Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Mr. Tao

 




Mr. Tao

by Chris Morton



Mr. Tao, Mr. Tao.”

The eyes blinked.

Mr. Tao. Can you hear me?”

The first doctor clicked his fingers against the side of the man’s head. Haphazard; almost carelessly; then looked across at his colleague. “Looks like we’ve got another one.”

The second doctor muttered while the head, the head of Mr. Tao, began to moan – first low and barely a sound but soon that sound had grown to become nothing short of a desperate roar.

The first doctor’s face came forward, against the eyes: he had some sort of instrument. A light that he shone deep into what was left of the subject.

He has cognition.”

Don’t they all.”

This reply came from slightly further away. A third doctor, there were three of them – but then there was panic and much of it growing.

Can’t we shut it up?”

It bother you?” said one doctor to another.

Yes, there were three of them. Three doctors. The room was white. Blue. White. And the instrument was a strong, shining silver. Their clothes were white, so he assumed they were doctors. One of them looked away, at a right-angle to the other two who were each staring at him and he tried, tried his best to understand.

Dump it, then?”

That’s the fifteenth already.”

Not even lunchtime.”

Laughter. Shuddering, reverberating laughter.

I don’t understand it.” This came from the female. The woman. One woman, two men. Doctors … The female, the second doctor, seemed more interested than the other two. They were showing unkindness, discursiveness, like this was some sort of routine and they couldn’t have cared less for him … for Mr. Tao …

That’s my name, he thought.

The problem is not physical, per se. The head itself is fully recovered.”

Functional,” put in the third, still staring away at a right-angle.

It’s the mind,” continued the first doctor, regarding the woman with slight … he was being patronising, superior, informing her as if she were a junior. “The mind cannot cope.”

With the body,” she replied.

Mr. Tao tried to look down. At what body?

And then he saw it, the reflection in the wall opposite that was a huge, giant glass mirror and the three doctors with him, but it was too much to handle.

The woman, her back arched – she was bending at him. She had black stockings under the white coat and her hair was brown; long, brown and soft. Mr. Tao wanted to touch it, to reach out and he could feel where his arm and hand should have been.

Wait a minute, we’re getting something.”

The two other doctors were older. One grey-haired, the other black. The grey haired doctor was the one staring off at a right-angle.

Movement in the left temporal.”

Mr. Tao recognised his face. So familiar. Bathroom mirror, he thought. He remembered shaving, and of times when he’d just stared – why? But he had looked. So often he had looked at his reflection.

It’s confused.”

The head, the head was his, but attached to something metallic; artificial and spindly.

Mr. Tao, can you hear us? Do you understand where you are?”

Spindly, from the neck down to a shining, elongated scaffolding of circuits. There were legs, arms, and long, metallic fingers.

Mr. Tao, do you understand.”

He blinked.

Not getting anything.”

Mr. Tao began to scream, then realised in the strangest way that he’d already started screaming much sooner – his mouth was open, like a fish.

Mr. Tao. You are alive.”

But the woman, she seemed worried. She turned to the black doctor. “Is there anything we can do?”

The black doctor said nothing but his eyes, they rolled dismissively.

Nothing at all?” the woman repeated.

The grey-haired man’s lips were moving ever so slowly. He was talking to the wall – there was something there, out of sight. (Mr. Tao reasoned that it may be some kind of computerised interface).

Mr. Tao.”

It was the black doctor addressing him – it was he, the first doctor, who had been addressing him all along.

Mr. Tao, this is the year 2333. You were put into cryogenics …”

But Mr. Tao, the head, was no longer taking notice for it was the woman he was focussing on. Only she could save him now. Tears, bright blue – they were flooding from the ducts in her eyes. Her lips opened and a surge of memories flew at him in a dense, rushed groan and he tried again with his right hand, to reach out to her, begging for help. For understanding.

He knew he’d made a connection.

Help me, he screamed. Help me … My God …

Another dud,” he heard.

The black doctor looked to the woman. “Fifteen it is, then.”

Hand at her mouth, the tears continued to flow.

Kill it,” said the grey-haired doctor, turning finally to face the head.

Another one for the pigs,” agreed the black doctor, patting the woman on the back.

Laughter. Horrible, reverberating laughter. They were mocking him. Giving up on him.

I’m right here. Help me, my God.

Says here, he paid a fair fortune for this.”

Didn’t they all?”

Their words became distant: “A … CEO … Symantec … crash … too much blood … ironic … automotive …” A crash, yes! he remembered. A CEO. He had risen to the top, and controlled … he’d been in charge of … self driving … and then … there’d been an accident …

But a song had entered his head. Keep it … window … flying there and … feeling …

With a jerk he was being carried across the room.

Another head for the disposal.”

More laughter, and ever so slightly less reverberating.

The song continued: Each day … while you can … flying there and … float …

A thump.

Staying conscious for barely long enough to project three hail-Marys, Mr. Tao took in the other heads; he took in their punctured, rolling eyes – though rather than feeling the horror you might imagine, Mr. Tao, once inside and when the lid had closed, decided that in a way it was like returning to the womb. Like home, he decided.

The moaning roar ceased and the head began to convulse in what could only be interpreted as laughter.



Chris Morton is the creator of this blog.
He has released two sci-fi novels,
one collection of short stories
and a few other scribblings.
You can find his amazon page here.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

It Seems Fairly Likely by Patrick Gabriel Doyle

 




It Seems Fairly Likely

by Patrick Gabriel Doyle



It seems fairly likely that once upon a time, between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, another planet may have existed but, somehow, destructed. There is some evidence of this scattered around the vastness: the asteroid belt for example, or some of Jupiter’s moons, perhaps, and the fairly recent discovery of Jupiter’s rings. The closer we look, the more we see – the more we see the deeper the mysteries unfold.

It is, perhaps less likely but, nonetheless, somewhat tantalising that this once-planet supported life and, more tantalising still, that a race of intelligent beings possessing a certain degree of advancement and development populated the planet as it neared its end.

Ever more lip-smackingly tantalising is the thought of that once-planet in orbit around our Sun, while, at the same time, on this world we call Earth; life was also at a certain stage of development.

However, even more deliciously tantalising is the prospect of two possibilities arising from this premise we have built up.

One:

That life on Earth was seeded from the once-planet, perhaps post-destruction, in some gloriously survivalistic, chance consequence. Or, indeed, that life on Earth was seeded on purpose as a means of carrying on the genes, so to speak.

Two:

That both planets held life simultaneously …


*


Cara Delaggwei sat happily astride her saurian mount. It was a beautiful Urth day; her fifth out from Atlantis.

She had nothing much to do – check the herds, gather some food and rig up a shelter. She was going to be spending the night away from Main Compound.

As the day wore on, she drew ever closer to a smouldering volcano, glimpsed through thick, jungle foliage and sending pretty, ribbon trails of smoke up into the blue.

Of course Cara knew those pretty trails were actually noxious fumes and that at any moment the volcano could erupt, quaking the ground and throwing suffocating ash into the air. But not today!

Instruments showed no trace of major seismic activity in that area. Of course, there were always rumblings: Threats. Impulsivity. It was a young world after-all. Younger than her.

She enjoyed dabbling with time when she was ‘down there’ as they called it.

Without warning two snap-lizards came crashing through the foliage towards her. They were after her Saur but would make a tasty meal of Cara nonetheless, even if they didn’t know what she was!

She pulled a stun gun and pulsed a vibration to one of the lizards.

It dropped.

She took instant aim at the second lizard.

Suddenly her Saur lurched and toppled, throwing her to the ground. A third snap-lizard coming in from a different direction – a hunting party with a plan – a bit of evolution going on here – she thought crazily.

She managed to roll away from the action.

Her Saur was already fighting a losing battle and Cara tussled with compassion against the directive that they must change nothing – but we’re changing it just by being here!!

If she stunned the snap-lizards she would be left with a badly injured Saur to deal with – she could maybe heal it – but then the snap-lizards would have no dinner – but then the Saur wouldn’t have been here if I hadn’t –

WHOOSH – SNAP – breath on her right ear. With reflex action she sprang away from yet another snap-lizard as it entered the scene.

Luckily Cara was smaller than the usual lizard prey and the mistimed SNAP, sent it careering on to where the main action was happening. But she had been clocked – she had better get out of there – Thank you Saur and goodbye!

Pausing merely a microsecond, she made a sign in the air and sent it to the already fading Saur. She knew – one small moment of compassion goes a long, long way – then she was out of there.

Cara kept running until she put enough distance between herself and the snap-lizards to feel safe, at least, for the moment. At some point she would have to make her way back to retrieve her equipment, unless one of the snap-lizards had chewed it up – wouldn’t that be a find for some palaeontologist in the future!

She dug up some roots to munch on, communed with Main Compound and filled them in on the day’s events, then settled herself in the undergrowth until evening.

When she woke, she realised she’d been asleep – some kind of huge red/green, winged insect was buzzing around the bushes.

A quick glance at its proboscis told her it wasn’t going to bite her – more interested in the evening flowers – she smiled, but moved away stealthily nonetheless.

By the time she reached the spot where the snap-lizards had attacked it was deep twilight. Foliage had been thrashed around so much that a small clearing had been made. There was a trail of snapped branches where the remains of Saur had been dragged away by the snap-lizards or something else.

The packs of equipment were easily discernible against the flattened grass – all was well on that score anyway.

Moving through the dense undergrowth at night would be foolish so she set up a vibrobarrier and phase-tent, which provided some degree of invisibility and protection lest the rains and biting insects come.

It was now pitch black night. She drank proto-water, thinking about how she should proceed tomorrow. The stars twinkled through a break in the foliage.

By chance, Atlantis was visible in that small portion of sky, brighter and bigger than the surrounding stars. She wished to commune and set her mind in process – SUDDENLY – INTENSELY AWARE OF ACUTE SILENCE – THEN – ATLANTIS – INTENSELY BRIGHT - EXPANDING – ACROSS THE SKY – ACROSS HER MIND – SEARING LIGHT – ENGULFING CRASH – THEN…

darkness…

silence…

over Urth…

in her mind…

She looked up.

Where Atlantis had been – an empty space.

Where there had been connection in her mind – silence.

"Atlantis? Gone?" - She whispers to the night. And to herself, almost like an expectation, she sighs – "It seems fairly likely."


Patrick Gabriel Doyle is from Glasgow, Scotland.
For more stories and links check out his amazon page here.

 

Monday, 15 February 2021

Art - Vincent Chong


 Art - Vincent Chong 



from Broken Angels by Richard K. Morgan



from Cosmic Interruptions by Joe R. Lansdale



from Embassytown by China Mieville



from Shine by Jetse de Vries



from The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin


Tuesday, 9 February 2021

The Stranger






The Stranger

by Chris Morton



I remember the first time I saw him he was passing me in the street and he shouted to me, “Hello, handsome man.”

I liked the way that sounded. It was a compliment and I replied with a smile.

The next time our paths crossed he shouted the same thing.

Hello, handsome man.”

Hi,” I replied, walking on.

It took me a while to realise he was a neighbour. Two houses down from mine. One night I saw him go in there, a residence that unlike my own town house, was shared by lodgers. Through ground floor windows I saw abstract art and a faraway television showing the news. Near to the house was a bench I’d begun to settle down on from time to time when the evenings were warm. The street was quiet on those summer nights. I’d enjoy a beer or two there; watch the passing cars and contemplate the meaning of life.

One day, coming home from work I noticed him on the same bench.

Hello, handsome man,” he'd said.

Yeah, that’s me. The handsome man.”

Where are you from?”

You know, around …”

A beautiful evening.”

That it is.”

I carried on walking, got to my door, shoved the key in and turned the lock.


/


Now and then I’d see him coming out of our local convenience store. Dirty shorts and T-shirt, a satchel round his shoulders and plastic bag swinging by his side. There was something about him. A sadness. Pity. I’d begun to avoid our little exchanges when I could.

Sometimes, however, I was lonely myself. On one such night I spotted him while out for a walk. I’d wander the streets to get out of the house, get away from the computer, the TV, get out into the real world for a half hour or so.

He was there, coming straight for me.

Handsome man,” he bellowed.

How’s it going,” I replied.

We talked about the weather, the hot summer we were having. Then somehow or other we got onto the subject of UFOs.

Up there,” he warned me. “They are watching.”

Oh yeah?”

They’ve taken me.”

Taken you?”

Before,” he answered, his friendly expression sliding into that of morbid sorrowfulness.

I backed away.

You be careful,” he warned.

Sure,” I answered. Then: “So, you’ve seen them?”

I did,” he replied, looking down at his satchel. “But I have ways. Ways to make them stop.”

By coincidence I wrote sci-fi stories and was working on a collection – I should have been more interested (What had they done to him, what did they look like? Did they have names, these aliens?)

But this was real life, not a game.

Frowning, I asked if he took medicine. A cousin of mine had heard voices. She’d been put on medication. I considered the possibility of helping this man. Reporting him … but to who?

He began to wave a finger at me. “They are watching!,” he shouted. “Watching you. Watching us!”

Yeah, sure.”

You just be careful, handsome man.”

I looked at my watch; reassured him that I’d be okay.


/


An argument broke out on my street. Unable to resist the temptation to sneak a look at what was going on, I carefully slid open a window.

It was him, shouting at the drivers of two cars that were having trouble passing each other in the narrow road. Parked cars either side, it was a phenomenon not uncommon in the street in which I lived.

Ordering each driver to back up, to move forward, to drive more carefully … his shouts were met with embarrassed politeness. This was not his business, but who were they to argue? Best not get involved.

Inside the convenience store one evening I ran into my boss. We got to talking, an awkward conversation about work.

Hello, handsome man.”

My neighbour,” I stated, by way of introduction.

Ahh, hello, there,” said my boss. “Neighbours, then. And what is it you do?”

He sees UFOs,” I muttered by way of explanation to this dishevelled figure. To excuse whatever words he might come out with.

I live two doors down,” he exclaimed happily, while my boss shrank away in horror.


/


Again I’d pass him. Some days I’d stop to talk, other days I’d just smile. I began to wonder how hard it would be to make friends with this man. I was lonely myself, so why not strike up a partnership of sorts. I’d have to set down rules though. No hassling me every day. It would have to be on my terms. We could wander the streets after dark, take in a beer or two. Or we could become best friends, why not? I’d be doing him a favour. I could change his life.

Hello handsome man,” he shouted, his satchel clanging by his side.

Hello,” I’d reply, walking on.

Soon, however, I started to notice a change. There were a set of drunks who’d gather at the park, who’d sit outside the convenience store with their cheap wine and angry banter. I noticed he was sitting with them more often than not. He’d found friends, I was off the hook.

He’d pass me in the street with a plastic bag full of beer cans. Instant noodles. There was a lady who worked at our store who I noticed had begun to chat to him whenever he was in there. Before he’d been served with coldness, a glacial apathy … but he’d become more respectable, acceptable. A local, friendly drunk.

He’d pass me looking worse than ever and I was often the first of us to acknowledge the other.

Hello,” I’d say.

Handsome man,” he’d reply with a glazed expression.

And we’d both walk on.

But one time I saw him in the supermarket at a table drinking a coffee and I joined him for a moment, saying I had somewhere to go, someone else to meet. I couldn’t stop, just wanted to say hi. There was a queue and I had a minute to spare.

My son,” he said. “He lives in America.”

Oh, so you have a son,” I replied. “That’s nice.”

He’s a good boy. Very handsome.”

And your wife? I almost asked but didn’t.

Studying there.”

Oh, yes?”

He’s very smart.”

Of course,” I stumbled. “I mean, he must be.”

The last time I saw him he was with two older men playing chess in the park. He wasn’t playing, just watching. It was nice, I thought, that he was allowed to sit with them. I wondered what his life had been like before. If he really did have a son. What he’d been like as a boy. Sitting with other kids in the classroom, the same as everyone else. From what I knew of my cousin, common forms of schizophrenia and such types of madness could hit in at puberty, other kinds more often than not hit you in later life. But as a child, he’d had a mother and father and friends at school. He’d had hopes and dreams. One day, when he was older …

It must have been over two months when it finally dawned on me that I hadn’t seen him in a while. Where had he gone? Whatever happened to that crazy fellow who always used to call me handsome man? I had a suspicion that he might have died. Either that or moved away. I wondered if he’d been committed. Cured.

That guy,” I said to my neighbour. A retiree who often stood outside smoking by his front door. “The one who was …” how to put it? “A bit crazy. Haven’t seen him in a while.”

My neighbour peered at me through a cloud of smoke. “Two doors down that way?” he coughed.

That’s the one.”

Dead, so I heard.”

He died?”

Bad heart. He was young and all.”

Older than me but younger than my neighbour. Must have been in either his forties or fifties, though I decided to not bother with asking for any confirmation over his age.

His heart?” I said instead.

Drank, you see.”

Sure, I guess he did.”

Not mad. Just drunk.”

But he was a bit, you know, I think he had mental illness. Maybe that’s what –”

“– No, not mental illness. He was a drunk.” My neighbour spat on the floor. Stubbed out his cigarette.

At the end he was, sure,” I insisted.

No, no, always. His satchel. Full of it. Drink like that, it’s bound to get you in the end.”

About a week later I walked up to the woman in the store, the one who’d been nice enough to chat with him from time to time in the last few months of his life. I wanted to tell her, just in case she didn’t know. He’s dead, I wanted to say. The news, I felt a strange need to share it with somebody. I wanted to find out more, about who he’d been. Had there been a funeral? Who, if anyone, had gone?

Would you like a bag with that?” she asked.

I hesitated, open-mouthed. This woman, I didn’t want to shock her with talk of dead neighbours.

Sure,” I said instead, handing her the money. Giving her the best smile I could manage, I picked up my stuff, then walked outside.

You be careful, handsome man. They are watching you, watching us!

Grey clouds mixed with emerging stars. The wind blew softly.



Chris Morton is the creator of this blog.
He has released two sci-fi novels,
one collection of short stories
and a few other scribblings.
You can find his amazon page here.