Like a haunting soundtrack to a distopian science fiction movie

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I bought the new album by Gary Numan “Splinter – Songs From A Broken Mind”.
It is a beautiful, dark, electronic and guitar sodden work of genius. This is the best he has sounded in years. No mean feat when you consider “Pure” and “Dead son rising” and how good they are.
My favourite track is definitely “Love Hurt Bleed” but the last track is what inspired my posts title.

The song is a beautiful, heartbreak. Well as far as I can tell by the lyrics anyway. Then half way through, the vocals stop and the music swells to fill the emptiness. What follows just paints images in permanent ink into my mind. Clint Mansells (vestan pance from his PWEI days) soundtracks are always amazing but if Mr Numan ever branched into that field, this is what I hope they would sound like.
Brilliant album…go give it a listen.

“Use the magic plant!!” – Arrow series one thoughts

So the amazing CazChaos and I finished the first series of Arrow the other night (I do not like the phrase “season” when referring to a TV show – they are series in my mind).  Spoilers abound – you have been warned.

My thoughts on it all are suprisingly positive.  I really did fear that they would “smallville” the whole Green Arrow character and turn it into a teen mope-fest, although the Green Arrow in Smallville was one of the bits I actually liked.  23 episodes of Olivers journey back from the island and becoming Starling city’s hero.  Most episodes were good, some very good and only one was awful – Firefly/bug episode 10 if you are interested.

Lots of comic references put into the show in an non-obtrusive way.  Ferris aircraft, Markov,Diggle, Bludhaven, Count Vertigo, Huntress, Slade Wilson, Shado, Black Canary and even Roy Harper are some of the ones that stood out for me.  At no point did the programme go into full comic mode (which to be honest In would have liked) but it stayed realistic in the same way that Batman Begins did.  That idea that if these people did exist in our world, this is how it would be.

The main cast were really good and the guy playing Ollie was even better than the smallville version.  Sexy IT girl was a personal favourite too.

The ending of the series was pretty well handled too.  Malcolm Merlyn chewing scenery in the last two episodes with relish.  Tommy being wrong and then right about him.  Detective Lance understanding the Hoods reasons (albeit in a turnaround that happened so fast it made almost no sense).  The final battle between the Merlyn and Green Arrow was really well handled too, although I would have liked some explanation of how Merlyn became such a good fighter.  Nanda Parbat perhaps?

Roy Harpers turn from petty criminal to vigalante wannabe was handled better than I expected.  Yes it still made little sense but it was not forced too much either.

Then the very end….Tommy dying and I am saying to the TV the title of this post.  C’mon Ollie if I can remember about them, then surely you could too.  A stake through the body would be childs play to a magic plant that can cure pretty much anything.

I may be joking.

So series 2 has started in the States and is on some satellite channel over here.  It will be about a year before it is released on DVD for me to actually see.  From what I have read, they are going in the right direction.  Black Canary (and please call her that and not female vigilante or something) will be in it and it is not who I thought it would be.  Roy will eventually be Speedy/Red Arrow (as long as he doesnt choose Arsenal….worst superhero name ever….ok not the worst but damn close!).

Plus John Barrowman…you cannot keep a Scotsman down….he has to be back

 

The return of McSwine – NaNoWriMo 2012 novel – “The World Is Wrong”

So we finally come to last years novel.  In it my favourite character Colonel Montgomery “Monty” McSwine returns and this time takes the main character role.  Created way back in my first Novel “The Search for Goth Disco” as an aside when i ran into a writing wall, he turns up in most of the stories I have written.  A 1940’s David Niven-esque Scotsman, served in the British Army during the second world war and is a cross dresser.  not in a sexual sense, just because he finds the clothing comfortable.  That was based on a couple of things.  The film Ed Wood, based on the famous (in certain bad film loving circles) cross dressing film director (seriously go and watch Glen or Glenda for a movie that will enthrall you with…why…wtf…wait!!!).  In the film, Ed tells a potential employer that he was perfect to direct a film about a transvestite because he had stormed Omaha beach wearing a bra and panties (or he may have parachuted somewhere…cant remember..sorry) because he found them comforting.  Also I had just watched an Eddie Izzard dvd where he spoke about Action Transvestites.  So the Colonel was born and he has stuck around for a lot longer than I ever thought he would.

There is the John Barrowman connection by the way.  A friend of mine (namechecked in the 2012 novel) suggested that if they ever filmed Goth Disco, John Barrowman would be perfect casting.  I had not thought about it until then….now I cannot think of anyone else when I write him.  Tall, good looking Scotsman – we could coach him from Glaswegian to Aberdonian accent-wise.  He would be perfect.

I digress.

Anyway when I sat down to write this novel, this opening had been forming in my head for a while.  I knew I wanted the image of a tall man in female evening dress (think the brass in It Aint Half Hot Mum in drag) walking into a Police Station and being told that he could not smoke indoors any more.  Oh the humanity!!!

The story that follows this beginning is one that really went all over the place.  From the streets of Aberdeen, where a high level conspiracy is being played out with utter contempt for the common people – to a moon-base that has gone dark.  I could quite clearly see a hot air zepplin style aircraft, sailing through outer space.  It included a robotic cat and a man from the 40’s, struggling to adapt to a more futuristic era, that somehow was less technologically advanced than his.

The title came from a misheard lyric from a Garbage song.  I thought it was a great lyric until I realised what it really said…then I decided my version was better.

So sit down, pour yourself a cup of something nice (you may need to stand up to do this…sorry!)

This is the first, unedited draft of “The World Is Wrong” 

 

The World Is Wrong

By
Paul Alexander Reaney
There is an envelope, locked in a safe, held within a room that not many people
are aware of. It has sat, locked away, for decades now. The instructions that
came with it have been passed down from specific person to person over all that
time. The degree of secrecy surrounding the envelope has been tightly
maintained over the years, such is the importance that this envelope and its
contents have. Only a select few are even aware that the envelope exists and
yet no-one know what it contains. It sits within that safe, secured with a series of
metal cogs and a matchstick thin padlock. The instructions clearly state that the
envelope will open automatically on a certain date and at a certain time. Any
attempt to open it before that date and time will fail. Despite all the warnings,
there have been teams of security experts who have tried. Tried and failed,
every single time. The last attempt had taken place over eight years ago and
had concluded with the following report.
“Just Wait”.
So the letter was left in the safe and certain people had kept track of the
countdown. Nothing was known about the contents of the letter, other than that it
was of the upmost importance for the protection and security of the country.
The latest custodian of the letter was the chief of police for Aberdeen. The
instructions that came with the letter had made it quite clear that the letter should
always remain in Aberdeen. Whatever it related to, was going to affect Aberdeen
first and foremost. Since the instructions had made it clear that the contents of
the letter directly referred to the safety and security of the country, the warnings
were taken seriously. Whenever the chief of police of Aberdeen changed, they
were always taken into a small secret room where they were briefed by a strange
figure. The importance of the letter and the security of the country was drummed
into them. This letter had been placed into the security of Aberdeen’s chief of
police, under the supervision of security chiefs of the highest order, way back in
nineteen forty eight.
The date on the letter and the time had been the constant all of this time. That
was when the letter would somehow open itself, probably using the metal cogs
and gears somehow and its contents would be revealed. That day was now and
the time was fast approaching. The chief of police stood at her window, watching
over the city as the night fell. The glistening granite buildings looked so alive
during the daylight but as the brightness fell, the granite seemed to suck all the
light in and the city took on a very grey and cold look. The whole feel of the city
took on a much darker overtone, although that was only if you didn’t know the
place. As the dark fingers of night spread further across the skyline, the city lit up
becoming an oasis of neon in the countryside. The cold was still prevalent, albeit
now as an actual feeling rather than an imagined one. People scurried about
their business outside and up above them all, watching like a benevolent ruler,
stood Chief Barbara “Babs” Gordon. At just a few months shy of fifty, she was one of the youngest chief of police ever in Aberdeen. Her rise through the ranks
had been a steady one. Nobody had expected anything less of this ambitious
lady but at the same time, no-one had thought that it would have happened so
early. Still she had earned her position and title through hard work. Bloody hard
work at times. When she had eventually reached this position, the previous hard
work all seemed to have been worth it. There had been failed relationships and
she had put off having children early in her career and then the chances never
came again. However, it had all been the way it had supposed to be, she
thought. She was destined to reach this position and everything that had
happened beforehand to her was all part of a grand plan. That was how she
explained it to people who asked if she missed being a mother. In some way she
did but overall, this was the path her life had taken and that was enough for her.
When she had been taken into the confidences of the security services and had
the letter explained to her, it had seemed incredibly surreal. Yet here was the
previous chiefs of police standing in the same room, confirming everything that
she was being told. It had seemed as if it was some sort of initiation joke that
was being played on her. Sometimes she still felt that this was the case and that
when the specified time and date arrived, the whole ruse would be revealed and
the joke would be on her.
Yet she had examined the letter on many occasions, turning the slim, cool metal
envelope over in her hands again and again. How could something that was
supposedly made back in the late nineteen forties, seem to be so technically
superiors to everything she had been taught about how society was back then.
The intricacy of the gears and the padlock was a beauty of engineering.
Certainly it looked as if it could not have been accurately constructed nowadays
yet alone back then.
Her desk clock alarm beeped twice. It was almost time. Moving back from the
window, she sat in her very old and comfortable leather chair and looked at the
letter sitting in front of her. She had toyed with the idea of waiting until the
specified time to remove it from the safe but there was an element of excitement
that had lain inside her as the date and time grew nearer. It felt almost like
Christmas and here she was with a present that she didn’t know what it was. It
was a great childlike feeling and she could not resist it. When she had arrived at
her office that day, she had managed to resist the urge to open the safe for
around an hour and a half. Just.
“Barbara, don’t forget the camera please”. A disembodied voice spoke through
the micro speakers that were hidden around her office. Of course, she had
forgotten about these. There were a lot of people who were waiting on the
outcome of this letters opening. Pulling open a hidden panel on the front of her
wooden desk, she entered in the code word and then heard the soft whirr of the
cameras switching on. The select few, who had known about this letter, were
watching and waiting. The feeling that this was all a joke sprang to her mind
once again. Was she about to be made a fool of on camera?
“Thank you Barbara.” The voice spoke again, the many years of tobacco staining
giving its intonation a deep woody sound, “Gentlemen, welcome to what we have
all been custodians of for so many years.”There was a murmur of agreement from the other watchers. Barbara knew some
of them, having met them briefly on the day she had been inducted into this
secret society. Others had stayed in the background, their level of involvement
kept secret from her, despite her level of security clearance.
“Good evening” Barbara spoke. Again came the various voices. There she was
on camera in front of all these people. All waiting for the opening of the letter.
She believed that she would have to read the contents aloud for them to hear.
This had played into her feeling that this was all a big joke at her expense. An
expensive way to take the mickey, she thought as the technology that was
installed in her room for this level of audio and video conferencing must have
cost many thousands of pounds.
A second alarm beeped from her desk clock. It was now time.
The click of the lock opening was just audible to her. The metal slid open and
then the gears and cogs started to turn. She was excited. Finally she would find
out what she had been a custodian of for all these years. The top flap slowly
flipped open, exposing a small thin box. It lit up and Barbara could hear music
playing. The tune was unfamiliar to her, a classical tune certainly but not one
she was familiar with. Words began to appear slowly, almost as if they were
burning their way through the metallic paper of the letter. As Barbara was trying
to make out the words, a flash of light shot out of the small box and formed a
figure of light standing in front of her desk. Looking up, she saw the figure was
clad in a long white lab coat. His horn rimmed glasses shone as if reflecting a
light source that was somehow hidden from her view. The figure was smoking a
pipe and the clouds of smoke that drifted from the pipes bowl flickered in and out
of view. The figure removed the pipe from his mouth and blew a stream of
smoke directly at her, the cloud fizzling out as it got nearer to her. Then he
spoke.
“Good Evening. Thank you for gathering here at this time and hour. The
information I am about to impart to you is of the upmost importance to the
security of this world.”
The voice was incredibly evocative of the old movies from the nineteen forties,
Barbara thought. Very proper pronunciation with just a very small hint of regional
accent shining through.
“We have been monitoring a phenomenon for the past few months that has
caused us some alarm. There is a darkness coming and when it strikes, we will
have to be ready. We have picked our best agent to combat this threat and he is
just leaving to start his mission. The threat is in my future, your present. We
have developed a basic form of time travel to allow us to send our agent to your
time, I’m afraid I do not have the time to explain how this is possible, so I ask you
to please just accept this. He will be arriving with you shortly. With him are all
the facts and documents that we have gathered about this threat. Please make
use of this information and give him all the assistance that he requires to
complete this mission. Your future is at stake here and we are the only ones who
can help you.”Barbara did not know what to say. If this was a joke it was a very cleverly
constructed one. The man puffed on his pipe, then slowly removed it from his
mouth and exhaled. He looked directly at Barbara and spoke softly.
“I must go now. Please understand that although we have been monitoring this
threat for a while now, we only have a very short time to prepare this response.
Our agent is the best there is but he…” there was a pause and the man rubbed
his brow before he continued,”..He had to leave us for your time at very short
notice. There was not enough time for proper preparation for him. Please
accept our apologies and don’t judge him too harshly. Good bye and the very
best of luck to you all.”
With that the figure disappeared and the room fell quiet. Barbara was stunned.
What did the man mean?
Downstairs at the Queen Street police station the reception had been relatively
quiet that evening. The two policemen were talking about the following days
shifts when the revolving door moved. In walked a man, carrying himself with the
poise and dignity that only comes from a life in military service. Six foot plus, he
strode across the floor towards the desk, his cocktail dress and feather boa,
flowing behind him as he did so. He reached the desk and smiled as he
removed the pipe from his mouth.
“Ah good evening gentlemen, I believe your top brass are expecting me. Colonel
Montgomery McSwine at your service”
The two policemen looked aghast at the man in front of them. Both long standing
veterans of the police force, they had seen many strange sights in their time, yet
this was a sight to behold.
Finally one spoke.
“I’m afraid it’s against the law to smoke in here sir.”

Real Life Influenced fiction – 2011 Novel – “The Secret Pigeon”

No you have not missed a couple of posts.  I did write a novel in 2009 but I was cocky and got carried away with what should have been a teaching experience.  I had finished with plenty of time to spare back in 2008, so I just assumed that 2009 would be a breeze. 

It was horrible.

I had an idea of somehow using the Jet Set Radio style of skate gangs and setting them in Aberdeen.  I took two main characters from Farenheight 451 and made them the two leads of my story and called the whole thing “Granite City Radio”.

Yeah ….I know!!!

Anyway it was awful and when I finished it, I just wanted to junk the whole thing.  I am pretty sure I do not even have a saved copy anymore.  The memory stick is long gone.

2010, I was very ill and should not have even attempted Nano….but like a masochist, I did.  Managed about 20000+ words before I had to call it a day.  Again I do not think I have any trace of this novel anywhere.  I cannot even remember what it was called.

So that brings us to 2011 and The Secret Pigeon.  The title came from a misread book title at my work (I think it was the Secret Nun or something).  I liked the weirdness of it and thought I could form a story around the title.  I did but not the one I wanted to.  You see I wanted to write a comedy.  I could not do it.  What flowed through the fingertips was a story about Depression and coping with it.  Life and Art intertwinted and I could only hang on until it was all finished.  I remember very early on knowing what the last line would be. 

“Grab your coat son, I’ve come to take you home.” 

Solisbury Hill by Peter Gabriel if you are wondering where that line came from.

It is probably my favourite of my novels.  I think over the whole story, it plays out pretty well.  Man thinks he is experiencing something out of the ordinary.  Doctors tell him that it is all in his mind. The ending is deliberately left vague to allow the reader to make their own mind up.  Along the way the good Colonel McSwine makes an appearance (actually going back and reading the beginning, he appears a lot earlier than I remembered (sadly not in this excerpt).  He was like that.  In 2010 he had appeared as an old man in a graveyard and was going to play a pretty important part to the story if I had finished it.

Anyway…here is the opening of the Secret Pigeon.  It is the first draft, so again, please excuse the spelling and grammer.

 

The Secret Pigeon

By Paul “Laird of Darkness” Reaney

“There is an urban myth that you may have heard, relating to a lay-by just north of Aberdeen. If you head out towards Dyce and stop at a certain lay-by just outside of Bucksburn. If the moon is in the right position and the time is just right” At this point he paused and took a sip of his herbal tea, slowly and methodically, letting it sit in his mouth for a few seconds to savour the taste properly. Then he swallowed and closed his eyes, letting the warmth spread through his body. Placing the cup down slowly, he opened his eyes, cleared his throat and continued.

“Well if all those things are correct, she may appear”

I didn’t ask.

It is better not to interrupt my father when he is in the middle of one of his stories. Oh sure, he expects it, wants you to even but I learned long ago that it is better to not interact when expected. It speeds the conversation up and as an added bonus, annoys the hell out of him.

“Legend tells us that she arrives in an articulated lorry cab, all smoke and lights. It pulls up to where you are, the door opens ever so slowly and an arm appears from within, beckoning you to grab it. Very few have ventured inside, at least how I hear it told anyway. Those who have, tell similar tales. The woman is a blonde, sometimes a brunette, occasionally a red head. On one occasion I heard she was bald. I’m not entirely sure about that account though. Old Jim is known for making things up. That and he has a fetish about bald women. Men too come to think about it. However it does explain the other part of the legend I have heard. That the woman who arrives for you is the woman of your dreams. So it may well be true that she will differ in appearance for each person. She takes your hand and tells you to sit down beside her. As you look out of the cabs windscreen, you see the way forward for you. Well one of the ways that you can go. One guy said that it was a group of roads leading each to different futures.”

Another sip, the same ritual. I smile weakly, knowing that at some point soon I will be forced into speaking, no matter how little, just so that he doesn’t repeat himself.

I hate visiting hours.

“She is some sort of angel, sent down from the heavens above to show you the way to go, to make the most of your brief time on this earth. Well you know me, I don’t believe in all that religious mumbo jumbo but even taking that aside and ignoring it, I do believe in some form of higher consciousness.”

I nod, that seems to be enough. He continues.

“So maybe there is some all powerful force out there in the vast reaches of space,” He gesticulates with his right hand, waving it vaguely at the ceiling, “And they are watching over us for a reason. Maybe we are supposed to not be sheep. Or that…oh what was it that David Ike called them?”

I think about staying quiet but I can see him struggling to recall the word from his memory.

“Sheeple” I offer.

“That’s the word. Ha, Sheeple. Perfect word to describe them. He isn’t so mad you know, well some of his stuff isn’t.”

His eyes are sparkling with life; this is how I remember him now, eyes full of excitement as he shares his stories with me. Hinting of a great world just around the corner and just within reach.

“So this has been stuck in my mind since last weekend. Take my advice son; never go to a garden party with friends who have been given a free pass from their other halves. Lethal, absolutely lethal. If some of them are single, they are even worse.”

Off the point, I decide to nudge him back on track.

“So dad, what has been stuck in your mind? This mysterious womanly angel?”

He looks me straight in the eyes and a smile plays at the corner of his mouth.

“Oh no son, that’s probably just an urban myth and nothing else. No what I have been thinking about is that there are things out there that we have no knowledge of. Mysterious happenings, places and people that we seem to have been cut off from. There is a reason that this happened. I need to know why and make my own mind up. That’s why I’m here to see you, well aside from actually visiting you obviously. I want you to know that I am going to find some answers and when I do and trust me I will, I am coming to take you with me. Father and son investigating the weird, the rum and the uncanny and expanding our minds together. Its what I wish my dad had done with me.”

He paused and sipped his tea, this time never taking his eyes off of mine.

“So what do you say Son? Are you with me?”

How could I refuse?

He left that day all happy and excited, promising to keep me updated on his progress.

I never saw him again.

That was more than ten years ago.

Revisiting Midnight Oil “Diesel and dust”

Every couple of years I go back to this record. I bought it on vinyl back in my teens, purely on my love for the track “Beds are Burning”. The music flowed over me and I ended up really liking the whole album. At that time (assuming my brain is not retro fitting my memories!) I was reading a Chopper story in the Judge Dredd Magazine, written by Garth Ennis, that dealt with him after the “Chopper in Oz” storyline. He was with aborigines and sadly I cannot remember much about it. I do remember talk of the dreaming and that has stuck with me ever since. So that meshed with the themes on this album to become almost one memory. I cannot think of one without the other, even now.
When it comes back on my playlist, I always marvel at how good it is. Its just beautiful in parts and the track above is one of those beautiful moments.
I’m 41 and very few albums from my teen years are still listened to as regularly and loved as strongly as this one.
Just thought I’d share that with you.

Novel 2 – “New Dreams From An Old Life” NaNoWriMo 2008

So 2008 came and flushed with the succes of managing to complete the previous years novel and bouyed by the offer of a free printed version of that book, I tackled 2008’s NaNo with extreme enthusiasm.

I knew that I wanted to write about dreams and where we went when we dreamt.  The title is a slight pinch from a Gary Numan cd (suprise suprise eh?).  On the morning of the 1st November, I sat down and started to write.  The first section finished I went into my local comic shop as D’Israeli was there doing a signing.  I asked him for a Robin the boy wonder sketch and while he was drawing it, I looked at the goods he had for sale.  One picture caught my eye, it was from the War of the worlds comic that he and Ian Edgington had done.  It showed a Tripod looming over a man, one of its metal arms snaking towards him.  I bought it and paid for the sketch and headed home.  There, that picture just stayed in my memory and The second part of the novel was born.  A victorian steampunk version of Aberdeen, where war of the worlds happens.

Now at this poit, those who have read anything I have written will know that a lot of my stories have two tales running side by side.  This is because when I hit a brick wall with one story, I start or continue another.  I have been lucky so far, in that they all seem to magically tie together at the end….somehow!  So New Dreams from  an Old Life follows one man as he becomes a kind of dream warrior and also what happens in an alternate earth Aberdeen, during the War of the Worlds.

I really enjoyed writing this book.  There was none of that week 2 writers block and I finished with around 5 days to spare, which Is something I have never managed since!

So, as before, I present the opening of New Dreams from an Old Life, the first draft with all its spelling and grammer mistakes.

Enjoy

 

New Dreams from an Old Life

By

Paul “Laird of Darkness” Reaney

 

 

Steve glanced at his watch as it lay on his bedside table. 2.38 am and still he could not sleep. Outside Mrs Trefall was seeping the leaves away from her front gate, just as she had done every other morning probably for the whole time she had lived across the road from Steve and no doubt before then. Insomnia had given Steve a new perspective on what his neighbours got up to. Mr Optic often arrived home after midnight, his long black car pulling almost silently into his driveway. If the moon was out and you looked at the right moment you could see him putting his wedding ring on before he got out of the car, locked it and approached the door. Occasionally he would pause just before getting his keys out and unlocking it. Steve wondered if his wife was suspicious of anything going on. She must be, as Mr Optic didn’t try and conceal anything. Mrs Optic was a nice looking woman but Steve had heard her shouting at her errant husband, mostly on a Friday night when he was getting ready to go out. To be honest, Steve would probably have done the same, found some refuge from her and lived a secret second life elsewhere. Why he didn’t just leave her was anyone’s guess.

Mrs Trefall was almost finished, the last few errant leaves caught from the grasping fingers of the night wind and brushed into a large neat pile right in front of Mrs Optics next door neighbours. Her dressing gown blowing gently around her as she tried to keep the world, or in this case just Steve, from seeing her thick woollen pyjamas. She went inside and shortly afterwards her hall light was switched off.

That would be all Steve would see for a few more hours. The world outside his window really went to sleep from around three am until six, when the daily routine would begin for the rest of the world, Steve included. If only he could get some sleep, he thought, that would be a bonus. This had been going on for close to a month. The same daily or should that be nightly, routine. Switch the television off and lie down. Get up again an hour or so later. Have a drink, milky of course although it didn’t make a difference. Lie down again. Try to quieten the mind by thinking of all the movies he enjoyed (sometimes it would be television programmes, occasionally music). Fail to drop off. Get up and watch the world’s story unfold outside his window. Eventually drop off to sleep around 4 am and get rudely awakened when the alarm went off at what seemed almost the exact moment he actually fell asleep. Steve was very surprised that he was still managing to function normally after a week of this routine, let alone still be appearing to be leading a normal life after a month.

He turned and switched on the radio. A friend had told him that sometimes low background noise helped the brain to focus on it sub-consciously and it should allow him to actually get some sleep.

Anything was worth a shot.

Paterson closed the heavy tome and rubbed the tiredness out of his eyes. It had been a long day and he was still no further forward in his research. The deadline was looming and yet that still didn’t seem enough to inspire him onto bigger and better things. No, he was still looking for inspiration in dusty old textbooks and finding that not only had inspiration left the building, it had taken enthusiasm and luck with it. The setting sun splayed its last splashes of colour through the university library’s window, making the indoors seem almost warm despite the all pervading cold that seeped in from the wintry weather outside. Losing the lid on his unused laptop, Paterson started packing his belongings away. The car would be waiting for him outside and if it was Sykes that had been allocated to him, then there would be hell to pay. It would start with almost silent muttered abuse followed by mad driving through the streets of Aberdeen. That man almost certainly diced with death on a daily basis. Never had Paterson seen someone who looked so ill yet managed to carry out his duties seemingly without a care. It did make people wary to be around him and indeed Paterson avoided all contact normally. He didn’t fraternise with the drivers unless he really had to. They could drink until the cows came home and yet always seemed to pass the sobriety test in the mornings before starting their work. They must have had a system, that was the common consensus, yet no-one seemed able to work out what it was.

Still Sykes was one of the more “normal” ones, despite his personality defects. Paterson dared not get into the car with some of them, especially the younger ones. Boy racers to a man they were. The breakfast table was always awash between the scholars with whispered tales of Beach Racing between the men and the robots. No-one ever had proof, or indeed had ever witnessed this for themselves, it was always a tale told to a friend of a friend and passed on in confidence. If they were ever caught racing, whether against other men or not, then they would have been removed from their position and be forced to take a more menial job.

Not that there was a lot of menial jobs around nowadays. The robots had taken care of that problem. Ever since the first one had been revealed to the world eight years ago, they had quickly taken on tasks that the people really didn’t want to do. This suited most but it did mean high unemployment and this had created its own problem and solution. The weekly television output was almost entirely made with the unemployed. Once signed into their work contracts, the television companies could do what they liked with you. And they did. Television had been in a rut since the 1980s and with falling revenue threatening shareholders, the television companies did what the market dictated. Provide the masses with mindless entertainment. Stop them thinking about how things could be and re-enforce how they should be. Paterson was not alone in seeing this as wrong but as his father had once said during a very late night or early morning whisky fuelled drinking session “you cannot fight popular opinion”. They would always win he said, the only way that things could be changed was in small, almost unseen ways. Let each idea find it’s own audience and then watch it snowball into a movement for change.

Paterson was still waiting for a movement he could get behind and support. He got the feeling that he would be waiting for a long time. This saddened him.

With his belongings safely stashed, He gathered up the books he had been reading and was looking for the robot that would put them away. The library would be closing soon and was almost empty, yet he still could see nobody. Sighing to himself he started towards the bookshelves intent on doing it himself. The silence was broken by a little hiss of steam as the Library Assistant walked towards him.

“Excuse me Sir” it spoke its arms outstretched like gleaming chrome trees, “I will put these books away for you”. The voice was familiar, the lines of dialogue spoken with what sounded like real feeling. Paterson knew that it was just a recording of an actor and all the robot was doing was picking appropriate words from it’s memory banks and relaying them in the correct order with the right inflection. They really had come a long way since Professor Gibson Sterling had first showed off his prototype “Steam Driven Man” back at the turn of the millennium. They looked more human now, not as angular and they certainly moved with the grace of a dancer. The early models had rumbled along on primitive tank tracks and spoke with a dull emotionless monotone. But Technology would always move on at pace and it was up to the people to keep up with it. Paterson handed the books over and said Thanks. The Robot nodded and turned on a sixpence to head towards the correct section of the library. As he made his way out of the library, Paterson kept glancing back at the shelves of books. Why had he not found what he had been looking for? Time was running out, yet that didn’t stop that annoying nagging feeling at the back of his mind that something was not quite right about the direction his research was supposed to go in. There had to be a better way.

Outside Sykes stood smoking his pipe, a clear breach of his positions rules but Paterson thought better of reminding him this. The robot had just finished winding the cars clockwork mechanism up and was putting the winding mechanism back into the storage space of it’s body.

“Ah there you are Sir” Sikes hurriedly tipped the contents of his pipes bowl onto the street, ignoring the robot that immediately started sweeping it up. Where did these things spring from?

“Yes Sykes, sorry I am running a bit late today”

The laughter was surprising in that it was full and hearty. Paterson opened the car door (again Sykes had neglected his duty) and quickly got in as Sykes manoeuvred his stick thin frame behind the wheel.

“You are always running a wee bit late Sir. However today is a good day for you to be fashionably late. The roads are very busy with Holiday traffic, so I had only just got here myself”

Hmmm, that was probably true thought Paterson, it was the start of the Holiday weekend and Aberdeen’s light displays were one of Britain’s great attractions. The North Sea had been kind to the Granite City when Steam power took off and in a fit of little seen common sense, the local city council had taken full advantage of this and turned Aberdeen into a living monument to light and steam.

As the car started it’s journey home, Paterson felt his eyelids become heavier and heavier. Sleep had been a luxury for the past month while he struggled on trying to get the project to a point that the city fathers would have been happy with. It would still get passed onto the highest bidder when they decided that the time was right, yet there was a nagging professionalism that still resided inside Paterson, to make sure that he did the best job possible. This had resulted in long nights and brief snatches of sleep grabbed when he had the time. As the gentle hum of the car mixed with the passing traffic, Paterson felt himself slipping further into the warm embrace of oblivion. His last conscious thought was that he hoped he didn’t have that same bland, boring dream again.

 

Work came too quickly for Steve and the first thing he did upon arriving at the office was to make himself a strong cup of coffee. Not that he felt tired, well not as tired as he should have felt bearing in mind the lack of rest that his body and mind should have experienced over the past month. However first thing in the morning, he always needed a wee kick to get him started. Coffee had replaced nicotine and coffee as his wake up drug of choice and with the removal of nicotine, the strength of his coffee had risen. It was a fine line between being healthier and being strung out on caffeine high. Switching on his monitor and watching the little words of green manifest themselves, he tried to remember what to do next. The “To Do” list that he had written yesterday before leaving now looked like it had been written by a monkey.

His head was in his hands as Joseph arrived at his desk.

“Didn’t sleep again?” Joseph asked. Steve nodded and turned his chair to face his work mate. “I got a couple of hours around four this morning but it wasn’t enough to banish this weariness I get first thing”

“Did you try leaving the radio on in the background?”

“Yeah but I chose a talk radio station and I kept getting caught up in the debate. Eventually I switched the thing off. The reception is really bad around my house, that’s the only station where there is not a constant low pitched whine from a slightly off station.”

Joseph giggled to himself and switched his computer on. Steve took a large sip of coffee and turned back to his screen. The welcome screen had been and gone and he was left facing the desktop icons. Clicking on the top most one, Steve started going through the work emails that had arrived since he had left last evening.

“You could always try classical music cd’s” Joseph added, “That might work”

“Yeah I will, thanks Joe”

Do I even have classical music, Steve wondered. The email program opened up and showed that even though it was him that couldn’t sleep last night, there seemed to be a great many other people who worked way beyond the allotted work day. Sighing he opened the first one. It was going to be a long day.