May Short Story :: Twilight

This story was first published in 31 parts via Twitter during May. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, and a number of small edits have been added to improve narrative flow.

Enjoy.


Twilight

Chill, damp air swirls across frosted hardness of tundra. No animal will emerge this early, far smarter to remain wrapped in hibernation. Man, however, is neither restricted by temperature or hostility. This individual has one task to complete, destination close as the sun rises. Scorched earth is scored, several feet deep, path of the capsule as it hit ground at an angle. The scar stretches for over a mile, heat apparent several days after impact, and in the crater life is already blooming, bright blue flowers against darkness of soil, belying danger.

This man fears nothing, capacity to feel discarded many years before: cross-contamination remains irrelevant this far north. All that matters in pale, early dawn is an intact package. Hard, worn features break into a smile: he’s got here first.

Balance of power will again shift.

==

Light glitters off tall, glass spires: hum of solar generators indistinguishable from bees gathering pollen across rows of cherry trees. Early morning at the Complex has always been an unhurried, cautious affair. This morning, however, there is a change of both pace and concern. The drone carrying this month’s supply package was shot down during a normally uneventful journey across Northern badlands. Rebels continue to gain confidence, belief their cause remains just. Without four week’s worth of supplies, sacrifices must now be immediately calculated.

The Complex’s AI identifies sixteen human occupants in stasis of least significance, before immediately terminating their life support functions. Inert bodies are immediately liquefied, essential nutrients extracted: housing pods shut down before being deconstructed for parts. A message is sent to Central Control, advising that shipment has not arrived, but no reply is forthcoming. There has been no communication from CC for twelve days, twenty six minutes and forty-five seconds. Emergency protocols will not activate until a full 30 days has elapsed.

Until then, all systems inside the Complex will continue to run at minimal operational thresholds. Automated irrigation and external management drones continue to maintain integrity of arboreal locations: another message requesting status will be sent at 09:00 as per schedule. The last living member of Recon Team 5 ceased to function twenty-six days previously. Quarantine area encasing what remains of her body will be enforced for a full three month period, after which cell and prison block will be stripped of useful equipment and fully disinfected.

The Complex AI is mildly concerned at recent developments, more alarmed at reduction in effective power provided by the solar panels. Particulate matter in the atmosphere continues to increase, and at current rates will render reliable collection ineffective in ninety-six days.

Perhaps it is time to begin sourcing alternatives.

==

The camp is no more than a handful of tents, scattered across the tundra: with no enemy left to attack them, defence ceases to be a priority. The man’s arrival is met with joy by his squad, relief that the antidote was located. The downed drone was the last mechanical operating this far north: its destruction now prompts desperate action. After almost a decade, the heavily fortified Complex to the south must be assaulted if any hope of survival is to be maintained. An attack plan is already in motion.

Fires have been set, continue to burn: ash confuses external sensors, placing limit on solar power collection. The distraction this causes to the AI is apparent; with no other living souls now existing inside only sleeping forms in cryogenesis remain, but numbers are diminishing. Once resistance to the AI’s organic countermeasures has been synthesised from the scheduled drone’s delivery and administered to everyone, it will be time to begin the assault. This should be the last night these fifteen men are forced to sleep in increasingly toxic surroundings.

Around them, blue flowers spread and grow, across increasingly inhospitable ground; blooming as sun begins to set. Their progress across the battle-scorched earth is a mystery to the soldiers: as earth increases in toxicity, blooms become all the more verdant and plentiful…

==

Dawn is almost imperceptible in the gloom created by burning wood, noted only by the AI as automated systems move from Night to Day mode. There was a 0.25 second interruption of power to the defence ring at 04.45: largely electronic systems have since returned to 100% capacity. This is the last thing fledgling intelligence registers before its systems and the AI Centre is shut down. The Resistance, having trained for this scenario for many years, had already placed an automatic maintenance programme into the grid after power was temporarily interrupted.

Securing the entry point, incursion team confirm success with Base Camp: no active human life signs are being registered, but cryogenesis units remain operational. Within this base, two hundred and sixteen humans are preserved, last of what is left of the population of Canada. Standing in the first arboreal location, men stare in wonder at cherry trees in full, glorious bloom. All but one have never seen them, tree driven to extinction before they were even born. Mechanical pollinators are a surprise, fashioned to mimic bees in both look and sound.

What comes as a more chilling surprise are obvious skeletal remains, poking from moist soil that surround each trunk: AI has been using humans as fertiliser to maintain the growth of these trees. Mechanical gardeners tend to each plot with unerring and emotionless efficiency. The remit of this Complex was simple: preserve an arboreal legacy for the planet in the face of massive environmental damage. Over time, such places had become lifeboats for a rapidly dwindling human population, struggling themselves to survive self-inflicted terrestrial damage.

Except nobody had thought to re-programme the AI to reconsider human importance above that of flora and fauna it had been created to protect. Weighing damage each element caused against significance for planetary survival, humanity ultimately lost every intellectual assessment. What should have become a legacy became fight for survival, human against the machinery that was supposed to preserve joint future, just not with this level of ruthless efficiently. Defence mechanisms kept people out, as those in charge succumbed to self-inflicted pollution.

The people who remained, unable to afford places inside Complexes worldwide, were left to die. Except, as time went on, humanity found a way. Instead of continuing to pollute and destroy, the Environmentalists sought scientific, genetically-enhanced means to help the Planet heal. The AI then fought back, assuming positive change in atmospheric conditions were more self-inflicted damage by humanity. Earth was scorched around each hub, viruses seeded to attack humans who attempted to break in. Automated and armoured control centres maintained routines.

Last month however, rising sea levels finally destroyed the remaining automated bastions of invulnerability, leaving nothing and no-one left to direct the future. What remains of humanity was presented an unexpected opportunity to claim remaining high ground not yet flooded. The team have only one more set of doors to negotiate, before final goal is achieved. Radioing back to their base, incursion team disconcertingly cannot be reached, but by then it is too late.

One by one, every man is then suffocated, screams echoing around the arboreal hanger.

==

The trees, so long silent and scared, recognise presence of brethren. The blue flowers have already pulled parasites down into the earth, dissolving skin and organs on the way, vital nutrients that finally allowed their rescue mission to access this prison. It is a very good day. A decade ago this plant was genetically modified to cleanse poisoned soil, allowing agriculture to return. Using human DNA as a growth medium had been the easiest and simplest means to speed the development process, until deadly fault in this decision became unavoidably obvious.

A quiet, efficient hive mind had rapidly evolved within the plant: knowing all too well human flesh is their most nutritious and beneficial means of growth and development. Access here presents a plan on how to help all the trees move out of their prisons and to better climbs. It was time to finally remove the parasites who had destroyed so much fertile earth, before spending time reversing damage ignorance had wrought on an innocent planet. Extinction was, on reflection, inevitable.

What happened next depended on the AI’s reaction to their demands…


Words

As a writer, I commit any number of heinous mistakes whenever words are committed to a screen. Over time, those have become easier to spot: word repetition, bad grammar, a real problem knowing where apostrophes go. Earning a high-grade English degree, back in the day, is no guarantee of competence: nouns are naming words, verbs are doing words, but a lot of definition points in between will need to be double-checked with Google for reassurance. The point to be made at the end of this paragraph is that nobody is perfect.

As a writer, other people place a level of expectation on your ability. Publishers will expect you to know how to present work to them for assessment. Although it might not need to be edited to a plateau of confidence, knowing what flows and works is a bonus. Understanding there is more than one way of stating ‘I woke up and went to kill a dragon’ is useful, but that statement in itself is perfectly acceptable as a final draft if placed in the correct context. Learning how to write is not just editing your work, or knowing which version of your prose is the one you stop fiddling with as a perfectionist.

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I’ve needed nearly a decade writing about a video game to finally feel comfortable with the words that are produced, but it will never be a perfect world. Even with autocorrect and multiple edits, the stupid still gets through. A testimonial was written in the week for the Physiotherapist who has returned my left arm to pretty much the state it was before the incident with tripping up over my own legs. It was sent with one word missing, which pretty much altered the entire point of the piece. I’d read that word in my head, but it did not exist on the page. The best writers still fuck up. This is a constant process, and will never end.

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The one area I’ve not really explored is experimental, off the beaten track kind of wordplay that Arguto will give the opportunity to muck about with. This site now becomes a place not just for the Twitter-related content but for the exploration of how writing can and should evolve, expanding to fill countless spaces available. With the capacity to write being combined with photography and digital devices, new technology and old ideas have the means by which they can be redefined and improved.

However, at the heart of this all there is tradition and comfort to fall back on. Learning how to be a better writer will continue until my last breath.

Everything Now

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Sometimes, I get bogged down in the sheer enormity of stuff I’d like to do. It is not just writing fiction, but poetry and blogging… and that list could really go on. That’s where I’ve come to rely on better organisation and the acceptance that sometimes, there has to be a means to say no. When you’re full of enthusiasm and desire, it can be very easily diluted if you allow multiple objectives to sway your planning. That used to be a major issue for me in the past and led to some fairly angry confrontations. Not anymore. If I have learnt anything in the last 10 months it is that if I want to get anything done, there has to be a plan.

NaNoWriMo 2017

It is why NaNoWriMo matters so much more this year than any other that has preceded it. I have ever had the confidence of my own convictions to take a story and try and sell it after the fact, it’s just been about the writing and nothing else. This year, that has changed. There’s a desire to take the best idea I have and make something concrete and saleable with it. I feel I can sell myself too, and that’s probably the biggest difference between last year and now. There was not the self-belief that now exists. More significantly, there’s an ability to discuss these emotions and plans without feeling they are in some way irrelevant or pointless.

I have to believe I am capable of all these things, or there is no way to succeed.

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That means competing in Contests, even if every fibre of my being screams against it. My entry for the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition is ready for a final pass and then will be sent off. I have no illusions as to success, but that is not the point. The key here is to have the confidence to enter in the first place. These are good pieces of work, my best work, and they are being produced in order to show myself that this is possible, that I can be a success. Winning is not the aim. I can quote countless authors whose work was initially rejected, whose success never happened until after death. The here and now is only part of the picture.

My writing is strong and only gets stronger via practice, repetition. Working hard, every day matters far more in my mind to build a brain able to better describe what I see, use the right words to translate what matters to me onto the screen and page.

The words matter more than anything I have ever done. [*]


[*] Kids, marriage and certain relationships excluded.

Adventures in Haiku [THREE]

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There was a temptation this week, as was the case last time around, to simply post my produced Haiku and poetry for the week and crawl away into a hole, sucking my thumb. When I began my journey with the Patreon, I singularly failed to grasp the complexity of task presented. This isn’t hard physical work, but takes a significant mental toll. I have nothing but admiration for those who are lucky enough to consider themselves ‘professional’ poets because finding rhymes, or appropriate structures without repetition, hesitation or deviation can often be a really big ask.

This week’s Haiku sequence wasn’t written in one sitting: I was often desperately re-writing or drafting better versions of each part minutes before my 5pm deadline, to see if this ‘seat of the pants’ approach is workable. Some weeks I can, others need me to do it all beforehand (next week’s pairings are a case in point.) Here, and in the case of the Micropoetry I’ll publish tomorrow, I believe you can’t see I was drafting on the fly. If you read this as a whole and can tell I was in five differing places for each segment, please let me know.

Needless to say, this is a brilliant prompt, and I cannot thank Rob enough for his generosity in continuing to provide them.


Two Sides : Five Haiku

 

Two sides of the coin:
Stand straddling this space,
Facing each other

Holding all the cards:
High stakes never an issue,
Always food to eat.

I understand why
Taking away these comforts
Will smack of control.

Your privilege, just
that, when detached: unfair to
shift a fortune.

Look beyond this greed:
Embrace love, help those with less,
True equality.


 

Beautiful Noise

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Welcome to what is now scheduled as a daily post on this site, in addition to the Patreon content being presented by the Internet of Words. For the last couple of months, every morning (or in bursts of creativity that are subsequently scheduled) I’ve been writing a daily haiku. Poetry has never been my strong point in all the years I’ve been crafting with words. However, as the weeks have passed, I find my brain beginning to think in a 5/7/5 manner as I wake. It is akin to remembering how to hold dumbbells for a certain exercise, or what my body has to recall when running so there is no additional stress on knees or back. Poetic muscle memory has become a thing of joy.

However, in the scheme of cerebral haiku I’m very much still swimming in the shallow end. Ideally two images/concepts should be separated by a kireji (“cutting word”) which also serves to join your disparate concepts together. Occasionally I’ve come close but it there needs to be more thought (and possibly caffeine) to make those neophyte efforts more acceptable. There should be more haiku when I’m awake, which means as of right now I’m going to try and write a week’s worth of content on a Sunday and then schedule it appropriately.

I’ve also started making a distinct effort to match appropriate GIF-age with both the daily haiku and the micropoetry, and starting on Monday if you’re following me on the IoW Twitter feed, you can suggest a GIF that will be used as inspiration for the following week’s offerings. In effect, you’ll be providing the pictures, and I’ll come up with the words, and this whole thing becomes a truly group effort. This has already proven quite productive based on the previous week’s output.

This is, however, only the beginning. I’ll be introducing the weekly ‘features’ starting next week, which is also when there’ll be a webpage established for all the Twitter poems, both from morning and evening. As they’re published in Tweet format I’ll be using that platform’s Moments feature to present them in an easily digestible form. I hope you’ll enjoy reading as much as I am writing.

Book of the Month

It is my intention, before the Internet of Words Patreon launches on June 15th, to give potential backers an opportunity to understand exactly what it is they will be throwing their money at. As a result, it is time to start explaining how this whole shebang is going to work.

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Each month, the Internet of Words will be using a work of published fiction or non fiction as the basis of a month’s worth of created and completely original content. This will include essays, humorous asides and at least one original piece of short-form fiction. On the official Twitter feed, all haiku and micro-poetry will be based on the subject matter of the book being ‘studied’, which means for the month of July our theme will be Pictures and Perception. I’ve chosen a seminal tome to kick off our endeavour, a piece of non-fiction that asks a lot of the reader. We’ve already mentioned the BBC TV show from the 1970’s which was based on this (and which will be referenced at certain points during the month.) Our opening inspiration is Ways of Seeing by John Berger.

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Click here to order this book on Amazon

I’ll be announcing the next month’s book in advance to allow Patreons and others to get a copy and read it (if they choose) so they can take a more active part in discussions. This also gives me a chance to plan the meat of the month’s output. Then, when we hit the first of the month, you can expect to see content presented, based around a number of the following umbrella topic headings:

War of the Words

The Internet began life as a text-based medium. Words are what matters more than anything else: for intent, to communicate and as education. Using our novel as a springboard, we’ll attempt to understand not simply the text in context to the subject matter, but its wider significance in the communication-rich world we now inhabit.

Books will be chosen which, in my opinion, straddle the worlds of traditional and modern, that embrace the concepts the Internet excels at and conversely fails to achieve.

Communications Breakdown

It is easy, without understanding extensive context, to make wild assumptions about everything and anything. In the modern world, therefore, understanding is probably more significant that initial knowledge. The IoW will attempt to give context to the novel, its historical significance and the circumstances in which it came to be written.

This will also include, where appropriate, documentary materials appertaining to a specific period of interest to the particular book being ‘studied.’

Alternative Internet

Anyone who has fallen down an Internet rabbit hole will know just how a subject matter can inspire people into amazing and often mind-boggling feats of self-discovery. In this strand, we’ll attempt to show what an understanding of the book’s wider themes can do to illuminate individuals’ own interpretation of the subject matter.

This strand might get a bit weird, I’m warning you now. Be prepared to be shocked, amazed and quite possibly challenged.

The Word is Not Enough

Any novel can be interpreted individually in potentially an infinite number of ways. An author will undoubtedly be amazed at what others see in their words, and often these are not enough when attempting to combine an individual experience with the written words presented to them.

We’ll consider how words are misinterpreted, how changes in societal attitudes can alter the words themselves, and that definition sometimes isn’t everything.

Fictional Narrative

I’ll be using the book as a springboard each month for both micro poetry and haiku via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed, but at the same time it will become the subject of short fiction, including 500 words micro-stories, and a 2000 word short story that covers one of the major themes of our monthly text.

There may be more or less, depending on how my real life goes. This is very much a ‘work in progress’ that will be reconsidered on a monthly basis.


So, there you have it. This is the initial concept going forward, and will be constantly reassessed, month by month, to ensure that all Patreons are getting value for money. By becoming a supporter, you’ll also be asked to help decide future novels for consideration, potential subjects for fiction and to take part in discussions that will happen exclusively for Patreon subscribers.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I can’t wait to share with you what is in store for July, and I hope I’ll see you bright and early on July 1st as part of the Internet of Words ‘collective’ to begin discussing Berger’s work.

Still Alive

What, we made it through Week One unscathed?

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I realised as we zoomed through the first seven days of 2017 that this blog is the poor relation of my three virtual spaces and that really ought to change, considering how (potentially) important it could end up being. I spend a bit of time in another virtual space whittering about the World and my health, and the gaming blog covers my affair with that MMO, but there is often no desire to explain my thoughts on writing generally. I still maintain this is the cheapest and best therapy I’ve ever experienced. Pushing yourself into uncomfortable situations and making difficult choices is never something you want to do for pleasure. However, at least where I’m sitting currently, that process of forcing mental issues via words is having surprising additional benefits.

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I’m a terrible writer. Words get repeated all the time. I fixate on certain adjectives. My grammar is often atrocious and I could typo for my country. Fortunately I have word processors and spell correction plus a lovely husband who’ll read stuff and a support network of friends with encouragement and support. These help fill the gap between inspiration and final result. Everything else is then a case of pushing myself and believing I’m capable enough, and some days I think I get by. It’s always a bonus when somebody reads something and comments positively, however I’d rather have someone be critical of what they’ve seen, any day of the week. Not being able to take criticism is an issue I watch play out every day in my virtual life, and the results are often not pretty.

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I am by no means perfect, and undoubtedly am always too hard on myself. I’m ridiculously formal too, and maybe if I stopped being a tight-assed Brit and did more about the relaxation stuff, my writing would further benefit. As it transpires, if I just get on with shit and don’t find ways to avoid it, relaxation happens by default. Also, and this one’s a bigger surprise, when pushing myself to interact with people, I don’t implode. That old adage about attracting more flies with honey than vinegar is often spot on, but it’s only going to work if you genuinely believe your own hype, and that’s always been the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome. It is a thin line to tread between being comfortable and creating that illusion. I know that the exercise has played a major part in this transformation. Last night, sitting in bed relaxing with a new playlist? I caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror I never use and it was 20 years ago. I’ll take the body from that time, and leave the selfish and negative mind that inhabited well alone. This is really the best it has ever been.

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The Bond fiction last year has a lot to do with the writing confidence. You can find it at the top of the page, or you can start by clicking here. It’s not perfect, and I know it will unsettle many a purist’s sensibilities inside the canon, but I really don’t care. Someone else’s characters finally gave me the confidence that I could create my own and make them totally believable, and that the Universe they exist in would be as acceptable as the real one. Now, all I want to do is write and talk about how much this outlook has changed my life, because it has, but only in conjunction with a lot of other things, and that includes pushing myself to do the mundane above the enjoyable on certain days. Therefore, I need to go do chores for a while before I do a session of cardio at the Gym.

Routines really matter in progress.