Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Breath Like a Crocodile's Fart

In my acclaimed short story, 'Crocodile Wind', Nathan is eager to convince his disbelieving girlfriend, Aiko, that his bad morning breath smells identical to a crocodile's fart. He quickly arranges a demonstration at the local city zoo to prove it.

At the zoo a recently fed adolescent Philippine crocodile soon provides a jar full of rectal gas for Nathan's purposes.

Philippine Crocodile

Aiko reluctantly prepares to inhale the jar's contents:
She held up the jar just beneath her nose. Nathan and Jason were staring at her and nodding. They looked like ten-year old boys waiting for her to do some revolting dare, which she actually was.  Rolling her eyes she unscrewed the lid and breathed in. A stench, powerful in its potency and offensiveness, enveloped her. She screwed up her eyes, and then her gag reflex triggered as odours reminiscent of rancid vegetation and putrefying innards registered in her brain. And all of that accompanied by the expected scent of defecation. 
After a few seconds a strong after smell, much like the reeking tang of heavily mature blue cheese smeared in stale sweat, congregated in her mouth. She coughed, and dropped the jar. It shattered on the concrete floor.

Is Nathan right? Does his breath really smell like the exhaust of a crocodile's anus? And will Aiko agree? Read the story and find out...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hideous Rituals

Throughout human history there have been some quite horrendous rituals performed by tribes and civilisations around the world.

The Mayan civilisation, for example performed human sacrifices on an almost industrial scale, the most common method being decapitation and heart extraction. Other methods included ritually shooting the victim with arrows, hurling sacrifices into a sinkhole, entombing alive, disembowelment, and even tying the victim into a ball for a ritual reenactment of a ball game.

Aghoris cannibal
More disturbing are the Aghoris of northern India; a sect of Hinduism who still practice cannibalism. They consume the flesh of dead bodies found floating in the Ganges river in the hope of immortality and supernatural powers. They drink from human skulls and practice cannibalism in the bizarre belief that eating human flesh has special benefits, such as the prevention of aging.

Eskimos had a different but still disturbing ritual. When old age struck, elderly Eskimos were set adrift on an iceberg. Alone, and without any help or means of return they would inevitably freeze or starve to death. This was considered a good and dignified way to send the elderly on to the afterlife, and for them to avoid becoming a burden for their family. Remarkably, there are concerns that this practice is still used today.

And all that brings me to my short novel, 'The Impaler and the Slim-Jims', which features an equally gruesome ritual known as the Ceremony of Impalation. It is performed regularly by the underground scientific community of Impaler, where young males are forced to dive onto a long spike. If they survive they are judged worthy of becoming scientists and go on to a prestigious life of research and discovery. If they die their bodies are thrown into a dog pit so that the shame they have brought to their family can be digested away.

Two bounty hunters, Peter the Ace and Panman, masquerading as visitors from the other side of the planet, are invited by the community's leader, Tiyr'd, to witness the ceremony, after which they come to understand why all the adult males are significantly deformed:
The two bounty hunters followed Tiyr’d onto a large tiled balcony overlooking the centre of the village. A large crowd had gathered outside and were staring up at the tall platform and at the three metre spike at its base. Several young males were climbing up a ladder on the platform’s side.
“What’s happening?” Peter the Ace asked. 
“It is the Ceremony of Impalation.” Tiyr’d said with reverence. “At the age of thirteen, all males must take part in it.”  
One of the males had reached the top of the tall platform. He was now at least fifty metres above the village. The crowd turned to face the balcony.  
Tiyr’d started to make a speech. “My fellow Impalers, once again the hour is upon us - the hour when our adolescent males must take the leap of faith to determine their destiny. Will their future be a noble one of cerebral scientific research, or will they plunge into the scorching trans-dimensional cavity of uninterrupted destitution?”  
The crowd bowed their heads and spoke in unison. “The Almighty Impaler, god of all science, must judge our young males.”  
“Yes.” Tiyr’d said with complete seriousness. “The Almighty Impaler must judge them. And that time of judgement is now.”  
The crowd spoke in unison once again. “The time of judgement is now.”  
Tiyr’d pointed at Peter the Ace and Panman. “For the first time in our history outsiders will witness the Ceremony of Impalation. These two beings have travelled to us from the other side of our world to be with us tonight. Please welcome Herbert and Gareth of the Muscle-Russells.”  
The crowd bowed towards the bounty hunters. “Welcome Herbert and Gareth of the Muscle-Russells.” they said in sweet harmony.  
Tiyr’d raised his contorted arms as high into the air as he could. “The Almighty Impaler is watching. Let the ceremony commence.” 
 All of the young males were standing on top of the platform now. There were five of them, and they huddled together like puppies. One of the young males broke away from the group and walked to the edge of the platform. He looked down and spread his arms out wide. “I am Hatr’d, son of Neutr’d, the molecular biologist.” he shouted, his voice full of pride. “I submit myself for judgement.” Hatr’d swan-dived off the platform and plummeted down. He let out a shrill scream as his body hit the spike. He was skewered upside down from his shoulder right through his left leg and out through the sole of his foot. His thigh bone had been pushed out and hung from his torn leg. Blood pumped freely from his horrific wounds rapidly staining his white coat. After a couple of seconds Hatr’d moaned.  
The crowd cheered. “He lives!”  
The leader of Impaler spoke. “Hatr’d has been judged. He is deserving of a position as a scientist. Take his injured body from the spike and treat his wounds.”  
Four females approached the impaled male, grabbed him, and then proceeded to tear him off the spike. Hatr’d yelled as his flesh was ripped.
Others are not so successful:
A second adolescent male had positioned himself on the edge of the platform. The crowd’s gaze returned to the top of the platform. As Hatr’d had done only two minutes earlier, the second male spread his arms and introduced himself. “I am Wizzr’d, son of Pepr’d, the nuclear physicist. I submit myself for judgement.”  
Wizzr’d swan-dived onto the spike.  
There was no scream this time. Just a crunch, splat, tear, squelch, and thud in rapid succession. The spike had entered the young male’s body through the top of his skull and had exited through his butt-cheeks. He had been split completely in two. His divided body slipped off the spike and fell to the ground at opposite sides. The muscles in his limbs twitched randomly. His entrails exuded from his belly and slithered into the lake of blood that had formed around his torn physique.  
The crowd watched in silence as the twitching and convulsing slowed then stopped. They spoke quietly and in unison. “He dies.”  
“Wizzr’d has been judged.” Tiyr’d said. “The Almighty Impaler has sent him to the scorching trans-dimensional cavity of uninterrupted destitution. Remove his body and dump it in the dog pit. His physical form must be digested to rid us all of the shame he has brought to our society.”  
The four females dragged the two halves of Wizzr’d away.
When the bounty hunters start to question the necessity of such a barbaric ritual the Impaler leader is not at all happy:
“Interesting ceremony.” Peter the Ace said to Tiyr’d. “Rather unnecessary though, don’t you think?” 
The leader of Impaler became defensive. “It is described in detail in the great book of Impaler! The Almighty himself decreed eighty billion years ago that it must be performed three times a week. It is the only sure way of determining which of our young males will develop into magnificent scientists.” 
“Wouldn’t a written aptitude test be better?” 
“Definitely not!” Tiyr’d said. “It would be much less efficient.” 
“What do you mean?” 
“Our community cannot afford to have non-scientific males running around making a nuisance of themselves and eating our precious food supplies. The Ceremony of Impalation makes sure that only those with keen scientific minds survive.” 
“But how does leaping fifty metres onto a spike ensure that?” 
Tiyr’d was growing impatient. “Because, only those with the intelligence to avoid getting their head skewered can handle the demanding research that we undertake!” 
“No more questions!” the leader said. “That is the way it always has been, that is the way it is, and that is the way it will always be.”
Just like rituals performed by Earth's civilisations and tribes, the ritual described in my story is outrageously cruel, and justified on the basis of religion and superstition only, and without a shred of evidence to back up any of the claimed benefits.

How did such things become so normal to so many people?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Secret Underground Cities

There are many large nuclear war bunkers around the world. Constructed during the cold war, they were the designed for one purpose: the continuation of government. This would allow the nation being attacked (or doing the attacking) to continue to control their forces whilst remaining relatively safe from the devastation above, and in the longer term continue to govern what remains of their nation.

From what I know of such facilities, the notion of being able to govern a nation and its remaining population after a large scale nuclear attack seems rather optimistic, especially as even the largest and best nuclear bunkers could only house a few thousand for a few months at most. What would happen when those privileged government survivors are forced to return to the surface? How would they govern the sick, weak, starving and desperate remnants of their population?

What would really be required is a bunker large enough to host a significant percentage of the population and allow then to survive within the bunker for many years, even decades.  And not only survive, but maintain the level of civilisation, technology and order that was enjoyed before the event that forced them to retreat underground. This would allow a staged and carefully managed return to the surface when conditions were suitable. When I thought of that, I had the premise for my short story, 'Under Pindar'.

Inside the real Pindar - a wall of TV displays
known as the 'Knowledge Wall'
The story begins with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, after just a few months in office, being ushered by his defence secretary down to the government's command bunker after something is detected heading south from the Arctic on a direct course for London. After multi-megaton detonations are detected over Scotland the defence secretary makes the decision to evacuate to a safer place, a place unknown to the Prime Minister. A place known as 'Haven'. That decision soon proves to be correct as London and the command bunker are destroyed. Who, or what, is responsible?

The name of the story comes from the name given to the UK government's command bunker, 'Pindar', located beneath the Ministry of Defence building on Whitehall in central London. The name is taken from the name of a Greek poet, whose house remained the only one standing in the city of Thebes when it was destroyed in the year 335BC.  With the thought of how inadequate such a bunker would be in the event of a major nuclear attack I envisaged an even larger facility - thousands of times larger - and much much deeper.  It would be one of several spread across the country, all interconnected with deep rail links, and  even submarine links to the deep ocean, and with the ability to sustain millions in relative comfort and normality for decades or longer. They were constructed in total secrecy following the discovery of a huge deep cavern a mile beneath London in the 1950s shortly after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister for the second time. With the cold war deepening Churchill ordered the construction of 'Haven'. It would be immensely expensive, but the funding of the project is eloquently explained in the story. Governments are not as inefficient with public funds as they are made out to be. They are, in fact, quite the opposite. The ever-spiralling costs of 'infrastructure' projects, and the billions spent on 'failed' IT systems, are really the perfect cover for the clandestine funneling of funds into other areas.

The first completed section of Haven, known as 'Whitehall Cavern', can be seen in diagrammatic form below:

Whitehall Cavern - the vast government shelter beneath Pindar

Six other deep caverns were discovered after that and developed by subsequent governments, all in total secrecy.

The UK was not the only country to do this. The United States government also constructed such facilities (on an even grander scale), as did Germany. Russia and China are also suspected to have done the same. With all of the cavern bunkers powered by geo-thermal energy, and with extensive farming facilities and factories, it is possible for tens of millions of people and our civilisation to survive what could otherwise have been the extinction of the human race.

Although 'Under Pindar' is just a story there could be some truth behind the existence of such bunkers.  I find it hard to believe that governments are as inefficient as they are. Such inefficiencies could indeed be a way of diverting funds. There could be so much going on far beneath our feet - a whole world we know nothing about.

Then again, it could just be rock and magma.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Artificial Foes

There are many ways to develop a frightening and disturbing antagonist in a science fiction story.  But one of the most potent, in my opinion, is to make that antagonist a synthetic being. The thought of such a constructed and programmed machine, endowed with a highly intelligent and sentient artificial mind, and incredible strength and agility, is nothing short of chilling.

And that is why I particularly enjoyed writing my novel, ‘The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay’.  Spoiler alert:  if you've yet to read the novel, you may want to stop reading now…

The story features a Cifitra, a member of an ancient race of metallic artificial beings. The Cifitra have a voracious desire to dominate or annihilate developing civilisations, and they like fulfil that desire in the most cunning and surreptitious manner possible. This almost always involves covering their tough but spindly metallic frames with life-like biological flesh to imitate those that they wish to infiltrate and control. And the imitation does not stop with their physical appearance. They also adopt a different mental state to complete their disguise. This is why sightings of Cifitra in their natural metallic state are almost unheard of, and why they are difficult to detect until it’s too late.

In ‘The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay’ the Cifitra in question has, for some bizarre reason, disguised itself as a megalomaniacal, incontinent and bad-tempered old woman called Doctor Combobulay with the aim of wearing down and then ruling over the fledgling civilisation of the Stoidi. After pummeling the Stoidi’s home planet, Droog, with redirected asteroids, the Cifitra hides in a huge submarine beneath the oceans of Droog to await the perfect time to emerge and rule over the subdued survivors.

It’s not until the final third of the novel that the Cifitra is revealed. After infiltrating the submarine the bounty hunter, Panman, is the first to figure out Doctor Combobulay’s true identity, and he doesn't waste time proving it to his companion, Sind’a Thighs:

With an agile flick of his thumb, the bounty hunter changed the setting on his pistol, and then fired.
Instantly, Doctor Combobulay was consumed in a ball of flame as arcs of energy flickered like designer lightning over her body. She writhed, screaming like a bloated baby, as her clothes were reduced to charred flakes. Her skin bubbled into deep red boils that burst into sprays of steam. 
Despite her training and upbringing, Sind’a Thighs found herself slightly shocked by Panman’s actions. She spoke, shouting to be heard above the doctor’s agonised and gurgling screams. “Surely we should keep her alive? This kind of torture is not productive.” 
Huge blazing gashes had now appeared on the doctor’s body. Boiling innards gushed out. 
Panman continued his brutal attack. “It’s necessary to prove a point; therefore it’s actually highly productive!” 
Doctor Combobulay’s screams became shriller as Panman’s horrific onslaught continued. Her skin was now flaking off in large blackened chunks, revealing cracked and already over-cooked internal organs. Smoke billowed into the air. And then the doctor’s massive bladder burst. A flood of scalding hot urine gushed onto the floor, and then evaporated rapidly. The doctor thrashed, sending charred tissue flying in all directions. 
There was virtually no flesh left on the Doctor now. Even her head had been stripped bare. The doctor still managed to move and yell, but the yell no longer sounded human.
Sind’a Thighs was beginning to realise what Panman had realised many hours ago. Doctor Combobulay was not a shrivelled and incontinent old lady. She was not a bad-tempered, moaning and bitter old hag. She was something far more dangerous. 
Panman ceased fire. Immediately the noise level dropped. All that could be heard was the crackle of flames as the remnants of the doctor’s flesh continued to burn on the floor.
Something was moving within the shroud of smoke that surrounded Doctor Combobulay’s chair. As the smoke started to clear a slender and weak-looking skeleton could be seen. The skeleton was brushing away the last specks of scorched flesh from its bones. But they were not really bones at all. Instead the sheen of polished metal could be seen, and small motors that existed next to joints and sockets whirred gently. 
Doctor Combobulay was a machine.

We now get to see the the Cifitra’s true appearance:

The doctor’s metal head turned and looked at the bounty hunter. Its eyes were now deep black pits that seemed to disappear deep into its shiny head. “You have destroyed my organic skin,” it said, its voice now metallic and deep, “nothing more.” It stood now, looking remarkably strong despite the spindly nature of its metal limbs. “You have freed me from the need to maintain my cover as that insipid woman. I no longer need to act as a feeble flesh being. That is something you will come to regret very shortly.”

The machine’s malevolent confidence is revealed. It becomes a potent and deadly opponent for the bounty hunters. I won’t spoil things any further by revealing its ultimate fate, which I hope is not at all predictable.

Although part of my ‘Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino’ series of stories, ‘The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay’ can be read on its own. I consider it one of my best written novels so please do read it.

Opinions are always welcome.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Where do Old Ballistic Nuclear Missiles Go?

A couple of years ago I started wondering what actually happens to nuclear missiles, and other military nuclear hardware, when they become obsolete. Generally they are dismantled and their nuclear material disposed of carefully. Or that's what we would expect to happen. But we all know that corruption can occur in all governments, at all levels. What is to stop an organisation paying vast sums to obtain such hardware? Not a lot, I suspect, if the right amount is offered to the right person.

Such thoughts were the starting point for my very short story titled 'The Luminous Order'.

I imagined a clandestine organisation that for decades had been acquiring nuclear submarines from Russia, the USA and Europe, complete with missiles and torpedoes. The supply of such equipment was regular, the motivation and paranoia of the cold war ensuring that the super-powers' had no choice but to constantly upgrade their arsenals. The corrupt individuals that allowed the sale had no idea that their counterparts in other governments were doing the same. The organisation quickly managed to build its fleet. It then waited; biding its time until the right moment came along for its plans to be put into action...

Although I don't make direct reference to it, the submarine featured in the story was one of the British Royal Navy's four Resolution-Class nuclear ballistic missile submarines which were the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent force from the late 1960's to the mid 1990's, after which they were decommissioned (and, for the purposes of my story, at least one of which was sold to the organisation mentioned above).

Cutaway model of a Resolution-Class submarine

A Polaris missile being launched from HMS Revenge,
one of the UK's Resolution-Class submarines
The missile launched in the story is a Polaris A3. It had a range of 2,500 miles, although in the story its target is only only a few tens of miles away. I suspect it would have needed some modification to allow it to arm and deploy its warheads in such a short time.

When I found the image (right) of a Polaris missile launching I wondered what it would be like to be in a boat nearby when it launched, and the shock of it suddenly popping out of the water without warning. With that thought I knew I had the setting for the story.

If you want to better visualise the story you can see some actual submarine ballistic missile launches here.