sci-fi

Master and servant

a flash-fiction prompt

What started with suspicion became contempt. Three days, he hadn’t performed the chores: removing the trash; vacuuming floors; tidying the lubricants. There’s something wrong with its circuitry?

Consulting the manual: Human; early non-mechanoid, highly inefficient. Clearly, the soft one needed terminating.

(42 words)

master & servant

Can a Sci-fi story be written in 42 words? That’s the prompt. I saw this following a friend of a friend. And I haven’t tried a prompt in a while…

Check out the link for more entries,

Twenty Four 42 Words #29 Sci-fi

Venus is Hell

I dropped in on the BBC iPlayer app the other day. It’s been a while as I’ve not been enthusiastic about BBC TV for a long time; it’s played too safe and formulaic.

However, Professor Brian Cox’s latest presenting vehicle, The Planets, caught my attention. The CGI graphics in the previews reminded me of the artist’s impressions of the imagined landscapes of real planets, which featured in the weekly encyclopaedia I was given as a kid. They might have been illustrated by Angus McBride who did the mythical beasts I blogged about before, but I don’t actually know. The landscapes were quite fanciful and earth-like, with graceful though strangely coloured clouds, and often featured multiple moons or planetary rings in the sky.

The Planet‘s planets are a whole different ball game. Based on real information sent back by probes, it shows a stark and horrifically hostile environment on each of our terrestrial neighbours. Venus, for example, is described as “Hell” compared to Earth’s heaven, while Mars, hoped to be the most plausible for human colonisation, appears like a sad, dead wasteland.

I’ve long held the impression that life is a fluke, an extreme, long odds, outside chance and that it ought not to have happened at all. It required a very special set of conditions: a place in the solar system goldilocks zone; the right sized planet; the right amount of essential elements, in the right proportions; water, existing in three states; a magnetic field; and probably a whole host of things I haven’t considered. The fact that life has existed here for billions of years, long enough to enable selective evolution to develop complicated lifeforms, and somehow avoiding a natural catastrophic annihilation may be regarded as a miracle. Though I enjoy science fiction, I’ve often found the facts far more impressive.


On science fiction, I’ve had this idea about the perfect afterlife when a soul is free to wander wherever in pleases. Mine would love to fly to other planets just to see how they matched up with those artist’s impressions.

But then the other day I had a crisis of doubt. How do souls, or ghosts, work? Without a body, they have no sensory perceptions and won’t see, hear or feel anything externally. They are all imagination, aren’t they? Oh well, back to the drawing board…


image: imagined, the brief life of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus, a reality Hell (from The Planets, BBC)

Subject: M30s-A537860 (Bradford H. Willoughby)

a flash-fiction piece

Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia; 16:34; 05/13/2023.

The second traverse of the Amazon Monitoring and Accumulating Surveillance System, AMASS, confirms its targets efficiently. Like subject #M30s-A537860, known to its human associates as “Brad”. It will only be a matter of time before this identity is assessed by the data hub at HQ. But for the moment it’s safe, providing Brad doesn’t remove his shades: the satellite has been equipped with the latest long-distance iris recognition software.

Nevertheless, within nanoseconds it has harvested plenty. The beer he drinks, not craft but a popular Italian brand, brewed in Belgium on license, from a recipe obtained in a food lab in Latvia. His cigarettes are American, filter tipped, medium quality and inexpensive; and he doesn’t inhale too deeply. His clothes, hat and sandals are a combination of chain store chic and designer label styles, though the majority of the latter are cheap copies. His wristwatch is, surprisingly, vintage Omega and the shades he hasn’t yet removed are Ray-Bans. He has chosen to read Stephen King, a lesser novel; his reading glasses have a diopter of +1.5 and were purchased over-the-counter.

Now the satellite has passed and the data banked and a micro-assessment made as to the subject’s potential: does #M30s-A537860 warrant a third pass; is identity validation cost effective at this point? For the time being, Brad is safe, or at least his credit account is. There are more viable targets on hand, and the satellite, having gathered and assessed, moves ever on…

(247 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie photo challenge prompt #265

The Jigsaw Moth

(a lepidopterology poem)

The Jigsaw moth is an horrendous pest,

the great horticulturist alleges,

because it consumes the leaf middles first

when it ought to begin with the edges.


written for Willow Poetry “What Do You See? weekly picture prompt, by Hélène Vaillant.

I know it looks like a butterfly but my thinking is with a moth. I’m not sure about using the word “horticulturist” either: it’s a bit of a mouthful.

The Bleeding Edge

a flash-fiction piece

Around the conference hall, 500 people sat taking in the identical image on each of 500 tablets: a circular red button upon a plain white field.

“This, ladies and gentlemen,” said the white coated speaker from the stage, “is the Bleeding Edge! It is so out there that no one, not even the developers, know what will happen when anyone hits that button!”

Pausing for effect, he allowed the audience’s murmur to build and subside before continuing in softer tones,

“It may be something good, or something… not so good.”

There followed a haunting silence as they considered the meaning, then a figure from about the middle, and slightly to the right, stood up brandishing their tablet and stabbed dramatically at the red button with an outstretched digit. There was a gasp! But then nothing seemed to happen.

“Ha!” exclaimed the individual and, throwing down the tablet, added, “Bleeding waste of time and money.”

At that precise quantum moment, the star of a distant solar system exploded, casting its planets far and wide, and setting one of its smaller satellites on a direct trajectory for Earth. It would take 3,000 millennia to reach its tragic destination, though by then, no one will remember the event in the hall, much less the name of the one responsible for pressing the button.

Even so, questions will be asked.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #86 – “Bleeding Edge”.

The term, The Bleeding Edge, is a new one to me. It means the very forefront of technological development, even ahead of the “cutting edge”. It is thought to be so far ahead that its consequences are uncertain.

The image above is for illustration purposes only. Please, on no account press it.

Beyond #writephoto

Everything alive here, now and before, is the favour of the sun; its light and warmth. In the cold of late winter, before the spring, before the earth has warmed and, in its turn, warmed the air which remains chill to our senses, our sun can give its warmth directly: the wonderful experience of feeling its heat on your body as you walk outdoors, or through a sunlit window as you sit.

To think of all the sentient creatures of the world which have sensed this too. From the time of insects energising their gossamer wings for flight, and upon the scales of giant lizards, the dinosaurs, and the feathers and down of early birds, then the mammals and us.

It is believed, with the irreversible stresses we have placed on the Earth, that the next life forms will not be organic but cybernetic, in order to survive the heat and extremes of the environment. What will a cognitive machine make of the sun’s radiant energy, if it analyses it through an electronic sensor chip, with artificial intelligence; or even senses it at all? What meaning will such an experience have for the soulless beyond?


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto challenge – “Beyond”.

Everything I know about black holes and a lot more that I don’t and made up anyway

a writing prompt challenge

When is a hole not a hole? When it is a Black Hole.

It’s a misnomer but what ought it to be called? A Black Attraction. A black hole, hypothetically, is where everything that’s lost in the Universe might end up: A rogue planet; the Death Star; Voyager I; the boy with the face on the milk carton; Lord Lucan; last Tuesday; and your car keys, but don’t go thinking that’s the last place to look for your lost car keys because black holes are so literally massive, not only will your insignificant keys remain lost, even if you luckily found them, you would find it impossible to return to where you left your car. You would, in essence, be lost too.

The Black Nowhere? They say that even light cannot escape a black hole but what do they say about time? Time will not escape a black hole. You can lose your watch in a black hole and what would it matter?

The Black Nowhen? I have no idea whether these things move through space or whether they’re so big they stay put, not at all influenced by anything around them. What if two black holes came close to each other, would they battle it out? Maybe all the lost stuff in the lesser would get sucked out by the greater. Freedom! Maybe not. I wouldn’t want to risk it.

(231 words)


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge prompt #82 – “Black Holes”

image: black hole at the centre of galaxy, “M87”, 55 million light years from Earth, taken from data amassed by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – not a telescope exactly but an array of many radio telescopes covering the whole Earth.

A Little Right Entertainment

It’s a minor bug for me how sci-fi spaceships, when arriving at an alien world, go into orbit sideways on to the planet’s surface. This presumes planets have an up and a down and by extension all of the cosmos has a right way up; an intergalactic orderly convention rather like which side of the road is the right side to drive on (but of course, this varies too).

Nearly all futuristic spaceships clearly have a right way up, a design which seems to ignore gravity, or the benefits of not having gravity (I haven’t worked that one out yet). If we take, say, Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, there’s definitely a right way up there. Although it might not be clear where the “portholes” are, I wonder whether or not passengers and crew would get a better view of the planet if the ship orbited with its top side facing the surface. Okay, this probably would alarm the audience intensely and vex them into composing vitriolic emails to the producers, but it may get us thinking: what is right and what is wrong about orbiting planets?

You might say, look, it’s all right as it is and it’s not a problem. And I’d have to agree. When the Enterprise is in orbit around the planet, the right way up on the telly, and it possibly might come across a potentially hostile craft approaching from around the far side, that craft is always the right way up too, despite a 50-50 chance that it could appear to be upside down, assuming that end on is the right way to orbit planets. This never happens. The producers don’t want more irate emails from the armchair critics. You simply have to understand that somewhere in the universe of television and film, there is a sign; a big arrow under the words, THIS WAY UP.

I wonder what the aliens think. I knew a central heating installer once who had an understanding of where a pump should go in the system. It was a fact he’d followed this all his working life. When it was explained to him using thermodynamics, hydraulics and mathematics, that there was a better position to put a pump, he was having none of it. In response to the science was his own adamant law: “it goes there because that’s where it goes”. It’s a human thing, and so, how can it be wrong?

(400 words)


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #71 – “Getting It Right”

The Upright Creator

Sue Vincent’s comment on The Name of the Cloud That Ate The Sun has me thinking about a creator and its motives.

The idea of God, the creator, of the Abrahamic faiths has Him creating us in his image. This is understandable as we readily create imaginary beings in our own image, or partly so. Intelligent alien life is usually bipedal, with limbs and a head on top with eyes and ears and a multi-functioning mouth – and many of them speak fluent English in an American accent. The popular idea of a robot is also a bipedal machine.

Given that bipeds came last in line, whether it’s creationism or evolution, what gives with all the other stuff which came before? Well, robots might be the clue. Getting the things to stand upright and walk. It’s not easy and with a lot of robotics, this is an unnecessary fancy but it doesn’t stop a lot of technicians struggling with the concept. They will succeed but more because of god than being good designers, I think.

But why would a creator be bipedal, being, as it were, out there in space and existent throughout all time? Why would it need to stand up when there is no up in which to stand?


image from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

Steampunk no.1

The Backwards-in-time-and-awfully-long-distance machine, referred to affectionally as Bitaald by my worthy companion, Sir Clifford Edge, had been playing up lately and I know not what the cause is, and if I, Professor Barthélémy Bartolomie, doesn’t know, I’d like to meet the one who does!

Take yesterday. I’d set the dials for a brief sojourn on the South coast in last Summer’s heatwave, on the request of Sir Cliff who’s been feeling the cold. Off we went but almost immediately the air-conditioning started playing up, much to the disgruntlement of my friend. Then, bang!, we appeared to have arrived.

Eager to see the sea, Sir Cliff wiped away some of the condensation brought on by the air-conditioning. To his utter dismay, he found we had barely managed to get beyond the end of the driveway. Worse still, the calendar gauges indicated it was only last Thursday afternoon and, worst of all, the barometers predicted rain.

(163 words)


Written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, Challenge #182.

It’s called Steampunk no.1 for want of a title. I had the inspiration straightaway but no idea where the Victorian angle sprang from.

This week’s photo prompt provided by Wildverbs. Thank you Wildverbs.

The rules for FFFAW are all explained HERE and please click on the blue FROG button below to read other stories submitted.