Blitzkatarrh

18 08 2010

Future war. We were brought up on it – whether it be 2000AD or Larry Niven, future war has given writers the opportunity to construct far-out artifact scenarios and readers an easy road to suspension of disbelief : war is madness after all, is it not? This is a short piece on future war, unfortunately manhandling a series of well-worn and existing tropes. I’m sure I had something of the Starship Troopers in the back of the noggin here, but with a couple of tweaks. It works out a little pulpy, but I do like some of the language. In any case, this little piece has had its two alloted form rejections, from Strange Horizons and Kasma Magazine, so here it is in Creative Commons.

Have all future war stories been done? Or have they been refined to the absurd? (Witness the millisecond-spanning engagements of the Ships in Iain M. Banks’ Culture universe, especially Excession.) What next for future war? Let me know in the comments.

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I slung my rifle over my back and bellied up to the top of the ridge to scan the canyon. Before peering over the packed clay of the edge, I pulled a sniffer from my chest pocket and raised it. Any Greven chimerics in the canyon wouldn’t be able to resolve the narrow dust-coloured plate against the raw clay, and with us cocooned in our gelsuits, there were no olfactory cues. That’s one thing that we’ve learned from them – the sniffer has a molecule sensor that can detect a chimeric’s fart five kilometres off, and can even tell you what the damn thing ate for its breakfast.

The canyon beyond the ridge scanned empty. I took down the sniffer and poked my head up to get a real look at the scene. A track from the ridge led down into a short canyon that ran west. We would need to descend a moderate slope, carrying Grinder, then follow the track to the mouth of the canyon, which lay between two great spurs of stone about fifteen hundred metres off. Our unit’s mobile habitat was camo’ed and slung under an overhanging rock three kilometres further out at the edge of the prairie.

The dusty orange globe of Saraken was setting, painting the canyon mouth with a fireside glow. I always found it creepy to have come this far from the green and blue Earth and find a place so vividly like it. The air was good, or at least it used to be, the gravity perfect and the plants had developed the same green strategy for absorbing the light of a G2 star. Where we were right now was like being in the Heart of Illinois.

Our unit was in a severely reduced state. A couple of hours ago, we had stomped over an underground nest of hell-hornets. We ended up losing nearly half of the unit to the giant insects before we managed to flame them and their nest into crispy oblivion. Usually encounters with the chimerics were cut and dried. You either met a chimeric face-to-whatever-it-has, in which case you were dead, or you didn’t, and walked away on your own two feet. So we rarely had to carry anyone home. This time around though, the biggest guy in the unit needed the stretcher.

I could hear Grinder’s cough echoing from the gully where I had left the remains of the unit to rest and get medicated. Grinder had been standing on a scree slope when the hornets had attacked, and the loose footing meant he’d gone down trying to avoid a fatal sting. His breathermask had been knocked off, and even though he’d slapped on an emergency gelfilter, he’d still managed to suck in a mouthful of the poisoned air. The blitzkatarrh had already sunk into his respiratory system. Last time I checked, they bright intimations of damage around his lips were already showing through the translucent filter, harbingers of the pink foam to come as his body rejected the dissolving membranes of his lungs.

It was time to get the unit moving. I stood up, a signal that we were clear to proceed, and walked back to the gully.

We bumped into the Greven here on Daly’s World, one hundred and twenty Daly years ago. Two crews sent by two races with similar physical needs landed and both decided that this planetary haven would be the place where they could stretch their limbs, or pseudopodia, or whatever. It used to be my old man’s opinion that the universe runs on two things: greed and spite. It must have been sheer universal spite that put the two teams on this world at the same time, within a thousand kilometres of each other. And it must have been greed that caused those two groups of idiots, one familiar, one alien, to engage each other in a military action. There were no survivors on either side, just some autonomic ship reflexes which sent the message back to both sides – hostile alien presence, discovery team eliminated. We’d been at each others throats ever since.

The Greven were masters of the biological. They didn’t have an industrial revolution. Instead they had spent their time and energy on breeding beasts that would pull their vehicles, plants to grow as their homes. While we made transistors and monoclonal antibodies, they created viruses and weird symbionts which meant they could be sustained indefinitely on only sunlight and water and still be lethal with half of their body burnt away.

We brought our machine technology to the fray – coherent light projectors, hypervelocity missiles, portable rail guns. They brought the results of their biotech – chimeric creatures like the landsharks, customized animals with enamelled skins and shears for jaws, hell-hornets, half-metre insects, with fifteen centimetre long stingers, sharper than scalpels and chock-full of heart-stopping neurotoxin. We fought back with ceramic armour, with missile-bearing drones, but never with the megadeath weapons. We wanted a planet to live on, not a wasteland that would be sterile for twenty thousand years. And that’s where our tech lost. We could turn the planet to slag in a matter of hours. But we couldn’t destroy the enemy and keep the planet whole. The Greven could deploy their biological weaponry – viruses tailored to human metabolism – and not only would they destroy their enemy, they would also be applying a layer of fertilizer to the unaffected native biota.

Grinder’s face was subtly distorted by the protective gel membrane that protected him from pore contact with the aerosolized bugs. I scanned his skin. There was no sign yet of the tan blotches that would mark him as a dead man. We had about twenty minutes or so to get back to the hab and throw him in the scrubber, then he would have a couple of weeks of downtime while the medichines rebuilt his destroyed tissue. If we didn’t make it to the hab, we’d have to apply the field cure – a single copperjacket to the brain, followed by a white phosphorus spray-down. That was what we all had promised to do, leave no part of a man behind. No DNA for the Greven.

The blitzkatarrh was their latest effort to kill us off. An extremely virulent pathogen, we reckoned it to be something like the RNA viruses that used to cause the haemorrhagic fevers back on Earth. It was viciously fast in its effect. Coughing first, an hour after infection. Vivid pink rash around the mouth, eyes and nose after three hours. Tan blotches on the face and body after three and a half hours. A corpse at four. Once we twigged what was going on, that the other side had managed to create tailored bioweaponry by studying the bodies of our fallen, command made sure that there were to be no bodies available for further experimentation. Phosphorus/magnesium cartridges and grenades became standard issue. If you viewed Daly’s world from space, you would see its surface sparkling with the pyres of the dead.

Deep down everyone knew we were screwed. The blitzkatarrh was in the air. There was no way we could survive on Daly’s world. Labs had made machines that could clear out the bugs, but we were nowhere near developing a field kit. No-one had any idea how long the blitzkatarrh could live in the air without live hosts to use as incubators, or whether it was engineered to mutate and grow hardier, like Earth bacteria did when we were over-generous with antibiotics. Daly’s world was still there, green and Earth-like to the eye, but as far as humans were concerned, it had less value than the vacuum it displaced.

Given that argument, some had said, we shouldn’t we roll out the cobalt bombs and turn the place into a molten blob. Why bother letting the Greven take it? Then maybe in about twenty thousand years we could come back, re-create a biosphere from scratch, then wait for another thirty or forty thousand for it to establish and differentiate sufficiently. But that won’t work either. The Greven knew Daly’s world existed and they were the guys with the bioskills. There’s no doubt that they would get in there and establish a hostile biosphere first. It would either mean we lose the planet, or find ourselves re-engaged in a combat we’d already lost. Never mind the fact that the attention span of the human race was far too short to make good on such a proposal.

Once the unit was ready, we lined up in file, Grinder on the stretcher, and started down the ridge. We made it about half-way down the track before the ground started to shiver beneath our feet. A great noise grew about us, echoing around the canyon walls. In the deepening twilight, we saw a line of landsharks pass the canyon mouth, headed south. This line was followed by another, and another, thousands of the creatures, in formation, galloping with their claws up and clacking their razor-edged jaws. Behind me, Drizzle was calling out our position over the comm, reporting the massive chimeric offensive. I heard Grinder groan as he was put down with an ungentle urgency onto the uneven track, then came the rattle and clatter of ceramic and metal weaponry being made ready.

I unshipped my rifle and watched for the inevitable. Within moments, a couple of hundred of the hulking creatures had entered the canyon and were packed close between the spurs, milling about and waving their sensoria stalks, scanning the area. Scenting for us. We had our gelsuits on, but the eyestalks of a landshark are as accurate as the eyes of an Earth eagle, and they would spot us soon enough. I shouted to the unit to hit the dirt, ordered Drizzle to request air coverage and a pick-up. In our theatre, skyhook arrival time was anything from ten to twenty minutes. We had the high ground advantage and could take out the first few thousand chimerics without any difficulty, but if the skyhook didn’t arrive before we ran out of ammunition, then we would be here for ever. It wasn’t looking good for Grinder either way.

We waited, still and silent on our bellies until we heard a chimeric utter its staccato alert call, announcing our discovery, then we opened fire. The chirp and whine of hyper-velocity projectiles, what we call the dawn chorus, lasted for about five seconds before the last landshark fell, only to be replaced ten seconds later by a river of the snapping animals that had split from the main horde. The dawn chorus began once more and bodies started to pile up in the narrow mouth of the canyon. I heard the distinctive pop-pop as someone behind me launched hi-ex squash-heads. Moments later, the rock on either side of the canyon mouth appeared to detonate, sending huge boulders down onto the crush of charging and dying landsharks below, blocking the canyon. The dawn chorus stopped, to be replaced by a ragged cacophony of victory shouts and back-slapping. Just after I gave the order to stand down, we heard the low propmotor thrum of our air coverage. I looked over my shoulder to see half a dozen bright tiltmotor aircraft appear over the Greven chimeric horde. The craft were painted signal orange – Flamestrike class machines, built to barbeque the enemy. While the rest of guys in the unit watched the deadly fireworks of fuel-air detonations tear the landshark offensive to smoking pieces, I sat with Grinder as he coughed his life away.

It was ten more minutes before the skyhook set down on a level patch of ground nearby. As commanding officer I was last on board, Grinder’s tags gripped in my hand. One more life for Daly’s World. We took off into a world of knife-edged shadows, chased by a consuming magnesium light.





We’re All Really Excited About Johnny

31 07 2009


The dangers of virtualization. Wrote this real quick on a plane to SFO. It’s short, thankfully.

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John Halford, actor, was at his stroppy best when his agent, Mitch, called him and proposed that he level up from video to full-body sensoria productions, where audiences could plug right into the actors perceptions.
“No. There’s no way I’m trying that sensoria crap, Mitch, no frigging way.”
Mitch shook his head and rolled his eyes as he paced his office, cellphone glued to his ear. Halford was getting on and new guys were coming up all the time. Halford had been the best, and the studio wanted Mitch to inject Halford’s career with a little extra longevity.  Time to apply the opportunity line.
“Johnny, Johnny, this is the new wave of entertainments, if you can get in on the ground floor you can go way beyond what you’ve done already, you’ll be a true mega-star! Just think of it. You can be in the minds of your people, really, truly in there, not just an image on the screen or in the projection tank. Everything that is John Halford will be with them. Think of the opportunity!”
“That’s bullshit, Mitch, I’m not buying it. You wrap me up in gear that makes like some kind of freaking brainstem milking machine and expect me to act? To play a role when the audience can know everything that’s happening to my emotions, to my body? Where is the room for acting, Mitch? If I fart or pitch a tent with that thing on everyone will know. And I’ll know that they know.”
Mitch smiled to himself. Good old predictable Johnny. The hook was there, now all that remained was to set it. Flattery and assurances was what worked for Johnny Halford. Some of others would need a new speedboat or girlfriend, but all Johnny needed was smooth words to stroke his ego.
“Johnny, you are a total pro, and we know that just plain unfiltered you would be the most that anyone could hope for, but this is just like the movies, Johnny. We got editors, post-production, all the usual polish and fill jobs that you know from video. We can filter out all those little physical sensations that might be affecting you during the shoot, and we can tone up or tone down the emo stuff. So what we are talking about is an enhanced you, the perfect John Halford, forever. All I’m asking, Johnny, is have a little think about it. Why not take a coupla weeks at the resort, have some crab, a margarita or two, and mull it over, then give me a call. What do you say?”
There was a silence on the other end of the line and Mitch knew he’d hit the right buttons.
“Alright, Mitch. I’ll agree to do that for now.”
Ten days later in a plush private clinic in Nevada, Mitch looked on as a dozen masked people in scrubs busied themselves around Halford’s recumbent form, sinking hair-fine palladium wires into the tracks of his nerves. A skullframe was already in place, a glittering halo of wires that travelled into the crannies of his grey matter to read his experiences of reality. Halford’s body was preternaturally still, resting in an induced coma. Mitch moved over to the surgeon in charge.
“So, we ready to go?”
“We’ll be ready in about 30 seconds. Once we run through some basic I/O tests we can boot him fully into the sensorium shell. He’ll be back in the resort.”
“Ok, I speak to him first, right? He’s going to want a familiar voice. What’s it going to be like for him?”
The masked and robed figure shrugged.
“Why don’t you ask him yourself?”
The surgeon turned and flicked over a switch on a wide console. A red ON AIR sign lit up over the door to the surgery. Mitch raised his chin and pitched his voice to carry over the humming of machines in the suite.
“Hey, Johnny, how are you feeling, buddy?”
The white noise hiss from the big speakers over the surgeon’s console dissipated, and a familiar voice came through.
“Hey, Mitch, I feel great. Are we done already? I didn’t feel a freakin’ thing – I don’t even remember you dropping me back to the resort, it’s like I was asleep until you called me.”
“Yeah, we’re all done Johnny, it went totally smoothly and you slept like a baby through it all. Listen – I’m gonna have one of the guys from the studio drop you down some scripts, it would be cool if you could give ’em the old once over and let me know how you get on. Just give me a call when you’re ready to talk.”
“Sure thing, Mitch. Tell him to drop them out to me at the pool. I’m totally looking forward to trying this thing out. I’m glad you gave me the push, Mitch, I’m pretty stoked about the possibilities of this new form.”
Mitch mimed a throat-cutting maneouver at the surgeon, and the green-suited figure pulled the switch back. The speakers went silent and the ON AIR light went black. Mitch leaned over and shook the surgeon’s gloved hand.
“Awesome work, doc. I’ll call the studio and get them to link up with the storage – I assume you guys will deal with the body. It’s been a blast – we’re all really excited about Johnny.”

John Halford, actor, was at his stroppy best when his agent, Mitch, called him and proposed that he level up from video to full-body sensoria productions, where audiences could plug right into the actors perceptions.

“No. There’s no way I’m trying that sensoria crap, Mitch, no frigging way.”

Mitch shook his head and rolled his eyes as he paced his office, cellphone glued to his ear. Halford was getting on and new guys were coming up all the time. Halford had been the best, and the studio wanted Mitch to inject Halford’s career with a little extra longevity.  Time to apply the opportunity line.

“Johnny, Johnny, this is the new wave of entertainments, if you can get in on the ground floor you can go way beyond what you’ve done already, you’ll be a true mega-star! Just think of it. You can be in the minds of your people, really, truly in there, not just an image on the screen or in the projection tank. Everything that is John Halford will be with them. Think of the opportunity!”

“That’s bullshit, Mitch, I’m not buying it. You wrap me up in gear that makes like some kind of freaking brainstem milking machine and expect me to act? To play a role when the audience can know everything that’s happening to my emotions, to my body? Where is the room for acting, Mitch? If I fart or pitch a tent with that thing on everyone will know. And I’ll know that they know.”

Mitch smiled to himself. Good old predictable Johnny. The hook was there, now all that remained was to set it. Flattery and assurances was what worked for Johnny Halford. Some of others would need a new speedboat or girlfriend, but all Johnny needed was smooth words to stroke his ego.

“Johnny, you are a total pro, and we know that just plain unfiltered you would be the most that anyone could hope for, but this is just like the movies, Johnny. We got editors, post-production, all the usual polish and fill jobs that you know from video. We can filter out all those little physical sensations that might be affecting you during the shoot, and we can tone up or tone down the emo stuff. So what we are talking about is an enhanced you, the perfect John Halford, forever. All I’m asking, Johnny, is have a little think about it. Why not take a coupla weeks at the resort, have some crab, a margarita or two, and mull it over, then give me a call. What do you say?”

There was a silence on the other end of the line and Mitch knew he’d hit the right buttons.

“Alright, Mitch. I’ll agree to do that for now.”

Ten days later in a plush private clinic in Nevada, Mitch looked on as a dozen masked people in scrubs busied themselves around Halford’s recumbent form, sinking hair-fine palladium wires into the tracks of his nerves. A skullframe was already in place, a glittering halo of wires that travelled into the crannies of his grey matter to read his experiences of reality. Halford’s body was preternaturally still, resting in an induced coma. Mitch moved over to the surgeon in charge.

“So, we ready to go?”

“We’ll be ready in about 30 seconds. Once we run through some basic I/O tests we can boot him fully into the sensorium shell. He’ll be back in the resort.”

“Ok, I speak to him first, right? He’s going to want a familiar voice. What’s it going to be like for him?”

The masked and robed figure shrugged.

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

The surgeon turned and flicked over a switch on a wide console. A red ON AIR sign lit up over the door to the surgery. Mitch raised his chin and pitched his voice to carry over the humming of machines in the suite.

“Hey, Johnny, how are you feeling, buddy?”

The white noise hiss from the big speakers over the surgeon’s console dissipated, and a familiar voice came through.

“Hey, Mitch, I feel great. Are we done already? I didn’t feel a freakin’ thing – I don’t even remember you dropping me back to the resort, it’s like I was asleep until you called me.”

“Yeah, we’re all done Johnny, it went totally smoothly and you slept like a baby through it all. Listen – I’m gonna have one of the guys from the studio drop you down some scripts, it would be cool if you could give ’em the old once over and let me know how you get on. Just give me a call when you’re ready to talk.”

“Sure thing, Mitch. Tell him to drop them out to me at the pool. I’m totally looking forward to trying this thing out. I’m glad you gave me the push, Mitch, I’m pretty stoked about the possibilities of this new form.”

Mitch mimed a throat-cutting maneouver at the surgeon, and the green-suited figure pulled the switch back. The speakers went silent and the ON AIR light went black. Mitch leaned over and shook the surgeon’s gloved hand.

“Awesome work, doc. I’ll call the studio and get them to link up with the storage – I assume you guys will deal with the body. It’s been a blast – we’re all really excited about Johnny.”





Archive, Dalkey, Ireland

24 02 2009

The title is misleading. Despite that, consider a time where so much change has happened that the past cannot be understood. Maybe the modern day historians travel looking for oral culture recordings to serve as a skein to what happened before. In such an accelerated cultural fugue, even twenty years could be the lifetime of several social paradigms. And what would it be like on a small island, where the protagonists have had the time to progress, yet the inclination to regress?


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ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION RECORDED INTERVIEW WITH SEÁN ÓG Ó MURCHÚ (SOOM) AND THE BONNER Ó RATHAILLAGH (BOR), DALKEY DIVISION, GAELIC ATECHNIC ZONE. INTERVIEWER BRENDAN BURKE-KENNEDY (BBK), DATE JULY 3, PS135, Old Reckoning 2467±15.

(sounds of a public house)

BBK: I’ve switched on the recorder, lads.

SOOM: I’ve heard recordin’ is thirsty work, Brendan.

BOR: Aye.

BBK: Don’t you worry, I’ve had a word with Mikey behind the bar already.

SOOM: Good man, Brendan. I’ll tell ye now, you’re a good man. Your father was a good man before ye.

BBK: Have you lads got any stories for me at all? I heard wild horses couldn’t shut ye up once ye got the bit between yer teeth.

BOR: Aye.

SOOM: That’s a fair point, Brendan, sure we’re as full of ould tales as Scotsman’s Bay is full of post-singularity prawns. Ah, Mikey, fair play to ye.

(Noise of glasses clinking and movement, sound of imbibing)

SOOM: Ahhh, a salutary libation indeed. Now, Brendan, did ye ever hear tell o’ the time that Dalkey village was visited by the Chupacabra of old Western lore?

BBK: I can’t say I have, Seán. Go on ahead there and tell us about it.

SOOM: Well, as every man jack knows, the Chupacabra was a gory invention o’ the Hispanic peoples that teem in fluid linguistic elegance on the far shores o’ the Black Atlantic. Many thought that the goat-sucker was merely a thing o’ superstition, a corrosive an’ benighted meme that was promulgated to keep the young folk from courtin’ in the hedgerows of damp ould Mehiko. The goat-sucker was made out to be the most demandin’ and relentless of the blood suckin’ skulkers that live behind the shadows of mankind’s dreams o’ strivin’ and revenge. Isn’t that so, Bonner?

BOR: Aye.

SOOM: Let’s see now. This was about sixty years ago, I’d say, or thereabouts. It began with Antóin Ó Muiretheartaigh’s accident. Before his accident, he was a normal young fella hangin’ around worryin’ the lassies and tryin’ to earn a few bob. Afterwards he was somethin’ else altogether. You see, one summer’s day he took an inadvertent swim in the bay, when he was tryin’ to clear off an invasion o’ the pier by the meta-limpetry you find down Coliemore way.

BBK: Meta-limpetry?

SOOM: Aye, a shower of offensive molluscs that were advanced by all them nanotechnological replicators in the bay. Nasty little feckers. Every now and then they get it into whatever passes for their heads that they would like to try breathin’ air and we have to shovel them off back into the harbour, or burn them off or somethin’ like that.

BBK: Oh, right, ok, thanks.

SOOM: Well, it turns out that his harness wasn’t so well bolted to the oul’ granite wall. It slipped and he went in head-first into the sea, up to his waist. His pals were quick, I’ll grant ye, but it was a few seconds before they could grab him and pull him out o’ the infested fluids o’ the harbour. It was just few more seconds before the boys could get the public e.m.-pulser to him to knock the replicators out of his system, but it was too late. Them little feckers had got in through his ears and nose and put their infernal modifications into his corpus collosum, pineal system and Rachman’s area and done a partial singularity transformation on his poor oul’ noggin. Terrible thing, terrible.

BOR: Aye.

(sound of imbibing)

(recorder’s note: Rachman’s Area = brain area responsible for language processing)

SOOM: So there he was, laid out comatose on the flags o’ the quay and everyone standin’ around lookin’ at him. They knew that what was there before them on the ground in Antóin’s body wasn’t the same person that was clearin’ the invadin’ genus mollusca from off o’ the pier five minutes previously. Aye, there was talk o’ burnin’, and talk o’ givin’ him back to the sea, but in the heel o’ the hunt it was a wise oul fella sittin’ there watchin’ the action that had the final say. “Antóin is gone,” he says, “he’s gone as if he’s never been. Ye’ve killed the infection with that electromagnetic pulse, so he’s no danger to ye, and you’ve got a new person lyin’ there on the ground. Give him a name when he wakes, and let’s see how this new man makes out in the world.”

Well, the widow O’Shea had a spare room goin’ in the house, so we pulled him in and popped him up into the bed. She decamped to the sister’s in Cabinteely and we took turns watchin’ over the poor unfortunate. Three days later, the boy wakes up and looks around him. Ah, you should have seen him. Them little nanite savages had done a job on his eyeballs, givin’ him two bright, swirlin’ and reflective marbles in his sockets. Very disconcerting, the way they changed colour and pattern as the light took them. He didn’t have a word in his mouth either, although we found out later that he could make sense of much o’ what was around him. After havin’ the yokes cross-wire his brain, the poor hoor was probably synaesthesic. Anyway, he spent another day stretched out on the labba, lookin’ into space, his head and his hands wavin’ about aimlessly, then he got up and walked straight out of the house and down to the quay.

(pause, sound of imbibing)

(recorder’s note, labba = bed)

SOOM: We followed him the lot of us then, I remember that as clear as day, watchin’ him walk down the slipway towards the sea. Now, you know that while the sea has diminished in its power to harm since that time, we were not long past the First Excursion and the coastline was a faintly glowin’ skin of quantum-level conversions. Antóin, or whatever was in the body that used to be his, paused just beside the water, as if he was goin’ to dive in, when some clever bucko remembered that no-one had given this creature a new name and so, doesn’t the bucko let out a shout “Your name is Jams Joyce!” Isn’t that right, Bonner?

BOR: Aye.

SOOM: Well, it was like Antóin’s body had been given an electric shock – the new Jams Joyce jumped around inside his own skin and he swivelled to face the crowd, his marbled peepers glitterin’ in the sun. I swear to you now that he was grinnin’ like a maniac, and the next thing he did was to take off at a run up the road towards Sandycove and Norris’s Tomb.

(recorder’s note: Norris’s Tomb = pre-singularity structure, possibly ancient, alleg. named for regional campaigner in the Lit. Wars)

BBK: What happened then?

SOOM: Just like the oul fella had said – we left him to get on in the world. Usually one of the lads would wander by the tomb every now and then to see if there was anythin’ goin’ on, but the only thing that happened was Jams put up a kind of a lean-to shelter agin the old stones, with a sheet of polycarbonate that he pulled down as a door in the front. He used to potter about near the shore, doin’ god knows what. People said that they saw his hands in the water, movin’ around as if he was washin’ somethin’ in the nanite soup, but them’s just tales, nothin’ can suffer the editin’ powers o’ the replicators and be unchanged, Jams was proof of that himself. It was a month later that he turned up at the Sunday market with a cart, and in the cart there were these strange objects. Sculptures, said some, impenetrable technical articles said another, charmin’ steampunk artifacts said the rest. Useless things mostly, metal, a drift of delicate germanium flowers burstin’ out o’ titanium alloy soil, or a twisted skein of exotic semiconductors extruded from a base o’ lead cobbles. Odd metal things. No-one knew where he got the materials, and he wouldn’t take money, instead we’d give him potatoes, vegetables, food that he needed to keep his human shell goin’ while somehow his transformed insides put forth this wondrous metal-bendin’ art.

(extended pause, background noise)

BBK: His works were popular then…

SOOM: Oh aye, they were popular at first. But after a while they started to change, become more abstract, fantastic swerves and curls o’ metal, more fluid. People weren’t so worried, we’ve had more’n our share of artists around here since time immemorial and let’s face it, an artist that won’t grow just isn’t an artist anymore, they’re a production line. Well, it looked like he was movin’ on from just expressin’ himself in terms o’ what he perceived around him and goin’ somewhere altogether different. It made people a little uncomfortable. Anyway. It was about then that the whole goat thing started. We had a couple of herds – Paudie Loughlin and Hammy Hamilton kept ’em.

BBK: Why did they keep goats? It seems a bit unusual in this day and age.

SOOM: Brendan, son, you can’t have an authentic farmer’s market without at least two organic goat cheese vendors. All the Germans and Dutch had left the country, airlifted durin’ the First Excursion, so we didn’t have the real deal, but we did alright. Loughlin and Hamilton were the boys. Paudie kept his herd up in the Quarry Field and it was his animals that got attacked first. Happened durin’ the night o’ the full moon. Me and the Bonner here and the lads were tearin’ the arse out of it down in Finnerty’s, oh, about two in the mornin’ I think it was, when next thing Paudie bursts in the door, lookin’ like an abattoir. I tell ye, that’s not just a figure o’ speech. The man was steeped in blood, and the steam comin’ off of him. He practically fell in the door — that dual-cybernetic barman fella they have down there, Tim-Eoghan, was over like a shot to pour brandy down the poor man’s neck. All Paudie could say was “me goats, me goats.” Ah jaysus, he was in an awful state. So a few of us took a howlt o’ some o’ Tim-Eoghan’s no-home-to-go-to shocksticks and went up the Quarry Field. Jaysus wept, it was a mess. I was like somebody had stuck Paudie’s goats in a blender. Somethin’ had got to them and just minced them. Wasn’t that what it was like, Bonner?

BOR: Aye.

SOOM: The next full moon, there was another attack, Paudie lost a couple o’ goats, and the full moon after that, Hamilton found his competitive advantage shortened in turn. We were all startin’ to get a bit concerned, so we put together a posse and staked out the Quarry Field. Unfortunately, we’d spent the afternoon hoistin’ them down at the King’s and, it bein’ a warm enough night an’ all, let’s just say we all decided to rest our eyes at around the same time.

BBK: Did anything happen?

SOOM: It was late when I was woken up by a horrible rippin’ and crackin’ noise. I gave the Bonner here the elbow and rousted him. He passed on the summons to the Butcher Mayhew, Paudie himself and Fr. O’Carroll. The tearin’ and crunchin’ was goin’ on good-o over the hedge and we popped our heads over to see what was happenin’. The full moon was bright, we could see a white blob at the other end o’ the field, gettin’ dragged about, a goat. Next thing there’s a crack and the whizz of somethin’ goin’ fast through the air. I looked around – hadn’t Paudie gone and got his paws on some class of a kinetic projectile launcher and taken a pot-shot in the general direction o’ the goat. Lachrima christi, I says to myself, we’re in the shite now.

BBK: Did he hit the beast?

SOOM: Missed it by a country mile. It rose its head up from rootin’ in the belly o’ the goat and stared at us. It had three red eyes in the middle of its face, each one glowin’ like the divil’s arse-hole. It let a roar out of it, a noise to cause god himself to make water with the fright. I know for a fact there was more than a couple o’ longjohns needin’ attention later on that evenin’. It roared again, and threw its head back like it was bayin’ at the moon, we could see glitterin’ showers of ice flakin’ off its superconductin’ dreadlocks. I remember thinkin’ that it was a wonder we could see the moon at all, it havin’ been a particularly wet and overcast summer that year, wasn’t it, Bonner?

BOR: Aye.

(recorder’s note: longjohns = undergarment worn next to skin, covering body and legs)

SOOM: Anyway, we thought we were for the mincer, the lot of us, that the goat-sucker was goin’ to lep over the bodies o’ the beasts it had killed and lay into us. But it didn’t, it let another great roar out of it, turned around and headed for the quarry wall. We could see the sparks of its ascent as it scaled the quarry, forty, fifty times faster than a man and then it disappeared over the ridge. We stood there in silence, rooted to the spot, until Fr. O’Carroll, who’s always had a bit o’ trouble with the oul’ bag, tore off a couple o’ nervous farts and brought us back to ourselves.

(pause, sound of imbibing)

(recorder’s note: bag = local term for stomach, digestive system)

BBK: So, it didn’t take a go at you or anything like that?

SOOM: No.

BBK: How many of the goats had been killed?

SOOM: Let’s see, Paudie woulda had about a dozen or so left, but some were expectin’ and they were indoors, so probably eight or ten that night. You couldn’t tell just by lookin’, the beast had hit the poor animals like a ton o’ bricks. When we went back up to the Quarry Field after the sun came up, it was carnage. There was bits everywhere and the field was slick with blood and jelly. Well, we swept up as best we could. Poor oul’ Paudie was inconsolable. He’d been very fond o’ the goats. Very fond.

BOR: Aye.

SOOM: The Butcher Mayhew offered, out o’ the goodness of his heart, to make a big rack o’ black puddin’s from the scrapin’s, but oul Paudie had to be led away and brought home for a rest. I don’t think he ever got over it, the poor hoor.

(pause, sound of imbibing)

SOOM: Anyway. It was as clear as day to all concerned that time for messin’ was over. It was time to call in the big guns. There used to be a rozzer down Dalkey, big fella, name of Fahy, who was engaged in off-shore online combat, fightin’ miscellaneous cyber-crime in Guatemala City over a virtual network connection. One o’ the boys who knew his private avatar pinged him and arranged a meetin’ round my house. We’d all heard o’ this Fahy, they said he was superhumanly fast and strong, he’d had his myelin nerve sheathin’ metallized and his bones woven with ceramic whiskers. Accordin’ to another rumour, he had a heat shunt larruped into his mid-brain and when he was thinkin’ hard, steam would come out of his ears.

(recorder’s note: rozzer = law enforcement officer)

BBK: Steam, you say. Did you meet Fahy?

SOOM: Aye, he turned up for the meetin’ in my kitchen.

BBK: What was like?

SOOM: He was a big lad alright, but normal-lookin’, bit of a ‘tache, broad face. But he took charge of our meetin’ right away. We told him about the night in the Quarry Field. He didn’t bat an eyelid, but says to us, he says, “Lads, it’s clear to me that you are dealing with a limited nanite excursion of the polymorphic symbiosis class.” That was fairly obvious to me, I have to add. There was a rock silence for a minute, until Fr. O’Carroll, god bless him, broke it. Anyway, Fahy, who was lookin’ at us all, man by man, spoke again. “But don’t worry”, he says, “it turns out I have just the medicine for you boys — it came into the station last week from the research centre down at the Teampaill Mór. Four litres of hypercompressed quantum foam, stored in shielded pinch-bottles, with adjustable delay triggers. A lovely bit of kit, gentlemen, a lovely bit of kit, and we’re honoured to have it. A sudden massive acceleration of entropy in the locality of space-time inhabited by your excursion will certainly soften its cough.” To tell you the truth, now, we were a bit nervous there with Fahy, none of us bein’ used to dealin’ with amped-up combat enthusiasts. The Butcher let a little cough out of him. “Them isn’t unapproved munitions, Fahy, at all? Are they?” he asks. Fahy looked at him with a big smile and says, “I’d say you’re runnin’ short o’ goats, Butcher, what’s next on the list?” And that settled it.

(pause, sound of imbibing)

SOOM: So, the next full moon we went up to the Quarry field again, this time with Fahy and two of Hamilton’s goats in tow. None of us had the heart to bring Paudie along. A month o’ rain had washed the field free o’ gore, so the goats settled in and began to graze. Me, the Bonner, the Butcher and Fr. O’Carroll squatted behind a brake o’ heather and Fahy stood straight up in the field about ten metres from the goats. He was wearin’ adaptive camo and some kind of fancy shear-thickenin’ fluid armour. Two dark cans of Teampaill Mór’s best instant proton decay hung on quick-release hooks at his left and right side. His hands were poised to grab the cans, release the triggers and cast them at the monster. Sure enough, we didn’t have long to wait. Only about an hour and half had passed when El Chupo vaults over the hedge at the quarry end o’ the field and bates into one o’ the poor goats. We didn’t even see Fahy move – we just saw a golden arc of sparkles leave the place where he was standin’ and fly over the head of the creature. Jaysus, I thought, he’s goin’ to miss the feckin’ thing, we’ll all be cream-crackered and the market will be chock-a-block with black puddin’s come Sunday. But just then didn’t the beast make a standing lep up into the air, like a dog goin’ for a stick, and grabbed the glowin’ grenade in its gob. The creature hung there in the air for a quarter of a second and poof – it was gone. Just gone. Along with most o’ the goat, and a couple o’ cubic metres o’ field. Not even a whiff of ionizin’ radiation or a shock wave, or nothin’. Fahy pulled off his gel mask and took a deep breath o’ fresh air. “There ye go, lads. Fun’s over. Next time you need your arses pulled out of a crack, just call Fahy on glontore.” He laughed a short laugh and walked off back to his Latin American cyberwar. I remember sayin’ to the Bonner here that there was no way was I goin’ to let myself get on the bad side of the rozzers after that little ordnance showcase. Not as long as my arse faced the ground.

BOR: Aye.

(pause, clinking sound)

(recorder’s note: on glontore = the cleaner, the person who cleans)

BBK: So that was the end of El Chupacabra?

SOOM: It was. From that night on there was no unexpected goat-worryin’ in Dalkey. Fahy had saved the day. We heard later that he had shipped off-planet.

BBK: Dalkey goes back to being a pleasant and sleepy town…

SOOM: Except… when the Sunday turned around, and no-one saw Jams Joyce at the market, people wondered where he was. We went up to Norris’s Tomb and Jams’ lean-to agin it. No sign of him, but we had a little search around, and we found a loose stone in the wall o’ the tomb, inside the lean-to. Behind it there was a little pile o’ platinum ingots, each one the size o’ your middle finger. Since El Chupacabra had arrived, two dozen goats had been killed, the last one was that night up at the quarry with Fahy. Everyone noticed that the pile had twenty-four ingots in it.

BBK: Are you saying that…

SOOM: I’m just sayin’ that to my eyes the way the beast jumped up to catch the grenade had to be a calculated action. By the way, son, have you heard of the post-singularity albatross at all?

BBK: No, Seán, I can’t say I have.

SOOM: Tell him, Bonner.

BOR: Not even it could fly on one wing.

(pause, followed by laughter)

BBK: Fair enough, lads, another pint it is.





Cole Porter and the Nook from Unhappy Koree

5 02 2009

What can I write about this? It’s a funny old world after all.


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ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH JOHN AND KAREN CAMINSKY, OREGON FREE TERRITORIES. COLLECTOR DAVID REDMAN, DATE FEB 20, 2168.

JC: Is that thing recordin’?

DR: Yes it is, it’s recording when that green light is on.

JC: Okay. Should I start talkin’ now?

DR: Sure, at any time, there’s no rush, Mr. Caminsky.

JC: Ain’t right sure where I should start.

KC: What about that one with the music guy in it, John? The pianna guy.

JC: Oh, you mean the one with the nook?

KC: That’s the one, dear.

JC: Ok, well – this is recordin’ right? – this one is called “Cole Porter and the Nook from Unhappy Koree”. The way I heard tell there was this ol’ music man from Peru who went by the name of Cole Porter. Now Mr. Porter was a smooth operator, and he had charmed the heart of many a girl up and down the length of the Eastern American Conglomerate and had even gone over the pond in a big ol’ airship to meet the famous impresarios of North and South Britain. Wherever he went he brought with him a musical instrument called a pianna, and when he used that instrument people’s minds would just float clear away in pleasure and they would forget their troubles and cares and be free and joyful. I guess that’s how he got the girls to do their thing for him. (laughs)

KC: John Caminsky! That’s no way to talk in front of our guest!

JC: Anyways, whenever he came across any trouble or strife he would whip out his pianna, blow a few notes on it and improvise a lyric. The people who had been arguin’, or fightin’, or bein’ curmudgeonly would straightaway stop, listen and then start smilin’.

Ol’ Mr Porter could make the bitterest of foes cry and embrace and could fix the worst marriage quarrel or business feud. They didn’t have the Noble Peace Prize back then, I guess, otherwise he woulda been a shoo-in.

So where was I? Yeah, he was travellin’ around, makin’ people like each other and makin’ the gals love him and generally havin’ a good time and impressin’ people. Now, at that time there was a country called Unhappy Koree and they were the unhappiest country on God’s earth. This country was way over on the other side of the world, and it was full of people and the people were hungry. The only way a man could get food was to join the army, so all the men did that, just so as they could get a potato and some vegetable stew at the end of the day. But of course that’s a problem right there, because someone’s gotta pay for all that, and of course the army was huge, and when you get an army you gotta start lookin’ for someone to fight. So the Unhappy Koree people went out and built these big ol’ factories for makin’ these terrible nookular devices and they were fixin’ to blow up everyone that they didn’t like, or those that had more food than them.

It woulda been bad times for the world, but luckily enough, a good friend of Mr Porter’s, a South Britain guy name of Brave Noel, got wind of this when he was travellin’ the world with his troupe of performin’ mandrills. That’s another story, but you see Brave Noel was actually in the pay of the South Britain secret service and he was really just scoutin’ around lookin’ to see what was goin’ on in the world. So, he gets word to Mr Porter, and Mr. Porter gets to thinkin’ that maybe he and his pianna could do somethin’ about that situation. If he could just get to deliver a few lyrics to the Unhappy Koree army, then things could be right as rain. So off he went to visit his buddy in that far away country.

Lissen, uh, I gotta take a little comfort break here. Hope you don’t mind.

DR: No problem, Mr. Carminsky, go ahead.

KC: Mr. Redman, I got to apologize for John’s talkin’ about the girls like that, I’ll have a word with him later, you can be sure.

DR: That’s ok, Mrs Carminsky, I think I’ve heard of this Cole Porter guy in some other story, wasn’t he gay?

KC: He sure was! He made so many other people happy I’m sure lots of that happiness rubbed off on hisself. Here’s John now.

JC: Ok, let’s get back on track. When Mr. Porter got to Unhappy Koree he met up with his good buddy and he showed him the army and the sick and hungry people and Cole got right cut up and upset when he saw the skinny little kids and the despairin’ mothers and he said to Brave Noel, I gotta do somethin’ here. So, Noel was a-preparin’ to do a show that night with his performin’ mandrills, and he says to Mr. Porter that he could perform on the stage in front of the whole army and try to cheer them all up. Sure enough, later that night, he got up there in front of the huge army, whipped out his pianna and blew the best music he ever blew. He sang out the most heart-rendin’ and sad lyrics tellin’ the story of a unhappy nation that had no food or joy. Then he turned it into an upliftin’ song about how the nation fixed its ways and became bright and cheerful and happy again. Brave Noel, who was watchin’ from the wings of the stage, couldn’t believe his eyes and ears. The whole of the Unhappy Koree army was a-wailin’ and a-weepin’ and the ground was gettin’ muddy with tears. All except for one guy. At the front of the crowd there was this little guy with a nasty face and screwed-up eyes and filthy hands and he just spat on the ground and took off for the nookular factory nearby.

About ten minutes later when the crowd are all a-snifflin’ and slappin’ each other on the back, and perpetratin’ manly hugs, the little guy turns up in a truck with a big cylinder on the back with numbers on it and the numbers are countin’ down from a hundred. He shouts at Cole Porter, this here, he shouts, is a high yield tactical nookular device, and it’s gonna melt you and your pianna cos you messed with my country. Then he runs off howlin’ like a coyote.

Now Cole’s in the doo-doo big time, how can he stop a tactical nookular device with just him and his pianna? So he shouts over to his buddy Brave Noel and gets him to come over. Take my pianna, he says, and make a tune, I gotta concentrate on singin’ the sweetest lyrics to this here nookular assailant. So Noel strikes up a tune, and Cole starts to sing out in that velvet voice of his, starts singin’ out a story of love and loss and hate and hope and jealousy and joy. He’s doing nuthin’ else but singin’ the entire tradition of the human race. He sings till there’s blood comin’ out of his ears, and then he just keeps on singin’. All the people around have passed out, their own minds not being able to cope with the strength and truth of his noble lyrics. Brave Noel is curled up into a ball like an armadiller, and the pianna is bent, black and twisted and still Mr. Porter sings on. The numbers on the bomb count down and down and just as they hit zero, he stops his singin’.

Was the whole lot of them vaporized in an all-consumin’ nookular fireball? They was not, they escaped the fate of Wichita. Cole Porter’s song had persuaded the hot plutonium heart of that bomb to straight turn to lead. You see, the bomb itself can’t be reckoned an evil thing, because it has no soul, but it’s the hand of the man who makes it wherein the evil is perpetrated. Cole Porter just needed to reach out to the bomb and persuade it to change, and when he did that he showed the world how a man can act for the good of his fellow men.

So that’s the story of Cole Porter and the Nook of Unhappy Koree. It was my grampa told me that tale when I was no more’n about six years old, when we was movin’ out here to get away from the Third Dustbowl in the mid-west.

DR: Thanks, Mr. Carminsky, I really appreciate your contribution to
our Oral History Recollection Program.

(ends.)