You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2007.

6.59 pm

Me: are you downloading the futurama movie or what

Chris: not yet

when i can

atm i cant

Me: i just… can’t

/shivers

Chris: its just too hard

BENDERS BIG SCORE

WE LOVE BENDER

BENDER BENDER BENDER

I WANNA FUCK HIM SO HARD

Me: hahahaha

BENDER’S BENDING ADVENTURES IN BENDING LAND

FEATURING BENDER

Chris: BENDERS AMAZING BENDER WEEKEND

Me: WITH SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE BY BENDER’S ROCK BAND

BENDER BENDS BENDY

Chris: BENDERS BENDY WEEKEND

Me: WEEKEND AT BENDER’S

Chris: BENDER THE GREAT

Me: BENDER THE HELL DEEP AND MULTI-FACETED CHARACTER

Chris: bite my shiny metal ass

Mitch: WHO TOTALLY DOES NOT CONSIST OF CORPORATE-IMAGINED “ATTITUDE” AND CATCH PHRASES

AND WHO FUCKING HIJACKED FRY’S SHOW

Chris: i miss fry

Mitch: you can sometimes see him in the background, during crowd scenes in The Bender Show

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We voted at around midday at the local movie theatre. Rotto is filled with vacationers from all over Perth, so you can vote in any electorate in the state, resulting in plenty of people clustered around the tables for coastal seats like Stirling or Fremantle – and a bored, lonely woman at the table for the distant electorate of Kalgoorlie. The whole day I’d been becoming vaguely worried about Labor’s chances, with the stacks of West Australians at the general store proclaiming “PM FIRMS AS POLL GOES TO THE WIRE” (what does that mean?) and almost every single voter we saw turning their noses up at the ALP campaigners and instead accepting flyers from the Liberal wieners, whom I noted with irritation had even indoctrinated their seven-year old children into wearing hats and pennants with the coalition logo on it.

So at about eight o’clock, as the sun was slipping below the Dome cafe and I was wondering how things were unfolding on television screens across the nation (we were on a boat, without one), I texted my friend Jake to ask how shit was shaping up. He called back and replied, “Labor obliterated them.” I will forever remember those words.

And what an obliteration! Howard lost his own seat (thank you, Washminster system), which means he’s not even a minister anymore, just a sad and washed-up loser. Labor is now in power at every state and federal level, resulting in the highest ranking Liberal member being the mayor of Brisbane or some shit. The only downside is that my own vote made absolutely no difference, since Stirling was retained by smug white-collar beauracrat Michael Keenan. But all in all, it was a marvellous day for Australia.

Goodbye Howard! You were an arrogant, monarchist, racist, xenophobic, socially regressive asshole with the personality of a damp colonoscopy bag, dwelling among the clouds in your ivory tower on the high-income shores of Sydney Harbour and flogging your determined agenda to drag our society back to the standards of 1955’s White Australia Menzies hellscape. Don’t let the door knock your trembling 68-year old arse flat to the ground on the way out.

Not this time, hot-shot 

John Howard – the man who has been Prime Minister of my nation for more than half my life – has less than 48 hours left in the job. That’s my opinion, the opinion of the polls, and the opinion of most professional political commentators.

It’s not going to be a landslide election. Most people don’t realise how difficult it is, under the Australian system, to beat the incumbent government. But from the looks of things, Labor should juuuuuuuust edge in ahead of the Liberals and form our next government.

Despite all my bluster, I don’t buy into partisan politics. I don’t think whichever party is in government makes any massive change to our way of life, and as an insulated teenager it certainly won’t make any difference to mine. When politically carefree friends ask me why they should vote for Labor rather than the Liberals, my tongue trips over itself somewhat, and I find myself regurgitating ALP advertising rhetoric. At heart, I am that classic Australian who doesn’t really trust any authority figure and thinks Labor is only marginally better than the Liberals. In fact, my most pressing reason for not voting Liberal is that I am simply sick of seeing John Howard’s face after 11 years.

I hope things will be different, of course. Liberal and Labor are different, if not to a great degree, and I hope Rudd’s smiling visage is true to heart, and will result in better healthcare and working rights and acceptance of climate change. Throughout Howard’s tenure, the Australian national image has become one of xenophobia, pollution, dishonesty and aggression. I’d like to see that change. I’d like to see us be a little more open to immigration, and learn when to say no to Washington. I’d like to see us put money into public schools rather than private schools, and provide better healthcare for people. I’d like to see us treat our pristine wilderness better, and harness our natural wind and sunlight energy to become a ecologically-friendly nation, which is the main reason I’ve decided to vote for the Greens rather than the Democrats in the Senate.

A lot has been made about the economy this election. Indeed, some commentators have suggested that it has become the only major issue. I continue to be puzzled by this. Even if the government did run the economy (it doesn’t), we are not an economy. We are a society. There are more important issues than how much you’ll have to pay back on your mortgage in the coming years. Don’t worry, India and China and Japan will be wanting our minerals for a long while to come.

On Saturday I will be on Rottnest, the local holiday island. I’m going to admit that I am an enormous political nerd and sighed somewhat when I found that my first voting election coincides with a holiday away. I’ll still be able to vote, but I won’t be able to follow the election coverage as much as I’d hoped. Ah well. At least if Rudd wins I’ll be in the perfect place to run down the beach at sunset hollering for joy.

Oh, Rudd. In a year’s time, will I consider you worthy to sit atop Curtin’s shoulders? Or will I have discovered the shocking truth that all politicians are as bad as each other?

Rudd attempts to conquer the vital Hong Kong electorate

I really, really hope it’s the former.

Today I received my mark on the short story I posted earlier: 29 out of 40. It’s better than I expected, especially since I have a particularly harsh and nitpicky teacher, but I’m still going to post some of the comments he wrote which I find amusing or ridiculous.

Note that I do so with no sense of bitterness or sulkiness, unlike last time. I’ve come to realise that writing is a considerably subjective medium. I’m happy with this story, and other people have read and enjoyed it, and that’s good enough for me. So…

Most puzzling of all was her appearance. At first glance she looked like the retro rockets from the space boom of the 21st century, amusingly primitive, no different from the wrecks Hopper explored nearly every day. But she was… irregular, with slight stylistic changes. As though somebody had built a fresh ship in the old fashion.

Response: “The language and phrasing doesn’t feel futuristic.”

He brought this up quite a lot in the earlier assignments, and I really don’t know what he expected from me. Science fiction writers are not clairvoyants. Just take Alien, a classic sci-fi movie, in which Ellen Ripley taps on the keyboard of a 1980s style computer with green writing. Compare it with the fancy holographic computers we see in Minority Report, a movie made 23 years later. What computers will actually be like in 200 years is utterly incomprehensible. Likewise language and phrasing. Anyone who has ever read Heinlein or Clarke can tell you that all science fiction stories become a dated product of the era they were written in, particularly in terms of dialogue. That doesn’t make them any less good.

The recording finished. “Wow,” Bly breathed.

Response: “Again… are people going to be saying “Wow” in 200 years?”

Probably not. But again, I’m not a psychic. What did you want me to write? “Kaschizzle-funkdog?”

“About 3 hours ago, you discovered a spacecraft in Terran orbit…”

Response: “Only three hours?”

Yes. Yes, 3 hours. I am the author and that is what I say. Does it even matter?

His accent was bizarre, with clipped vowels and slushy pronounciation.

Response: “Show, don’t tell.”

Short of waiting for technology to develop to the point where we can embed sound files into paper, how did you expect me to show you a sound?

“You see, Andrew Hopper, I know all about you.”

Response: “I hope in 200 or so years people have more interesting names than Andrew.”

Look, “Andrew” has been a name in Western society for approximately two thousand years. I think it’s a safe bet that it’ll hold out another two hundred.

There’s a few other minor things, like his objection over my use of the word “stranger” a mere four hundred words after my use of the word “strange” (unforgivable!), and his dislike of strange metaphors and similes even after he spent every single lesson urging us to be fresh and unpredictable. But the final comment worth spectacle is from his wrap-up, in which he said it was a readable sci-fi episode but too derivative of Star Wars.

Because… it was in space, I guess? I didn’t realise Lucas had a patent on that.

I know the bountiful well of political commentary I promised has failed to spring forth, but we all know that nobody cared anyway, and I’ve been busy. So, four days away from crunch time, let’s quickly sum things up!

The election campaigns have been amusingly different. Labor’s is refreshingly positive. Even if they don’t really have plans any more solid than the coalition’s, they’re doing a great job with image and visibility. The Liberals, on the other hand, are running a negative fear campaign of economic scare-mongering and anti-union propaganda, complete with ominous music and black and red colouring. Oh no! Labor has strong ties to organisations founded to protect the rights of the average working man? That’s reprehensible! Bonus points, however, go to the Liberals for managing to convince a sizeable number of voters that the government actually controls the economy (hint: it doesn’t).

Since I live in a marginal seat, my letterbox has been flooded with propaganda equivalent to perhaps one or two Tasmanian old growth forests. Yesterday I received two nearly identical letters from Peter Tinley, the Labor candidate. It’s as though they sent the first one off, regretted it, tinkered with the draft a little and mailed the second one only a few minutes later. My father also received two copies, as did each of the two people who previously lived in our house. That makes eight letters of the same political rubbish for two Australians who’ve already decided to vote for him, and two Kiwis who left the country a year ago. That’s still not quite as bad as Liberal candidate Michael Keenan’s sloganeering, however; we’ve received maybe nine or ten separate glossy pamphlets from his staff. Fucking wasteful and expensive.

An interesting contrast, though, of the two local candidates’ plans on a single issue. Keenan promises more CCTV cameras at local shopping centres, skate parks and beaches to crack down on “hoons and anti-social behaviour.” (Both of which are buzz-words that any sensible person should hate, but never mind.) This adds up to about a hundred and seventy thousand dollars of taxpayer money, only a small fragment of the extensive pork-barrelling which Keenan proudly tallies up in the apparent belief that it will increase the chance I will vote for him. Tinley, on the other hand, promises more security patrol cars and officers.

Gee. An actual human presence vs. grainy security camera footage that might identify thugs long after they have beaten and murdered elderly women. That’s a difficult one.

In any case, nobody cares about local issues anyway, because we’re too concerned with who’s running the flagship that is federal government. And while things are looking very optimistic for Labor, despite the Australian system being unfairly geared towards the incumbent government, I grow increasingly frustrated at the amount of stupidity I see in other voters. There was an 18-year old girl from Stirling interviewed in the Sunday Times who said that she’ll “probably vote for John Howard” because she thinks he’s “done a good job with Iraq and the economy and stuff” even though she “doesn’t know much about politics.” This is why voting should not be compulsory. Besides which, it just irritates me that there is a single person under the age of 25 who could possibly vote for that doddery, senile, rambling old man. He’s pushing 70, people! In another eight years he will, statistically speaking, drop dead of old age! Beyond that, of course, her claims are naive and simply wrong. Howard has not done anything with Iraq (our troops are managed by the Chief of the Defence Force, and we shouldn’t be in Iraq anyway) and nor has he done anything with the economy (it’s the economy, not a fucking policy run by Canberra).

What really gets my goat is people (including Howard himself) who think that our current economic boom is due to the Liberals’ “economic management.” No, it’s because there just happens to be a lot of ore in our soil, and the Asians pay us lots of money for private companies to dig it up. The government isn’t involved. Christ.

On a final note, I will not be voting in my local electorate, but rather on the island of Rottnest because my friend Michael has tempted me there on his private yacht. I’m fairly certain there’s a polling booth there, but if there isn’t I’ll be up for a $300 fine. Civil liberties – another reason voting shouldn’t be compulsory.

Let’s wrap up with a hilarious quote from John Howard in which he proves how out of touch he is, by painting a bleak picture of the nightmarish dystopia that will arise if Labor is elected:

“There will be a return of political correctness. There will be a softening in relation to things like drugs. You will get a less socially conservative country at the very least.”

My God! I must murder my family now to spare them the horror that is to come!

I’ve updated End Times. I will continue to do so at least once a week for the rest of summer, until I start uni again in March. It’ll be just like the glory days of 2005!

I might even be able to make it all the way through September (in story time). That would be nice.

It’s 39° Celcius outside (102 Farenheit) and summer is still two weeks away.

Fuck this city.

Last week I scrambled to finish all the journals and notes and other frivolous shit my units make me do; commentaries on every little reading and every single lecture (I went to exactly 1 of 26 lectures this semester). This week, I’ve finished off my Creative Writing story, and spent last night in an epic struggle with an opinion article for Professional Writing. Me vs. 1800 words about the justification of satirical hoaxes. Our combat dragged us down dark chasms, spitting flames and rending flesh, plunging us into cold lakes deep below the earth and inexplicably teleporting us to snowy mountain peaks, where our epic duel cast avalanches down into the worlds of men and tore apart the very fabric of heaven. Finally I reigned triumphant and feasted on my opponent’s corpse (i.e. drove to university this morning at 10 o’clock and handed the assignment in).

 Then I went to work, and now I’m here at 8:30 on a Thursday evening. My final assignment is due at 4:00 PM on Friday afternoon, roughly nineteen and a half hours from now. And then I’m done. Free of university until March. A huge stretch of glorious summer is beckoning to me from the other side of those nineteen hours. It lies in a field of clover, illuminated in warm sunshine, surrounded by dancing butterflies and squirrels.

 But this is no ordinary assignment. This is for CIT – Cultures, Identities, and Texts. People ask me what it’s about and I can’t tell them, because despite having been enrolled in it for two years now I still have no idea. I guess it’s philosophy. It does involve a lot of words like “socio-economic,” “post-modernity” and “theoretical perspectives,” with assholes like Voltaire constantly shoving in their unwanted opinions. Everybody hates it. It’s a core unit, meaning that it’s forced on all of us Communications students – creative writers, actors, film students alike – because otherwise nobody would enrol in it and the unit would die. The obvious conclusion to draw from that is that perhaps the unit deserves to die.

Anyway, that won’t solve my problems now. I have 1500 words (minimum) to write about the media or something.

Jesus, I wish it was Saturday.

8:50 pm – I may as well liveblog this. So far, no progress. Driving to the corner deli to buy chocolate.

8:59 pm – DAMMIT IT WAS CLOSED

DOOT! DOOT! DOOT! DOOT!

10:05 pm – I have written an introduction and huge first paragraph adding up to a measly 267 words. Fuck.

11:16 pm – One of my father’s drunken friends has decided to sleep on the couch in the adjacent living room, and is now snoring extremely loudly. GOOD. I AM EXTREMELY PLEASED ABOUT THAT.

11:27 pm – I don’t write very well while listening to my iPod, but with a tractor being hauled through a trench of rusty gearbox parts in the next room, I don’t have much of a choice. Unfortunately Portishead is about the most bland/non-distracting music I have. Word count: 526.

MIDNIGHT – …and I’m on 822 words. More than halfway, but I’ve already worked through most of my talking points.

12:43 am – 1130 words. My sources are rapidly becoming less scholarly, and I think I may be approaching THE ZONE, where I completely stop caring and just vomit out whatever shit I can to pad it up to the word limit. THE ZONE is a wonderful place to be, because my professor is a really generous marker and I’m gonna pass this just as long as I hand it in, really.

1:25 am – I have spent the last half hour trying to find a cholarly article about the relationship of the media to swing voters. WHY IS THERE NOT A SINGLE ONE?

1:35 am – Okay, I’ve wrapped up the whole thing, including conclusion, and I’m on 1391 words. I can pad that out tomorrow. It’s a stinking pile of shit, but every essay I write for CIT is, and I’m really only gunning for 50%. Night y’all (i.e. nobody).

11:47 am – Okay. Had a refreshing sleep and now I’m feeling pretty good about this. Reading over it, I think my command of the English language (vocabulary, grammar etc.) will be impressive enough to disguise my complete lack of any relevant discussion. Works like a charm. Now I just need tos tick a few more article references in…

12:47 pm – 1626 words and the minimum of five sources cited. It’s a terrible, rambling, idiotic, unprofessional pile of drivel, but that’s about the same standard of everyone else’s assignment. I’m logging onto Web CT and handing this bitch in.

12:50 pm – FINISHED! FUCK YES MOTHERFUCKER!

I’m not really feeling as jubilant as I should, because I know it’s a shitty essay and have a terrible nagging doubt that I might fail the unit – even though I submitted an equally shitty essay last semester and still got more than 60% for the unit, as I am blessed with an amazingly generous marker for a professor. Unfrtunately he doesn’t teach next year… instead I may well have the head of the CIT department taking my classes, a notoriously draconian woman who failed two thirds of her class this semester.

But until then, it’s summertime.

And, tomorrow, this happens:

HOLY FUCK YES

Another creative writing assignment, this time a complete short story. It’s been considerably pared down in order to limbo under the 2,500 word limit, so it’s one of the more sparse pieces I’ve written. Enjoy.

___________________________________ 

There was a ship in Earth’s orbit.

Hopper stared at her curiously from the flight deck of his own vessel, the Iron Lung. With active sensor camouflage, and her brown hue blending into the planet’s atmosphere, he’d almost collided with her.

Derelict vessels in geocentric orbit weren’t remarkable. Hopper’s entire profession depended on that. But this one was different. She was in perfect condition; no missile scarring or breached hull from a forgotten battle, no accumulated vacuum ice or meteor dents from a century of hanging in orbit. A system scan confirmed that her engines had been engaged only twenty-four hours ago.

Most puzzling of all was her appearance. At first glance she looked like the retro rockets from the space boom of the 21st century, amusingly primitive, no different from the wrecks Hopper explored nearly every day. But she was… irregular, with slight stylistic changes. As though somebody had built a fresh ship in the old fashion.

Where could she be from? Virtually nobody went near Earth. The only other people in the area were vultures like himself, and none of them were flying anything this weird.

As Hopper watched, the ship’s gradual rotary drift brought the starboard bow into sight, and he saw her name: the Forerunner.

Overflowing with curiosity, he set the Iron Lung in a holding position, and headed for the airlock. He suited up, kicked off and drifted towards the ghost ship.

Half an hour later he was flying back to Luna, panicked and skittish, a thousand phantom nightmares chasing his ship through the void.

* * *

Daedalus was the largest city on Luna, which wasn’t saying much. It had a population of around sixty thousand people, most of whom were transient workers, young men from Mars or Jupiter who jetted into town, spent a few hellish months in the helium-3 mines, and jetted out again a few million richer. Railways and pistes stretched out from Daedalus in every direction like the tendrils of a jellyfish, coiling around the mining pits and refineries that encrusted the cratered landscape. Daedalus was the centre of lunar civilisation, not that there was much; Earth’s moon had been abandoned soon after Earth itself, its people moving on to better lives on Mars or the gas giants. Humanity had only returned to Luna’s dismal maria thirty years ago, beckoned by the moon’s rich veins of ore, and despite the mining boom the population remained scant.

Like every other lunar settlement, Daedalus was on the far side. Even after a hundred years nobody wanted to look up at the barren husk that was all that remained of mankind’s birthplace.

Hopper was sitting in the office of a fellow Martian named Bly, an old acquaintance who ran a ship architecture firm at Luna’s only spaceport. He’d recorded his experience onboard the Forerunner, and Bly was watching it, intrigued.

Hopper waited for him to finish, staring out the windows. Daedalus was an ugly place, a metal wart as grey as the lunar dust it sprouted from, existing solely to support the helium miners. There were no parks, or lakes, or fake holograms of blue skies and delicate clouds gliding across the glastic pressure bubble that arched over the town. No unnecessary expenditures. Just grim, utilitarian warehouses, dormitories and mineral silos, and an austere black sky of frozen stars. But it was familiar, and safe, and full of life. He needed that.

The recording finished. “Wow,” Bly breathed.

Hopper sat down, drumming his fingers on the lacquered desktop. “No membrane airlock, fission engines, stonewall security… who’d build a ship with tech that’s been out of date since the Jovian War?”

“I’m more interested in the crew,” Bly said. He played the recording again, scrolling and pivoting the hologram with his fingers. “Shame you didn’t get a closer look at the flags on their uniforms…”

Thinking about the crew made Hopper’s stomach lurch. The four men had been strapped into couches on the bridge, dead or unconscious, with beige jumpsuits and pallid skin. The experience had been eerie enough until then, but Hopper’s lustful curiosity had collapsed when one of the crew had stirred from his coma and murmured incomprehensibly. He’d fled back to the Iron Lung with his courage shattered.

“Nothing visibly wrong with them,” Bly continued, “so it must have been giloc. Internal injuries and bleeding.”

Gravity induced loss of consciousness. Hopper had assumed the same. But that could only occur during planetary takeoff with intense g-forces, which certainly wouldn’t happen on Luna…

The thought hovered, unspoken, in the light of the hologram. Both men realised the significance of what the ship could mean.

It was impossible. Ridiculous to contemplate. It contradicted one of the first things learnt growing up. The old nations of Earth, already languishing from the apocalyptic catastrophe of the Himalayan supervolcano, had reignited old rivalries and wiped themselves out in the 72-Hour War nearly a century ago. The space colonies had been swamped with refugees, and there had been a period of chaotic re-settlement, ethnic tension and several further wars, but eventually humanity had recovered, excising Earth from its collective mind. Those who had fled were the only survivors; the homeworld was a dead planet. The atmosphere was suffocated with ash and dust, a world-wrapping storm of bleak brown. The surface was a hellscape of toxic deserts, dry seabeds and skeletal city ruins, haunted by screeching banshee winds and illuminated only by cloud-damped pulses of lightning.

Yet… there were stories. Tales spun by drunk vagrants on backwater asteroids, or urban legends and conspiracy theories found in the dank corners of the net. Rumours of freighters that miscalculated while slingshotting around the planet on the Mars-Venus route, descended below the dust canopy, and returned to civilisation gasping deliriously about lush forests and glinting rivers before expiring from radiation poisoning. Comms technicians from the nearside radio telescopes, who claimed to have heard mysterious electronic signals coming from the planet’s surface – and would tell you more if you just bought them another drink. They were myths. Hopper didn’t even understand why they existed. Why would anyone yearn for Earth, when Mars was fully terraformed, sustaining oceans, mountains and glaciers more beautiful than any Earth had ever boasted?

“It’s a government project,” Hopper said. “That’s my best bet. Some kinda experimental ship to explore the surface. It must have found its way down there, and then fucked up while trying to get out. I’m gonna forget about it, and you should too.”

He left the office. After a few moments, Bly started scrolling through his contact list.

* * *

An hour later Hopper was sitting in the corner of a crowded bar near the spaceport. Travellers from all over the system were squashed into booths, from Venusian sheikhs to Galilean space crews, smoking and drinking while arguing loudly about helium prices or news from the outer worlds. A local band was playing awful calypso-jazz inside a hologram of a tropical beach in Chryse, wreathed in a nimbus of hashish smoke, and Hopper watched them sullenly as he tallied his options.

He meant what he’d said to Bly. The idea of a secret government project, as stupid as it sounded, was far more plausible than life on Earth. He clung to that theory with determination, trying to ignore the issue of the ship’s antique design and pale crew.

The problem, then, was his own involvement. While he’d been aboard he would have left trace nanyte signatures, and if the Forerunner was reclaimed by whatever government forces had dispatched it, it wouldn’t be hard for them to locate him. Maybe he should leave Luna for a while, head back to the asteroids, or even further out into the gas giants. There wasn’t much time left in the vulture game anyway. Too many newcomers muscling in, violent confrontations over scavenging claims growing more frequent, the interest of the corporate titans piqued… there were only so many derelicts out there.

He was gloomily considering this when a man slipped into the seat across from him. Hopper’s hand automatically darted for the gun tucked underneath his shoulder, but the stranger was smiling, hands flat on the table.

“Who are you?” Hopper asked suspiciously.

“That doesn’t matter,” the stranger grinned. He was wearing a spacer’s jumpsuit, common attire in Daedalus, and had a curiously bland and forgettable face. “What matters is who you are, and what you’ve found.”

Hopper suddenly felt sick with fear.

“About three hours ago you discovered a spacecraft in Terran orbit,” the stranger continued. “I want its co-ordinates.” His accent was bizarre, with clipped vowels and slushy pronunciation. Hopper, a veteran drifter, couldn’t place it anywhere – which frightened him more than anything else.

“Why?” he asked, keeping one hand on his holstered gun.

“Because,” the stranger replied simply.

His face was too generic. Hopper decided it must be plastic surgery. “That’s helpful,” he said. “Who are you?”

“Again: what matters is who you are,” the stranger whispered, leaning closer with his unsettling smile. “You see, Andrew Hopper, I know all about you. I know that you were born on Mars in 2160. I know that you served in the military, and saw combat on Pallas, but were arrested for battlefield looting and organ theft from dead soldiers. I know that you spent two years in a federal prison, and that when you were released, you stole a spacecraft and had it renamed and re-registered. It’s the Iron Lung now. I know that you smuggled drugs in the Trojan belt for a few years, but eventually grew wary of the authorities and came to Luna to become a vulture, pillaging abandoned Terran space stations. I know all that, Andrew, but thirty minutes ago I’d never even heard of you.”

The bubble of music and conversation suddenly seemed very distant. “Who are you?” Hopper demanded a third time, his voice cracking now.

“We’ve been through that.”

Hopper didn’t like being threatened, but neither did he want to be involved with the Forerunner for another second. He scribbled a few figures on a napkin and pushed it across the table. “If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you,” he warned emptily, then stood up and strode out of the bar.

Even the man’s laughter sounded strange.

* * *

Hopper forced his way through the crowded streets, mentally running over a list of destinations. It would have to be somewhere isolated; Neptune or Uranus, probably. He pushed past a gaggle of corporate executives squeezing into a limo on the steps of the spaceport and entered the cavernous terminal.

There was a police cordon around Bly’s office.

Hopper stopped, paralysed, staring at it across the entire length of the terminal, past potted plants and billboard holograms and security queues. A few uniformed constables stood guard, a plainclothes detective interviewed a puffy-eyed secretary, and a sterilised forensics droid trundled through the door.

He turned away, heart thrumming, and took the first elevator platform up to the concourse. Other passengers stood calmly around him, bored or tired, and Hopper tried to conceal the furious typhoon of panic clutching his mind.

He’d known Bly must have been involved somehow as soon as the stranger had sat down, but he’d assumed it was as a conspirator, passing a warning on to somebody. But no: the information the architect had possessed had been taken from him by force. How? What had happened while Hopper was squandering time in a bar?

The elevator floated to a halt, and vomited its passengers out onto the catwalks. Hopper headed for the Iron Lung as fast as he could without breaking into a run. Nothing else mattered now. Once he reached the ship, he’d be safe.

He arrived in the relative seclusion of his dock, fringed by chain-link fences and stacks of vacuum crates. The Iron Lung awaited him, a reassuring hulk of grimy steel, jointed landing struts splayed across the pad like a colossal beetle. Outside the airlock, he hesitated.

A few minutes later Hopper crawled into the ship’s hold, a gloomy, rust-stained cube. There was a decommissioned exhaust vent he used when he needed to enter the ship inconspicuously, and this was one of those times. Crouching in a corner, he twitched his eyes imperceptibly, activating the microscopic nanytes in his retinas. Instantly the world was displayed in a landscape of heat colour, from the cold blue of the ship’s hull to the warm oranges and reds of the fusion engines – or the human body waiting for him in the corridor above.

It was crouched in an attack position, waiting to ambush Hopper as he came through the airlock. He felt a strong sense of satisfaction as he crept silently up the stairwell to ambush the intruder himself. The oculars had cost two million dollars in an illegal backalley operation, but now it was hard to doubt their worth. For good measure, he switched on his various other nanyte systems: muscle enhancement, adrenaline harness, ballistic protection… he wouldn’t need them, as he intended to simply shoot the intruder in the back of the head, but they couldn’t hurt.

Hopper crept into the main corridor, and saw the orange human outline at the other end. He quietly unholstered his gun, took careful aim…

Somebody tackled him from behind and he was slammed against the bulkhead. Even as he tried to bring the gun around to bear, struggling against snarling blows, he realised what had gone wrong. There had been a second intruder, but his heat signature had blurred into the glow of the engine room behind him.

Now he had Hopper’s gun hand pinned to the wall. But Hopper had muscular nanytes, making him stronger, and so with a roar of fury he wrenched his hand free, pressed the gun barrel against the man’s head and fired. In thermal imagery, he saw an eruption of gold and orange cascade onto the cold floor.

Hopper whirled to face the original intruder too slowly; the man had already covered the distance between them, and thrust upwards with a knife before Hopper could react. He felt a burning in his ribcage, but the nanytes suppressed it, and in a vicious struggle he thrust his gun into the man’s stomach and squeezed the trigger three times. His attacker collapsed, and Hopper switched his oculars off, trembling.

The corridor sank back to dreary grey. Hopper knelt down, wheezing, to examine his attackers’ faces. Neither was the stranger from the bar, though both had the white skin he’d seen on the Forerunner‘s crew. The second one was still alive, windpipe rasping and face speckled with red, so Hopper seized his head and smashed it against the sticky floor. “Who are you?” he demanded, distorted voice echoing throughout the ship. “Where are you from?”

“Otago,” the man whispered, and died.

Hacking up ropes of blood, Hopper limped to the flight deck, and lifted off from Daedalus without waiting for clearance. He jettisoned the corpses as soon as he was in orbit. After taking one last glance at the stark brown circle of Earth, he set an autopilot course, stumbled to the sick bay with his vision greying, and filled his ruptured lung with medical gel.

A few weeks later, with his wound healed, his liquor supplies nearly depleted, and the Iron Lung halfway to Neptune, Hopper remembered what the dying man had gasped. He looked it up, and immediately regretted it.

Imagine this:

There’s a supermodel beckoning to you. She’s beautiful; awe-inspiring; angelic. She’s lying in your bed naked, waiting for you to take her. She can be anyone you want. Megan Gale, Jennifer Hawkins, or every Miss Universe in history rolled into one. She’s the ultimate teenage fantasy.

So you dive towards her, abandoning caution in favour of lust, and… TREACHERY! She is no sex goddess! She is an evil demon of blinding light and screeching flames, burning your flesh and scalding your face!

This is what life is like for moths. 

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