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Author: RJC

Error in Transfer

Error in Transfer

There is a character in my head who lives his life in regret, and whom parts of my subconscious try to speak through: a character in a story I’ve been writing since I was twelve, and one that I am here to say goodbye to. I’m sitting behind him in a beer garden, staring at the back of his head. Today is the day of his funeral, but he doesn’t know it. I haven’t the heart to tell him either, so instead I sit behind him and let him enjoy his beer. I feel I owe him that. He is older than I am, and is the vessel for all my regrets. No wonder he can’t fit onto a page. He is a writer as well, so carries the stories I haven’t finished. Or have finished and can’t let go of so keep returning to, trying to rewrite. His name is Draph Nathaniel, and all his life he has been six seconds late.

On the night he was born there was a terrible storm that delayed his birth. All storms are terrible because we cannot control them, and we hate to not be in control. We cling to the notion that we are, but we’re not. We are in a massive machine of circumstance, and must simply hope the clogs turn in our favour. When they do, we call this fate. Or chance. Or luck. And we say that’s where we are meant to be. A better man than myself once defined this so elegantly:

The two prime movers in the Universe are Time and Luck.

That man was a writer named Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. I never met him so can’t attest to what his character was, but from reading his work I am assured of the following: he held regret and knew the damage time can do. This essay, in part, is homage to him and the lives we both have and haven’t led. The things we’d like to undo. It’s about the decisions we’ve made. It’s about where we are and where we sometimes wonder we should be. It’s about regret and why regrets mean nothing. And it’s about how the decisions that have led us here have saved our lives. So I bid you: listen.

I flipped a coin and I lost my life.

These words were overheard in Chinatown, Manhattan, by a journalist who broadcast them via Twitter. Intrigued by the phrase, her friend, another journalist, decided to follow the story. She tracked its origin to a 30-year-old man named Dennis, a masseuse at the Health Trail massage parlour, which specialises in people’s feet. The words were spoken by Dennis at the age of 26. Both he and his brother, Kyle, had just graduated college, so naturally they were unemployed. Education seems to mean so much and so little. After a while they were forced to return home to live with their father, the owner of the parlour. Their father gave them an ultimatum: one of them had to continue the family business. Neither of them wanted to. After days, weeks, possibly months of avoiding the discussion, they one day, quite casually, decided to settle it with a loser-takes-all proposition: the all, of course, being the burden of the business and the loss of their life and all they had thought it would entail.

The bet was waged over a cup of tea, devised from an old ritual determining luck. If the tealeaves floated upside down with their stalks protruding from the water, you were to have a fortuitous year. Between the two brothers, however, the stakes were somewhat higher: they decided whoever had the most stalks protruding would have a good life. The cups were set. The tealeaves were placed. The water boiled and poured. Dennis watched as his tea leaves rose, presenting numerous stalks. With wide eyes and a smile, he looked to Kyle’s teacup. Kyle’s teacup had many more. He sat in silence for countless minutes, blank, coming to terms with what this meant.

It took the grace of time, however – several months in fact – for Dennis to realise it was the best decision he could have made. Despite never actually having made it. Kyle asserts there never was a gamble: had he lost, he wouldn’t have gone through with it. He claims it was all about Dennis, who was terrified of making the decision. Terrified it might be wrong. That it was not what he’d planned for his life. But secretly, he wanted it: he just needed prompting.

In ancient Greece, Xenophon of Athens and his men were being pursued by a Persian army. Xenophon decided to turn and confront them, and chose the edge of a cliff as their battleground. There was nowhere to retreat to. There was no option but to fight. It sent the message to the Persians that Xenophon and his men were going to fight to the death, be it by sword or fall. ‘Embrace the cliff,’ he is reported to have said.

I used to ponder the decisions I’d made, and one decision in particular. One choice I made when I was so much younger that has shaped every day of my life since. For so long I have framed it as a regret, but now realise that by pulling a thread, everything I hold dear today would come unravelled. This happens when you place your life in a frame. Make a tapestry of it. A decision can seem inconsequential when looked upon from a distance, but it has the power to make people non-existent. Think on that a second: one decision, one thread, and someone doesn’t exist.

I’m at the end of grade six – a twelve-year-old kid – and I’m lying in bed, pillow wet with tears. My mum’s asking me what I want to do, and if I’m sure. I’m at a crossroads, and am already grieving because I know which path I’m taking. My primary school friends are all going to the same high school. My older sister, however, goes to another, and there’s something inside of me saying I should follow her. I have to go. Some ‘hard road’ kind of crap. It means the death of all those friendships. This is an age before Facebook, mobile phones, the Internet and the ease of contact. I’m twelve years old, and trading the old for the new.

For years, that there has been the moment: the decision that shaped my life and gave birth to Draph. The next few years of high school were spent in relative solitude. The library became a haven, a place I didn’t have to worry about fitting in. Or avoiding people. Or being seen wandering around the yard alone, or worse, trying to keep up with people who weren’t that bothered if I trailed behind. Ever since I’ve felt disconnected, knowing I let go at that point. And I’ve spent the time since wondering if it’s been them or me, the reason I’ve felt misplaced. So many times I’ve revisited that moment: wondering who I would be if I’d made the other choice. But if there is one thing Draph has taught me, it is this: it is so easy to lose yourself in the past, and once lost it can be so very hard to find your way back again.

The signposts erected since then are not hard to follow. One points directly to the next, and they form a network of people and places and friends. I fell in love with a girl in high school. She left to go to another school. I followed her. I hated it, and we didn’t work out. I left. I arrived at another school and made some friends. They introduced me to some of their friends. One of them had a sister. I shared a house with her years later, and when she left a girl from Hobart, Tasmania moved in. She was in a band, and they would practice in our garage. The band had a lead guitarist. That guitarist is now my wife.

Every day we make decisions. These decisions change our lives. These decisions save our lives, and condemn us to an early death. There is no consistency to how they work. No way of telling what the outcome will be. There are better lives we could have led, and worse. Decisions we could have made. One day we’ll have technology that will enable us to speak to our alternate selves. Draph, who is a better writer than I am, wrote a story about that. The device is called the ‘What To Do’. It is a machine worn on your arm like a wristwatch, and allows the wearer to video-chat with him or herself of the future and ask what happened once a decision had been reached and enacted upon. Once feedback is received, the wearer adapts their decisions accordingly. Thus, a new version of themselves can be called, and so on. It never ends, and it never ends well.

Draph also wants to write the story of his life. He’s gotten as far as the title, which is Error in Transfer. I’m sitting behind him in a beer garden. He’s at the table opposite with his back to me, and he’s staring at it right now – nothing but those three words on an empty page of a starving notebook, its ribs so visible. I know because I write him every minute. He’s tapping his pen on those three words as if the ink will spill out and do the job for him. The story he wants to tell is a portrayal of the importance of time, the crucial impact a second can make, and the life-changing ramifications of a seemingly simple decision. This is what he intends it to be, but he can’t get over the first hurdle. That first word. The enormity of a second has him stifled. Has him flummoxed. He does know this much, however: he is forever chasing those six seconds. Counting all events worldwide that can happen in them. Those six seconds were not just lost on the night of his birth. They are constantly repeated. Constantly mourned for. Constantly deemed critical to his current situation and at odds with what would happen each moment if they were accounted for.

So much happens in six seconds. If he divides each one from the whole, it places everything into perspective. In that first second, approximately ten new people draw their first breath in our shared world. By the sixth, 70 people have drawn their first breath, 60 have exhaled their last, and, in every one of those seconds in between, billions of irreversible decisions have been made.

‘Forget the notion you have control!’ Draph would scream. ‘If I can’t account for six seconds, what hope do any of us have of control?’ Seventeen months ago I would have let him scream this. But so much happens in seventeen months.

I know of a woman whose life was saved by the combination of a clumsy finger and one minute. It could be argued that she, in her lifetime, has had many opportunities to die, but we can account for at least two, and they both failed because of chance, perhaps. Or luck. Or the simple motion of gears.

Her name is Elise O’Kane. She’s a flight stewardess, and still is because while rostering on for a shift one night, she got two numbers mixed up. This was her usual flight, but she screwed it up. What a fool. Fat fingers. She had the opportunity to fix that, though, the night before the shift. But in trying to reschedule her shift, in trying to secure normality, her computer stalled. The system lagged – there was a glitch in the matrix, or a terrible storm somewhere – and by the time it was all back to normal she was one minute late. 60 seconds. She spoke with the man who beat her to it, who got the shift she wanted. He was a happy man, new to the job, and expressed his excitement for getting a cocktail once his first destination was reached. But the destination never was. That flight slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

All for a minute – a cursed minute, damned luck – and she hated every minute following until that damned luck became otherwise. We do this a lot in life, I’ve realised. We do it all the time. Where we are is so damned unfortunate or lucky, depending on perspective, but we’re so often quick to feel unlucky more than otherwise. Until something drastic like a minute changes everything. Until something meant to kill us saves us.

Greer Epstein was an executive director at Morgan Stanley. In my opinion, anyone with that kind of title is destined for a short life regardless. But my opinion isn’t well paid for, and barely worth noting or adhering to. On this, it seems, fate would agree. Epstein was known as a hard worker who rarely left the desk. But one morning she did, when a colleague asked her out for a cigarette. Draph and I are smokers, so this story brings us both much joy and heartbreak. I know he is smiling, because he thinks exactly what I do. Then his spirit falls heavy, because mine do too. Midway down their elevator ride the building trembled. When they emerged onto the street they found a city in devastation: that same plane from the paragraph above had struck. Minutes later, Greer Epstein watched as a second plane stuck the south tower and went straight through her office. Everyone she had said good morning to on that floor was dead. And a cigarette saved her life.

Draph falls silent in the same way I do. It is a silence you can feel. It’s recognition of how lucky we are. Of how much a minute or decision can mean. Draph stands and takes the final swig of his beer. He slams the pint glass down and turns to grab his jacket off the back of his chair. My unwavering gaze catches his eye, and for a moment he stares as if we might know each other. As if I might have something to tell him.

I have all of this to tell him. On that night I traded the old for the new, there was no terrible storm but the one swirling in my twelve-year-old mind. It was a storm of time and space and chaos, of infinite pathways and decisions, and one I conjured to make sense of why I’ve felt so misplaced in the world since then. Draph’s lost six seconds is the time I imagine it took me to make that adult decision at such a young age – for me to resolve to one path. The time it took for my life to branch one way and divorce itself of any other. And if it is to come to the decision between Draph – my life of regrets – or a life of forgetting what could have been and instead of embracing what I have, then I know which choice I have to make.

But I don’t say any of it. Instead, I turn and stare out at the road. And in turning away, I make him unwritten – erase him as if he never existed. Because that is what I am here to do. To unburden him of all that I’ve put on his shoulders and made him carry over the years. Because so much happens in six seconds, and so much can change you in seventeen months.

If it were all to unravel – were I to pull that thread – then there is someone immeasurably dear to me that wouldn’t exist. This is the power of seventeen months. This is the power of a massive six seconds, or sixty. This is the magic of decision and chance. A life was saved, another found in tealeaves. A path was taken, and the new embraced. A child was born 17 months ago for a decision I made at twelve. And how could any decision I’ve made be wrong if it led to her: this girl so small, this spirit gigantic. Nothing I’ve done can be regretted.

 

First published in Kindling (2014, Writer’s Edit).

Love and Road Kill, Available to Read at Mildred.co

Love and Road Kill, Available to Read at Mildred.co

Let’s talk about love, baby. Yes, I did just misquote a Salt ‘N’ Pepa song in way of introduction, but I’m assuming their grasp of grammar is so tenuous they won’t notice. More specifically, let’s talk about love’s trials and tribulations. They say its course never runs smooth, but it seems not only is it uneven, it is also riddled with road kill.

I’m speaking to you now as a thirty-six year old, some twenty-two years after the event I’m about to describe, but in recounting it my wide and horrified gaze is glued to the rear-view mirror. In it I see the corpse of a fourteen-year-old boy lying mangled and crippled in the dirt of that long, tumultuous stretch of road we know as high school. That corpse is mine, and I was the victim of a hit and run. I was in year eight, and the driver’s name was Melissa Monroe.

Read the rest of this creative non-fiction piece, Love & Road Kill, published at Mildred.co.

Why I Write

Why I Write

I remember in grade 5 I accompanied my dad to my school’s parent / teacher night. The teacher’s comments went something along the lines of, ‘He’s a bright lad. He just needs to pay attention more and apply himself. He’s quite the class clown. Often daydreaming.’ I turned to my dad and smiled. I’d taken it as a compliment. They both stared down with pursed lips at me.

I’ve always been a daydreamer. I’m guilty of asking people a question and then drifting off midway through their reply. Often I don’t even register their answer. But I nod and say, ‘Right,’ or ‘Okay,’ or ‘Ah, yep. That’s Right. Okay,’ just to leave them with the impression I understood.

There seems to have always been an inner writer sitting in my head, staring out the windows of my eyes, tapping away at keys and taking notes of particular turns of phrase or story ideas. It just happens. I see a person and somehow fill in everything I don’t know about them. The house they live in. The lounge they watch television in. What they do on weekends.

I once saw a young boy walking from a milk bar in the morning holding a carton of milk. Within a second, I’d decided where he was from, where his parents were from, how many brothers and sisters he had, and that he was the youngest of them all, and it was his job to get the milk each morning. I wrote a short story about him entitled For China.

Another series I’ve been writing sprung from one word: fog. It became an anagram for Federation of Galaxies, which became a universe of characters and planets and multidimensional corporations and the people fighting to bring them down. All of that from one little word. The writer in my head got tapping and never stopped. What was meant to be one story became a launching pad for five novels. That number has been whittled down now to three, but it might blow out again should the inspiration strike and the universe keep expanding.

I feel all artists are born the moment they question, ‘What if…?’ or say to themselves, ‘I wonder what would happen…’, or ‘I saw this thing and made me think of this…’ It’s an innate quality all children have, and some adults if they’re lucky enough to let that voice of wonder keep on talking to them. That child sitting in a classroom, who isn’t always paying attention, but is attentive to whatever inner journeys are being played out.

I have that spark still within me – that ability to build a world from a word – as does my wife, and I have one sincere hope for my daughter: that she can stare out a window and see the same world of wonder. And if I ever attend a parent / teacher night with her, and her teacher informs me she’s often found daydreaming, I know I’m going to turn to her, and she’ll find a small, proud smile residing on my lips.

Separated – Available at Mildred.co

Separated – Available at Mildred.co

My new short story, Separated, has been published on Mildred.co.


 There was a heatwave many years back, and the days and time moved through molasses.

My house, not far from the city, had a study as the front room that I used as an office.

The bay window overlooked the street and driveway, which led to the front door at the side of the house, and I spent the days working, living alone, and it felt my life was drawing to a still, the molasses thickening, my spirit hardening.

I blame it on the molasses. The truth is I was thick in melancholy. Drowning in it. I was unhappy and too familiar with it to notice.


In Separated, a man experiencing a long, slow period of melancholy receives a visit from an unlikely stranger, who changes his life in the most unusual way.

Visit Mildred.co to read on…

The Internet is Weird

The Internet is Weird

I’ve decided to start documenting the strange occurrences I come across on the Internet (denoted with the hashtag #theinternetisweird). It will primarily record the odd coincidences / obscurities Google ads or Facebook throw at me while leisurely surfing.

The idea came to me last week while I was reading an article about creepy things kids say, and Google ads suggested I try out a career in childcare. The concept was further cemented as I was browsing through images, and came across this…

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followed directly beneath with a Dan Murphy’s ad. I tried to catch it, but with a screen reload it was gone.

Anyhow, the concept presented itself again tonight, not with as much irony, but it was enough to rekindle the idea and make me run with it.

So it begins with this, which appeared in my FB feed, and with a happy birthday to both Jamie Oliver and Vincent Price (posthumously).

May you both rest in peace tonight, one more so than the other.

Screen-Shot-2014-05-28-at-12.02

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze Pitch

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze Pitch

For those of you who may not have read my recent posts, consisting of chapters 1-4 of The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze, the following synopsis contains a crucial spoiler, so you may not want to read on.

I’ve wanted to post this for a while, and it is in part why I have posted the previous chapters. If you have read them, or if you’re one of those prone to skipping ahead of a book, or even reading the last page, just in case you die before you’ve reached it, feel free to step through the post’s door via the Read More tag below.

Turn away now or visit the Chapter links below if you want to take the slow road, or hit the Read More tag for the bare bones…

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four

Read More Read More

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze: Chapter Four

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze: Chapter Four

Farlo-Breeze-Cover-8

Chapter Four: Galactic Burgers

Jusius, the Holo, Farlo and his future self stepped out of the Creaser into the blue and white docking bay of EarthWorld’s Galactic Burgers. As they strode through the corridor a glass wall on their left allowed view into an enormous playground where hundreds of infant aliens played. Farlo was relieved to see human children among them, and not at all alarmed to see one with its head trapped inside a baby alien slug-thing’s mouth. The human child’s legs kicked wildly as a larger alien slug-thing slid toward them waving its arms, presumably hollering something akin to, “Don’t put that thing in your mouth!”

As Future Farlo headed to the toilets – departing with mention of his failing bladder, and that Farlo would be there too one day so shouldn’t be so quick to pull faces – Jusius and the Holo led Farlo into the giant foodatorium, housing tables and cubicles of varying dimensions. As the various aromas of alien food raced up his nostrils, Farlo’s attention was otherwise monopolised by the array of beings before him. Giant orbs of orange liquid housed long shapes chasing other shapes, which he supposed was meant as a meal. Toward the domed glass roof, beneath the scope of stars, a couple of bulbous air-dwelling species drifted amid scattered pockets of food and languidly reached out for them as they passed.

All throughout the massive hall sat aliens of every imaginable form consuming every other imaginable form. It was a veritable evolutionary smorgasbord, and Farlo couldn’t help wonder where on the food chain the human species sat. And as if to answer the question, his gaze fell on a sign proclaiming, Galactic Burgers! Now serving Humans!

Jusius and the Holo sat at a window-side booth appropriate for the humanoid form. A grid of tiny squares appeared on the table’s black surface, each containing a different symbol. Farlo took the bench opposite. The table space before him remained defiantly blank. He looked down at the characters as they poked at the grid.

‘What’s all that?’

‘The menu,’ Jusius said. Two trays of food manifested before them.

‘Why don’t I have one?’

‘Touch the table and say something,’ the Holo said. ‘It’ll translate into your dribble.’

‘What do you mean it’ll translate? Everyone I’ve heard so far speaks English.’

The Holo choked on his drink then recovered wearing a look of disbelief. ‘I’m sorry. Wait. What: the entire universe speaks English, is that what you’re saying? Your planet has the only non-English speaking life forms in existence, does it?’

‘Arse,’ Jusius said.

Farlo sighed. ‘I’m just trying to ask a simple question here. I think if anyone’s entitled, it’s me: the guy new to the universe.’

‘Any species joined to the Federation of Galaxies is subject to the Adaptive Reality Sweep,’ Jusius said. ‘A-R-S: pronounced Arse for the fun of it. Incorporated into the Arse is the ability to understand any language and process any environment.’

‘Arse,’ Farlo repeated.

‘No, it’s true,’ Jusius said. ‘Which is where the saying, “Give him the Arse” comes from. “They gave me the Arse”.’

Farlo eyed Jusius then looked down at his reflection and touched the table. ‘Dribble.’ He sat back as the grid appeared, marked at its top by the following gibberish:

HEU-TurnC19834736295401754939058237204

F-273,000.896

‘What’s this?’

Jusius leaned forward. ‘The long one’s your citizen number. H for human, E for Earth of the U-Turn galaxy.’

‘We’re called the U-Turn Galaxy?’

Jusius nodded. ‘You get a lot of traffic out this way. The smaller code is how many freds you have. Federation credits: the universe’s preferred currency.’

Farlo’s eyes widened at his account balance. The conversion rate from Earth creds to freds seemed to have worked in his favour.

Farlo looked at their accounts and noticed their citizen numbers were much smaller than his while their accounts were much larger.

‘You guys are rich.’

The Holo nodded. ‘We guys are.’

Jusius waffled through a mouthful of burger, ‘You don’t hang around for as long as we have without stumbling across the odd booty.’

Farlo glanced at Jusius’s tattered clothes. ‘So… what happened?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Your clothes.’

Jusius sneered. ‘Nothing happened to my clothes. What are saying?’

‘Nothing,’ Farlo said. ‘It’s just… they look a bit ratty.’

‘Jusius’s motto is you should always dress prepared to be propelled into the future,’ the Holo said.

‘Every society has the downtrodden,’ Jusius added. ‘People failing to make ends meet. The future isn’t shiny suits, Farlo. It’s last season’s fashion torn at the shoulders. Any planet, any time you might arrive at, you’ll find the disenfranchised.’ He nodded at Farlo’s clothes. ‘I thought that’s why you were dressed like that.’

Farlo glanced down to his suit, tattered with mystery stains. ‘Yeah, it is. Well, it’s not intentional, but…’ He nodded again and then glanced from their account balances to his own. ‘Wait a sec. You guys don’t have this dash in front of yours.’

Jusius leant forward to Farlo’s account. ‘We’re obviously a bit less extravagant.’

Farlo’s eyes widened. ‘I’m in debt? How can I be in debt? I haven’t been off Earth for ten minutes.’

‘Hmm,’ the Holo said. ‘It seems someone a lot like you who shares your citizen number has been living it up in your absence.’ He placed a finger to his lips and looked musingly out the window. ‘Who do we know that would share your citizen number…?’

‘Son of a bitch!’ Farlo spat. ‘All that shit in our lounge room. The statues and artefacts. He bloody bought them.’

‘How did you think he got them?’ the Holo asked.

Farlo shrugged. ‘I don’t know. He’d acquired them on his travels or something.’

The Holo smiled. ‘Ha. You thought you were going to end up some big shot space-archaeologist, didn’t you!’

Farlo shook his head. ‘Son of a bitch.’

‘You can sell them and get it all back,’ Jusius said. ‘If they’re from the future or anywhere remotely distant you’ll probably turn a profit. Just chill. Get yourself something a burger.’

Farlo looked at his account. ‘With what?’

‘Cheese or something,’ Jusius said, then added through a stifled smirk, ‘Oh: you mean with what money. It’ll be tallied to what you already owe. And you owe a lot, so a meal won’t hurt.’

Farlo took what was meant to be a calming breath then stabbed at the image of a burger. His selection appeared, picked itself up and made a mad dash for freedom across the room.

‘Never seen a Galactic burger look so fresh,’ the Holo said, taking a bit of his own.

Farlo shook his head. ‘I am having such a bad day…’

‘Speaking of which,’ Jusius said, ‘while your other self’s preoccupied, why don’t you tell us a bit about you both. Like who the crap you are and stuff like that.’

Farlo shrugged. ‘What do you want to know?’

‘How about why there are two of you and-’

‘Three of me,’ the Holo corrected.

Jusius nodded. ‘And what the crap you’re doing jumping back and forth in time, trying to change everything.’

‘How the hell am I supposed to know?’ Farlo sneered. ‘He’s doing the jumping. Not me. I’m not even entirely convinced he is me, to be honest with you. Have you had a look at him? He looks like crap.’

‘Says the man wearing a suit made of dessert,’ Jusius said, nodding at Farlo’s clothes. ‘Is that custard?’

‘I don’t know,’ Farlo said.

‘So he just arrives out of the darkness of space and you have no idea why.’

‘That’s pretty much it,’ Farlo nodded. ‘You think I’m hiding something?’

Jusius raised his eyebrows. ‘Let’s ask Hol’, shall we?’ he said, and then turned to the Holo. ‘What’s he hiding?’

The Holo paused with his mouth around his burger then pulled it away. ‘Him?’ he asked, pointing at Farlo. ‘Nothing. He’s not even sure where he is. As for the other him?’ He shrugged. ‘No idea.’

‘What do you mean no idea?’

‘He’s got me blocked somehow,’ the Holo said. He took a bite of his burger then added through a mouthful of food, ‘Something to do with those metallic limbs of his. The circuits run all through his body. Spread through a network to envelope his brain. Can’t read him.’

‘You can’t read him?’ Jusius said. ‘And you let him on the ship?’

The Holo paused chewing to shrug. ‘I was shut off. All I remember is coming to with you lot standing around me.’

Jusius scowled and turned to Farlo. ‘We are so leaving you here!’

‘Oh, please can’t I come?’ Farlo said. ‘You’re such a friendly pair.’

‘Please!’ someone shouted nearby. ‘Please, please, please, can you just finish eating and can we please just go already!’

Farlo, Jusius and the Holo turned to see a women in jeans and a red cardigan leaning across a table. She was pleading with a burley green being with a head the size of Farlo’s torso. It had seven arms, three on one side, four on the other, and each had a different burger or soda in hand. It stared at the woman and took a taunting sip of a soda.

The woman groaned and turned, her shoulder-length locks doing the same of their own accord.

Farlo’s eyes widened. ‘Marley!’

Marley stopped and stared back stunned. ‘You have got to be kidding me…’ She came toward them, her gaze fixed on Farlo.

He looked her up and down, taken more aback by seeing her in casual clothing than on the Moon. He’d never seen her looking so casual. She’d really let herself go, in fact. Her hair was a tousled mess, her skin pocked with pimples and shining with oil.

‘Farlo,’ she said. ‘You’re not dead…’

‘I know, right?’ he replied. ‘Wow. You look… wait, what?’

She leapt into the booth beside him and grabbed his arm. ‘You have got to get me out of here! Please tell me you’re leaving soon.’

He shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’

‘How did you get here? Do you have a ship? Can I come?’ She collapsed her head onto his padded shoulder and sobbed. ‘Please, please, please tell me I can come.’

‘It’s not my ship. These two gave me a ride,’ he said and waved a hand toward Jusius and the Holo.

She glanced up at Jusius and the Holo then sat back. ‘Why are there two of you?’

‘Three of me,’ the Holo answered.

Farlo nodded. ‘Some of me’s in the toilet. What do you mean I’m not dead? That’s a very weird thing to say to someone.’

‘You fell seventy storeys from your apartment window. You were in a coma…’ she trailed off, then shrugged awkwardly, ‘everyone just assumed… Someone was even filming and caught it. You don’t remember it?’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Farlo said. He turned to the Holo. ‘This is all you, isn’t it?’

The Holo shook his head. ‘But I could find it if you want. All transmissions emitted into space are recorded in the Galactic Transmissions Catalogue.’

Jusius nodded in awe. ‘I definitely think we should see that.’ He looked at Marley. ‘How do you two know each other?’

‘We used to date,’ Farlo said.

‘We used to work together,’ Marley corrected. ‘I peed outside once, Farlo. It doesn’t mean I used to pee outside.’

‘How did you get here?’ Jusius asked. ‘Why don’t you have a ride?’

‘We were on our way to the expo when our driver got hungry. That big green dude over there,’ she said, nodding over her shoulder. ‘Don’t look. That was three days ago, Farlo. Three days! He won’t stop eating!’

Everyone but Marley looked across to the big green dude.

He glanced up and met their gaze. ‘What?’ he cried, spitting masticated food across his table. ‘I said we’d leave when I’m damn good and ready! Get off my spines!’

Marley nodded. ‘ We’re all pretty terrified of him, to tell you the truth. He punched a woman in the stomach for asking if there were peanuts. Three days, Farlo. I can’t take it anymore. Look at my skin! Look at my hair. I feel sick, but all there is to eat is burgers and oil-soaked carbs. How long have you been here?’

Farlo shrugged. ‘About ten minutes.’

She looked him up and down, lingering for a moment on his suit, then nodded and decided to change the topic. ‘Here’s a question: have you noticed how everyone’s lips are out of sync? Like they’ve all been dubbed?’

‘The Adaptive Reality Sweep,’ Jusius said.

Farlo, who actually hadn’t noticed, nodded. ‘We all talk through our arses, apparently.’

‘I know one of us does,’ the Holo mumbled.

‘You were all subject to it,’ Jusius said. ‘Whenever two or more species’ near, their perceptions of reality collide. They clash. It throws everything out of whack. Everything gets turned upside down. There’s no rhyme or reason to anything. The Arse pulls it all together. It’s a check and balance of the collective unconscious. Keeps your up and my up our up. Blends the two and we never know. Things would be very weird right now otherwise.’

‘Yes,’ Farlo said. ‘Well, thank God things aren’t weird.’ He looked at Marley. ‘Can I ask you a question?’

She nodded.

‘What expo?’

‘The Federation of Galaxies Orientation Expo,’ she said. ‘The fog. You do know about the fog.’

Farlo glanced out the window then turned back. ‘What fog? What are you talking about?’

Marley shifted to retrieve a yellow pamphlet from her pocket. She slapped it down on the table and slid it to Farlo. ‘It seems you, Farlo, have missed quite a lot, and I’m just the person to fill you in.’

Farlo picked up the pamphlet entitled, The Federation of Galaxies Orientation Expo. It covered such workshops as; The Universe: A Brief History of and How to get along in; Making Friends with the Planet Next Door; and Sight-Seeing for the Universally Unadapted.

‘Do you want the short version or the long?’ Marley asked.

‘Short,’ Farlo said. ‘Please.’

‘Earth’s been moved to the central business galaxy of the universe and joined to the Federation of Galaxies.’

‘Long,’ Farlo said.

Marley nodded. ‘Okay. So twenty odd years ago we launched the Potocnik Space Weevil satellite, heading deep into the Milky Way’s Local Group.’

‘Point form,’ Farlo said. ‘Something between the long and short.’

Marley offered a resigned nod. ‘It was never meant to return, just keep on going until it was lost for ever, but it came back. It was intercepted by the fog and sent back containing images and data of every planet in our galaxy. Plus,’ she flicked the pamphlet in his hand, ‘an invitation for Earth to join the fog.’

Farlo nodded. ‘And who are they?’

‘A conglomeration of corporations,’ Jusius said. ‘A giant hotchpotch of corruption and greed. They shuffle paper and pretend to get things done. Entirely profit driven.’

‘Our kind of people, in other words,’ the Holo said, waving a finger between himself and Farlo.

Farlo turned to Marley. ‘When did this happen?’

‘About a week ago,’ she said. ‘Just after the Sun was extinguished and chaos spread across the globe.’

Farlo shook his head. ‘What?’

‘The Sun was extinguished and everyone went nuts. You don’t remember?’

‘I’m actually thinking you just made it up.’

‘The fog’s in trouble,’ Jusius said. ‘Of the belt-tightening kind, if you get my meaning. They’re streamlining the universe. “No star can burn for the benefit of a sole inhabited planet.” It’s deemed a waste of resources. Plus you get everyone in a concentrated area they’re easier to control.’

Farlo stared at Jusius and mentally questioned the source of information.

Marley resumed: ‘The fog explains it had to extinguish the Sun. No reflection on Earth but we need to be relocated. So Earth and the Moon are moved to the centre of the universe. We’re notified we owe the Federation roughly one million years’ worth of back taxes, and they’ve taken possession of Earth until such time it’s repaid. Everyone has to attend the fog’s Orientation Expo in A Great Galaxy to Visit – that’s its real name, incidentally, not just a pun – and, whoosh, within a matter of days those who qualified are the first to be shipped off, everyone else following in their wake. And now, here we are. We no longer own a planet, Earth’s been entered into the Universal Tourism Catalogue, fleets of sightseers have been zipping between here and there from God knows where ever since, and we’re all sitting in an alien burger joint on EarthWorld.’

Farlo tried without success to loosen the knotted muscles in his face. ‘How could they have moved the whole planet?’ he sneered. ‘That’s not possible.’

‘Actually, they discovered it was,’ Jusius said. ‘You’re going to find adapting to universal reality extremely difficult if you insist on questioning everything. Just start taking everything as granted. We’ll be here all rotation otherwise.’

Farlo turned to Marley. ‘What do you mean everyone who qualifies?’

‘Healthy bank accounts,’ Jusius said. ‘It’s a user pays-’

‘I’m not talking to you!’ Farlo cried. ‘For the love of small children, can you just keep your mouth closed for a minute?’

Jusius raised his hands and leant back into the seat.

‘Thank you,’ Farlo said. He looked back to Marley and settled into a blank stare. Moments of awkward silence passed.

‘You’re out of questions, aren’t you?’ the Holo asked.

‘I’m trying to think, okay? I’m trying to process!’ He looked down at the table. ‘There’s a lot to process here!’ He waited until he was sure he had silence and then looked back at Marley and stared. Then he pointed. ‘Ah! Everyone! They are coming back, aren’t they?’

Marley shrugged, and that was all the response she offered.

Farlo shook his head again. ‘People don’t just up and leave their home planet.’

‘They didn’t just up and leave,’ Marley said. ‘We were evicted. There were very brief riots. It was all over the news.’

‘Let’s watch that!’ the Holo said. ‘I love a good riot.’

Jusius’s attention became drawn to the foodatorium entrance where an excited crowd was forming, looking around and searching the ground. ‘Holo… can I just have a quick chat? You guys wait here,’ he added to Farlo and Marley, then slid from the booth with the Holo in tow.

Marley turned back to Farlo. For a long moment they simply stared.

‘So…’ Farlo said. ‘How have you been? I’ve missed you.’

Marley sneered. ‘You’ve been in a coma.’

‘And maybe I dreamt of nothing but you. Why do you always have to be like this? I’m trying to be nice. I didn’t miss you. Still don’t. Is that better?’

‘It’s a little bit more genuine, yes.’

‘Well, good then, because I didn’t and don’t.’

‘Well, okay. I’m glad,’ Marley said, and turned away.

They both fell silent, staring ahead. After a moment, Marley turned back.

‘Look. Things are weird enough without us getting off on the wrong foot.’

‘I’m not the one with all the feet.’

‘I’m trying to play nice, Farlo. Let’s just try it for a bit. Clean slate.’

Farlo nodded. ‘Okay.’

Marley nodded. ‘So… Here we are.’

Farlo stared around the foodatorium then shook his head. ‘This is all too fricken weird.’

‘I know.’

‘I mean, first there’s the giant octopuses and then Mamoof trying to touch me…’

‘What?’

Farlo nodded. ‘And now you…’

‘And now me. And two of you.’

‘Three of me,’ he said. ‘Including future me.’

‘What?’

Farlo nodded. ‘But the jury’s still out …’

Marley stared blankly and decided not to question it. ‘Right… three of you, then.’

Farlo nodded. ‘Three of me.’

‘Two of you,’ Jusius said as he and the Holo returned. ‘Don’t freak out or anything, but we think one of you may have just been killed. There are signs of a struggle. And a body.’

‘Half a body,’ the Holo corrected.

Jusius nodded. ‘A little bit more than half a body.’

‘And lots of blood,’ the Holo added. ‘Tell him about the blood.’

Jusius grimaced. ‘Lots of blood.’

Farlo pushed Marley from the booth and rushed toward the corridor. The journey seemed to take much longer than it should, yet at the same time everything was moving too fast. The corridor was approaching far quicker than he wanted, and he knew he wasn’t allowing enough time to process what he was about to see. He found himself at the edge of the crowd. They let him pass with an ease that contradicted the force with which he swept them aside.

He entered the bathroom where there was indeed a lot of blood. It was reflected in the shattered mirror and contrasted with vibrant beauty against the stark white of the room’s tiled walls and benches.

He walked forward, dazed, toward the long column of cubicles and the second cubicle, its doorframe splintered and the door barely holding its hinges. As he passed the one before it, however, he caught a glimpse of what the second held: a puddle of blood pooled beneath the divider-wall, where he could see a set of legs splayed across the rose-red floor, the closer one metallic, a lifeless hand beside it. Feeling spacetime slow he rushed to the mirror and threw his face into the sink. There were contents in his stomach that wanted to see the world.

Jusius and the Holo stopped at the entrance as Marley moved to the cubicle.

‘See?’ the Holo said. ‘All over the place.’ He looked up and gasped. ‘On the ceiling, even!’

‘Holy shit,’ Marley said, stepping back to Jusius and the Holo. She turned and stared at Farlo. ‘Is that…’ She looked at Jusius.

Jusius nodded.

‘That’s you!’ she said, staring at Farlo bent over the sink. ‘How the hell is that you?’

Farlo was too preoccupied dry retching to reply.

Two employees rushed through the doorway. They were near identical beyond their white shirts and nametags: both were short, a silvery-green in colour and balding with the same dishevelled tufts of hair sprouting about the ears. They moved toward the second cubicle and nudged the door open.

Farlo lifted his head and, in the mirror, saw Future Farlo’s exploded torso. With a rush of blood and a heightened sense of light and sound he dropped his head into the sink and heaved. It was a small amount of bile with the want for travel, but its visit to the outside world was brief and it escaped from one pipe to immediately slip down the sink.

One of the employees pointed at the corpse. ‘Whoa! How did we miss that?’ He bent down and picked up a cylindrical object. He tilted it and it offered a moo.

‘What the hell happened?’ Farlo asked his reflection. Behind him, a taller employee entered with a mop and stopped before the body. It stared at it for a moment then turned the mop around and poked at the gaping wound with the handle. Farlo saw his future self twitch, an exposed nerve still responsive to stimuli.

Farlo turned and grabbed the mop. ‘Don’t poke me!’ He turned to the other employee and snatched the moo box. ‘And don’t moo it! What the hell is wrong with you people?’

The short employees turned to each other. ‘You don’t think it was the food, do you?’ one asked.

The other shook his head. ‘It doesn’t have the nutritional substance to blow someone up.’

‘I think we should leave,’ Jusius said, and swept through the crowd into the corridor.

Farlo dropped the mop and followed. ‘And what? Just leave me here? I’ve just been killed!’

‘I know,’ Jusius nodded. ‘And I can appreciate that it’s probably come as quite a shock, but I think you misunderstood. I meant I think we should leave,’ he said, waving a finger between him and the Holo. ‘It was more a statement of departure. Like ‘goodbye’.’ He clapped Farlo on the shoulder. ‘Good luck with everything. You want a ride somewhere?’ he asked Marley.

Marley glanced from Jusius to Farlo. ‘There’s no way I’m riding with the big green dude. Not if there’s another option.’

‘Oh, okay!’ Farlo said. ‘Great. You guys go and I’ll just stay and take care of myself, shall I? Me and my bloody corpse! Who, incidentally, only became a bloody corpse because you guys wanted to get something to eat!’

‘It was your bloody corpse’s idea,’ Jusius said. ‘“Kill two birds with one stone” were his exact words, ironically. You’re welcome to come with us, but we’ll more than understand if you want to stay behind and make arrangements.’

Farlo turned and stared at the crowd. ‘I can’t believe it all ends in a toilet.’

The Holo shrugged. ‘Fitting in a way: the last thing we hear is a flush.’

Farlo looked at the moo box in his hand. ‘This was the last thing he showed me,’ he said, and tipped it upside down. ‘Why would I come back here if I knew I was going to die?’

‘It doesn’t happen that way,’ Jusius said. ‘You jump back in time, you alter everything. Like tracing a line freehand. You’re bound to waver and make a new line, however slight. Just because future you died here, doesn’t mean you will. Nor does it mean, when he was you, his future you died this way either.’

‘This is a really weird conversation,’ Marley said.

‘I agree,’ Jusius nodded. ‘Let’s continue it on the Creaser.’

Marley turned to Farlo. ‘Look: I don’t quite understand what’s going on here. At all, actually. But if that is a future version of you in there, whoever did that could still be here. Waiting to finish the job. You can’t stay here by yourself. It could be dangerous. Plus the food’s terrible.’

‘It wasn’t the food!’ called someone from the bathroom.

Farlo looked at Marley then Jusius and the Holo. ‘I really don’t feel welcome.’

Jusius sighed. ‘Buddy: either come with us or shut up and let the rest of us leave. You’d think if anyone would want to get out of here, it would be you. Just come if you’re going to come.’

‘Humans rioting,’ the Holo sang. ‘You falling seventy floors to your death.’

The big green dude appeared behind Marley, a hand scratching one of its seven armpits, and then belched, ruffling Marley’s hair with its breeze. It patted her on the shoulder. ‘Okay, doll. Just let me unload and we can all get going.’ It stepped past them into the bathroom then hollered, ‘Hoo, that’salottablood!’

Farlo sighed and dropped the moo box into his pocket. ‘Yeah, okay. I think I’ll come.’

∞ ∞ ∞

 

Once returned to the Creaser the Holo ran a search for the vision of Farlo’s near demise. Staccato images flashed through the holoscreen before it settled on the image of High Street outside Golden Tower. A male’s voice and hand was directing two children as to where to stand and how to look when there was the soft sound of an explosion from above. High Street spun and vanished from the sphere and the upper floors of Golden Tower slipped into view. Miniature shards of glass caught the sunlight as they spiralled down. Beyond them was a thin trail of smoke, and the tiny figure of a person growing slowly larger as their rate of descent increased.

‘That’s you there,’ the Holo pointed. ‘The falling, screaming man. Wait: let me slow it down. We should soak this in. Make it last.’ The footage slowed to a third of its pace.

Marley stepped up to Farlo’s side and readied her hand to point to the screen. ‘You, Farlo Breeze, are one lucky son-of-a-bitch, and you are about to see why.’

As the image of Farlo fell, a large brown shadow moved through the frame and collided, sending him into a slow spin.

‘A swarm of cupcakes to break your fall,’ Marley said, pointing.

Farlo’s downward spiral continued as a yellow blur swept across the sphere on a collision course with the building. Some of the scrolls splattered against the tower as Farlo collected the remainder.

‘Cinnamon custard scrolls, likewise. And finally,’ she said, with her index finger ready, ‘a stampede of Strasburg to cushion the impact,’ she finished, pointing as he landed on a sausage migration. She shook his head. ‘Lucky son of a bitch.’

Farlo stared in horror, having just watched his life flash before his eyes for the umpteenth time that day.

‘Something out there definitely wants you dead,’ the Holo said.

Jusius turned to Farlo in awe. ‘Or very much alive.’

The holoscreen flickered and presented footage of New Flinders Street Station with a large group of people trying to squeeze into the frame. The image became awash with static then returned. The sky darkened, pitching the city into premature night, and a moment later the stunned silence was replaced by the sounds of screams and crashing cars.

‘What’s going on?’ Farlo asked.

‘This is when our sun died,’ Marley whispered.

As interior lights turned on throughout the city , someone with poor stress management skills was heard to scream, “We’re going to die!” A chorus of cries swiftly followed, and a little voice within the collective unconscious must have whispered, “Looks like a riot,” because within minutes cars were tipped onto their roofs and shop alarms were ringing in defence of broken windows.

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze: Chapter Three

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze: Chapter Three

Farlo-Breeze-Cover-8

Chapter Three: Future Farlo, Jusius & the Holo

Farlo stared for what felt an aeon before he conjured anything to say. What he did say was fairly unspectacular, but given the circumstances he could forgive himself for that: this was an occasion he’d never thought to rehearse.

‘You’re me…’

‘I am,’ Future Farlo nodded. ‘That’s right. I’ve come from your future to warn you of my past.’ He paused for a moment then winced. ‘Wow, that sounded contrived… Come back in. We can do that better.’

Farlo glanced around the room then back to his double’s one-eyed stare.

His double leapt from the chair. ‘Ooh! I want to show you something.’ He placed his glass on a statue and limped across the room. His torn, dishevelled coat rippled stiffly as he went. A metallic clunk resounded with each step of his right metallic leg. ‘Check this out.’ He held out a small cylinder bearing a picture of a cow then tipped it upside down. His expression delighted as it mooed.

‘It’s a moo box,’ he squealed with a wide eye, crinkling his forehead’s V-shaped scar beyond recognition of the letter. ‘I found it on Gramphoonia. They don’t even have cows. How did it get there?’

Farlo stared from the cow to his double then back again. ‘I don’t really know what to say.’

‘Overwhelmed,’ Future Farlo cried. ‘I know. A cow. How weird is that.’

Farlo opened his mouth to reply then realised he had none to offer. His jaw hung with the weight of a wet sheet as he glanced around the room again.

‘Oh…’ Future Farlo droned, ‘you mean all of this,’ and waved his mechanical hand at their surrounds, the moo box mooing as he did. ‘And then there’s me, no doubt. But of course. I haven’t explained a thing.’ He dropped the moo box into his coat’s large pocket then turned with a clap of his hands. ‘What say we get going? I’ll fill you in on the way.’

He turned and stepped into the closet-sized alcove Farlo called his kitchen. Farlo stopped at its entrance to see a long corridor stretching into darkness. Overhead lights turned on as Future Farlo hobbled away. Farlo leaned aside and looked at the apartment’s entrance eight metres away, then leaned back to the kitchen to see Future Farlo nearing twenty metres’ distance, moving far beyond the confines of the vessel. He stepped in and followed.

‘It’s good to see you,’ Future Farlo called over his shoulder. ‘Just like the old days, hey? You and me, back together again.’

‘What?’

‘Of course you don’t,’ Future Farlo said. ‘How could you? The situation is this: when I was you the me I am now came to the me that was you. Now that I’m him, I’m coming to you, just as you’ll go to you when you’re me. Understand?’

‘I…’

‘Don’t worry,’ Future Farlo said. ‘You will. In time. But first I need your InviterMite.’

‘My… Wait. What?’

‘Your marble,’ Future Farlo said, turning to hold out his one good hand. ‘Little black ball with a red dot in its centre.’

Somewhere deep within the recesses of Farlo’s mind a memory faintly yodelled for attention. It was too distant to be heard clearly, however, so he ignored it and shook his head. ‘What marble…?’

Future Farlo stared blankly into his younger self’s gaze then dropped his hand to his side. ‘Sorry?’ he asked with the smallest hint of distraction. ‘Nothing. Never mind,’ he grinned. ‘I minor detail.’ He turned purposefully and resumed his limping gait through the hall with the cry, ‘Onward, ever onward!’ They reached a doorway and Future Farlo turned. ‘I present to you the future, delivered ahead of schedule.’ He stepped through the doorway and turned. ‘And welcome,’ he hollered, arms wide in presentation, ‘to the sunsroom!

Farlo emerged from the kitchen into his lounge room. ‘Did we just walk in a circle?’

Future Farlo glanced around. ‘This is the sunsroom. Look at the window.’

Farlo did and found it presenting the view of the supermarket car park outside. The window, however, was much larger than usual, taking up the entire wall and tapering to the vessel’s nose and a small horseshoe-shaped console.

Future Farlo followed his gaze to the console and waved a dismissive hand. ‘Ignore that. A fricken confusing contraption.’

Farlo nodded. ‘Wow. This is all very… weird…’

Future Farlo’s smile faltered.

‘And impressive,’ Farlo added. ‘Very impressive.’

Future Farlo nodded. ‘This is nothing, my boy. Where we’re going, this all pales.’

‘What do you mean, ‘where we’re going’?’

‘Wherever our imaginations can take us!’ Future Farlo cried with a flourish.

‘What the hell are you talking about?’ Farlo sneered. ‘Slow down. You’re not making sense.’

‘I know. I’m sorry. It’s just so exciting.’

Farlo nodded. ‘I think I need to sit down…’ He moved to the couch and sat. ‘Where are we exactly? Not my apartment, I take it.’

‘We’re on the Creaser,’ Future Farlo said. ‘Not your apartment, but we come to think of it as home. It has all the amenities. Our bedroom.’ He opened the bedroom door then abruptly slammed it shut. ‘The closet-sized alcove we call our kitchen,’ he added, waving a hand. ‘And, of course, all the furnishings. Permanently muted, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear. Aside for the door, but only for your entrance. It’s muted too, now. Everything quiet. Just the way we like it. Just the way we like it.’

Farlo shook his head. ‘What the hell’s happened around here? How much have I missed?’

Future Farlo grinned. ‘That, my boy, will take some telling, and I’m not sure I’m the one to tell it.’

‘Who is, then? If not you?’

‘We’ll be joining them soon. We’re almost there.’

Farlo turned to the sunsroom window, still presenting the car park.

‘Bah,’ Future Farlo barked. ‘Damn thing’s always freezing.’ He limped across the room then slammed his metallic fist on the console. Farlo watched as everything around him flickered between existence and non- before it all simply vanished, leaving him to fall to an invisible floor that was seemingly flying through the air, kilometres over tiny grey squares Farlo would usually call buildings. They were soaring over the city, heading at a very fast speed towards its outskirts.

Farlo flailed about for something to hold, but there was nothing but Future Farlo’s legs so he scrambled and wrapped his arms about them.

‘Augh,’ Future Farlo said with an amused nod and waved his arms. ‘We’re falling. Holy crap and stuff.’

Farlo lifted his wide gaze from the distant earth. ‘We’re flying. How the hell are we flying?’

‘Pee Pee Dry, my boy!’ Future Farlo said.

‘Oh, my god, I go insane,’ Farlo whimpered, shutting his eyes.

‘Psychic Propulsion Drive,’ Future Farlo said. ‘Lets your mind do the driving while your body does the jiving. That’s the slogan. Horribly dated, I know, but the classics-shh!’ He fixed his gaze on the horizon and raised a finger. ‘Quiet, man. Did you hear that? It sounded like-’

The vessel around them nosedived, throwing them to the floor.

Future Farlo climbed to his feet and nodded. ‘The Pee Pee Dry. It’s going into standby. This happens from time to time. Whenever I get sleepy. But relax. There’s nothing to worry about…’ He turned as if spurred into some form of action then turned back. ‘There’s nothing to worry about…’ He fixed a wild eye on Farlo and pointed. ‘You need to dance.’

A multi-coloured dance floor appeared beneath them as a disco ball manifested above, reflecting the rays of the spectrum shone from surrounding coloured floating floodlights.

‘The Creaser has an emergency protocol for this exact situation,’ he said, ‘but it needs someone to dance to operate it. You have to dance to fly the ship. I’d do it but we wouldn’t get far.’ He tapped the shin of his metallic leg.

‘You’re insane,’ Farlo said.

‘Oh, if only I was, dear boy,’ Future Farlo said. ‘But if you don’t get on that dance floor and start doing whatever thing you call yours, we’re through!’

‘I can’t,’ Farlo said.

‘You’ve got to, boy! You’ve got to dance like your future depends on it, because I most certainly do!’

Farlo glanced over the dance floor’s edge to the fast approaching earth then climbed to his feet. ‘What do I do?’

‘Anything,’ Future Farlo snapped. ‘The controls respond to pressure on the floor, the motion-detection-grid to movement in alliance with your consciousness. As long as you do something and think about what you want the ship to do, it’ll do it. What can you do?’

‘I can sort of do the Running Man.’

‘Then sort of do it, my boy. Sort of do it!’

Farlo took a deep breath then sort of began, concentrating on how lovely it would be if they wouldn’t crash. The hum of the vessel’s engines grew louder then spluttered, threatening to sleep.

‘Something else!’ Future Farlo cried. ‘It doesn’t like it!’

Farlo stopped in thought, and then tensed the muscles from his calves to his neck in attempt to do The Robot. This is neither as easy as it looks nor as people make it look. Whilst concentrating on how lovely it would be to defy gravity, it is even harder. He did it sufficiently well, however, and for a moment the vessel picked up speed before it levelled slightly and then nosedived some more.

‘You’re not good enough!’ Future Farlo cried. ‘We’re going to die! I don’t want to!’ He looked down to the housing estate ahead, growing larger and more detailed, and settled into a steady scream.

Farlo stopped dancing and joined him.

‘What are you doing?’ Future Farlo screamed. ‘Don’t stop! Holy crap! Pull up!’

‘How?’

Point up!’ Future Farlo cried. ‘For God’s sake, point!

Farlo pointed to the mirror ball above. The Creaser levelled a few degrees, setting them on a path to slam into the estate at a slight incline.

‘Harder!’ Future Farlo shouted. ‘Point harder!’

‘What do you mean, “point harder”?’

We’re gonna die!’ Future Farlo cried, bracing himself.

The two Farlos fell into a unified scream as the Creaser ploughed through rooftop after rooftop, carving its descent through a mosaic of bedrooms and bathrooms then kitchens and lounge rooms as violent explosions of fire and furniture and smoke blossomed all around them. They tore clear of the neighbourhood and sailed without impact until a large wire hurricane fence buckled itself into a cone around them, sliding with them across a field of grass and then through the wall of the large relaxation hall of the Chill-out Centre for the Reality Disadvantaged.

 

Bricks, dust and splintered wood exploded from complacency and fanned across the room as Jusius, the only freelance galactic diplomatician to have ever set foot on Earth, looked up from his Sudoku and sighed.

‘Well, it’s about crappin time.’ He placed the puzzle on the armrest then stood, pulled the straps of his backpack over his shoulders, clambered over the debris, felt the air above the wire then knocked on the invisible hull.

 

Future Farlo stood and stared through the cone of wire out into the large white hall. ‘Excellent,’ he said, dusting himself off. ‘We’re here.’

Farlo climbed to his feet and looked out at the gathering staring back, comfortably dressed and calmly confused, many semi-conscious in their state of relaxation. The vessel’s interior made itself visible. The disco motif receded into the walls. ‘Where are we?’

‘I can’t wholly remember,’ Future Farlo said, ‘but from memory, it’s where we’re meant to be.’

‘What do you mean where we’re meant to be? You’ve been here before?’

A dull thudding resounded through the corridors. The two Farlos froze.

‘What was that?’ Farlo asked.

‘Ignore it.’

‘It was a knock,’ Farlo said.

‘It will take care of itself.’

‘Someone’s out there.’

‘Not for much longer,’ Future Farlo said. ‘Now: you were asking me if I’d been here before.’

Farlo’s eyes widened. ‘What do you mean not for much longer?’

‘Focus, my boy!’ Future Farlo hollered. ‘This is all too important to be distracted by newcomers!’

Farlo’s eyes widened more. ‘Who’s a newcomer?’

Future Farlo turned to the sunsroom entrance. ‘Jusius…’ he said. ‘The reason we’re meant to be here.’

The way he said the name – hissing the S’s, rising and falling with the vowels – told Farlo his double was anxious to meet the man again, though not necessarily for the fun of it.

Jusius strode with a sense of purpose through the ship’s dim corridors. He reached the sunsroom, poked his head through the kitchen doorway, saw the two Farlos then stepped in.

‘Holo?’ he asked, glancing between them.

He was a tall gaunt man of an age somewhere near late thirties: too old in Farlo’s opinion to be wearing the tattered layered clothing of a vagrant or unkempt youth as he was. His long brown coat was protected by another coat sleeveless, almost a long vest, and his pants were stained and baggy, gathering over worn ankle-high boots. His cropped hair faded finely into the pale of his scalp and painted his crown a sullen grey while the large dark crescents beneath his eyes worked well to cast the colour of his eyes into that crazed and faded blue Farlo had never felt comfortable looking into.

Future Farlo raised his hand. ‘Jusius.’

Jusius looked him up and down. ‘You’re not Holo.’

‘No,’ Future Farlo said. ‘I’m not. Holo’s been… well, let’s just say it was necessary to have him indisposed. For this meeting.’

‘You turned him off?’

Future Farlo nodded. ‘I did.’

Jusius looked at the console. ‘How?’

‘There’s a way. How do you get a genie back into its bottle?’

‘I…’ Jusius said and then shook his head. ‘What’s a genie?’

‘It doesn’t matter. The point is you have to make it want to go back.’

Jusius shook his head. ‘What the crap are you talking about?’

‘It doesn’t matter!’ Future Farlo cried. ‘Baby Christ! Just drop it already!’

‘How do you know me?’ Jusius asked. He looked at Farlo. ‘Who are you people?’

Farlo stepped away from his double and raised placid hands. ‘Don’t look at me. I just got here.’ He waved a finger between himself and his future. ‘We only just met.’

‘We only just met, indeed,’ Future Farlo scowled. ‘We’re one and the same and you know it.’

‘I don’t know it! I don’t know anything. All you’ve done is talk in riddles since we met.’

‘And you haven’t?’ Future Farlo asked. ‘You’re the one who came bursting in. He didn’t knock like you did, Juice. Tell us,’ he said, turning back to Farlo, ‘what was it that made you come flurrying in the way you did?’

‘I was being chased,’ Farlo said.

‘By?’

‘A bunch of… weird… alien things,’ Farlo stammered.

‘Xenophobic,’ Future Farlo nodded. ‘And why were they chasing you?’

‘They… does it really matter?’

Future Farlo shrugged. ‘Depends what you did to them.’

‘I didn’t do anything. They wanted to touch me.’

Future Farlo chuckled and stepped closer to Jusius. ‘They wanted to touch me. So full of himself.’

‘I said they were weird,’ Farlo protested. ‘And anyway, you called me in.’

‘I told you to run, dear boy. Not run to my arms.’

‘I’m going to turn Holo back on,’ Jusius said and stepped around the couch.

‘Yes,’ Future Farlo said. ‘I was going to suggest that. It is time.’

Jusius scrutinised Future Farlo and headed for the console. He looked down and began tapping at its controls, turning to ensure neither Farlo had moved. After a few moments he gave up eyeing them and turned his full attention to the task. ‘What the crap have you done here?’ he asked the console.

‘I bypassed all security measures,’ Future Farlo said. ‘I had to be cautious.’

Jusius nodded. ‘Can you undo it?’

Future Farlo hobbled to his side, and Jusius watched eagerly as he worked his way through the commands. ‘And lastly,’ Future Farlo said, and tapped a button with the flair of finality. They turned and looked at Farlo.

Farlo stared back, wondering what they were waiting for, when his gaze began to focus on a pinpoint of light, hovering over the coffee table between the three of them. The room filled with a distinctive hum as the pinpoint grew into a gaping wound of misty light then folded in on itself with an implosive flash and dying sigh.

Farlo turned to shield his eyes, and when he looked back he found, standing on the coffee table, a being – a man – the perfect likeness of himself, young and immaculately groomed in a clean, well-fitted suit, his face turned to the roof and mouth agape in exhalation.

The Holo-Farlo lowered his gaze and smiled.

‘Oh, come on,’ Farlo cried. ‘This is getting a bit silly, isn’t it?’

The Holo looked at Jusius, and his expression beamed in recognition. ‘Juice!’ He stepped off the table and clapped Jusius on the shoulders. ‘Such a sight for sore eyes!’

Jusius nodded. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘Great,’ the Holo said. ‘I have a strong urge for gainful employment. It’s fantastic! Who do I have to thank?’ He caught sight of his reflection in the window then turned a mischievous grin to Farlo. ‘Ah! Okay then! So…’ he offered a clap of his hands, ‘whern are we going?’

Farlo glanced between the three of them. ‘Sorry?’

‘Where and when,’ the Holo said. ‘I imagine you stole me for a reason. And I imagine the reason was transport.’

‘I didn’t steal you,’ Farlo said, and pointed to Future Farlo. ‘He did.’

‘Pedantics,’ Future Farlo bellowed. ‘I’m simply here to steer you in the right direction. You would have stolen him anyway.’

‘I would not have. Why would I?’

‘Because everybody does.’

The Holo nodded. ‘Everybody does. He’s right.’

‘Now,’ Future Farlo resumed, ‘I propose we depart before the gathering outside gets too curious about this hole in their wall.’

‘Ah: good sir?’ Jusius said with a bemused grin. ‘Bare in mind I mean you no disrespect when I say this, but,’ he waved a finger between Future Farlo and Farlo, ‘I’m not sure who either of you are, or how that differs from who you think you are, but neither of you are in charge of any aspect of this get-together. Holo and I do this from time to time: meet up and run a few errands. What you’ve staggered into here is a routine. Given your mutual appearance, I assume you’re both down on your luck, so we’re willing to offer you a ride somewhere, but thereafter we part ways. Understood?’

A stunted smirk crept onto Future Farlo’s lips and he offered the hint of a bow. ‘Whatever you can offer us, sir, would be more than enough and far more than we’re accustomed to from a stranger.’

‘Okay then,’ Jusius said. He turned to the console and extended a finger then commenced to take it on an aerial tour of the console’s rainbow buttons as he hummed indecisively.

Farlo glanced between the Holo to Future Farlo, trying to decide which version of him to ask. He settled on Jusius as the more attractive option. ‘You know how to fly this thing?’

‘Of course I do. I just don’t remember there being so many colours.’ He stared blankly at the controls for a moment longer then shook his head. ‘Crap. Screw it. Holo? Care to do the honours?’

The Holo nodded. ‘Gladly.’

The Creaser shuddered then began sliding backwards out into daylight. Farlo stared in awe out the window as the vessel turned toward the sky, and within seconds they were soaring, passing through Earth’s outer atmospheres and into the dimming void of space.

‘We’re moving,’ Farlo said and turned to Future Farlo. Future Farlo turned away. Farlo turned to Jusius. ‘The Pee Pee Dry was shutting down. I had to dance to keep us steady.’

Jusius returned a blank stare, but one that was close to a look of concern.

Farlo blinked in slow realisation then had to state what he now realised was obvious. ‘The ship’s not powered by dance, is it.’

Jusius frowned. ‘Not that I’m aware…’

Farlo turned a cold glare to Future Farlo and let it burn into the back of his skull.

Future Farlo felt it and turned. ‘It’s what happened to me,’ he said defensively and pointed at the Holo. ‘He made the very first us dance. Future me made me do it when I was you, and when you’re me you’ll make you do it too. We always do. It’s a right of passage.’

‘Ha!’ the Holo grinned. ‘I told you the ship’s powered by dance? Ha-ha, that’s good…’

I didn’t plan it,’ he said. ‘I was just reminded of it and wondered what it would look like from the other side.’ He nodded at the Holo. ‘Fairly funny, it turns out. I can see why you did it, now.’

Farlo glanced from one to the other. ‘What the hell is going on here…?’

‘Holo’s the vessel’s security program, stuck in diversion mode,’ Future Farlo said. ‘The moment anyone unfamiliar boards the Creaser he downloads their image and subconscious and uses them against them until they’re driven mad or are pissed off enough to leave.’

Farlo looked the Holo up and down. ‘He does not.’

‘I’m afraid he does. Up here,’ he pointed to the Holo’s temple, ‘is your subconscious ticking away without any knowledge or effort from him. With one thought, though, he could bring to the surface the most painful recollection you thought buried forever. Or would think buried forever, had you any knowledge of it. Which you don’t. Which is what I’m saying.’

Farlo turned to Jusius.

Jusius nodded. ‘It’s true.’

‘So…’ Farlo said, ‘if he’s so annoying why turn him back on?’

‘He’s also good in a jam,’ Jusius and Future Farlo replied in unison.

‘And that, dear gentleman,’ Future Farlo said, ‘is exactly where you’re headed. A terrible event awaits you all. One I’m here to prevent.’

Jusius’s attention narrowed. ‘What event?’

‘That,’ he said gravely, ‘will take some telling. I suggest we find ourselves somewhere comfortable.’ He turned to the Holo. ‘Galactic Burgers? Fetch a repast? Kill two birds with the one stone?’

The Holo nodded. ‘Galactic Burgers it is. EarthWorld’s just outside.’

Farlo turned to the window. All he could see through it was the renovated Moon ahead and several distant planets. ‘EarthWorld?’ he asked. ‘Where…?’

The Holo stepped up to Farlo and placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘That,’ he said, pointing to the Moon, ‘is EarthWorld, your planet’s closest tourist information centre slash eatery slash fun park.’

Farlo stared in awe. ‘They turned the Moon into a fun park?’

‘It’s just a name,’ the Holo said. ‘It won’t be that fun.’

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze: Chapter Two

The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze: Chapter Two

Farlo-Breeze-Cover-8

The following is another excerpt of a work in progress, Chapter 2 of The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze, following on from my previous post, ingeniously titled Chapter One: The Irony of Smart-food.

As per the previous chapter, this is a work in progress and a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, would be quite amazing and I’d love you to get in contact and tell me all about it.


The Various Futures of Farlo Breeze

Chapter Two: While You Were Comatose

Something had changed. Farlo could sense it before he’d opened his eyes or fully come to consciousness. His subconscious was taking a list. There was no rush of smothering oxygen. No wind at all. Or sound. It was darker. He was standing upright, and wasn’t splayed across the city concrete.

He awoke with a violent gasp and opened his eyes, his entire field of vision consumed by the green glow of a bulbous-faced man, leaning in so close their noses almost touched. Farlo screamed: the man did the same, but only Farlo made a sound, which echoed around them both. He tried to throw his head back. Cushion behind him bounced it forward to collide with the man’s, their foreheads meeting with a resonant gong.

Farlo closed his eyes to recover. When he slowly opened them again it was to the man’s large gaze. He tilted his head upward. So did the man. He turned his head right. So did the man. He leaned a bit closer and narrowed his eyes. So did the man. He recognised the face.

He breathed a calming sigh, sending his gaze through his warped reflection in the sheet of curved plexiglass. To the left on the close wall opposite stood a sleeping woman in a transparent tube. Farlo looked down. He was in one too.

He pushed the plexiglass open and stepped out into a hallway of black metal walls, lit green by luminescent tubes in the ceiling’s low roof. The hall was plastered with tubes, every one containing a body. As he turned and looked around he felt the stiffness of his limbs and suit and looked down to find himself coated in something the look and texture of dried custard. Or cream. He picked a bit off to sniff it when a voice came from behind:

‘You’re awake!’

He turned and found a middle-aged man in a shirt and loosened tie strapped into a chair. His left arm was stretched out, encased from the elbow in a canister mounted to the wall.

‘What’s going on?’ Farlo asked. ‘Where are we?’

‘Still on Earth,’ the man said. ‘I’m Jim. I’d shake your hand, but,’ he nodded to his encased arm.

Farlo glanced to Jim’s other hand.

Jim chuckled. ‘You don’t wanna shake that one. There are some places when they itch you can’t help but scratch.’

Farlo nodded at the trapped arm. ‘What’s wrong with…’

‘Greenstick fracture,’ Jim said, rolling his eyes. ‘I know. It wouldn’t take a second to fix but there’s a “procedure”,’ he said, striking quotation marks in the air with one hand.

Farlo nodded then shook his head. ‘Wait. Where are we?’

‘Glorified ambulance, as far as I can tell. Waiting to be transported. Might be here a while yet, though. They’re still loading other levels.’ He gestured with a nod over Farlo’s shoulder. ‘Ask the octonurse. She’ll fill you in.’

Farlo turned to find the octonurse floating toward him, its bulk tinged green by the hall’s lights. It was wearing the old-fashioned apron and headdress with a red cross on it he’d seen in old war movies, but at a longer glance he realised it wasn’t so much floating, but rippling on several undulating tentacles as two others waved strange metallic instruments through the air. As it rippled closer he realised the green tinge of its skin wasn’t so much caused by the hall’s green lighting, but further saturated by it.

‘Hello, there,’ the octonurse lilted with an eerie melodic calm. ‘This won’t hurt a bit.’ It rippled closer, flourishing an instrument. ‘You might feel a pinch. Would you like assistance with that? There. You’ll feel better in no time. This won’t hurt a bit.’

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