Fiction

Lenny’s Perfect Hit

Lenny worked the dropping bay, and his reputation was one of a conquerer.

A J.E.C artillery platform is something you never want to wake up to see suspended above your colony. Thoughts rush through your head as a cold sweat breaks out; did we not pay our taxes this month? Are we harbouring fugitives? Have they simply decided to ‘redevelop’ this planet?

Whatever the reasons, you’re powerless. All you can do is hope to Christ that the regional government manages to square things with the J.E.C in time. There are stories that the platform has a big red LED clock, counting down to doomsday, which starts the moment it becomes stationary above your world.

These stories, though thoroughly denied by the J.E.C joint chiefs, are in fact true. There are two Doom Clocks. One in the bridge of the platform, and one in Lenny’s dropping bay.

The J.E.C is a scary organisation, and they cultivate such an image intentionally. The J.E.C, or Joint Earth Coalition, is the face of humanity in the galaxy. There’s something very sad about the name, really. Devised to present an image of unity and strength to any alien civilisations we encountered once space exploration got off the ground, we sadly never came across any. Instead, the J.E.C imposes its iron will on its own people; namely the colonists who settle other worlds, asteroids and space stations. The technology required to produce oxygen, water and consumable food on worlds which aren’t suited to human habitation is expensive, the J.E.C owning all the patents and ensuring that the levies are hefty enough to keep those who strike out away from Earth on a pretty short leash.

Should a colony fail to pay their taxes many times, or be suspected of providing shelter to ‘subversive’ elements, or in the event that said colony is simply on top of a rather valuable mineral deposit that the J.E.C desires, the bombing process begins, which starts with the clock. Generally those on the ground are not informed of how long they have; bombings happen unexpectedly and often without announcement. The only warning you receive, really, is that the platform is above your world one morning. From that moment on everyone holds their breath until it begins to slowly creep away again, or doomsday comes.

In the bridge, everything gets very heavy. The acting commander declares “Start the clock,” and a pre-decided time appears, usually twenty-four Earth hours. Everyone starts walking around a lot more stridently, backs straighten, pupils dilate and a few of the more careerist-types get a bit of a hard-on. In this time, messages are passed down the ladder to begin optical analysis of the colony surface, determine the blast zone which will ensure maximum overkill while protecting any valued assets (read: minerals). There are drills and testing runs. Constant communication with the very top brass back on Earth is kept open to ensure continued permission for bombardment. There are a lot of salutes. Supply units will begin moving the ordinance itself through the various channels of classification and testing, until it gets the green-light and is moved to the loading bay.

The bombing material itself is a highly dense radioactive element packed in a massive payload of explosive material, all encased in an armoured chassis. The effect of orbital entry removes the need for thrusting proponents. All you need to do is aim, and drop.

Eventually, it all trickles down to Lenny. Lenny works the dropping bay, the last resting place of the ordinance before it leaves the platform. There is a hole above where Lenny sits, and a hole beneath. Though the chiefs don’t approve, Lenny refers to his work station as ‘The Colon.’ The ordinance is pushed through the ‘sphincter’ above him, and Lenny aims and releases the bombardment from the platform’s ‘anus.’ Lenny’s irreverence has not made him popular with the commander. His accuracy has made him extremely popular with the J.E.C chiefs.

To some on the station, he’s an embarrassing necessity. To others he’s a legend. Whichever, both sides admit that however efficient and orderly the overall process, it all rests on Lenny. Lanky Lenny, they used to call him in the academy. Lanky, spacey, strung-out Lenny.

Eight years ago, Lenny lived a pretty different life. He sold enough smack to support his own habit until a stool pigeon shopped him and he was given a choice: twenty-five years in prison or join a high risk work crew on a five year asteroid mining operation for the J.E.C. Lenny was never really built for prison, so he took the fairly suicidal option and shipped out within a week of his arrest.

Mining asteroids is brutal work for great pay, but as a convict Lenny wasn’t getting paid, so as far as gigs went it was pretty shit. Still, the sights through the barracks viewing port were often breathtaking; nebulas, twin-suns, even the occasional black hole. It beat prison bars, Lenny often thought to himself.

One time, while mining out a rather volatile fuel-source from an asteroid belt, something went very wrong. A drill-beam hit a thick vein, and in seconds hundreds of miners were vaporised by the superheated explosion. Worse, the blast was setting off other asteroids. In deep-space mining this is known as the Worst Case Scenario, a chain event that 96% of the time ends in the total destruction of the asteroid belt and the guaranteed deaths of everyone working the site. When this happens, the chief mining ship (ie: the one holding all the valuable fuel that’s been harvested) hits emergency thrusters to get the fuck out of dodge while firing off coolant pods towards the maelstrom, in the hopes of holding back the blast long enough for the stored fuel to get to a safe distance. It doesn’t tend to work, but there’s got to be a contingency, right?

This time, Lenny was heading back from the mess-hall when the blasts started. He was thrown against the wall by the explosions, and ran to the nearest port to see what was happening. He took in the terrific destruction of the belt, millions of years old, when he noticed that while the thrusters were vainly pushing them slowly away from the blast, too slowly, the coolant pods weren’t firing. Running into the launch bay, he found it empty. The accident had taken everyone by surprise, and no one was manning the launcher. Lenny didn’t think; he just leapt into the rig and grappled with the controls he’d never used before.

From the bridge, the captain watched in horror as the blasts got closer and closer. The escape attempt was unlikely to be successful, and only now were coolant pods being fired towards the blasts. He was thinking about his wife and children when the first pod collided with an asteroid that was showing dark red cracks around its mantle, covering it in cyan coolant, thousands of degrees below freezing. The red cracks, to his shock, began to fade. He then noticed that several other pods had been fired in the space of seconds, each of them striking asteroids far outside the range of the current explosions. While against standard protocol, it seemed to be working. Whoever was manning the launcher was effectively ‘kettling’ the blast, surrounding it in a frozen cage which appeared unlikely to yield to the magnificent heat of the exploding fuel.

In the space of twelve minutes, the blast was over. Thousands of miners had died, but the chief ship and it’s bountiful payload was untouched. The crew universally began to shake with relief, some bursting into tears of fatigue. It was at this moment that the gunner stepped into the bridge; Lenny was pouring with sweat, supporting himself against the bulkhead, and his eyes were distant.

That night the captain wrote a very long report back to headquarters, which was forwarded to J.E.C Command. The next day Lenny was on a shuttle back to Earth, a soldier on either side, his criminal record having mysteriously vanished and with a spot on a massively sought-after military bombardment training course with his name on it.

In his first dropping bay post he bucked heads with the commander almost immediately. Lenny didn’t much care for his uniform, opting instead for a vest or the branded t-shirt the mining company had given him previously. He didn’t stand up straight, he was often tardy, and he was rumoured to smoke in the bay, stood before a bomb which if prematurely triggered would reduce the platform to white-hot smithereens. But his hit rate was unheard of, evidence of a rare ability for gravity-drops which no J.E.C analyst had witnessed yet. This kept him safe for a time, but the commander had Lanky Lenny on his shitlist and didn’t rest until he’d had him temporarily suspended for shabbiness.

The commander’s smugness lasted until their next drop, when Lenny’s replacement eyeballed it wrong and accidentally reduced one of the largest mineral deposits ever discovered by prospectors to useless slag, fucking up so bad that several of the prospectors survived and were able to escape, spreading word of the J.E.C’s skullduggery and tarnishing their reputation irreparably. This led to a massive swell of support for anti-Coalition guerrilla groups.

The commander was never heard from again following a visit from J.E.C Command representatives, and Lenny was quietly reinstated.

When the clock hits zero in the dropping bay, the port above Lenny slides open and a very loud alarm sounds. Slowly, achingly slowly, the ordinance lowers into Lenny’s view. Sometimes some of the younger grunts above have written messages on the bombs; DEATH FROM ABOVE / DON’T FUCK WITH THE J.E.C / A KISS FROM MASSACHUSETTS / etc. Lenny doesn’t really notice the messages, he just leans forward and places his hands against the two release switches on the port below him, which also slides open, revealing the distant surface below. Sensors track Lenny’s eyes and make minute adjustments to the angle of the bomb as he takes in the full view of what lies below.

When the bomb is in the dropping bay, everyone’s thinking about Lenny. Some people say he recites the Lord’s Prayer in its entirety. Some say he sees the face of the universe in that moment when he holds in his hands the most feared weapon in human history. Still others say he masturbates, hitting the release switches at climax. No one knows what Lenny does down there while the bomb hangs, pregnant with possibilities and sublime destructive power. But when the final alarm sounds and the ordinance drops out of the platform, everyone knows; it’s going to be a perfect hit.

Lenny sits back in his chair, the ordinance falling now, plummeting down terminally. It hasn’t even struck yet, and Lenny won’t even know when it has, but he doesn’t care; Lenny bathes in the most euphoric experience imaginable. He has finally found the perfect drug.

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Media

Mental Diarrhea #00003 – An Entertaining Maiming

What is our cultural fixation on romanticising psychopathic behaviour? Grant Morrison touched on this at his drug-addled DisInfocon lecture many years back.
“John Wayne Gacey?” He said, “John Wayne Gacey’s a fucking prick, killed a bunch of innocent people and did some shit paintings.”
And yet people pour over these admittedly shit paintings, hoping to gleam some dark kernel of insight from the artwork of a madman who butchered children. What are they hoping they’ll find?

The human being is predictable. We’ve had about 4000 years of civilisation to get to know the human, and hir behaviours haven’t changed that dramatically. We eat, we sleep, we procreate, and in one of nature’s little flourishes we also developed an advanced consciousness that allows us to consider ourselves and our place in the universe. To pull a quote from True Detective:

“I believe human consciousness was a tragic misstep in our evolution. Nature created an aspect of itself separate from itself.”

Perhaps our fascination with the macabre habits of our darker representatives is rooted in the “unheimlich”, or what we call the uncanny. We’ve gotten so used to the human that it really spooks us when they throw a curveball at us. Did WE do that, we ask ourselves? One of US? Us guys, who painted cathedral ceilings and built nanomachines and discovered that if you tug on pork a little people will pay fucking bank to eat it in a dusty focaccia roll?

We’re horrified/obsessed by our own capacity for inventive cruelty. People describe brutality as “animalistic,” but animals are far more to-the-point in their bloodshed. You won’t find any SS officers among a herd of hippos, and no capuchin monkeys ever formed their own adorable version of the Tonton Macoute. There aren’t any bears performing Mengele-esque experiments in dank operating rooms.

We’re the worst animal, and we love/hate being reminded of such. Perhaps this is why media always paints the psychopath as a cultured artiste. Patrick Bateman, Hannibal Lecter, Dexter Morgan: these are charming, personable eccentrics with an inventive flair. We like to remind ourselves that with all of our potential for expression, beauty and critical thinking, we nevertheless retain a capacity for unimaginable malevolence, and it is this very creative aspect of ourselves which grants us the ability to devise horrific means of violence and torture, both physical and psychological.

There is another potential angle to all this, though. Quick question; do you play video games, reader? If not, congrats, I’m sure your life is very fulfilling. But to anyone who answered “yes,” let me ask you: How many virtual people have you killed? This is a rhetorical question, and I’d be pretty unsettled by anyone who could actually give me a confident answer. If you’ll continue to indulge this tangent, let me ask; how many people were disposed of like so much cannon-fodder in the last action or horror movie you watched?

This is a round-about way of pointing out that ours is a society desensitised to violent death. It’s popcorn stuff, entertainment. Hell, ask any crime reporter: “The gorier the better,” they’ll tell you before getting into a fistfight with the guy from Channel 6 about who gets the closest shot of the crying, blood-drenched students outside the community college.

We’ve had so much blood, gore and war for breakfast that we start to crave something a bit ‘spicier’ for dinner. So we make the killer’s inventive. We give them layered personalities. We give them complex motivations and a modus operandi to die for.

It seems kind of dull, in the long view. A room full of coked-up semi-creatives trying to figure out the most sensational kind of violence for this week’s episode, for this year’s series title. Hopefully we’ll eventually get over our violence-obsession, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Anecdotally, many of my friends are making the shift towards veganism lately. I myself am sort of dabbling with it. I don’t think I’ve eaten meat or dairy in a week, and that’s without even trying. But even within these conscientious, kindly people beat the black hearts of warlords, assassins and and butchers. My girlfriend hasn’t eaten meat in years and won’t even let a balloon fly into the air because it might (read: probably will) suffocate a dolphin one day, but she loves her some Game of Thrones. A good friend of mine is a hardcore vegan with a huge axe to grind against the military-industrial-complex, but during our Dungeons & Dragons campaigns he regularly bathes his dark god’s amulet in the open, sucking chest-wounds of the recently slain.

I’m no different. I’m probably worse, because I’m not even trying to make the world a better place in my day-to-day. It’s just unsettling to think about: we’re so tied to our bloodlust that we can comfortably manage the cognitive dissonance of adopting a position of pacifism while racking up 1000 kills in about 15 minutes in a game of Dynasty Warriors.

An end note: I don’t have any research to back this up, so blow me, but I read somewhere that generally speaking, horror movies and violent media don’t tend to sell well in nations that have recently or are currently experiencing genuine war and upheaval. It brings to mind the part in Girls where Lena Dunham’s character is freaking out about STDs at the clinic, and somehow brainfarts her way into thinking that her obsession with AIDs might be an unconscious desire to contract the virus, which earns her the most withering fucking stare of all time from her doctor, who gravely asserts that “No, you do not want AIDs.”

All this artificial violence. When the real thing suddenly slams down into the street, leaving tattered, bloody rags and shoes that might/might not have feet in them strewn about, will we still want to watch Samuel L. Jackson blow someone’s brains out? It’s been a century since the Great War, which heralded the mechanisation of the war-machine. Up until that point, war was still seen by many as something ‘glorious,’ ‘noble,’ ‘honourable.’ It was only when people received news that “Your son has been chewed up like fucking hamburger by artillery, his death served no purpose, nothing was learnt, God Save The King,” that we realised the terrible corner we’d backed ourselves into.

We learn nothing.

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Fiction

The White City

My dreams all take place in the same location now, if the mental spaces in which we wander nocturnally can be said to have a ‘location’ as such. It is a city, grand in scale but utterly ruined. White stone bricks make up towers, dwellings, sepulchres and vast stretching bridges which end abruptly in mid-air. Water surrounds the city, lays through it, though the canals do not flow and the shores do not ebb or rush. They are achingly placid, like an infinite mirror stretching past the horizon. The sky is eternally locked into a state of either dawn or twilight; it is impossible to tell which. There is no sun or moon suspended above. The city lays almost entirely empty of life.

There is a sense that this is an old place, eldritch and forbidden. It feels older than… anything else there is, to be honest. It started here, whatever it is. Did the spires once tower even higher, each window lit by fantastical lights in colours we have never seen? Did the grand beings who constructed this place once stride proudly across its many huge white plazas, resplendent in finery now forever lost to time? Did the stars ever drape across a night’s sky, the whorls and jewels of Nuit moving through constellations which are not our own?

I cannot say.

Perhaps it was always like this. Perhaps this is the first place, the first eruption of matter in a universe born anew. Perhaps it is the last, the final resting place of that shared hallucination we called “civilisation.” Perhaps it is the ruin of Heaven.

In my dreams I wander across the streets, alleys and walkways of this forsaken place. Occasionally there are others, though none I would consider denizens. I feel that the others I sometimes glance are fellow visitors, projecting to this city from their resting places, same as I. None speak, and I do not attempt to myself.

Many parts of the city appear as through they should be inaccessible, built by either maddened architectural minds or simply constructed for the convenience of a race which does not abide by the same physical laws as my own. However I do not encounter difficulty in scaling the impossibly steep white pathways. I simply will myself there, and I am transported. I have not taken the time yet to look at my own body while I explore this place. I am quietly afraid to do so.

Sometimes, but not every time, there is a strong sense of another presence in this city. While it may sound wildly out of character with everything else I have described, I am occasionally made aware of a dragon which resides here. I have never seen the dragon, not heard its roar or witnessed its flight. Indeed, I cannot in all sureness say that it embodies any of the various images we conjure in our collective human consciousness when we think of a ‘dragon.’ When I become aware of it, it is as though a deep tectonic shift has occurred in the very foundations of the place. Some kind of consciousness stirs deep beneath the city, within the very white stones upon which I stand, and it is wholly omniscient of those who wander it’s lair. Or perhaps it would be better to say those who ‘trespass’. When I become aware of the dragon, I wake shortly after. Perhaps I flee it’s ethereal gaze, perhaps it ejects me, unworthy to stand within this holy land.

I recall a single time that I became conscious of the dragon in the presence of another wanderer. A young woman, clothed in a vest with brown hair pulled back tightly. The moment I became aware of the dragon I could be sure she had as well; her face suddenly creased into a look of fear, panic and horror. Perhaps mine had as well. Perhaps it does every time.

I want to learn how to lucid dream, because I want to grapple with this city more consciously. There is some reason for my constant return there. Am I supposed to find something? Am I experiencing the memories of another? Perhaps I have been called there to rebuild it. Perhaps I have been sent there to destroy what remains.

In a way, it doesn’t seem to matter. Many of the metaphysical things we take for granted in our World and Aeon do not belong there. I do not entertain thoughts of good or evil while there, or even life vs. death. This place resides either long before or after those separations existed.

I want to go back. I want to know whether the tides destroyed this place, or if they simply pushed the great white stones together themselves. I want to know what sights lay at the tops of the highest cracked towers. I want to know if subterranean tunnels lead under the city, beneath the level of the still sea, and what magnificent force might rest there.

Part of me worries, in my waking hours, that this city might drive me mad if I spend too much time there. It is so very alien, so unlike anything I have seen in life or fantasy. Perhaps if I were to spend too much time exploring I might become lost, or lose some connection to the slumbering body which projects my consciousness into that lost place. I remind myself that I have seen no evidence to suggest that any others have become ‘stuck’ in such a way. But still I worry.

In cynical moments, to which I am prone, I wonder if maybe this is all simply an amalgamation of other mythical lost cities: Atlantis, Carcosa, R’Lyeh. But the thought occurs; I am not the only one who has visited this place. Would it not make sense that others, more gifted in poetry and prose than myself might have taken inspiration from their own journeys there and attempted to scribe the things they had seen, to try and convey to others the idea of a city lost amid time, utterly separate from our own assumptions of space, physics, time and law?

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