Showing posts from February, 2012

Art Pact 128

Intercalcatronix's chief researcher unveiled the robot in a traditional way, by pulling away a piece of red cloth with which the humanoid figure had been swathed.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" he announced, formulaically ignoring the fact that there was in fact only one woman present. "Allow me to introduce to you the world's first domestic robot with a sense of propriety - the InterCal Four Thousand!"

He pulled at the cloth, but instead of swooshing gracefully away from the hidden figure it simply pulled taut across the hidden head, causing it to nod forward.

"Sorry, ladies and gentlemen," the chief researcher apologised. He pulled again, then again. "It seems to be stuck. Hold on, I have it." It seemed obvious to the crowd that he did not have it, since he did nothing different, just tugging harder again at the cloth in exactly the same manner.

"Quit that!" said a smooth synthesised voice from beneath the cloth.

Someone in the aud…

Art Pact 127

"He's annoying?"

"Sooo annoying!" Craig drawled, kicking his boots against the fence post. Each impact was marked by a shower of dried mud flying into the sty. The piglets dashed around excitedly, the big sow lying on her side just snorted. "How can they put a man like that in charge?"

"I dunno," said Breva. "It's all politics, I suppose."

"Yeah, but.. Ah, forget it. Damn fools."

"It'll all come out in the wash," she said, reaching down into the pen and scooping up one of the little animals. Its stomach bristles rasped against her hand. "Oof! Damn, you guys are getting heavy!" The piglet wriggled in her hands, whinnying a little, then settled down as she settled it on its back in her arms. It was like a baby - an ugly baby, she thought, although she had always thought that all babies were ugly, certainly until they were a year or so old. "You'll make something of yourself one day, son…

Art Pact 126

Floating high above the ground, the observatrix felt the instability in the air as a tickling feeling on the lower planes of her wings, a sensation that reminded her absurdly of the feeling of pups nestling in a nest. She had never been a mother, never even considered it, indeed, always quoting the importance of her job - although in fact she had admitted to herself long ago that she would have happily let the enemy roll over the enclave in an instant if she could only be assured that she would be allowed to continue to fly as long as she liked.

A far-distant crack of an artillery piece echoed up from the ground, bringing her out of her reverie, and she banked gently to be just far enough out of path. It was unnecessary - the little grey flower of smoke and shrapnel blossomed a full hundred chains away to the north, too far even to be the result of incompetence in the enemy gunnery crew. They had been firing at someone else - or something else, perhaps, a cloud or some phantasm of th…

Art Pact 125

The morning sun rose like a hot air balloon driven by a mad pilot, surging up and then falling back, sometimes climbing as much as 5 degrees in a few seconds then slowing down to a halt for half an hour so that sundials and clocks found themselves in violent disagreement, insofar as any disagreement between them had the capacity for extending into violence.

For Browns and Walter, waiting in the guard hut for their shift to be over, the wait was excruciating. They were allowed no clocks (Bullmeyer's orders), instead being relieved by the next team at the required time. They were therefore reduced to gauging the time by the progression of the sun in the sky and the makeshift scratches they had made on the guard-hut wall, and the solar disk's irregular motion made that impossible that morning.

"What the hell is going on?" Browns said, staring intently out of the window. Walter barely looked up - just enough that the rapidly moving sun managed to shoot a ray directly in…

Art Pact 124

Bruekner shaves with a razor blade. No razor - just the shiny metal rectangle clamped between his thumb and index finger, dragged slowly over his arm in slow strokes, down from the shoulder to the elbow in one long movement, then back up the same smooth path, across a little bit, repeat. His upper arm is the smoothest, most flawless skin I have ever seen, not the slightest hint of the dark hairs that crown his other shoulder, and bronzed to perfection by the sun. I want to touch it, but I am sat on the other side of the waiting room, the smaller side reserved for women, and it would be foolish at best to cross over. Alston sees me watching and nudges me, winking and sticking her tongue out.

"Oh, go boil your head," I tell her. Her mouth bunches up into a mock prim expression and she shakes her head sadly, as if I have failed her in some way. Her edges ripple, as though there is a wind in the ether that is dragging her away from me, and I notice that every few seconds she sh…

Art Pact 123

"The forgeries of time," said Portin, sifting through the heap of photographs with her fingers. She seemed to be staring at all of them at the same time, not searching for one individual picture but viewing them as a photo-mosaic or some enigmatic gestalt. I waited for her to clarify her point, but she declined by inaction, continuing the hypnotic movement. First she plunged her arms elbow deep into the box of pictures, then withdrawing them slowly she would raise up two handfuls of photos, letting those balance precariously at the edge of each hand tumble back into the pile. Eventually she would be left with only a couple of photographs which, after barely a glance, she would release again by declining her palms. Then the process would begin again. I marvelled at how she was able to perform it without repeated paper cuts, but Portin seemed perfectly comfortable.

"How long is she going to be here?" Raquella whispered. She was scratching nervously at a red sore on …

Art Pact 122

We found the boy in the middle of the shop, taking cans from the shelf and stacking them in geometric shapes on the floor. He looked tired, frowning in the way children do that lets you know they're going to be difficult to get to bed. A cart lay on its side a couple of metres away from him and we sat down on it, carefully putting our weight at the edges so that we wouldn't bend it and so that it wouldn't tip up suddenly if one of us got up in a hurry.

"What brought him here?" Don asked, looking around. For a moment I was astonished, then remembered that he'd never taken the boy shopping - not ordinary everyday shopping, anyway.

"His mum," I told him. "We'd see her here sometimes. Not - I didn't bring him here deliberately for that, but we had to get food somewhere. I wasn't driving to Slough just to avoid her, that would have been insane."

"Shit," he said quietly.


"How did he take it? I mean, …

Art Pact 121

Incongruities multiplied in the dark of our absence, so that each time Rachel and I returned to her apartment she would sigh in despair and roll her eyes at some new change or another. The third evening we came home to discover that Cathy worked in a bank, whereas up until that morning she had been a staunch anti-capitalist of the "money is evil" breed, as likely to go out of the house in a suit as she was to throw a cat out of a ninth-storey window. As we opened the door she leant forward to cuddle a little nest of paperwork under the protective shelter of her breast, and stared at us suspiciously as we made our way through the living room to Rachel's room, her eyes not leaving us for as much as an instant.

"This is getting ridiculous," Rachel said when her door was closed.

"It's odd, certainly."

"And how long before it's me, or you?"

"I don't know," I conceded.

"Perhaps we've already changed," she said,…

Art Pact 120

He touched the wrench to the metal - gently, almost as if giving it a benediction.

"The drive-shaft," he told me. "Very temperamental in these models. The brackets aren't good enough, you see. Stress in the wrong places."

"How was that allowed?"

"Wasn't a case of being allowed. It was a compromise-"

"Ugh, a compromise."

"Engineering is all compromises," he said sternly. "As I was saying, they traded off between the weight of the housing and the bracket positioning. Brackets at either end of the housing were lighter. Better to have two brackets further inside the housing, but then they'd have had to put supports here and here"--he pointed with the end of the wrench again, indicating two empty spaces--"but then they would have interfered with the proper rotation of the coupling gear, and to move that you need an extra shaft. That shaft has to be supported at the other end, and so forth. More weight a…

Art Pact 119

It is a cold day and I lean out of the window with my cigarette, blowing thin smoky breaths into the courtyard where they are whipped away by the winds blowing down from the mountains. I would prefer to smoke inside, of course, but my landlord's nose is so exquisitely sensitive to tobacco that he can tell at a remove of weeks if I have been smoking in the bath, say, or in the cubby-hole formed by the stairs to the building's next floor, where I like to huddle with a book and press my back against the radiator.

"Herr Driscoll," he said the last time we met, his accent darkening the two Ls at the end of my name into a barely audible yawn, "there is too much ate stake when a man smokes. His sperm count reduces, as does the ease with which he"--he coughed, suddenly too prudish to say what he was going to say--"with which he completes his masculine duty. Arteries clog, the lungs become filled with a black ichor from the tar, the results are terrible."

Art Pact 118

There's no day so perfect, of course, that a sleeper can't spoil it. It's doubly galling if you've managed to convince yourself that you're free of sleepers. We'd thought the training had worked, but apparently I'd picked up at least one sleeper made of sterner stuff than the others. I don't know how she did it, but Doctor Singh suggested (later on) that a particularly self-aware sleeper might have been able to subvert the meditation in such a way as to block herself out of the conscious mind completely. His theories, as always, were vague and untestable, and since it was his work that had convinced me I was clear to start with, I was even less inclined to believe them. Doctor Singh typified the expert in that regard - he was no more likely to be right than the average man, but was always able to somehow explain his failures. I disregarded his theories about variation in sleeper willpower. They may be true, who knows (they have the scent of truthiness …

Art Pact 117

The founding of the new company (as we assumed was almost always the case) did not go off entirely without a hitch. The administrative side, admirably handled by Leila, went nice and smooth. All the papers were filed in good time, the lawyers involved did their jobs quickly and professionally, and since we'd worked out so many of the details and contingencies first there was little enough work for them to do at any rate. The name was registered with Companies House, through one of those agencies that for a fee register dozens of generically-described companies whose remits cover the entire gamut of human endeavour and which can then be retitled as desired.

Office and workspace, however, proved a different kettle of fish. None of us had had any experience renting commercial space before - we'd all tended to work in our own homes - and finding a unit at a reasonable cost that matched our requirements turned out to be awkward. There were fully-furnished managed office suites in …

Art Pact 116

It's a fairly damning indictment of the world today that having spent four years on my degree in biochemistry, another year on a master's, and two years working towards a doctorate (even if I did eventually drop out - supervisor trouble) that I was unable to find a job that even remotely related to my area of expertise.

Heavily in debt (I had the sort of doctoral grant that had to be paid back if you dropped out, and the sort of short-sighted attitude to spending that ensured that I had wasted three years of money in the time it took me to get one-and-a-half years into the research), I had neither time nor resources to spare waiting around for the perfect job. I'd expected that. But I was shocked (ok, perhaps not shocked - but disappointed) to discover that it wasn't just the perfect job I couldn't find. I couldn't find the roughly ideal job, nor the workable job, nor even the remotely tolerable job. I was finally reduced to begging an old school friend of min…

Art Pact 115

"Oh the worst thing about it was just the terrible cold," she said, peering out into the street. The bus pulled up at the lights, stranding her directly in front of an old man in a plaid cap who stared in through the window blankly. He was the same age as her father, but much thinner - a grey raincoat covering up a bony frame that somehow managed to impress itself on the clothes above it in the form of angular eruptions at the shoulder and elbows. From the long sleeves of the coat extended bony wrists that ended in hands white and pink where the strained handles of overloaded orange plastic bags cut into the flesh of his fingers. He looked like a special effects skeleton that had somehow escaped from the studio, donned a hat, and gone out shopping at Sainsburys.

On the other end of the line Donovan muttered something trite about the temperature at which it would snow, and she nodded absently, forgetting that he could not see her. The old man looked up, staring directly into…

Art Pact 114

All the razor-glass sounds shattering in his ear, the day-glo noise of the tumbling books covers, rushing noises and words and the faces of the dead and never-to-be-alive, he swam up towards the surface of nothing, gasping for a breath that he knew could never fill his lungs, the bloodthirsty fish picking at his skin, tearing away the old dead parts of his brain that weren't necessary any more, the grey dead bits thrown into shadow by the bright light of the drug. Now he was swimming down, no transition, no flip or inversion or turn or roll or yaw or pitch just down when he had been swimming up, down into the bright depths, down to the rushing tides that swirled up, rainbow currents that lit up sadness and happiness and curiosity and made him feel as though he were falling in a hundred directions at once even as he swam.

Where am I going to? he thought to himself, and then another thought that was in another language, something he understood at the time but could never write down …