Outpost 269

Today I am pleased to host a sci-fi story by Chris Morton. Outer space is a lonely place …..

Outpost 269

Three thousand days alone on this godforsaken hunk of metal in the middle of space, with nothing so much as a passing comet … I’ve murdered my only living companion. But I had to get out of this interminable cycle of nothing – away from the mess I signed up for at the age of twenty-one; naïve; excited over the prospect of leaving my home planet for a life of adventure. A promise of a post aboard a starship after the minimum three years service; they seem to have forgotten me.

Once a week I talk to a computer back on Earth. Nothing to report. Systems at a hundred. What am I waiting for? The sun to explode?

Outpost 269 reporting in.

What is your status?

Status normal.

Observations?

No observations.

Equipment efficiency level?

Fully functional at a hundred percent.

Status of cat?

Alive and well.

Prepare for scan.

I move into the cubicle for a full body scan that records my mental and physical well-being. I’ve no idea how it works, but recently have begun to suspect that it may not be as accurate as I once thought. Otherwise, why did I kill the cat?

Over eight years I’ve been here.

Checking one section at a time I start with engineering in level A; finish with the observation room. On Friday and then at the weekend, donning my space suit, I examine the outside surface for faults. Once a month a pod arrives with more food supplies. The routine of non-events has at least some consistency.

Making my way around this tiny excuse for a space station, I’d hope against hope for something to go wrong. A sun storm to interfere with my settings. For a crack in the panelling. Stray bolts showing wear. An alien attack even.

If it wasn’t for the cat I would have gone mad a long time ago.

Not talking to myself. I’m conversing with the cat. Its name is Nibbles. Or rather, it was. Used to be. Former name. Former cat.

Nibbles would be hard to find at first. As a kitten it was difficult to get him to eat.

“Nibbles!” I’d shout. “Nibbles … dinner time!”

I’d find him hiding behind a canister in section D. In a bundle of sheets in my living quarters. Or often he’d be high above the space between the lighting and ceiling tiles.

Watching me. Observing my every move. Wary but interested in my behaviour.

Once I’d started to hand-feed him, we began to make a connection. Soon Nibbles was following me everywhere. In the evenings we’d lie on my bed together. I’d massage his head, rubbing the back of his ears. Nibbles used to like that. And his purring would provide me with comfort. I was looking after another living being, a life that depended entirely upon my own.

“Breakfast time, Nibbles. How about some milk? Okay, we’d better get to work.”

In the evenings we’d play hide-and-seek.

“Where are you Nibbles? There you are!”

There was a favourite piece of yellow and green tape I’d throw high into the air. The friction of this movement would cause it to crackle. Nibbles would come running into the room, eager to entertain us by chasing, catching and assuring his dominance over the object.

On the last day he knew. We’d spent too long together for there to have been any chance of me fooling him.

“Time to go,” I said, unable to meet his eyes. “The only way,” I mumbled while he blinked back at me knowingly.

“I love you,” I told him, taking hold of his neck. “You love me too, I know you do, but fate… they’ll be coming for me. Soon … they’ll have to …”

My excuse will be that Nibbles found his way into the waste disposal chute without my knowledge; the truth being that I put him there knowingly, deliberately – an execution, nothing less.

Nibbles didn’t struggle. He trusted me, and I know he was happy to give up his life for mine. As I watched him; watched the body fly into the vacuum of space and finally explode, I was overcome with sadness for the loss of my only friend.

Silently I held the tears back.

Returning to my room I shaved, showered, prepared myself mentally for what I was going to say in my weekly interview. The excuse I would make. And then, with an action that can only be deciphered as a spur of the moment spot of madness, I carved his name (N-I-B-B-L-E-S) into my forearm using a razor blade.

“Outpost 269 reporting in. Status normal. No observations. Equipment efficiency level is fully functional at a hundred percent. The cat however, has died.”

I began to laugh, more at myself that at the machine in front of me. “It’s dead,” I muttered, then hesitated before confessing that, “I killed it.”

Prepare for body scan.

Moving into the cubicle, I could still hear meowing but for a moment, a future of happiness flashed before my eyes.

You can read more stories like this on Chris’s sci-fi blog: https://newadventuresinscifi.blogspot.com

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Welcome – Tim Taylor

I am very pleased to reveal that I have signed a contract with Maytree Press for the publication of my first poetry pamphlet later this year.

Maytree Press

Maytree is delighted to welcome Holmfirth based writer, Tim Taylor who will be releasing his poetry pamphlet with the press in early summer 2019.

Tim has previously published two novels: Zeus of Ithome (a finalist in the 2014 Chaucer Awards for historical fiction) follows the struggle of the ancient Messenian people to free themselves from Sparta. His second, Revolution Day, is about an ageing dictator who is losing his grip as his vice-President plots against him. He has also published a non-fiction book, Knowing What is Good For You (Palgrave Macmillan 2012), on the philosophy of well-being.

Maytree 003 will be Tim’s debut collection of poetry.

The collection, which takes its reader on a journey from the dark hills of the Pennines to the far reaches of outer space, deals with landscape, people and events through themes of transformation.

Follow our social media for more news and updates.

tim taylor Tim Taylor

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Taking the Plunge

Today I’m delighted to host a piece of flash fiction from Crooked Cat author Rosie Travers. An old lady ponders her greatest regret ….

Grace hadn’t even heard of a bucket list until Bill had shown them his brother’s photographs.

‘Bunging jumping in New Zealand,’ he said. ‘What do you think? Something to cross off the list, ‘eh?’

Grace wasn’t sure what to think at all.

‘What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do?’ Bill said, as he shuffled around the community lounge of Sunflower House, proudly regaling his brother’s exploits to anyone wide-awake enough to listen. ‘Nobody should die having regrets about things they haven’t done.’

Grade didn’t want to think about dying, but she had plenty of regrets, although missing out on the opportunity to dangle mid-air at the end of a long rope was not one of them.

Molly Atkins wanted to go to Disneyland but she’d never get the medical insurance; Bob Davis wanted to ride a Harley Davidson, difficult with only one leg.

‘Gracie? What about you?’

Silence. She wasn’t going to tell them the one thing she regretted not doing the most. Like the others, she’d left it too late.

But that was the whole point of a bucket list, wasn’t it? To reach the Pearly Gates and look St Peter in the eye and declare je regrette rien. It wasn’t too late. When she was re-united with Steven, when she could pinch his chubby cheeks, ruffle his halo of blonde hair, and admire his ethereal wings, she could tell him that if it ever happened again, that awful day on the beach, this time she could save him.

Taking the plunge, at her age. They’d call her daft. She didn’t even have a costume.

‘So Gracie,’ said Annie, her carer, ‘you want to go shopping?’

‘Yes please,’ Grace replied. ‘And then can we go to the leisure centre? I want to book a swimming lesson.’

Rosie Travers

Rosie currently lives on the south coast of England and is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association. She is a cat-loving serial house-mover who takes inspiration from her local surroundings for her writing. Her debut novel The Theatre of Dreams was published by Crooked Cat Books in August 2018 and her second, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, launched in February 2019.

Website:https://www.rosietravers.com/

Twitter: @RosieTravers

Instagram: RosieTraversAuthor D

https://www.facebook.com/rosietraversauthor/



A First Taste

About a year ago, I posted here inviting views on what my next fiction project should be (https://timwordsblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/10/what-next-help-me-decide/) – a sequel to Zeus of Ithome or a sci-fi project. Opinions were divided, but in the end it was the latter that refused to get out of my head. I have nearly 50,000 words now, but this is a long term project that I am pursuing in parallel with other things, and may take a while to come to fruition.

Nevertheless, I thought it was time to share a first taste of the project here. There is a main story thread, but I’ve also written some independent pieces to flesh out the world where it is set. This is one of those.

The Stranger

The rumours arrived first, days before anything was visible. There is a Stranger in the sky, people began to whisper in taverns, in temples, around firesides. Not everyone believed them. How did they know, after all, if nothing could be seen?

But then, one cold, clear spring night, something was visible. A speck, to be sure, but if you were one of those who liked to look at the sky on perfect nights like this, you could hardly miss it. In the constellation of the Falcon, peering at the world from its perch above the Eastern horizon, there was a third eye – dimmer than the others, but unmistakeably there.

Then the rumour-mongers began to walk around with self-satisfied smirks on their faces, and other people were afraid and started asking the priests what it was, what they should do.

“Do not worry,” said the priests. “The God will protect us,” and declined to answer any of the questions. But the next night the stranger had left the head of the Falcon altogether and was bigger and brighter than before – one of the most brilliant stars in the whole sky.

“Do not worry,” said the priests in the temples the following morning – for it was the God’s day. “The God will protect us. But we must prepare ourselves. Gather food and water for ten days, find a place to shelter. The temples will be closed for those ten days.” They would say nothing more.

That night the Stranger had moved again, and it was brighter, bigger than any star. And those who dared to watch could see that it was moving – as each hour passed, it left other stars behind.

The next day, there were no priests to be seen anywhere. “They have gone to the mountain,” people wailed, “to be with the God at the end of things.” And those who had not already done so now did as they had been told – they gathered food and water and huddled in the safest, most sheltered places they could find.

That night the Stranger was almost as big as a moon, and seemingly getting bigger all the time. No longer could anyone doubt that, whatever it was, it was going to hit the world. Only a few brave souls – those who felt that if they were going to die anyway, it was better to stand and face the cataclysm, not cower in a hole somewhere – had dared to stay outside and watch, gathered together in little groups on hilltops and crater rims. The Stranger began to glow a fiery red and grew a long flaming tail behind it. Red became yellow, then searing, unbearable white.

From the summit of the Holy Mountain, a spear of that same impossible whiteness impaled the Stranger and seemed to hold it for a second. And then every watcher went momentarily blind as the entire sky turned from black to that same, eye-blasting white. When, a few seconds later, sight returned and the dazed, blinking watchers turned their stinging eyes back to the sky, there was no spear, and there was no Stranger, only a misshapen, expanding cloud where it had once been: still glowing but fading by the second. And around it, heading away in all directions, were small bright miniatures of the vast orb of light that had been there moments before.

The watchers looked at each other open-mouthed. They had been watching their own death hurtling towards them in a ball of flame. Now, miraculously, they were still alive, witnesses to the greatest event in the history of the world. They had been a sceptical lot, for the most part, these watchers. Not that they would have called themselves atheists – almost no one dared to do that. But they were the ones who asked awkward questions about scripture, who went through the motions in the temple services, whose enquiring minds had brought them out to observe the end rather than pray hopelessly for it to go away. The ones, in short, whose beliefs were only skin deep.   

Not any more. “The God has saved us,” they shouted as they embraced each other. The God’s spear had struck the Stranger and destroyed it. What other explanation could there be? Their faith, formerly so tenuous, was suddenly unshakeable and all consuming. Many of these people would soon be banging on the doors of their local temples, demanding to become priests. A good few would eventually succeed.

The God had not saved everyone. In their rapture, the watchers paid little heed to the fragments of the Stranger as they disappeared below the horizon – behind the Rim, for those who could see it. But they could not ignore the flash that lit up the sky in the direction of the northern Rim – insignificant in comparison with the blinding light that had accompanied the obliteration of the Stranger itself, but still brighter than anything else they had ever seen – or the pillar of faintly glowing cloud that rose up where it had been. Beneath that cloud, a village had been replaced by a crater six hundred metres across – its own group of watchers duly meeting the apocalyptic fate they had been expecting. Around them, others died too, incinerated by the flash or flung into the air and scattered upon the ground by the vengeful wind from the Stranger’s spiteful death throes.

When the ordinary folk emerged from their hiding places in the morning, there were strange clouds in the sky and a strange taste in the air. But their world was otherwise much the same as they had left it. They found the people who had remained outside during the night eager to talk about the miracle they had witnessed, and rather wished they themselves had stayed out to watch. Above all, though, they were relieved and grateful to be alive. Soon the priests returned, and reminded people that they had said the God would protect them. Nobody was inclined to argue. The temples, when they opened a few days later, were very full indeed.

Cross (with) Word

Today I'm pleased to host another humorous guest poem, from author 
and blogger Miriam Drori.

Top Ten Reasons I'd Rather Be WRITING
Than Messing Around with Microsoft Word

Writing is fun; Word makes you run.
Writing’s creative; Word – frustrative.
Writing brings in dough; Word brings woe.
Writing tugs; Word has bugs.
Writing makes you feel; Word makes you reel.
Writing is style; Word – just a file.
Writing makes you think; Word makes you blink.
Writing’s amazing; Word leaves you blazing.
Writing, you can fly; Word – you cry.
Writing is gold; Word leaves you cold.

Miriam Drori lives in Jerusalem with her husband, one of three children
and social anxiety. She loves dancing, hiking and touring. She is the author
of three books: a romance set in Jerusalem, a co-written novella set in
Vienna between the wars and a non-fiction book on social anxiety. A new
novel, Cultivating a Fuji, will be published by Crooked Cat Books on 15th May.

Miriam can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram, Wattpad and on her website/blog and social anxiety blog.
Amazon page: Author.to/MiriamDroriAtAmazon.

Garden of Earthly Delights

Here’s a little piece I wrote at Holmfirth writers a couple of weeks ago, when the theme was “Gardens”. It is completely true, unfortunately.

Gardens are great! – when they’re somebody else’s. Our garden is a festering boil on the backside of our lives. It backs onto a field, which was once kept cropped by two elderly sheep, lulling us into a false sense of security when we bought the place. Not long afterwards, of course, they both went to the great green meadow in the sky and were not replaced. So then the grass and all the other plants that used to feed the sheep just grew and grew and grew, and the big wind that blows down from West Nab relieves them of their seeds and deposits them all over our garden, so that come June it looks like the annual convention of the British Weed Society.

Then there are the trees: two middle-aged horse chestnuts which keep out the sun and annually dump half a ton of leaves and conkers on our lawn and borders. They’re not our trees, so we can’t even cut them down. And the lawn itself: fifty square yards of moss, fungus, dandelions and occasional grass. Not big enough to do anything with, but big enough to need mowing every couple of weeks between April and October. Regularly used as a toilet by local cats. In all honesty, I don’t blame them – it’s an easy mistake to make.

For some people, I am dimly aware, gardens are for relaxing in, for soaking up the sights and smells of tamed nature, or a vehicle for their creative impulses, a source of quiet pride. We once thought it might be like that for us too. We even paid someone to landscape it and bought some garden furniture (which has sat there ever since, quietly turning to rust). It was not to be: for us the garden is a source of bitterness, embarrassment and joyless, loveless toil. A place for mowing the lawn and scrubbing the flags and gathering up leaves and, above all, for weeding. But most of the time, a place for closing the curtains and pretending it isn’t there.

I am rather hoping that reading this is someone without a garden, who is yearning for the pleasure and creative expression it might bring. Well, friend, this is your lucky day. You’re welcome to ours!

Shall I compare thee …

Another guest poem today, from novelist and editor Sue Barnard. It
seemed rather fitting, in view of our current unseasonably warm weather.
A sonnet, in the style of a certain balding Elizabethan playwright ….

THE FIRST DRAFT OF SONNET XVIII
(with profuse apologies to William Shakespeare)

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
To do so were, methinks, exceeding bold.
Forsooth, 'twould seem as though I wish to say
that thou art unpredictable and cold.
'Tis not just Summer which can men perplex;
Spring, Autumn, Winter can be foul or fair.
When, in the morn, your clothing you select,
you must for all extremities prepare.
Too soon can heat be gripped by icy hand,
and azure skies transformed to darkest grey;
the climate of this green unpleasant land
can furnish all four seasons in one day.
Some people claim they can the clime foresee;
if they speak true, a Dutchman must I be.

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family history is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She lives in Cheshire with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Author and Editor at Crooked Cat Books and Ocelot Press
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NOVELSThe Ghostly Father  Nice Girls Don’t  The Unkindest Cut of All  Never on Saturday  Heathcliff 

Finding Nina – coming in 2019

POETRY: Variations on an Apology