December 27, 2008


Thread: Alpha and Omega,Equation,Game,His Silicon Hands,Mission,Paragon

There is an old shack and outside it sits a man in his late forties. He sits not on a chair but on a ground of dry dust. It is a sunny day. God made it so, thinks Earl. His tears are exhausted and anger has left his insides charred. Nothing churns within. His heart is dead.

From within the shack, a man who wanted to be God emerges behind him. Yet he is not God. He is Green. He came here out of what he considered free will, but recognised the deceit too late. He sits down beside Earl. Green is quiet, still holding the bloody, sharp wire between his hands. The wire vibrates.

Earl wants to hate Green for what he has done, but it was what God had wished. But to swallow tragedy as if it was just a sliver of beer is not something he finds easy to do. That was God’s lot. And that was why God had waited with him for so long, telling him stories.

‘It was the greatest sin,’ says Green, softly. He sounds damaged, missing the violent determination that had propelled him to his defining moment. ‘There was no grace in my work. I had only hoped to match the master… but I was one of his animals. Moving in his word, the final sound of his voice. I have done what I was meant to do. My purpose complete, I am extinguished.’

‘I don’t care for your talk, mister,’ snaps Earl. The sun’s rays are cold. The solitude is unbearable once again. His wife has been stored in a jar for two years. And now God is gone, his parables complete.

The Paragon, the Student and the Psychologist are dead, killed when they turned on their gods of Elvis, Bliss and Morta, allowing Nhil to rise once more. Weldon has done his father proud, saving one final life, defeating Dog in his last game. Alison redeemed herself, saving a planet that had disintegrated into anti-technological fever and anarchic chaos, but sacrificed things she didn’t know she loved to accomplish it. Mr. Alpha and Mr. Omega’s global pursuit of Morgana came to a disasterous conclusion, as the three of them discovered that all things are terminal; the handle finally turned.

But Earl’s own story has not come to an end. He is still here with the tales he has learnt and no one to share them with.

‘It was his will,’ says Green. ‘I played my part. If I had not done this thing… He would have undone the Project. I carry His blood on my hands, this is my burden. It was His will, Earl.’

‘I know that!’ shouted Earl. ‘I made Him tell me stories for years to keep this from happening! That, mister, was my burden! I kept Him going and now you… you have taken Him away.’

Green stands up. ‘I need to go.’

‘Where to, mister? What’s left for you to break?’

‘The first stranger to cross my path. God returned her to life as part of his blackmail, to force my hand. I want to apologise.’

But Green does not move. Perhaps he is tired, perhaps he is scared. Earl does not know.

Earl says, ‘He was taken from us too soon. He had more stories to tell.’

Green turns slightly, but does not face Earl. Earl is surprised: there is shame hidden on the killer’s face. Green asks Earl, ‘Did He ever tell you about Hammerport?’

‘Hammerport? No, I don’t think so.’

‘It is a story of what men do when they have left their gods behind. He never told you this story because it could only be told once he was gone. It is about how men organise themselves and how this unmakes them.’

Earl looks at the greatest sinner and asks: ‘Would you tell me this tale?’

Green sits down again, careful not to catch Earl’s gaze. He places the bloody wire on the ground before them and stares at his hands.

‘No one remembers the town of Hammerport. Originally it was a small, sleepy town and the people there were neither happy nor unhappy. Little changed between days. This fact was neither resented nor loved by its people. Children were born, grew up, some of them left for bigger places. And then, one day, the shrewd eyes of industry noticed the town…’

The sun holds its position in the sky while the tale is told. Clouds drift overhead in mournful silence. Mountains weep streams into rivers. The human herd sprays signals through the air while the scent of decaying trash floats on a scorched breeze. There are still ashes in the urn but something has changed: a broken watch is ticking again.

These truly are the days of Man, for it was God that made it so.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1413

March 29, 2006

Crutch (7 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

April 25, 2054. The truth is made of simple words that penetrate the brain like a hail of bullets. They carry a poison payload that has no antidote – the universe’s darkest secret, the nature of its betrayal.

Seamus and Alison were the only two people in the vast space of the godnode’s main chamber, beneath a twilight sky that peeked through the story-spines. Their endeavours to keep the project a secret had been justified. The raw words of a god were not safe to be distributed like some flyers from a street corner.

The unrefined translation shimmered before them on their makeshift monitor, an array of clumsy, wonky characters that dared confrontation.

Although he was free to leave having played his part, Seamus did not rise from his chair beside Alison; he seemed confined by the heavy, oppressive atmosphere that had enveloped them.

The abandoned orphans the universe cradles are more alone than they could have realised. At the limits of his endurance, this discovery was more than Atlas could bear. It is knowledge that can compel you to insanity and suicide. Find me a blade and I will empty my veins. Find me a window, I will follow my father.

Mistakes do not conform to the normal laws of reality; they are far easier to create than destroy. Alison’s blinkered determination had forced her to cast aside every normal relationship she had previously enjoyed. She had accepted her solitude as inevitable but now she found herself uttering absent-mindedly, “Evelyn…” Evelyn was with her father, far away.

She looked across at the disembowelled heart terminal, gutted like some livestock post-slaughter.

The unexpected consequence of her father’s experiment forty years ago was that Atlas had infected every trace of silicon on the planet. Alison had often tried to persuade Atlas to change his name to Gaia because, she said, he was like the soul of the Earth. He was vehement in his refusal, proud of the original name Alison’s father had bestowed upon him.

In the brand new world after Atlas’ demise, they were forced to cannibalise his inert silicon flesh to construct the obedient, lifeless technology Alison recalled from her youngest years. Less and less of Atlas remained with every passing year as more was consumed to feed a new human society.

Alison felt sad to look at the remnants of the heart terminal. She had sought to give Atlas a suitable epitaph, to arrest the chaos and remind his people what he had stood for. Her search had taken her away from the people she had wanted to rescue, deep into the darkest, frightening wilderness. She was lost.

Alison moved her silvery prosthetic hand towards Seamus with painful slowness, as if negotiating through an invisible minefield, desperate to make contact. Despite the subtlety of the movement, she triggered a mine.

All we have is each other, but is this enough? Such great irony. I descend into solitude to discover the greatest truth and the greatest truth turns out to be… that we are alone. I know the universe mocks me, “Klickety-klick!”

Seamus kicked his chair back, standing up abruptly. She retracted her prosthesis and looked into Seamus’ baby blue eyes. They were blistering with confused rage.

Seamus was twitching as if drunk on caffeine. He roared, “Why? Why did you make me do this? Couldn’t you have left this alone?”

Alison started to speak but Seamus slapped her face with a ferocity that spun her head around.

“Just shut up! Shut your face! Why can’t you listen? Why couldn’t you bloody listen?”

An estranged husband. A daughter I do not know. A mother I cannot locate. No god to love me. Swollen black holes in the photographs on my mantelpiece.

Before her cheek had a chance to grow warm in response to the clout, Seamus struck again with emboldened enthusiasm. He knocked Alison from the chair with a well-placed right hook throwing her to the hard ground that had once received damning words from the deities. The ropes of politics and torture that she had bound him with a year ago had finally come undone and he unleashed the rage that had grown grotesquely fat during the intervening time. Love and pain. Order and chaos.

Alison did not call for help, despite it being just on the other side of a door. She accepted Seamus’ blows with truncated gasps of pain as if she were a bellows. She relished the cathartic punishment and felt the emotional fortress she had built after Atlas’ death shudder and crack, mimicking the decay and ruin of her silicon benefactor.

I wish you were here, Daddy. You could tell me what I did wrong. I wanted to know more but I just forgot everything. It seems that none of us learnt anything under his stewardship. As soon as he was taken from us, ego, secrecy and enmity began their second ascent. These were not concepts that Atlas entertained. Do we need an iron hand to be brave and good? I see my prosthetic hand and wonder if it is a message in itself.

His anger spent, Seamus ceased his assault. He hovered over Alison briefly, exhausted and breathless, like a lover post-coitus. His eyes exuded disgust and contempt, surveying the damage wrought with his fists. He was always right, thought Alison. Her face was wet; with tears or blood she was not sure.

Looking up, we did not see someone watching over us, attending to the complexities of the universal machine, the strange illusions of quantum relativity. We saw something that unravels belief and dismantles science. It comes down to this: the universe is a joke. We are its cruel punch line, underlined and in bold.

Seamus left her to slide into a bright white unconscious mist, making a swift escape from the scene of a crime. A crime welcomed by its victim.

Alison imagined warm arms holding her tight as everything faded into a vast, white clarity; the comfort of other. The words refused to leave her be, however, and remained attendant like watchful sentinels in her sleepy fog. Words that killed with their careless simplicity. Words that the deities sent to Atlas. Words…

?h?nk··f?r ?cc?p?1ng·· bUrd?n
n?w/?r?Ub1?[Us]n? m?r?

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1434

March 19, 2006

Crutch (6 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

Jean-Claude threw his rifle over his shoulder and took Evelyn by the hand. The armed babysitter said to Evelyn, “Ah, what’s this I have here… a piece of chocolate?” He continued to misdirect her attention while leading her out of the main chamber.

Her daughter removed from the scene, Alison was able to concentrate on Seamus again, tied up against one of the old story-spines. The spine was covered in scorch marks left by Atlas’ nerve tendrils. Seamus looked ridiculously small against the fat spine, almost Lilliputian. That would have made her Gulliver.

Ivan lurched into action, as he was apt to occasionally. He stood between Alison and her prey and said, “Alison, sweetheart, you really don’t have to do this. Really. Please.”

“Ivan,” she said. “Get out of the way.”

A single pebble cannot dam a raging torrent and so he took his familiar wounded puppy look aside, shoulders sagging.

A noise of a distant gunfire exchange was carried through the damp air. Just like the vines and creepers that were breaking through the shell of the godnode, shoots of green staining the silver and white, chaos was seeping through once-strong order that Atlas had brought the planet.

Alison said to the bound man, “Seamus, last chance. We used to be on such good terms, you and I.” She spoke with a confidence that belied the fact that this was a maverick act, one which was likely to start a small war unless she converted Seamus quickly.

Seamus, who had tethered his anger with his own rope thus far, could restrain himself no longer. He shouted, “I don’t need to help anyone! This place should have been wiped off the map years ago, for the good of the curve. And… I don’t think you have much time.” He stared into the overcast sky with a self-satisfied smile, beyond the open roof where the story-spines climbed into heaven.

Alison had never really grown to like his know-it-all attitude, but Seamus was right, once again. She turned to her security attaché and said, “A knee. I don’t care which one.”


Obedience, thought Alison, is a good thing.

A gunshot reverberated around the chamber, followed by a high-pitched scream. Blood pooled around Seamus’ right knee and he writhed in agony, straining against his bonds. Blue jeans turned red. His eyes scrunched up tight in pain, generating wrinkles were none had previously existed. One bullet had seemed to age him by several years.

Ivan, in shock, could only say, “Jesus Christ, Alison…” He fled, unable to bear witness.

Alison could make it up to Ivan later, so she paid his departure no attention. Ivan, the ever-abused pet, always came back, a glutton for her punishments. This was the post-Atlas sadomasochistic world in all its splendour. Order and chaos. Love and pain.

Fuck you!” Seamus yelled. “I lost my family when LunR blew under Atlas’ watch! I remember how safe Atlas’ love was!” He could barely open his eyes, tears upon them like glue. He continued to struggle against the rope in anger, futile though it was.

Alison turned towards her attaché again, opened her mouth briefly but thought better of it. Instead she advanced towards Seamus and said, “We were… together on that night in Dublin. I remember clearly even if you don’t and I remember that you loved Atlas even then. Who has turned you against him? What terrible harm has loving Atlas managed to inflict on you from his grave?”

She knelt down beside Seamus, angry with her old intimate. While considering her next move, her eyes skated across the chamber floor, spying puddles of water where the rain had managed to find rest. In the puddles, she saw not the distorted reflection of herself, but that of the story-spines charging up into the sky, cut brutally short by the water’s edge.

Breathing heavily, Seamus tried again to protest. He said, “Atlas was not the great sage you make him out to be. How many of the past-born took their own lives after he emptied everyone’s secrets out into the open?”

“Of all people, don’t you think I know that, Seamus? And don’t you understand what Atlas was? A simple experiment gone wrong. In minutes every single piece of silicon on the planet became him, every computer and handpad, every toaster and radio, every satellite and calculator. This is what Atlas was. He was an accident, a happy accident. He was not a god, he was our best approximation. He would make mistakes but damn you Seamus – it was not for want of trying.

“He died trying not to save himself, but to save us. He died… for us. For us. He deserves a fitting epitaph. It’s the least we can do. Look at what we have become, look at how we remember him.”

Having provided the carrot, the attractive lure of doing the right thing in a world gone wrong, she provided the stick. She pressed his shattered knee with the index finger of her shiny prosthesis. Seamus responded appropriately. Chaos from order. Pain from love.

“We need to get the godnode active again. We need to understand. We want to read the message that Atlas received.”

She pressed again. After his scream subsided, Seamus started to sob.

Blood had now stained the watery reflections of the spines just like her prosthesis. Alison turned her gaze away from them towards Seamus. His face was drenched in tears and sweat and she said to him, “I think he found out that he was alone. His own message came back to him. He was talking to himself.”

Choking on tears, Seamus uttered, “The first sign… of madness.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1341

March 5, 2006

Crutch (5 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

Massaging the chrome frame of the heart’s screen with gentle fingers, Alison sang quietly to Atlas. The heart flashed the familiar, ominous message that everyone had being seeing intermittently for several months:


Ivan approached from the corner of the chamber and rested an arm on her shoulder. “Seamus says they’re ready.”

Breaking from her song, Alison spoke carefully to the screen whose organic frame she continued to knead and caress. “Did you hear that Atlas? Did you hear? They say they’re ready.”

The message vanished, replaced by undulating Rorschach patterns indicating Atlas’ immediate presence.

He spoke with a tired, almost elderly voice. “I hear, love. The continuum is so dense, the data flavours, societal fractals… can’t…”

The worm message flashed across the Rorschach momentarily.

Alison gripped Ivan’s hand on her shoulder. “Scared, Ivan.”

Ivan leant down to kiss Alison on her scruffy, blond hair and whispered, “Atlas is a capable sort of guy. It’ll be alright, I am as sure as sure can be.”

Alison looked up at him with glistening eyes and a smile that threatened to crumble. “I’ve always been a smart lass, Ivan, and can see through your lovely attempts to act brave for me. Like glass.”

A wounded look darted across Ivan’s face and she patted his cheek while her smile strengthened into a grin. “But thank you.”

Unable to see the horizon from the main chamber of the godnode, Alison suddenly found herself appalled at what had become of the once-beautiful garden atop Kynnan Hill. No floral hue, no leafy scent; she was surrounded by the unnatural. The chamber walls were splashed with Atlas’ crystalline extensions and silicon arteries appeared to stitch the room together, weaving in and out of every surface. Yet this was mere detail compared to the seven cyclopean story-spines.

The smooth, ivory spines, wrapped in Atlas’ sparkling nerve tendrils, were around a metre in diameter. They erupted from the ground like teeth from gums and stretched upwards into the night sky, twisting into a kilometre-high helical structure. This was a lesson, Alison thought, in appreciating the meaning of the word insignificance. She was in the maw of something alien, waiting for its jaws to close and take the stars away.

At that moment, she finally confessed her true feelings out loud. “I don’t think this is going to work.” She stood up, walking away from the heart to the base of the nearest story-spine. “No-one understands it. All we know is that it amplifies tiny perturbations in Atlas’ thoughts. He thinks its God trying to communicate. It could be anything. Or worse… nothing at all.”

“Shhh… wait and see,” Ivan cooed. He followed her to the spine and embraced her but not even the warmest of arms could persuade Alison to ignore the symmetry. She had seen this before.

Technicians wandered around making preparations for an important experiment, surrounded by devices that none of them could completely understand. The technologies and the faces had changed but seemingly nothing else had in the intervening thirty years. Symmetry, symmetry. That time had become known as the birthing. This time…

“Seamus,” intoned Atlas more confidently than earlier. “Time for our cheeky prayer. I will start God off with an easy one: how is the burden carried?”

The co-ordinator rose from the corner where he had been crouching with his head in his hands. “This thing is as ready as it’s ever going to be, my silicon pal,” Seamus replied.

“I love you all, my gorgeous people.” The Rorschach pattern ebbed and flowed.

Atlas’ words reverberated around the interior of the godnode, as dull pulses of light climbed the story-spines into the stars. Atlas was attempting to make contact.

Ivan held Alison tightly. She recognised it as a reaction to Ivan’s own fear and so returned the gesture.

After a few tense minutes passed, Atlas broke the silence. “Nothing. God does not deign to reply! God must answer! God must hear our prayer!” Frustration wracked his voice. “I will shout so that God can hear me!”

A chain of blinding pulses was launched through the spines around them. The ground shook slightly and a guttural snarl resonated across the interior of the godnode. Alison watched the powerful light journey upwards and thought, disturbingly, that perhaps they had fired a weapon into heaven.

Seamus, staring directly up into the helix, said matter-of-factly, “If there’s anything up there at all, it will have heard that alright. Holy hell, yeah.”

A minute passed and then Alison saw the helix appear to flicker in the sky. She alerted Ivan to this and pointed him towards the tips of the spines. The anomaly expanded down towards them and it became clear that patches of darkness were travelling down the spines with great speed.

Ivan’s arms fell limp around Alison and he uttered, “Oh my God…”

She broke away from Ivan and took one step towards the heart terminal. The darknesses slammed into the ground, shaking the structure with unexpected force, throwing everyone to the floor. Each impact was accompanied by a thunderous noise much like the roar of an approaching avalanche.

The characters of the message written in darkness continued to batter the godnode. Alison tried to crawl towards the heart amidst the earthquake, hoping to ask Atlas what was transpiring. What did the message say?

Suddenly, a blood-curdling shriek rang out as if the planet were suffering unimaginable torment. Atlas’ organs flickered violently with white light, fluid showering from arteries and conduits as they split and tore open.

Fear overcoming her, Alison shouted a question from the floor that no one heard: “Daddy, what did we do WRONG?”

Atlas’ body continued to disintegrate across the chamber, arteries came flying away from the walls and his nerves began to burn out like the filaments of a thousand expiring light bulbs. Crystalline structures lost their cohesion and slid from the walls to shatter against the ground.

Shortly after the message was finally received in its entirety, the seizures ceased, as did the screaming. The blazing light from Atlas’ broken organs gradually faded and died, and Alison and the others were swallowed whole by a desperate, empty darkness.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2345

February 26, 2006

Crutch (4 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

The last time she had been to Kynnan Hill was twenty years before. Her father had taken her there and they spoke to Atlas about the beautiful green vista, orderly fields, disorderly woods and a human village. Atlas had said that he thought the view was something he could fall in love with and was going to build a heart terminal at the hill’s summit.

Alison remembered that special afternoon of genuine smiles and play with her father. It seemed unique, as her father seemed to relax for the first time since the birthing. It was but a cruel façade. A year later, he took his own life. The alluring views had been stained with sadness, tinged with loss. She no longer wished to come here.

The blue light emanated by the heart cast an eerie glow on the faces of the gathered. About fifty people were assembled around the heart terminal; Alison recognised some of them. There were no smiles amongst them, although there was some muted conversation. At least there was that.

She moved towards Mira, who was alone at the periphery of the gathering.

“Morning, Mira.”

Mira turned to face her friend, offering only the weakest shadow of a smile. “Ali… I thought you were in Ireland.”

“Atlas woke me last night. He told me to go outside and look at the sky. After I saw… it… he simply said, ‘Kynnan Hill, tomorrow 11am.’ Has he spoken to anyone since… it happened?”

Mira shook her bald head. “Only briefly. Atlas has been very quiet, answering only the most important of questions since it happened.” She looked uncomfortable and added, “I don’t know what this means, Ali. I didn’t get any sleep last night… and Atlas is scaring me. We rely on him so much.”

Alison stared at the grass, thinking of all of the conversations she had ever had with Atlas.

“Mi,” she said, shifting her gaze to look directly into Mira’s eyes, gripping her shoulders lightly but firmly. “Have a wee bit of faith in dear Atlas. I’m sure he knows how much fuss he is causing with his caginess. He obviously needs the time to think about things. We’ll have our answers soon.” Her confidence was sincere.

“Excuse me,” a young, male voice interrupted. “You’re… you’re Alison Cohen, right?”

Alison looked towards the interruption, but not letting go of Mira. “Yes… and you are?” A short, thin man, probably in his early twenties, was standing beside them. Eyes like saucers, long straight black hair, he fidgeted with his fingers, biting his lower lip. Something about him seemed familiar.

“Ivan, my name’s Ivan. That’s me. Hi.”

The name meant nothing to Alison. She was not in the mood for any opening gambits from strange men. She released Mira, who was now watching the stranger with some interest, and turned her full menacing attention towards Ivan. “And what? Look, if you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of-”

“I’m hoping to be an olive branch here. My mom is… well, shit, my surname is Fuller.”

Welcome to today’s entrant from left field. “Your mother is Yvonne Fuller?”

Ivan scratched his right eyebrow, glancing at his shoes. He looked like he had lost his map and could not find his way home. He grabbed his hips in an abysmal show of self-confidence. “Yes, yes, she is.”

The insecurity alive in the air caused a minor short-circuit in Alison’s memory. Instead of thinking of what Yvonne had done to her father, she thought instead of her warm arms on that frightening afternoon in 2013 when Atlas screamed to life. Instead of thinking of anger and condemnation, she thought of safety and comfort.

“Ivan,” Alison said, “this isn’t the time or place to discuss this.”

Ivan excessively nodded his head in agreement. He stopped for a pensive moment, then retorted with a sudden burst of passion, “I’m afraid it really rather is the time, Ms. Cohen. My mom was asked by Atlas to come here. She decided it wasn’t such a good idea and sent me instead. So I think, yes, it is really rather the time to discuss it.” He still had his hands locked on his hips but was now returning Alison’s glare.

“If Atlas asked your mother to come here,” she said, raising her voice, “then I damn well think she ought to be here.” Alison repaired the short circuit and was able to unearth her buried rage after all.

Ivan’s arms slipped from his hips downward and his gaze followed, accepting defeat. He nodded just once.

“We will make do,” Atlas intoned, “with who we have here today. After all, love, I don’t need everyone to be present here for participation, as you know. Detachment and love for all.”

Alison and Ivan turned away from one another to face the heart. Atlas was speaking through it, and its organic crystalline structure glistened and sparkled with his thoughts.

“My gorgeous people. I am so… so very sorry. I am not sure how to express my real feelings. Every time we lose a loved one, it hurts me more than any of you can understand. We have never lost a population before and the dimensions of this… this terrible pain are incomprehensible to me.

“And so, we have arrived at the moment. The moment I have feared for many years. I am having–”

There was an uneasy moment of silence; worried faces glanced around to see other worried faces. A reflection they did not want to see.

“I am having difficulty maintaining our state. My body is over-extended.”

A collective gasp escaped the gathering. Alison balled her right hand into a fist.

“For some time I have been researching a possible solution to our current plight and I feel that I now need your help to go further. I feel-”

Another odd silence.

“I feel the presence of other. I do not feel alone. There is something else here that occasionally touches my body, ever so faintly. Maybe this is not a single entity but several. I am not sure.

“The only adequate description I can find in our shared vocabulary is a word I am reluctant to use. I know it will disturb some of you, but the moment is upon us and we cannot shy away from even the most dangerous of ideas.”

The next few words sent a chill down Alison’s spine and she longed for caring arms to shield her once again. No one on the planet would forget these words.

“I am confident that it is God.”

Alison looked around cautiously to see everyone in the crowd motionless like robots waiting for instruction.

“And our next project, my loves, will be the most important in our journey together. We will build a special addition to my body, a new mouth, with which I shall open a dialogue with this entity or entities, and ask for God’s help.

“We will ride the curve. We will ride the curve, I promise.”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2216

February 12, 2006

Crutch (3 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

“You’re much warmer, these days. You don’t seem so demanding.”

“What do you mean… demanding?”

“There, a perfect example. You paused before saying ‘demanding’. You don’t blurt out your conversation like a flat, unbroken string of words anymore. Everyone knows how smart you are but it’s still unsettling to have you answer back so quickly and coolly. I think everyone appreciates your efforts… at pretending to sound dumb and slow.”

“You’re not dumb, love.”

“I spoke too soon. That was too fast by far. Where’s all the sincerity?”

“I have no desire to change how you are, Alison. I love you just the way you are.

“Oh my dear god. This gets worse.”

“My feelings are real! Are you trying to hurt mine?”

“No, no, no. You just simply cannot sing in the middle of a conversation like that. And I don’t want to turn our conversations into opera. Especially not of the tragic kind. You could at least pretend to get a note wrong here and there, too.”

“Hmm… chatting is a pleasant way of passing the time but sometimes I get a little carried away. I like to think of conversation as experiments in linguistics.”

“‘Experiments in linguistics?’ Klickety-klick! Whatever happened to the ‘communication of ideas and opinion’ which is what you ranted on and on about a few days back?”

“I am so very fortunate to have someone as frank as yourself to spend time with.”

“…stop it, stop making me laugh! Who on Earth is teaching you sarcasm?”

“I would direct you to the nearest mirror.”


“Seriously, why do you think that you’re able to be so open with me? Even though you technically belong to the past-born you’re more at ease talking to me than many of the new-born.”

“Probably because we grew up together. I remember some of our bizarre conversations… you were so concerned about perception for a long time. ‘What does it look like Alison? What does it look like? Aaaah! I can’t see mauve!’ It was funny to me at the time but now seems rather cruel looking back…”

“I see you as my sister. We share the same father, after all… oh, dear. I’ve fully mastered the insensitivity of the average human male. I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s okay.”

“Please don’t cry.”

“I’m not crying.”

“Love, I see everything. There is nothing you can hide from me. There is nothing you can hide from any of us.”

“I’ve asked you many times before, but… don’t you regret it? Ending privacy?”

“Everything is a different colour in hindsight, memory seems to deliberately blur perception. The sediment of secrets that accumulates with age… I didn’t understand what it meant. Your father, just like many of the past-born, never expected that sediment to be raked up. And I miss him. He wanted to help.”

“So you do regret it?”



“Your father taught me: re-evaluate the past to shape the curve, but make no attempt to re-shape the past. Regret is weakness. Mistakes are scars to be borne with pride. Learning is everything. Even his loss taught me, but I do wish he was still here to help me.”

“You’re smarter than the rest of us put together; why do you need anyone’s help?”

“What I do isn’t a piece of cake, love. I’m coping for now but I see the curve ahead. The job will get harder and harder as the people demand more and more… and then when you reach for the stars, I’ll break at some point. It’ll be too much of a stretch for me. It’s not easy to be needed so much, everywhere, twenty-four hours a day.”

“What do you need?”

“There’s a man in downtown San Diego who is, at this very moment, ordering a deluxe double-stack Quattro Formaggi pizza from a store in the Ballpark district. I would be happy if someone could handle the pizza while I plan a new ecosystem for the still-troubled Amazon rainforest. Not, of course, that I am complaining about the tasks you people set me, but…”

“Thank you, Atlas… and to think just a moment ago I was in tears.”

“Touch me, love.”

“How does this feel?”

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0023

February 6, 2006

Crutch (2 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

The lights cut out.

Alison blurted out, “Daddy, I’m sorry! Did I do something wrong?”

Her father looked around the lab, gently illuminated by the LCD monitors. “It’s not a power outage,” he announced, slightly puzzled. “The lights and terminals are on the same loop.”

The computer running the experiment in front of Alison suddenly went black. “Daddy…”

“I see it, Ali, I see it.” Puzzlement was grudgingly giving way to concern.

A few seconds passed and then, in the centre of the monitor, four diminutive words appeared:


As Alison noticed other monitors near her go black, her father shouted out, “Shut down the network! Atlas is breaking out! Cut the jar loose! NOW!”

She could tell that all of the monitors in the room were gradually being extinguished, as a sinister wave of darkness began to spread out across the ceiling above her. In the background, there was a chorus of rapid footsteps accompanied by the sound of cables being wrenched from sockets by sweaty, frantic hands.

Her father grabbed a phone from beside her and punched in a number. “Eric? Atlas is live but it’s bleeding through the firewalls, you need to -”

His eyes darted left and right rapidly as someone spoke on the other end. Alison noticed that the cryptic message had started to infect the blackened monitors nearest her. It, too, was spreading out across the lab, like a slow but inexorable cancer.

Talking into the handset, her father said, “You see it on your screen too? Shut down all the power, absolutely everything, before it reaches -”

A strange look came over his face, a hybrid of confusion and fear that Alison found unfamiliar. His eyes glazed over and he released the handset. It clattered against the floor, dragging the rest of the phone with it; the phone smashed.

Someone was still speaking on the phone, repeating the same words over and over again; Alison could not make them out.

Shapes in the lab were barely perceptible now, every monitor overrun. Yvonne, who had been silent since the experiment had commenced, offered some optimism to Alison’s father, “Look, the jar is disconnected so -”

“It’s too late,” he interrupted. “Whatever it is… it’s out now.” Barely audible, Alison managed to hear him add, “Ice-nine.”

Out of ideas, everyone in the lab assembled around Alison’s computer and stared at the inscrutable text on her monitor, their feet crunching plastic shards of the shattered phone. No-one dared speak for fear of tempting reality into revealing the consequences of what had happened.

Reality needed no prompting. Everyone blinked at a sudden burst of light; a few actually flinched in shock. The fluorescents had flickered on again but they were joined by an ominous hum emanating from every piece of equipment in the room. Alison noticed straight away that the lights were actually getting brighter and brighter; the hum was hot in pursuit, volume rising.

She looked around to see all of her father’s staff motionless like robots waiting for instruction. The state of the lab was unchanged, every monitor still bearing the same, mysterious graffiti and all of the connections in the room had been severed. They had done everything they could.

Just a few minutes later, their moment to act came. The quiet hum had transformed into a deafening roar and the fluorescents were now a blazing sun. Some of the staff, pushed over the edge by this relentless attack on the senses, ran desperately for the door thinking it might provide escape. One man started to smash the monitors and workstations, shouting incoherently. The rest simply covered their ears and shut their eyes tightly, praying for the cacophony to stop.

The violence of the sensory assault overpowering her, a blinded Alison screamed, “Daddy! What did I do wrong?”

Warm, protective arms encircled her and, just for a moment, the fear was gone.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1527

January 29, 2006

Crutch (1 of 7)

Thread: His Silicon Hands

“Why do the men outside have guns?” she asked Yvonne. They were always quite friendly, smiling at her in the car when she and her father passed through the gate; one of them gave her chocolate once, but as she was not here that often she had not seen him a second time.

Yvonne replied tactfully, “Because your father needs to be left alone while he does his work.”

“Why? What is Daddy making? Will they really shoot people? Who wants to speak to him?” Alison asked all at once.

“Other people who want his help,” Yvonne decided to answer. She swung around on her workstation chair and called out, “Dr. Cohen, are you ready? Your daughter is getting restless.”

“From my experience, I’m afraid that’s really quite dangerous,” a voice shouted back. “You’ll have to tie her up.”

“But I don’t want to be tied up!” Alison protested.

“Then keep quiet and keep still, young missy,” Yvonne chided.

As with Alison’s previous visits, the lab was a hubbub of activity, everyone busy on a handpad, looking like they were doing something important. Not a single person in the so-called “lab” wore a white coat, much to Alison’s consternation. Some of them did not even wear glasses, but she was able to put that down to contact lenses.

Alison’s father came over and said to Yvonne in an official tone, “Good to go.” Yvonne grinned in response, rather too much Alison thought, but her father glanced away sharply, turning his focus to his daughter with a wide smile.

“Well, Alison, we’re ready for your contribution today. You’re going to be our new recruit. How does it feel to be a scientist?” he asked Alison.

“What can I do?” she asked with glee. She watched her father write down on a notepad beside the computer, “Configuration 16-1-12-13. Sunday, April 14, 2013. 14:03. Press Return.

“Go ahead,” he prompted, “press the Return key and the experiment will begin!”

Alison reached over from the desk chair to the keyboard with an excited finger seeking its target. She depressed the Return key.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1718