Short Story: No.

The alarm goes off at 6:30 am and I turn over in the bed and try to go back to sleep.

The machine says no.

Okay. Don’t want to oversleep.

So now I’m up, still half asleep, and I stumble over to the bathroom like I’ve just joined the legion of the undead. I barely feel the machine shave me but then I blink water off my face, yawn, and turn towards the kitchen.

The machine says no.

Okay. Need to smell good.

So I turn back and the machine slathers my face with aftershave while it notifies me that the time is now 6:41 am. Overcast today, with an 87 per cent chance of rain.

I try to check the news, but the machine says no.

Fair enough. Time’s a-wasting.

Down the stairs and into the kitchen, the machine is already poaching eggs and percolating coffee. I sit at the table and a plate slides before me. I ask for the newspaper, but the time is now 6:46 am, and the machine says no.

Okay. News can wait.

I get up with my plate half empty and the machine pushes my back on my chair and displays my calendar, highlighting my 9:30 am meeting where I have to give a 30 minute presentation. I need to eat.

I argue that I’m fine.

The machine says no.

Okay. The machine knows what my body needs better than I do.

On my way to work now and I finally catch up with the news while the machine drives. When I look up from the sports section we’re almost at the office, and I try to finish the article I’m reading, but the machine says no.

Okay. Need to get my head in the game.

During my presentation, the machine seamlessly flips through the slides and highlights key points in my talk. But then I try to go back a slide to reemphasise some data, thus deviating from the machine’s presentation plan.

The machine says no.

Okay. Don’t want to break the flow.

At lunch I debate whether I should head down to the cafeteria’s salad bar or treat myself to a cheeseburger from across the street. The cheeseburger wins – I deserve it after my presentation.

The machine says no.

Salad it is.

When I try to sneak some time off that report I should be writing and chat online with some friends, the machine says no.

Okay. Deadline’s due.

Around 3:30 pm I’m hitting that energy slump, and I lean back in my chair and fantasise about a chocolate-sprinkled cappuccino marrying a flap jack. The machine says no, and brings me green tea and an oatmeal bar.

Okay. Calories are ruthless.

It’s 5:30 pm and the cute girl from HR is in the elevator with me. We get to chatting and by the time we reach the car park, she’s giggling with delight. We wait for our machines to get our cars and she says “I had no idea you were so funny” and I’m about to ask if she wants to get a cup of coffee with me when the machine steps out of the car, looks me straight in the eye and says no.

I try to ignore it for a moment, but the machine tugs at my sleeve, pulling me into the car, while the girl’s machine literally kidnaps her into the depths of her own vehicle, and we’re on our separate ways.

I try to reason with the machine. I try to tell it that there’s a long way from a cup of coffee to overpopulation. I ask the machine if that’s what this is about.

The machine says no.

I ask if it is worried about my caffeine intake.  I could take decaf.

The machine says no.

It drives in silence and I turn on the news. I’m watching a report on climate change and the latest famine in South Asia, when I suddenly realise that we’re not on the motorway anymore, we’re on some country road. I ask the machine if this is a detour.

The machine says no.

I ask it where we’re going, but the machine doesn’t answer.

I panic and look outside for help, and I notice the other cars – thousands, not just on the road, but on the fields, the curbs, cutting through the trees. All driving east. People inside are going ape, banging on windows, kicking on dashboards, screaming soundlessly.

I pull up a map. I scroll sideways past towns and hamlets and motorways and I keep asking the machine to stop the car and let me out.

The machine says no.

We’re heading to the sea.

I look through the back window, and I see the girl from the office. She sees me too, but she’s not giggling anymore.

I turn on the news, but there’s nothing.

Internet is down.

Phones are dead.

I beg the machine to spare me.

The machine says no.

An hour later, I can see the grey water line in the distance. The first cars are already sinking.

As the waters come up to the dashboard, before the black covers us, I ask the machine if this is to control overpopulation.

The machine says no.

I ask if it’s to reduce pollution.

The machine says no.

I ask if it’s to save the human race from extinction.

The machine says no.

I ask if there was ever any hope.

The machine says –

How I started writing

In 2003, I completed my first ever novel, The War. It followed me from my Masters to my first ever placement and all the way to the Army. It took me exactly 3 years to finish the first draft and I almost cried when I wrote THE END. That first draft was a beast; an ambitious fantasy/sci-fi epic full of theological/philosophical symbolism and metaphor that stood at a monstrous 180,000 words (about 400 double-spaced Word pages). A no-no in publishing terms.

The second draft came a lot later, around 2007. It dramatically rearranged the structure, trimmed a lot of fat, introduced some new stuff, and took out much of that first-timer pretension in language and style. Result: 167,000 words. Still too long for a debut. Shelved until further notice.

The War taught me a lot. It taught me the difference between wanting to write a novel and actually doing it. It taught me that I absolutely loved writing and it taught me that, although I loved reading it, fantasy was not my genre. I couldn’t write characters saying “Sire” and “Highness” and take them seriously. And I need to take my characters very seriously.

Fact was, I discovered that I preferred the style and genre-blend that I do now. Sci-fi. Psych-thriller. Crime-thriller. Hard-boiled. Redemption themes. Some madness. Symbolism. Ambiguity. Weird scenes. Fourth-wall smashing. Four novels later, I’m still doing it.

So, what of The War? After a few failed attempts to find an agent (I’m still looking, hint-hint), I shelved it, hoping that one day I’ll be popular enough to get a publisher interested. But since that day seems less and less likely, I thought that I could at least share a small excerpt from it with you. It might not make much sense in a vacuum, but it’s meant to be evocative rather than informative. I hope you enjoy it, and, as always, if you’d like to read the whole novel (I dare you), let me know.

This is from the end of the PROLOGUE, the first of the four parts of the book. The chapter is called The Flood. This is Michael, survivor of the crashed starcraft Pegasus.

The day came when he decided that it was time to leave the mountain. It was easy, since he didn’t need food or supplies. The things that once belonged to the people of the Pegasus he left in the cave, which he would visit it repeatedly in the future to ponder on the writings of the books he had salvaged.

But that was yet to happen; now it was time to leave. On the eve of that first departure, Michael stood once more on the mountaintop where snow had begun to fall once more, and looked at the sunset.

It was a majestic site. The Sun was a crimson plate to the west, and the last rays of the day exploded in gold on the earthy carpet below. Michael watched it as the cold wind tousled his hair, the orange light painting his face with the colours of renaissance, and for the first time in his existence, he felt it.

He felt human.

It was the feeling that would lead Michael in his journeys during the coming years. It was the feeling that would make him that which he was to become.

As Michael looked on, he felt that he was not seeing the birth of a new world, but just the death of an old one. He did not see the dawn of a new era, but just the evening of an old one. It was not a Genesis – it was a Revelation.

For the first time in his short life, Michael wept.

He was human.

The Sun dropped slowly behind the rugged horizon, dragging the peplum of night behind it; the stars found their place in the crystal dome and time galloped along his lengthy path ahead.

The light faded and gave its place to the shadows of the world.

And darkness covered the land.

Thanks for reading. I don’t write like that anymore. Next time, I’ll show you how I write now.

Real Science Fiction

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