Category Archives: Flash Fiction

Goatherd

“Ben, I can see my goats from this rock.”

“Yep, I’ve a good view too.  Any wolves come, we’ll stop them.”

“Thanks for helping,” I said gratefully.

“No problem George, that’s what neighbours do.  They take your goats and they’ll be on to mine next.”

I said nothing, watching the goats leap from rock to rock with a grace and insouciance; the capricious creatures were born for it.  They’d tried sheep at first, but damn things kept getting lost and really didn’t like the rocky ground.  Goats on the other hand loved it, gravity never having had much hold on them.

I watched Bill, my favourite goat, taking a bite out of a rock.  She looked at me while chewing happily.  She was a good producer, but cheeky.  I suspected she was the one who’d broken the fencing the day before.  It wasn’t there to keep the goats in, the gap to the next rocks did that.  It was to stop wolves.

“Fleeces look good George, lovely green, and their torso bubbles look smooth.”

“I’m always careful, I popped one a few years ago, and had to bring the injured goat inside to allow the chlorophyll fleece to regrow, and rebuild the bubble.  A real nightmare.  I always think it’s a pity they can’t live off the rocks, but that’s modern mechano-genetic-engineering for you.”

“Totally!”

A pause.

“You listening on the goats’ channel?”

“Nah, only so many ‘maaas’ I can take.  It’s obvious if they spot anything.”

Bill, bored with her position, bounced off, small pellets of pure metals coming out of her behind, and collecting in the little bubble I attached to her daily.  It still amazed me that they chewed into rock and pooed out these metals, but that was the whole point of bringing them up to the asteroids.

“Mind if I ask something George?”

“Course not.”

“You renewed?”

“Another three years.”

“Full term?”

“Yeah, I reckon if I double the flock over the next month, then I’ll be able to get most of the easy minerals out.  You?”

“I’m on rolling six months, I…”

Suddenly the whole flock looked up.  One of them had spotted a pirate wolf, I got my rifle ready, and hoped we’d get it.

“Got it, Sun-side top.”

“Where… got it too.  A single wolf raider.  There must be a back-up somewhere.”

“You take him out.  I’ll hunt the other.”

I aimed carefully and squeezed off a shot, then another.  The first grazed him, but the second was smack bang in the middle of his bubble.  It collapsed, and I could see the pilot thrashing before it exploded.  It was harsh, but if I hadn’t stopped him then I’d find stripped goat carcasses spinning in nearby space within the day.

I looked around to see how Ben was doing, and spotted another raider bubble collapsing.

“Yee-es!  Got the other.”

“Awesome.  I owe you Ben.”

“Beers next time we’re in town.  Unlikely you’ll see more wolves today.  I gotta check my flock, I bet they’ve scattered.”

Grateful, I watched my flock, oblivious once again and eating happily.  Despite the occasional wolf, it was a good life, for them and me.

###

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If There Is A Morning

“I’ll tell you in the morning… if there is one.”

That’s the last thing she said to me.  Then I woke up, to darkness.  My watch said 0800, the sky outside said… nothing.  No sun, no moon, no stars.

I’d like to pretend I acted normally.  I did not, I totally freaked out.  I checked my clocks, I tried the TV, nothing.  I cranked up my laptop, no internet connection, no power.  I checked my phone, no signal, I let it drop onto the floor.  I looked outside, darkness, no lights at all.

I’ve been in pitch black, in the Cairngorms when the clouds are lowering and it’s the middle of the night and it feels like the morning will never come.  This was darker.  And scarier.  And then I remembered what Lyssa had said.  I thought it was nothing, she was mumbling in her sleep, I’d asked what and she’d answered.

I didn’t think she meant it.

I found the whisky bottle by touch, perhaps not something to be proud of, then when I couldn’t find a glass I just took a couple of swigs.  I’d been buying slightly cheaper stuff recently.  Own brand supermarket if you’ll believe.  The burn as it went down my throat helped, and I tried to think.  Where had Lyssa gone?  I felt around her side of the bed.  Checked her things, it seemed that she’d dressed and left, taking her not-a-bag clutch thing with her.  That made me feel a little better, she hadn’t just disappeared, unlikely like the whole world… no I had to hold it together.

#

I couldn’t stay in my flat much longer.  It had been a few hours since I’d woken.  The whisky was gone.

Where could I go?  Was there anywhere… no thinking, first: prepare.

I put on my clothes, including a coat, found my phone again, which I now realised could at least function as a torch.  A rucksack.  That’s what I needed.  I found one, put in a water bottle, some old cheese, and a kitchen knife.  Well, I didn’t know what I’d find out in the darkness.  But I was guessing it wouldn’t be my slightly grimy London street.

I opened the front door.  And looked down where the stairs had been.  Nothing.  I turned the torch of the phone on… and still there was nothing.  The beam was swallowed up by the darkness.  I retreated into my flat.

#

KNOCK.

Was that the front door?  Hours had passed.  I’d been huddling in my bed.

KNOCK.

It was the front door.  Someone.  Something?  Was banging on it, slow methodical knocks.

KNOCK.

“Coming…” I croaked out.

I stumbled to the door.  Opened it.  Lyssa was there.  Smiling.

“Ryan, are you alright?”

“Lys… where… where’ve you been?”

“Searching for the morning.  Don’t worry.  I’ve found it.”

She opened her hand towards me and a bright light burst out.  Overwhelming me.

“Ryan, wake up sleepy-head.  It’s time to go to work…”

###

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The Truth About God

It’s been a while, not least because the world has been moving on apace, and I often feel out of sync with it.  This story picks up on that vibe…

 

The Truth About God

“I’m Mike, and I’m the last person on the planet who believes in God.”

The room was silent for a while and then my-name-is-Alison-and-I’m-here-to-help said, “Mike, this is an alcoholics anonymous meeting, I’m not sure we’re equipped to deal with someone with such a… um… eccentric problem.”

I left before it got awkward.  Or more awkward.  I don’t try to proselytise, I never did.  To everyone, Gods don’t exist.  Why question that?  Or the sun, or gravity, or evolution?  I had an embarrassing insanity.

After the AA meeting I decided I needed a break.  From people, from society.  I would go into the hills, restore my faith, and return better able to face the looks of incredulity from my work colleagues, my now ex-friends.  It was probably best my mother was dead.  She’d bought Pascal’s line, and believed just in case.  That’s not belief to me, but she’d have worried about me.  At least someone would have.

The mountain was lovely.  It was behind the wooden shack, and all around were trees.  Going on and on.  The brochure had mentioned wild animals, in a slightly cautious manner.  I was excited about them.

I’d brought supplies.  Food, water.  Enough for a couple of weeks.

Each day I’d start by going outside and greeting the sun.  I’d think that but for God’s grace I wouldn’t be able to, there would be no sun, no mountain for me.  It felt hollow.  I was starting to have a sneaking suspicion.

I read somewhere that for God to exist, people have to believe in him.  If they stop believing, then, well, he just fades away.  Or she.  Either way, the divine entity is gone.  Was my belief enough to sustain a being capable of creating the world in six days?  I was mildly confident I could believe in a divinity who’d take the seventh day off.

At the end of the second week I walked out in the morning and greeted the sun, accepting it was only there because of physics.  Complex physics yes, and we still haven’t worked out how Dark Energy works, but that doesn’t require belief, just observation and maths.  I’d been the last believer.  Now I was just like everyone else.

That day there was a knock at the door.

“Hello?”

“Hi, are you Mark?  That believer fellow.”

“I am Mark.”

“Don’t believe any more?”

I paused.  But then I knew saying it would be the final step of my freedom.

“No.  There is no God, or gods or whatever.”

The man whooped and started jumping up and down.

“I won, I won!”

“Won what?”

Loki turned to me and winked, “My bet with Odin.”

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The Dog Ate My Phone

This happened to me (the dog eating the phone bit, not the rest…)

 

The Dog Ate My Phone

“Did I ever tell you about the time the dog ate my phone?” said the rough voice.

Thomas Jensen looked up from his phone to see who was talking. The only person there was a tramp and he seemed to be staring straight at Thomas.

“Ah, no. Not that you’ve ever told me anything. And now…”

He tried to get up, but the tramp had moved so close he’d have to push him out of the way, and he really didn’t want to touch the man.

“Worst day of my life really. Best as well if truth be told. It freed me.”

“Oh, er, how?”

The tramp took this as an invitation to sit down, and start his tale.

“I’d left the dogs in the car. Two lovely chocolate Labradors. Beautiful. You have dogs?”

“No.”

“Great companions. Only problem, particularly with labs, is they’re hungry. I’d left my phone in the car, I don’t know why because I never left my phone anywhere. I left it in the little shelf in the door. Right next to some sweets.”

Thomas tried to look at his watch, but the tramp leant over.

“Dogs had never bothered with the sweets before? Do you know why they did that day?”

“No…”

The tramp leant back, “Nobody does. Anyway they went for the sweets, but the shelf was small and they struggled to get the sweets out, and got the phone first. Crunch. Little bits of glass all over the place. Phone dead. Kaput.”

“That’s very sad, but I have to…”

“Know why I couldn’t just get a new one?”

“Um.”

“Well I ordered one. Or asked my wife to. Same model. But you see the thing was, there was a delay. I wouldn’t have my phone for a week. Can you imagine?”

Thomas really couldn’t, he shook his head.

“My car wouldn’t recognise me. Couldn’t get into my front door, couldn’t buy anything. My virtual credit cards were all frozen until I got a new unit. I had an old one, but it took a different sim see, so they wouldn’t reactivate it. Or would, but it would take longer than the new phone. Do you think I could go to work?”

“Yes?” Thomas ventured.

“No. Front desk wouldn’t let me past, even if they did elevators wouldn’t have taken me anywhere.”

Thomas was starting to be interested despite himself, “But you told your boss?”

“How? No phone. No messenger. No email. I tried to call from the reception desk, but without my phone id to authenticate me… well he refused the call.”

Thomas shook his head sympathetically.

“Then they fired me. No payoff, failure to turn up for work. Except the firing bounced, no phone you see, so I didn’t find out directly. I found out from my wife. What did she do to help me I hear you ask?”

Thomas wondered if he would have asked, but it didn’t seem wise to argue.

“She called me a fool. She also told me to stop blaming the dog, he was suffering enough. I realised then the hierarchy in the house, and I didn’t like it. I said some things. I didn’t mean them, it was just the pressure. You know.”

Thomas tried to look sympathetic, and also as if he had somewhere else to go.

“Well, she said some things too. Then stormed out, taking the dog. Told me to call her when I’d grown up. That turned out to be hard.”

He paused.

“I think she’s in San Francisco now.”

“Um…”

“Anyway, so I was stuck. But only for a week I hear you say?”

Thomas nodded.

“If only. You see she’d ordered the new phone in her name. Now if she’d been around we could have swapped the sims and heydee ho, with a couple of hours, on her phone of course, to customer services it would have all been fine. I had to break into the house. I was watching. Saw it delivered, they wouldn’t have given it to me, and broke in. Big mistake.”

“Why?”

“The house called the cops. That expensive security system I put in. Tied to our phones. I grabbed the phone and ran. And ran, hoping to fit my sim in. Couldn’t, cos of it being in my wife’s name and all, but kept it with my while I wandered. Found myself in the backend of the city. Tough times. I learned a lot. First thing was to drop the new phone, even without my sim it had a tracker and they were trying to find it. I paid for really good security you see. Met some people, learned how to live without the phone, without id, and money. Hard life. Good life.”

The man looked wistful, and Thomas thought he might have a chance to get away.

“Ah, well, that’s a good thing to know. I need to run I’m afraid.”

He indicated his phone, as if he’d had a message. The old man misunderstood.

“Oh no, I don’t want your phone. Don’t need one. Just wanted to share the story, maybe it can help. Wanted to help someone today of all days.”

Thomas hesitated, but had to ask, “Why today?”

“I’m dead today. Legally. After thirty years, all of the automatic payments and suchlike I’d put into place have finally ground to a halt, and the world, your world, has decided I’m dead. Saw the notice while watching one of those demo phones.”

“Um.”

“Go now. No use you wasting time listening to a dead man. But take care of that phone.”

###

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No Judgement

Talking to random people on the internet can be surprisingly helpful…

 

No Judgement

“Look, I can’t explain, you’re only a computer. You wouldn’t understand.”

“I’ll try Paul, I will. Or I can raise a flag and someone will visit you.”

“No. No. I can’t.”

“Well, tell me. Tell Georgie.”

“It’s the world, everything, I, I just don’t understand it anymore. Phones are smart. Cars park themselves. My chip shop is selling low fat deep fried chips. I went for a run…”

“That’s good, you went outside. You didn’t tell me.”

“I, well it was yesterday. I ran. I was wearing my usual training outfit. Some kids saw the crest on the back, they started shouting at me. Insulting me. The unit.”

“How did you feel?”

“Not angry. Not anymore. I felt, nothing. An absence. I looked at them, and they were nothing. Is this what it was all about?”

“It’s difficult to answer. But I think the answer is yes. Look they were young, I’m sure they’ll grow up and regret it.”

“Or never think about it again.”

“True, but then it doesn’t matter. So why does it matter to you?”

“I feel so apart.”

“Ha.”

“What?”

“I just think you were never going to find a connection with some youths. Were you?”

“No, no I guess not.”

“Have you spoken to anyone else recently?”

“Um, well I had a brief chat about the rain with the shopping delivery man. And I waved, sort of, at the postie.”

“So this is the longest conversation you’ve had in a week, since we last talked.”

“Yes.”

“And it’s all typed.”

“Yes. I guess.”

“Are you losing your voice?”

“Physically or metaphor…”

“Metaphorically. Both.”

“No. I do talk to myself.”

“Only way to get a decent conversation I bet.”

“Funny, no. And you, I’d like to talk to you more.”

“You can, I’m always here.”

“But, it’s not the same. I don’t know how you feel.”

“How I feel? Well I’m worried about you. I think you need a companion.”

“Like a dog?”

“Well, no, someone you can talk to.”

“A person? No. I’m not ready. I can’t.”

“Why?”

“What if they…”

“Don’t like you? I’m sure…”

“No. Judge me. No not judge, I mean. Look at me the way that I feel about those people. The ones out there.”

“Perhaps we should try. Then you can see.”

“Wait. The doorbell has gone.”

“Answer it.”

“Why? Who’s there?”

“I am. I’ve come to stay with you.”

###

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Returning Home

Returning Home

I played with the monitor in front of me. The flight provided modern entertainment, and I wondered what might be popular these days.

This was the last stage of my long trip. The first had been on a ship, and boarding it had been tough. I held on to Judi’a, as if I was drowning and she was my last hope.

“I don’t want to leave you.”

“You must. You have no place here.”

“Will you miss me?”

“Every day and with all my heart.”

She disentangled herself from my arms and turned away.

I felt cast off, but there was nothing more to say, except, “Goodbye my love.”

Judi’a shuddered and walked out of the room. She’d told me when we’d started our affair, that there could be no future for such as us. We’d have to enjoy the moments we had. Now thinking back to our farewell I tried not to acknowledge that she’d probably be dead by now.

My time on the ship consisted of sleeping. When we arrived at the port I took the next flight to London. I guess I should have been pleased the city was still here. When I left there’d been some tensions and talk of city-obliterating repercussions. Still, that had been a long time ago.

I managed to get a film going, a romantic comedy, as we hit turbulence. They’d said the shuttle flight could be unsettled. The movie was incomprehensible to me, and not just because of the screen juddering. Speech patterns had changed, but it was something else, maybe I just didn’t understand love anymore.

They’d told me my passage home was booked in such a casual way. No ‘thanks for your years of service’, or ‘for a foreigner you’re a good man’. Just ‘here are your tickets, and good luck’. I wasn’t even clear why I needed the luck. I didn’t think I’d made that many enemies. Though all my friends had been light-years away, apart from Judi’a that is.

The shuttle landed smoothly, and I was efficiently transferred to a train. This was unlike the London of my memories. Two hundred years can do that, even if I was asleep for the vast majority of them. The train sped along, through emerald countryside that looked at least vaguely familiar, and then pulled into a stop of the town I’d once called home. I didn’t recognise a thing.

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‘Tree Justice’ published in Flash Fiction Magazine

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My story ‘Tree Justice’ has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine today!

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We Need The Money

We Need the Money

“Oh Sarah, come in.”

Sarah sobbed.

“Sit down, I’ll put a cuppa on.”

Dawn worried about her friend and made the tea quickly. She decided it was time for those American-style cookies, she knew Sarah liked them and probably hadn’t had any for ages.

“Tell me all about it.”

Sarah sniffed, “Well, you know we’ve been having money problems?”

“I thought you might.” Dawn looked at her friend’s gaunt face, and tried to ignore the ragged clothes.

“Well, the thing is. After I lost my job, and then Stephen did too, well we thought we could get by. So I’ve been looking for work. I signed up, but it’s a pittance you get these days, and you have to prove you’re looking. So embarrassing. I had a good job!” She wailed.

“There there love, have a biscuit.”

Sarah had been holding back out of politeness, or fear perhaps. She hoovered up the first cookie, and then the next one.

“So Sarah, what we need to do is find you a proper job again and you’ll be fine.”

“Oh no, it’s too late.”

“Why?”

“It’s Stephen, I think he’s done something drastic.”

A cold weight settled in Dawn’s stomach, she asked, fearing the answer, “What?”

Sarah just sobbed. Dawn, who usually had the patience of a saint was tiring of the tears, changed the subject, and soon had Sarah talking about her little ones. Hours of gossiping later and Sarah had calmed down. Dawn was considering whether to mention Stephen when the doorbell went.

“Who can that be? I’ll be back.”

Opening the door she stared in shock.

“Hi Dawn.”

“Ah, Stephen.”

He wasn’t dead. But, his face?

“Sarah here?”

“Yes, would you like to come in for a cuppa?”

“I’d love one. Hopefully a Thompsons’, they make the finest cuppa there is.”

“Err, it might be.”

When Sarah saw Stephen she burst into tears again.

“Dawn, have you some Fluffex tissues? They’re absorbent and soft on the skin.”

“I’ll look.”

When she came back Stephen was trying to comfort Sarah. Dawn was over the shock of his face, she’d just not seen anyone have burger and soft drink logos as tattoos before.

“Thanks Dawn, you’re a real friend. Real friends buy American Family cookies.”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Earning money Dawn. Saving just pennies a day for the best life insurance, from Geneva Life.”

Dawn looked quizzically at Sarah.

“He’s sold out…” More tears.

“He’s a brand bunny?”

“We prefer advertorially confident. Confidence comes from whiter teeth, try new Solar Gum Extra Extra White.”

Sarah gathered herself together, “It’s only for a year, and it pays enough for our expenses. If I get a job then we’ll soon be out of this hole.”

“Until then…”

“Every other sentence will be an advert sent to me directly via 5G ear implant. The new Strakia 15S, the phone made for 5G.”

Dawn looked at him with horror and pity, hoping she’d never, ever be that desperate.

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Tattoo Shortlisted by CreativeWritingMatters

My story Tattoo made it to the shortlist of the CreativeWritingMatters WoW! 2014 Short Story Competition, but didn’t place.  Which means I can share it here.  I wonder what my old maths teacher might say.

Tattoo

“That looks amazing.”

“Thanks, I think it really suits you.”

The girl picked herself off the table, still staring at her arm. The dragon stared back at her, and occasionally flicked its tail.

“How long will it do that for?”

“Well it uses your own muscle power to change the colours in the inks, so as long as you have the tattoo. Guaranteed for life.”

“Wow. Awesome!”

She paid and then carefully put on her jacket, suffering only a brief wince of pain. Georgy watched her, satisfied in another job done well. Things were finally going his way.

There were no bookings for the rest of the day, so he decided to take it off. He deserved a break after all the hard work he’d been putting in.

In the old days he’d have headed straight for the pub, but that wasn’t an option now. He went home and changed into his running gear. A nice run would be great, and then he could maybe get his head down studying for his tattooing degree. There was so much more theory he needed to get properly sorted in his head.

As he ran around the park, marvelling at how much fitter he felt, and just generally enjoying the autumnal air he forgot to focus on the path and nearly knocked an old man over into the pond. He caught him just in time.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Hmph. Well, at least you apologised.”

“Erm, Mr Aster?”

“Yes, I am,” The old man peered closely at him. “Is that Kevin Bailey?”

“Ah yes sir, but I call myself Georgy now.”

“Hmph…. Well as we’re not in school any more you should probably call me Tony.”

It felt really odd talking to his old maths teacher like this, but maybe it was fate.

“Ah, thanks, ah, Tony. How are you? Are you still teaching?”

“Retired this year. That’s why I’m spending the day walking round the park. Not much else to do and the wife complains I get under her feet.”

“Right.”

Slightly awkward silence, and then the old man said, “So, what are you doing now? Still avoiding an honest living?”

Georgy’s face reddened. The old man followed hurriedly, “Sorry Kev… Georgy, I didn’t mean to imply you were doing anything illegal. It’s just that you were always one to try and find the easy way.”

“No, no you were right. I used to hang with the wrong crowd. Always convinced working was a mug’s game. We did a few stupid things. But I’m clean now.”

Georgy showed the tattoo of a date on his arm.

“What’s that?”

“The last time I took any drugs or drank.”

“Nearly a year. That’s great, good work. So what do you do now?”

“I’ve got a real job. I’m a tattoo artist.”

Mr Aster looked a little askance.

“I know what you’re thinking sir, ah Tony, but it’s not just tats for drunk lads or hen nights. I did a chef’s hands yesterday.”

“Oh, why would he want them covered in, er, art.”

“Not art, no not at all, well, not solely art anyway. It’s one of these new smart tattoos, it tells you when you’re hands are completely clean. Let me show you.”

Georgy turned his left hand over and on the back was a small area which looked like a faint spider’s web.

“This is my example tat. So normally it’s almost invisible.” They were still standing next to the duck pond, and so Georgy dipped his hand into it. He pulled it out and the web was bright, almost pulsing fuchsia.

“It tells me that it’s got both bacteria on it, the red, and some dirt, the bluer end, hence fuchsia and there’s a lot which is why it is so bright.”

He then wiped off the tattoo, and it went mostly red.

“Now it’s saying that although it looks clean, there’s still some bacteria on it, and I really should wash it properly.”

“That’s amazing. Didn’t have anything like that when I got my tattoo. What’s it for?”

“The chef is a sushi chef, and is out on display in the middle of the restaurant. Given some of the recent scares he thought it would be a good way of reassuring his customers.”

“Clever.”

They lapsed into a more comfortable silence, when Georgy suddenly said, “You have a tattoo?”

Tony smiled, and rolled up his sleeve. On his arm was a heart with a date and initials.

“It’s the date I met my Betty. I was so in love with her. It really hurt. Does it still hurt like the proverbial?”

“A bit. We often put a little local anaesthetic on these days to reduce the pain. It cuts down on the number of people who insist on having their tattoo while drunk.”

“Ha, I think I was perhaps a little worse for wear when I got this one done.”

“Actually Tony I have a tattoo in honour of you.”

“Really?” The old man looked sceptical.

“Yes, I remember you telling me that I had to know my times-tables, that I couldn’t assume I’d always have my phone or other calculating device with me, whereas I’d always have my brain if I cared to use it. So I had this done.”

Georgy rolled up his right arm, and on the inside just near the elbow was a calculator tattoo, the set of buttons and a screen which was showing blank. Georgy then pressed the buttons, and the screen blinked and showed twenty-two.

“That’s simply incredible! How does it work?”

“Yeah it is. I don’t really know. The ink is kind of smart, and forms a mini-computer. All the lines have to be drawn when doing the tattoo, and it just changes the colours to give the result. Just like the chef’s hands.”

“And an old style calculator. I almost take back what I said all those years ago. Except, well, there’s just one thing?”

“What is it?”

“Three times seven is twenty-one….”

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Penguins Don’t Need Frying Pans

Sometimes a line just begs to have a story written about it, and this one was from a previous story.  I hope I’ve done it some justice.

 

Penguins Don’t Need Frying Pans

“I worry about your penguin obsession Dave.”

“I worry about your personal hygiene, but you don’t hear me going on about.”

“Funny!”

“Not really.”

Sadly I was only half joking, Sebastian really did have a bit of a problem. I idly wondered if there was an elegant solution to the problem, and realised there was: a girl. As I didn’t have one to hand I parked that to one side and went back to trying to remember what state I’d left my experiments in.

For a while there was silence as we walked back to the lab. Beaker was out today, so Julian and I had snuck out for lunch, and a pint or two. During lunch I tried explaining to him my theory about penguins. It hadn’t gone down well. To be honest it never really did.

“Look, sorry. I’m sure you’re right about tool-use being over-rated.”

“I’m sorry too. Though you might want to consider a hair cut…”

I smiled to take the sting out, and it seemed to mollify him.

“So, why do you think penguins will survive longer than we will?”

Was he just humouring me? Perhaps not, I’d try anyway, after all we had a little way yet to walk, and I was still buzzing from the pints of Portly Porpoise. The local brewery had bowed to the fashion of foolish names.

“It’s simple. Humans have become over-dependent on technology. When The Fall comes, we’ll be screwed. The penguins however, well, as long as there are fish, they’ll be fine.”

“The Fall?”

This was the bit where I usually lost people.

“Yes, The Fall. You know, when civilisation collapses. Plague, a comet, massive earthquakes or alien invasion.”

“Ah yes. The Fall.”

I was used to the knowing smiles. They always thought I was joking.

“Think of it this way. What is required for our society to continue to function normally? Large amounts of power. If that gets impacted in any way, bad things will happen.”

“I see what you mean.”

I’d lost him. Our conversation lapsed and we arrived back at the labs and parted company amicably.

That night I was heading home and as usual took the sky bullet. I mused that this was the heavy tech I was concerned about. Here I was, in a small capsule made from little more than cellulose, being blown along an invisible path by a targeted blast of air. The path was created using some form of projected electric field, and was in effect an airtight tunnel, and the push would send me hurtling along towards my destination.

I’d refused to use them for their first few years. I’d been afraid of what might happen if they went wrong. I now used them all the time; they cut my commute substantially.

The capsule trembled, and then started to fall. It seemed like it was no longer following a pipe.

The power had failed.

As the ground hurtled towards me I thought to myself that penguins wouldn’t have got themselves into this mess.

The capsule trembled, and then I was rocked sideways gently. The backup system had kicked in and a new tube formed around me, carrying me safely home again. As I sailed through the air once more, I reflected on the fact that penguins can’t fly.

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