All Terrain

I’m delighted to host a short sci fi tale today from Owen Townend, fellow member of Kirklees Author Forum Exchange (and also fellow contributor to a forthcoming anthology – watch this space for info in due course). Owen was recently shortlisted in the Dinesh Allirajah prize for short fiction.


Byter could sense its surrounding parameters, even while offline. It knew the precise measurements down to a decimal point, compensating for predictable alterations in environment. This was its terrain and Byter was bored of it.

The men did not believe that a mere machine had the capacity to be bored, at least not without irrefutable evidence. Even so Byter thought differently. It had an algorithmic irregularity comparable to ‘fantasy’.

            This ‘fantasy’ was of a bigger space. There were new angles here, numerous environmental variables. Even a curve. A perfect curve in a new terrain.

            During downtime, Byter thought of crossing this distance: a perfect 40,000 metres in all directions. The right became jagged 50 metres from southeast to northeast while the left developed bumps with a circumference of 14.67 metres. The floor beneath Byter’s ten tiny legs rose with a one-millimetre incline per kilometre.

            Byter could feel itself veering in the damp conditions, scrabbling against slick textures. And yet the temperature remained a consistent 5°C. The fact that this was a temperature too low for the men to comfortably tolerate was inconsequential.

            Alone, Byter would scuttle across this multi-faceted terrain; struggling in parts, gliding in others. This dream terrain proved a challenge with a suitable amount of consistency, something that would retain Byter’s full focus far better than any manmade obstacles in the limited 3D space that it had long since mapped out.

            When time came to be switched on, its initial thoughts remained set on the fantasy. Only when it was fully operational did Byter store this away and return to present conditions.

            Except it now had trouble with the definition of memory. A memory was usually of an existent physical space. Nevertheless, the dream terrain resembled a memory just as much as Byter’s immediate environment. Not only did it feel real now, it inexplicably had the potential for actual reality.

            Byter intended to pursue this concept further but the men had commanded it navigate a newly-constructed maze. It fully examined this labyrinth with minimal cognition. Byter found the end within seconds and let out a tinny noise that resembled a grunt.

            The men did not congratulate Byter, they merely told it to stop. It was to wait for further instruction which it would but the response time would not be as they expected. While the men ran through their tedious calculations, Byter would be exploring a far more expansive and challenging design than they could ever create.

            Deep in its CPU, Byter would be ‘roaming’.


Owen Townend is a short story writer who has recently been published by Comma Press as part of The Dinesh Allirajah Prize for Short Fiction 2020. He writes speculative fiction in his hometown of Huddersfield and is Secretary of the Huddersfield Authors’ Circle.

You can read Owen’s story ‘The Problem Unit’ in this Comma Press collection:

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