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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fourth Millennium (16)

Sunday Scribblings, Writers Island Joirnals, Matinee Muse

For Sunday Scribblings 141 – “I knew immediately...”


10 A Netful Of Never

There was something indefinable about Carp that Rose found intriguing…No, not that; more than just interesting…unique; that was it…but how so?
The smile that radiated from his hyper-active eyes, even when his lips remained expressionless, danced a wondrously well-mannered waltz of welcome; a gracious, graceful greeting for his guests. Confidence, mannerisms, and voice alike, exuded etiquette, and combined to serve up a fascinating feast of flawless finesse. Yet there was something mysterious about those eyes that defied description; an enigmatic, almost sinister depth of comprehension that hinted at their possession of untold secrets they had witnessed, and kept locked away in their unfathomable recesses. Perhaps though, Rose was merely allowing her imagination to run wild at the prospect, the promise, of fantastic revelations to come.
Despite her acceptance of the probability that acquired fact and speculative fiction were conspiring to fuse and confuse, she continued to scrutinise Carp’s every characteristic. Eventually she abandoned her hunt for defects, weaknesses, or any inconsistencies, conceding that it was probably Carp’s artificially darkened hair that had prompted her probe. Why had she questioned her initial assessment of this man? Like her uncle, Robin, she was able to judge character, accurately, from only limited encounters.
Starling had drawn a similarly frustrating conclusion, or confusion, by studying Carp’s reactions to sudden, unexpected situations. Just as Rose had done, he also detected something in the eyes that didn’t quite match the controlled, measured motions that characterised Carp’s gestures. They seemed to become alerted to every minor activity in the vicinity of the property; accentuated by Carp’s seating position, directly facing the window. This caused his eyes to reflect the incoming light, and dazzle in a kaleidoscopic display of strobe-like flashes, as they darted from point to point on their incessant course.
Carp hadn’t yet told them of his eye replacement surgery, and the involuntary, motion-detecting characteristic his artificial eyes possessed. He would inform them later that this was what accounted for his rather devious countenance. His eyes were able to auto-track every movement, however minor, homing in on it, in order to calculate, or compute an appropriate image.
Nightingale’s more reasonable assessment of Carp was based on the probability that anyone, who may be capable of revealing knowledge that could validate, conclusively, the integrity of their quest, had been party to inconceivable experiences. Whether these experiences had been of a positive or negative nature, would remain the subject of mere speculation, until or unless experienced by others.
“Please, make yourselves as comfortable as possible, gentlemen, and lady. I have a very long and hopefully, enlightening story to relate. It may seem like an awful lot to digest at one sitting; nevertheless, it is a story, a history, with a specific motive. It must be told, in order that you may all formulate a conclusive decision; to continue with your mission…or to abandon your ‘quest’. Hear me out, I implore you. Time for questions, as well as answers, will be ample, later, if you collectively, or indeed individually, reach the decision to continue.
Let me begin, if I may, at the most logical point; the beginning; at least, as the world has been led to understand the beginning.
Forget about your inherited perceptions that the history of existence is a mere matter of only three thousand years.
Open your minds, as well as your ears.
What you are about to hear, has been denied by the authorities of the Nation, for over a century; dismissed as irrelevant, and subsequently ‘forgotten’.
As far as your authorities are concerned, it never happened; any of it.”
Carp’s words had the effect of triggering the undivided attention of his guests.

“Time, my dear friends, is not confined to the imposed schedules of a paranoid dictatorship, who deny even the existence of yesterday, and view tomorrow, as the ‘reward’ for the obedience and loyalty to the ‘cause’ of today.
Space, is not a figment of the imagination, brought on by the feeble minds of the discontented.
I am about to take you on a fantastic journey, through both Time and Space.
A word of caution; be prepared for a bumpy ride.
My home; my real home, is a land several thousand kilometres away from the Nation; on the other side of the world. Yes; you heard me correctly; the other side of the world. Contrary to popular belief, in fact conditioned perception would be more accurate; the world is not flat! It is a spinning globe, in the infinite Cosmos of Space.
When first I ‘arrived’ in this Nation, I was astonished to discover that the term, ‘the other side of the world’, caused people to think in terms of a reverse side; rather like saying, ‘the other side of the fence’. People to whom I spoke, initially, believed my reference was to what they understood as the underside of the land; a side that was unable to support matter. On that side, anything not physically attached, and fixed to the ground, would fall forever, into the Void.
What, did I suppose, those shining objects were, that appear in the night sky? Quite clearly, they are pieces of the world that, at one time, had been positioned too close to the ‘edge’ of, or merely broken away from, the underside of the ‘plane’. There was never any reference to ‘planet’.
Why, did I suppose that even the chart of the world was square; flat…? I shall explain.”
In simple, un-technical terms, Carp did explain. He proceeded with a condensed history of the world.
Creation, evolution, and extinction, followed by the development of civilisation, were the first topics on his agenda. His silent audience sat and listened to his every word, in open-mouthed, wide-eyed awe.
Society, religion, politics, and education, led to industrial and technological advances. Man’s insatiable greed and arrogance, owing to the compelling forces and temptations of power and money, concluded a lesson that featured poverty and wealth, art and science, laws and morality, as well as the humanities, space exploration, and war. Competition, achievement, hopes and fears, comforts and dangers, security, and health, all found their appropriate positions in his discourse.
The surface had been merely skimmed, but the message had been delivered.
Sensing an inevitable atmosphere of incredulity, Carp was eager to emphasise that as staggering as it may all have sounded, every word he’d uttered, had been the absolute truth.
He had reached as far as the twenty first century; the beginning of the third millennium, and felt that this was as good a point as any, to adjourn, for lunch. The break would, perhaps allow at least some of what he’d related, to sink in, in order that questions, which would surely follow, in due course, could be formulated. Not a word was spoken by anyone, during the simple meal of Sustocrisp biscuits, and Procarb. The food was digested in complete silence, along with the more intelligible portions of Carp’s chronicle.

To be continued

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

For WIJ10 – Most Amazing Experience

10 A Netful Of Never (Cont)

“At one time;” Carp continued, “almost a thousand years ago, many more land-masses spanned the planet. These were separated by seas and oceans, which also contained literally thousands of islands. The population, globally, was a staggering seven billion, and growing. Unbelievably, the population topped fifteen billion, before a combination of man-made and ‘natural’ events reduced the planet, and its population, to nearer what it is today. All that we know, those of us who do actually know, is a vast, single ocean, and only two land-masses; one extremely large; the other, tiny by comparison, with a combined population of, perhaps, two billion.
It is true to say that it was neither nuclear war, nor what was once referred to as ‘Global Warming’ that were responsible, individually, for the catastrophic events that dominated much of the third millennium. By the same token, it is equally true to state that both phenomena were major contributing factors.
The root cause of the devastation that ensued was in fact, as I touched on, briefly, man’s own greed.
Global financial markets reached new peaks, widening the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The rich became exponentially richer, fatter, and more ambitious, in their obsessive desire for dominance. The poor, inevitably, were left with, quite literally, nothing.
The consequence was, predictably, war.
It was a war of unprecedented proportion.
By the time the world eventually engaged in universal conflict; for the third…and final time, I might add, in the late twenty first century, that other factor I mentioned; ‘Global Warming’, had already taken dramatic effect. The polar ice-caps had reduced significantly, causing sea-levels, world-wide, to rise, sharply. Some low-lying areas of land had become submerged.
Mass human migrations were triggered as a result of the threat of the ever-encroaching water. Permanent settlers had begun to inhabit the formerly frozen expanses of reclaimed territories. The former authorities of what we now know as the Nation had ensured that, as migration occurred, they collected all the ‘valuables’ that were left behind. They collected ‘taxes’ from the refugees, in order to ‘guarantee’ their safe passage, and to pay for their enforced relocation.
They ended up so immensely wealthy that they used vast amounts of their, now unlimited wealth, to manipulate the worlds economy in their own favour. The interim authorities effectively took ownership of all business and industry. As resources and infrastructure continued to be claimed by the ‘natural’ turmoil, their grand plan backfired, as the world markets crashed as never before. In fact, they became worthless, as industries and technologies ceased to exist, or continue effectively, because physically, they were unable to do so. The demand for their products and services had shrunk to such an extent, as to render them obsolete. Following decades, in fact centuries of chaos, the ‘new’ government decided to adopt a ‘back to basics’ policy.
Largely as a result of numerous nuclear detonations that occurred during this prolonged period of war, several unforeseen consequences had come into play.
Land-mass migration occurred at an alarming rate; an average ‘shift’ of about ten metres a day. Millions had perished in the detonations; millions more were displaced by the elements.
Unnaturally severe weather conditions, and phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanic activity, became commonplace around the world. The death toll rose into the billions. The trauma suffered by the earth’s crust, caused movement of tectonic plates. Mountains literally crumbled; entire countries were lost to tidal surges, and territories became divided by huge chasms, caused by earthquakes, or buried beneath volcanic ash and lava. Drought, ice and snow, flood and fire, famine and poverty, all visited places for the first time in history.
Billions more perished.
By the beginning of the twenty fifth century, the map of the world had changed beyond recognition. Less than a billion survivors, planet-wide were left to rebuild the world, which by now, consisted of just the two land-masses we…some of us at least, know today; The Nation, and my homeland, St. George.
The unnatural, ‘natural’ phenomena that had ravaged, and all but destroyed civilisation, came to a dramatic, and sudden, end. A massive reconstruction programme ensued; every man, woman, and child was involved. Land was levelled, coastal defences were strengthened, and new buildings were erected. The brains; the concepts, behind industrial and technological processes, had survived, even if the actual people hadn’t. Almost all the physical remnants of mechanised endeavour; the machinery and premises, lay beneath the ocean, or were buried under the rubble. Space exploration and satellite communication systems had been long abandoned, and as such were obsolete. The chance to start again had to be taken very seriously.
It took a couple of centuries of unprecedented human interaction and endeavour, to pull the world out of a potential dark-ages scenario, into the relative familiarity of a more modern, civilised environment. So many things; not least cultures, societies, and even most people’s memory, or knowledge of the past, had been lost. Some of the components were rediscovered, in time, allowing us access to our dubious heritage, but many aspects of society were gone, forever.
A recognisable form of civilisation had been re-established, but a further period of time was required to apply the principles of political administration. Once the solidarity of a desperate people had diminished and turned to complacency, the sparse population dispersed, to establish their own communities with their own identities.
The once great superpower of the West had become no more than a local advisory assembly of collective intelligence. Realising the constraints of its fragile grasp on its own influence, as well as the significance of respecting the dignity and status of the people it now represented, it had long ago abandoned its ‘ghetto mentality’. In its attempt to stake its claim on control of the population, people of all races, colours and creeds, were encouraged to co-exist, on equal terms. Understandably, the people were reluctant to, or refused to trust in their calls for unity, and continued to go in search of their own ways of life. They had learnt a harsher than imaginable lesson from the sufferings and endurances of their recent ancestors, and were determined not to accept any part in any potential repeat of the mistakes of their political leaders.
For those who did decide to listen, and remain within the ‘safety zone’ their number provided, opposition to the increasing arrogance of the new government was inevitable. The population by this time, the mid-twenty seventh century, was approaching two billion.
Discontentment and protest were ignored, and localised incidents of sporadic demonstration became widespread. Violence resulted, and conflict returned, leading to the outbreak of the unthinkable; civil war.
Large numbers were once again dying annually, and terrorist activities became commonplace. The powers that be, were practically helpless, until that was, they put their technological capability to work. They developed a computer programme known as ‘Ideocide’.
‘Ideocide’ was a non-destructive weapon, capable of adjusting people’s ways of thinking. The Nation initially threatened to deploy it on St. George, in order to demonstrate its effectiveness, but we were able to resist, having suffered the least from the ‘Disasters’. Large parts of our infrastructure still remained intact. We countered the Nations threat with our own technological deterrent, and the Nation backed down. Their attention turned once more, to their own people, and a version of Ideocide was deployed.

To be continued

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

For Matinee Muse – Behind The curtain

10 A Netful Of Never (Cont)

In a last-ditch bid to once and for all combat crime and terrorism, that was now rife in their own land, the high tech weapon was ‘tested in-house’.
Rather than being exposed to the full force of Ideocide, which would automatically indoctrinate the population with the philosophy and culture of the ‘authorities’, the programme was delivered in stages. Your great-great grandparents and their parents at least, were subjected to a kind of ideological ‘neutering’ process. With the aid of the Ideocide programme, all their pre-conceived notions of how things should be were removed from their consciousness, gradually. This allowed their, now more passive, less aggressively inquisitive minds, to accommodate the ‘new’ concepts. Thus, the process of assimilation, or acclimatisation, to the ‘New World Order’ was introduced by ‘suggestion’. Much as a ‘natural’ educational programme, it was based on teaching and examination. The common knowledge, and ever-present potential consequences of Ideocide, had enabled a ceasefire to be implemented, and the mere threat of its general deployment led to the ‘compromise’.
All adults; all people aged between fifteen and fifty five, were summonsed to attend ‘Rehabilitation Classes’.
Within a generation, the inhabitants of the Nation, had been transformed from a people who had, albeit briefly, flirted with and enjoyed, the fundamental freedoms, brought on by peace, to a placid, controlled, androgynously-minded…flock of sheep. Freedom of choice, association, movement, speech, and even thought, were things of the past. The past itself was a thing of the past. An entire population had been ‘programmed’ to support, and follow the cultures of Apathy and Ignorance; only hearing, seeing, knowing, and even thinking, what their ‘superiors’ deemed permissible.
Only St. George remained relatively unscathed; left alone to continue as before; a kind of ‘control culture’ to the radical ‘experiment’ that was being conducted on the other side of the world. You may know of these developments, but not necessarily about them. The period was known as the ‘Armistice’, and its aftermath as the ‘Purges’.
A great barrier, known as the ‘Ring’, was placed around St. George, leaving us with only a two thousand kilometre expanse of ocean, in all directions. This ‘exclusion zone’ was placed, to ensure that we Georgians, could neither penetrate the defences of the Nation, nor receive further news of any events that took place in the Nation. The barrier still exists; a monument to oppression, and a reminder, as far as we’re concerned in St. George, of what could happen to us, if we were ever to lose sight of the fact that paranoia and wars only cause problems; they never solve them. However, the ‘Ring’ is fortunately, no more effective than our own defence mechanisms; a fact that permits us both to exist on Earth, side by side, albeit separated by thousands of kilometres, as well as this physical barrier…out of sight, out of mind.
Eventually we both all but forgot about each other, and even the mere existence of the Nation, is never even mentioned any longer, on St. George. We were happy to comply with the imposition of an obstruction that no-one could even see. The Nation was off-limits, so there was no reason for long-distance travel. Ocean going passenger liners became obsolete, as did large-scale airliners, leaving only the activities of the trawlers, and offshore commodity installations, out of sight of the island. Besides, it wasn’t St. George that was wasting all her assets on maintenance of the ‘Ring’. My guess is that this is where most of the real wealth the Nation possesses, is actually spent.
In effect, its inhabitants live in a kind of self-sufficient cooperative, where worthless ‘tokens’ are issued as currency, to give the impression of personal prosperity. The tokens, once used, are merely recycled and re-issued. Prices remain static and only certain, minor luxuries, are made commonly available, subject to very limited accessibility. There is no unemployment, no inflation, and no requirement for large amounts of cash, therefore no banking system and no augmentation of private affluence…officially. The status quo is maintained; enforced.
That concludes the entire history of the world, in a nutshell, as far as it concerns the Nation. As for St. George; the modern history of the island can wait until a more relevant occasion. I think I’ve spoken at length, and anyway, certain conditions apply to receiving information regarding modern-day St. George, which will become apparent as time progresses.
All that remains is for me to tell you about how I came to be here.”

Carp, proceeded to relate his harrowing adventure turned nightmare, aboard his inadequately prepared pleasure boat, bringing Starling, Nightingale and Rose up to speed with events up until he’d left the medical centre, not ten kilometres from where he was now living. During his account, he referred to himself, for the first time in thirty years, by his real name; Marc.
“Once I’d recovered sufficiently to hold my thoughts together, I set out to learn about all the differences between this place and the one I’d come from. My recollections were jumbled, confused, and very vague. The culture shock hit me hard, and I soon realised it would be pointless trying single-handedly to educate the ignorant. Instead, once I’d realised my semi-conscious ramblings, about ‘Them’ and ‘There’, had earned me some kind of cult status, I set out to try to take advantage of the situation.
Most people didn’t actually believe my ‘stories’, but they loved the concept of a place where things were different. To be honest, a lot of my ‘revelations’, in the past, were told as much for my own amusement, as for their education, and were received as a novel kind of entertainment. Literature, theatre and the like, having been abolished with the ‘Purges’, the experience was all incredibly surreal to my sceptical, though captivated, audience. Of course, I enhanced certain aspects, and omitted certain others. I was well aware of the danger of revealing too much.
After a while, I decided to limit my ‘fantasy’ storytelling episodes, to very occasional, sporadic, performances, for ‘chosen’ people, in order to prevent the attraction of unwanted attention from the ‘authorities’. Fortunately for me, I believe, no-one ever revealed the source of the ‘rumours’, which had begun to spread and circulate. Only certain ‘others’ were ever allowed to find their own way to me.
Ever since my arrival, thirty years ago, I’ve been waiting for the right person, or people, with the necessary skills, determination, and commitment, to pay me a visit, in order to help me find my way back home.
I was barely even an adult when I, inadvertently, entered the Nation’s waters. Look at me now; I’m fifty five years old, for God’s sake!
The most important lesson I’ve learned from it all though, is that if I hadn’t used each specific incident as a focal point, to inspire me, I would have become overwhelmed by the concept of my ‘discovery’, and allowed it to consume me, with its merciless, personality sapping, production-line, mentality.
I have to congratulate your perseverance, all three of you. You come highly recommended, and I have learnt much about you, in a short period of time. Your ambition, your consistency of character, and your evident abilities, are admirable. Most people who have made it this far, come with the less than inspiring, optimistically motivated, qualification of; ‘they seem serious enough; see what you think’. Rather than demonstrating, to me, their own creativity, they have, in the majority of instances, saddened and disappointed me with their displays of naivety. Most have come in search of a way forward; wanting to know what I can do to assist them.” Of course none have been worthy participants in my ultimate plans, and I remain, in an anticipation that I never allow to become desperation; my ambition unfulfilled.

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

Fourth Millennium (15)


9 To Market And Beyond (Cont)

Starling raised a hand to the Introcom, and lowered his head to speak.
“Is this the Halibut residence?” he enquired.
“Who goes there?” Halibut’s unmistakable tones came back, preceded by a sniff, and punctuated with a series of short coughs.”
“Robin; calling on urgent business,” Starling announced, realising that certain references, pertaining to the quest, had not been divulged earlier, and believing, correctly, that the identity confirmation process was not yet completed.
An exchange of questions and answers followed.
“An item was passed to you recently, from the hands of a certain individual; name this person.” Halibut continued.
“How many items do you possess?”
“Their previous guardians?”
“The other two came from Robin.”
“The final item you received contains a serial number; what is it?”
Starling was unfamiliar with the term ‘serial number’, but was able to recall the sequence that appeared above the bottom right hand corner of the banknote, Birch had given him.
“37 6028 141 73,” he recited, from memory.
The door opened, and Halibut ushered Starling, Nightingale and Rose, inside.
“You’re staying here tonight. Tomorrow we’re going on a ‘fishing’ trip.” Halibut seemed to have lost his nervous affliction, and spoke in short, authoritative sentences; almost commands.
Starling did not miss the quotation mark gesture, he’d also used to emphasise, or illustrate, the word ‘fishing’. He spent a few moments analysing both the animation, and the word. Had he really meant fishing, or was it some kind of coded expression for something entirely different that may be vaguely associated with fishing? Perhaps the animation could be a decoy tactic or technique, used to deflect interpretation into an inappropriate context, thus enabling its practitioners to perform furtive activities, in a completely innocuous, inconspicuous manner. And what about this character, Halibut himself? Was he the actual originator of the signal?
Starling’s thought process was interrupted, as Halibut’s next command was directed towards him.
“Show me the coins and the dollar bill.” It was not barked, military style; rather, suggested, or advised, and issued in a calm, business-like manner.
Nightingale, noticing that his friend had evidently become distracted slightly, gave Starling a quick nudge that allowed him to focus.
“Right here.” Starling reached into his pockets, automatically, realising in the process, that Halibut had used two further, obscure references, to indicate the two silver discs, and the sheet of mysterious fabric.
“A routine check,” Halibut informed them, as he mirrored Starlings action, and produced his own, identical units of currency. Laying them flat, on the surface of a Carbolite table, beside those that Starling had handed to him; he beckoned everyone closer, in order to explain the contrasts and comparisons.
“You see how the serial numbers are consecutive, on the dollar bills? The number’s fine, but it doesn’t confirm it’s not a copy. The proof is on the reverse. Did you notice the holographic dragon image? He paused, briefly to check the affirmative response from his ‘student’s’ who were in fact, becoming increasingly confused by all the technical terminology. “Well, if you take a close look at the dragon’s scales…using this magnifying device…” A circular, transparent lens was produced from the breast pocket of his tunic, and placed over his left eye. “You’ll see that the serial number is repeated, but in a different sequence…there they are…three three, one one, seven seven, zero, two, four, six, and eight…all present and correct…good. It’s the genuine article. Now, the coins; similar but different. Yours are dated, 2736 and 2765, but have been in general circulation, whereas mine are in mint condition. See how yours are dull and worn, whereas mine are shiny and perfect? That’s down to human contact…in the case of yours. And did you ever notice the smell they leave on your fingers after prolonged contact? That smell may seem somewhat familiar; clearly metallic, but it is in fact, unique to this particular alloy.”
He held each of Starling’s coins in either hand for a minute or two, before taking a deep lungful from each, and nodding in satisfaction.
Starling smiled at this act, thinking it was the first time he’d sniffed or nodded since they’d entered the house. Perhaps, he thought, he was saving it for this demonstration.
Rose enquired, “How do you know all this?”
“I’m told it’s all common knowledge in the place we call ‘There’, but like it is for you, it was all new and fascinating to me, at one time. It’s all information I’ve ‘acquired’, over a period of quite a few years.” Halibut explained.
“So you think ‘There’ is for real?” Rose persisted.
“As you and I; I’m convinced. What’s more, I have the proof…but not in my possession. Tomorrow, you will all be exposed to some startling revelations; but tomorrow is another day. First, we have to apply the final test.”
Halibut led them to the kitchen area, and placed Starling’s banknote into the microwave device, adjusting the settings to maximum heat for an indefinite period.
“If it lasts even a few seconds, it’s genuine; no question. The Nation doesn’t possess the skill to produce such resilient fabrics. It’s all in the coating…micro particles that can adapt to the most extreme changes, in pressure as well as temperature. I’m going to give it about fifteen minutes, so there can be no doubt.

Nightingale indicated he was ready to make use of one of the sleeping rolls, once the excited chatter and speculation over what the following morning might hold in store for them, had died down to an occasional reference to ‘fishing’, and what it may or may not actually mean. He suggested that Starling might consider doing likewise, while Rose demonstrated her agreement, by getting to her feet, yawning and stretching, in a genuine display of fatigue.
Halibut had retired at nine o’clock, almost an hour earlier, after informing Rose that she would be sleeping in the back bedroom, leaving Starling and Nightingale, to fight over the sleeping rolls.
As Rose walked slowly, the half-dozen paces to her bedroom, Starling got up and followed, in order to ensure that she was comfortable and content, and to wish her a good night.
Rose was already, just inside the room, about to close the door, by the time Starling caught up.
“I just wanted to see if you…” he began.
“I’m fine, honestly, but I was wondering…” She hesitated a moment, before taking a breath, and releasing the question she’d been burning to ask, ever since their first meeting, which seemed so long ago. “Do you find me attractive, Starling?”
Starling was caught off-guard, by the unexpected directness of the hastily delivered question.
“Is that a rhetorical question?” was the only reply he could come up with, uncertain of whether or not to confess his true feelings, before hearing Rose’s version of developments in their relationship.
“Well, you may think yours was, because a rhetorical question is one that doesn’t require an answer, isn’t it?” Rose replied somewhat evasively; perhaps tauntingly.
“You mean you don’t know?” Starling continued his question for question tactic, in a further attempt to hear it first from Rose.
“That’s not the point…I want to…hear it from you.” Rose had beaten Starling at his own game…or had she?
“Alright, but first, tell me what you call a question, to which the answer is known, but only by those to whom the question actually applies.” Had Starling initiated some obscure form of mating ritual?
“That’s a secret.” Was this the answer to Starling’s question, or was it another part of the same obscure ritual?
“So you don’t really know? Oh well, I guess secret’s are ultimately made for sharing, and you know what they say? A secret shared is…Yes, Rose, of course I find you attractive. I have since the first moment our eyes met.”
The first kiss; always so much better, so much more memorable, exciting, and passionate, than the last, or any in between. The first of many more to come; but for the time being, that was all it was. Sleep; if that was now possible, was the main priority.
Nightingale had been wondering, for days, when the first move was going to be made, and by whom. He was happy for them.
Starling had thought he may have been a little jealous, but the truth was, jealousy was not Nightingale’s style. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have…had the opportunity arisen…but it hadn’t…ever. This raised the question, in his semi-aware, half-asleep mind, of whether or not he could actually confirm, for sure, that he actually would, if it did…ever.

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

TOP Persona


I care not for me
I care – care not who you are
I care that you are

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fourth Millennium (14)


9 To Market And Beyond

Halibut, the contact in Sector 747, eyed Starling, Nightingale, and Rose suspiciously. For the first time, their meeting was to take place outdoors, in a crowded, public area; the marketplace. This was Halibut’s stipulation; he wanted to be sure that he could make a quick and effective getaway, by mingling with the throng, in case he’d walked into a trap. Even Hawthorn’s most emphatic assurances that “these three are going to be the one’s to do it”, as well as the inclusion of Robin’s niece, Rose, had not persuaded him to break his over-cautious habit. There seemed no point in tempting fate, he thought, despite the fact that so many less-qualified candidates had been introduced in similar circumstances, albeit without such strong and enthusiastic recommendations from the ‘network’, and had received their verdicts of rejection, without complaint or incident.
Halibut had a tried and trusted method of initially gauging his ‘prospects’, in what was intended as a preliminary meeting, which so far, no-one had graduated.
He would greet his ‘freshmen’, by deliberately mispronouncing, or wrongly stating, their names. Then he would await, and assess, their reactions, before reaching the decision to either turn away and disappear, or continue with the interview. His next step would be simply to ask;
“So, what brings you here?”
This was Halibut’s way of asking for a list of words that included the names of all the contacts they’d already been in touch with, and describing the items, and any other relevant information they had been given as ‘graduation’ gifts, in their previous interviews.
The only hint that Starling, Nightingale and Rose had been given to indicate Halibut’s style of conducting his ‘first interview’ was the warning that they may find his methods a little unconventional.
Nightingale had reminded his two companions, unnecessarily, on their return from the cliffs that blatant understatements had been a recurring feature of the quest so far. Starling had responded with the statement;
“Don’t worry, Nightingale; you’re preaching to the converted,” having learnt well from his mentor, Robin, and indicating that he was fully prepared to expect the unexpected. Rose had smiled her own understanding and response to, as well as appreciation of Nightingale’s comment, implying that her ten years under the protection and guidance of her uncle, Robin, had taught her to treat any and every situation with an analytical attitude.
Halibut appeared exactly as Hawthorn had described him; a slightly built forty year old, with a slightly nervous disposition. He was forever brushing away, imaginary specks of dirt from the arms and shoulders of his tunic; rubbing at his temples and cheekbones; sniffing, and clearing his throat, as he spoke. To Starling, Nightingale and Rose, he stood out like a sore thumb, in the crowded marketplace, causing them to wonder how he’d managed to maintain his confidentiality for so long. He’d been active in his role of intermediate for the best part of ten years.
Starling had approached, nonchalantly and confidently, a few paces ahead of his companions, extending his right arm as instructed, and saying;
“Ah, Halibut! No wonder I couldn’t find you.”
All instructions having been followed, he waited for the unrehearsed response.
“Well, well; if it isn’t Duckling, I don’t think I care to know who it is.”
Initially uncertain of just how to react, Starling maintained his composure, smiling as he turned to face his friends, and said;
Starling would have similar reservations. Why don’t you say ‘hello’ to my companions?”
Halibut complied, greeting them with;
“Good afternoon; you must be Sloe, and this must be Nightshade.”
Rose and Nightingale smiled at his inept corruptions, before Rose, seeing that Halibut was awaiting some sort of response, quickly latched on to the theme and provided the comment;
“Forgive my blushes; I always turn red as a Rose whenever I’m introduced to somebody, for the first time.”
A nod from Halibut seemed to indicate approval, but Starling suspected it may be just one of his characteristic twitches.
Nightingale joined the game of coded identity confirmation;
“I’m not as deadly as I appear, I can assure you, and I possess the voice of a Nightingale, even if I do say so myself.”
It all seemed to satisfy Halibut’s implied requirement to be corrected subtly, without reprimand, and not just ignore his deliberate mistakes. He gestured to them, with a sniff and a cough, and another ‘twitch’, to come closer.
“So, what brings you here...?” A booming voice that didn’t belong to his child-like frame issued from his lips. “…’Star’ling?” he added in a much quieter tone, almost disguised by the cough that was issued simultaneously.
“Well, Halibut, as you know, it’s quite a journey from Sector 246. We started off by ‘road’, before we somehow lost ‘track’, and everything was ‘up in the air’ for a while, but getting here was always our ‘number one’ aim. I swear to you, it takes the courage of a ‘lion’ to ask for directions in the transport offices. They’ll tell you anything; a ‘hundred’ different things, ‘five hundred’ if you let them. I don’t know, it all adds up to a lot of wasted time. I counted up to ‘two thousand seven hundred and thirty six’, waiting for my travel ‘disc’. I thought the ‘man’ looked more like a woman, but the ‘real woman’ gave me ‘two thousand seven hundred and sixty five’ reasons he’d taken so long. Then the ‘man’ at the next place looked even more like a woman; but we made it, eventually, after a journey of ‘two thousand nine hundred and fifty five’ kilometres.”
“Perfect…” cough, sniff, “you made it…” sniff, cough, “We must celebrate, but not now, I’m in a bit of a rush. Meet me later, at five; my house. You know where to find it, don’t you?”
Starling had no idea of Halibut’s ID number, which would have simplified the process, but answered, confidently;
Yes Halibut; it’s just…over…there” He pointed in the general direction of nowhere in particular.
“There…if only” Halibut whispered as he turned to walk away, nodding, or twitching as he did so.
“What do you think?” Nightingale asked, uncertainly.
“I think he would have walked away much sooner, and much more discreetly, if I’d got anything wrong,” replied Starling.
“I agree; I think you handled the job brilliantly. I loved your crafty explanation. I think he did too. No-one would have just stood there and listened to all that nonsense, if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Just one thing though, Starling; how ‘do’ we find him again later? We don’t even have his ID number.”
“I know, and we wouldn’t have got it from ‘him’, either. We’re all ‘old friends’, remember? It’s not the sort of thing I should need to ask, but don’t worry, I’ve got a plan.”
“Good for you, Starling.” Nightingale was relieved. “Coming from anybody else…present company excepted, I’d consider that an excuse for not knowing how; an attempt to buy time. You haven’t let us down yet.”
“Quite the contrary,” agreed Rose, “I know who ‘I’d’ choose to trust…every time.” She gave Starling’s hand a gentle, but deliberate squeeze, sending a surge of excitement along his arm, across his chest, and straight to his heart.
Rose realised they had only three hours to find Halibut’s house, and quickly moved away, thinking to herself that she’d not ‘broken’ her rule of restraint, merely bent it, in order to send a message; a hint of her growing attraction towards Starling. She justified her action by convincing herself that no harm had been done, and they were still on course to complete the next stage of their quest.

“Halibut?” asked the receptionist at ‘official’ headquarters. “What number?”
“I’m acting on a possible mistaken identity, so you’ll have to give me Skate as well. The number is definitely 74760. That’s the only confirmed ID reference I was given.” Starling explained.
The greying receptionist, in her early fifties, quickly checked her charts, and delivered a piece of surprisingly good news.
Skate 74760, is from east-northern, three; he must be your man, because the last Halibut ID is 74747, west-western, one; not that that’s any help to you now.”
“Thank you very much, you’re a model citizen. You have no idea how much this speeds up a totally routine and irritating, minor investigation.”

“That wasn’t a plan; it was a pure fluke,” gasped Nightingale, once they’d left the building.
“Just as well we didn’t have to use ‘plan two’ then, isn’t it?” Starling laughed, reflecting that too much emphasis on the mechanics of an operation, could affect the outcome, just as adversely as too little; not forgetting to utter a silent word of thanks, to whomever, or whatever was responsible for his latest triumph.
“We’ve got just enough time to get there as well,” added Rose.
“I only hope we’ve not missed something. He wasn’t exactly liberal with his information, Halibut, was he?” Starling questioned.
“No, that’s for sure,” agreed Nightingale, “but he’s looking for something a bit special, and if we have got anything wrong, or missed any subtle details...well, it’s not us that’s special, is it?”
“If we weren’t special, we wouldn’t have made it this far, would we Nightingale? Keep the faith, and we’ll see this quest through, to conclusion…I can guarantee that.” Starling’s motivational comment was just the tonic.

To be continued

Copyright © Stanislaw Skibinski

Saturday, December 6, 2008


For sunday scribblings 140 - Traditon


Morning routine; tyre check, front and back
Hand on saddle, testing brakes and bell
Ray mounts bike and cycles off to work
Nodding to the milkman, paperboy

Donkey jacket, football scarf and cap
Padded gloves, to combat winter cold
Town Hall clock-tower bells announce the time
‘A quarter past the hour’ sings their chime

Watchman rolls another cigarette
Strikes a match, sucks smoke to lungs, exhales
Stands, salutes, in greeting to his friend
Ray dismounts, returns salute, and smiles

‘As you were; stand easy’ orders Ray
Servicemen’s traditions never die
Active role in Cyprus, both – respect
To friendship formed in Turkish-Greek divide

Clock-on seven-twenty, on the dot
Never varies; card could testify
Ever-present; never missed a day
In twenty four long years of tradesman’s toil

In six short months, that Gold Watch will be his
Counting days and blessings till that time
First things first, though; breakfast – time to eat
A less than tasty, vending-machine treat

Microwave to heat it; cup of tea
Most important meal of every day
Smoke a cigarette, read tabloid news
Eight o’clock and time to start the shift

Yellow clipboard; ‘Things To Do Today’
(Or tasks to delegate to someone else)
Appearing busy; time-perfected art
Semi-skilled, but fully versed in ‘Skive’

Keep that clipboard close, with pen in hand
Pre-empt problems, prepare proactive plan
Impress the supervisor; management
Build a reputation based on bluff

Talk technical to draughtsmen, engineers
Ask questions; make suggestions; take your time
Don’t try to remember; write it down
Justifies a tea-break; cigarette

Call time-out; a meeting to discuss
Productivity improvement scheme
Type-out minutes; copy; distribute
Cigarette in mouth tea-cup in hand

Afternoon; stock-levels running low
Visit stores with requisition note
Shipping order; one more cigarette
Another cup of tea, to pass the time

Four o’clock; day’s done, and not much else
Ray knows that, but bosses unaware
Trusty yellow clipboard; testament
Flatters to deceive; boosts weekly wage

Shirking-class tradition reaps reward
‘Ray Mc Cann – Employee of the Month’
Overcome with gratitude, he speaks
‘Job’s a good’n…that’ll do for me’


For Writers Island 9 - If Only
Matinee Muse - Self Actualization


A quarter century ago
I was coming out of my teens
That period between leaving school
And entering adulthood

A time when all is possible
Nothing can’t be done…it seems

I was with a group of friends
On one of our, now legendary
Camping expeditions to France
Pas-de-Calais; Berck-sur-mer

A long stretch of beach forms the coastline
‘La Manche; - English Channel, laps its shores
It still bore the scars and relics
Of a planet torn by war

Decaying, concrete bunkers
And rusty coils of barbed wire
Littered the sands, to remind us
Of World War Two, our fathers fought

A friend and I, decide to walk
To Le Touquet, just for fun
Or perhaps personal achievement
It seemed like a good idea

We’d bought a map, on arrival
Sat down, planned our strategy
Gone over it, in fine detail
Before announcing our intention

“Six kilometres, en francais
That’s about four miles in English
Ninety minutes, at the most
E.T.A. – just before midday
We’ll stretch out on the beach awhile
Take lunch in a café on the sands
Drink a toast to doubting friends
Watch the world go by, and smile”

“Send us a postcard,” joked our pals

They weren’t too far off the mark

Six hours later, we arrived
At pure white sands of Le Touquet
We’d had to trudge through sand so soft
It reached our knees, sometimes our thighs
Nothing on the map to warn us
By this time, we were exhausted

Under different circumstances
This location would have conjured up
Images of Art Deco toffs
Flown in from England in their bi-planes
With fully loaded picnic hampers
And overloaded butlers
But all that we could think about
Was where to find food and drink
Then board the next bus back to Berck

And that’s exactly what we did

No great adventure to relate
To fellow campers at the site
Of course they later found out all
The details of our mis-adventure
Much to their collective amusement

They still laugh about it today

In hindsight though, I’d say, honestly
It was one of the dumbest, and yet
One of the most memorable
Episodes of that holiday
It taught me two valuable lessons
I carry with me to this day

The first; whatever you attempt
And however well you prepare
The unexpected always lurks
To wreak havoc on your endeavours

Second; if you ever plan
Something off the beaten track
Take a friend along for the ride
(Embarrassment shared, therefore halved
And others’ struggles dilute your own)
A back-up, to confirm accounts
Details enhanced over years
Omissions brought about through shame
Or purely to colour the greys
Lost, or confused in the mists of time

Thursday, December 4, 2008



“So you want to try PLAR LAR?
Come out with me, in my boat;
we’ll have some fun, catching fish,
now the rain has stopped falling.
Here’s a bottle of LAO KHAO…
it’ll put hairs on your chest;
take your mind off the journey.”

“You know I don’t like LAO KHAO…
go on then…just a small one…
By the way…where are the rods?”

Floodwater concealed the banks;
turned river into ocean.
As the current slowed, I dared
to loosen my vice-like grip…
could have been thanks to LAO KHAO.

When we came across a weir,
we secured the boat; got out.
On the downstream side, were nets,
attached to lengths of bamboo.
Some contained fish; some empty.

Bemused by the sight, at first,
I watched more; began nodding.

Every few minutes, a fish,
attempting to jump the weir,
would land in the makeshift nets,
thrashing about, to escape,
before giving up the fight.

We watched from a safe distance,
shaded by Tamarind trees;
picking the unripened fruit,
dabbing them in a mixture
of sugar and chilli flakes.

Face-contorting, bitter-sweet.
Enough to turn you to drink.

“Pass me the LAO KHAO, quickly;
gotta wash this taste away.”

That was a stupid mistake.
Felt like my mouth was on fire.

“You should chase it with water.”

“You should have said earlier.”

To cut a long story short,
we headed back with our catch,
feeling rather giddy, from
rocking boat, LAO KHAO, combined.

His wife spent the afternoon
gutting , beheading the fish,
removing tails, fins and scales,
and adding handfuls of salt.

The fish were placed in stone pots,
capped with mosquito netting

Two weeks later; inspection.
Sickly, sweaty, fishy smell.
Scrape off, discard top layer,
scooping out any maggots
infesting the rotting flesh,
add more salt to witches brew,
leave to fester for a year,
before the ‘sauce’ is declared fit
for human consumption.

Pass me that LAO KHAO bottle!

PLAR LAR – Isan-style fish sauce.
An essential cooking ingredient/condiment.
Considered a delicacy.

LAO KHAO – Very potent, Rice Liquor