Showing posts from June, 2012

Art Pact 190 - Platform Entanglement

Crowded onto the platform, I tried to worm my way between one person and the next but the crush was too great to allow any movement. We were locked in place like atoms in a block of metal, and our energy was only serving to heat us up as we jostled back and forth. I felt elbows push into my sides, and I elbowed back, not knowing whether I was giving back as good as I'd got to my tormentors or simply passing on the pain to some fresh innocent. From above it must have looked laughable, but the grim-faced workers in the gantry simply stared down on us in silence, every so often stopping dead still too so that they seemed to be modern-day gargoyles perched above.

I at least still had Maggie, although I could feel already that our connection was fraying into something more tenuous. We had been arm-in-arm when we got to the station, the side of her body pressed up against me so that the curve of her left breast had been caressing my bicep. Now we were hand-in-hand, and even that grasp w…

Art Pact 189 - Curry Favour

"Well, you can try to curry favour with him if you like, but I wouldn't recommend it."

"What do you mean?"

"He's - you know, one of those types. Contrary."


"Doesn't like to be manipulated," said Alice. "Thinks he's independent. Very suspicious about anyone trying to get in good with him, even if it makes sense. He'd cut of his nose to spite-"

"-his face, I see, I see. I understand."

"That Missus Dalstow from number five, her with the head, you know?"

"Oh, with the head, yes I know the one you mean."

"That's right. She tried to butter him up once at a council meeting."

"She works for the council? That can't be right."

"Not the council-council. The parish council. They have meetings in the church hall every third Tuesday."

"Oh, I see."

"She tried to get him to agree to her idea for the fete, and she thought it woul…

Art Pact 188 - Henry the Gun

At the rear end of the freighter (or the "aff-t", as Jolyon insisted on referring to it) were two defensive autocannons: the left defensive autocannon and Henry. Jolyon had bought them at auction in a station orbiting Jupiter and had not realised at the time that one of the guns he'd bought still had a sentience chip installed. a fact which he simply accepted but which could, of course, have landed him in ridiculous amounts of trouble had it been discovered at the time. There being no excuses allowed for involving oneself in the slave trade, jail times were just as long for the buyer as for the vendor, and Jolyon could easily have ended up in some Jovian prisoner breaking blocks of oxygen with a hammer for the next couple of decades. Our accountant, Bickerson, still worried about the possibility of being found out, but since the police did not operate in the asteroid belt the chances really were very slim - on top of which Henry himself did not seem especially bothered …

Art Pact 187 - Cookery

For all his meticulous preparations, when it came down to the actual cooking he was a flurry of indecision and carelessness. Clouds of flour and steam filled the kitchen, billowing forth into the surrounding rooms to coat the floors and walls thereof with a stick paste of proto-dough that would linger there for the following month, proving almost impossible to clean. Pots and pans pile up haphazardly in the steel sink, forming teetering monoliths that threatened to collapse in catastrophic style every time he added another layer to their edifice. The bowls and boxes in which he had organised his mis-en-place ingredients covered every visible flat surface, and each time he had to put down another steaming pan of something plucked off the hob he was first forced to shuffle the current contents to one side with a carefully extended elbow, so that the incumbent crockery began to jostle against each other all along the countertop, slowly but steadily pushing the furthest nearer and nearer …

Art Pact 186 - Fun Park

Having driven three hundred miles to find the place, though, dad was not to be so easily dissuaded. Our mother, looking at the rusty gates, immediately began to try to argue that if the front shown to the outside world was so decrepit, surely it was unlikely that the machinery inside - particularly that running the rides - was going to be in good repair.

"You know I have nightmares about the kids dying on a rollercoaster," she said, clutching onto his upper arm. "You know that!"

He nodded. It was mother's common gambit, upon waking, to describe some dream or other she had had in which either we, or our father (never mother herself) were killed in some horrendous but easily avoidable fashion. Since there was no way to repudiate these claimed dreams, we were forced to accept that perhaps she had had a dream about us being disembowelled by lions at the zoo (for example), but the wide variety and the unfailing nature of the dreams had begun to suggest that perhaps…

Art Pact 185 - Golden Room

This golden room at the very top of the tower was Molan's pride and joy, a monument to his architectural and artistic skills in the general and in the specific a testament to his obsessive love of the colour yellow and the shades and hues thereof. Reached by a private elevator (which, for design reasons, did not run to the ground floor of the building but only as far as three floors down from the penthouse, necessitating a long ride up in the public elevators and then a transfer down a short but obscure corridor), it was sandwiched by the roof on top and below by a sort of half-level - larger than the normal maintenance levels but uninhabited and packed largely with sound-absorbing foam so that the noises from the rest of the building were completely undetectable in the penthouse and vice-versa - and vice was indeed exactly what it was that Molan's design was created to render silent. It had been built in secret - not that it was possible in these days, of course, to add a le…

Art Pact 184 - Brothers

There was no doubt that out of all of the brothers Robert was both the smartest and the worst. Somehow the intelligence that in Daniel had engendered a sense of respect for his fellow man had come out in Robert as an engine of contempt for those less quick-witted than he - and the roster was long in that small town, perhaps only the doctor and his family and the Bellingham girl escaping its number. Even at the school the teacher was no true match for Robert, although her education did at least allow her to hold out rearguard action against him through the use of polysyllabic words and scientific facts that he was unable to (respectively) understand or to refute, owing to the paucity of books at the brother's house. It was obvious that the teacher could not keep this battle going forever, though, especially when it was her sworn duty to remedy the exact ignorance which allowed her some measure of control over the boy. She could see that the day would soon come when the resources of…

Art Pact 183 - The Hide

The air in the hide was muggy and laden with the scent of wood mold and wet canvas. The wide slit on the viewing side offered the promise of a pleasant breeze, but somehow the sound baffles at the back of the room that cut us off from a direct line to the door also prevented air from flowing through freely, making the place one big stagnant dead-end. Every breath I took in was like inhaling a damp shed, and every breath out went reluctantly, stirring the fragrant miasma listlessly before exiting through the viewing slit. I had come in wearing my long-sleeved t-shirt, hedging my bets against the shade, but before five minutes had passed my sleeves were rolled up and I was regretting my choice of wardrobe.

All of this I kept to myself, though, because Miranda was clearly loving it. Perhaps not the ambience of the hide, but she was pressed up against the far wall, binoculars glued to her face, scanning the wetlands in front of us with a grin on her face so big that I thought for a secon…

Art Pact 182 - Galley

The rough touch of the whip brushed my back again, turning the raw welts into strips of pure fire. I did what I'd learnt to do - I mugged at putting extra effort into hauling at the oar-beam, curving my back out and sticking on an expression of ragged determination as though I were about to pop a blood vessel (which, I had to admit, might not be terribly far from the truth).

My colleagues (my own little ironic name for the other slaves, a pathetic attempt at galley-humour, ha-ha), bronzed and black and various shades in between, appeared to have a similar attitude, for I never felt the weight of the stroke lessen when they themselves were encouraged in this manner. I began to suspect that there was not so much difference between me and them in this respect - that my office-life in the twenty-first century and their life of hard physical labour in the first had engendered in us the same attitude towards the demands of our superiors, namely that it was better, when a supervisor was …

Art Pact 181 - Titanor

"Ugh," roared Titanor, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Yellow boulders tumbled away from his tear ducts, rolling down the hillside and demolishing a series of small shacks on the northern outskirts of the city. "I'm getting too old for this shit."

It was a bright morning, a blue sky above and the sun risen high with summertime enthusiasm, but Titanor found it all too much. His head was pounding from the night before, three of his eight legs were twinging uncomfortably with that feeling that presages a cramp, and his mouth felt as though he'd been chewing on a chemical plant, a simile that was confirmed when he reached a tentacle into his mouth and tentatively picked out a few crumbs from between his teeth and found that they were mostly the front half of a fork-lift. He felt groggy from sleep, and there was an uncomfortable pressure in his flame bladder.

"Hey hey, look who's awake!" A cheery voice and the sound of macropodic feet bounding up…

Art Pact 180 - High Level View

From the tops of buildings all differences are erased except for the grossest ones. I can tell the difference between a vehicle and a person, between a person and a beast, but between two people? No, nothing. Not colour, not sex. Not happiness or sadness, good or bad. All are the same, and all just as worthy or unworthy of my protection. I find it comforting - it removes a layer of morality that is perhaps less pure than it could be - a layer in which there are confusions brought on by disgust or delight, attraction or repulsion. Much better to be free of the frailties of the mind and to see all of humanity (all of terranity, perhaps) for what it is - life, and therefore something both rare and useful.

Naturally, I can only maintain this psychological detachment with the aid of physical distance. Come too close to the ground and all of this high-minded thought is removed from me. I become fearful and judgemental, terrified that my own life will be taken from me by some equally terrif…

Art Pact 179 - Venus Ascending

I suppose it was the time that I saw her at the river that sold me. I - look, I have a thing I do. Or rather, that I don't do. I don't talk about a woman's appearance if I can help it. I mean, I'll answer direct questions - although I answer them diplomatically, so that if someone asks me something value-laden (Am I Pretty?) they'll get the answer they want, not necessarily the objective answer, if there can possibly be such a thing in the arena of human attractiveness. But I don't flat-out tell women that they're good-looking without being directly queried about it. And I try not to get involved in conversations about the attractiveness of women unless I think I can usefully turn it to a more interesting and enlightening subject.

That's not to say I'm immune to physical attractiveness. I have to say, I'm a man of my years, and in the heart of me I'm just as straightforward a soul as the next guy. It's not because I'm special in som…

Art Pact 178 - Honey and Marmalade

Well, I didn't know what had come over him! It seems such a little thing, but you can't watch someone eat breakfast for twenty years and not be surprised when they put honey on their toast instead of marmalade. I almost choked on my tea, I really did. Do you know, I've been putting that honey there for all that time and never seeing it used. It just used to sit there in its little gang: the marmalade, the honey, the strawberry jam and of course the marmite, and I never stopped to think that I could have just saved myself some time. He only ever used the marmalade. I could have saved myself - oh, I don't know, thirty seconds a day. How much is that? Let's see, three hundred and sixty-five days a year for twenty years, times half a minute. So three thousand six hundred and fifty minutes, plus a couple for leap years. Which is - hmmm, roughly four days?

Four days. What I couldn't have done in four days. What I could still do, if I could get them back from the clu…

Art Pact 177 - Arts and Tidiness

The confusion, of course, comes in their attitude towards human art - and, strangely, human tidiness. If there is one impulse the Vanaraet share with us, it is an appreciation of correct storage. "A place for everything and everything in its place" might well be a proverb that has a parallel in their unintelligible language. But it is not always possible to precisely correspond human thinking on the matter with the Vanaraet perception. The science of reading their emotional state is now well established - the urgency with which this science was required during the early days of contact led to rapid development and a thorough codifying of the procedure, to the point now where the youngest of human schoolchildren can determine when a Vanaraet is happy, sad, or in that violent and mercurial half-emotion that is something like our anger and something like our fear. So it is therefore no great problem to discover, given an arrangement of objects in a laboratory or apartment, for…

Art Pact 176 - In Memory

We gathered at the side of the road, one by one drifting in from who-knows-where. We didn't see, didn't know that another one of us had arrived until there was suddenly one more of us standing there, looking down at the metal. We didn't speak, either. Other people passed around us, but to us they were just grey ghosts in the rain. None of them had been there, so none of them mattered. They might have stared at us, might have cursed us for a minute as they came upon our little gathering stuck solid in the flow of pedestrians like a plaque in a blood vessel, but to us they barely existed. We came in, one by one from who-knows-where until all eight of us were we-knew-where, and all eight of us looking down at the metal and thinking our own cold thoughts.

Seven was the last to arrive, as usual. Looking down at the metal I saw her shoes first, elegant black things with a high-heel filled in as is the style. Next to her Three: messy trainers. Next to him, Two in flat pumps. One…

Art Pact 175 - Album

At the beginning of the album, before the very first picture of me (not as a baby, but as a toddler - my family not having access to a camera until just after my third birthday), a tiny lock of my hair is taped, and beneath it a cryptic note (added later, obviously, since it is on a lime-green square of post-it), saying "CHANGE VIEWPOINT", scrawled in blocky pencil letters. The lines of the writing are bold and straight, but each stroke squiggles weakly at its end, giving it the impression that the line is fraying somehow.

I peel the note off, examine the other side. Blank, but for the strip of adhesive-readhesive glue at the top, which has dried out a little so that when I put it back I have to press firmly along the top of the not to get it to stick again. What viewpoint, I wonder? I don't remember writing the note, but it has been years - maybe a decade - since I last looked at the album. There's almost nothing I've done in the last decade that I can adequate…