Dragons are lucky (SF Microstory May 2014)

Theme: A container (anything – pillbox, space station).
Required Element: eccentric pet .

‘Excuse me. You, the lady with the dragon—if you could step over here, to the Zoological control desk?’

The blonde sighed and changed direction, the little dragon on her shoulder hissing and ducking its head as it braced itself against the turn. Her hover trolley, obedient to her wristband control, was waved forward and up onto the table. Johnson sympathized, but graveyard shift or not, it looked good on his record to stop the occasional passenger. Not to mention the chance to see a dragon close-up. . .

He went swiftly through the two boxes of shimmering clothing, then looked dubiously at the third one, glass-topped with tiny ventilation holes, half-filled with writhing slender black worms winding themselves into flowing knots.

‘And this?’

‘Dragons only eat live food.’ She looked bored, dug in her shoulder bag and produced a slim box, taking out a cheroot and putting it between her lips. She half-turned her head for the little dragon to burp flame and light it. She drew deeply and looked back at Johnson, smoke trickling from her nose in scornful plumes. ‘Do you need the paperwork?’

‘Yes, please. That’s a lot for one little dragon.’

‘Immigration Law allows us to bring in everything we need for our personal use. I’ll be on Earth three months. That’s a three month supply.’ She handed over a sheaf of papers. ‘Proof of ownership, his sterilization, and his vaccinations. All up to date.’

Johnson flipped through the papers, then looked up, formalities over, ready to chat. ‘That seems to be in order. He’s a beauty. A pet?’

‘Part of my act. I’m an exotic dancer.’ She smiled for the first time. ‘I think people come to see him as much as to see me.’

‘I’m not surprised. I’ve never seen one close up. Where will you be performing?’

She handed over a courtesy pass to a well-known club instead of replying, and he thanked her and pocketed it after a glance, smiling. He looked covetously at the dragon, which was staring intently at the container, and on an impulse popped the container open, picked up the first worm his fingers touched, deftly re-sealed the top, then offered the treat. The dragon gave a hoarse shriek and tried to leap away, brought up short on its tether.

‘He’s not allowed to take food from anyone but me.’ She looked both startled and annoyed, and he flushed and put his hand back on the container, ready to replace the creature. One worm near the lid was convulsing particularly vigorously. Thread-like spores suddenly appeared all over its skin, then dropped free and vanished into the depths of the box. It was so quick he almost thought he had imagined it.

‘Livestock brought to Earth has to be sterile.’ He frowned. ‘Did that thing just spawn?’

‘They excrete from multiple orifices. They’re fairly disgusting, actually. Crap all over the place.’ She was looking annoyed again, but he shook his head worriedly. No-one but him on graveyard shift, and a choice to make—believe her, let them through, potentially spark a career-ending eco-balance nightmare? Confiscate the worms, and risk the port being sued for starving a creature worth five years pay? It had been a long day and he was tired, and wanted to get away. She was the last passenger through, the paperwork was in order. . .he glanced at the worm writhing between his fingers and his eyes widened as the black rubbed off, revealing the iridescent colour they were warned about, trained to recognize, from the first day on the job.


After the press conference, and the presentation of the very generous reward, the Earth President of Zoological Control hung back for a word. ‘Well spotted, my boy. Cleverest way I ever saw of smuggling drug worms. So much for dragons being lucky, eh? Not so lucky for her.’

‘Pretty lucky for me, sir.’ Johnson grinned. ‘The reward, and all. I might buy myself one now!’

Oops (SF Microstory June 2014)

Theme: “the day after the end of the world” or irrevocable changes in a way of life.
Required Element: something that used to be abundant and is now nearly or completely depleted.
Required Element: some kind of conveyance (chronal-challenged time machine or humble butter-making yak with cart).

So what do we do? Ann’s voice sounded frightened and Tony’s reply was quick and impatient.

There’s nothing we CAN do. The only way we could possibly reverse it would have been for Central pull us back, and try again for an hour earlier, so we could stop that stupid bitch before she sprang into action. If there was still a Central. Which there isn’t.

No need to call her a stupid bitch, Ann said mildly and Tony sprang up and paced.

No? What WOULD you like me to call her? How many times, how bloody many times, was it drummed into us? Do nothing. Observe only. No contact. Do not, repeat do not, change anything in any way? How many times, Ann?

Ann’s mental voice strengthened. You don’t need to do it telepathically, when she can hear. She feels bad enough.

He rounded on her, his whole body radiating rage, and opened his mouth. A guttural grunt emerged—a really good ear might have made out words. Ann heard it as “hab gew tried talkig?” and shrugged.

Mary turned back to face them, her eyes under the heavy brow ridges cold. So they don’t talk. Doesn’t mean they can’t talk. Babies learn. These bodies have vocal chords. We have to keep trying. She added aloud “ee cag do id.”

We wouldn’t have to if you had followed orders, Tony flung at her and she shrugged her heavy Neanderthal shoulders.

You’re the leader. ACT like a leader. Okay, one little mistake, I wiped out the future as we know it. I have said sorry every way I can think. Fact remains, the far past is now our present. We control these bodies. We can survive. We can learn to speak. Or we can sit here hating each other and weeping over the biggest spill of milk in all time until we turn to dust. I want to live.

The biggest experiment in human history – sending three minds back thirty thousand years into Neanderthal hosts, on the most extraordinary research trip ever—boils down to Mary wants to live
, Tony was bitter, but there was no real heat in it. She was right. He hated her for what she had done, but that hatred had to dissipate. Life—even if it was just one foot in front of the other—had to go on. He sank back down onto the boulder, his enormous unfamiliar head in powerful horny-palmed hands, to try to think, to plan. Mary was right, he was the leader. Two hours ago, the most brilliant man of his generation. Now a Neanderthal youth, accompanied by an elderly Neanderthal woman and another who was probably his sibling, and facing the biggest challenge of his life.

Two plans. He lifted his head at last. We have to find others—we’ll never survive alone. You two had better do that, they might attack me on sight. And I’ll start working on a message. He looked at the sheer granite face of the rock rising behind them. I’ll carve it into that. Maybe, he smiled bleakly, future scientists will work out how to whisk us back. It will take days. Weeks. If it works, we’ll be straight out of here instantly, so I won’t add the last word unless you’re both here. If it doesn’t . . . well, we start life again. Go.

As they finally left he wearily started the search for a stone he could use as a chisel, and another that would do service as a hammer. If he survived long enough to leave the message, if it worked, what then? Where then? A time machine, perhaps, to come from a crude chisel and chunk of rock? Hope was all that was left.


Virtually over


Points to remember when having a virtual affair:

Never, ever plan to meet.  Hard not to type, in the heat of the moment, damn I wish you were really here! Never ever say it otherwise and if you think it, get out. You’re getting too caught up.

Keep it unreal. Use a false name, never give your address or media links and keep the exchange of photographs to a minimum. It is oddly unnerving to have a photo of someone staring blandly at you from the screen at the same time as you are telling each other the detailed and not-at-all-bland things you are up to. Imagination is better.

However, be virtually realistic: it must be a bit schizophrenic to have someone rhapsodizing over your enormous perky perfect breasts when even you can barely see the things, no? Or your long legs, when you barely make it to five foot in your heels – calling you a pocket Venus when you tower over the average bloke, or – one for the boys here – raving over your washboard belly when that ship sailed many six-packs ago. I was realistic about my good and bad points and still ended up apparently gifted with alabaster skin, and my full and perfect lips being traced with a loving finger, it made me feel restless and oddly inadequate.

Don’t get into details about your lives. This is virtual.  Keep it impersonal, keep it light. Explore places one of you has been to, yes, that’s quite fun, don’t get into long chats about your respective problems or it starts to feel real. It ISN’T.  Share some fun stuff if you must but keep the baggage out of sight.

Of course it is a joke for me to give any advice at all considering I caused absolute havoc with my recent affair, so here is the cautionary tale. Anyone who has good tips to add, kick in with comments.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog (Messaging sex rocks) about starting a virtual affair and I haven’t written much since. Not on my blog, not worked much on the latest book, barely kept up with emails, the very occasional tweet, and very sporadic Facebook, because a quite ridiculous amount of time was being spent on this affair. I worked out that one day we had spent five, yes FIVE, hours talking to each other.  Actually I did freak a bit at that point and try to dial it right back.  Every morning when I fired up the pc, there would be messages on ooVoo, and if I responded, he was instantly on line. He wanted to chat every lunchtime. There would be mid afternoon messages. And every night, on the dot of ten, the ping from ooVoo and that was my evening gone until midnight. Well, at first that was quite intoxicating, and he is funny, and inventive, and I think it was three weeks before we repeated a scenario (and only then because it was one we had both enjoyed).  And when you live alone, and I know I am going to start sounding defensive, it IS nice to know when you’re in the mood to chat you can drop a line and instantly get a response. But the time was becoming a problem. Part of it was that he was not, ever, to be hurried. He would undo my buttons, for example,
and stop to admire what each opened button revealed (despite exchanging detailed descriptions, I know to him I not only looked like mature Barbie, but a mature Barbie who has looked after herself really, really well.)  I tried the short-cut of saying defiantly that I was stripped for action in anticipation of his arrival, so he started ‘buying’ me lingerie and posting the link on ooVoo before our meetings—I want you to be wearing this, sweetie.  Links are such fun. We travelled a lot, for example. I said restlessly once that I was sick to death of what is proving to be a particularly cold and wet spring / start to summer, and that evening there was the link to a tropical island with the most beautiful deserted sun-drenched beach and lagoon you can imagine. We swam, and made out on the beach, and got caught by the incoming tide. (Talk about catching crabs.) We went to street fairs in charming locations, and got the giggles when we found chocolate-coated strawberries on one stand, because they’d featured in a recent meeting. He surprised me with a detailed and well-thought-out virtual trip to Paris for our one month anniversary (a month already? Seriously? I’m not good at keeping track of things like that). One lunchtime we browsed an Ann Summers shop, laughing out loud (well, I know I was) as we exchanged teasing links of things we found. He found an on-line auction catalogue and ‘bought’ this fabulous Art Deco mirror, for our little love-nest. Aw. Bless.


art deco mirror

It wasn’t all sex.  We almost became friends, in an odd way. I take part in a monthly short story competition, in an effort to control my tendency to waffle (judge for yourself how that’s working out), and in April I won it which was pretty cool—there are some really good stories every month, it’s a great competition. Paddy* sent me flowers and champagne.  Virtual flowers and champagne, my daughter pointed out. Well, yes, but when I told her I’d won, she’d said oh, okay, that’s nice, and told me another anecdote about my grandpuppy. We were so in synch that I’d log into ooVoo to leave a message, and find him already there typing. Or I’d go to the original website (which has virtual gifts and excellent emoticons), ditto, and find a message so fresh the email notification hadn’t yet reached me.

Hang on, I thought. Isn’t he married? This is getting weird. One married friend (male) said his wife was probably doing the same on another website, the safest form of swinging ever. Another married friend (female) said I was probably acting as a virtual fluffer, sending him to bed every night primed and ready for action, and should be charging for marriage counselling. I checked his profile on the original website, and he’d shown his status as single. That was, if anything, more alarming. What single guy spent so much time and thought on a virtual affair instead of being out there living a real life? But okay . . . actually, no, not okay. I started trying to back off and reclaim my own real life. More flowers, more teddies, and more and more affection rather than lust. Oo-er.  Then it came out, a passing comment, that he was married and I said right, that’s it, we’re done, this is getting way too inappropriate for an extramarital fling. My mailbox very nearly exploded under the weight of messages. Sheesh.  Okay, but no more lovey-dovey gumph.  Occasional meet-ups, just for fun, and by the way, I added, I’m out tonight.

As always, when I got home after my evening out, I logged in to check emails (and twitter and Facebook) and glanced on ooVoo and he was there, waiting. Not in the mood, I said sternly, and he said he’d sleep downstairs, keep his iphone on all night, in case I changed my mind.  Okayyyyyyyy . . . help!

I put him off for days and finally agreed reluctantly to a ten pm meeting on Sunday night. So not in the mood.  At nine-thirty I got a message saying he’d be late, something had come up, but I’ll be there ten-thirty sweetie, and I’m so sorry.  Fair enough, I got on with my poor neglected book, and when ooVoo pinged it was past eleven.  And he said he couldn’t say why he was  late. Well of course he could, it’s a virtual relationship, right? MAKE SOMETHING UP. So I ticked him off at length, logged off and told Twitter I was mad as a hornet and got a lot of teasing and a little more sympathy than I deserved. I assumed, of course, that he’d dumped me for a romantic interlude at home and while I was fully in favour of that, I was really annoyed about my interrupted evening.

Turned out the interlude had been far from romantic. Mrs Paddy* had had enough and confiscated the iphone, he said she was being unreasonable, and there had been a prolonged quarrel. I sympathized, told him Mrs Paddy* was entirely within her rights and I was out of the picture, and we’re over.

2012-02-12 15.01.00-5


Now I just have to get my head around my guilt. And pass on warning messages. That’s the main reason I’m sharing because wow, virtual can be intense. Be warned! He took it far more seriously, but I’ll be honest, during my earlier attempts to back off I missed him, I pined, a little bit. After all, a virtual man always looks good, never laughs too loudly or fails to perform to perfection, never belches or farts or steps on your feet when you’re whirling gracefully around a dance floor, never stares for too long at another woman; what’s not to like? He always thinks you look good, your bum never looks too big in anything, and he sends flowers, wine, and thoughtful gifts every day.

At the very least, don’t get together too often. And keep in touch with real life …

Would I ever have another virtual affair? I’m a writer, so using my imagination, and playing with words, is purest fun for me. I live alone, so someone I can talk to at any time is intoxicating, even if I have to sit on a virtual lap before I start to chatter, and have to gasp obligingly at intervals. (Ooh, ooh, to quote Joan Rivers.) He listened intensely (did everything intensely) and said the right things at the right times, I doubt I’d find that again anyway. It was (women are funny cattle) oddly unnerving. But as to having another affair, probably not. It is, when all is said and done, a little too weird!

Ever researching on your behalf,