Monday, 29 July 2013

The Same Difference

I have been lazy, haven't I? As usual, I skipped over the weekend and wound up behind schedule. Actually, although I've missed one post, according to my calendar I'm exactly halfway between "The Unearthly Pilot" and the next episode, so I'm right on time!
But never mind that now. At the moment, I've got a post to write, and I've been going heavy on fiction-writing theory, so I'm going to cool things down with some (relatively) simple pseudo-philosophy. Because all morning I was thinking about a word that used to baffle me in my youth. The Word of the Day is: 'OPPOSITE'.

Opposite /'opəsət/ adj. 1. Placed or lying against or facing something else: They were seated at opposite ends of a room; opposite to our house. 2. Completely different, as in nature, qualities, result, etc. ♦n. 3. Someone or something that is opposite or contrary: My opinion is the opposite to his. 4. → Antonym. ♦prep. 5. Facing: She sat opposite to me. 6. In a position creating a unity with some other position: She played opposite a famous actor. ♦adv. 7. On opposite sides.

When I was young, I never understood Opposite Day. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's a really stupid children's joke, often told in primary school. Often it's used as a retort when one child runs out of intelligent things to say in an argument (much like an 'Everything-Proof Shield'). For instance, if one child says "You're stupid", they can reply with "Nuh-uh! It's Opposite Day." meaning that the original statement is inverted (i.e., You're not stupid) and then everything said (or done) from that point on means the opposite of it's intended meaning.
Saying Hello means Goodbye; Saying No means Yes; Saying Awesome means Not Awesome; Saying Love means Hate & Saying 'I don't want to play this stupid game' means 'I am not cool'.
But even as a seven-year old child, I never liked this game, because the first statement was always wrong: "Today is Opposite Day"
If that were the case, then you wouldn't be allowed to say that. It's like the Liar's Paradox, the phrase itself negates the credibility of the phrase. My favourite part is that when I explained this to the other kids, they would then say: "Well, then, today's NOT Opposite Day."
Then I'd say: "Good," then smile knowingly, and walk away knowing I'd bested my opponent . . . actually, I was seven years old, so I probably did something less subtle like laugh in the face of the other kid while stuttering and telling them that I was smarter than them; because all seven-year olds are morons.
See, as a child, my issue with the idea of Opposite Day was that (as I saw it) it would cancel itself out. After all, if EVERYTHING is opposite, then nothing would be. Let me show you.

Let's say that someone who isn't playing the game asks me a question with an obvious answer: "Do you like nachos?"
The correct answer is Yes, so on Opposite Day I should say "No", right? Wrong. If everything is opposite, then the meaning of the word "No" would also be the opposite, so when I say "No" the meaning of the word is Yes. So the correct answer is No. So, as I saw it, on Opposite Day the correct answer would be "Yes", because the two oppositions would cancel one another out.
It was some pretty high-tier thinking, so none of the other kids new what the hell I was talking about.

However, as I got older, I started to see another layer to the Opposite Day conundrum. If Everything is Opposite, then what about me?
When asked the question "Do you like nachos?" I would tell the truth, because I love nachos and enjoy sharing my appreciation of nachos with others. However, on Opposite Day, doesn't that mean I should lie?
Of course! So the answer would, again, become "No".
However, on Opposite Day, wouldn't the concept of lying itself become inverted? So when I would tell the truth, I should lie; but the concept of lying itself would be 'to tell the truth'. So, again, the answer is "Yes", because again the oppositions cancel out . . .

In fact, you can do this kind of thing until eternity, finding the ways in which things may be negated, opposed, inverted or cancelled out due to a no-holds-barred, ubiquitous concept of "Opposition".

But of course, I didn't stop there. Because then I started asking deeper questions. If everything is opposite, then doesn't that mean that I should hear the opposite of the question being asked of me? If everything is opposite, then the wiring of my brain, too, should be inverted, so of course I would hear the question opposite to the way it's being said to me. But that left me with a big problem.
What exactly is the opposite of the question "Do you like nachos?"?

If you think the question would be "Do you dislike nachos?" then you are not as deep a thinker as seven-year old me, because I went deeper than that, asking the big questions, like: "What is the opposite of nachos?"
That question, and others like it, started to unravel my entire understanding of opposites.

You see, when we talk about opposites, we're generally talking about 'binary opposition'. One thing opposing another, because it's the only other option. Like 1s and 0s in a binary system, meaning on or off. On is 1, Off is 0. Whatever you talk about, it either is, or it isn't.
If it's not it isn't, when it's not isn't, it is. So, No is the opposite of Yes, because not Yes is No. It's quite simple, really.

But, so often, we simplify things down too far, and start seeing things in a binary system, even when they're not. I mean, what is the Opposite of Right?
There are actually two answers here: Left or Wrong.
Okay, okay, I'm sort of cheating on that one (although Left and Right still aren't binary). But what about this fun thought experiment:
What is the opposite of Black?
Most people would say 'White'. Not to mention the racial connotations of that statement, this is wrong for many small reasons that can be explained by this big one: When you mix White and Black together, you get Grey.
So, what is the Opposite of Grey?

What? No answer? Grey is a colour, just like black or white [don't get me started with that shade/tint/pigment bullshit], so why would it be so hard to find the opposite of Grey?
But as well as grey, what about blue, red or yellow? Then, what of magenta? Or puce? Many people can find the chromatic opposite, as it lies on the colour wheel (red opposes green, blue opposes orange & yellow opposes purple) but that's not all that accurate. Because when you get down to it, it's just a way of creating binary opposition where none exists.
For Black and White there's no binary system, but rather a sliding scale, so how can we find opposites there? Then, with colour, how can we find opposites when there isn't even a sliding scale, but rather a hexidecimal scale of Reds Blues & Yellows.

And we do this all the time, creating binary opposition where none exists, just look at these common, everyday examples of "opposites":
Men/Women -  There are a lot of people that would disagree with that.
Up/Down - I'm pretty sure we live on the middle level somewhere.
Left/Right - . . . and Centre.
Love/Hate - I always thought the opposite of Love was Heartbreak.
Good/Evil - Oh, come on now . . .

It is the very definition of a False Dichotomy.

All of this used to confuse the hell out of me as a kid. Especially when I learned about anti-matter. I mean, anti-matter is diametrically opposed to matter. When they come into contact, they both cease to exist. But everything is made of matter. So is the opposite of nachos, anti-matter?
Or is there, perhaps, the more specific anti-nachos? And what would it taste like?

. . .

But, you know, I'm a little older, these days, and a little wiser. See, a lot of this can be explained somewhat by what I call Denotational Confusion (which is totally not a term I just made up). Basically, the issue here is that we're compounding the many meanings of Opposite, found in the definition above, which causes a paradox.

Black is the opposite colour to White, due to definition above, it is on the opposing side of the chromatic spectrum to White. This is the same with Up and Down; Left and Right, they're on opposite sides.
Yes is the opposite of No, due to definition 3, it is contrary to No.
Men and Women are opposed in many ways, and so they are opposite as per definition 5 (and, potentially 1).
Meanwhile, Good and Evil are opposites due to definition 2. They are completely different as in nature, qualities, result, etc.

As a child, I thought that the true meaning of Opposite was "Completely Different", so to me saying North was the Opposite of South was ridiculous, because they were both directions. Shouldn't the opposite of North be something unrelated, like Symmetry, Casablanca or Potato?
After all, North and South aren't completely different. They're actually pretty similar, since you'll always find both on a compass. In fact, they both have exactly the same difference.
But, more often than not, that's what Opposite means.

You know, it occurs to me that this wasn't the most informative post. I was hoping it would be somewhat educational and informative - but it was mostly me complaining about how little I used the dictionary when I was seven-years old.
I was a little short-sighted in my youth. Actually, I'm a lot more short-sighted today, I have to wear glasses or I can't see beyond a metre. But my point - and the point of this blog post - is that, despite my misconception, I don't regret my naïveté, because it helped open my eyes to a new way of thinking.

After all, the world's not all Black & White. There are many shades of grey.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm going to experiment to see if I can create a recipe for anti-nachos.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Best Two out of Three

Last week, I didn't really do a blog post. The main reason for this is because my internet was overdrawn and if I continued to use the internet the over-quota fees would have me on the breadline. But the thing is, that's not the only reason I didn't post anything, because I did have internet for some of those days, particularly the weekend.
On the Saturday I was recovering from a night of heavy drinking, but I was still cognizant, I could have written something. Hell, for the Sunday I was fine and I had hours to spare, so what kept me?
Well, basically, as much as I hate talking about it before it's written, a lot of this has to do with Duke Forever. I am spending a lot of time working on it.
This is a problem for the blog because generally, I write blog posts about stuff that I notice while I'm living my day to day life. But since so much of my life at the moment is all about Duke Forever, I can't talk about it. While there's some things I can talk about, like watching Doctor Who; researching Greek Mythology & how much I love trains, there's a lot that I can't mention at all for risk of spoilers. Even for some of the really simple stuff, I can't mention it because, while miniscule, it's actually a major part of the story. Actually, it's the simple stuff especially that I can't talk about, even if you never read it within the story, because of the way storywriting works. So today, since I can't talk about what I'm doing directly I'll instead be talking about that concept within storytelling.
The Word of the Day is: 'FOUNDATION'

Foundation /fown'dayshən/ n. 1. The basis of anything. 2. The natural or prepared base on which some structure rests. 3. Building Trades The lowest part of a building, wall, etc., usually of masonry, and partly or totally below the surface of the ground. 4. The act of founding, setting up, establishing, etc. 5. (a donation for the support of) an institution. ♦adj. 6. Of or relating to someone associated with the beginning: A foundation member.

In order to build a building, the most important part is a strong foundation. If you don't set your building on a steady footing it can easily sink into the ground, slide down an incline or even collapse in on itself. It's one of the most important parts of any building, yet you never get to see it. In fact, the greatest pieces of architecture are those which can hide their foundations, leaving us to wonder how they can be built so high.
The same is true of stories. Stories need a good foundation, and it's the quality of that foundation that can help a story develop, but so often you don't get to see the foundations that make up a fictional world. However, stories aren't built on dirt, stone or sand like a building. Rather, the groundwork for a good story is so often more stories, ideas and characters.

This foundation, or groundwork, for a story is something that I (and my writing companion) call the "Two-Thirds". Why? We created the term from something J.K. Rowling said in reference to the World of Harry Potter; to paraphrase:
  "What you read in the Harry Potter books; that isn't even half of the whole story - not even a third. It is only a small fraction of the families, the history and the world that I created."
As I have experienced storywriting, I have come to understand the truth of that statement. You can research, develop, conceptualize, create & brainstorm for days, to write a story that someone will read in less than an hour. Because there is so much work behind the scenes to make one scene work properly.

This idea is very vague, because of fiction's scope, so let's look at a simple example . . . how about a Belosian Spacejet? It's my own example, from Chapter One of Duke ForeverThe Unearthly Pilot. If you haven't read it, don't worry it's not much of a spoiler (but if you haven't read it you seriously should read the story now anyway, because it's awesome and you're missing out).

Anyway, the Belosian Spacejet is just an alien ship. As far as the story is concerned, it might as well have been a clear, plastic bubble, and I was originally going to make it look like a flying saucer. But since it was such an important part of the story, I wanted to make it something a little more memorable - these are the two-thirds of the ship that you didn't read in the story:
I would have researched DWU alien races to find one that suited my needs, but I quickly scrapped that idea. A major part of any science-fiction series is making up new aliens whenever you feel like it and I didn't want to miss that opportunity in my first story, so I said the first word that popped into my mind. It sounded like "bill ocean", so I fiddled with the word in my head until I got the spelling right. Then, to make sure I wasn't stealing anyone else's thunder, I typed it into Google. (actually, if there already was a fictional alien called a Belosian, I was going to use them to inspire my own.)
I was surprised to learn that it was already a word, but not for an alien race; rather it's an Old Saxon word which means 'to deprive'. Intrigued, I decided to use that as the inception point for the alien race. Straight off the bat, I thought it would be interesting if the Belosians were deprived of some of that cool alien tech that every stock alien race seems to have, such as warp cores, laser beams and transporter technology. However that left me with a dilemma, if they had lesser technology, how could they make a spaceship?
That's when I was reminded of Steampunk.
Steampunk is a genre of fiction whereby technological advancement basically stopped after the boiler, but society continued to advance around it requiring everything from cars to computers to to be built with steam-based technology. I'd already decided on the billion2-gallon fuel tank plot point, so I upgraded the Belosians to dieselpunk, making them a dieselpunk society that discovered transdimensional engineering.

This influenced the way I designed and described the ship in the story. I coloured the ship brass as an homage to my my original 'steampunk' idea, I changed the Duke's exposition to explain it as such and the way I wrote the story was to portray, as best I could, the concept I had developed of a simple, but very powerful little jet.
Now, it may not seem that important - but it speaks volumes within the story. Without it, it would have been a clear, plastic bubble, or a flying-saucer disk. Or, I don't know, a jetpack. Something uninspired.
Instead, when I say it was a Belosian Spacejet, you can enjoy it that much more. Because there is a history to it, and a story - hell an entire alien race - hidden behind those words within the two-thirds.

Also, because that foundation is there, I can use it to build even more stories. One day, I may even write a story where the Duke meets a Belosian. I'm not planning it at the moment, but the opportunity is there. As are many other opportunities from the great number of stories, characters, ideas & histories that I have already created for the two-thirds of Duke Forever.

You know, I said that I didn't like to talk about a story I'm still working on, then I did anyway. So let's talk quickly mention some other stories to make up for it:
Other writers have their own hidden stories within the two-thirds as well. For instance, J.K. Rowling famously calls the concept "Ghost Plots" and within her books this includes Dumbledore's homosexuality; Hermione's status as the 'Mary Sue'; the Dementors' relation to Depression; the history of Hogwarts' Founders & a whole heap of unmentioned characters.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so much material about his fictional world of Middle-Earth, that he wrote appendices and essays on the material and fictional history books which were published by his son; and apparently the book The Silmarillion was basically a compendium of this information.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events has a lot of information that can only be read in Lemony Snicket's Unauthorised Autobiography.
I could go on, but I want to post this before midnight, so I'll leave it there; but rest assured that many an author has their own Two-Thirds of a story that you can discover from their interviews, website or other media; and yet even more will have hidden groundwork for their stories that you will never discover.

In Conclusion, I would like to think this post will serve as a warning. Writing is fun, enlightening & an amazing form of personal expression; but if you want to write well then it's not easy. Even if you're writing a short story, barely 1,000 words long, if you want it to be truly amazing then you're going to write a lot more than 1,000 words. Back story, World-building, setting, extra characters & ghost plots - all of these can colour your story dynamic.
You can't just have a main character, call him Jim & expect him to carry a story. But if he has those two-thirds. If he fought in the War or graduated top of his class in politics; lost his wife to cancer or has four adopted children, so long as there's something more to him than what you see on the surface, then it will bleed through into the work and make him a more believable character.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time I'm going to see if I can come up with a blog post that doesn't mention Duke Forever!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Tanj, the System is Broken

My internet has been over-quota for a while now, but even without it I have been hearing an awful lot, on the television, on the radio & by word of mouth, about the latest story in America. I don't know the details, as I missed the initial story; but what I do know is that a young black teenager, named Trayvon Martin, was killed by a man named Zimmerman. As I said, I don't know the details, but I know that Martin was unable to defend himself, yet Zimmerman shot him. Then, when this issue went to court, Zimmerman was acquitted and this caused much upset. People believe that Justice has not been served and that the man known as Zimmerman deserves more punishment than has been dealt.
In response to this, I heard one nice story of a peaceful protest in New York City, but that tale quickly fell to the wayside as even more people began rioting in the streets in the midst of a heatwave. It is a dangerous situation, many people have been hurt, property has been damaged and police have been called in to settle the new bout of protesters. Who have taunted police and caused a ruckus.
Basically, what was once a simple protest has disintegrated into a total riot.
The Word of the Day is: 'RIOT'.

Riot /'ruyət/ n. 1. Any disturbance of the peace by a group of people. 2. Law The carrying-out of a violent and unlawful act by three or more people (or, in New Zealand, at least six) acting together causing terror to people. 3. Violent or wild disorder or confusion4. A brilliant show. 5. Colloquial Someone or something that causes great amusement, enthusiasm, etc. 6. Run Riot, a. To act without control; disregard all limits. b. To grow strongly or wildly. ♦v.i. 7. To take part in a disorderly public outbreak. 8. To live or act in a wild, uncontrolled way.

Apparently, the rioting has subsided of late, but I can't tell. Perhaps my own media just finds the story boring at the moment. But media coverage of this revelation, to the injustices of the American Legal System is, to me, an absolute riot. And I mean, the fifth definition above. I find it amusing.
Not the civil disorder and outcry! No, that is entirely understandable. If you're protesting crime by committing crime, you're a moron; but the plight of this poor kid, shot by a man who dodged justice, that deserves to be heard. I believe Zimmerman should be punished.

So, no, I am not laughing at the tragedy. Rather, what I find funny about the whole affair is that it’s happening now.
Why are people complaining about this now? The system has been this messed up for a LONG time now, ever since the institution of the Legal System and it’s only after a death of a black teenager in 2013 that I hear people complaining only now? You're a little late to this party, as far as I'm concerned.
But I think I see the reason now, and that’s what I want to talk about today. if you’re confused, let me enlighten you.
The joke as I see it, is that Americans still believe in a “Justice System”.
This is how they think works:

  1. If you commit a crime, you are pursued by the police.
  2. When police catch you, you're brought to a Court of law.
  3. In court, you speak your case and the other side speaks theirs.
  4. After all's said and done, you are judged by a jury of peers.
  5. Then they decide what fate you deserve and justice is served.

This is a very simplified version of what people call the 'Justice System', but even though it doesn't cover everything, it's certainly one example of how 'justice' is served. But it is ridiculously flawed. Let me break down for you why this system serves no justice, in my eyes.

If you commit a Crime, you are pursued by the Police
Right off the bat, 'Police'. In Australia, it's not so bad - at least, not in my personal experience - but there are instances in First World Countries around the globe of police abusing their power. For example, there's a member of my extended family (whose name I will not mention) who has a Restraining Order for the Police Department. As in all of them. Why?
Because where he lived, a policeman decided that he didn't like him. I can't remember why, apparently he challenged the officer's judgement in some manner. But in response this policeman, and many of his buddies within the department, began to park their cars outside of the man's driveway every morning. Then, when he left for work or the shops or just to leave his house, they would crawl behind him with their cars to intimidate him. Then when he inevitably made some minor mistake, because he was worried about the threatening cop car behind him, they'd pull him over and book him.
Oh yeah, that sounds like 'justice'.
Not all police are arseholes, but this is one of a shitload of examples; and it only takes one drop of sour milk to spoil the bottle. I still have faith that when I meet a policeman he won't abuse his duties, but I also know that power corrupts and policemen have an awful lot of power.

When Police catch you, you're brought to a court of law
Well, that's just not true. There are a ridiculous number of crimes with just 'fines' (which, ironically, aren't all that fine). But I can't really complain about this one that much, if you commit a crime, generally you are brought to face some kind of judgement, even if that is in the swift, unjust form of a ticket.
I mean, sure, I find it sad that you can only catch a criminal after they've committed a crime, but that's not a problem with the 'Justice' System so much as it is a sad fact about the world at large. My only real issue is 'when police catch you'. What do we do in the meantime?
There is no perfect system that can catch a criminal. Nothing that works every time, nothing that guarantees to prevent them from committing more or worse crimes in the intervening time. Even if there were, it could potentially provide police with too much power. So we've got a lot of systems in place where people can outrun a jurisdiction; jump through some legal loophole and completely avoid judgement. The problem is, you don't always catch the crooks. Perhaps it's semantics - but if you let a couple slip through the cracks, then you can't call that Justice, can you?

In Court, you speak your Case and the other side speaks theirs
Uh, no you don't. You get a lawyer, who talks for you. This, I find, proves the flaw in the system. When I was young, I never understood Law & Order (the television show). As far as I could see, whenever a suspect was in the interview room and said "I'm not saying anymore until I see a lawyer" they might as well have just said "Well, you've seen through my lies, so I need to call in a professional who can lie for me.". So I asked my dad, an attorney:
  "If you're innocent, why would you ever need a lawyer?"
His answer was, basically, "You could say the wrong thing." And he's right. Your position could be misinterpreted, misrepresented, invalidated or otherwise undercut if the other side wants to use your words against you, and it could possibly even see you indicted in the proceedings.
But as I see it, if the system were truly just then I wouldn't need a lawyer to prove I'm right. If all I am doing is trying to provide the truth, why do I need a lawyer? Can't I just tell the truth?
But that's the biggest truth of all: This isn't a justice system. It's a legal system. It's a system of the law, and you need a lawyer to help you navigate the law so that you can utilize the law to somehow find truth and justice. The only way this system could be more confusing is if you had to present your case in Latin. But that's a ridiculous suggestion. . . unless your lawyer's working pro bono.

After all's said and done, you are judged by a jury of peers
Okay, this just makes me angry. You're saying that to find justice, I have to pay some arsehole thousands of dollars an hour just to pay off his law school fees and read a law book. Only to then say:
  "Sure, we spent years trying to make a just legal system and deciding what is right and wrong. But pfft! Screw that, let's bring in some people off the street to decide what's right and what's wrong."
Fuck You, Legal System. What is the point? Seriously WHAT is the POINT of having a court of law if you're then going to bring in some people off the street to decide the final truth who know nothing about law?
And that's the truth, they know nothing about law. Lawyers aren't allowed to do jury duty, and if those in charge realize that you know about the law then they can potentially deny you jury service (that's a fun one. next time you want to avoid jury duty. Just go to the registrar and say "I look forward to utilizing the power of Jury Annulment.")
But am I saying that we shouldn't get judged by a jury of peers? HELL NO!
That's even worse! You are worried about one black teenager who won't find justice? It is a Fact that the majority of judges are old, white & racist, and I believe that played no small part in Zimmerman's acquittal. I don't believe that judges are any more capable of finding justice than twelve civilians, but at least it's less likely for twelve random people to all be racist.

Then they decide what Fate you deserve and Justice is served
I'm sorry, NO. I don't call that 'Justice'. You cannot pile Opinion, Corruption, Silence & Elitism on top of one other and call it 'Justice', that is an absolute joke.

The title of this post includes the word 'tanj'. The word is from the works of Larry Niven (the author of the Ringworld novels). It's a fictional profanity, and the word itself is an acronym: T.A.N.J.There Ain't No Justice.
These days, I feel the word speaks volumes.

So I do not believe we have a Justice System. Sure, sometimes it achieves justice. Sometimes the bad guy goes the jail, the family gets over their grief and good things come from dark beginnings, but that is not always the case . . .

However, I am not telling you all of this so that you lose all faith in the law. The system is heavily flawed, but it works sometimes and without it we would be much worse off . Just be cautious around it, because we don't have a Justice System, but we do have a Legal System. So long as you understand that, and realize that Justice is not a guarantee, you can use this system to your advantage, and when you see the Legal System committing these injustices, speak up.
Not every snake is venomous, but when you see a snake you can't identify, you should be cautious around it just in case. I believe the same mindset should be taken around the Legal System. Not every cop is corrupt, not every law is unjust, not everyone in jail is innocent and most criminals go to jail, so it's probably going to be okay; but just in case it's not, you need to make sure you're not going to get bitten in the arse.

That's why I am disappointed it took so long for people to see these injustices, like those committed against Trayvon Martin, because he's not the first; people just let the system get away with it because they thought they could trust it. But unless the system changes, he won't be the last either.

And most importantly, when this all dies down. Whether or not Zimmerman is brought to justice or not - Don't Let your Guard Down!
Trayvon Martin has become a martyr to a cause, but he represents hundreds of comparably innocent victims and many more crimes left unresolved, so don't wait for another injustice before you try to fix this broken system. Otherwise, all that's going to happen is that more people will get swept under the rug, more people will riot and I'll just keep on laughing at a joke no one else understands.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm off to see if I can find my favourite kind of justice: Vigilante.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Stitching Storylines

There are many ways to write a story. Some people read classical books and use them as a basis, some people live in a beautiful town and build their story around the landmarks. Other writers even give themselves challenges, such as writing an entire novel without the letter 'E'; there are a lot of ways to write a story.
For me, personally, I find the trick is the initial Inception point. The moment when your mind conceives of an idea. I see it's potential and build from there. There are a few ways to do this, but for me it's the construction of patterns. I see things that are related and I build from there. These patterns are built by simple inter-relation. I see two things, unrelated, and I find the common ground. Or, you could say, that one of the ways that I build stories is through collecting a series of coincidences.
The Word of the Day is 'COINCIDE'.

Coincide /kō'ənsuyd/ v.i. 1. To be in the same position in time or space. 2. To happen at the same time or period in time. 3. To agree or be the same (in opinion, etc.).

My very first story on this blog was iRobot, a story based on the 2004 science-fiction film I, Robot (which itself was based on the book by Isaac Asimov, but I was more concerned with the movie); as well as the life and death of Steve Jobs, the CEO and lifeblood of Apple Computers.

I wrote the story because I saw a few coincidences between the two stories. Firstly, I noticed the the homophonic titles using Apple's lower-case 'I' marketing gimmick (I, Robot/iRobot). Secondly, both the story of I, Robot and of Apple Computers concerned the death of a leading electronics manufacturer after their company achieved an astounding market share and global recognition (Alfred Lanning/Steve Jobs). Thirdly, they both had a single product with a smooth, caring voice that was designed to help out humans as well as having a name starting with 'S' and ending in an 'ee' sound (Sonny/Siri).

The connections were fascinating to me, and the opportunity was too great to pass up, so I built my story around tying together the two stories, taking pieces from both sides to construct my puzzle. The story is a little old now, so it's not my best piece of work. In fact, it's embarrassingly bad. But I still enjoy reading it for those connections alone. It was a lot of fun finding all the ways the two stories connected.

But that's not the only example of a story I've written from coincidences alone. My second piece of blogfiction was Furby, Herbie & Kirby in the Starlight Derby. The attentive among you may note that all three of these characters have names that rhyme, which is fascinating in itself. But once I noticed this connection, I quickly realized that all three of these characters, famously, don't speak English. Kirby only ever says 'Poyo' or other little phrases. Furby speaks Furbish (with limited vocabulary) and Herbie is a car, so doesn't speak at all. I thought this was interesting. Also, since these were all family-friendly characters, yet exist in entirely different worlds, I was curious to see how they would work together so I built the story around that.

I do this all the time, and if I had to show you all the connections I've made with other stories, especially Duke Forever and his ongoing stories, I'd be here all day. But the purpose of this blog post isn't to show all my working and say "Look at me, so clever,", rather it's to inspire you to find connections yourself and see if they can help you make a story.

For instance, one connection that has always intrigued me is the number 13. It's considered 'Unlucky 13' for a few reasons, one of the big ones being that it was the number of patrons present at the 'Last Supper' of Jesus (according to myth). The number thirteen is a prime number, and doesn't divide evenly into anything but itself and the number 1; but thirteen multiplied by two is: 26.
That number doesn't seem too important, but it's actually the number of letters there are in the Latin Alphabet (the one English uses):
Okay, small coincidence, nothing much to think about, right? Maybe . . . except that if you multiply twenty-six by two (or thirteen by four), you get: 52
This may be recognizable to you as the number of cards there are in an average French Deck of playing cards.
Which comes right back around to 13 when you remember that there are four different suits in a Standard Deck of Playing Cards: Spades (♠), Hearts (), Clubs (♣) & Diamonds () - each consisting of thirteen cards.

This alone is unimportant. You can't present this to a symposium on the world's discoveries and expect a round of applause; but in the writing of a story, I consider this to be pure gold. Perhaps this can build the backstory, or has something to do with the Magic System. When I make a magic system, I start with the number four. Often with the elements, air, earth, fire & water. Which factor neatly into playing cards. Air/Clubs, Earth/Diamonds, Fire/Spade, Water/Hearts. This could easily adjust the different abilities of the elements, the way they fight, intermingle or react.
Or it could be used for character creation. If I want up to 52 characters, I could just research how the Playing cards relate to Tarot cards, and use their descriptions (and supposed predictions) as a basis for each character. And giving each a name starting with a different letter, I'd only have to repeat each one twice, thanks to the '26 letters' trick, making it easier to keep track).

That's one example, but enough about thirteen, cards & elements. What about something like . . . scissors-paper-rock? You may know it as rock-paper-scissors; roshambo; janken or some such other name. In the game, as I understand it, there are three options: Scissors, which cut paper. Paper, which covers rock & Rock, which smashes scissors. Each element destroys one while being destroyed by another. There are a few ways this could be employed in your story.
Pokémon uses this in its stories, as the first game begins with Bulbasaur, Charmander & Squirtle. As Fire, Water & Plant type pokemon, each is strong against one opponent while weak against another (Fire > Plant > Water > Fire, recurring . . .) and one of the plot points is that no matter which pokémon you choose, your rival chooses the stronger one. A coincidence of three elements that attack and are attacked in perfect symmetry.
In a less aggressive form, what if scissors-paper-rock model were used to construct a Love Triangle? I haven't seen many scenarios where Alex loves Blair & Blair loves Cris; however Cris is pursuing Alex. It could be an interesting story, the trick here is just adjusting the character relationships so that their attraction to other characters coincides with the tactics of the game scissors-paper-rock. I don't write romance myself, but it might be interesting.

That's the beauty of storywriting. Even if you can't find a perfect coincidence, you can write your story in such a way as to put these pieces together. In essence, you find the patterns that work well together, and using your pen you can stitch together each piece of material into something greater, piecing together patches of ideas like squares of cloth for a quilt, to make a story.

These are just examples of patterns that I have found, but once you start seeing these connections for yourself it becomes easier to find even more. I only hope that, perhaps, the patterns you find will help you to write your own stories. In time, you can even make your own patterns, and find ways they interact with one another.
Sometimes this just helps to make unique characters, sometimes it constructs your fantasy world & sometimes it's nothing more than an interesting fact to slip into dialogue - but I find these coincidences can build a more fascinating, interwoven story.

There are multiple ways that seemingly different things coincide. It's stunning how lycanthropy relates to puberty or alcoholism; symptoms of head trauma coincide with the characteristics of alien abduction; religion relates to magic; temporal mechanics relate to music; magical systems relate to computer software; solar systems look so similar to atomic structures; love is like insanity; hatred is like fire & villains are like heroes.

All these connections and many more not only open your eyes to the ways of the world, but can open your readers imaginations to new possibilities. And I wholeheartedly believe that my ability to find patterns along with my ability to write stories is no mere coincidence. So, if you write anything like me, I wish you luck in your quest to find these coincidences and make something of them.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm going to look for the coincidence between Ke$ha the singer & Kesha, a small village in the Hunan province of China . . .

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

You are Selfish

There is a belief that in the 6th Century BC, the Catholic church held a referendum to determine whether or not Women have Souls. In my researches of this topic, I have discovered that this did not happen. I've also discovered that it did happen. It's impossible for me to determine either way, as I don't have the time. But in the words of Mark Z. Danielewski:
  "What's real or isn't real doesn't matter here. The consequences are the same."
The fact is, whether or not this happened, the fact that we can believe it proves my point. Although it is a false example, it is an example of a truth that is very prevalent: Human beings are very capable of Dehumanization.
Soul or no, the Catholic Church still does believe that women are incapable of being priests; the Christian Church believes that not every loving couple deserves marriage; followers of the Islamic Church believe that women do not have the rights of men to drive, dress, speak or act freely & some followers of Voodoo in Uganda, still murder children to sacrifice to their gods.
Religion is not the only foundation that aspires to dehumanize humans, but I saw a theme and so I ran with it, sorry if it seems like I'm hating on religion unnecessarily. But my point is, millions and millions of people hurt, abuse & mistreat others every day. But not everyone that commits these acts is a sociopath. That is a statistical impossibility, as psychopathy cannot be learned in this way. So, how can we justify this widespread lack of humanity in Humanity?
I believe I've found something of an answer to this question. Which may disturb you, annoy you or otherwise confront you.
The Word of the Day is: 'SELFISH'

Selfish /'selfish/ adj. 1. Caring only for oneself. 2. Marked by caring only for oneself: selfish motives.

I believe that there is no such thing as a selfless act. This may seem either wrong or like a horrible view of the world, but when you think about it I'm sure you'll come to see my point of view that this is not only true, but fundamentally important to understand.

Let's start with the why. Why do I believe this? Basically, because we are entirely self-centred beings. This seems like a round argument, but that's because I haven't explained it properly.
Look at these words. You read them with your eyes. Or perhaps heard it through your ears, if you are blind and using a verbal processor. Or perhaps you felt them, through braille that has been printed out for you. The point is, you accessed it through one of your senses. One of the fundamental points of philosophy is that nothing can truly be real, as we only see the world as it is interpreted for us through our senses. When you watch sport on television, you aren't actually seeing the real thing, because it's just an image (with sound) on the screen. You're only seeing what the camera is interpretting for you. The same argument can be made for the eye.

Even if you are at the stadium, wearing your sports jersey and drunkenly yelling at the players, you aren't truly experiencing the world, rather than your sense's interpretation of it.

Now don't worry, I won't get all Hippy-Dippy on you with that "We all live in the Matrix, nothing is real" bollocks. As far as I am concerned, if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, smells, feels & tastes like a duck, it's a duck. Just because we only experience the world through senses doesn't mean that the world doesn't exist, it just means that we have limited experience.
But my point is, none of these five senses are capable of experiencing someone else's, for lack of a better word, soul.

We only experience other people through our sensory interpretation of them. It is impossible for you to feel or experience the world from someone else's perspective or truly understand someone else's pain or joy. There is no pure 'Empathy', the only person whose life you can understand is yours, so everything you do is selfish.

Now, I'm sure someone reading this, by now, is thinking: If everyone is selfish, and there's no such thing as being selfless, then why do people do nice things?

Basically, because of our own flawed sense of 'Empathy'. Although we cannot understand someone else, we can understand ourselves in their position.
It's true that you can never "Walk a Mile in my Shoes" as it were. Because even if you were to try to understand me by living a life like mine or having experienced something that I have, our experiences, although parallel, are not the same; and you'll never truly understand what it's like to be me, as I will never understand what it is like to be you.
This 'putting myself in their shoes' sense of empathy does appear to be kind and selfless, when in truth it is still selfish (kindness notwithstanding).

If you have a friend that is sick, and they ask you for a glass of water, most people would fetch it for them (where possible). But I suggest that this is not so much because we don't want our friend to suffer, so much as we don't want ourselves to suffer.
Imagine for a moment that you denied to help your friend on this occasion. This would result in later ramifications and suffering for you. If you are sick, in the interests of fairness your friend would then have every right to refuse to help you, so that's where empathy comes in, "They would do the same for me". They may also stop being your friend, which would be less than beneficial for your social life, and all the other useful things that friends provide, this is simple quid pro quo, a bargaining system where kindness if exchanged for favours. Thirdly, you may even feel guilty. It's a sick feeling in your stomach, provided by your own psychosomatic response; it's a form of punishment.

So, when you think about it, you don't help your friends so that they feel good; you help them so that you feel good (about helping your friend) and don't suffer punishment later on. This can apply to any situation, from helping a friend, to saying please and thank you - even all the way up to love.
Love is a series of chemical reactions. When you find another person, you can attach to them in such a way that being around them, talking to them & making them laugh can give you paroxysms of joy. If they love you back, then you can perpetuate this vicious cycle of delight into a self-replicating ecstasy. You do such wonderful things to each other, but the fact is it all comes down to the nice things we feel. So even Love is Selfish.

[I want to stop here a moment to say that, I still do appreciate Love. Some people bitch and moan about how love is meaningless and all that, and reading this those people might take my words to mean "Yeah, Love isn't Love, it's just a self-serving mechanism for procreation, built on instinct and hormones & used as a means to sell Valentine's Day Cards", but I don't buy that.
Just because Love is Selfish, doesn't mean that it isn't a miracle. After all, while I can justify the feelings and reactions of love and understand why it controls in the way that it does, I will never understand the chaotic science that is Attraction; my own sense of Beauty or in what way Monogamy could be selfish. So even to a cynic like me, Love is still a little magical . . .]

But even the nicest things we do for others, are done for selfish reasons. It's one of the reasons I can't stand Religion and what it calls 'Morality'. In my eyes, all the good and charity that religious people do is incredibly selfish, because they only do the right thing so that they can either go to heaven; achieve enlightenment or otherwise appeal to some god's will. They don't do the right thing because they want to, they do it because they have to or they will risk being punished by a supernatural power. That isn't morality, that's dictatorship.

But enough about that. In the beginning, See, I was talking about dehumanization. This is basically a method whereby we remove our ability to identify with other people's pain and reflect it onto ourselves; basically we remove that Empathy. Sometimes it's as difficult as indoctrination and brainwashing, but sometimes it's as simple as covering someone's face and taking away their name.
Although I believe our sense of empathy is a flawed system, it nonetheless keeps things in order. By removing it, we remove peoples ability to feel guilt, which can cause such atrocities as rape, abuse, murder, torture & cannibalism. Because we are fundamentally selfish, and as soon as we remove the needs for kindness, we can act cruel without remorse. It may seem like most of these crimes are unfathomable, but I can understand the logic that is at play. It is a flawed logic, and I cannot justify it, but I can explain it and understand it. We are born to be selfish.
Anything is easy to understand, once you can see the bigger picture.

But does that mean that we should stop being nice? Have I flipped the world on its head and removed all need for morality, empathy & understanding?
No. I've said before, and I'll say again:
  "I'm a narrator, not a dictator."
- The Absurd Word Nerd
This, in my opinion, is mostly a semantic & philosophical issue. We may be selfish creatures, but that doesn't mean we can't be nice. In fact, once I understood that everything I do is selfish, I found it easier to be less selfish. Because the trick is to find out how other people are being selfish towards you.
For example, once you realize that your friends are only your friends because they need you in some way, you can better serve their needs and your own. See, most good friendships are based on two things: A mutual need to be trusted & a mutual need to avoid loneliness. So long as that is the foundation of your friendship, you can help (and use) one another to no ill effect.
But if you discover that your friend is using you for other reasons, or depending to heavily on you, you can adjust your relationship to try to achieve that Win/Win scenario of trust and mateship, (or tell them to hit the curb).

I also find it helps in my writing. I recognize that nobody cares about my characters as much as I do, and the only way to get people interested in my stories is to offer them something they don't have. Education, Understanding, Entertainment or Fantasy. . . whatever it is, my fiction must serve other people in some way, for it to have a reason to exist. People don't care about anything unless it benefits them in some way. Once you understand that, you can learn how to help them, to help yourself.

In conclusion, selfishness is not the same as egotism or narcissism (though I ascribe to both). It is just a basic truth - we do things for ourselves, always. So often when people act 'selfish' their true fault is not selfishness, but a lack of social (or moral) consciousness. We are always selfish, but that doesn't mean we have to be arseholes.
Until next time, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I'm going to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, (because I don't want to wear the treads off mine).

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Unearthly Pilot

<< < Chapter One > >>

The night was cold and foggy, making even the brightest skyscrapers look ancient and foreboding as Officer Edison walked his beat. There were very few cars on the street. Many drivers would avoid the roads due to the fog, but in London such quiet was unusual. With his every breath, more cold mist escaped the policeman's lips and joined the air, but the young officer was not afraid. He had no need to be. The night was still young, and his shift was nearly over. He was headed back to his car, to make his way home, until he heard the sound. It was a strange, mechanical grinding noise, but it was oddly pitched and rhythmic. He turned towards the source of the sound and saw a construction site on the corner of the street. At this time of night, there was no way that there was a worker on site, so Edison grabs the radio on his vest and speaks into it.
  "Control be advised, I've got some possible vandalism at the construction site on Bishopsgate. I'm going to investigate."
Officer Edison crosses the street and enters the site through an obvious gap in some temporary fencing. Retrieving his torch, Edison sweeps the light over the dirt, equipment and exposed concrete.
  "This is the police! Is there anyone there?!" he calls out. Edison expected some teenagers were screwing around with construction equipment and hoped to scare them off by calling out. No such luck. Only one and a half floors of the building were constructed, just a concrete frame with loose wiring and dust everywhere, but Edison heads inside the construct and calls out again, "is there anyone in here?!"
Edison hovers his torchlight over the place lazily, until he spots something strange, and holds the light on it. Everything here was incomplete. Hanging wires, exposed concrete and bare floors. But in the elevator shaft, where one would expect an empty hole, there was a pair of shiny, silver doors. Edison prided himself his ability to spot what was out of place, and so thought it was strange that someone would install elevator doors before the wiring was complete. Edison takes a step towards the doors, approaching out of curiosity, when there's a sharp ding sound.
The doors slide open and the sudden brightness makes Edison shield his eyes. The movement of the doors must have stirred up the dust, because as he squinted at the new doorway, small clouds, like smoke, seemed to billow out of the doors. Following the smoke was a tall black man, in a knee-length leather jacket. He was fiddling with a small device, but seeing the policeman he heads straight for him and stops little more than a foot away. Up close, Edison saw the man had a smooth, bald head; a neat beard cropped around his mouth & deep, calculating brown eyes.
  "Excuse me, sir," says the man, in a deep bass voice with a cadence that sounded almost regal, "Can you tell me the date today?"
  "The date?" says Edison, a little surprised, "it's the Sixth of July."
  "Drat . . . I'm early," the man mutters to himself, putting the device in his pocket. Giving the policeman a nod, the black man marches off into the night. Edison stood there, bewildered. He was a little confused by the man, but his eye was drawn back at the elevator shaft. The lift was still there, clear as day, but he could barely believe it. Ignoring the strange man, Officer Edison walks to the edge of the lift entrance. He tentatively places a foot inside and shifts his weight to it. It was steady. Stepping inside, Edison looks around the small cabin. It looked ordinary enough, a regular two-door elevator car. As he inspects the button panel, Officer Edison is too occupied to hear the doors closing.
  "No . . . NO!" he screams. But the doors seal shut, locking him inside. From the ground floor of the construction site, the dust settles, the light is extinguished and eventually, even the screaming from behind the doors quietens to silence . . .

There is darkness everywhere. Green and red lasers cut through the air and scan the room as bodies writhe unnaturally against one another and everything moves and shifts to the steady beat, the sound of some alien engine throbbing so loudly that even the air vibrated with it.
In the middle of the dancefloor, Anise stopped and started to feel sick. She turns to the friend she came with, who was grinding against some guy she'd met at the bar an hour ago.
  "GOIN' TO THE LOO!" Anise manages to yell over the din. Her friend nods, then continues dancing. Pushing past other clubbers, Anise finds the ladies room and stumbles inside. The sound of the music was considerably muffled inside the bathroom, and Anise heads to the dirty, wall-length mirror. She looks at herself. Her long, black hair was slightly dishevelled, but the makeup and glitter on her face was still fresh, glittering marvellously against her olive skin and lighting up her brown eyes. However, under the neon lights, she looked horrible. Anise wondered why, but it was soon obvious. She wasn't smiling. She wasn't having fun. The music all sounded too loud, the light too dim and the people too drunk. It was all giving her a headache.
  "I must be losing my buzz . . ." Anise mutters, as she adjusts her hair. As she does, in the mirror, she sees a sudden flash of purple light coming from one of the stalls and so she glances back to see what it is. After a moment, the door opens and someone steps out wearing a close-fitting, full-body suit with a utility belt and some kind of motorcycle helmet. From the shape of the suit Anise could tell the wearer was female, and in her hand she held what looked like a large, silver soccer ball. The woman swiftly turns and heads for the door.
Anise stares at the woman as she walks by, all the while wondering what it all meant. She'd never seen anything like the woman before or the machine in her hand, and as she watched her leaving the bathroom she was mesmerized by the way she walked with such purpose. At that moment, the partying, the clubbing, the music, the drink and the drugs . . . it all seemed so insignificant. It was a weird feeling.
As the strange woman left the bathroom, Anise felt compelled to follow her, so she went back into the club proper. The dancefloor was full of people, but only one was wearing a helmet or walking with such focus, so Anise quickly finds the woman again and follows after her. Through the people, past the bar and the noise, she heads through the front door. Anise follows the woman outside, almost five seconds behind, but by the time she spots her, she catches just a glimpse of the full-body suit disappearing into the alley around the back of the building. The music from the club left a dull ringing in her ears as Anise heads down the block and carefully turns the corner. Rounding the corner, she stops dead. The first thing she sees is the barrel of a strange gun, pointed directly at her face.
  "Why are you following me?" asks the strange woman, her voice echoing as though she were speaking into a tin can. Anise was frozen at the sight of the gun, all she could manage was to raise her hands and take one step backwards. So the woman grabs her around the neck with a strong, gloved hand. She pulls Anise into the alley and presses her against the wall, holding the gun an inch from her nose. "Why are you following me?"
Anise looks into the helmet's visor, but sees nothing but black.
  "I . . . I don't know . . ." Anise stammers. The woman presses the gun into Anise's cheek, so hard that she could feel the humm of the energy weapon's power supply vibrating her cheekbone as it charged and the pale-blue lights along its exterior glowed brighter. Anise closed her eyes.
  "Halt!" calls out another voice. Anise had never heard it before, but it was a man's voice, deep and commanding. "You will leave her alone."
The woman immediately lets go, and Anise opens her eyes to see the woman turn the weapon in the direction of a man standing a little deeper in the alleyway. He was tall and black, and wore a knee-length leather jacket.
  "There doesn't have to be any bloodshed," says the man, speaking in a rather dignified tone, "Just return the Orb to me, and I will leave this matter alone. I won't bother you ever again."
  "Are you blind?" asks the woman, waving around the weapon in her hand. "I'm the one with the gun, so you don't get to make demands."
  "Give me a moment . . ." says the man, reaching into his jacket. He retrieves a device that, from a distance, looks like a tuning fork. With a click, it gives off a small purple spark. Immediately, the blue lights along the outside of the woman's gun fade to grey. The woman quickly pulls the trigger three times, and each time it makes an unsatisfying clicking noise. The man returns the device to his jacket.
  "Now, if you'll return the Orb . . ."
The woman quickly holsters her weapon and kicks the man in the chest. He stumbles back two steps, but she continues to advance, punching him once in the head before he can manage to block her attacks. The woman was swift and lithe, kicking, punching and moving like a vicious, elegant spider. The man was more like a tiger, all fury and force, but not quick enough to hurt her. The whole time, Anise looked on in confusion, and so stood still, dumbstruck; until she heard a vehicle pulling up, and turned to the street to see a black, windowless van stop at the curb with its engine running. The side door slid open and it honked its horn.
Glancing back to see the van, the attacking woman finally swung the orb device like a club, thumping the black man in the side of the head. He doubled back and she ran for the van, past Anise, and jumped inside. As she did, the van sped off. Anise steps out and tries to read the number plate, but could only see two numbers: Eight, eight.
She lets out a sigh, when suddenly the man marches straight past her.
  "Stop now! You don't understand what you're dealing with!" he cries after them. The man walks into the middle of the road, going after the van, "Come back here at once! I am the Duke of Ra–" suddenly, the man is hit from behind by a double-decker bus.
  "No!" screams Anise, running onto the road. The bus had pulled to a stop and the driver was getting out to check the damage he'd done. The man on the ground had rolled over onto his back and his eyes were shut tight from the pain.
  "Oh my god! Are you alright?" Anise asks, crouching down.
  "No . . . I have lost the orb," he mutters.
  "Is he one of yours?" the driver asks Anise.
  "Uh, yeah. Sure, he's a friend," Anise replies.
  "He walked right in front of the bus . . . is he alright? In the head?"
  "Ain't got a clue . . ." says Anise.
The black man suddenly sits up and struggles to get to his feet.
  "The escape vessel, where did it go?" he asks, looking around.
  "Do you want me to call an ambulance?" asks the driver.
  "No!" Anise shouts, a little louder than she'd intended.
  "You sure? He needs to go to the hospital."
  "Uh yeah . . . but I'll take him. In my car."
The cars behind the bus impatiently honk their horns and the driver glances at them,
  "Well okay. You take care of him, I gotta move this bus."
The driver heads back onto his bus and Anise runs to the man who had begun to wander along the road.
  "Hey? Are you alright there, mate? You were hit pretty hard there."
The man looks to her, catching her off guard with his deeply penetrating, brown eyes.
  "I'll be fine once I get back to my ship," he says.
  "Alright, alright, come on then."
Anise tries to put her hand to his back and guide him carefully to the curb, but the man was a head taller and she couldn't shift him an inch.
  "What are you doing?" he asks.
  "We've got to get off the road."
  "Road?" he says. As though on cue, more of the cars behind the bus lean on their horns desperately.
  "Here, come on, mate," says Anise, "follow me."
The man reluctantly follows her to the side of the road, limping slightly, and turns back to see the cars start moving.
  "Some kind of trade route?" the man murmurs to himself.
  "Look, what's your name, mate?" Anise asks. The man looks back to her.
  "You may address me as The Duke."
  "Yes, and your name?"
  "Anise Trevino."
  "Alright then. Anise Trevino, I need your help," he says, pointing at the traffic, "How do I acquire one of these vessels?"
  "Oh, my car's parked around the corner," Anise says, pointing.
  "Excellent," says the Duke. He immediately walks down the road, limping slightly. Anise follows, but as he approaches the corner, he starts to cradle his head.
  "Hey, wait up, mate!" says Anise running up to him, "Slow down. You were hit really bad, you need to rest."
  "Which one?" says the Duke, pointing at the row of parked cars.
  "The Pinto," says Anise. The Duke just frowns at her, so Anise leads the way to the peach-coloured Ford Pinto and opens the passenger door. The Duke slides in while Anise makes her way around to the driver's side. Anise wasn't too concerned about leaving her friend behind like this, since she'd find some guy to give her a lift home, probably the guy she was dancing with but the night was still young. As she sits down and closes the door, Anise finds the Duke is fiddling with the small fork-like device, pointing the prongs at the dashboard.
  "What are you doin'?" Anise asks.
  "I'm trying to access the tracking system."
  "Look, you need to relax and do up your safety belt."
  "What belt?" Anise demonstrates by strapping on her own, and the Duke imitates her. Then she starts the car and pulls onto the road. The Duke continues to fiddle with the device as she drives.
  "Alright now, 'Duke'. Seriously mate, what have you taken?"
  "Taken? What are you accusing me of?"
  "Look, you saved me from that crazy biker lady, so I owe you big time. But it's obvious you're trippin' on somethin'. I need to know you won't drop dead on me from a heart attack."
  "I assure you, I will not drop dead. My injuries are minor."
  "You were hit by a bus!"
  "I need only a moment's rest and I will be fine."
  "You're sure?"
  "Absolutely," says the Duke, and although Anise didn't understand everything that was happening, the sincerity in that voice was irrefutable.

Anise drives up to her regular car park, in the lot under her building and stops the engine.
  "Where are we?" asks the Duke.
  "This is my building," says Anise, "you can sleep here for the night."
Anise gets out of the car, and after struggling with his seatbelt, the Duke does so as well, then determinedly limps around the car to meet her.
  "Anise Trevino. I don't think you understand the severity of the situation," he says.
  "The what of the what?"
  "'Severity', 'Situation'. I need to retrieve the orb, or this planet will be in danger."
  "What orb?"
  "The device the Traveller was carrying. I must retrieve it."
  "And how are you going to do that?"
  "My ship. Its sensors can detect the heat signature that radiates from the device."
  "No, what I'm sayin' is: Even if the world is gonna end tomorrow, you can't do a bloody thing until you rest that leg and clear the juice from your system. Right?"
The Duke stares at her defiantly for a moment before shying away.
  " . . . you're right, Anise Trevino."
  "Damn right. And can call me 'Anise', I feel like I'm in trouble when someone says my full name. Come on." Anise offers the Duke a hand, and leads the way to the elevator, and they both go up and into her apartment.
The place was small studio apartment, a little messy with bits of clothing strewn over the back of chairs and the couch, and things like books stacked into piles in the corners due to a lack of shelves or storage space. Anise leads the Duke to the couch, a second-hand faux-leather monstrosity that was falling apart with rips held together by electrical tape; but the Duke falls onto it and settles comfortably with his head on the armrest and closing his eyes.
  "I will just need a moment's rest . . ." he mutters, speaking so softly that his deep voice becomes mellow and sultry.
  "Right," says Anise, heading for the tiny kitchenette in the corner, "D'you want a glass of water? I don't have any panadol, but you probably shouldn't be takin' pills anyway, considerin' . . ."
Anise looks back to the couch, but the Duke has already fallen asleep. With a sigh, Anise checks the time. Her clock reads half past three; an unusually early end for a Saturday night's clubbing. Anise gets her mobile phone and sends her friend a text:
  got sik of clubin so i left. dont w8 up.
Leaving her phone on the bench, Anise walks over to the man on her couch. He looked so peaceful, his fingers interlinked and resting on his chest.
  "Thanks for savin' me, by the way," Anise whispers, "I didn't get the chance to tell ya." Looked at his sleeping form, Anise realized two things. Firstly, she wasn't the least bit tired, since it was relatively early, and so she was craving a late night coffee. Secondly, there was a tall, dark and handsome man in her apartment yet the place looked as though some kind of clothing-based bomb had hit it. She decided to do some cleaning . . .

After an hour of cleaning, stashing things away, a shower and washing the make-up off her face, Anise was standing on her small balcony in jeans and a loose t-shirt looking down on the streets below as she slowly drank a lukewarm cup of sweet black coffee.
At sound of her name, Anise flinches, spilling some coffee over the balcony before swiveling around to see the Duke standing by the couch.
  "Duke? You're awake?" Anise asks.
  "Yes, I'm well rested. I want to thank you."
  "Well, you're welcome," she says, taking a sip of coffee.
  "Now, I'm afraid there's no time to waste. In the time that's passed, there's no telling what has been done with the Orb. We must find it."
  "Oh, right. The orb . . . did you say 'we'?"
  "Yes," says the Duke, walking to the railing of the balcony. "I have never been to this world before and it is quite . . . dangerous. I will need help navigating the planet. I require a guide, and if you'll forgive my presumption, I was hoping it would be you."
  "Navigating the planet?"
  "Yes, in your car."
  " . . . you need a lift? Well why didn't you say so?" says Anise, finishing off her cup of coffee.
  "You will help me?"
  "Excellent. How soon can we leave?"
  "Uh . . . if you want to leave soon, I'll need to get my trainers on."
  "I will wait here."
Leaving her dirty mug on the bench, Anise fetches some running shoes and sits on the couch to put them on.
  "Alright, where do you want to go?" she asks.
  "Back to my ship."
  "Do you mean a boat?"
  "No. I mean a spaceship."
Anise stops halfway through pulling on her second shoe and glances over at the Duke.
  "Timeship, actually."
  "I think you've still got some of that junk in your system, mate," Anise says, as she finishes up putting on her shoes.
  "Junk? It's state of the art."
  "Whatever . . . where is this 'spaceship' of yours?"
  "I don't know exactly, but I can direct you as we go."
  "Right . . ." says Anise, standing up and leading the way out of the apartment. She locks the door behind them and they both step into the elevator. As the lift heads down, silent but for the humm of the elevator moving, Anise asks, "So, what is this about anyway?"
  "To what are you referring?" asks the Duke as they head into the parking garage.
  "Everything. The crazy biker chick, the 'orb'. You."
  "The Traveller stole the Orb from me, and I must retrieve it."
They get into the car, Anise reminds the Duke to do up his seatbelt and they head out of the garage. As they drive onto the road, the sun was just on the cusp of breaching the horizon, giving a dull glow to the edge of the world.
  "So what is this orb anyway? Why did the travelling lady take it from you? It looks like a round toaster."
  "It's a highly advanced, artificially intelligent navigational computer. Turn here," says the Duke, pointing. Anise turns the car and glances at her passenger.
  "I didn't think we had artificial intelligence yet."
  "You don't. The orb is from my planet. I believe that is why the Traveller stole it in the first place, to reverse-engineer her own kind of auto-piloting computer."
  "Wait . . . your planet?"
  "Yes. Turn just here." Anise turns again, but had a weird look on her face.
  "So what does that make you, then? An alien?"
  "From your perspective, yes."
In her head, as she made her way down the road, Anise was trying to tie together everything she'd seen in the last few hours in a way that made sense. Woman wearing a futuristic motorcycle suit; strange, silver orb device; laser guns; sparking tuning forks & then the Duke. Even if the man in her passenger seat was certifiably insane, it didn't explain everything else. Accepting that he was an alien would tie everything up in a neat little bow. But she couldn't just believe it . . . no matter how much she wanted to.
  "Stop just by the fence up there," says the Duke. Anise pulls up the car next to the construction site and turns off the engine and sits there thinking. As she does, the Duke gets out of the car, walks around to her door, opens it and says, "would you care to join me?"
He offers a hand to help her out. Anise stares at it, confused.
  "Wait. Just, wait a minute. If everything you've said is true, does that mean that, if I come with you . . . does that mean that I'll see a spaceship?"
  "Of course," says the Duke, moving his arm slightly to re-offer her his hand. Undoing her seatbelt, Anise takes his hand. Helping her to her feet, the Duke closes the door after her and, still holding her hand, leads her into the gap in the temporary fencing. The sun was finally rising and as they entered the half-complete first floor of the building, the orange light shone through the glassless windows, contrasting sharply against the cold, blue shadows. The Duke lets go of her hand as he heads over to the elevator doors.
  "Is this it?" asks Anise, her heart sinking as she looked around at the disconnected wiring, and the dust and dirt all over the floor.
  "It's a lot bigger than it looks," says the Duke. With a ding the door opens. The Duke steps into the elevator and flicks open the small panel beside the door on the back wall. Anise approaches out of curiosity, but couldn't see as the Duke retrieves a key from the chain around his neck, sliding it into the security lock inside the panel. As soon as he does, the rear door slides open and Duke steps inside his ship.
From a distance, Anise still didn't quite understand what she was seeing and so kept walking closer and closer until she was inside the elevator and then walked through onto the ship proper and the doors closed behind her. But even then she had trouble comprehending.
The room was tall, almost two storeys, and in the centre of the ceiling was a large column of clear glass with glowing blue lights, wires and machinery inside. Where the column attached to the ceiling it was surrounded with ornate Roman-style carved white marble. The entire roof was marble, a design that radiated out in a shallow dome that was almost ten metres across. There it attached to the walls, which were supported by eight large, marble pillars in each corner of the room. The walls themselves were made of some kind of steel which was covered with screens, panels and many small, round protuberances; and there were three other doors leading deeper into the ship. All of this sat on the floor which was a strange round chequered pattern of interchanging eggshell white and smoky light-grey marble tiles. The diamonds tiles were large at the edge of the room but became smaller and smaller as the pattern converged on the centre console, like a geometric spiderweb.
The console itself was a strange, eight-sided collection of jumbled, incomprehensible screens, levers, buttons, lights, controls, wires and circuitry, which surrounded the glass column in the centre.
Around the room was also some wooden furniture, what looked like some kind of Persian rug and a red velvet couch.
  "What on Earth is this?" asks Anise, looking up and slowly turning around to take it all in.
  "This is a Type Seventy-Two T.T. Capsule, Mark One. Miss Trevino, this is my 'spaceship'," says the Duke proudly as he approaches the console.
  "Wow . . . so it's all true then? The orb, the traveller and you. You're really an alien?"
  "Yes, I am," says the Duke, moving to another part of the console and fiddling with more of the equipment.
  "What are you doing?" asks Anise.
  "I'm trying to locate the orb. It's alien technology, it shouldn't be too hard to differentiate from terrestrial technology . . . but there are some anomalous readings here."
Anise walks up to console see what the Duke was doing, but it was nearly impossible to follow.
  "Wait a minute . . . didn't you say that the orb was like some kind of autopilot?"
  "And you also said that the world was in danger."
  "Yes, you have a very good memory."
  "What I'm sayin' is, how could an autopilot be dangerous to Earth? Isn't that just like a sat-nav? How could that hurt anyone?"
The Duke turns from the console and approaches Anise.
  "You don't understand. This isn't just any autopilot. It's not from Earth. It's much more complicated than anyone on this planet have ever seen before. It wasn't built to drive cars around roads. It was built for war. The orb is part of an alien war machine. A self-contained explosive device that seeks out and destroys the enemy."
  "You mean a bomb? A smartbomb?"
  "Yes. A very smart bomb." The Duke returns to the console and continues to adjust controls and check the screens. After a few moments of fiddling, accompanied by beeping screens and blinking lights, the Duke excitedly points to one of the screens "Yes! There, look: direction withershins to terrestrial revolution, approximately thirty degrees towards the negative pole. I've found it!"
  "Alright then," says Anise, "how do we get there?"
  "In the ship, of course."
  "The ship moves?"
  "According to the laws of physics, technically no."
  "Then how do we get there?"
  "Like this . . ." The Duke pulls a lever on the console, and with a loud thud the entire room begins to rumble and shudder as the machinery in the centre of the glass column starts to shift up and down accompanied by a strange whirring, grinding, wheezing sound. Anise stumbles around before falling back onto the velvet couch to ride out the strange quake.
The Duke replaces the lever and the ship stops shaking with a final thud.
  "What just happened?"
  "To put it simply, we teleported," says the Duke, walking up to Anise and offering her his hand. Anise takes the hand to stand up.
  "Right, so where did we teleport to?"
  "I don't know, exactly," says the Duke, "but the orb is less than 35 feet beyond those doors. Hopefully, I can attain it and escape."
  "Yes. Time is of the essence, now will you accompany me or not? I may still need a guide."
  "Guide. Yes, okay then. Lead the way . . . Duke."
Duke gives Anise a smile and walks to the door they came in, which opens automatically. Then he steps inside the interior of the elevator facade. Anise steps in beside him and the door closes behind them. Duke then opens the panel beside the console door and locks it using the key around his neck.
  "We're back in the lift?" asks Anise.
  "Actually, we're still in the ship. As standard, the Type Seventy-Two includes a false interior, to better disguise itself as added security."
  "So, this is, like, the lobby?"
  "Yes, an elevator lobby." Closing the panel, Duke turns to look Anise in the eye. "Now, I must warn you. We will have bypassed a lot of security by materializing within this facility, but there may be personnel guarding the orb itself. If you feel like you're directly in danger, return here and press this button." says the Duke, pointing towards a button near the bottom of the panel with a picture of a red bell, "The Lift will do the rest."
Anise nods, and the Duke presses the button to open the doors; they do so with a neat ding. Outside was a carpeted hallway, and by the industrial grey carpet, immaculate white walls and stark, neon lighting it was obvious that it was some kind of office building.
  "This way," says the Duke, heading left. The hallway was empty, but Anise was nervous as she kept close behind. They came to a door with a small sign that read Research & Development. The Duke grabs the handle, but it's locked, so he reaches into his jacket and pulls out the small tuning-fork device.
  "What is that thing?" Anise asks.
  "This? It's a laser spanner."
  "Laser spanner, okay . . . is it going to unlock the door?"
  "How could I unlock a door with a spanner?" asks the Duke. Anise shrugs.
The Duke takes a step back and kicks in the door.
  "Cease and desist!" commands the Duke, stepping into the room. Anise follows him inside, and is surprised at the scene. It was an office, like those for a cubicle farm, but all of the furniture and partitions had been cleared leaving just carpet, a grid of supporting square pillars and floor to ceiling windows all along the far wall overlooking the sunrise. All over the carpet were electrical wires and cables, leading to a space in the centre where two men were working on a small machine that was hovering about two feet off the ground and attached to most of the cables. The men were wearing blue overalls, orange hard hats and goggles, and were staring at the Duke, shocked. The machine in the middle was about the size of an average refrigerator and looked like a small fighter jet, except that it was mostly brass-coloured, covered in wiring, had enormous, complicated jet turbines on the back and, due to its scale, half of the jet was the pilot seat, which was left with the canopy sitting open.
  "Who are you?" asks one of the workmen.
  "I am the Duke of Rathea, and I am here for the orb," says the Duke, pointing his laser spanner at the two men, in turn they raise their hands. "I will not harm you. I will just take what belongs to me, and I'll go."
  "Is that a spaceship?" asks Anise.
  "Yes, a Belosian Intergalactic Spacejet. I assume it doesn't belong to them either."
  "Look, fella, if you want the orb, you can take it," says one of the workmen, stepping towards the spaceship.
  "Step away from the jet!" yells the Duke, but the man ignores him, stepping closer.
  "We installed the nav-computer into the ship. I just have to detach it."
  "You put the orb in a Belosian spacejet . . . ?" says the Duke, in utter disbelief.
  "Don't worry, I can unplug what we've done so far," he says, reaching into the driver canopy."
  "No! Step away!" screams the Duke. Suddenly, the ship emits a loud, high-pitched beeping sound. Everyone covers their ears.
  "What the hell is that?!" screams Anise. Suddenly, the driver canopy slides shut, severing many of the wires leading into it. Then the engine turbines ignite and almost immediately the spacejet shoots forwards, blasting straight through the glass windows with a sharp crash, snapping the remaining cables. As the ship leaves the building, it angles upwards into the sky and out of sight. The Duke looks at the mess in sheer dumbstruck horror as wind whistles through the giant hole in the broken windows. Then he turns and marches up to the technician who'd fallen on the floor closest to the newly severed and sparking wires. He grasps the man by his lapels and lifts him off the floor, looking him straight in the eye.
  "Do you have any idea what you've done?!" screams the Duke.
  "I . . . I was trying to remove it. Really, I was," wails the man. The Duke drops him back on the floor.
  "You useless fool . . ."
  "Uh . . . Duke?" says Anise, stepping forward, "what exactly has he done?"
  "The orb is tamper-proof," says the Duke coldly and slowly as he replaces the laser spanner inside of his jacket, "If someone attempts to sever its connection to an active rocket engine, it is programmed to escape, find a target & destroy it."
  "What? It'll explode?" asks Anise, but the Duke shakes his head.
  "No, it's not attached to a bomb anymore. The orb is just the piloting module, it finds a target and flies straight at it. But these fools wired it into a Belosian spacejet . . ."
  "I don't understand, does the jet have rockets? lasers?"
  "The Belosians are a simple people, with simple technology, for the most part. The ship runs on ordinary rocket fuel . . . but it's designed to travel between galaxies. In order to hold that much fuel, the ship contains a very small portal, in the fuel tank, that leads to a pocket dimension. That dimension is filled to the brim with rocket fuel."
  "So it will explode?"
  "At first . . . but it takes a huge quantity of fuel to travel intergalactically. Once that tank ruptures, billions and billions of litres of rocket fuel will come gushing out in a toxic wave, covering everything with a poisonous flood. Anything that doesn't drown will suffocate from the gas fumes . . ."
The Duke turns to the door and walks slowly out.
  "Wait . . . wait!" calls Anise, running into the hall after him, "what are you doing?"
  "I'm leaving," says the Duke, not bothering to face her.
  "Back to my own planet." Anise runs up behind him.
  "You can't just leave!" she screams. The Duke slowly turns to face her.
  "Your world is doomed. It's only a matter of time before the orb finds a worthy target and destroys itself. I might as well leave before I do any more damage."
  "Damage? But you've got a spaceship! And a laser spanner. You can do something!"
The Duke clenches his teeth and snarls through them, "Every world I set foot on crumbles to dust. Every country burns; every town bleeds & every person I've met has died in agony. Even if I try my best to save them, it all just seems to burn into ashes and slip through my fingers. I might as well leave before another world dies because of me . . ."
Anise looks him in the eye, then slaps him square in the face.
  "Ow! . . . how dare you!" the Duke growls.
  "My planet isn't dead yet, you arse. Before you go feelin' sorry for yourself, you could at least consider doin' the right thing. For goodness sake, I've met yer and I ain't dead yet."
The Duke sighs and shakes his head, "what would you have me do?"
  "We need to do something before the alien space-jet thingy locks onto a target."
  "We can't," says the Duke frowning, "if we try to do anything before it finds a target, then we would only risk making ourselves a . . ."
Suddenly, the Duke's eyes brighten up as he stares off into space.
  "What?" asks Anise. The Duke spins around, his leather coat swirling around him as he does so, and marches towards the Elevator. With Anise close behind he steps in, unlocks the interior and marches straight for the centre console. "Duke, what are you doing?"
  "I'm going to give the orb a target it can't resist. You might want to do up your safety belt, my dear." Anise sits down on the couch as the Duke messes with the console.
  "Where are we going?" asks Anise,
  "Up," says the Duke. He slams a button on the console and Anise feels her stomach sink as the entire ship shoots upwards with a rumbling sound. With a strange, low pop, the rumbling stops, and as the Duke adjusts the controls the ship stops ascending. Then with a ding, both the console room door and the exterior elevator door open, letting a cool wind whistle through the place. "I'll return in but a moment," says the Duke, disappearing through one of the other doors. Once he leaves, Anise slowly gets up off the couch and approaches the exit. She peeks outside and all she can see is a cloudy sky. She inches her way into the lobby, but as soon as she can see the ground over the lip of the door, with the rising sun peeking just above the horizon, she backs away slowly.
  "Oh my God . . . " she gasps, looking down at the city below. She could barely see the cars on the road, they were tiny specks. Looking up, she sees a small triangle in the distance, going around the edge of the city in a wide circle. From the speed it flew Anise knew it had to be the spacejet.
  "Anise, would you step aside, please?" asks the Duke. Anise turns and when she sees the Duke, she runs out of the way. In his hands, the Duke was holding what looked like a large water-pistol. Except it was buzzing softly, made of metal & the large barrel was wrapped with three rings of glowing, blue-neon light. The Duke cocks the rifle and as the lights pulsate the weapon makes a sound like a plane getting ready for lift-off. He pulls the trigger and something that looks like a ball of crackling lightning explodes from the end of the weapon and sails through the doors and into the sky.
  "What the HELL is that thing?" asks Anise.
  "This? It's rather useless." says the Duke, tossing the gun to the floor, "A lot of sound and fury, but the energy is barely lethal, and even then it disperses at little over 50 feet. But it is a weapon and it will have gained the attention of the orb."
  "Wait. Did you just turn us into a target?!" shrieks Anise, running to the door. Sure enough, the spacejet was getting larger and larger as it made it's way towards the ship.
  "Don't worry," says the Duke, "We'd never be able to outrun the spacejet in this ship, and even if we did it would just find a new target."
  "Is that supposed to make me feel better?!"
  "Calm down . . . that's why I didn't make the ship a target."
  "But it's comin' right for us!" Anise cries, pointing at the rapidly approaching ship.
  "It's not after the ship . . . it's after me," says the Duke. With that, he runs out the door.
  "DUKE!" screams Anise, she watches as Duke falls towards the ground, and the jet veers straight down to follow him. Anise slowly backs away from the door, shocked. The seconds seem to pass so slowly. Her entire world had been turned upside down so many times in the last few minutes, it was impossible to tell up from down. Nothing made any sense anymore.
  "Anise?" says a familiar, deep voice behind her. Anise turns, but can't see him.
  "Duke?" she says, approaching the console, where the voice was coming from.
  "Excellent, I've got the communicator working. This is the Duke."
  "I can tell, where the hell are you?"
  "I'm aboard the spacejet."
  "Right . . ."
  "I'm hailing you because you need to move the ship."
  "What?" asks Anise, her stomach sinking into her trainers.
  "As I feared, the jet's locked onto the T.T. Capsule. First, I need you to find a small, black button and press it." Anise looks at the complicated controls
  "How can I find anything in this mess?!"
  "Time is a factor, Anise." Anise looks over the console frantically, when she spots a very prominent lever.
  "Oh, bugger it." Anise randomly flicks three switches, presses a red button and, closing her eyes, she pulls the lever. With a thud, the ship starts to spin around wildly and Anise holds tight to the lever so as not to fall as the centre column starts to grind up and down, wheezing and whirring as it moves. Then the floor starts to shake and Anise lets go of the lever, the force sending her rolling across the rug on the floor. She tries to get to her feet and manages a low crouch until the ship stops with a thud, and knocks her off her feet again. Anise lies there for a moment before letting out a deep breath and finally getting off the ground.
  "Duke?" she says, but there's no answer. Anise walks up to the console and says it again, but still no answer, so Anise heads for the door. The console room door opens, but Anise is surprised to see the interior facade looks different. There are windows on both walls, looking at some kind of heavily structured frame, and the front doors themselves were basically a frame for two more large windows. Through them Anise could see a small landing across which was the doorway to another lift, that was obviously on another floor.
Anise steps forward but the doors don't move. Looking up and around she sees the word 'SORTIE' written on a small metal plaque above the door. She gives the doors a push before remembering how the Duke opened the doors before. Press the button on the panel to open the door, they slide open and immediately Anise notices how cold and dark it is outside. She walks out from the small elevator landing and sees a short railing amongst a skyline of blackness. As her eyes adjust she looks over the edge and can see a wide river in the distance, and a few scattered lights. Looking down, she can also just make out the foundations of the tower she was standing on, two widely spaced feet of steel, with criss-crossing supporting beams over the entire construction. Then, through the night air, there's the dull echo of an ambulance siren wailing through the streets, but it wasn't like the sirens in London, it was slow and melancholy.
  "Oh my God . . . I'm in Paris!" screams Anise, jumping up and down. She runs to the end of the railing and looks out over the River Seine, which was very quiet in the early morning before sunrise. Then she turns and looks up, but can't see the top of the tower against the darkness. "I'm on the Eiffel Tower!"
Anise runs around like a giddy schoolgirl, trying to see the cityscape through the dark as she stood, alone, on the second floor of the Eiffel tower. After a while, she sees the very beginnings of the sunrise, for a second time that day. The sun breaches the horizon and pours out over France. She feels the warmth on her face and smiles as she closes her eyes and soaks it in.
When she opens her eyes again, she sees something else on the horizon. A familiar triangular speck, but very far away.
  "Oh no . . ." Anise runs back to the ship and up to the console.
  "Duke! Duke, can you hear me?"
No answer.
  "Damn it, Duke!" she yells, running back outside. She peers around the side of the tower, but the triangle is still getting closer. She runs right back to the centre console and grabs hold of the lever, "Fairwell, Paris."
She pulls the lever and . . . nothing happens.
  "What? No . . . NO!" she yells, yanking the lever again. "Duke? The lever's not workin' . . . damn it Duke, answer me!"
Anise runs back outside and sees the ship is getting closer by the second. She runs to the edge of the railing and screams.
  "Duke! Can you hear me?!" The ship continues straight for the tower, less than a minute away. So Anise takes another look at the sun and closes her eyes. She can hear the engines roaring as it nears. Finally, taking a deep breath, Anise decides to face the monster and opens her eyes just as the ship is 30 feet away. However, with a sharp diminuendo, the engine quietens to a soft humm and the jet comes to a stop just inches from the railing. The driver canopy opens and the Duke stands up in his seat.
  "Here, catch," says the Duke, tossing something at Anise. With quick reflexes, Anise catches the thing and recognizes it as the orb.
  "You did it?!" cries Anise.
  "Well, it wasn't exactly easy," says the Duke, "could you not have relocated the ship a little further away?"
  "Couldn't you give a girl a little warning before you go sky-diving from thirty thousand feet without a parachute?!"
The Duke just sits down and closes the canopy. He flies the jet, slowly, up over the railing and, hovers not far over Anise's head, then navigates around the tower towards the Elevator. Anise jogs around to catch up with him.
He lands the spacejet, jumps out and enters the Elevator lobby, then retrieves the key from around his neck and opens the hidden panel. He unlocks one of the switches and pushes a button. As he does the lobby makes the sound of a moving lift, which looked rather odd since it didn't appear to be moving at all. Finally, a mechanical voice says 'Hangar Bay', and the doors slide open to reveal a dimly lit but very large space. The Duke swiftly hops back into the spacejet, and flies it inside. By the time Anise approaches the Elevator, the Duke had already walked back out and closed the door behind him.
  "Uh-uh . . . we don't want you wandering around in there," says the Duke.
  "Why not?" asks Anise. The Duke inserts the key in another switch and the elevator 'moves' again, without moving.
  "This ship is a lot larger than it appears. You wouldn't want to get lost down there. It could easily take you days to find your way out. Perhaps weeks. Months . . ."
'Console room' says the mechanical voice again, and the doors open to reveal just that.
  "Come on then," says the Duke. Anise follows him inside again.
  "Alright. What do we do with this now?" she says, holding up the orb. The Duke takes it from her and places it beside the console.
  "Now . . ." says the Duke grimly, fiddling with the controls, "I have to take that back home."
He pulls the lever with a thud, and Anise just manages to cling onto one of the marble pillars as the ship whirrs, grinds and groans; tilts, heaves and shifts and finally thuds.
  "But first, I have to take you back home."
The Duke walks to the door, which opens, and with a ding so too does the exterior door. He stands patiently beside it. Anise walks past him to find herself standing in the hallway just outside her apartment.
  "Home? Wait . . . what? I just go back home? Just like that?" she asks, turning to face him.
  "Yes. I have to take the orb back to my planet."
  "Take me with you!"
Anise runs back inside the ship.
  "This is a spaceship. We just saved the world! What, you want me to go back to my life? Partying, drugs and sex? That's nothing compared to a rush like this. We could go anywhere in the galaxy!"
  "Anise . . ."
  "Duke! You can't expect me to go back home, not after seein' all this. Please, can't I come back with you?" she says, walking right up next to him.
The Duke looks her in the eye, worried, and says: "No."
  "Why not?"
He opens his mouth, stops himself and closes it. Then closes his eyes and shakes his head.
  "Goodbye, Anise."
Slowly, she sighs and walks out of the Elevator. As the door closes behind her, Anise hears the thud and slow grinding sound of the ship, which begins to fade to silence as it slowly vworps away.

Anise had made herself another cup of coffee and was sitting on the couch, staring at the wall when her phone rang. Lazily she wandered over and picked it up.
  "Annie, it's Bianca! What are you doing?"
  "It's six in the morning, Bee. I was out saving the world."
  "'Lol'," says the voice on the phone, chuckling, "Really funny, honey. I'm calling because there's a party at Simon's today. I was thinking we could have pre-drinks at mine. You interested?"
Anise looks over at her couch, where an alien man had been sleeping earlier that day and shakes her head.
  "Sure, why not. I have nothing better to do with my life."
  "Mhmm . . . okay then," says the voice on the phone, "starts at 8 o'clock, but you can rock up whenevs. See you then, Annie!"
  "Bye," says Anise, but Bianca had already hung up.
Anise has another shower, to wash off what was left of her adventure and puts on more clubbing clothes. A loose-fitting, pale blue short-sleeved shirt with a little vest and two long and loose silver necklaces; a pair of denim cut-offs; a stack of bangles on her left wrist; deep mascara and eye-liner with a light dabbling of glitter gel around her right eye & black heels.
  "If I'm gonna live a wasted life, I might as well be wasted . . ." Anise tells the sad girl in the mirror. Heading for the door, she grabs her phone and keys off the bench and slips them in her pockets. She heads for the lift and presses the Down button. The door opens immediately with a ding, to reveal the Duke.
  "What are you doing here?" asks Anise
  "I'm sorry," says the Duke, "I was incredibly selfish before. It's true that I can't take you back to my planet, but the fact remains that you helped in no small part to save this planet from devastation and retrieve the orb. Yet, for your effort, you've been given nothing in return. This is an injustice, in my opinion. So, in return for your efforts to save this world and preserve order, I will take you anywhere you want to go."
Anise crosses her arms and peers at him through sharp, piercing eyes.
  "It took you an hour to change your mind?"
  "It was much longer, from my perspective."
  "Right . . ."
  "I mean it I'll take you anywhere you want to go. Or any time."
Anise opens her mouth, then closes it.
  "Did you say any time?"
  "Yes," says the Duke, "I told you before, it's a timeship. It travels through space–"
  "–and time?" says Anise, smiling, "that's impossible."
  "Then let me show you how to accomplish the impossible," says the Duke, offering his hand. Unable to contain the smile on her face, Anise takes his hand and the two of them enter the Elevator. "So, Anise Trevino, where do you want to go?"
Anise just smirks and says: "Everywhere . . ."