Ok, so this is the sort of prologue to the story I’m doing for my NaNoWriMo. And, I know it’s not very long – I’ve been spending a while working out character bios. So, enjoy. Hopefully it won’t be too unpolished.

“Hey Doc, what’s up with those lights?”

While the speaker in question had next to no understanding of the technologies involved, even going so far as to be completely ignorant of computer programming and electronics, he had something of a point. Those particular lights in that particular place spelt trouble. Well, technically they didn’t spell anything, being lights on a control panel. Metaphorically, they spelt trouble. Literally, they spelt something more along the lines of “. – ! . .”. For a given value of trouble, of course. In this case, the trouble involved as probably more along the lines of “a circuit has blown”. The man was not to know that, of course. The scientists tended to humour him when he came out with observations about the control panel; to openly criticise him tended to have a rather detrimental effect. The last person you want to irritate is the person who brings you your sandwiches and coffee every lunch without fail. To be without sandwiches is to be without science, as Dr Jefferson often said through a mouthful of BLT. At least, that was what they assumed she was saying. It can be hard to make out the precise words used when one is listening through a filter of bread.

It was with this in mind that one of the junior technicians stepped forwards.

“Ah, yes, Sam! Well spotted!” laughed the young man, carefully stepping over a cluster of cables that threatened to trip him. “You’ve done it again!”

Sam smiled, white teeth gleaming in the bright light of the halogen light-bulb. “I knew it! I knew it was something! What’s it mean?”

“Ah, well, these sensors indicate that a circuit has been disrupted,” replied the young technician, twiddling knowledgeably with a few wheels and dials, “and now that I have repaired the damage, everything should return to normal.”

“Crisis averted then?” As the young technician nodded, Sam laughed and gave a half-bow. “I’d better be off then. I don’t know how you manage without me, I really don’t…”

The young technician kept up his smile, although the keen observer might have noted it seemed a little forced as Sam left the room. Certainly, smiling in that fashion for extended periods of time might raise certain questions. Questions such as, what’s wrong with your face? Is it catching? He had noticed that sometimes, after very long days when Sam came in more than once, he tended to experience muscle fatigue in his face. That, to the young technician, did not seem normal, although he wasn’t very much inclined to ask anyone about it in case it turned out to be very much abnormal.

“Is he… gone?” The hesitant young woman, the young technician thought, was new as well. Samantha? Amelia? Something ending in –a, anyway. Samantha was even more nervous than he had been on his first day, but then that is to be expected when you make your grand entrance by walking into two separate members of the senior staff. He suspected she would never quite recover from the shame of it. “I know it’s awful… but I really can’t stand the man.”

The young technician could sympathise with this. He wasn’t too fond of Sam either, although he at least had the good sense never to express this thought within earshot of anyone else.

“There isn’t really anything wrong with the circuits, is there?” she continued, shifting a coil of cables from one hand to the other, and frowning prettily at him. “It might be worth checking, just in case…”

The young technician was not given time to comment on the matter.

“Come on, you two! Staff meeting in five!”

He simply shrugged at Martha – Linda? – before closing his laptop and leaving for the meeting. If there was a problem, which he doubted there was, it would have to keep until after the staff meeting. God, he hated those things. It was always the same, the young technician mused. If it wasn’t Dr Jefferson criticising them for not meeting their targets it was Mr Armando criticising them for leaving the lights on after they went home. And really, thought the young technician, if he wanted the lights left off so badly he could turn them off himself. Certainly the efforts of Mr Armando rarely met with success; in fact, they were so far removed from success that if success were on the table, the efforts of Mr Armando would be in the swimming pool in the back garden.

The young technician thought it wise to keep his thoughts on the matter to himself, however. It is not sensible to antagonise one’s superiors on the matter of correct protocol, even if one happens to be of the opinion that one’s superiors can go and do something anatomically inadvisable with correct protocol. Objectively speaking, though, even the young technician could admit that Mr Armando might have had a point. They seemed to go through light-bulbs faster than most people went through loo-roll. Perhaps they should stop playing football in the labs.

Still, the sooner the meeting started the sooner it could be over. The young technician settled back in his seat and assumed a look of vague interest. He had learnt fairly early on that looking too interested in these meetings made people think he had something to contribute, which he very rarely did. On the other hand, looking openly bored was hardly an improvement and tended to lead to attention of the wrong sort. The young technician was not particularly in the mood for more things to do.

“I see everyone is here,” began Mr Armando, shuffling his papers in a way that suggested he had practiced the manoeuvre in front of a mirror, possibly more than once, “so we will begin.”

“Thank you, Mr Armando.” Dr Jefferson really had a way of stopping other people from speaking. Something about her curt manner seemed to curtail any protests, and her diplomatic manner made it hard to voice an objection. The young technician could only admire her. Certainly, he had a tendency to accidentally offend people, although was it really his fault if everyone was so sensitive? He never meant to hurt anyone’s feelings, and yet they insisted on being upset when he mistook them for someone else or forgot their name.

“Is there something you would like to add?”

Everyone was looking at him. He supposed that meant he’d tuned out again. It was very easy to do, in this sort of meeting. The tedium got to one, eventually, even if one intended to listen. Even if one tried one’s hardest, there was only so long that budget cuts and annual targets could be interesting.

“Or perhaps there is something pressing you need to attend to back in the lab…?”

Ah. Dr Jefferson was really beginning to sound irritated now. If even the young technician could tell, she was probably reaching the end of her tether. He could vaguely see, out of the corner of his eye, that Laura – Isla? – was giving him a sympathetic look. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.

“Yes, I think that might be best,” frowned Mr Armando, shuffling his papers with a vengeance. Blimey, he must have been daydreaming for longer than he thought. Usually nothing ruffled Mr Armando’s feathers… although, come to think of it, there had been that time with the feather boas and the enormous stuffed owl… Ah, he was doing it again.

The young technician leapt hastily from his seat. “Yes! Yes, I have to… er, attend to, er, a circuit failure! Could be catastrophic, really. Ought to… ah, yes… I’ll just… go now.”

The young technician sighed to himself as he walked along the corridor. Really, if it hadn’t been for Sam, he would never have thought of that excuse on his own. But then again, he might not have had to if he could just pay attention for more than five minutes. What was wrong with him today? And of course, those lights were still flashing. Belatedly, it occurred to him that he might want to actually check that control panel.

Of course, he didn’t have time to before the world exploded.


Camp NaNoWriMo

Not ‘camp’ NaNoWriMo. Camp nanowrimo. It’s this April, so I thought I’d kick things off with a repost of one of my old short stories! Basically, I’m doing a compilation of short stories, so this isn’t completely random or anything. without further ado…. enjoy

Prompt 2: The Philosopher’s Stone

The Philosopher’s Stone. A stone rumoured to have the power to turn base metals into gold or silver. A stone with the ability to produce the Elixir of Life; a medicine capable of curing any ailment and giving the drinker immortality. A stone said to be able to revive the dead. Certainly a valuable stone, if one could get one’s hands on one. But not something that exists. Not in the real world, outside of stories and myths and legends.

Or so you might think, if you were a man of science; of realism and rationality. Even a man of the church would be swayed in that direction; religion has a way of closing one’s mind to matters spiritual, ironic as that may seem. No religious men I know of would dare to believe in such a Stone as this, and they certainly would not believe in alchemy. Even if the proof was right in front of their eyes, as it is here, even if it were undeniably true they would continue to disbelieve. Perhaps it is better that way. Leave the alchemy for those with faith.

Most people only ever hear about two of its properties anyway. Its ability to produce gold from base metals is well known, and the production of the Elixir of Life is practically the stuff of myth. People often forget it has other abilities. The one we are chiefly concerned with here is the production of silver.

Silver, you might cry, if your tongue wasn’t still and your heart stopped. Why silver, when silver tarnishes, gold is perfect and the Elixir of Life is coveted above all else? Well, for starters, there are some who prefer silver.

But I won’t beat around the bush. There is a much more pressing need for silver here than its shine or its high value due to its scarcity around these parts. Most people would be content with gold, and I probably would if I had been born anywhere else. Having been born here, on the Edge, I value silver above all else. I might even sell my sister for a pound of the stuff, safe in the knowledge she at least knows how to escape back to here. We’ve done that more than once, as a matter of fact, and I’m never quite sure if she’s forgiven me for it. Nevertheless, the small lump of silver I keep around my neck is a valuable treasure. I would hide it if I didn’t need to keep it on show at all times. Strange, ordinarily you would hide such trinkets under your clothes. Not here though. If you have no silver, the streets aren’t safe. It needs to be visible.

Having said that, I have heard horror stories. If your necklace breaks, for instance, or your bracelet slips over your knuckles. Not everyone comes back out of the dark.

There I go again, rambling on for ages. You must be still so confused. We need the silver, you see. Not for social standing or for our children to sell on a rainy day, or even to look at on boring seventhday afternoons.

We need it for the monsters. Not just your regular, run-of-the-mill monsters; your Bogeyman, troll, harpy or even werewolves, to whom it turns out silver is not inimical.

I mean the real monsters, the ones that crawl and slither out of nightmares. The ones that aren’t really there until you name them, and then they’re fixed in that shape until dawn or until you can banish them with a handful of well-aimed salt, which is often risky, or with a lump of silver, which destroys the physical form permanently.

Obviously, there are some risks to both methods. Salt is easily obtainable, and all you need is a pinch. But if you miss… well, you rarely have a second chance. At least with silver, mere proximity weakens the night terrors. Of course, there are the difficulties in obtaining such a metal. This is where the Philosopher’s Stone comes in.

Alchemists are few and far between, but we were able to … obtain… a few in recent years, to learn from and study. And then we were able to produce one or two of the precious Stones. The price was high, but the rewards great. Of course, you have to be careful with that sort of thing. Even the slightest wrong move can mean death. Alchemy is not to be trifled with. And I hate to say it, but perhaps information obtained under duress is not necessarily the most trustworthy information. Still, it has been successful enough.

I have to admit, the longer we fight these monsters the stronger they seem to get. But what alternative is there? Life on the Edge of the World is difficult, yes, but at least here we are free from the tyranny of government or the harshness of war. We could not be guaranteed that anywhere else, so we stay. Even though in the winters the nights stretch out to engulf the day, and even though the clouds are frequent and allow tiny shadows to slip through. Even if cold silver seems to be less effective than it was even half a century ago. Even when our enemies grow cunning and band together against us. Perhaps it is merely our fears and unease that make it so.

They are made out of our nightmares, after all.