Unable to See the Majority For the Minority

As I keep noting on this blog, publishing is gripped by diversity mania. There is an obsession with inclusion and stories from outside the realm of White Man territory. The Man Booker Prize is not safe from this either, and indeed the world’s biggest literary prize is a locus point of SJW energy. And as usual it is The Guardian that leads the way with its ‘unique’ criticisms of authors, publishers and prizes.

But why is diversity such a big deal? Aside from the obvious acceleration towards ‘equality’ across the entirety of popular culture, the reason is people. The real question should be why it has taken so long for the voices within publishing to get so loud. Publishing is 70% female across the Western world, though men do make up a sizeable chunk of senior management. In the last few years young women with gender studies degrees have probably managed to get a foot in the door, and are starting to shift the focus at a faster pace. They bring with them the usual baggage of intersectionality and the need to have perfectly balanced gender ratios. I have plenty of my own horror stories from listening to these young female ‘professionals’. But despite ‘improvements’ it is, of course, never enough.

Literary prizes are the perfect grounds to attack white privilege. Not enough BAME authors are getting recognition. The situation is so bad that The Guardian recently posted an article titled How Many Man Bookers Must Writers of Colour Win Before They’re Accepted? (which kept in theme with last years article called Man Booker Prize Longlist is a Disappointment for Diversity). But I want to focus on the former piece and why exactly this is all madness.

The author, a creative writing professor, makes a number of spurious claims. The main gist of the piece though is that despite the last two winners of the Man Booker being black, readers still don’t recognise books written by minorities as literature. Of course, the reality is that there are much bigger issues at stake than her hyperbolic theory. She uses this study, a study that states that, ‘90% of people who have read a novel in the last 6 months consider that novel to be literature.’ Let’s keep in mind that about 75% of the general population has read ONE book in the last YEAR, and that men read far less than women. Here are some of the authors these people consider ‘literature’:

  • Jeffrey Archer
  • Danielle Steel
  • Lee Child
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Agatha Christie
  • Catherine Cookson
  • James Patterson
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Dan Brown
  • J R R Tolkien
  • Enid Blyton
  • The Brontë sisters
  • George Orwell
  • Stephen King
  • Jane Austen
  • Roald Dahl
  • J K Rowling
  • Charles Dickens
  • William Shakespeare

I’ve marked in bold those that are actually literature. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens probably count, but at the time of their writing they were ‘popular’ literature. However, if you are looking at these results and complaining about the lack of brown people, you have an agenda. The true problem is that people read shit books by shit authors. They read the same authors over and over. The real problem is that if we consider J K Rowling, Dan Brown and Lee fucking Child as literature, then we as a civilisation are lost. (Oh yeah, and one twat called Reza Aslan a writer of literature.) If you look at the full list of authors, there are clearly some real writers there, and also some minorities. These names were probably given by REAL readers, ones who appreciate and understand what literature is. So the author of The Guardian piece is cherry picking the data and coming to absurd, and frankly frightening conclusions.

Is it really a surprise though? You are polling the general public, of course the results are going to skew towards popular literature. Look at the stats for the full list of authors:

  • 31% are female
  • 7% are Black, Asian or Mixed Race in ethnicity
  • 44% are non-British (mostly American)
  • 51% are living writers.

The fact is that most people are going to consider old, dead authors (who, shock of shocks, will be mostly white) as literature. Americans feature heavily because American culture is so ingrained across the world. 7% minority is pretty good given the statistics for readers (from the same study):

raceandreading

If you have fewer readers of literature, then you’re going to have fewer writers. The fact of the matter is that the majority of readers in Britain (and indeed in the Western world) are white, female and educated. Shockingly, this is also the largest demographic for social justice warriors, which I’m sure is not a coincidence.

The author of the piece has issues she wants to make relevant, so fuck the actual problem. She makes some infuriating claims, such as:

Without doubt, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens and many more men of letters have done Britain proud. But times have moved on.

Given she is a professor of creative writing, I find her beliefs disturbing. Literature is not a moving object, one that floats with the tide. It is quite fixed, in that what most people consider literature is writing that has stood the test of time (hence Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens). That’s what makes it capital L literature. And while the writer can make claims about the stupidity of readers and their inability to consider minorities as writers of literature, she herself is too dumb to read into the numbers, saying:

A misconception prevails that books penned by non-white writers have limited relevance to the population at large.

If the audience is mostly white, female and educated, then unsurprisingly books written by POC authors about POC themes are probably not going to appeal to all of them.

She then cites a 2013 study about literature and empathy, which of course is a line that geeky SJWs love to throw out at every opportunity. ‘Reading makes you a better person!’ the headlines scream whenever a new study linking literature to altruism/empathy/long life/better memory/clear skin comes out. Not only are the studies dubious (like most studies you find written about in the MSM) but the notion that you can magically read a book and become a Good Person is absurd, and is not a line that should be pushed by anyone, least of all a creative writing lecturer. That said, I’ve never met a group more self-righteous and sure of themselves than those undertaking or teaching a creative writing degree. Books do not make you more humble, it seems.

Then she tries to link this idea with real life events. Mentioning both hate crimes and Brexit, she actually has the audacity to pose the question that perhaps if more people had read literature by minorities the Grenfell Tower tragedy would never have happened. Fake news gets a mention, saying:

But judging from the lack of nuanced real-life stories in circulation about marginalised groups, cultural deprivation is a pretty apt description for the condition members of mainstream society find themselves in. Consider, for instance the report of the Christian girl fostered by a Muslim family spun into a far-right fantasy; a story fuelled by paranoia and an evident lack of awareness about the lives of others.

Correct me if I am wrong, but that is a true story that actually happened? Or is she referring only to the dumb Photoshop job by the paper that originally reported on it? Whatever. She decries race elitism while displaying her own elitism and disdain. The only conclusion I can draw is that the writer wants to eliminate white written culture and force minority writing on the majority. Perhaps she’s just mad she can’t get her novel published.

 

How The Room Predicted Trump

I may be one of the few people who actually thinks that The Room is purpose built. To make a movie that has not a single well-made scene in terms of acting, composition and writing takes more than luck. It takes skill. Despite being deemed an atrocity, it is expertly crafted.

The thing that really tipped me off is the ending. Very few movies have actually left me with my jaw open. It was a distinct feeling watching Johnny blow his brains out. It felt like euphoria. A perfect ending makes sense and yet you never see it coming. An ending like that isn’t arrived at by luck. I walked out of the cinema stunned.

Another element of the ending leads me to believe that The Room is intentionally bad. If you recall earlier in the film Johnny wrestles a pistol off the drug dealer that he and Mark catch on the rooftop. This is, presumably, the same gun with which Johnny kills himself. However, in the book The Disaster Artist, a chronicle of the making of the film, Greg Sestero explicitly says that he didn’t understand where Johnny was meant to have got the gun from in the final scene. (I believe I sold the book to a secondhand store, so can’t verify his exact words at the moment.) Hmm. If anything is illogical here it’s Greg’s assessment of the scene.

But the biggest clues are all outside the film itself. For one thing, why would actors and technical folks – even those desperate for-fame-or-money – subject themselves to the awfulness of making this movie? Sure, at one point the crew do walk out and replacements must be found, but I’m not convinced. You wouldn’t need everyone on board with the scam, and certainly such drama adds to the hype. In The Disaster Artist Greg makes it appear that he is the only one holding it together, and if he is in on the gag that’s all Tommy Wiseau would require. At the very least the decisions that Tommy was making point towards mental health issues. If his actions are so bizarre and outside the realms of normalcy why did no one think to commit him, or send in a psychologist? Whether from self-preservation or empathy, Tommy should have been stopped.

So already the setup is dodgy. But it doesn’t end there. Tommy talked himself up constantly, was going to submit the film to the Academy Awards and bought a single, fuck-off big billboard to promote the film. Was it merely delusions of grandeur or was it building the apparatus with which to launch a career? What Tommy was aiming for was the biggest untapped market in film history.

This is what I propose was Tommy Wiseau’s master plan. He was never, ever going to make it big in Hollywood if he wanted to beat the competition. Not a chance. So he went in the other direction, where this is no competition. Shoot down, aim for the lowest common denominator. Horseshoe theory works outside politics; fandoms are spawned from both good and bad movies. Create a legion of followers. Create a cult, a mysticism. Create something so bad they can’t ignore you. And it worked. The movie has turned a profit and Tommy Wiseau is (relatively) famous, with more projects on the way. Everything since has flowed from the insane work he put into making The Room perfectly bad. It’s so obvious in hindsight.

This was Trump’s strategy. No matter how Left you are, you will never convince many people that Donald Trump is a moron. The media said the same thing about Bush. It’s both an act and self-perpetuating myth. Just like Tommy Wiseau. In reality they are crafty players. Trump seeded the idea of running for President years in advance. When he ran he ran on simple, lowest common denominator policies. He played his part and gained a cult following, who in turn spun his narrative, both good and bad elements.  This is not a case of so-bad-it’s-good. This is a case of smoke and mirrors, meticulous organization and pure determination. It’s just a wonder that the media and the Left fail to see that Trump outplayed them.

There’s another similarity at play here. Effectively, The Room is a Christ story. Johnny is betrayed like Jesus was, and then sacrifices himself for the sins of others. Is this Trump’s tale? Is he the messiah and has he come to Capitol Hill to sacrifice himself for the greater good? Only time will tell.

I’d be very interested to hear other’s thoughts on this. For example, any conclusive counter evidence to my theory. I also think it would be worth investigating any connections between Tommy, Greg and people who initially promoted the film.

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #3

‘So let’s be clear: you have no memory of what happened?’

Rigel stands across from the rescued man – now known as Walcot thanks to the onboard data files – who sits on a stripped down bed. The medbay glows with cleanliness. Walcot’s eyes focus on the floor, his hands mashing together. He doesn’t answer. Rigel’s teeth grind.

It’s been hours since they rescued this extra body from the hulk, which is still attached precariously. The engineers are going back and forth, checking the systems and data. It’s all proceeding as it should.

‘Let me explain this to you, again. We – and I mean humanity – lost contact with you, the Indomitable, not long after your first arrival in the system. It’s been… a long time. This is meant to be a one way trip, though…’ He stops himself, his mouth still moving but the words cut off. Realigning, he continues, ‘I would appreciate if you told me what you can remember.’

Walcot looks up, straight into Rigel’s eyes.

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing, except who I am, and even that’s vague… barest memories of before I even signed up. I…’ He chokes. Emotions or getting used to speaking again, one or the other.

Rigel grunts. He was a kid when this corpse went quiet. The last outpost. Snuffed out after such a long wait, literally centuries and generations went by waiting for them to reach the Vega system. Joan’s in the Bulb getting all data on every other rescue mission, which all should, theoretically, be arriving in their designated systems about the same time.

The door slides open with a hiss. Lin walks in, her eyes tracing charts as the patient’s results roll past her retinas.

‘He appears healthy, though over-exposed to the cryosleep, obviously. No long term effects. But the memory loss… It can happen, quite often. Especially in the case of trauma.’

Rigel nods, fingers squeezing his lips.

‘Trauma… Bring up his ship records.’

Lin’s eyes twitch.

‘Ari Walcot. Brought along to… document the settlement of the Vega system. You’re a journalist?’

Walcot smiles. ‘If you say so.’

‘Great, so now not only do I have an extra corpse on my hands, but he’s useless too.’ Rigel throws his hands up in the air, kicks a bed.

A voice in his ear.

Captain. You’re needed in the Bulb. Now.

What is it Joan?’ Lin snaps a look at Rigel. Joan’s talking directly to him.

I think I know what happened here.

***

Vega, the star, bulges at its equator. Parallel to the equator the light is a duller blue-white than at the poles. Junko’s ‘eyes’ are all focused on this point. An object has appeared in Vega’s orbit.

Joan stares down the barrel of an optic station. She flips between spectra, observing the object in each. It appears to her as a small black smudge. A freckle against the mighty sun.

‘It’s a ship?’

‘It’s something technological. It’s far too small for a planet, and the orbit is wrong anyway.’ Joan pulls away from the optics and looks straight at Rigel.

‘So you’re saying, potentially, that the Indomitable ran into… aliens, maybe, and we’ve come 25 light years to meet the same fate?’

‘Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t get any energy readings from it. It appears dormant.’

‘Probes, now. Keep quiet, no radio, reduce our radiation, and don’t tell any -’

Captain. I assume you’ve spotted the anomaly.

The Major. Her voice crackles through the all-purpose frequency, the robotic shifts of her mechanised voice box magnified through the vox.

‘Major. Indeed we have. We’re coming up with a plan of action now. It appears quiet for now.’

‘I’m already putting together a drone team for reconnaissance. I suggest you work through the data banks of the Indomitable more efficiently.’

With a click the Major was gone. Rigel’s jaw clenched.

‘At least we’ve got a clue as to why she’s here. Pilot, I want you to keep working on data from the Indomitable and to keep scanning the system for clues. Get those probes out quickly. I’m going back to talk to our guest.’

***

One, two, three. Probes shoot from Junko, pacifist torpedoes hunting for knowledge. They cross the gap between sentient ship and anomaly quickly, dodging debris yet keeping formation. They begin to relay imagery back to Junko, who feeds it on to the crew.

As they already know, it is massive. A large sphere, a small moon even. Its skin is layered with crevices and mountains. Spires shoot up, ugly spikes into space. Valleys and bunkers. The drones split up.

They shoot across the horizons, scanners slowly bringing the anomaly into a 3D rendition in Junko’s database. In the background Vega burns, flames lapping at edges of the system, the haziness of which diffuses the light to a romantic glow. But there is no light from the anomaly. It orbits in silence.

***

Rigel stares at the stump where Walcot’s left leg should be.

‘Your injury. No recollection of what happened?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did your team board the anomaly?’

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘Right. What I think we are going to have to do is jolt your memory. Lin, you can hook him up to memory retrieval right?’

Lin nods, eyes averted.

‘It induces a dream state, and then we look for memories,’ Lin says to Walcot. ‘We can read the feedback your brain provides. In the lucid state we can sort out dreams from reality.’

‘I… I don’t think I particularly want to dream.’

‘You don’t really have a choice, I’m afraid.’ Rigel stares down the man with that comment, daring him to challenge. Walcot just looks at his leg.

His mouth moves, barely a whisper.

‘What did you say?’ says Rigel.

‘I said, “What happened to the rest of them?”’

A pause.

‘All of them.’

‘We’re getting feedback from the other missions. It appears there are no survivors, and so the secondary teams are all in the process of picking up where the first teams left off. As for your team specifically, we have no idea. From what we are gathering in each of the other systems, the bodies are mostly accounted for, suicides in the majority. The only exception is Vega. No bodies. One soul back from the dead. And one alien structure. We’ve already relayed this back to Earth. Can you imagine, this is the first sign of alien intelligence we’ve yet to discover? You’ve slept for centuries and managed to keep it quiet.’

Walcot twitches, a full-body jerk. Rigel takes a step back, Lin goes to help the man. He manages to right himself, hands gripping the bed hard. Visible sweat rivulets sweep across his skin.

‘It can’t be good if we never told you about it.’

‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #2

The airlock of Junko is bright, fluorescent light painting everyone in unnatural shades. Joan watches as Lin Pei steps onto her suit printer before the others and freeze stiff. The woman’s lungs are still pumping back to life, her joints ache, the cold slowly seeping out. And now she’s getting wrapped up again.

The printer coil surrounds her, starting from her boots. Warm synthetic material covers her from bottom to top. She doesn’t flinch. It’s like body paint, a vitality giving inner layer for their spacesuits. She is finished first and steps back to receive the exosuit. Junko is soft in her touch, clamping, slotting and clipping the suit around Lin’s limbs and torso. It’s over in thirty seconds. Lin reaches into the collar and retrieves the earpiece.

‘And you’re live, Lin.’

Joan’s voice reach Lin, then the others as they each suit up, reading all the vitals the nanotech of the inner layer is feeding her, checking them off like a good pilot. Cams, audio, heartbeats – they’re all available to her instantaneously, thrown up by Junk.

We ready to do this?

Rigel turns to prep the boarding team: Lina and the twins, Hotham and Jay.

Alright crew, we have arrived. It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve gone over our training procedures. We’re entering an atmosphere-less hulk so we take it easy until we can boot her.

Joan’s mind wanders. She flicks cameras to the Major, who has retreated to her station. Joan brings the screen closer. More machine than person, the Major is connected to her personal hub at the other end of the ship, lost in her own objectives. Behind her the massive 3D printer is constructing something. Joan has already tried to dig into the Major’s past and reasons for being here, but it’s virtual block after digital deadzone. She’s untouchable.

The next camera goes to Unaipon, the scholar, also busy doing whatever it is he does. He seems to flit from one stations to the next, never happy with whatever he is working on for longer than a few minutes. Or he’s working on each simultaneously.
It feels like yesterday since she saw these people last. Of course in reality it has been about 250 years. Joan grips her holds, white knuckles. The abyss of the time period baulks her at the best of times. A voice yells in her ear.

Joan.

She switches back to the airlock.

‘Yes captain?’

I need you awake, pilot, I know you’re good but you’re not do-it-in-your-sleep good.

Someone laughs.

‘Even if I were out cold, I’d still do a better job than you, sir.’

She sees him look directly at the cam and give a smile.

Right, are we ready to do this? Hotham, Jay, take point. I’ll follow and Lin, you’re last. Joan, hit it when you’re ready.

The boarding party gets into formation, sleek suits ready for their first run, bulky equipment in strength-enhanced arms. Joan hits the release.

***

Lin watches her compatriots disappear into the yawning dark ahead of her, the separation of life and death. She steps in behind them automatically, not wanting to but it’s why she’s here. To go where almost no one has been before. Or at least to discover why those that did go before went quiet.

Her headlamps come on automatically as she crosses into the lifeless hulk. The light captures her crewmates before she turns to look around. The space seems like the evil twin of Junko, a leviathan with the life crushed out of it. They all cross into what had been the living area.

The whole ship is similar, but smaller. The tech is older, less sophisticated. They can only dock because all ships have been made retroactive. Quite the foresight, Lin thinks. Then she thinks what inventions and foresights have been made in the intervening years. She veers slightly, head going light. She shakes it off quickly, forcing a release of hormones to focus. Rigel’s voice suddenly comes over the comms, crisp.

Looks like everything is mostly intact. Joan, are you receiving vid? Good. Anything loose will have gone to suck, but I don’t think the control panels are damaged. Hotham, can you get her started?

Lin takes it all on board and keeps wandering through the ship. It’s like being under water, like being in training all those years ago. Seawood-esque wires wave at her as she moves slowly through, her grav boots operating in time with her movements.

OK Jay, close down the hatch. Joan, we’ve done a sweep and there doesn’t appear to be any hull breaches. We’re closing the doors and going to boot her.

Lin snaps out of her dreaming. Looks around. She’s in the cryo-chamber.

***

In a pit of snakes, squirming and wriggling, Walcot drags himself up. The snakes fall away, their bodies leaving his in relief. Not tied back by gravity, he shoots towards the sky. A horrific face appears, all teeth and pale skin, and Walcot feels a sudden terror in his stomach he hasn’t felt in a very long time. The thing opens its mouth and…

Gas jets into his face. He tries to scream but a tube is shoved down his throat. He gags, hands floundering to get a grip on the tube. He pulls it out, vomiting up whatever liquid lingered is his esophagus. The gas is still jetting into his face. He tries to push past it but is met by glass. Something wells up inside him.

Walcot screams. He screams and it feels like he is forcing his insides out his mouth. He feels his mind leave him, leaving only a screaming husk. But only for a moment.

The glass disappears as if magically dispersed. Something lets his feet go. Walcot falls face first, still screaming. But he doesn’t hit anything. Instead he just floats out. He stops, shocked. Then he tries to breath again.

A rancid and metallic taste assaults him, but no air.

ohfucktheresnoatmosphereFUCK

He squeezes his eyes shut, convulses, and wishes he was back in the pit of snakes.

***

Lin stares at the man writhing in front of her. He’s suspended in midair, his body wriggling in a ball. Her fingers twitch at her side. She almost takes a step back. Instead she rushes at the man as fast as her grav boots allow, oxygenator in hand. She screams into her vox.

GET IN HERE, TO ME!

Lin’s body takes over from her mind, like she’s left herself. Reaching for the man, she tries to pull his limbs apart so she can wrestle the oxygenator on to his face. The power might be back on but the air is going to take a little while, if there even is air left. Lights flicker like a nightmare. Forcing her suited arm between the man’s limbs, Lin finally manages to get the rebreather over his mouth. She switches her vox to external, hoping there’s enough reclaimed atmosphere by now to carry her voice.

‘BREATHE.’

Part 3

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #1

Somewhere, distant. Two specks close-in like mating bugs, one a luminescent dominatrix, the other a silent receiver. Their rings are immobile, frozen before the life-giving connection. The receiver is clearly older, its batteries long dormant. A single ring surrounds the engine, a giant, bulbous antiquity. The incoming arrival is long and slender, two rings at either end, one contracted and waiting. New and old will unite.

In the distance spins Vega, sputtering and spurting its gases, waves of radiation washing the vicinity in random bursts. So it has been for millennia. It has not seen life for a long time, but then, what does it care? There is no old or new, just forever and perhaps an end. At its core it rumbles.

***

Suspended in the Bulb, Joan Lewis sweats despite the cold. She doesn’t notice. A dozen displays surround her, move into her vision when needed. A stream of information bounces within her retina, half visual and half fed into her mind. The ship’s computer, Junko, works diligently to keep her completely up-to-date. Drugs surge through Joan’s veins, heightening her reaction times and thought processes, overclocking her body. Her hands rush around like erratic moons, and her facial expressions do the rest. Her feet are locked in on the pilot’s platform as the embodiment of Junko rotates and twists to suit her needs. Joan is suspended in symbiosis with the ship.

Behind her is the captain, observing, but also stepping in to bring up information when needed. His eyes dart back to Joan and a smirk breaks out as he watches her, watches her dance. Her work is better than his ever was. His body suit is warm, but he has his face free to feel the cold of the Bulb. Past the screens and the frenetic Joan is space. Endless space. Just creeping into the peripheral is Vega burning its blue-white brightness. The eagle has landed, Rigel thinks.

Rigel notices Joan focus, stiffen up, and her movements become longer and attuned. The time has come. He’s watched her do this a hundred times in the sims, but it’s always impressive, more so now that it’s for real. He can make out the other ship now, the Indomitable, as they come perpendicular to it. Slotting it between the two rings of Junko. Junko has come knocking to discover what conquered the unconquerable.

‘How does the airlock look?’ Rigel says to Joan. She doesn’t look up, instead shooting off a data byte in his direction. He brings up the info.

The Indomitable is intact, no holes or damage. Except for the airlock. Signs of expulsion are evident, pipes drifting lazily out of the opening like an anemone. There are scars where heavy objects would have struck as they were jettisoned. An error or on purpose? Rigel can’t see anything that tells him one way or the other. If the hulk had been ripped open it’s going to make boarding difficult.

‘I can still make it, the lock gates aren’t incompatible with ours. I’m going in.’

Rigel throws down the scans.

Joan’s movements speed up, red lights flashing as she goes too far one way, then the other. On the hull spurts of gas pop at random, guiding them invisibly. Then a moment of silence, the warning lights cease.

‘Could be a bump,’ says Joan right before she makes contact.

In the gravity-less Bulb it isn’t an issue as the ship shudders around them. In another instant the ship is rigid again, with an additional appendage. In an instant they are one vessel, the Indomitable now a cancerous growth to be healed.

‘Easy,’ says Joan, ‘now comes the really fun part.’

She disengages from the various wires and inputs, pushes off towards Rigel. She glides towards him, her eyes locked on his and intent on only one thing. Rigel catches her as she comes close, and she latches on to him.

‘We’ve got an hour before the rest of the crew wake up,’ Joan says, a mischievous smile springing to her face. ‘And I’m all worked up.’

Rigel grins. She grabs his hand and pushes off back down towards the tunnel and the bunks. He loves it when she takes control.

***

Slowly but surely the crew awakens. Joan watches them in the corner of her eye, a distraction while she comes down off the cocktail of amphetamines and sex. Their bodies shake as they are reanimated, blood pumping back through empty veins and stirring organs. The worst part is the full-body pins-and-needles sensation, thinks Joan. Thankfully it only takes a few hours before the body is back to full capacity.

She stretches up, bones cracking for the first time in decades. Rigel lies in bed, his eyes glazed over as he flicks through pre-boarding checks.

‘Come, play a game with me,’ she says. He comes back to reality. ‘We’ve got a little time.’

She sits down at the table, bringing a game of chess up. The pieces materialise and she chooses white. Rigel saunters over, his skin suit crawling over him. The ship is still cold from the aeons.

‘I’ll probably be rusty, even if you give my AI a handicap,’ he says, coughing and easing himself into the seat.

‘It’s not about winning, dear,’ Joan says, even though a competitive glint is etched into her eyes. They begin, rapidly at first before slowing into a rhythm.

‘Ah, you’ve got a response to everything I throw out, says Rigel. ‘Never mind being two steps ahead, you’re at least five. For such a mirrored game it becomes asymmetrical so quickly.’

‘No different to anything else in nature or humanity. There’s an equal and opposite reaction for everything, you only have to be ready for it.’

Rigel grunts in amusement.

‘I just need to think outside the box then, beat you back with randomness.’

‘I’m plenty used to randomness, too.’

The AIs they were using would throw out multiple moves per turn, a thousand calculations a second. Junko watches from a distance, mostly disapproving of all moves chosen by both parties.

‘Have you ever played vanilla chess?’

Joan looks up. ‘No, I haven’t actually. No point.’

‘I have. It’s remarkable the patterns a computer chooses over a human. For one thing, humans like repetition, familiarity. But it’s all a simulation, no? It’s the same principle as docking this ship, just a tad more complicated in the types of calculations that Junko has to come up with. That right Junk?’

The lights dim in response.

‘Such a quiet thing. Sometimes I wonder what Junk thinks about in the downtime.’

‘What downtime? Me, I wonder if the AI can distinguish between a game and real life, or if both have equal weighting.’

‘Either way, they offer us the best possible result. We just have the courage to take it. Check.’

‘Such the inspiration, Rigel. But we’re all pieces in the larger game. Us in particular. Moved to the farthest reaches of known space on the back of some vague hope.’

‘Sometimes I don’t mind being manipulated. We’ve got the chance to change the future of humanity after all.’ He gives out a grim chuckle.

‘You know as well as I know the only reason we’re here is that it’s better than home. And that it gives the only people worth a shit a slight chance of a good time.’

‘Hey, I think you’re worth a shit. That’s why I brought you with me.’

‘Don’t kid yourself, I came because you’re useless without me.’

He laughs at that.

‘By the way, checkmate.’ Joan leans back, satisfied.

‘Well fuck me, that came from nowhere.’

‘Don’t mind if I do.’

‘Do what?’

‘Fuck you.’

Part Two

Short Story: The Ture

The following is the first piece of my fictional writing that has ever been published, and so I think it’s time I took writing seriously. Like a job or something. The piece even got its own image (which I think matches it perfectly).

12-Ture

Image by Luke Marcatili

The Ture was originally published at Seizure Online http://seizureonline.com/the-ture/

I ease the door open. The weak light from the corridor reveals the interior, filthy tiles and limbs.  My heart is thumping in protest, my head feels like it’s a dying star about to collapse in on itself. I look down briefly at my mostly naked body; the advertatts give off a sickly incandescence.

‘Welcome, friend!’

A weedy teenager beckons me from inside, his half-moon glasses hiding his pupils. Around him a gaggle of musty-looking men and women stare at a lump in the centre of the circle.

‘We were about to start without you,’ says the boy. ‘I thought you might have been followed and called it off. You would do that, right?’

‘I made sure I was alone,’ I say.

‘Good … good,’ he says, instantly distracted by the package in front of him. His hands snake out and open it.

Every eye in the room focuses where his hands go. I’ve only heard good things about Ture. Good things and rumours. And if the cops are so intent on stopping it then it has to be good.

‘Your first time is like nothing else. But then, so are the second, third and further times,’ the teenager says. He sniggers as he hands me a pistol-shaped transmitter.

‘Now remember, folks, the best part of Ture is that we do not give it to ourselves, but others. If you could all turn to your left we will commence.’

I can feel the port on the back of my neck tingle. Made for aid in dreams and long hauls, I’ve never been permitted to use mine. I marvel at the digital plunger in my hand, the design broken and reshaped to make it work on the human body. I draw it up and insert it into the girl on my left, and shiver uncontrollably when someone does the same to me, their callused hands scratching my back.

‘Release the Ture!’

For a moment I turn ice-cold, and then …

callmeishmael

shipsoceanhunt

thewhitewhale

‘Five thousand years ago!’ I scream as I come back. I feel like I’ve lived another life in an instant. Sweaty. Panting. Hands shaking. That was the greatest ride of my life.

Others around the room have reacted the same, with the giver sitting there, a half-smile on his lips.

‘More,’ I say. ‘Again.’

He chuckles.

‘As you wish.’

He lets us come back to reality (though we don’t want to) before setting up again. He draws it out, making us shiver and drool in anticipation. Ture. Whatever I just experienced is slipping already.

‘Now I have something extra special,’ the giver says as he hands out fresh injectors.

We take it, load and wait.

‘Release the Ture!’

themostmercifulthingintheworld

cultschanting

risesrisesRISES!

‘Loathsomeness waits! Dreams in the deep! The tottering cities of men!’

These words of madness swarm and as my mind leaves my consciousness I hear the gibbering of lost souls mewling in their own mental excrement. The Ture has taken us.