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Showing posts from September, 2011

Art Pact 33

Robert had always been corralled in the area of Mrs. Kenley's brain that was reserved for harmless lunatics, but with his the current activity had finally jumped over the boundary fence and scampered off into the much larger open area in which she stored the names and details of those she considered dangerous nutters. His need to prove that his obsession was not an obsession, but merely a wise precaution taken in the face of stark reality, had become so overwhelming that he had done something unforgivable in her eyes - he had endangered a child.

The child, of course, was Robert's son, for whom Mrs. Kenley had no particular love. Indeed, among children Daniel Priest had the (undoubtedly dubious) distinction of being perhaps the one whom she loved least. It was difficult, big-hearted as she was, to suggest that Mrs. Kenley might actively dislike anyone, let alone a child, but in contrast to her normal attitude of universal benevolence her lukewarm attitude towards Daniel could al…

Art Pact 32

We've got to run now, we know that. We have to go, but we keep staying because there's no incentive right now, right now this second to get up, get out of the cupboard, and get running. When we came in here we knew that it was for a short time only, that there was really no reason even for us to be here, but the fact is that the cupboard was there, the cupboard was a payoff that we got immediately at a cost that we'd only have to pay in the future. We knew at the time that the future us-es would be here sooner than we knew, but we hid in the cupboard anyway.

Now the future us-es are here. They're coming at us at a rate of knots, but no matter how fast they come, they can't dislodge us until they get here. So we sit in the cupboard and we fiddle with things, putting off moving by excusing ourselves to take care of "vital" tasks. The tasks are so vital, we tell ourselves, that we literally cannot set foot outside the cupboard until they're complete. For …

Art Pact 31

Naturally, in response to this slight I took the perfectly reasonable position that, as the first person on board the vessel, I was by primogeniture (to stretch an analogy) the obvious inheritor of the mantle of command. Had I stepped foot upon it seconds after he, I told the drudge, I should cede the position to him, assuming the rank of second-in-command, or lieutenant, or sub-altern, or some other undistinguished post which the vagaries of fate and the keenness of his stride might have laid upon my shoulders. However, as it was the simple nature of my having been first to lay boot-leather upon the deck of the conveyance rendered me the captain and he my inferior in this way (as well as - although I did not say this at the time, wishing to spare at least some of the feelings of the poor wretch - in all the other ways in which nature and the almighty had made him my inferior).

"Now see here," he spluttered, failing to remove his hand from the steering stick. &…

Art Pact 30

In the falling light of the moon, the landscape suddenly lit up with a silver sheen. Like the ghost of countryside, there were no colours, just shades of grey that shimmered and flickered as fickle wisps of cloud leapt into the lunar rays. The sky was a dark blue, like the depths of the sea, speckled with twinkling plankton. Trees were seen but not heard, masses that rustled as they steered the winds, so that the feel of the night weather was unpredictable on their muzzles. The smaller ones clustered under the legs of their elders, and they pack progressed across their territory in fits and starts, pulling each other this way and that with their short barks.

The two alphas at the head of the group stayed silent, showing up only as moving blackness limned by white lines. They were the most cautious of all, moving in such a way that only one of them was exposed at any time. First the larger one, her thick coat almost hiding her shape, darting from tree-trunk to tree-trunk, then the small…

Art Pact 29

Aloysius Nektar examined his clipboard carefully and made a small note in the box at the bottom of the form. When he had finished the addendum: NO DISCERNABLE CHARISMA, he firmly clicked the top of the pen, then tapped it twice against his lips.

"This is the correct room, isn't it?" Dorne asked him. "I mean, I followed the arrows. I'm going to be recompensed for my travel time, aren't I? It cost me a lot to get here. The cost of petrol these days - I blame the Russians."

"Our secretary will take care of those details, Mister Dorne," said Nektar. "Now then, on your CV it says that you have extensive experience with dogs."

"It does? I mean, it does! I do!" said Dorne. "I've worked with dogs for five years." He stared up at the ceiling, pursing his lips. "I love dogs, and they love me."

"It's not really necessary to love dogs," said Renata, the first time she had spoken since she sat down next…

Art Pact 28

"And you think that's a good idea, do you?"

"I don't know," I said. "I suppose so."

"But what will the - your neighbours think?"

I shrugged.

"What do I care? There's no law against it." I frowned. "There's no law against it, is there?"

"There's no law against it." She confirmed. "It's just... well, I suppose there's no law against it. You're going to go ahead then? You don't want to wait for her?"

"What's she going to say? No, she burnt her bridges."

"Fine. Fine." She peered over the blueprints again, tracing the outline of the work with her finger. When she reached the north-east edge, the most complicated part of the structure, the finger lingered, rolling around in quizzical little circles. "What about this bit? Isn't it a bit..."

"A bit what?"

"A bit.. baroque? Rococo? I'm not sure what I mean," she admit…

Art Pact 27

A drumroll for the performer, and then he is on stage. Not what the audience expected, of course. He shuffles on, bathed in the bright blue light of a follow spot that tracks him from ahead, causing his already pained expression to be contorted further by a squint that creases up his face into a thousand black valleys. His back is bent, his trousers tatty, his coat is poorly patched at the back, threadbare on the left elbow, open in a ragged wound on the right. After the effusive volume of the drums the theatre is hushed - all breath bated, the only noise the shuffling of the two shoes as they are dragged across the polished wood of the stage.

He stops, turns. The audience can see that his right eye is swollen. Livid, unthinkably grotesque, it weeps a fluid that is only visible as a shining reflection of the harsh spotlight. He looks around, although blinded by the blue halo that marks him out, peering desperately into the dark masses in their plush chairs. As his unseeing gaze sweeps …

Art Pact 26

Outside the bus, neon smears of blue and red glided past, bumped into wiggly waveforms by the terrible state of the road. I let my head rest against the window, which leapt away from it every few seconds so that it could jump back and slam into my forehead. After a few minutes the constant banging started to give me a headache, so I turned to look around the inside of the cab.

Directly ahead of me, spilling out over the edge of his chair, was a middle-aged man in a grey cagoule who had taken up the traditional posture of the tall bus-bound man, knees splayed so that he could fit in without having to stand up or snap his legs in half. He scratched behind his right ear, then his left, then again behind his right.

To my left, in the seat beside me, the middle-aged woman made her way laboriously down the page of her book. By my calculation she had re-read the same paragraph five times, which must have been a terrible burden on Ignatius J. Reilly, since it was the fifth time that he fall…

Art Pact 25

I was sitting in the conservatory, staring out at the foggy patches of grey-blue through the plastic roof, when my father rang.

"I'm still having trouble with the Dyson."

"Hello Dad." I said for the benefit of the cameras.

"It keeps pushing out this kind of sludge," he continued. "I've got the notes you left here last time, and before you ask I've read the manual again."

He hadn't read the manual again, I knew this. Particularly because he kept calling it the Dyson. They didn't have a Dyson, that was the food generator in my old flat. They had a Philips KT20, which was the model with the simplest user interface that I could find.

"Hello Phil," I said archly, "I hope you're well, I was sorry to hear about you and Sarah."

"Yes yes," he said testily. "You've made your point."

"Fine, just - would it kill you to start off with some small-talk? Ease into things before you ask me to come…

Art Pact 24

In our defence, we had been at the festival for seven hours, marshalling the dervishes and E-heads non-stop as the ring parade orbited the town centre. We were dead on our feet, flicking up our legs with every five or six steps in obeisance to some muscle spasm or cramp, all dreaming of soft fabric sofas and beds, but too hungry to sleep. So we sat back and let Alun do all the cooking, which meant that we got South Mars cuisine whether we liked it or not.

I sat in the kitchen, slumped on the chair in the bay with my head pillowed in my arms while Victory lay across the two chairs on the open side of the breakfast bar, her long red hair spilling onto the floor at one end, a worn flip-flop dangling precariously from a single painted toe at the other. Alun bustled around us, using the table as a staging point for his various pots and pans so that every few minutes I would feel a clunk of something heavy hitting the surface I was resting on, and I would wearily raise my head to see what ha…

Art Pact 23

They'd been cycling downhill for about three or four hours, occasionally braking onto the slow lane in order to rest their hands. The old steel bikes worked without modification with the ship's mag-field generator, but the stiff flat handlebars wreaked havoc with their arms, and every half an hour it was necessary to release one hand or the other and shake out the numbness. The slow lane was also slightly warmer, and Karen took the opportunity to heat up her fingers by tucking each hand in turn between her pressed together knees as she freewheeled. When they pulled into the slow lane after the forward generator spires, she braked a little and swerved to let Joe slot in beside her.

"How much further?"

"Not sure," he said, "not much further, but... well, we're over half-way I suppose."

He crouched down to try to reach into the under-saddle pack, but the reach was too awkward and he wobbled right, causing Karen to veer away from him, briefly clippin…

Art Pact 22

We moved into the corridor. Further away, safer, although I wanted to rush back to the kitchen door, throw the bolt. I glanced into the living room, then up the stair. Clear. Should we go up, or was there a risk we'd get trapped up there? It's only the first floor. I told myself, you'd be able to jump.

"So anyway," Marsha continued, "I've been going to this club for - I don't know, six or seven months? I suppose they know me there, or well most people do, all the other regulars. You know, it's strange, because you never get introduced to anyone, but you sort of overhear names at a tangent, odd isn't it? So if no-one else knows the name of someone you never hear it either, and when you've met someone three or four times and had conversations with them suddenly it becomes very awkward to admit that, 'hello, yes, we know each other but I was just wondering what exactly is your name?'"

I decided on the living room - more connectivi…

Art Pact 21

Let us be perfectly clear - Edge is not a dream, although you can reach Edge through a dream, or even while asleep but not dreaming. You can also get there from a particular place, or through a certain emotional state, or at specific times. I reached Edge through a dream myself, but it makes no difference how you get there, just that you do.

I was sleeping in the Black Archive, having spent twenty-two hours straight researching - well, let's not get into that at the moment. Suffice it to say my research had been fruitless up until that point, plenty of promising leads but all of them sending me on dusty paper paths that ended in cul-de-sacs of information. Ultimately the terrible lighting in the archive, the all-pervading smell of slowly rotting books, the lack of sleep, all conspired to send me into a deep sleep, my head cradled in the valley of an open tome on - let's skip over that.

I don't remember the dream that led me into Edge, not really. I don't usually remember…

Art Pact 20

Something weird happened earlier. I was in one of the lower tunnels, cleaning the walls. It's been my main duty for the last several cycles - it's boring but necessary, and some of the others who are doing the same job tell me that it's a staging post. Several of the older wall cleaners, ones who were working here when my current colleagues started, got rotated up to the entrance tunnels when they'd got enough experience wall-cleaning below. It doesn't make much difference where you clean walls, of course - scrubbing is scrubbing - but once you've been moved up to the surface levels you get to see a bit of the world around the city. Lots of people never get that - they work at comfortable jobs in the innards, never have to scratch moss off a tunnel wall for hours on end, but on the other hand they never get to do anything exciting either. Never get to be in a fight, never get to see the sky, all of those things. I'd rather do a bit of hard work and climb th…

Art Pact 19 - Exposition Time!

"Now is the time for some exposition," she said.

It was true. We'd been walking through the hills for weeks by that point, stopping in small towns and villages where we could, but sometimes camping in whatever shelter we could find from the choppy September wind. The wind in the Corvus valley rolls off the mountains to the west, powered by the combination of sun and shade on the east faces of the range, then gathering speed as it rushes down through the foothills, gathering in the valley to shoot southeast onto the plains like a bow from an arrow. Those villages on the plain at the mouth of the valleys are known as the "knockdown towns" in the local tongue, because of the frequency with which autumn and winter storms (powered perhaps by a similar mechanism, but twice as powerful) destroy the simpler structures. The old families of villagers respond by building a unique form of house - a triangular prism, of which the north-west half is constructed entirely of ea…

Art Pact 18 - Mirrors

To say that during the period between my fourth and twenty-fifth birthdays I was vain would have been wrong, but perhaps understandable if you looked at the evidence. I could not pass a mirror without a thorough examination of the silvery surface, and someone watching through my bedroom window (there was such a person, I later discovered) would have seen the child me sitting in front of her own mirror (a bare thing, silvered glass in a boring steel surround, fixed to the wall with two screws) for hours on end, staring as if rapt at her own face.

When I was in school a mirrored surface could distract me from my lessons with ease, and during the few disastrous times at which I went shopping with friends the mirrors in clothes-shop dressing rooms and the little reflectors behind rings in jewellery stores would draw me to a direct stop - amusing to my friends to begin with, although after I had held them up for the fifth time they began to tire of it and ultimately (on my third trip with …

Art Pact 17 - Vital Repairs

"Come on," I said, "he hasn't got much time."

"You can not rush this," the doctor said testily. She prodded at the corpse carefully, watching at its neck for some cryptic signal. She shook her head. "No good. Find me another."

I was way ahead of her - I'd been peering around before her examination began, trying to make out another whole body from the carnage. There was one a little way down, a middle-aged man in a corporal's uniform who had been separated from his left leg. I thought that would probably have killed him without the need for any other wounds, so it looked hopeful.

"Hmm, yes," the doctor said. "He might do."

She did her prod and look trick again, and this time I did see something - a tiny little pulse fluttering at the throat. For a moment I thought it might mean he was alive, but he was blue around the lips and there hadn't been movement on the battlefield for at least an hour, so I knew that wasn&#…

Art Pact 16 - You've Got A Parasite

You've got a parasite.

You don't know how you got it, you don't know what it looks like (if it even looks like anything), you just know that it's there. It could be a worm, some terrible maggot-thing that's burrowed into you. It could be a virus, just a couple of sugar-molecules wrapped in a geometric package around a coiled wire of RNA. Maybe its some sort of blood thing, like an amoeba. All you know is that you've got it, and it's making you talk about yourself in the second person.

That's not the only side-effect you've noticed, of course. You've noticed other things, like elevated temperature. You're hot - and you don't mean that in a double-entendre vainglorious way, you just are. Boiling hot. It's probably because you ate all those potatoes. You shouldn't have done that.

You went to the restaurant today. That was another bad decision you made. You met Addison, your head waitress and secret mistress, who you'd had a fight …

Art Pact 15

"The thing is," Marsh said carefully. "The thing is... I absolutely can't help noticing that you appear slightly different from your... uh, your profile."

The figure on the other side of the table shifted uncomfortably.

"It might have been a slightly old picture," she admitted.

"I... well..., uh... how to put this?" Marsh fiddled with his cutlery. "It's not so much the age of the photo. I mean, I'll admit my own picture was, that is to say - it's a couple of years old, and it may have been taken from a flattering angle."--he touched his mole self-consciously--"But it's - as I say, it's not so much the age of the photo. It's the fact that you don't appear to be..." he waved his hand.

"There wasn't a space for species on the form," said his date. "I read the terms and conditions quite carefully, there wasn't anything about having to be a human. I am over eighteen!" it insi…

Art Pact 14

The drones were gaining on us - two types of them now, the old-fashioned hovering things with their quadruple fans, and some chrome-shelled void things that made a disturbing vibrato hum as they flew. We barreled around the corner, capes streaming behind us, dodging around early-morning pedestrians and leaving a wake of confused sightseers behind us. Every so often someone would spot us coming and stand directly in our path, camera out, causing us to swerve violently around them. At least one of them must have got whipped in the face with the edge of my cape, but I had no time for either outrage or sympathy. We reached Bridge Street and accelerated up the straight, Brunch catching up with me when I had to slow down to avoid a half-asleep rickshaw driver.

"They're gaining on us!" he reported pointlessly.

"I know."

"We're not going to escape!"

"I KNOW."

I tried splitting up, veering off down Belham Crescent. The bad news was that there were eno…

Art Pact 13

Here is what I like to do in circumstances like these: I like to imagine myself on a desert island somewhere. There is a low sun, a half-circle of flaming red and orange slowing sinking into the sea. The top half of it is a perfect arc, a glowing ember against the sky. The bottom half a rippling crimson and yellow patch of brightness that stretches out into a path across the surface of the sea. It's a still sea, but not so still that there aren't visible wavelets texturing its azure surface. The sun that has fallen into it, the most recent but not the last of many such suns, has imparted its warmth to the sea so that were I to step into it I should feel a soft warmth washing around my ankles, a pleasant temperature that is so balanced with my blood that it renders the water almost intangible.

There in the shallows, were I to wade that far, I imagine that I would find brightly coloured fish, clowns and cichlids flitting back and forth, diving at some invisible plankton and rushi…

Art Pact 12

We stood in the living room and scratched our heads.

"That bucket's not going to last forever," Joe said after a few minutes of silent hem-ing and haw-ing. "Should I - I mean, could I get another bucket?"

"That bucket will run out too, you know."

"Yes," Joe said slowly. "I do understand that none of the buckets in this house are bottomless. Shall I get another one or shan't I?"

"What are we going to do with this one?" I asked. The thick black oil was a few centimetres from the top of the metal pail. "Yeah, you might want to get a new one. Uh, quickly."

While Joe hustled around in the kitchen, banging and clattering underneath the sink, I tried again to plug the hole. The pressure of the oil wasn't particularly high, but it was enough to make it impossible to simply hold a finger over the hole. When I tried, the oil spluttered and jetted around the end of my pointer, splattering the pristine white surface of …

Art Pact 11

"The whole idea is absurd," Christian complained from the end of the table. The tiny cuboid of lamb on the end of his fork, which had come dangerously close to its toothy nemesis, waved back and forth like the tip of a conductor's baton. Tiny droplets of juice dripped off it in either direction, falling onto the checked tablecloth. "The whole idea, I say." Christian let the morsel get closer, so close, but just as he was about to bite it off the tines he interrupted himself again. "Whoever thought of it should be fired. Fired or shot. Fired /then/ shot!" he concluded happily. He let his arm fall back down to the table, and his fork onto the plate, nodding to himself in satisfaction.

"I don't think we can ask them to kill a man-"

"-or woman!"

"...or woman," Allison said, "for the crime of a bad suggestion."

The lamb, which had once again soared up towards Christian's mouth, again halted.

"I'm not talk…