Short fiction

Reprieve

I had been awake for what seemed hours, the darkness of my hotel room purged by tiny flashing LEDs and the shaft of light from the streetlights outside. It was three am. The illuminated dial of my watch visible on the side table, nestled in the folds of my jacket. I turned over, closing my eyes, willing silence on a slowly dripping shower. I gave up, sleeping seems so futile, I rubbed my eyes to full waking, and sat up in bed, rearranging the pillows for my back. I turned on the bedside light by reaching down and fumbling for the switch on its power cable. I was now lost in a tunnel of yellow light and did not know what to do next.
I had flown to this city on the other side of the world earlier today, it took funds I could not really afford to waste but I had to leave. The trip was sudden, maybe ill judged, but to stay meant losing everything. There are some things even I cannot brazen out of.  At least I had my freedom, if only for now. I’m no policeman with a knowledge of what country extradites and which does not. This current hotel is on the back roads, the edge of the city, and I have never been here before. The concierge does not ask many questions. And my name? My name is not important, it’s not what it was only a few days ago, so there is really no point you knowing. 
You will be wondering why I left, why am I hiding and why am I running as hard and as fast as I possibly can. I cannot give the details, too much information in too many places is what gave the game away. The money has been slowly accruing, a trickle of cash into my hidden account until I got unlucky. It’s been a solid five years of success until I got stupid and altered the program to nudge up the haemorrhage from my clients accounts. Stupid, so stupid, not rounded off balances tipping tiny amounts of money but a full handed leap into the till. The first nobody noticed, the second might as well have flashing lights and ” go directly to jail ” cards.
The appalling taste of opportunity wasted. Yet it was my own uncontrolled avarice compounded by my computing naivety that made this situation come about, and made it necessary to run. 

It’s four am, my phone must have found a local carrier as it is whining in my trouser pocket. I stand up, reach over, twist away the fabric and yank out the thing. In the tiny black text there is a message. It is an automated message from the hardware back in Sydney. ” Unable to complete program changes requested, incorrect passwords, please enter correct authorisation codes. ”

And so it never happened, and a few days later, I was back. A brief sudden holiday, a dead distant relative, I cannot remember what excuses I gave for my precipitate disappearance but I never tried to alter that program again. It is such a sweet little earner, and I have no right to expect another reprieve.

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Short fiction

A hint of evil

 I met him socially, at concerts as a fellow concert goer and at school functions as his children went to the same school as my two children. His were in higher grades but many school activities where parents were expected to be present were for several years of students. I later met him professionally and he was always friendly, courteous and did his best to be helpful. In short he was agreeable. I had no suspicions of any particular flaw in his character. 
The news was a shock. I was working remotely, and rarely got news of home. Home and my friends and acquaintances seemed immeasurably far away. So I received the news in snippets. A comment, an aside about local affairs in the letters that infrequently arrived. The rare meeting with a traveller from my old home. I dismissed it as lawyer talk, the cutting of a tall poppy, a local boy made good is as much a source of envy as admiration. I thought, at least at first, this could not be true. The man I had known for so many years, not withstanding the casualness of any relationship we had, seemed in complete contrast to the horrible stories of his cruelty to his own children that were being reported. 
By the time, I learnt of his imprisonment and conviction, it had all taken place months before. The evidence even at my distance seemed convincing. The conviction was a fair thing if it was true. Certain acts in our society are crimes but their commission is not a sign of irrefutable evil. The textbook villain with every aspect of his relationship with his fellow man distinguished by uniform avarice and evil, is a caricature. Many people, maybe most people who do evil things, may not be evil to their innermost natures. Like my old friend, much of their life is good, the outward signs of compassion and courtesy clearly evident in their dealings with most people but then there is their commission of evil and not once but many times. The evil act which shows part of their nature is clearly, badly fallen. Is their exemplary behaviour a sham, a put up job or is it just as sincere and true a part of their personality as the tendency to evil in a different setting?
To have good and evil exist in the same person should not be the revelation it is for most of us. No one is completely good and no one completely evil. All of us are mixtures of these polar natures. It is only a constant moral will that stops the criminality, the cruelty of which any of our species is capable of from manifesting itself. That moral will can sicken, can die or may never be born but without it, we are at the beckoning of our emotions and appetites. There must be that loud inner voice who whispers and then shouts, this must not be. Perhaps he did not listen to that inner pealing of morality, and eventually learned to ignore it, hiding the guilt from himself. He never seemed troubled to me but was always confident and relaxed. I believe, it is the great paradox of our times that is the guiltless who feel guilty, and those who should be truly ashamed are not, and walk head up, back straight with any lingering doubts smothered into silence by their internal webs of dishonesty.

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Short fiction, Short stories and poetry

Beauty

Willy split apart pea pods with his Mum. His bare elbows resting on the cracking white laminex of the kitchen table, and his fingers diving into the central pile of peas. He loved her very much and these few hours between arriving home from school and Dad coming home from work were their special times together. He asked her for a glass of milk and he drank it greedily smearing a moustache of white with the back of his hand. The afternoons sunlight formed rectangular pools of light on the kitchen floor and the table through the windows. It was a warm day but Willy felt abundantly well and happy that afternoon. 

At six o’clock, promptly, he heard Dad kicking off his boots at the laundry door. As usual he had come round to the back of the house to enter. The click of the door and a loud ” Hello Darling, hi Willy ” filled the kitchen. Willy felt that his father filled a room in a way his mother did not. When his father left a room it felt emptied while when his mother did so, it felt as if she had not really gone. Mum suffused the home while Dad filled it physically. Willy was an only child but that did not worry him as some of his friends seemed to think it should. They tumbled out of station wagons like beetles out of an upturned plastic bucket, all squealing and fighting. Willy spent some holidays with the cousins and for a few weeks, he did the same things as his noisy friends did year round. It was a treat but he did not miss it when he was home again.

Willy thrived on routines and closeness, even doing something different to one or other of his parents or close school friends was okay if they were close. Going to school with Mum in the car, walked into the class, meeting his teacher and the school work. It was a busy day, every day, but Willy loved it. However, he did not enjoy going to see doctors. They were okay but afterwards there were often blood tests and he did not like these. He learned to be suspicious about anybody in a nice blue uniform saying, ” this won’t hurt”. 

Sometimes his Mum looked worried, it could not be about him because he loved her perhaps even more than Dad, which was a lot. She would sit at the kitchen table, resting her chin in her hand and gaze blankly, not seeing him until he touched her on the arm. She looked at him with sadness, it was so quick that Willy was sure nobody else would have seen it. It was a mystery to him because life was so perfect. Dad played tumble with him, and chased him over the furniture. Mum told us off because we would break a chair or the sofa and we could not afford to replace them. Willy never saw things were never new in his home. But he did not see or even realise it could be a problem. It was a problem for his Mum. Sometimes in the evening after Willy had gone to bed, tucked up under blue blankets and his stuffed kanga somewhere under the sheets lurking about, his parents sat and talked about many things that Willy would never understand. About money, about the future, about Dad’s job, all of them them things Willy would never be able to worry about. They loved him with all their hearts as much as Willy loved them, but there was always an annoying spectre, of loss, of missing out on the future for Willy deserved. 

The next day was like all the others for Willy. He hardly cried. He ate, He played and he loved deeply and unashamedly. His is a peaceful beautiful soul which lies complete unto itself if not the world’s.

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Short stories and poetry

Science fiction story: destroyer of worlds?

Shiva braced himself against the blister, his tentacled three eyes studying the devastation. His own vessel orbited in a darkness uncorrupted by life. He and his three companions, were very likely the only living things left in this region of space. His left eye swivelled on the cold glass, its iris constricting to focus on the charred planet about which he slowly circled. It felt unfair that gravity was unchanged by the holocaust afflicting that once orange and blue world, mass was mass after all.
Shiva remembered very clearly, and even if he could not, if somehow he needed reminding, his computers were brim full of detailed images, not only from space but from the planets surface, the result of his surveillance electronics and video from his swarm of microscopic drones that teased out facts and numbers from the entire planet. The gathered information included the daily lives of typical inhabitants, the contents of computers, the mountains, the deserts, the animals and insects, the plant life and even the majestic views of the night sky from the local perspective. While Shiva could not, others of his kind could assemble all this mass of information into a self consistent virtual world which could play on and on while the real one smouldered for aeons far beneath him. Yet, he could not reconcile himself that somehow something created from his voluminous data bank constituted anything which would ever approximate real life or be worth a fraction of what was nor irretrievably lost.
Ganesh growled angrily beside his left shoulder, the navigator of their ship, spitting and snarling. He could not yet speak as he trawled through his atavistic emotions, using his sub verbal responses to replace his usual language, it could not begin to express his feelings and thoughts. His is a language of technology, mathematics and physics but sadly lacking in the vocabulary of loss. Shiva studied him too, he was responsible for making a faithful a record as possible of not only this planets end but of their own responses. As if their loss was any more than a diminutive counterpoint, an aside.
The planet beneath them was once whole, a living if limping world, an ecosystem presumed upon by its inhabitants which Shiva recalled was a common enough attitude in the wilder Universe. It’s deserts were a mixture of ages, some were ancient dried up oceans rippled with sand and tundra but too many were barely a century of the planet’s years. They flanked the great cities wallowing in their own pollution. This was a world facing inevitable collapse but other worlds had faced the same situation and dealt with the poisons and waste well enough to thrive, and join the assembly of planets and systems. The only qualification for membership was evidence of good stewardship of at least their own world. This is still considered the basic duty of being in possession of an ecosystem. Ignoring the needs of your own home world clearly implied an incapacity to care for the wider universe. Until that attitude changed, no one was going anywhere from this planet.
Shiva was the galactic appointed adjudicator for this planet. He did not give him any satisfaction to witness such a cataclysmic failure of the assessment process. Never before in the history of this galaxy, had a world been on such a knife edge of self destruction that his appearance would trigger utter, total immolation in a few hours. He had carefully staffed his drones with minor consciousness, giving them a dull capacity to choose where and who they would seek out and record. Drones had followed the few leviathans in the air and oceans, mystified that such violent passages though the atmosphere were permitted. Children in schools , their shadows now smudged on any remaining walls, had been studied for weeks playing, talking, laughing and like most children in the galaxy, studying as little as possible. It seemed so normal.
Shiva had watched all this, and though he could not feel the poisoned air in his lung or taste the caustics in their drinking water, he could imagine it. The numbers from the drone sensors were telling, the problems widespread and largely ignored from its tiny watery pole in the north to the great mountain continent in the south. 
Of course his assessment about membership was not irreversible, many worlds had improved their stewardship enough to have decisions about quarantine from the larger universe reversed, but it was final enough for now. Shiva had followed the set reporting protocol, the planets media agencies subverted for only a few minutes. Shiva’s physiognomy was a galactic standard, his feathered wings demurely folded, his muzzle laced with fine razor sharp teeth, and his afore mentioned three eyes retracted back into his face and forehead. His appearance differs from a typical insect inhabitant of this world, and even from the bipedal creature which appeared to be in charge, but Shiva had seen the media files often enough to see creatures sharing his appearance were often portrayed in what the locals called ” movies” and would not cause any alarm. 
Even before he had finished his short explanation of his task, in the most ancient and early language he could find, there was chaos. The choice of Sanskrit was one for which he would be criticised on his return home but it was the oldest and richest language he was able to find. It just seemed to suit him. Yet it was even before any attempt of discourse or of negotiation, that he could see the trails of missiles littering the skies beneath him. And then the massive fires spanning continents and the multiple golden clouds erupting out of the lower atmosphere. Shiva watched with emotions of amazement, regret, sadness, and anger. He folded his wings back, nestled them into the hollows in his spine, sealed the skin with its muscular pleats and then feeling empty and lost, he hovered inside his ship. He floated there for many hours. It felt smaller than it ever had before, and eventually its blisters became opaque, the third consciousness inside the ship began its sleep, readying itself and the two corporeals for the trip back to their own home world. His last thoughts were muddied by those deep hypnotic drugs, but they were real nonetheless, was it his name or was it his appearance or was it something of which he had now no idea at all. But why he thought, would the name of Shiva trigger the end of the world?

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Short stories and poetry

Science fiction story: the flytrap

Dust and smoke and steam swirled around and out of the braking vents as the spacecraft landed. It’s silvery silhouette still glowing from atmospheric entry. The tapering ship sunk into the ground until its huge diagonal fins gripped and held its bulk firmly. Woodland covered much of this continent but here at least it gave way to a grassy plain, an irresistible landing area for space faring visitors.
There was a male and female aboard, one roused from hibernation only hours before arrival and another who had converted their ship from a galactic inhabitant to an atmospheric craft as well as make the logistic decisions as they entered this solar system about where and when to land. They were both tense; excited and enthused by the prospect of exploring a new world. 
Meanwhile, the planets own inhabitants sat on tree branches, about which their tails were firmly coiled, the leaves shielding their eyes from the sunlight while they waited for movements from the ship. This was nothing new for many of them. The younger ones clicked in excitement but the older wiser ones patiently waited for developments. The lower door pivoted out and down, creating a steep gangway. The first of the ships occupants walked down to the ground. He or she looked around, twisting in a silvery carapace to the left then the right. Another followed the first, and likewise studied the surrounds completely unaware of the many primate eyes watching them.
Machines pistons began repeatedly driving the lower limbs of the carapaces, the two spacers headed deliberately away from the ship, cracking the branches as they moved through the forest. They had a definite direction in mind, they always did. The indigenous followed along, skittering along the trees and abundant branches, they moved without any fear of falling, confidently and always out of sensor range of their quarry. 

The spacers entered the clearing, and there two hundred meters away, was the edge of the great dish, it has survived, cared for by the local inhabitants for hundreds of years. They saw them kneel by it, and then carefully tread around its perimeter, after a kilometre they found the narrow access tunnel and tore off the metal grate with a gust of steam from the arm vents. The carapaces were too large to negotiate the tunnel, there was a hiss of escaping vapour, and two humanoids dropped to the surface. They entered the tunnel, almost inpatient in haste.

The primates waited, the rains which had been threatening from far off finally loosened and water bucketed out of the sky. Their fur soaked, the young ones had built up courage enough to touch the abandoned metal bodies. In time they lost interest and rejoined their elders on the edge of the clearing. 

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They revisited the ship that had landed so dramatically a few weeks before. Already the vegetation was moving toward the silvery ship, in a few months it would be invisible like all the others, toppled then smothered in the trees and foliage. All the previous visitors who had voyaged countless miles and for hundreds if not thousands of years still lay beneath the dish, a maelstrom of lost souls, all who had pursued the television signal from the dish which began transmission two thousand years before, and was the bait, the fly trap that protected the inner, greater and hidden worlds a parsec away. The engineered primates sat eating leaves and fruit, and watched their planet remove one more invader. Their job done.

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