Like many a frustrated creative type, at one point in my life I was convinced I was going to become a writer. However, a recognition that in order to be considered a writer you actually have to write something, combined with an innate sense of laziness, launched me onto my current, non-literal career. However, somewhere between the two came the odd short period of creativity.
Wandering through my hard-disc this week I came across a couple of the results so, in the best traditions of vanity publishing, here they are, in all their unedited glory. Who knows, if I ever launch to fame, these snippets might be puzzled over by future historians, keen for an insight into my remarkable mind. Or perhaps not...
All I can say in my defence here is they're not very long. Naturally lazy you see. Perhaps it's my mind making sure I did something which paid better than writing for a living!
A Christmas Tale
This actually sounds quite promising a beginning, if I do say so myself. I have to confess that I have no memory of writing it however, so I've no idea where it was going!
Picture the scene. A lone trumpeter stands vigil by a flickering fire. The lonely notes of the last post ring out across the still night sky. The fire dies slowly away as the last hours of Christmas Eve join it in oblivion. The figure turns to walk away, heading into the night, but he returns, stirring up the glowing embers, breathing life into the fire once more.
But now you want to know my story, how I came to be so melancholic on Christmas Day, the day which launched my career.
My name is William Holboune. Billy to my friends, and I’m a musician by trade, jazz and blues for preference. Perhaps you’ve heard me downtown one night?, searching for the spirit of the blues and drowning it inside a whiskey glass. Perhaps not. Anyway, it’s another spirit I want to tell you about tonight, at least the memory of a spirit. A piece of my childhood rattling around inside my brain, trying to get out. Most times I come down here, play my tribute and head back to Dr Jack for his own special cure for pain. Still, as you’re here I might as well stay awhile.
My father was a dock worker from the East side of Chicago, Michael Holbourne was his name, an Irish-American with all that that entails.
We lived in a tenement down by the docks, overlooking the harbour. It was small by today’s standards, but we were doing all right. Below our place there was a jetty where we used to hang out as kids, plopping stones into the mud and watching the ships passing by. It’ll sound like a cliché now, but that was where I first discovered what I wanted to make of my life. You see, down by that jetty there was a bar, Jim’s Place I think it was called, where the dockers went after, and sometimes during, work. It’s somewhere which has played a part in my life in more ways than one. Anyhow, every so often they got a musician in to play down there and one night I heard a song drifting up to my room. Now, I was pretty nimble when I was younger so it wasn’t long until I was out of the window and down on the jetty. The song I heard was, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay". This was just after they’d announced Otis’ death on the radio, must have been late ‘67. I hadn’t really known who Otis Redding was then, but when I heard that song coming out into the night it seemed to touch something inside me and I knew I wanted to do more than just work on the docks like my father. I wanted to do what that song had just done for me, be able to make people feel differently about themselves. Now, I can’t sing for toffee, I knew that much already, even the cats used to throw things when I tried, but I could whistle loud enough to loosen your fillings and I figured if I could whistle, then I could blow and if I could blow I could play the trumpet. Now don’t ask me where the trumpet came from, I guess I must have just seen buglers in parades and thought they looked impressive or something, but a trumpet it was.
...and that's it. Told you it wasn't very long!
A Science-Fiction phase
Re-reading some of this I can only assume that I'd just finished reading a lot of Douglas Adams as it decidedly pays homage to1 his style of writing. It doesn't seem to have a title, so we'll just launch right in...
Picture a civilisation far in the future. A civilisation with no war, no disease, no famine. A civilisation whose power is limited only by what they can imagine.
Into the hands of this civilisation falls two books, perhaps discovered by an explorer on some distant planet. The first speaks of a creator, a divine, infallible being whose word signifies creation. Our readers can naturally empathise with this and soon see themselves as divine. The second, instead, speaks of mighty battles, of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. Again, our readers are persuaded, easily picturing themselves as the obvious result of this evolution. However, the second book denies the message of the first. These books cause a split in our civilisation, each camp resolving to bring the message in the books to fruition, if need be, correcting those species who have not embraced their ideals and condemning the other for interfering with their own divine plans.
Captain Morodor groaned softly, squinting his eyes against the harsh red glow of his ship's security lighting, and rolled over, just missing a patch of something rather unpleasant on his bunk. He lay back hard, as the room began to sway around him.
"Christ! What was I drinking last night?"
Another voice chimed into the gloom, a voice that, to Morodor's mind, could have been devised by hell's P.R. department to answer the phones.
"Good Morning Captain", it chimed happily, "I trust you slept well?".
A small arm extended itself from a nearby wall, brandishing a plastic cup of orange juice. "No!", came the barked reply.
Morodor leaned over to a wall chronograph and peered hazily at it. The clock flashed 12:00 PM continuously, as it had done for the past three weeks. He sat back once more. Accepting this mission had been a mistake, he could see that now; The agency had been a little too eager in accepting his many requests, even covering his extensive bar tabs, always assuring him that the ship would be fine, straight from the manufactures. He'd accepted this happily, finally seeing an escape from his, fairly major debts on Artenia. He sighed once more. Even the delights of Big Al's "Laugh till you drop" debt collection facility would be better than this.
"Computer? What time is it?"
"Just a little after 2 in the morning Sir. A wonderful time, if I might say so, for a refreshing dip in one of this ships fully fitted swimming pools. Or, perhaps Sir would prefer a nice chilled cocktail at the pool-side bar?"
It wasn't that the cargo he was carrying was illegal, as such. He'd carried stolen goods before, although not quite like this. It wasn't the pay, that was good enough, especially with the extensive fringe benefits. It wasn't even the ship itself really, even though he had never piloted an interstellar cruise liner before, it being a little difficult to remain inconspicuous whilst a five hundred foot neon sign proclaimed your presence to the world. Finally, the impact of the last words spoken to him sank into his fuzzy brain.
"Excuse me computer, I think I must be having trouble with my hearing. I could have sworn that you said it was two in the morning?"
"That's right sir, and I'd just like to inform you that the ship's medical suite is fully ready to receive you if you wish your ..."
The computer was interrupted, briefly, by a sudden scream.
"WHY HAVE YOU WOKEN ME UP AT TWO IN THE MORNING?"
"Ships regulation number C0245b Section II, clearly states that in the event of the craft entering a hostile area, the chief security officer and the captain must be alerted immediately, sir.".
The computers dulcet tones snapped off, then on again.
"And there really is no need to shout you know sir, my microphones are extremely sensitive."
Morodor paused before replying.
"Do you mean there is a hostile presence outside?"
"Yes sir. Sensors detected the entrance of a unidentified foreign presence some fifteen minutes ago."
"Then why didn't you wake me sooner?" Morodor screamed, rolling from his bunk.
"I didn't like to disturb you sir." the computer replied, "You seemed so peaceful lying there, perhaps dreaming of enjoying a succulent meal in one of our many spaceview lounges..." but Morodor had already gone.
Dashing to the control port of the ship, Morodor realised what he really hated about this mission. It was the computer. Initially, it had been an ordinary Dynac system five, as fitted in hundreds of similar ships throughout the galaxy, until some bright marketing consultant had decided that computers should be more friendly. It had been given a name, Neville, and, what was worse, a desire to give its users what they truly desired. To aid it in this task, it had been fitted with some of the most sophisticated neural technology yet used in the galaxy, dedicated to discovering any human's deepest wishes. Unfortunately, the internal picture of human desires was also provided by the marketing consultant.
The computer's idea of paradise appeared, as far as Morodor could judge, to be sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, surrounded by hundreds of cases of a well-known brand of fizzy drink, whilst a small group of annoyingly pure children sang songs about world peace at you. Even this, Morodor could have coped with, if it didn't insist that everyone else would share this desire, if only they were nice to one another.
Finally, he reached the main viewscreen, and snatched it on frantically. Nothing. He rotated the viewers around the ship. Still nothing. A rushing, swooshing sound stopped him in his tracks. Thumping on the ships' lights, he peered around again, before realising that something was peering back at him.
Built, as it was, as a intergalactic space cruiser, the Amazingly Good, didn't have much in the way of weaponry. Nevertheless, Morodor punched the ships console desperately, until a sudden explosion from outside seemed to herald the acquisition of the ships firing mechanism. There was a brief silence, broken only by a loud squeal of pain.
Outside, several thousand newly fired streamers drifted down towards the planet's surface, closely followed by the sound of the lizard-like creature, hovering outside the ship, spitting out the remains of a festive metallic canister along with several teeth.
"You bugger!", it lisped angrily, "I'll get you for that!"
Morodor glanced back at the screen to survey the situation. It was true that the launch decorations weren't quite what he'd had in mind when he'd thumped the dashboard, they did seem to have had some effect. Unfortunately, the chief effect appeared to have been to make the lizard creature point an extremely large gun in his general direction. While the ships designers had, in the various brochures for the cruiser Morodor had been reduced to reading during the trip, stressed the many safety features possessed by the craft and its amazing ability to survive any foreseeable form of attack, these were the same designers who had stressed the charming personality of the, on-ship, host, Neville.
"Computer" squeaked the Captain, in an attempt, albeit a failed one, at a brave and commanding voice. "Get us out of here!!"
A faint communications channel hiss was just discernible, as the Amazingly Good drifted slowly across the creatures line of fire.
"What do we say?" prompted a slightly mechanical, but grammatically perfect voice over the comm-channel.
"Er... er... I order you to... The Captain commands that... Er... Please... Please please please, computer, please get me out of here if you would be so kind?"
"That's better," cooed the computer, warmly, firing up the ships immensely powerful engines and moving it away from the unfeasibly powerful bolt of energy which erupted just behind it seconds later.
"Oh, bugger," muttered a voice, darkly. With a vast flapping, the air was lashed into a frenzy. "Took off half my best front teeth, too."
After some minutes of what can be loosely termed flight, the darkness started fading and, if anyone had been the to make the observation, a winged creature would have been silhouetted against a murky sky.
"And now I'm going to get it in the neck for being late. What a life," the creature philosophised.
As the light increased, the sky became less murky. Sadly, the revealed scenery did nothing to endear one. At ground level, the wreckage of broken vegetation extended in all directions. In the sky, the murky green clouds were streaked with a bilious yellow. Hovering above this particular spot, with no visible means of support, was a large dark globe. Painted black, it appeared almost as a hole in the sky around it, its surface marred only by a large painted logo displaying a scientist, beaming happily, holding a planet lovingly in his hands. Surrounding this picture, the legend "Department of Planned Evolutionary Progression: Alpha-division." blared violently into the sky.
"Open up, it's Arkacarak!" boomed the approaching voice. With a tooth-grinding shriek, an opening of utter darkness appeared, into which the huge creature vanished. There was an almost audible sigh of relief from the surrounding area.
From the wrecked vegetation, small sounds of life began to emerge. The occasional scream of some small creature dying at the whim of another adding to the general impression that this was not a particularly friendly place to be.
Off into the horizon, behind the, now retreating Arkacarak, a blinding streak of light signals the entry of a new presence on the planet. As it approaches, the ionisation of the upper atmosphere providing an amazing light display to those members of the local fauna still around to witness it, it is visible as a sleek, modern spaceship. Skimming gently across the earth in a way that most craft can only dream, it swoops gently to a halt, landing in a small clearing. For a few moments, all is quiet, save for a slight plinking from the spacecraft's hull, as super-heated metal cools slowly in the mid-morning air. A few of the more reckless members of the local wildlife return to the ship, drawn strangely by the motif painted on the side of the craft.
It portrays a large, apparently healthy, planet, slashed cruelly through the middle by a red stripe. Below were written the words, "Darwinian Protocol Enforcement Patrol. Alpha-division" and below that, a row of smaller planets, similarly marked. Any speculation about the meaning of this however, is cut short as a large section of the ship swung outwards, crushing the creatures underfoot, or in this case, under about 20-tons of superheated metal.
From within the craft, a small, bespectacled figure emerges, brandishing a clipboard, and steps down into the wrecked vegetation of the planet. He peers, disdainfully at the collection of small purple animals which remain around the craft, and makes a small note on the paper in front of him.
"It'll have to go", he murmurs quietly to himself, and, with the air of a job about to be well done, marches back into the craft.
Arkacarak flew slowly through the many dark corridors of the globe, muttering slowly to himself. Had things really been this depressing before the Department had arrived? True, he acknowledged to himself, things had been a lot tougher then, fighting for every meal, survival of the fittest and all that, but at least you were in the open air. Strangely enough, life seemed far more stressful now, supervising the new mutant batches. Of course, life moved along a lot faster now.
"Life seem to be going nowhere?", the departments flyers had asked, "Want an escape from the rat race?", "You've changed your lifestyle, now change your species.". He remembered the adverts, a newly born bird launching itself skyward, only to be buffeted from the sky by its fellow creatures on jet-flyers. "Do it now. For the sake of your children", had been the punch-line.
Still, life wasn't all bad, he thought to himself, stretching his newly acquired wings. Since he'd been promoted to liaison duties with the D.P.E.P. representatives he got to go outside once more, and, better still, he could fly.
The new wings really made up for a lot, he admitted to himself. When he was sure his supervisor wasn't looking he'd been practising and fancied himself a pretty mean swooper by now. He'd even tried a couple of loop the loops, although there he could use some more practise, he admitted, rubbing his back at the memory.
"Where the hell have you been?", a voice screeched out from the gloom.
Arkacarak, hung his head.
"Well?", screeched the voice, incessantly.
He looked up, it was Farkazle, the watch supervisor.
"Erm, I sighted an intruder in section II.b, your watchfulness", Arkacarak replied, somewhat painfully, through his injured mouth.
"I trust they were apprehended for further genetic study?"
"Ah, well, I had a bit of trouble there.."
Arkacarak gulped. As well as being watch supervisor, Farkazle was also in charge of genetic allocation.
"I see.", the voice was cold,
"Well, I have more pressing matters on my hands at the moment." A small gasp of relief could be heard, "Have you read this?", Farkazle continued, thrusting a letter into Arkacarak's trembling talons.
"The bloody Darwinian Protocol Enforcement Patrol are coming around! They say that were not following the ethically correct methods of evolution!", the voice rose into a frenzy, "and after all the work we've put into this planet!". Farkazle calmed down slightly.
"Do something about it Arkacarak, They must be stopped!"
"Yes, sir. I'll get someone on it right away"
"Be sure that you do. Now did you liaise with the Department representative?"
"Department representative?", Arkacarak appeared hesitant.
"Yes", Farkazle replied patronisingly, "The Department representative you are currently employed to meet.", he glanced down at a note, "A Captain Morodor is scheduled to deliver the latest shipment of genetic offbreeds for testing. He hasn't arrived yet?"
Arkacarak gulped slightly. He had been told of the impending arrival of Captain Morodor, but, in the excitment of finally getting to try out his wings in a combat situation it had slipped his mind.
Thinking back on the events of the previous hour he had thought it strange an invading attack force should choose an intergalatic cruise-ship as a means of attack, but then if his military training had taught him nothing else it was to expect the unexpected . Still, what common sense still remained within him suggested he might have rather blown his contact. Fortunately, his army training soon provided an answer to the situation.
"I have no clear memory of that event, sir", he replied snappily, rattling off a salute for good measure."
"Well, keep your eyes open. He should have been here by now. Dismissed."
Arkacarak turned to leave.
"Oh, before you go", he paused, "Report to the gene labs and hand back those wings. Loop the loops indeed...".
Captain Morodor slowly opened his eyes and tentatively peered around.
"Yes Captain?", Neville's cheery voice chirped into life once more.
"Did he get us?"
"Captain! I'm disappointed in your lack of faith in me. As I'm sure you are aware, the Amazingly Good is fitted with an extremely wide range of ship safety devices. Why, was it not our safety record which led to Zlaxxian spaceways being voted intersteller cruise operator of the year for the last three years running? All of the ships services are functioning as normal and are at your disposal. I am detecting a slight increase in your blood pressure readings Captain. Perhaps I might suggest a calming glass of brandy sour, now being served at our luxurious poolside bar?"
Morodor sighed softly.
"Computer? What was that thing?"
"That thing, as you so charmingly describe it sir, was an example of the highest form of evolution currently present on this planet. A species so new a name has yet to be currently assigned to it. Since sir has expressed an interest in the fauna of the planet outside, can I just take this opportunity to recommend our ever popular planet-side safaris, departing regularly from the reception area?"
Morodor sighed once more. Someone really was going to have to sort out this problem with species naming. What with the backlog, some species had become extinct before even being named, a phenomena currently the subject of hectic debate between the DPEP statisticians, who claimed that species which had died out before being named clearly never existed in the first place, since no written evidence of their lives could be produced, and enviromental groups who claimed that the same argument could also be applied to the statisticians themselves.
Surveying the devistation currently present around him, Morodor reluctantly admitted that it was solely due to the events of the previous night, rather than the impact of a plasma bolt, dragged himself over to the ships communications system and began the long process of elimination the hunt for the transmit button enevitably involved.
Presumably on the basis that no-one would possibly want to contact anyone on the outside, when they could be busy enjoying the entertainment delights of the Amazingly Good, the communications system had only been added with great reluctance by the ship's designer.
"But it detracts from the whole social atmosphere of the 'Amazingly Good' experience", he had protested when faced by spaceway safety notices forcing him to fit a radio.
"The Amazingly Good has the greatest safety systems every designed", he had muttered in vain, "Haven't you read the sales brochure?".
The safety inspectors had been unimpressed however and so, in an attempt to get any possible conversation over as quickly as possible, the Zlaxxian spaceways corporation had comissioned the very latest in space communication, the tachyon based, faster than light, Talkway 2000. Unfortunatly, due to the unstable nature of tachyons, unless adjusted properly the system had a tendancy to recieve answers to messages before they had even been transmitted. For example, Morodor had, for the past week, been recieving conformations of his order for three chickens, 500 tons of quick drying cement and a banana which he had apparently ordered three weeks in the future. This inevitably meant that transmitting any form of message tended to involve a complicated search through the systems manual to locate the correct transmission mode, unless you wanted to recieve your replies last week.
Finally, he found the correct switch and flicked the system onto transmit. A sudden screeching noise filled the cabin, jarring through the various bottles scatted around and resonating painfully through Morodor's head for the second time that day.
"Computer! What is that racket? Feedback?"
"I'm afraid not sir. As you might remember from last night, I believe you finished off the remainer of the ships quota of sedatives during my entertaining and educational slide show of the Amazingly Good's previous cruise. Quite why you felt the need to render yourself unconscious in this way before the show's fifth and, I might say, most exciting hour, I don't quite understand, but it did mean I have been unable to subdue the genetic specimins currently present on the lower floors. I believe they are hungry sir."
The nursery. Morodor winced at the memory of his previous visit. Ever since he'd been dispatched on this mission, the lower floors of the ship had been surrendered to the whims of his cargo and the urges of Miss Plantagent, the robo-teacher which had been sent along to supervise their development. His one previous visit had led to his three week sojourn in the ship's medical wing, while a small plastic dinosaur was removed from his left nostril and the remaining, less singed portions of his hair were gently combed over the burnt patches. It wasn't that he disliked children as such, but children placed in control of a wide range of new mutated weaponry would have made Atilla the Hun think twice, never mind a slightly cowardly pilot. Cowering slightly, he relucantly headed towards the service elevator ready to decend into the depths of the ship. He press the call button, this, at least should be safe enough, and watched the lift slowly asend. Bing! The lift arrived.
"You know.." Neville remarked offhandedly. The lift doors opened, covering Morodor in a tidal-wave of green sludge.
"The lift doesn't normally take that long to get up here. I wonder if there's something inside?"
Morodor, dripping resentfully, headed messily back into the lift. At least, he mused, "I can't get any dirtier".
Bing! The lift arrived at the nursery. Morodor emerged slowly but with dignity, defying anyone to comment on the large sack full of feathers which has decended from above when the lift doors had shut. The corridor seemed quiet. From small, secluded alcoves above him delicate light shone forth, "to illuminate the lower corridors of the ship in a manner conducive to intimate and mysterious affairs", as the guide-book put it. "Well", pondered Morodor, stepping out into the corridor "I suppose not being able to see anything does make most affairs mysterious"
...and that's as far as I got with that one. I must admit to being curious as to what Morodor was going to do with the chickens, the cement and the banana. Would have been interesting to see if I ever decided to stick to a tense too!
...and that's it
Well, that's all that comes to hand right now anyway. Should I have stuck at it? Who knows. I suspect I'm probably better off sticking to hacking code for a living!