninety three. Light hair, his name was John, or Ian? Stephen didn’t care, he just needed him out.
Stephen took his first step and bowled. The ball tossed high, but undercut, the rotations dipping the ball at the batsman’s feet as he skipped down the pitch, his bat already through the shot the red ball turned off the pitch through the gap between bat and his pads. Bouncing high it was taken by the wicketkeeper who brought his hands down onto the stumps and missed. Stephen held his head in his hands as the batsman regained his ground laughing. The ball was tossed back to Stephen by an apologetic wicket keeper.
‘You owe me a pint’ Stephen said through gritted teeth.
‘Try again proffessor’ the fortuitous batsman called.
Stephen wound up again, his delivery in anger was wrong, too full, too fast the batsman’s eyes lit up and he sent the ball straight back over the bowler’s head seventy yards. The ball clattering into the pavilion steps, sending the dozing members into a fury, their slumber roused.
‘Wake up’ The batsman called.
The captain jogged over to Stephen. He was a young undergrad who was being pushed through a degree in land management on his way to captaining England.
‘Easy Prof’ he said.
‘Its fine’ Stephen reassured him. ‘Remember which one of us plays for England.’
He skipper laughed. Stephen had gained his first cap last summer at the Oval. Taking three wickets in the second innings on a dusty pitch. It was his only game, finishing the doctorate taking priority, Stephen desperate to get it done before he was thirty. 
Stephen wound up again. He looked at the batsman. The ball would turn past the edge, but his hands were too quick. The answer was to slow it down. He bowled his off break, fingers wrapping round the ball turning it into the batsman from well outside the off stump. He ball hit the turf, a puff of dust erupted off the surface. The batsman was again through his stroke too soon, not reading the turn right he watched in horror as the ball clattered into the stumps.
The batsman, out on ninety nine tucked his bat under his arm and strode off, nodding politely to Stephen as he went.
‘I’ll have to remember him’ said the captain.

‘Commander Seres?’ Juval, his second-in-command, came running down the corridor as the captain with his three volunteers for the star walk were making their final preparations. Even the waif looked ready for the adventure, buoyed up by the joking and playful men he had at either side. His medical officer and the chief science officer had both been keen and volunteered immediately after their youthful companion.
   ‘Change your mind, Juval?’ Seres smirked.
   ‘Hardly, sir,’ said Juval.  ‘I value my life and the command of the ship. Should you be incinerated in a solar sinkhole, we have no way of knowing how deep the burnout of this star goes.’
‘This is the work of those bastards though, isn’t it?’ the science officer chimed in.
‘I don’t doubt it,’ said Seres, turning back to Juval. ‘Now what do you want?’
   ‘It’s another ship, sir,’ said Juval.
   ‘What, in orbit?’
   ‘No sir, it’s outside.’
   ‘Impossible,’ said Seres. ‘We saw nothing when we landed?’ He looked at the waif, Sypo, who shook her head in confirmation.
   ‘Well, it’s a good thing I’m dressed up then, isn’t it?’ he frowned. ‘How far away is it?’
   ‘About a hundred metres,’ said Juval. ‘It has extended its own grav field over ours, taking some of the strain from our engines.’
   Seres raised an eyebrow. ‘Keep ours ready to take the strain back should they fail to continue their hospitality.’
   He dismissed his executive officer with a wave and finalized his preparations. They made their way through the air lock system that extended out underneath the nose cone, the hydraulics bringing them down to the surface. The doors opened to a sea of black glass, the other ship in the distance almost invisible against the alien scene. Stepping outside the men felt the effects of the gravity shields take hold and keep them firmly within normal gravity. The batteries would not last long though. Seres kicked at the surface. Like tempered steel with a glassy sheen: no dust flew up, even in the false gravity. Across the desolation Seres could see from the other ship a singular figure striding across the surface towards him. The ship was human and modern in design, although the markings were unusual for a transport. It had obviously had some form of modification done as the engine block at the back was at least three times the size of his own ship’s, which was itself three times the size of the transport. Seres stoopd and waited for the man who seemed to gambol enthusiastically.

It had been a week since their kidnap, two days since their escape and ten minutes of a gentle stroll before he saw just how big the stranger from the crashed ship was. While he walked he thought about how to explain who he was. Surely in this universe there were stranger things than him. He was out of place, out of his own reality according to all reasonable investigation. A mad experiment by a scientist with too much time on his hands and a passion for the past. He, the others, all snatched from their own times by technology their captor didn’t understand, let alone him.
He had been at a party. It was going rather well, he had danced, made merry, then he suddenly felt like he could taste the colour blue and that was it. In an instant he was aboard a ship floating in the dead of space.
The others were the same.
People he recognised, some people he knew but did not know. Taken from their worlds and alternate earths to converge on this far distant time: ten thousand years later.
It had been easy enough to depart their prison. When you trap minds like that together they soon realise that a gilded cage is still a cage. But now what? A ship at their command they stumbled into this.
Their captors would have left the stricken people, but what good was technology if you didn’t use it to help your fellow man.
In the end that was all they could offer a universe that had forgotten Earth. A touch of humanity.

Seres marvelled at the bizzare terrain. The star had begun the process of turning into a black dwarf, a roaming lump of coal in space. Although black dwarfs would usually form over thousands of years some massive power drain had crusted the star completely. Seres guessed that it was no more than a third the size of an average planet, perhaps even as small as a moon. The problem was the gravity. Without the suits and the space time bubble extending from the ship to dull the effects they would all be much shorter; in fact, becoming part of the surface of the star. If the process went the wrong way this could get nasty. They had power to survive for a short while, but being crushed by a star collapsing in on itself to the extent it became a singularity would certainly not be how Seres would want to end his days.
   The approaching figure, dressed in human gear, was shorter than he expected and the suit, designed for a man of seven or eight feet in height gave the unlikely appearance of a child in oversized clothing. The visitor came to a halt a few yards before Seres, flipped the face screen to clear, and now Seres could see the small man inside.
‘My name’s Albert,’ he said with a thick German accent, ‘and we’ve come to give you a hand’.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Hobbit - Film Review


Spoilers alert – spoilers ahoy – spoilers spoilers everywhere. – for you see even if you have read the book, I really don’t want to give you the misapprehension you know what is about to occur. Stop now….don’t say I didn't warn you.

The film begins with a bang –an eruption of splendour as we are shown the caverns of Erebor, the might of the dwarves, the sudden terror of the great dragon Smaug. It gets the passions going, the hopes building like the very best starter you have ever had, followed by alas, a slow, hazy wistful drawn out introduction to all other things middle earth. The world’s greatest appetiser is followed by porridge of the very worst kind. 

Sickly sweet and without change in pace, tempo, or in the case of our eponymous hero: facial expression.
The director does try to inject into this film the background, the character and the feeling of history that some felt was lacking for the previous trilogy. There is a prolonged detour through Rivendell, there is Radagast the Brown: a scenery chewing, bird crap covered, rabbit coveting turn by Sylvester McCoy and there are nice touches as we journey about the character of the dwarves and the swords they eventually wield.

Thorin is suitably heroic while the others will come into their own in the subsequent outings. But I can’t help but wonder if they have over egged this a little too much. The full audio cast recording done by the BBC for the Hobbit comes in at three hours and forty five minutes. With trailers and the queue for popcorn this is how long I spent in the cinema for the first of three installments.

This is a beautiful work of art, but without soul. It is over made, over worked and in the final analysis, it under performs  being neither adult nor children’s fare. We are drawn into a long journey that we want to take, but despite threats of Trolls, Goblins and even an angry Christopher Lee, we never feel the dwarves terror, fear for their safety or connect with their plight save a single moment when despite it all Martin Freeman manages to move the audience and his dwarvish companions when he tells them why he has stayed the course.

But this is one of only a handful of promising moments, gobbets of joy in an otherwise dull and occasionally silly affair. We will suspend our disbelief only so far. The worst crime in a fantastical journey is that we feel foolish undertaking it. Peter Jackson treads perilously close to this boundary.

It is possible I am being too hard on what is simply the first part of the journey. I hope and pray to the Valar that parts two and three will take a shaky start and create a masterpiece of cinema and storytelling.


Take an extra bag of sweets. Don’t open them till you get to Rivendell. You’ll thank me later.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

This new Bradley Cooper vehicle has been billed as a romantic comedy in some circles – don’t let it fool you – this is much much better.

A film about seeing the world differently and the kindness of strangers.

Pat has had a breakdown. Finally out of hospital he moves back in with his parents on a conditional release, restraining order in place against him preventing any contact with his estranged wife.

But Pat wants her back and can’t understand why she and the world won’t, can’t, see how he has changed and what he wants to put right in himself.

Bradley Cooper doesn't really cut loose with his characterisation of someone suffering from a bipolar disorder - which is a very good thing. His portrayal is nuanced and his speech clipped. He doesn't express madness, but rather flails behind blank blue eyes; creating a sympathy and sadness one feels for the perpetual failure.

Cue Tiffany, a friend’s sister in law with similar issues. The two get together in a platonic bond over a deal. Pat helps her, she helps him. But it becomes much more. Jennifer Lawrence is the sugar in this cinematic brew. Her sudden outbursts veering from control to unhinged elicit the same feelings of despair for her we feel for Pat and as the film progresses we are left wondering as to how there can be a positive outcome.

There are no guarantees and with a real catharsis the viewer is left in an anxious state as we come to the denoument and realisation that no matter how we see the world sometimes we just can’t fix things with words.

The support is excellent. The film’s portrayal of frustration and fear when dealing with the two leads is the real success of an ensemble cast who show off not just the impact of imbalance on those suffering, but also on those they love and who love them.  

This is not a first date movie, but definitely a third date movie you can talk about on a slow walk home.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Free Book Friday

Check out Free Book Friday - My New Sci Fi Novella - Garden - Free for St Andrews Day

Click Here

Follow me @BarryCooper53

Enjoy and if you liked it - please review!!


Sunday, 11 November 2012


Achilles. How the women used to swoon at the name. Only twenty five he stood a head above most mortals. Long golden hair that had never been cut ran in a plait down his back. He never wore a shirt unless in battle, he barely wore clothes if he had to. He would stride between the tents wrapped in a cloth if anything. Body oiled, hairless and toned like a predator. He was a cockerel, a man who showed off to all, regardless of their station he would make men feel small by comparison. He did not mean to do it. His manner was as beautiful as his body. He would slap men on the shoulders, he would complement them on their days work, and he never forgot a name, ever in the time I knew him. His thick arms would wrap themselves around an unsuspecting ally and he would wrestle them to the ground before they swapped stories.
He loved to listen. He would tell his fair share of tales, but most of all he would love to sit by the firesides during that long campaign and hear of other men’s lives. Their fights, their wives, their children.
He was a student as much as a warrior, a student of war, of killing. He would stop men in discussion as they talked of some conflict or parry and ask them to show him. He would watch them and mimic them, like some grand strategy was playing out in his mind he would twist and turn with them to see why the strike had worked.
He was the greatest of us truly. As kind in camp as he was terrifying to face on the field. His swords would whirl like the claws of an unmentionable beast. Even across the field of battle he could be seen by the plumes of life’s blood set free by his sharpened fury.
He was the reason for our greatest victories and our greatest failures.
It was the start of the conflict that I remember most vividly. The prizes of war captured, gold, silver and gemstones from far away lands. Slaves too. One in particular took Achilles fancy. Briseis. A small girl with hair the colour of coal she was a mouse one moment and then flew at him the next. Scratching at the great Achilles she feinted. Her hysterical lunge a ruse to get her hands on a knife. She whipped it from the belt of the man nearest to her as Achilles threw her off laughing. He didn't see and neither did we. He stood calmly and then turned like a child’s top, her extended arm slashing at the throats of the still laughing men.
By the time Achilles had hold of her arm five men lay dead or dying on the floor. She was not a wild cat, she was not some spirited woman, she was much more. Maybe an assassin sent to slaughter our own kings and heroes, maybe just something more than what she appeared.
Achilles said nothing. He took the knife from her and bound her hands and feet before throwing her over his shoulder and taking her to his tent.
Obviously uproar. Achilles summoned to explain himself before Agamemnon. While he was kept busy the girl was stolen and prepared for execution. Agamemnon wanted to do it himself. She was dragged in. Naked, beaten, raped and thrown on the floor. Achilles was motionless. Of all the men present I had seen him fight the most. He was always controlled, always able to wield his hands as the weapons he wished them to be, but that control was not there in his eyes. He was motionless because he did not know what to do next.
The imperceptible trembling of his hands became more evident as Agamemnon launched a tirade of abuse at the girl. He ranted for a minute or more, his insults and vulgarities ever more colourful.
‘I should keep you alive and chained as a cunt for my guard’ he finally growled.
‘King’ Achilles whispered.
It was a magic, of that I am sure some immortal god made us listen because they knew if we did not we would all have died at Achilles hands.
‘What’ the squat, arrogant king snarled.
‘I will return home or I will stay and fight’ his voice was barely there, afraid to unleash it.
Agamemnon looked stunned.
‘What do you mean by this?’ the king advanced on Achilles, who even bare-chested seemed a bear to the King’s barking hound.
‘If the girl is mine, I stay. If the girl is yours I go. If the girl dies?’ His voice trailed off. The men in the tent were stunned. No one moved, no one said anything. Achilles looked only at the girl.
‘You have twelve days to decide.’
With that he marched out.
Agamemnon was no fool. He needed Achilles and so the girl was easily parted with after he had taken his own amusement with her.
Heroes are the things we admire made flesh. You will never meet your heroes, you will only hear about them and wonder whether they truly were that golden.
Agamemnon sent his brother Menelaus, King of Sparta, to deliver the girl. A bloody mess wrapped in rags she was no more than a corpse with half a breath still in her.
But Achilles kept his word but it was not for her sake that he returned to the fray.
The Myrmidons had grown weary of their leader’s reticence to fight. He stayed in his tent a further twelve days. Tending  to Briseis or fucking his cousin Patroklus. Younger by a handful of summers he was slimmer but still possessed the athlete’s body. He fought with the Myrmidons now, a fully-fledged warrior. They were inseparable during those days. Achilles would joke with me that it was like fucking himself so alike were they.
It was after Hector had beaten us back almost to the beaches that Patroklus acted. Stealing away from his lover he took Achilles armour and his helm. Rousing the Myrmidons from their imposed rest he led them out.
The whole Greek army cheered when they saw him. Our hero, our champion, Achilles was there and he dove into the fray. The armies clashed and he was relentless. Pushing on and on to the city walls he clambered over the fallen to reach up and scale those steep stone ramparts. But the rocks and arrows flew at him. Three times he tried but was finally beaten back. A last surge by the Trojans meant hector and Patroklus were face to face.
Hector, the tamer of horses, the prince of Troy was like nothing I have seen. As big as Achilles or Patroklus he whirled and span like a dancer of death, eventually catching Patroklus in the leg with tip of an extended spear. The boy yelped and was quickly swallowed up by the Greeks who returned with him borne aloft to camp.
But the wound had caught his vital vessels and his blood continued to pour from him. A cry went through the camp that Achilles was hurt until the helm was removed beside his black sailed ships and the truth discovered.
Achilles emerged naked just woken, bemused at the racket. His cry when he saw his lover dead in the sand will remain with me forever. It was the agony of a lover, a bother and a father. He collapsed and gathered the body to him, shrieking vengeance, calling for the Gods to hear him, calling for the earth that bore him to witness his oath of revenge against an entire people.
No one spoke, no one said anything. There was no period of mourning, no period of respect for Patroklus. He was stripped there and then, his naked body left in the dust. When Achilles was ready he knelt, kissing the dead man’s hair, then his heart, then his limp lifeless hands and finally his feet.

No one said anything. Achilles just walked towards the city walls. We followed and we watched.