Throwing a Stone at Spacetime – a science fiction short story

Image by Benjamin Balazs from Pixabay

The ground fell away and I fell up, conflicting gravities hurling me in unnatural directions, twisting my spine until I screamed. I scrabbled at the wall of the laboratory, trying to cling to solidity, and instead grabbed a single loose stone. To my left, Victor gasped as his body expanded, contracted, expanded again. He opened his mouth, and the sound tore the world in two. Where he had stood there was a gap in reality, and I fell straight through.

~

Then it was three days earlier and the lake lapped at my ankles as I tossed a stone up and down. I pushed aside the nameless dread dragging at my mind and flung the stone. Ripples slid across the still water. Here, half a mile above the accelerator, birds sang and the sun shone on the trees.

Another stone, flung by Victor this time. Its ripples intersected with mine in the lake, made taller peaks and deeper troughs, a complex and compelling pattern.

“That’s the purpose, you see,” he said, flinging another stone. “Not to see what rules a new big bang gives its universe, but to watch how they intersect with our own physics, to find out the meta-rules.”

~

A ripple in those rules scooped me up and forward in time. I’d grabbed a wrench and slammed it into the accelerator’s control panel. Shards of glass flew, only to be swallowed by a darkness inside the machine. That darkness was distorting the world around it, ripping panels from the walls, sucking in air, bending light and sound and turning one into the other. It tugged at me.

“Run!” Victor shouted.

“Where to?” My voice soared and plummeted through the reality wave. “You think anywhere is safe?”

The wrench melted like ice in an inferno, then became a wall of screeching sound, and I tumbled through a gap in time.

~

I was back by the lake, in my lab coat, watching the sun rise. A gentle breeze stirred the water and ripples ran all the way to the shore. They caught a fly buzzing too close to the surface, swallowed it whole.

“Come on, Frank,” Victor called from the entrance to the facility. “We’re going to fire her up.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. There was a stone in my hand, but I didn’t remember picking it up. My back ached and I didn’t know why, though I was sure there was something to remember.

“It’s going to change our understanding of the world. Of course it’s good. Now come on…”

~

Another ripple. They were coming quicker, shorter, closing in on a single moment.

~

In the lab, the machines had started, lights blinking and motors humming. Victor’s triumphant smile faltered as the console shook.

“This isn’t meant to happen.” He stared at the black orb spinning in the centre of the accelerator. “The energy field should hold it in.”

“The energy field only works as long as the law of physics do,” I said. “We have to shut it down.”

“I tried.” Victor flipped a switch back and forth. “Frank, I think I fucked this up.”

The orb pulsed. Our broken reality tossed me back.

~

I was in the corridor, following Victor to the accelerator. Dread closed around my heart like cold fingers around a stone.

“Please, Victor,” I said.  “I have a bad feeling about this. We should wait until another day, run through the theory again, work out what we might see.”

“Why run the theory when we can see the reality?” Victor flung a door open, shaking the frame. “Science is based on observation, Frank, and we need something to observe.”

The ripples were closer now, so close I could see over them to the looming disaster. There was a stone in my hand that I hadn’t picked up.

I grabbed Victor, but he shook me off and flipped a switch. The accelerator hummed into life.

“This is it!” He grinned in triumph.

I flung the stone, aiming straight at the glass. Victor caught it out of the air.

“Calm down,” he said. “Everything will be fine.”

~

Forward a fistful of seconds, to his first look of doubt.

~

Then back to this moment, as he dropped the stone and shook his head.

“You’re such a drama queen.”

“You don’t understand.” I squeezed something cold and hard in my hand. “Once you throw a stone, you can’t take the ripples back.”

“Good. I want to change the world.” Victor looked through the glass as a pinprick black point began to expand. “This isn’t what I was expecting. What do you think it means?”

***

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***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Life’s Horizon – a science fiction short story

Office block construction site at dusk.
Image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay

Wind whipped through the skeletal office block, whistling through the gaps between girders, tangling McCoy’s hair as she strode along an exposed beam. She knew that her footing would be good despite the darkness, had known it for a decade, since the agency planted a spike in her brain and the future rolled out before her like an open road, every step of her way clear to life’s horizon.

She stopped a few paces from where Kidman sat, his legs dangling over emptiness, a bottle of imported Russian vodka sloshing in his hand.

“You’re wasted again,” McCoy said, her disdain concealed beneath the calm that came with inevitability. She always used the words or actions she had foreseen, because by the time they arrived, they were the best choice. She would catch a falling child, ram aside a robber’s car, offer precise words of guidance, because she knew what followed.

“How insightful,” Kidman slurred through gritted teeth. He was on more than just booze; she knew that from next week’s autopsy report. Kidman had been killing his brain all year.

“Why?” She had to ask, so that she could hear the answer coming. “You know it messes with your spike.”

“Exactly.” He swung his hand for emphasis. The bottle slipped from his fingers, tumbled through the air, and smashed on bare concrete seven floors below. His laughter was a caged animal howling for release. “Should have seen that coming.”

He started to sob, his body heaving, slender fingers pressed to his face. McCoy laid a hand on his shoulder and the tears slowly subsided.

“How do you live like this?” he asked. “No novelty. Every day predictable.”

“You went to school at Eton, didn’t you?”

“S’right. Then Cambridge. Best years of my life.”

She squeezed his shoulder again, pre-empting another round of tears.

She could barely imagine Kidman’s upbringing, sheltered behind the walls of money and power. The holidays, the parties, the gifts, the casual acquaintances whose names were splashed across the headlines. His life had been an amusement park, and he never had to wait in the queue.

McCoy drew two cigarettes from a pristine packet, lit both, and handed one to Kidman. She took a deep, satisfying drag on the other. This was one of the benefits of knowing how she would die. Cancer had no place in her future.

“Do you know where I grew up?” she asked.

Kidman shook his head. Of course he didn’t. In his world, people talked about themselves instead of asking about others.

“Council estate in Salford,” she said. “A concrete flat up six flights of stairs, past a lift that never worked. Three of us kids wondering every night whether there would be food, whether dad would be sober enough to hit someone or if he’d pass out on the couch. Social workers did what they could, but none of them stuck around for long.”

She took a drag from the cigarette. It was comforting, not just the warmth of the smoke, something she hadn’t tasted in years, but knowing that she would do this, anticipating the nicotine rush and then feeling it for real.

“That’s sad,” Kidman slurred. “We should be fixing that shit. You an’ me, superheroes. Using our powers to change the world.”

“We do.” McCoy tapped out her cigarette on the side of the girder, then pocketed the butt. She left no trail when she was on the job. No-one else should have to clear up her mess.

She had cleared up others’ messes when she joined the agency, including the shit show that was staffing. Thanks to her, they recruited people for whom predictability was a rock of reassurance in a dark and chaotic world, people suited to the spike. But every so often, they were lumbered with some rich kid convinced that he was the exception, whose daddy could pull the right strings to get what he thought he wanted.

People like Kidman, who bitched and moaned, drank until their spikes stopped working, their misery drifting like a toxic fog through the agency. Then the futures got darker as morale faded and good agents lost their way.

“It’s the only time I can’t see what’s coming,” Kidman said, tapping another bottle he’d drawn from inside his coat. He unscrewed the lid, chucked it into the darkness, and took a gulp.

“It’ll be okay,” McCoy said, resting her hand on his shoulder again. He leaned his head, dampening her fingers with his tears.

Ahead of her, she saw sirens screaming through the night; policemen listening sympathetically to her story; headlines describing the tragic accident that had killed the son of a peer. She saw the knowing looks of her colleagues, any one of whom could have been in her place. She felt guilt, burning like poison in her gut until it faded with the passing of time.

She looked over the edge into darkness, then slid her arm down Kidman’s back and pushed, as she had always known she would.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

I’ve also got a new story in a magazine this week. “It Will Have Its Way”, a historical horror story set in post-war Berlin, is in the new issue of Aurealis, Australia’s longest-running small press sci-fi and fantasy magazine. Aurealis #141 features stories from A. Marie Carter and Benjamin Keyworth, as well as non-fiction and reviews, all for only $2.99, so go check it out.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

We Will All Be Colby – a science fiction short story

For my first week in the labour camp, the name of Colby was a mystery to me. I heard prisoners use it as a curse when acidic sap spattered their cheap radiation suits. Others shouted the name in excitement when they found a scrap of meat in their stew. The guards flinched from the word, but the guards always looked uncomfortable, like they were the ones being punished. It wasn’t until the sixth night, as we lay in our bunks in the dark, that Jones explained it to me.

“The legend is that Colby was one of us, back in the early days. Seemed like a quiet guy, did his hours, kept his head down, made believe he might make it back to Earth alive. This was before the rad suits, when they slathered prisoners in sunblock and told them that would keep them safe.”

“Safe from the radiation that made this?” I asked, waving incredulously toward the mutated jungle beyond the bars of our cell.

“In case you haven’t noticed, safety standards aren’t high around here. Only reason they upgraded us to rad suits was that it’s more cost effective.

“Anyway, this Colby, he plays things quiet, bides his time, watches for an opportunity. Then one day, he flips. Cuts the tracker out of his shoulder. Breaks his manacles. Starts hacking up guards instead of vines. Leaves three of them in the hospital and runs off into the jungle, never to be seen again.”

“He must be dead by now.”

“He should be, sure, but people say he found a way to make his own sunblock, stuff that would really protect him. They say he lives off jungle fruit and what he can steal from supply wagons.”

“That’s bullshit. You’d have to be some kind of mad scientist to make a rad blocker from these plants.”

“They say that’s who he was. A brilliant chemist, locked away with the rest of us thugs.”

“More bullshit. Why would a guy like that end up here?”

Jones’s bed shifted as he shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe he poisoned his wife, or built a bomb, or just invented a colour of paint they thought was critical of the government. You know how the system goes. What matters is that he got away.”

I lay there for a long time, thinking about Colby, ragged and smeared with home-made rad-block, feasting on jungle fruits. For a moment, it seemed like there was a way out. But then I shifted my leg and the manacle scraped my ankle.

“Bullshit,” I muttered, before rolling over to sleep.

*

The one time I saw Colby, I was at the edge of the jungle, sawing down a tree by hand. That was how it all work. They gave us manual tools, and shitty ones at that, so we couldn’t use them to escape or attack the guards or whatever other paranoid crap they thought we could achieve, chained and tagged and light years from home. It didn’t matter to them how long we took to clear space for a settlement. The real colonists were years away.

This was before I’d got used to the struggle, before I’d turned my bureaucrat’s body into that of a grizzled labourer. My muscles were aching and my hands were blistered. I paused, hoping to snatch a couple of minutes rest before the guard noticed and offered me the choice between work and a beating. I’d already gone through the change that mattered, the abandonment of hope. All that remained was to decide between acceptance or ending it. The thought of thirty to life in this hell hole made the ragged saw blade appealing.

A movement in the jungle caught my attention. Someone was staring at me through the trees, a tall, wiry man in the stained and ragged remnants of prison overalls. Something dark and sticky was smeared across his exposed skin and matted hair. He stared at me with wide eyes and pressed a finger to his lips. I looked around, checking in case any of the guards were nearby, and when I looked back, he was gone.

But he was real. I was sure of that much.

*

In another time, another place, we might have become a cult to Colby. Sneaking away from work to the stump of the tree, close to where I had seen him, leaving scraps of food or small stolen tools, gifts to our ragged hero. We could have turned as crazy as he looked, gifts turning into offerings, words of hope into prayers.

Instead we’ve become a conspiracy. Slowly, surely, we make our plans. Tallies etched in the wood of the stump, diagrams scratched into the back of thick jungle leaves, supplies set aside for our escape, they’re slowly accumulating around Colby’s altar.

Now we know that you really can live in the jungle, another change has come over us. One day soon, we will all be Colby.

***

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***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Uncle Grigori’s Alien Toe – a science fiction short story

Photo of starkly lit jungle.
Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

“Urgh, enough of this crap.” Vlada pushed her plate across the table. “Am I the only one craving meat?”

Jayden, the exploratory team’s token American, gave a rueful chuckle.

“I know what you mean. I’d kill for a burger right now.”

“Not burger. Proper meat. A steak. Some chops. Not endless leaves and vat-grown proteins.”

“You both knew what you were getting yourselves into,” Tatiana said with the calm, reasonable tone that had earned her position as commander. “This is a research mission, not a colonial one. Two years of running tests and only eating what we can grow in the habs. Everything else has to wait until they send settlers from Earth.”

“We know there are animals out there.” Vlada pointed through the window to the alien jungle surrounding their outpost. “And thanks to our tests, we know that their proteins are compatible. Why not eat one?”

“Rules are rules.” Tatiana put her plate in the sink. “You two finish your dinner, then get out there and set the new sensors. I’m heading back into the lab.”

Once she was gone, Vlada set her fork down and looked at Jayden with the intensity she normally saved for games nights.

“You know how to shoot, right?” she said.

“Just because I’m American doesn’t mean—”

“It’s not an insult. I shoot too. The point is, we’ve got guns in the equipment locker, just in case. Getting a proper look at one of those creatures would have scientific value, and if we get to eat the meat afterwards, well…”

“That’s just a bonus.” Jayden grinned. “I like it.”

“Even though the commander won’t?”

“I’m American. We like to play the rebel once in a while.”

*

The body lay amid the large, purple leaves that covered the forest floor. One limb was stretched out past its head, as if grasping for something just out of reach. Blood ran, thick and dark, from the hole in its chest.

“I knew they were bipedal,” Jayden said. “I just hadn’t expected it to look so…”

“Ape-like,” Vlada said firmly.

“Right. Ape.”

Jayden lifted one of the forelegs, with six long toes stretching out from its bald paw. One of those toes was opposable. Better to think of them as forelegs rather than arms, just like it was better to think of the creature, with its bare face and large empty eyes, as being ape-like instead of anything else. It didn’t help that he’d managed to shoot one of the smaller ones, six feet tall and without the scales that sometimes sprouted from their backs.

“Here,” Vlada said, offering Jayden a broad knife. “You killed it. You get to make the first cut.”

“Um…” Jayden ran his gaze over the carcass, trying to work out where the best meat would be. The problem was, the more he looked, the less he thought of it as a carcass and the more it seemed like a corpse.

“You do it,” Jayden said. “You’re more experienced than me.”

“Weak-ass Americans.” Vlada snorted and knelt down in the squeaky purple leaves. She tipped the creature’s head back, exposing the throat. “Those eyes, though.”

She rolled the head, so that they wouldn’t see its face. That only drew attention to the mass of brown hair, the sort of curls a model would have killed for.

“Down here,” Vlada said, moving here attention to the legs. “It will be just like ham.” She pressed the point of the blade against the thigh, then hesitated, staring at the creature’s bare feet. “Look at that. It has a callous on its toe, just like my Uncle Grigori.”

Above their heads, trees swayed. In the distance, a winged creature sang as it soared above the trees.

“You can’t do it, can you?” Jayden asked.

“Of course I can.”

“Go on then.”

“You go on. You killed it.”

“And now that thought makes me sick.”

They both sat back, the knife abandoned, staring at the poor, limp body.

Jayden ran a hand over his face. “Now what do we do?”

*

Tatiana was waiting when they emerged from the airlock into the hab, their shoulders slumped and their gazes downcast. She looked pointedly at the guns and the knife hanging from Vlada’s belt.

“I hope you idiots at least took measurements before you butchered it.”

Vlada tossed her a sensor box full of photos and biological readouts.

“No butchery,” she said. “We buried the corpse.”

“You what?”

“We buried it,” Jayden said. “Had a prayer and put up a cross and everything.”

“You really are idiots,” Tatiana said, then laughed. “And here I was, all ready for a steak.”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

God’s Unblinking Eye – a science fiction short story

Taylor swaggered past the cheap, staticky holographic greeter and into the coffee shop. She was followed by Boon, the two of them wearing suits cut to hide their military augments. She would have preferred something more practical, in case their target caused trouble, but people asked fewer questions when you wore suits. Her boss had been clear, they needed to raise no questions.

The girl was sitting at a shadow-slicked corner table, her computer rolled out in front of her. It had no screen or projection. She wore mirror shades and a scarf patterned in staticky black and white abstraction, an affectation too far.

“Caz Crystal?” Taylor asked.

“What?” The kid didn’t look up, just kept typing.

“You’re coming with us.”

“Why would I do that?”

Taylor held out her ID. Boon opened his jacket just wide enough to flash the butt of his pistol.

“Use your fucking words,” Caz said, still typing.

“Fine. My name is Taylor Grant. I run security for Neon Blue Holdings. Ring a bell?”

Caz stopped typing for a moment, then started again. “Nope.”

It was easier to lie from behind a pair of shades, so Taylor snatched them off Caz’s face. In place of eyes were two gleaming silver orbs pierced by the dead black holes of inoperative camera lenses. Taylor glanced down at the computer and registered the braille on the haptic interface.

“Hey!” A barista said, pointing angrily at the shades. “Not cool. Give her those back.”

Taylor tossed the glasses onto the table.

“Neon Blue security. We have a policing licence.”

“Didn’t you bust up the living wage protest last month?”

“You want us to bust you up?” Boon squared up to the barista, who took a nervous step back, then scurried behind the counter and pulled out his phone.

“You’re coming now,” Taylor said to the kid. “And if we have to arrest you, then we’ll confiscate your fancy shades and your fancier computer.”

“Bitch,” Caz spat, but she rolled the computer up and followed them out.

#

Taylor leaned against the interrogation room wall, reading a copy of Caz’s file projected by a subdermal chip. The kid sat with her arms crossed, the shades back over her eyes, the lower half of her face buried in her scarf. From the corners of the room, security cameras watched them, the unblinking eyes of a corporate god.

“Second time you’ve hacked Neon Blue property,” Taylor said.

“You stopped providing tech support for my eyes. How was I meant to see without jailbreaking them?”

“Buy the upgrade, like anyone else.”

“You know the price of that upgrade?”

“I know the law, and I know you broke it.”

For the second time in as many hours, Taylor removed Caz’s shades. This time she took the scarf off too and dropped it in a crumpled heap.

“That’s better,” she said. “I like to see who I’m talking to.”

“So would I, but your employers took that from me.” Caz felt about on the floor until her fingers closed around her scarf. She laid it on the table and flattened it out, while her empty gaze settled on a space in the air past Taylor’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t drop other people’s possessions in the dirt.”

“And you shouldn’t hack other people’s drones.”

“It worked then?” Caz’s smile was knife blade thin. Her fingers stretched out across the table like they were feeling for an interface, a way to interact with a world she couldn’t see.

“As far as the press and our corporate partners are concerned, it’s just minor disruption at a depot.” Taylor leaned across the table into Caz’s space. The kid didn’t flinch. “But between you and me, you trashed shipments worth millions, and that’s not the kind of cost my employers can ignore.”

“You fuckers deserved it. You bankrupted me and left me blind.”

“You did that to yourself.”

“Really? So what am I doing to myself this time? Private prison perhaps, assembling your microchips for no wage, one more corporate slave?”

“Eventually.” Taylor cracked her knuckles, pulled out her phone, and brought up the controls for the security cameras. “But first, you need to learn a lesson.”

She tapped the icon to kill the camera feeds.

Nothing happened. She frowned, looked up, and saw the cameras pointing straight at her. A lock clicked and the door of the interrogation room swung open. A drone flew in and laid a rolled-up computer on the table.

“What the hell?”

Caz picked up her scarf and held it out to show the staticky pattern.

“Got this printed specially for today,” she said. “Read by the right sort of camera, the pattern turns into a code, which gets into your system and triggers another code planted by my last hack. One that couldn’t get past your firewall until you walked me in.”

She wrapped the scar back around the lower half of her face, ran a hand across the table, and found her shades.

Taylor fought the urge to hit the kid. She knew how this went, how bad it must be to have earned the big reveal. Suddenly, she was the powerless one.

“Ransomware,” she said. “Only unlockable by you, only from the outside, and only once a large crypto payment has triggered some digital switch.”

“Exactly.” Caz’s smile wasn’t a knife blade anymore. It was a banner announcing her victory. She unrolled the computer and ran her fingers across the raised symbols of its keys, which were lifting up and down, telling her what her program had found.  “Now, let’s talk about how you’re going to fix my eyes.”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Hearts Lost to the Sea – a science fiction short story

Image by David Shepherd from Pixabay

A rumble emerged through the howling wind off the sea. Half a mile down the coast, the cliff face fell, ancient stones tumbling as waves surged up and swallowed them.

Eamon’s fingers trembled as he tapped at his tablet. Rain ran down the screen, down his face, down the road in rushing rivulets that grew stronger by the hour. This storm was the worst yet and it was still rising.

A swarm of insectile robots scurried across the new sea defences, the ones Eamon had raised after the harbour was abandoned. The signs of his failure appeared and disappeared as the waters rose and fell: the broken walls of houses, the shattered windows of drowned shops, even the stumps of wind turbines out to sea. But this time he wouldn’t fail. He couldn’t fail. This was what he did. He was Eamon, and he saved the town.

“Eamon, we have to go!” Hannah grabbed him by the shoulder. Behind her, a lorry stood outside their house, one of the last to be evacuated. A neighbour was climbing into the cab, while another slammed the rear shutters down, and a third started up the car.

“No.” Eamon shook her off. “Giving up is how we got here.”

He squinted as the storm blasted his face, and made another adjustment to the robots’ instructions, sending them to reinforce the new sea wall. As they moved, a wave rushed up and snatched two of the robots away. A third landed on its back, legs twitching broken in the air. Eamon ran towards it, but Hannah grabbed him around the waist, and others joined in, dragging him back as a chunk of concrete blew out of the wall.

“There’s nothing left to save,” Hannah shouted over the wind.

“That’s my house!” Eamon said. “Our house. And Sammy’s house next to it. And a dozen more. We can still save them!”

Rain ran down the road where he had played as a child, carried away the dirt of his father’s flower beds, streamed across the front step where his mother had sat with him every summer morning, talking about what the town had been back in its fishing days, about what it could be again.

“One day, you’ll save this town, Eamon,” she had said. “I believe in you.”

Now his parents were gone, along with everyone else buried in the cliff top parish graveyard. But the house was still here, as solid as his mother’s faith in him. If it fell, that would be on Eamon.

“I love this place too,” Hannah said, tears running with the rain down her cheeks. “You think I would have come back to teach in our old school if I didn’t? But the town’s like that school, half into the ocean and the rest about to follow. You have to accept that. Better heartbreak than death.”

“I saved us once,” Eamon said. “I can do it again.”

Down the hill, waves crossed the broken sea wall and thrashed against the front of the souvenir store from Eamon’s tourist boom, against the arts centre whose funding he had found, against the estate agency he had coaxed back as house prices rose. His mother had been so proud.

“I knew you could save us,” she had said.

This was what he did. He had studied economics to drag them out of their decline, then engineering to save them from the rising seas. Everything he had ever been, everything he had ever loved, was here.

He tapped at the screen, sent the robots swarming to the gap in the sea wall. They clung to each other to stop the waves washing them away, while some extruded polymers to close the gap, to hold it together until the storm passed. They became a single mass, a part of the wall that buckled but didn’t give way. They were Eamon’s spirit, bending but unbroken.

Further down the sea wall, the concrete cracked and the water poured in. There were no robots left to plug that gap. The tablet hung in Eamon’s hand, a cold dead weight of useless electronics.

“I’m sorry.” Hannah wrapped her arms around him. “But please, for me, you have to come. You’re all I have left of this place.”

“I failed,” Eamon whispered.

“No one could have—”

“I failed!” The words were a howl of anguish. The tablet shattered as it hit the ground.

“Yes, alright, you failed here! But look at how much you learnt along the way. Imagine how much more you can achieve if you start working with others instead of trying to do everything on you own.”

“But this is what I do. I save the town.”

“Not this town. Not any more.”

The waves were surging up the street. The wall of the souvenir shop collapsed and its roof followed, tiles and solar panels sliding over each other into the water. Another chunk of the sea wall fell, taking Eamon’s robots with it.

“As long as we live, so will this place,” Hannah said, pressing her hand over his heart. “And who knows what other towns you could help save.”

Feet dragging, Eamon let her lead him to the car. As they drove away, he looked back through the window, watching his house disappear into the haze of a rain-drenched twilight. He remembered his mother on the doorstep, on her sickbed, in her coffin. Eamon trembled, and finally began to cry.

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Theories on a Riot – a science fiction short story

The city roared around Mutt. The sirens, the stamping feet, the chants of two opposing armies of protesters. In the next street over, frustration had just bubbled over into violence, coordinated chants turning into cries of alarm, the crash and thud of projectiles, someone screaming into a megaphone.

While the world was distracted, Mutt flung a brick through the window of a store and stepped in over the broken glass. He walked to the back of the room, where the latest eighty-five inch high definition TV stood in pride of place. The biggest and the best he had ever seen. It was going to be his.

A sound like the popping of a balloon drew Mutt’s attention to the cash register. Two guys were standing there. Both wore baggy pants and hoodies, with bandanas covering the lower halves of their faces, just like Mutt.

“How’d you get in here?” Mutt asked.

“Followed you.”

Mutt didn’t remember seeing them outside, or hearing anyone following him. But how else could they be here?

“Can we ask you some questions?” one of them asked. He pulled out a phone as thin as a sheet of cardboard and tapped the screen.

“You cops?” Mutt growled, glancing around for something he could hit them with, then deciding it would be better to run. “You gotta tell me if you’re cops. I seen it on TV.”

“We’re not cops,” the guy said. “Bro. We’re here rioting, just like you.”

He nudged his buddy, who started sweeping things off the sales counter and into his bag—pens, mints, fliers, worthless shit. Mutt watched them both warily. They looked kind of nerdy, pale-faced behind their masks, a little squinty, and they talked in that fancy way folks did on east coast TV shows. They didn’t seem quite right, but Mutt wasn’t going to let a couple of freaks get in his way. He started disconnecting the giant TV.

“Which side are you on?” the guy with the phone asked.

“Side?”

“Out there. Are you with the traditionalist-authoritarian movement, or the social equalitarians?”

Mutt didn’t know what those words meant, but he knew where he stood on events in the streets.

“Neither,” he said. “Politics is for idiots.”

He’d got the TV off the wall, but it was bigger than him, and that made it difficult to carry. He stumbled around, one end of the screen resting on the ground as he tried to get a solid grip. There was a flash, and he realised that the guy was pointing his phone at Mutt.

“Hey!” Mutt knocked the phone from the guy’s hand, almost losing his grip on the TV in the process. The phone hit the ground and Mutt stamped on it, but instead of smashing, it bounced back up, like it was made of rubber. “What the hell?”

“Sorry, do you have some objection to being photographed?” the guy asked.

“Do you think it’ll steal your soul?” asked the other guy.

“Don’t be a dick, Lucas,” the photographer snapped, picking up his phone and then turning to the increasingly bewildered Mutt. “He’s new to studying this era, and he got some weird ideas off his old supervisor.”

“Uh, okay…” These guys were creeping Mutt out. It wasn’t just their sharply spoken yet meaningless words. Their clothes caught the light in odd ways, and there were too many stars on the American flag of the first guy’s bandana.

“Tell you what,” the phone guy said, “if we help you with that televiewer, will you answer a couple more questions?”

He had to mean the TV, right? And Mutt was struggling to work out how he could carry it away. This wasn’t an opportunity he wanted to miss—the Superbowl was gonna look amazing on a screen this big.

“Sure, I guess.”

The two guys took hold of the TV, then one of them turned Mutt around while the other took some elasticated cords out of a shiny black bag.

“Lean forward,” phone guy said. “We’ll strap it to your back. Now tell me, why did you choose this as your artifact to loot?”

“You mean the TV?”

“Yes, the TV.”

“I want a bigger one.”

“So you weren’t targeting a particular company, its owners or investors?”

“No.”

“You weren’t trying to make a political statement?”

Mutt laughed. “Politics is for idiots.”

“Told you,” the second guy said smugly.

“Shut up, Lucas. My hypothesis could still be correct. We need to gather a broader range of data.”

“You mean you need a new thesis topic. Nobody in twenty-first-century studies will let you get away with this weak shit.”

The TV was firmly strapped to Mutt’s back now. Maybe meeting these guys hadn’t been so bad after all. They were freaks, but they were useful freaks.

“See you around.” Bent over beneath the weight of the TV, Mutt headed for the broken window.

“I doubt it,” camera guy said as a siren approached through the night. Red and blue lights lit up the broken store front.

There was a pop, like a balloon bursting.

A black and white car pulled up in the street and two cops leapt out.

“Stop right there!” one of them shouted.

Mutt tried to drop the TV, but it was too firmly tied on, and too heavy for him to run.

“Quick, untie me!” He turned around and found himself alone in the store.

“Hands out where I can see them!” a cop shouted.

Mutt groaned and spread his hands. Where were those freaks when he needed them?

***

This story is a sequel of sorts. A few months ago, I published a story about time travelling academics studying the destruction of Pompeii. Part of that story involved a time-travelling looter. In response, one of the readers on my mailing list, Vicki Barbosa, suggested writing a story about what happens when time travellers from the future run into modern looters. After letting the idea sit and stew for a while, here’s the result. I hope that you like it.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Voices on the Solar Wind – a science fiction short story

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Selene swam through the darkness of space, a single figure in a skin tight space suit surrounded by an energy bubble broad enough to catch the solar wind. She had been out here for three hours, far from the transport ship and the other surfers, coasting on the intermittent waves washing out from the sun. Today was a good day to surf the winds, but Selene didn’t want good. She wanted transcendent. She wanted an experience to make her forget everything else.

She toggled her coms and caught a brief burst of static, background noise from the same streams of energy she had been hoping to ride.

“Anyone think the currents seem funky today?” she asked.

If Matt had been there, he would have chided her for using words like “current”. The solar winds didn’t work like Earth winds or the waves in the ocean, he would say. Those were dumb metaphors that hid a more amazing truth. But Matt had burst his bubble riding a wave out near Venus, and only been found after his oxygen ran out. He had left her with nothing but tears, and she was damned if she’d let him shape her words now.

“Some odd swells, but nothing I can’t handle,” said one of the others — Tad or Tod or some name like that. She hadn’t clicked with anyone since Matt, and wasn’t going to bother learning their life stories. They would be gone in another year, or she would, so why bother? Only the sun stayed the same.

She left the coms open, letting the static of the solar wind crackle in her ears. Matt had said it was like music, that he could hear patterns and sense waves coming in those bursts of noise. Selene had never been able to hear what he did, but that sound left her feeling like he might still be out there.

Her energy bubble shifted, carrying her with it, as a fresh wave of pressure hit. She whooped out loud, losing herself in the moment, and flung out her hands, flattening the bubble to catch the wave. The energy field strained under the growing pressure and she picked up speed, hurtling through the void. This was what she still had: a thrill that was bright but fleeting.

The pressure wave passed and Selene’s bubble slowed down. She rearranged it for stability while she waited for the next wave, and listened to the sound of the wind, of particles colliding with her speaker system.

“…currents…”

The sound seemed to emerge from the static, as much noise as word. The voice wasn’t anyone Selene had come out here with, and none of them seemed to be on coms. It must be a chance thing, like seeing a face in a cloud, or perhaps a figment of her imagination.

Another wave hit. Selene stretched her bubble further this time, letting the solar wind carry her faster and further, reaching for a personal best.

“Selene, you okay?” That was the voice of Etsuko, who had arranged today’s trip. “Your bubble looks a little out of control.”

“I’m fine,” Selene said.

“Okay, just take care.”

Of course Etsuko had asked, she was responsible, but it wasn’t like she really cared. Selene barely knew the woman, they just happened to be riding life’s current together. That was all the world held now, strangers and the sun.

The pressure wave passed. Selene steadied her bubble.

Again, a rustling force seemed to emerge from the static “…funky…today…”

Selene blinked away tears. Was this what she had come to, searching for voices in the void because it was better than accepting that she was alone, better than living in a world where Matt’s voice was gone?

Another wave hit, more powerful than before. Selene howled in excitement, embracing the rush of movement that blasted away her sorrow. She stretched her bubble so wide and flat that her toes almost protruded from the back, and let the wave shoot her forward like a dolphin darting through the ocean.

A warning light flashed in the visor of her suit. The bubble was taking more pressure than it could stand. But she kept going, leaning into the wave, holding back the grief and the loneliness just a moment longer.

Her speaker crackled and sounds emerged from the static once more, not her voice or that of anyone she knew, a sound that was barely human, but still familiar words. “…anyone think the currents seem funky today…”

Selene twisted in her straining bubble and stared at the sun. How were her words coming back to her from there, carried on the currents of the universe? Was Matt reaching for her from beyond death? Was the sun itself speaking?

“…funky today…funky today…funky today…”

The words looped, coming around again as real as she was, no figment of her imagination but someone, something, trying to connect.

The red light flashed faster as her bubble approached its breaking point. Was this the moment to go out, to ride a wave to the end just like Matt? To leave behind whoever was reaching out for her, just like he had?

Selene reshaped her bubble. The light flashed down through amber to green and then winked out as her speed slowed. The words were gone, but she turned up the volume on her coms, straining to make out any sound amid the static.

“Hello?” she called out to a channel no one was listening on. “Is anyone out there?”

For several minutes, there was nothing but noise. Then an inhuman voice rose from the sea of static.

“…hello…out there…”

***

If you’ve enjoyed this story, then you can read more like it in my new collection. One Cog Dreaming collects all 52 of last year’s flash stories in one place for easy reading. There’s a shipwrecked sailor in a land of talking animals, a steampunk rebel in a city with only one rhythm, a spaceship hurtling towards disaster, and much more. A year’s worth of stories at your fingertips – what’s not to love?

Buy it now.

The Colour of the Trees in the Park – a sci-fi short story

Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

Tom was adjusting the leaves on old oaks when he noticed a gradation in their colour, an orange in the recesses that hinted at autumn rising through the last lush days of summer. Curious, he took off his glasses and his overlay disappeared, revealing the meatworld leaf. For a moment he wondered if the orange had crept through his holographic filters, riding on the back of the street signs, road markings, and emergency vehicles that had to be allowed unfiltered through ampglass, but the real leaf was a dull and disappointing green, with none of that rich, warm glow.

He put his glasses back on and his private world returned. The colour must be a glitch, but it wasn’t a bad one. Instead of over-riding it, maybe he should adopt it for all the trees, for a few weeks at least. It would add richness to his daily walk, the sort of richness that created his moments of happiness between days in the office and evenings home alone.

He walked to the next tree and took a leaf in his hand, thinking about how to give it that orange layer. His eyes widened as he saw that the orange was already there. He took off the glasses, rubbed his eyes, put the glasses back on again, but nothing changed. The orange wasn’t just a glitch in one tree. Nausea lay heavy in his stomach as he realised that someone had hacked his world.

Blinking, Tom glanced around. Other people were out in the park, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, chatting as they strolled around, people Tom didn’t know and had never cared about before. How could he possibly tell which of them had broken into his private space? Was the culprit even there? He clutched his stomach, his hand trembling at the thought of the violation.

Then he saw her, a woman in jeans and a superhero hoodie, frowning up at a tree he had turned silver the previous day. In his eyes, reflected light dappled her skin as she reached for a leaf, her face made all the more luminous by curiosity. Surely she wasn’t seeing what he did?

Tom approached with tense, jerky steps.

“What do you see?” he asked.

“That’s a very personal question.” The woman looked around, an eyebrow raised. “Who are you and why are you asking?”

“I just…” He licked his lips. “I’m curious.”

“Hm.” She stared at him suspiciously. “I see silver.”

“I knew it!” The words stabbed at her accusingly. “What are you doing in my overlay?”

“Your overlay? What are you doing turning my tree silver?”

“You put orange in mine!”

“The leaves needed more orange. It brings out the green.”

“Then bring out the green in your own overlay!”

A group of cyclists stopped to stare at them. Tom hunched his shoulders and leaned away from her, lowering his voice to a normal level.

“I mean, please stop changing my space.”

It wasn’t that he disliked the orange, it was the principle of the thing, the sick feeling at losing control over the world that was his, the one thing he could make perfect.

“This is my space,” the woman said sharply. “You’re the one trespassing.”

“I am not.” He whipped off his glasses and brought up his holographic frequency on one lens. He pointed from that to the identical number printed on the arm of the glasses. The woman leaned in, her long hair tickling his arm, then took off her own glasses and stared at the production number.

“Damn,” she whispered. “How did that happen?”

Each set of ampglass was meant to have a unique production code, a wavelength for the user’s holographic overlay. Though their glasses were in different styles, hers a cute yellow plastic, his a more traditional black, the digits on them were identical.

“Manufacturing mistake.” Tom’s mouth was dry. If there had been an error, then one of them would have to give up this wavelength, and it could be him as easily as her. He had spent months perfecting this park, and now he couldn’t bring himself to look at it.

“Just when I’d got the grass the way I like it,” the woman said, hanging her head.

“It’s really good grass.”

“And the sky’s a perfect blue.”

“I know. Why do so many people pick something brighter?”

“People are idiots.”

They laughed and he grinned at her sheepishly. She fitted in so well here in the park, beautiful yet relaxed, her laughter as lovely as the singing of the birds. She could almost have been something he created, except that he was seeing her without the benefits of ampglass. When was the last time he had spoken with anyone like this? He couldn’t even remember, and that thought made him unaccountably sad.

“I like the silver tree,” she said. “I’ll keep it if they let me keep this place. Might even copy it if they don’t.”

An idea uncurled inside Tom’s heart, like a leaf unfurling in the first thaw of spring.

“Maybe we could share, for a while at least. We seem to like the same sort of world.”

“Can we do that?” she asked, wide-eyed.

Tom shrugged and offered her a lop-sided smile. “Who’s going to stop us?”

The woman’s eyes lit up. She smiled and nodded at him, then held out a hand.

“I’m Amy. Let’s build a world together.”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Making History – a science fiction short story

Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

Chrissy turned slowly on the spot, taking in the sights of ancient Pompeii. It was hard to embrace its awe and beauty while smoke streamed from Vesuvius in the background, especially knowing what would happen on this day in history, but she kept reassuring herself that everything was fine, the time tether would snatch her and Domingo back to the 22nd century before the destruction hit, she just had to keep her head and make the most of this unique opportunity.

In a sense, it didn’t really matter what she saw. What mattered was the camera and other sensors in the amphora she was carrying, part of her disguise as one more slave running errands for her master. Her recordings would be pored over by historians for decades, turned into books and papers, imitated in games and entertainment streams. But for her personally, knowing that she could only ever visit this time once, it was an opportunity she shouldn’t waste.

“Got everything you need?” Domingo asked quietly as she finished a complete rotation, filming all the buildings around the square. The two of them had enough Latin to get by here, but communication was clearer if they kept their voices low and spoke in English.

“Finished,” she said.

“Then let’s move on to the next location.”

They didn’t need to discuss where it was. They had spent months planning for this, memorising routes carefully planned to maximise evidence gathering, in line with a funding application that had been years in the making.

A passing slave caught Chrissy’s eye. On the surface, he looked just like the rest, his skin weathered, his tunic made from authentic period cloth to an authentic period cut. But he smiled for a moment, revealing teeth that were whiter than any others she had seen since they arrived.

“Wait.” Balancing the amphora in one arm, she grabbed Domingo by the wrist and hissed in his ear. “Look, another time traveller.”

Domingo shrugged.

“Looters. You always get them in places like this, snatching antiquities before they get lost in the disaster.”

“He’s stealing from these people?”

“Probably, yeah.”

“And removing evidence future archaeologists could find?”

“Evidence future archaeologists didn’t find, because it’s gone.” Domingo started walking. “Come on, we’ve got a schedule.”
Chrissy nodded in the other direction, after the looter.

“We have to stop him!”

“Why?”

“Because he’s a thief. Because he’s ruining the evidence. Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Domingo gave the weary sigh of a veteran, which only aggravated Chrissy’s temper. He had only done two of these expeditions before, it wasn’t like he had some huge wealth of experience she lacked.

“Our job is to record this place for posterity.”

“Screw the job. We can’t let people like him go unpunished.”

Red-faced, she shoved her amphora into Domingo’s hands and strode after the looter.

“Chrissy, wait!” Domingo called out.

Chrissy froze. Around them, people turned to look at the slave shouting strange words in an unfamiliar accent.

“Sorry,” he said in loud, overly clumsy Latin. He pointed at himself. “From Gaul.”

People nodded and rolled their eyes, then went on about their business.

“What the hell?” Chrissy hissed as he caught up with her. “You know we have to be careful.”

“Which do you think will make more difference to our understanding of the world, catching that looter or completing our research?”

Chrissy stood with feet planted firmly, fists bunched at her sides, unwilling to concede the point. “Completing our research. But that doesn’t mean-”

“And which will do more to improve the world, having a rich, detailed record of this lost city, or stopping one guy nicking jewellery from people who will be dead in six hours?”

“If he gets away with this then he might do it again.”

“You’re right, and that’s not fair. But the question is, do you want to punish him more than you want to help all those historians and school kids and history lovers? Does your anger matter more than their understanding?”

Chrissy glared at him. Time was ticking away, either to do their research or to catch the looter. She trembled with frustration as her own calculations dragged her away from the answer she wanted to choose.

“Fine.” She grabbed the amphora from Domingo and stomped away up the street. “Let’s go make some history.”

***

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

***

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.