Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Vigilante Justice in London

Can vigilantism ever be justified? Perhaps it can in a lawless, corrupt or anarchic state where the 'authorities' cannot be relied upon. But in a civilised first-world nation such action is unlikely to be of much help. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Fiction generally glamourises vigilantes, showing that taking the law in one's own hands is the most immediate and satisfying way to punish those that have committed the most heinous crimes. The most famous fictional vigilante is probably Batman. But his methods are far from subtle, and he leaves an incredible amount of destruction in his wake. A better idea may be to entice miscreants to meet their justice in a surreptitious manner, making them walk willingly into an irresistible trap. This would avoid involving innocent bystanders, and also the attentions of law enforcement agencies.

In my short story 'The House on Park Street' a man does just that, quietly and efficiently dispatching violent thugs in Mayfair, London. Read it in its entirety below:

They watched him as he left the Jeroboams wine shop and headed up the street, his tweed clothing almost monochrome under the pale street lighting.  He walked swiftly, swinging a heavy-looking dark fabric bag. 
 “That’s really expensive drink he’s got.”
Ant nodded, and then looked at Kev.  “Let’s get him.”
They followed the man, matching his foot steps, as he turned left on to Grosvenor Street.  It had started to rain.  With his head down the man picked up his pace considerably, quickly reaching Grosvenor Square and cutting across it.  Ant and Kev struggled to keep up.  The man passed by the American Embassy.  With the rain now heavy the man turned right into Park Street.  It was quiet, and very late. 
Kev was breathing hard.  He caressed the blade in his pocket.  “I’m sick of this walking.  Let’s do it now.” 
“Yeah.” Ant said. 
The man had stepped up to a door and was standing under the shelter of its white-columned porch.  He put down his bag and fumbled though the inside of his jacket.  Kev took his blade out of his pocket but kept it down at his side.  Ant followed suit.  As they were about to step up to the man he turned and grinned. 
Ant and Kev stopped, startled. 
“Awfully bad luck, what?” the man said with joviality.  “The one time one forgets one’s umbrella it absolutely pours!”  He looked them up and down. 
“Happened to you chaps as well, I see.  At least you have hoods!”  He pulled something out of his pocket and held it up.  It glinted in the light of the nearby street lamp.  “Ah ha!”  He turned towards the door and unlocked it. 
Kev nudged Ant and frowned.  Ant took a step forward, and then stopped.  
The man had turned and was grinning at them again.  He picked up his bag and gave it a quick shake.  The chink of glass bottles was heard.  “I say, would you chaps like to join me?” 
Ant and Kev looked at each other, and then back at the man. 
The man continued.  “I was planning on getting rather merry on my own tonight, or ‘on my tod’ as they’d say in Bethnal Green.  Being on one’s ‘tod’ can be frightfully dull, though.”  He opened the door, flooding the porch with warm light.  “It would give you two a chance to dry off.  You’re both positively drenched!”  He beckoned.  “Come on in.  It would be awfully decent of you if you did, and such jolly fun.” 
Ant stepped forwards. 
Kev grabbed his shoulder and whispered.  “Do him, now!” 
Ant shook his head.  “Inside.  Look at his pad, man.  Jackpot!” 
Kev looked through the doorway and then nodded.  They both followed the man through the doorway.  Inside, the hallway was lit with soft ambient lighting, and furnished with dark wooden side tables and upholstered chairs. The carpeting was deep blue, and soft. 
The man took off his wet jacket and headed past the staircase on the right towards the back of the house.  “Follow me!”  He said, throwing his jacket onto the banister.  “Oh, and be so kind as to close the front door.” 
Kev grunted and slammed the door shut.  There was a whirring noise, and then a click.  He frowned at Ant. 
The man appeared at a door way.  “Don’t mind that sound, security and all that.  Can’t be too careful these days, what!”  He waved.  “This way.” 
Ant and Kev walked to the back of the house and into an expansive kitchen. 
The man was at the back, already unpacking his bag of beverages.  When he finished he held up the largest bottle, dark green with a deep red and gold label. He grinned.   “Krug Vintage Brut!  A fine one to start us off, don’t you think?” 
Ant and Kev looked briefly at each other and then nodded.  They gripped onto their blades, still held close by their sides. 
“Excellent.”  The man said, opening a cabinet door.  He pulled out three tall champagne flutes and placed them on the dark marble worktop, and then he started twisting the bottle’s cork.  He turned and nodded towards the centre of the kitchen.  “You’d better stand there.  This could splash.”  He laughed.  “Not that you could get much wetter after that downpour!” 
Ant frowned but then decided to play along.  He nodded at Kev.  They stepped to the left. 
The bottle popped open and a gush of champagne fizzed out.  The man chuckled.  “Such fun!  Dreadful waste, though.”  He poured a glass and took a sip.  He swallowed, letting out a sign of satisfaction, and then reached into his right trouser pocket.  He pulled out what looked like a small mobile phone.  “There’s a large round button on this which I must press now.  Hope you don’t mind.” 
Ant and Kev frowned.  They watched as the man made an exaggerated motion with his thumb and pushed the button.  With a muffled clunk the floor fell away. 
They dropped. 
Ant gasped and instinctively reached out, managing to grab the edge of the hatch that had opened up beneath him.  He heard a scream from below, a fading yell of desperate profanity, and then a distant thud.  Breathing hard he looked down, but could see nothing but darkness.  He felt a tap on his right hand and looked up. 
The man was crouching next to him, almost silhouetted against the bright halogen lights on the ceiling beyond.  He was still holding his glass of champagne.   “Well done.”  His voice was deeper now, less refined.  “You’re the first one to manage this.” 
Ant felt sick.  He was sweating.  His heart raced.  “Pull me up, man!” 
The man shook his head. 
“We weren’t gonna do nothin’!” 
“You were planning to rob me, and quite probably kill me.  And I have no doubt that you’ve succeeded in doing that to many others.” 
Ant felt his fingers slipping.  “Come on, man!” 
The man ignored him and stood up.  He was still holding the device he had used earlier to open the hatch.  He pushed another control and held it to his ear.  “… Yeah, there’s another.  He’s hanging on to the edge...  I know.  He’ll be on the way in a moment.”  He put the device back in his trouser pocket and looked down at Ant. 
Ant was shaking, his eyes wide.  “Please!” 
The man took a sip from his glass.  “You take from society, but offer nothing but pain and misery in return.”  He seemed to focus for a moment on the bubbles in his drink, and then looked back down.  “You contribute nothing of value.”  He stepped forwards.  “You are worthless.  Pointless.” 
Ant’s grip was failing.  “Help me!” 
The man brought his right foot forwards and nudged Ant’s fingers. 
Ant fell.  He gasped and watched in terror as the light above receded, and then an incredible force hit.  An unusual pain, deep and widespread, consumed him, and the iron tang of blood filled his mouth.  
He tried to breath, but nothing happened.  
He gazed, weak, faint, at the square of light far above.  The man was peering down.  After a moment he moved away, and the square of light began to narrow.  
Ant tried to yell, but nothing happened. 
The light narrowed to a sliver, and then vanished. 
In the darkness, something tugged at his arm…

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Tales of Nuclear Armageddon

There are many stories about nuclear war. I find them utterly chilling, but irresistibly compulsive. To me they are probably the most frightening books or films that have ever been written. The scenarios of most are, or were, almost entirely plausible. And that is were their power lies.

Such powerful stories are what motivated me to write the very short story below. Titled 'Three Ancient Trees', it features a nuclear holocaust from the point of view of an unusual extra-terrestrial infestation that is feeding off the human cadavers that are brought to them by generation after generation of the local children. When the unthinkable does eventually happen the infestation, unlike the humans that serve them, has a means of escape.

The story is short enough that I can include it in its entirety below. Enjoy:

The offspring always played beneath the three ancient trees.
In the spring, despite the smell of decay, they would laugh and giggle with joy, the bitter cold of previous months banished from their thoughts.
During summer they would gather the large spiky seed pods from amongst the bones, tearing them open to reveal the hard seed inside.
When autumn came they would pile up the fallen leaves and then kick them high into the chill and strengthening wind, spreading the now sodden bones far and wide.
And when the gloom of winter returned they would place the bodies of their offerings at the base of the wide trunks of the trees, packing them tightly with snow, preserving them for absorption when the thaw finally came.
And they did all that without remorse and hesitation.  The dew-like droplets above made sure of that.
The droplets watched, all-seeing, as the bipedal offspring performed their tasks below, occasionally dropping onto them and sinking into their skins to motivate and persuade, to instruct and reward.
Functioning as one and as many, the droplets had for millennia feasted on the remains of those brought to them by the thousands of generations of offspring that had played below.  Once the trees had extracted the nutrients from the putrefying corpses at their roots the droplets would suck the nutrients from their leaves, euphoric in their effects.
Occasionally the parents of the offspring and others would come, and they would run from the sight of the bones and decay.  Some of the droplets would follow, riding the air as mist, reaching into those that would try and stem the flow of their sustenance.  The larger bipeds were always subdued.  They would not object to the work of the offspring, and they would never return.
As the centuries passed the number of offspring grew, and so did the number of nutritious bodies for the roots to absorb.  The dew-like droplets thrived.
But then the lights and the burning winds came.
Just after dawn one day, as the first of the offspring approached dragging a large nutrient-rich body through the deep snow, the horizon all around lit up.  Dozens of lights, like new suns, rose and swelled, erasing the clouds from the sky and sucking up immense swirls of hot dust.  The offspring scattered, many burning as the heat of the lights bubbled and blackened their skin.  Gusts, long and hard, blew away the snow.
The trees burned.
The droplets, airborne, swirled in the violent winds, before coming to rest on the scorched branches of the trees.
The offspring were gone.
The trees were dead.
Snow soon returned, speckled grey by the dust that now darkened the sky.
The offspring never returned.
The droplets were hungry.  They had no choice.  Rising through the frigid air as mist, they headed up to where the air was no more, and left.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Stench of Eternal Life

Stoors - stinking bison-like animals that decay like the dead when exposed to sunlight - would not be thought of as likely to hold the secret of eternal life.

But it's believed that they do. And Oornu and Uurna know that.

In the short novel, 'Bone Pit', Oornu and Uurna capture two and attempt to return them to their village. If successful they will be the first to do so, and will receive the praise of the elders and have their story told to the generations that follow. The danger, though, is immense, and both of them have underestimated it. As they travel home on the stoors' backs their suffering becomes tremendous and nauseating:
The sun was bright and high and the air thick with heat and humidity.
The tension and dread Oornu felt was growing.  He knew that the thick fronds of tall grass would provide protection for only another hour, barely enough time to reach the safety of the tree line that still seemed to be no closer than the horizon.  But reaching such safety in time seemed more unlikely with each passing minute.  Even without the direct stimulation of sunlight the stench of the putrefying hides of the stoors was close to becoming overwhelming.  His mate, Uurna, had already passed out twice, requiring a precious dose of jell each time to bring her round.  And she looked like she was on the verge of passing out again.
Uurna spoke, her voice weak and wheezy.  “Please.  We must stop.”
Oornu looked back at her.  He shook his head.  “We’d never make it to the trees.  We must continue.”
With a moan Uurna vomited.  The head of her stoor was sprayed liberally once again with semi-digested food, and this time blood as well.  It hissed and snorted as it tried to shake Uurna’s stomach contents from its face, its big black eyes blinking furiously as red-stained bile dribbled into them.  Weakened, Uurna struggled to stay on the creatures’ decomposing back.
She would not survive much longer.
“Please…”  She said, feebly, spitting more blood and bile.
Grassland that Oornu and Uurna must get the stoors across before midday

Despite Uurna's desire to give up, and despite their deepening weakness and pain, Oornu insists on continuing, especially when what he'd once known only as a legend seemed now to be absolutely true:
As his vision cleared he could a see wash of movement beneath him as the ground rushed passed – a blur of green and brown and grey.  For a few seconds he could not remember where he was, or why he was moving so fast.  Or indeed what the clattering and grating sound all around was.

And then something touched his face.

Oornu turned over.  Kneeling over him was Uurna.  She looked sick, and her expression seemed consumed with pain.  Somehow she managed a brief smile.

Oornu looked around.  The stoor, which had previously been a mass of rotting muscle and entrails, was now almost a clean skeleton, with only few strands of flesh and cartilage still attached to its thick spine above.  The stench of decay had almost gone.

Uurna pointed ahead.  Straining, Oornu sat up and turned, resting his hands on the creature’s heaving ribcage to steady himself.  There, a few strides in front, was the other stoor.  It too was nothing more than a stripped skeleton, and it was running with remarkable speed through the tall fronds of grass.  It was a remarkable sight.

As their own flesh starts to decay, and as they realise where the stoors are heading, they fear their lives are soon to end, without achievement or glory. They will be forgotten, their story never to be told to those that follow:
Oornu touched his lower leg.  His finger sank in through the skin, releasing a putrid dull green flow of puss.  He pushed harder.  The muscle on the front of his leg fell away revealing the white surface of his tibia.  He tensed up, his stomach tightening.  “This can’t be happening!”

Uurna sniffled.  “We are infected.  We cannot return to the village.”

Oornu looked at her.  “We must.  The medicine charmer will...”

“We will be killed.  You know that!”  Uurna said.  Her head sank.  “And the medicine charmer only brings comfort to the dying, nothing more, and only then to those of great age.”  She looked up.  “You know that, too.”

Oornu nodded once.  He closed his eyes for a few seconds, trying to focus his mind to find a solution.  But his mind was already consumed with anguish, and deep despair.  He felt breathless, nauseous.  “What can we do?”

Uurna obviously had no answer.  She looked ahead.  The tall fronds of grass were thinning, and the landscape was becoming open and rocky.

But, the hideous effect that capturing stoors has had on their bodies has an incredible, if possibly unwelcome, side effect. Their story may not be forgotten after all. In fact, it may well become the most amazing story every told...

Read 'Bone Pit' now and find out why.

Could the 'Bone Pit' be down there?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Breath Like a Crocodile's Fart

In my acclaimed short story, 'Crocodile Wind', Nathan is eager to convince his disbelieving girlfriend, Aiko, that his bad morning breath smells identical to a crocodile's fart. He quickly arranges a demonstration at the local city zoo to prove it.

At the zoo a recently fed adolescent Philippine crocodile soon provides a jar full of rectal gas for Nathan's purposes.

Philippine Crocodile

Aiko reluctantly prepares to inhale the jar's contents:
She held up the jar just beneath her nose. Nathan and Jason were staring at her and nodding. They looked like ten-year old boys waiting for her to do some revolting dare, which she actually was.  Rolling her eyes she unscrewed the lid and breathed in. A stench, powerful in its potency and offensiveness, enveloped her. She screwed up her eyes, and then her gag reflex triggered as odours reminiscent of rancid vegetation and putrefying innards registered in her brain. And all of that accompanied by the expected scent of defecation. 
After a few seconds a strong after smell, much like the reeking tang of heavily mature blue cheese smeared in stale sweat, congregated in her mouth. She coughed, and dropped the jar. It shattered on the concrete floor.

Is Nathan right? Does his breath really smell like the exhaust of a crocodile's anus? And will Aiko agree? Read the story and find out...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hideous Rituals

Throughout human history there have been some quite horrendous rituals performed by tribes and civilisations around the world.

The Mayan civilisation, for example performed human sacrifices on an almost industrial scale, the most common method being decapitation and heart extraction. Other methods included ritually shooting the victim with arrows, hurling sacrifices into a sinkhole, entombing alive, disembowelment, and even tying the victim into a ball for a ritual reenactment of a ball game.

Aghoris cannibal
More disturbing are the Aghoris of northern India; a sect of Hinduism who still practice cannibalism. They consume the flesh of dead bodies found floating in the Ganges river in the hope of immortality and supernatural powers. They drink from human skulls and practice cannibalism in the bizarre belief that eating human flesh has special benefits, such as the prevention of aging.

Eskimos had a different but still disturbing ritual. When old age struck, elderly Eskimos were set adrift on an iceberg. Alone, and without any help or means of return they would inevitably freeze or starve to death. This was considered a good and dignified way to send the elderly on to the afterlife, and for them to avoid becoming a burden for their family. Remarkably, there are concerns that this practice is still used today.

And all that brings me to my short novel, 'The Impaler and the Slim-Jims', which features an equally gruesome ritual known as the Ceremony of Impalation. It is performed regularly by the underground scientific community of Impaler, where young males are forced to dive onto a long spike. If they survive they are judged worthy of becoming scientists and go on to a prestigious life of research and discovery. If they die their bodies are thrown into a dog pit so that the shame they have brought to their family can be digested away.

Two bounty hunters, Peter the Ace and Panman, masquerading as visitors from the other side of the planet, are invited by the community's leader, Tiyr'd, to witness the ceremony, after which they come to understand why all the adult males are significantly deformed:
The two bounty hunters followed Tiyr’d onto a large tiled balcony overlooking the centre of the village. A large crowd had gathered outside and were staring up at the tall platform and at the three metre spike at its base. Several young males were climbing up a ladder on the platform’s side.
“What’s happening?” Peter the Ace asked. 
“It is the Ceremony of Impalation.” Tiyr’d said with reverence. “At the age of thirteen, all males must take part in it.”  
One of the males had reached the top of the tall platform. He was now at least fifty metres above the village. The crowd turned to face the balcony.  
Tiyr’d started to make a speech. “My fellow Impalers, once again the hour is upon us - the hour when our adolescent males must take the leap of faith to determine their destiny. Will their future be a noble one of cerebral scientific research, or will they plunge into the scorching trans-dimensional cavity of uninterrupted destitution?”  
The crowd bowed their heads and spoke in unison. “The Almighty Impaler, god of all science, must judge our young males.”  
“Yes.” Tiyr’d said with complete seriousness. “The Almighty Impaler must judge them. And that time of judgement is now.”  
The crowd spoke in unison once again. “The time of judgement is now.”  
Tiyr’d pointed at Peter the Ace and Panman. “For the first time in our history outsiders will witness the Ceremony of Impalation. These two beings have travelled to us from the other side of our world to be with us tonight. Please welcome Herbert and Gareth of the Muscle-Russells.”  
The crowd bowed towards the bounty hunters. “Welcome Herbert and Gareth of the Muscle-Russells.” they said in sweet harmony.  
Tiyr’d raised his contorted arms as high into the air as he could. “The Almighty Impaler is watching. Let the ceremony commence.” 
 All of the young males were standing on top of the platform now. There were five of them, and they huddled together like puppies. One of the young males broke away from the group and walked to the edge of the platform. He looked down and spread his arms out wide. “I am Hatr’d, son of Neutr’d, the molecular biologist.” he shouted, his voice full of pride. “I submit myself for judgement.” Hatr’d swan-dived off the platform and plummeted down. He let out a shrill scream as his body hit the spike. He was skewered upside down from his shoulder right through his left leg and out through the sole of his foot. His thigh bone had been pushed out and hung from his torn leg. Blood pumped freely from his horrific wounds rapidly staining his white coat. After a couple of seconds Hatr’d moaned.  
The crowd cheered. “He lives!”  
The leader of Impaler spoke. “Hatr’d has been judged. He is deserving of a position as a scientist. Take his injured body from the spike and treat his wounds.”  
Four females approached the impaled male, grabbed him, and then proceeded to tear him off the spike. Hatr’d yelled as his flesh was ripped.
Others are not so successful:
A second adolescent male had positioned himself on the edge of the platform. The crowd’s gaze returned to the top of the platform. As Hatr’d had done only two minutes earlier, the second male spread his arms and introduced himself. “I am Wizzr’d, son of Pepr’d, the nuclear physicist. I submit myself for judgement.”  
Wizzr’d swan-dived onto the spike.  
There was no scream this time. Just a crunch, splat, tear, squelch, and thud in rapid succession. The spike had entered the young male’s body through the top of his skull and had exited through his butt-cheeks. He had been split completely in two. His divided body slipped off the spike and fell to the ground at opposite sides. The muscles in his limbs twitched randomly. His entrails exuded from his belly and slithered into the lake of blood that had formed around his torn physique.  
The crowd watched in silence as the twitching and convulsing slowed then stopped. They spoke quietly and in unison. “He dies.”  
“Wizzr’d has been judged.” Tiyr’d said. “The Almighty Impaler has sent him to the scorching trans-dimensional cavity of uninterrupted destitution. Remove his body and dump it in the dog pit. His physical form must be digested to rid us all of the shame he has brought to our society.”  
The four females dragged the two halves of Wizzr’d away.
When the bounty hunters start to question the necessity of such a barbaric ritual the Impaler leader is not at all happy:
“Interesting ceremony.” Peter the Ace said to Tiyr’d. “Rather unnecessary though, don’t you think?” 
The leader of Impaler became defensive. “It is described in detail in the great book of Impaler! The Almighty himself decreed eighty billion years ago that it must be performed three times a week. It is the only sure way of determining which of our young males will develop into magnificent scientists.” 
“Wouldn’t a written aptitude test be better?” 
“Definitely not!” Tiyr’d said. “It would be much less efficient.” 
“What do you mean?” 
“Our community cannot afford to have non-scientific males running around making a nuisance of themselves and eating our precious food supplies. The Ceremony of Impalation makes sure that only those with keen scientific minds survive.” 
“But how does leaping fifty metres onto a spike ensure that?” 
Tiyr’d was growing impatient. “Because, only those with the intelligence to avoid getting their head skewered can handle the demanding research that we undertake!” 
“No more questions!” the leader said. “That is the way it always has been, that is the way it is, and that is the way it will always be.”
Just like rituals performed by Earth's civilisations and tribes, the ritual described in my story is outrageously cruel, and justified on the basis of religion and superstition only, and without a shred of evidence to back up any of the claimed benefits.

How did such things become so normal to so many people?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Secret Underground Cities

There are many large nuclear war bunkers around the world. Constructed during the cold war, they were the designed for one purpose: the continuation of government. This would allow the nation being attacked (or doing the attacking) to continue to control their forces whilst remaining relatively safe from the devastation above, and in the longer term continue to govern what remains of their nation.

From what I know of such facilities, the notion of being able to govern a nation and its remaining population after a large scale nuclear attack seems rather optimistic, especially as even the largest and best nuclear bunkers could only house a few thousand for a few months at most. What would happen when those privileged government survivors are forced to return to the surface? How would they govern the sick, weak, starving and desperate remnants of their population?

What would really be required is a bunker large enough to host a significant percentage of the population and allow then to survive within the bunker for many years, even decades.  And not only survive, but maintain the level of civilisation, technology and order that was enjoyed before the event that forced them to retreat underground. This would allow a staged and carefully managed return to the surface when conditions were suitable. When I thought of that, I had the premise for my short story, 'Under Pindar'.

Inside the real Pindar - a wall of TV displays
known as the 'Knowledge Wall'
The story begins with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, after just a few months in office, being ushered by his defence secretary down to the government's command bunker after something is detected heading south from the Arctic on a direct course for London. After multi-megaton detonations are detected over Scotland the defence secretary makes the decision to evacuate to a safer place, a place unknown to the Prime Minister. A place known as 'Haven'. That decision soon proves to be correct as London and the command bunker are destroyed. Who, or what, is responsible?

The name of the story comes from the name given to the UK government's command bunker, 'Pindar', located beneath the Ministry of Defence building on Whitehall in central London. The name is taken from the name of a Greek poet, whose house remained the only one standing in the city of Thebes when it was destroyed in the year 335BC.  With the thought of how inadequate such a bunker would be in the event of a major nuclear attack I envisaged an even larger facility - thousands of times larger - and much much deeper.  It would be one of several spread across the country, all interconnected with deep rail links, and  even submarine links to the deep ocean, and with the ability to sustain millions in relative comfort and normality for decades or longer. They were constructed in total secrecy following the discovery of a huge deep cavern a mile beneath London in the 1950s shortly after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister for the second time. With the cold war deepening Churchill ordered the construction of 'Haven'. It would be immensely expensive, but the funding of the project is eloquently explained in the story. Governments are not as inefficient with public funds as they are made out to be. They are, in fact, quite the opposite. The ever-spiralling costs of 'infrastructure' projects, and the billions spent on 'failed' IT systems, are really the perfect cover for the clandestine funneling of funds into other areas.

The first completed section of Haven, known as 'Whitehall Cavern', can be seen in diagrammatic form below:

Whitehall Cavern - the vast government shelter beneath Pindar

Six other deep caverns were discovered after that and developed by subsequent governments, all in total secrecy.

The UK was not the only country to do this. The United States government also constructed such facilities (on an even grander scale), as did Germany. Russia and China are also suspected to have done the same. With all of the cavern bunkers powered by geo-thermal energy, and with extensive farming facilities and factories, it is possible for tens of millions of people and our civilisation to survive what could otherwise have been the extinction of the human race.

Although 'Under Pindar' is just a story there could be some truth behind the existence of such bunkers.  I find it hard to believe that governments are as inefficient as they are. Such inefficiencies could indeed be a way of diverting funds. There could be so much going on far beneath our feet - a whole world we know nothing about.

Then again, it could just be rock and magma.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Artificial Foes

There are many ways to develop a frightening and disturbing antagonist in a science fiction story.  But one of the most potent, in my opinion, is to make that antagonist a synthetic being. The thought of such a constructed and programmed machine, endowed with a highly intelligent and sentient artificial mind, and incredible strength and agility, is nothing short of chilling.

And that is why I particularly enjoyed writing my novel, ‘The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay’.  Spoiler alert:  if you've yet to read the novel, you may want to stop reading now…

The story features a Cifitra, a member of an ancient race of metallic artificial beings. The Cifitra have a voracious desire to dominate or annihilate developing civilisations, and they like fulfil that desire in the most cunning and surreptitious manner possible. This almost always involves covering their tough but spindly metallic frames with life-like biological flesh to imitate those that they wish to infiltrate and control. And the imitation does not stop with their physical appearance. They also adopt a different mental state to complete their disguise. This is why sightings of Cifitra in their natural metallic state are almost unheard of, and why they are difficult to detect until it’s too late.

In ‘The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay’ the Cifitra in question has, for some bizarre reason, disguised itself as a megalomaniacal, incontinent and bad-tempered old woman called Doctor Combobulay with the aim of wearing down and then ruling over the fledgling civilisation of the Stoidi. After pummeling the Stoidi’s home planet, Droog, with redirected asteroids, the Cifitra hides in a huge submarine beneath the oceans of Droog to await the perfect time to emerge and rule over the subdued survivors.

It’s not until the final third of the novel that the Cifitra is revealed. After infiltrating the submarine the bounty hunter, Panman, is the first to figure out Doctor Combobulay’s true identity, and he doesn't waste time proving it to his companion, Sind’a Thighs:

With an agile flick of his thumb, the bounty hunter changed the setting on his pistol, and then fired.
Instantly, Doctor Combobulay was consumed in a ball of flame as arcs of energy flickered like designer lightning over her body. She writhed, screaming like a bloated baby, as her clothes were reduced to charred flakes. Her skin bubbled into deep red boils that burst into sprays of steam. 
Despite her training and upbringing, Sind’a Thighs found herself slightly shocked by Panman’s actions. She spoke, shouting to be heard above the doctor’s agonised and gurgling screams. “Surely we should keep her alive? This kind of torture is not productive.” 
Huge blazing gashes had now appeared on the doctor’s body. Boiling innards gushed out. 
Panman continued his brutal attack. “It’s necessary to prove a point; therefore it’s actually highly productive!” 
Doctor Combobulay’s screams became shriller as Panman’s horrific onslaught continued. Her skin was now flaking off in large blackened chunks, revealing cracked and already over-cooked internal organs. Smoke billowed into the air. And then the doctor’s massive bladder burst. A flood of scalding hot urine gushed onto the floor, and then evaporated rapidly. The doctor thrashed, sending charred tissue flying in all directions. 
There was virtually no flesh left on the Doctor now. Even her head had been stripped bare. The doctor still managed to move and yell, but the yell no longer sounded human.
Sind’a Thighs was beginning to realise what Panman had realised many hours ago. Doctor Combobulay was not a shrivelled and incontinent old lady. She was not a bad-tempered, moaning and bitter old hag. She was something far more dangerous. 
Panman ceased fire. Immediately the noise level dropped. All that could be heard was the crackle of flames as the remnants of the doctor’s flesh continued to burn on the floor.
Something was moving within the shroud of smoke that surrounded Doctor Combobulay’s chair. As the smoke started to clear a slender and weak-looking skeleton could be seen. The skeleton was brushing away the last specks of scorched flesh from its bones. But they were not really bones at all. Instead the sheen of polished metal could be seen, and small motors that existed next to joints and sockets whirred gently. 
Doctor Combobulay was a machine.

We now get to see the the Cifitra’s true appearance:

The doctor’s metal head turned and looked at the bounty hunter. Its eyes were now deep black pits that seemed to disappear deep into its shiny head. “You have destroyed my organic skin,” it said, its voice now metallic and deep, “nothing more.” It stood now, looking remarkably strong despite the spindly nature of its metal limbs. “You have freed me from the need to maintain my cover as that insipid woman. I no longer need to act as a feeble flesh being. That is something you will come to regret very shortly.”

The machine’s malevolent confidence is revealed. It becomes a potent and deadly opponent for the bounty hunters. I won’t spoil things any further by revealing its ultimate fate, which I hope is not at all predictable.

Although part of my ‘Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino’ series of stories, ‘The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay’ can be read on its own. I consider it one of my best written novels so please do read it.

Opinions are always welcome.