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Showing posts from September, 2012

Art Pact 223 - Adrift

The little boat bobbed on the ocean surface, riding out the swells with all the dignity of a twig travelling under a bridge on its way to coming second in a game of pooh-sticks. The three occupants, laying side-by-side but with their heads in alternating directions, looked from a bird's-eye view like the cargo of history's smallest ever slave ship. Their formerly pale complexions now ruddied by the sun, they slept with pages from the newspaper over their heads so that they would not be burnt. Beneath these tiny and topical tents they grumbled to each other, shuffling uncomfortably to get the best position they could in the curving belly of the boat - just too narrow to accommodate more than the middle one of them entirely, so that the two on either side had to hang their feet over the edge.

"I'm just saying," said the middle one from beneath his newspaper, "I'm the tallest. It makes sense."

"You're the tallest by one inch," said the o…

Art Pact 222 - Sunrise

There's something about the way the light comes in in the morning that makes the place seem almost sinister. The sun doesn't rise here, it creeps up. It comes up in fits and starts, moving when you're not looking so that the shadows seem inconsistent from one moment to the next, daggers of darkness that shrink past you but feel as though they might leap forward again, piercing you with a sudden thrust. They are pitch black, even in the middle of the morning, so that you feel that stepping into one might send you tumbling into an endless abyss.

The trees are deciduous here, so that in autumn they are nothing but dark silhouettes grasping greedily at the sky. Even with their leaves they seem oddly twisted, strangely out of place in the ground that is, after all, the only home they have ever known, but shorn of that covering of decency you can see instantly how this planet has changed them, how the welcoming shelter of the same trees on Earth is not a faculty that has carrie…

Art Pact 221 - Boat across the silent sea

Between my home town of Levitia and the fishing colony of Gaspar there is an impassable sea, as there is between all of the colonised islands. The silent sea, into which no man or woman can plunge for more than a few seconds without their lungs burning, their skin bloating. Our town walls protect us from it, but to travel without Levitia, to visit the colonies, we rely on the ferry boat. I am fifteen when I take my first trip on the boat, the right age for a woman to begin to follow her mother's trade. She looks me up and down that morning. Her expression is serious - my mother frowns a great deal, especially around me, and the lines it forms in her forehead have become fixed there by overuse so that she presents a stern aspect even when she is in her most amiable of moods.

"Cassie," she says. "No school this week. We're going to Gaspar."

I am excited and terrified at the same time. The ferry to Gaspar is the safest of all of the ferries, but it has still …

Art Pact 220 - Voter Strategy

"Vote early, vote often," he says with a sly grin. The others laugh, and I manage to rustle up a half-smile, the least I can do to avoid looking like a humourless ass. I can tell that McReedy isn't fooled, but he would have seen through anything more demonstrative anyway. My half-smile is for the benefit of the rest of the goons. And as long as they're fooled, he won't say anything. That's the unwritten rule here - I can think what I like, I can even tell him what I want, but make him look a fool in front of the others is a serious offence.

"Now, the question is: how do we do that? The sad fact of the matter is that the so-called authorities don't know that we know better than them what's good for this town. They're going to insist on ID cards shown, voter registration forms, all that good old-fashioned bureaucracy that keeps the fat cats in city hall in hookers and blow."

Another sincere laugh from the crowd, and an insincere one from …

Art Pact 219 - The door in the east wing

"Let me be blunt," she said imperiously. "This business has become completely untenable."

"What?" whispered Dent.

"She means it's got out of hand," I explained, apparently not quietly enough, for the Duchess stared me down. "Sorry Grandmama."

"Hmm. As I was saying, this business has become completely untenable"--she fixed Dent with a gimlet eye as she pronounced the word--"and I for one think it is time that certain irresponsible members of the family curtailed their ridiculous gadding about through time. Why only last week I was looking through the diary of my wedding day and I realised with some shock that the mysterious guests who turned up must have been none other than Cousin Cyril and young Lady Frightweather." She drew herself up to her fullest seated height, and cleared her throat. "It it with that in mind that I am having Carruthers seal off the east wing entirely. We have no need of the rooms dur…

Art Pact 218 - Ticks

There was no doubt that the house was full of ticks - that it was, in fact, a house owned and run by one big tick, for the benefit of smaller ticks. The inhabitants were packed in so close that I doubted there would be room even for the tiniest of additional occupants, yet whenever I thought that, one more unfortunate would arrive at the door and be ushered grimly inside, assigned to a bed - or, if they were unlucky and arrived late, to the floor. In this manner the building was packed even more tightly with the poor workers from the dump, until it resembled most closely an eighteenth-century slave ship. The heat from so many people in such close confines was tremendous, so that even with the winter cold outside and the drafts from cracks and ill-fitting window panes, one could hardly breath for the closeness of the air. As you might imagine, with so many people breathing in and out the air quickly became stale with carbon dioxide and the smell of the unwashed mouths of the workers.

Art Pact 217 - Happiness in Numbers

The people on that planet had a curious attitude towards maths, which stemmed from their language. Their ancestors had been one of the third wave out of the homeworld, the grand and forgotten wave, and like so many of the other ships in that ill-fortuned expedition, they had become lost in the great space-time ripple that came unexplained out of the Antlia Dwarf Galaxy and washed across the Milky Way like a tidal wave, scattering warp ships before it like so many pond-skaters. Unlike many of the ships that had been lost forever, their ancestor's had survived with little damage, flung out of the warp at a low speed because of a routine balancing manoeuvre it had been in the middle of at the time. It came out in the middle of nowhere, engines wrecked for anything other than short-distance travel, but as luck would have it the science crew detected a system a mere twenty light-years away, a system they were able to limp to over the next three decades.

The star was attended by three …