Killer, Joke

lego___custom___agent_47___hitman___002_by_kobalt1977-d6t3yhlBack when he started, it was the travel he looked forward to most. He would set himself in motion and inertia would take him there. It had pleased him, too, that most of the journey would consist of another kind of inertia. Just sitting there. That odd combination of momentum and stasis.

He read a lot.

He inspected the toilet bowl and rim minutely, wiped them down with a wad of toilet paper, which he then flushed away. While the cistern refilled, he refolded the end of the roll so that the room would, when he left, show no trace of him having been there.

His bowels gurgled, and he flushed once more.

Nowadays, the travel was the worst part. Jet-setting in economy, trying to remain unnoticed, he could cope with. But at some point, the combination of ageing, airline food and the stress of a contract started to leave him constipated. Sometimes for days.

In the bedroom, the parts of a sniper’s rifle awaited his expert hands.

In Rome, it was merely inconvenient, but by the Manila trip it had started interfering with the job. He took to arriving days earlier than necessary, even though that increased his exposure, but to no avail. The bloating and discomfort would continue until long after he was back home. A doctor diagnosed IBS. His only consolation was that it was IBS-A, which alternated between diarrhoea and constipation. IBS-D, and that would have been the ignominious end of a lucrative career.

Maybe it was time to retire, anyway, he thought, as he finished assembling the rifle.

His bowels shifted and groaned. He farted noisily. The carbon pills he’d popped did little to staunch the stench. He thought, with a self-conscious smile, Now that’s what I call trace evidence.

He flipped open the tripod, mounted the rifle and checked the sights. It was a tight angle and he would have just a couple of seconds in which to take the shot. He breathed deeply to maintain his calm, a finger resting lightly on the trigger.

His stomach cramped.

He glanced at the watch on the inside of his wrist. He still had at least five minutes. It was time enough. He returned to the bathroom.

This should not be happening to me. He considered himself, not inaccurately, one of the best in the business, and he was, more or less, at the peak of his game.

He strained, even though the doctor had told him not to. Something seemed to give. There was a plopping sound – he strained some more – and another.

It was odd, he thought, not for the first time. He was like, say, an illuminator of medieval manuscripts or, better yet, the apprentice of a great artist. His work was renowned, and yet he was anonymous. Well-known, but completely unknown.

He leaned forward and looked down behind him. Two tiny pieces of dark shit sat on the bottom of the bowl.

They are, he thought as he wiped his ass, like shards chipped away by a master sculptor, seeking the form hidden within the mass.

Once he was dressed, he repeated the ritual eradication of any evidence of his presence in the bathroom.

God alone knows what he is sculpting in there.

He glanced at his watch, and strode purposefully to where the rifle stood ready. He checked his breathing, and waited.

A replica in miniature – but not too miniature, it feels – of the doors of the Florence Baptistry?

He pulled the trigger, took the shot.

Maybe something equine, in the style of del Verrocchio or even Leonardo?

A double tap to be certain.

A David, perhaps, after Donatello or – dare I wish? – Michelangelo?

He picked up the spent cartridges, speedily disassembled the gun and packed away its parts. In less than a minute he was by the door, ready to leave. No sound of anyone outside. He reached for the handle, and as he did so, his bowels flip-flopped once more. The fart was loud, sustained and really really smelly.

Yeah, he thought, as he stepped into the corridor, swept up once more by the inertia that would see him safely home. Whatever is going on in there is a real copro-naissance.

[Author’s note: Okay, I admit it, ‘Shit, Joke’ would have been a better title.]

24/12/14

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The Valid-For-One-Day-Only* Perfect Hard SF Story, with a Hint of Transcendence

9.-2001-A-Space-Odyssey-Stanley-Kubrick-1968Writing a hard-sf story is not easy. I should know – I tried it once.

After careful study, I ripped not one but two ideas from that week’s top science stories and combined them for extra unpitying induracy. For a little dazzle, I  structured the whole thing around an allusion to a canonical story. Then one of the two science stories at the core of the endeavour promptly fell apart.

But here it is anyway:

As the arsenic-based lifeform’s computer printed out the nine-billionth name of god, it adjusted its telescope to observe the other end of the optical spectrum and, overhead, without any fuss, the small red stars were going on.

*Actually 2 December 2010. Then this happened.

2/12/2010

‘Hoodie’, from Jason Wyngarde, The Second Battle of Britain (London: Verso, 2033)

In 2011, the British Con-Dem coalition government imposed massive cuts to public spending, ostensibly to reduce the national deficit. The funding shortfalls produced by this austerity programme were to be met by opening up public services – schools, hospitals, universities, hospitals, libraries, and so on – to corporate investment and, where the profitability was likely too be too small or too distant in time, voluntary work within the affected communities. This latter option, known as the Big Society initiative, met with little success and was quietly dropped from political and news agendas. Not, however, before introducing the country to an array of costumed crimefighters and, eventually, a handful of genuine heroes.

Memos and recordings of secret high level meetings leaked to the press in 2015 show that, in an attempt to reduce the cuts to the police service, senior officers conspired to provoke the wave of protests sweeping the UK into violence. They reasoned that the greater the threat to property – one tape reveals officers agreeing to use ‘public order’ as a euphemism – the more likely corporate bosses were to pressurise politicians into maintaining, perhaps even expanding, the police budget.

This strategy proved disastrous.

Many aspects of police work were suddenly opened up to competitive tender, with tax-payers’ money diverted into the coffers of multinational security consultant companies. The size of the police force was massively reduced. Many former officers found themselves employed by these new ‘security providers’ as freelancers or on short-term, zero-hour contracts, doing the same work for minimum wage or less. Only the least profitable of police work – crimes against people, particularly in the poorest sectors of society – were left to the barely funded police force.

Meanwhile, the tail-end of Big Society state initiatives encouraged neighbourhood watch schemes and other community groups to police their own streets. And while many people were concerned about the violence and injustices this introduced, the media lapped it up.

Steven Seagal presented four seasons of the reality TV series Have-A-Go Heroes, a ratings hit that inspired numerous imitators, including Ross Kemp’s Britain’s Hardest Heroes and Danny Dyer’s Village Vigilantes.

Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Alan Sugar joined forces to produce Britain’s Got Talents, a show which uncovered the nation’s would-be superheroes, and The X-Factory, which followed each season’s finalists through superhero boot camp. For a while, their names were on the lips of school-children everywhere. Wicca Man. EastEnder. White Van Man. CiderMan, the west country cyborg.

General Dodd, the former head of Britain’s top-secret Meta-Human programme, came out of retirement and once more summoned his Diddy Men – a veritable army of forgotten bullies in long underwear – from the obscurity of their seniors’ villages and sheltered accommodation. Colonel Bogey, Boy’s Own, the Dandy, the Minx, Brown Owl, Victor, Hotspur, Warlord, Bullet, Starlord, the Space Hopper…

But things were already going badly wrong.

Austerity measures intensified, driving the country ever deeper into poverty and despair. Workhouses returned, called Job Centres now, and in the Brutal Parishes peonage too root. Private police forces, security contractors and criminal gangs – the differences between increasingly nominal – carved up cities. No-go zones and exclusion zones proliferated. Emergency powers were declared. Black-shirted militias were formed. Labour camps opened. Cities burned. People died. And so did civil liberties.

At first, only a handful dared to raise their voices in opposition.

Banned once more, and once too often, from a Liverpool mall because she refused to uncover her face for security cameras, a sixteen-year-old girl decided enough was enough. She burned down a militia R&R centre in a former library. She called herself Hoodie.

This first act of heroic resistance attracted others, and soon she was joined by Bradford’s The Muslamist. Then Wolverhampton’s ASBOy. Glasgow’s Northern Emergency Defence System. Billericay’s Counter-Hegemonists Against the Violent State.

And Citizen Media was everywhere, breaking the corporate stranglehold on information. ‘We are not the heroes,’ his broadcasts would conclude. ‘The people are the heroes, and it is time to get heroic.’

In the North, the Angel stirred.

Clegatron quailed.

The Insurgency had begun.

28/5/11

‘Global Recession in Century 21’, from Jason Wyngarde, Neo-liberalism and Other Economic Fantasies (Verso 2023)

The first major international organisation to fallwasp victim to the global recession was WASP, the World Aquanaut Security Patrol. Funding cuts saw it broken up into smaller national units, many of which were immediately disbanded. Marineville, that icon of postwar internationalism and sixties marineville 2design, was auctioned off to International Leisure, a division of Tracy International. It now combines a high-tech gated community with an exclusive resort. Its successful hosting of G7, G8 and G10 meetings, far from the media and even marinevillefurther from protestors, only enhanced its reputation among business elites. A retirement village for the super-rich is currently under construction.

ASP-UK, advised to expand its range of activities while right-sizing its operations, diversified into pollution monitoring, landfill management and recycling facilities. Around this time, mute amphibian beauty Marina became a marina1subject of interest to Immigration Services. Sans papier and facing internment, she quietly disappeared, apparently preferring to return to life beneathtroyatlanta the seas as one of Titan’s slave-girls. Six months later, Captain Troy Tempest, fresh from rehab, married Lieutenant Atlanta Shore. Acrimonous divorce followed within the year.

Spectrum also suffered massive cuts as European governments shifted military funding away from international collaborations. Angel Interceptors were replaced with ill-suited Eurofighters, cloudbase11band the cost of retrofitting them to Cloudbase’s unique launch systems became just one more reason to scrap this ‘airborne monument to Keynesian folly and excess’. Helicarrier_(Earth-80920)When irreconcilable differences in management styles saw attempts to share resources with SHIELD collapse, the fate of Spectrum was sealed. It slowly shrank to a clearing house for commissioning Private Military Contractors before formally disbanding.

Captain Scarlet, once the heroic face of this proud organisation, spent his final years as a Spectrum agent attending corporate events in a desperate bid to find alternative income streams. The extent of this desperation captain-scarletonly became apparent when footage of a five-thousand-dollar-a-plate event was leaked onto youtube, showing Scarlet being shot and killed – over and over again – by drunken executives at ten thousand dollars a bullet. You can see in his eyes that he knows it will never be enough.

In later years, Scarlet became the repeated victim of Joe McClaine, a stalker suffering from multiple personality disorder. As a child, Joe was the joe90subject of systematic abuse by his scientist father, apparently condoned – and certainly covered up – by his employers, the shadowy World Intelligence Network. During the course of his trial, Joe manifested as many as 90 different personalities. Ironically, Scarlet and his would-be killer are currently in separate wings of the same asylum.

One figure to ride out, and indeed profit from, the recession and era of austerity was billionairre Jeff jefftracyTracy. His reputation, however, took quite a beating. Media outlets controlled by Tracy International depict him as a very private man, withdrawn and introspective. Critics, however, insist that he no longer dare show his face in public after the scandals that rocked International Rescue. Did the CIA really subcontract extraordinary Thunderbird2rendition abductions to International Rescue? Was Thunderbird 2 being used for human trafficking? What exactly happened to that refugee flotilla that sank without a survivor less than a mile from Tracy Island?tracy island

Jeff Tracy sporadically attempts to win back public support, philanthropically endangering the lives of his poorly-trained sons (and bystanders) by disregarding health and safety regulations in emergency situations. Courtesy of striking firefighters and ambulance crews, the once-lauded Tracy brothers are now commonly known as Scab Rescue.

 

29/10/10

Geoglyphs, Central Arizona Plateau

Today we rented a small plane – the smallest and scariest I have ever been in – from a private airstrip north of Tucson. Fortunately, the pilot stubbornly refused to comply with any of the appropriate stereotypes – not a slightly nutty veteran or a UFO abductee or an alcoholic, neither a barnstormer nor a cropsprayer. Indeed, Celeste bore no resemblance whatsoever to Randy Quaid. Just paying off her student loans as best she could. She was very calm, very professional, all business. She gave us a strict talking to about the differences between big-ass passenger jets and single props, and as soon as she realised we were not really interested in all the other tourist stuff, she flew us low and fast to the escarpment, and then climbed steeply up and over the Central Arizona Plateau. She know exactly what we wanted to see – something that can only be seen from the air.

plateau 1
Triple Cross geoglyph

These highlands are believed to have been occupied by a people the Navajo call Anaasází, which means ‘ancestors of our enemies’ but is now taken to mean ‘ancient people’ or ‘ancient ones’. The Anaasází date back to the 12th century BCE. The immense geoglyphs that adorn the Plateau are older even than that. There is no consensus among archaeologists about their age, other than that they predate Peru’s much better known Nazca lines by at least a millennium (that is, to the time of ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom); but they may be far older than that.

They were discoveredby a geologist called William Dyer during the Great Depression while he was testing equipment – aeroplanes and cold weather gear – for an Antarctic expedition, but little else is known about his subsequent career. He is said to have been sceptical about the patterns his pilot discerned –  the designs are generally abstract, and there are certainly no zoomorphic or phytomorphic designs like those found in Peru – until he observed the regularity of the lines in the Triple Cross formation. Later expeditions, funded through Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, mapped some four dozen geoglyphs; excavation of several sites showed the figures, some of which cover several kilometres, to have been formed by digging shallow trenches into the surface rock so as to reveal darker rock below. To date, though, archaeologists have found few traces of the people who created the geoglyphs. Anaasází oral tradition offers no real clues, either.

We could only afford our pilot and plane for a few hours, so reluctantly we turned back in the early afternoon. I will post a full gallery of photos on Facebook when I get a chance, but here are a few more that we took.

plateauplateau 7plateau 6plateau 4plateau 3

1 Pueblo Indians claim always to have known of the geoglyphs, and there is no reason to doubt them. Although the forms are said only to be visible from the air, many of them can in fact be made out from the upper slopes of the Barrier Mountains at the north and east of the Plateau.

George

 

abominable

He was called George, and there was something about him.

Something that made people want to hug and pet and squeeze him and repeatedly say his name. It was a burden, a cross to bear, and he hated it, often with a melodramatic flourish, but just as often he would use it to get what he wanted.

And to get close enough to kill.

In 1969, dodging the draft, he crossed the border to Canada and in Vancouver signed on to a tramp freighter bound, ironically enough, for Asia. To the chagrin of his crewmates and through gritted teeth he quickly became the skipper’s favourite. The combination of leisure and boredom nearly did for him. In Calcutta, he jumped ship. Fleeing the investigation into his nautical benefactor’s death, and posing as a photographer, he joined an ill-fated expedition into Tibet.

He was never seen again.

A few years later, neither were the yeti.

 

 

 

 

22/12/14