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Sunday, 4 October 2015

Make a Date – 4, 17 and 23 October

Some time ago I published a regular monthly column linking a set selection of dates in history. The series was popular. I'm busy coordinating the articles into book form. As today is 4 October, here are a number of linked events for that date plus two other October dates. To avoid repetition, I've simply indicated the relevant date in brackets. The three dates for this article are:

4, 17 and 23 October

This series about linking dates and happenings in history inevitably shows religion cropping up from time to time. October is no exception.

One of the greatest and certainly the first complete English language Bible was printed (4) in 1535, with translations by Tyndale and Coverdale. Many everyday phrases come from this version, as do several allusions made by Shakespeare.

On the same day (4) forty-seven years later Pope Gregory XIII implemented the Gregorian Calendar. This meant that this day was followed by 15 October in Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

And on this day (4) too the Roman Catholic Church celebrates two feast days, for Saint Francis of Assisi (died 1226, the same day as the Spanish Saint Teresa of Avila, in 1582) and the Egyptian hermit, Saint Amun.

Avilla, home of St Teresa

A modern-day female saint was Mother Teresa, who was awarded (17) the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She died in September, 1997.

Nobel Prize-winner Albert Einstein fled Nazi Germany on the same day (17) in 1933, taking up residence in the United States, while on the same day in 1947 the 1918 Nobel laureate and German physicist Max Planck died. Planck was the formulator of the quantum theory which revolutionised physics.

Vitaly Ginzburg is a Russian physicist and also a 2003 Nobel laureate, who worked on the Soviet hydrogen bombs but now works on superconductivity: he was born (4) two years before Planck was awarded his prize. Ginzburg died in November 2009.

Prizes of a different kind are those gained in sport. In 1860 the first British Golf Open tournament was held (17) and on the same day in 1969 Ernie Els, the accomplished South African golfer was born.

In 1895 the first US Open Men’s Golf Championships were held (4) on a nine-hole course in Newport, Rhode Island. And golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez was born (23) forty years later.

Another major sport is cricket. Razor Smith was born (4) in 1877 and proved to be a good bowler. He was discovered by W.G. Grace and recommended for the Surrey team in the late 1890s. When the pitch was right, Smith was formidable. In 1909 he took 95 wickets for under thirteen runs in that summer season and the following year took 247 wickets. Smith’s nickname derived from his extreme thinness and he tended to suffer from serious injuries so that after the war he retired to a bat-making firm where he stayed till he died in 1946.

W G Grace, 1883 - Wikipedia commons

October could be construed as a cricketing month. W.G. Grace is synonymous with modern cricket. A six-foot-two giant of a man, he excelled in every aspect of the game, achieving 124 scores in excess of a century, the most notable being 278. Grace died (23) in 1915 on the same day as cricketer Steve Harrison was born in 1978. Twenty years earlier (17), cricketer Charlie Townsend died and a year after that was born (4) snooker champion Tony Meo who plays a game with a lot of balls.

But the most popular ball-game is probably soccer and the greatest exponent of the “beautiful game” celebrates his birthday this month. Brazilian Pele was born (23) in 1940.

These days if you’re a keen follower of sport, it’s likely you’ll have to travel far and wide to support your favourites. And you’d probably take along a travel guide too; Karl Baedeker was a German author and publisher whose Baedeker Guides are still used worldwide today: he died (4) in 1859.

If you’re travelling to follow sport it is doubtful that you would use the Orient Express, however, which first ran (4) in 1883. You can’t beat a nice leisurely train ride, pampered and well fed and watered, I suppose.
Though Scots speed-merchant Richard Noble might beg to differ. Self-taught, he built his first Thrust car in his garage in the 1970s. And in 1983 in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada he took the land speed record (4) in his Thrust 2 vehicle, attaining a speed of 633.46mph. [Since then ThrustSSC driven by Andy Green has attained 763.03mph, the first supersonic land speed record (October 15, 1997).]
Another man who liked to travel fast - and spectacularly - was Evel Knievel, the American daredevil motor-cyclist. He was born (17) in 1938 and died November 2007.

A lot of thrust is required to break away from Earth’s gravitational pull and that’s what was achieved by the first artificial satellite to orbit our planet, Sputnik I, which was launched (4) way back in 1957.
Sputnik-1 - Wikipedia commons
This flight achievement was a far cry from the first use of aircraft in war when an Italian pilot took off from Libya (23) to survey the Turkish lines during the Turco-Italian war in 1911. It was another six years before the first British bombing of Germany occurred in the First World War (17). As a result of this “war to end all wars” the world map was redrawn.

Exploration and conflict have always changed the known map of the world. In 1830 the state of Belgium was created after its separation (4) from the Netherlands. (As an aside, we know there aren’t many famous Belgians, but apart from the creator of Tintin, Hergé (Georges Rémi) there’s another one-name cartoonist of note, Peyo who introduced (23) The Smurfs in 1958.)
And the beginning of the United States of America was probably not 1776 since the American Revolutionary war was still being waged against our British troops; that is until General Cornwallis surrendered (17) to the American revolutionaries at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. [Indeed, Yorktown was not the final conflict in the Revolutionary War…]
A bit closer to home for us here in Spain is the date 1469 when Ferdinand II of Aragon married (17) Isabella of Castile which actually led to the unification of their two kingdoms into a single country, Spain. During their reign the papal bull of 1478 authorised the state-controlled Castilian tribunal, later known as the Spanish Inquisition, which had originally been intended to enforce the uniformity of religious practice. Yet at the hands of inquisitors like Torquemada, it was politicised and claimed thousands of lives on flimsy evidence, often for no other reason than spite.
Ferdinand and Isabella were also responsible for reviving after two hundred years the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors, finally evicting them in 1492, which also happens to be the year that Christopher Columbus made his momentous voyage, which was authorised by these two monarchs. [Columbus Day is 12 October.]
A year later, Pope Alexander VI formally approved the division of the unexplored world between Spain and Portugal. The Treaty of Tordesillas, which Spain and Portugal signed, moved the line of division westward and allowed Portugal to claim Brazil, which also explains the division of the two Iberian languages in South America.

Portugal became (4) a republic in 1910 when King Manuel II fled to the UK. Another republic created on this day (4) was Mexico, in 1824. Spain and Britain were at war during the period 1739-1741 due to commercial rivalry.
Earlier, in 1731, the master of the ship Rebecca, Robert Jenkins had his ear cut off by Spanish coast guards who resented English smuggling. Some years later Jenkins’ story in the House of Commons, reinforced by the carefully preserved ear, forced the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, to declare war on Spain (23). [The War of Jenkins’ Ear (Guerra del Asiento in Spanish] lasted from 1739-1748.]
Commercial rivalry was still alive and well in the next century when in 1813 the Pacific Fur Company trading post in Astoria, Oregon was turned over (23) to the rival British North West Company.
And then there was that first inkling of what was to come regarding oil trading and price hikes in 1973 when OPEC started (17) an oil embargo against many western countries who had purportedly helped Israel fight against Syria.
Oil of a different kind - paint. The famous Dutch painter Rembrandt died (4) in 1669 and was a master of light and shade, exemplified in his ‘The Anatomy Lecture’ and ‘The Night Watch’. A painter who was born on this day (4) in 1861 was Frederic Remington. He captured a time and place, his colourful pictures of the Old West often action-filled and vital.
Rembrandt  Wikipedia commons

Western writer Zane Grey’s stories are well-researched and moral books. He was trained as a dentist and practised his profession while writing stories. Eventually he was so successful that he took up writing full time. He died (23) in 1939, having had sixty novels published and about that same number have been printed posthumously.

Several of film-star Charlton Heston’s earliest movies were westerns. Heston was born (4) in 1924. Of course he went on to become Mr Epic with movies like Ben Hur and El Cid. One of his many forays into science fiction was The Omega Man, based on the novel I am Legend by Richard Matheson. Unlike the movie, this gripping book is about vampires.
And vampires made author Anne Rice famous too with her  novel Interview with the Vampire. She was born in 1941 on the same day (4) five years earlier than Susan Sarandon who played a vampire in Hunger.
A vamp of a different sort was Rita Hayworth, born (17) in 1918. “Vamp” means a flirt or seductress and she played this type of character often.
An actress who virtually seduced Christopher Reeve off the screen was Margot Kidder, playing Lois Lane in the Superman films. She was born in 1948 on the same day (17) as the co-creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel who was born thirty-four years earlier.
Must fly, as that’s all for today.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Saturday Fiction – ‘a strong element of authenticity…’

It’s really satisfying when a book reviewer ‘gets it’. We all want readers to enjoy our books; obviously, we cannot appeal to all tastes, but occasionally the story connects with a reader.

Just such a reader is Nigel Robert Wilson, reviewing Wings of the Overlord in the British Fantasy Society website in June this year. The full review is here

I’d like to quote a snippet from the review:

… Such twists and turns in the presentation of the plot expand the telling of the tale and there are many duly woven into the pattern to enrich and excite the reader. The journey through the Sonalume Mountains has a strong element of authenticity to it, concentrating on the treacherous ice and snow coupled to an intense bitter cold. This seems to derive from an actual experience that must have been quite wretched at the time.

The final denouement by which our now familiar heroes, at great personal risk and cost overthrow the hideous king, Yip nef-Dom … is recounted intensely and is quite a page-turner. The body count is high and contains images of great cruelty.

This is quite clearly the first volume of what is intended to be an entire sequence of stories about the world of Floreskand, a very cultivated creation. Enough links have been established within this tale onto which further adventures, deeds and characters can be connected at later times. It is a well-worked story involving swords and sorcery which will have a very direct appeal to those who admire heroism, but who also like to wade through buckets of blood and gore combined with a dash of mystical sentiment added to provide a degree of sweetness to finish off the feast.

Thank you, Mr Wilson!

And, yes, I was able to call upon some experience when writing about the ice-bound Sonalume Mountains. Here’s an excerpt:

First Dloin of Darous. And it dawned with the sky filled by mares’ tails, drawn out and wispy.
“Winds to mandunron,” said Ulran and rolled up his blanket.
       Breakfast consisted of an apple and a square of honey-loaf each.
       They must have spent a warm night, Fhord realised, as her hair was barely damp, the hoar-frost having thawed. Alomar’s drooping moustache looked bedraggled: the warrior and innman still shaved themselves each morn with their honed poniards.
       But the intense cold and knifelike winds soon froze every breath from their mouths upon their furs and facial hair.
       They descended the snow-scree, plunging legs knee-deep at times, jarring those selfsame knees repeatedly till they constantly gave way when weight was applied.
       At last they came to the hog’s-back, winding towards Glacier Peak, the spine of the formation about a half-mark in width.
       Ulran led with Fhord, Rakcra and Alomar following in that order.
       Winds pummelled and battered them as they walked. Heads down, they constantly watched their feet and, blinking against the flurries of upswept snow, braced as frequent but unexpected gusts lambasted them.
       And yet on they trod, never halting in case they baulked and lost balance and were pitched over the side: there was a steep slope on each side of the narrow crest, falling off to dizzying grey depths.
       Snow-glare inflamed Fhord’s eyes, and her lips were becoming dry and cracked with the insidious cold. She knew she must close her eyes before she was blinded and jeopardised their mission.
       She only hoped her faculties were not reluctant in answering. Eyes shut, she concentrated on listening beyond her own footsteps and the haunting wind-whistle, reaching out for the crisp crunch of Ulran’s foot-falls. And as she did so she threw out mental feelers, and was rewarded before fear forced her to open her eyes: vaguely, she detected the bulk of the innman, just ahead.
       Rakcra too was in a bad way and stumbled on two separate occasions. Before panic hurled him off the hog’s-back, Alomar was there, steadying, his big hands lifting the Devastator up, urging him on.
       But the incident had instilled Alomar with the feathering of alarm. “Ulran!” he called. “Ulran!” And as the innman stopped and turned, with Fhord following suit, Alomar added, “Can we rope together? It may prove safer!”
       Ulran agreed whilst inwardly wondering why he had let such an elementary precaution slip his mind.
       To make matters worse, the snow was not firm, so every footstep could precipitate a fall. Ulran slipped once, near the end of the spine, but neatly corrected his balance and went on. Nobody else felt as much as a tug on the line.
       They reached a crescent shape of stagnant ice, earthy material and boulders: the dead ice at the snout of the glacier. The terminal moraine gaped where a small runnel showed. A stream of melt-water gushed down into the depths to Ulran’s left.
       “Keep to the right,” urged the innman as they joined him.
       The sun had reached zenith.
       Snakelike, the glacier wound down towards them, its source firn hidden from view high up near the peak. Up each side showed irregular bands of discoloration of the lateral moraines, formed by rock debris on the glacier’s surface. Down the centre, the medial moraine, over which melt-water streamed and glistened. The left-hand side was impassable, scattered with jagged ice-pinnacles and loosely packed snow that crumbled at the touch of a breeze. Across the immense breadth of the glacier too were great gaping cracks – crevasses.
       Ulran hoped they could cross the glacier further up, near the source, and thus skirt the peak. He mentally shook himself: his head felt bloated, eyes puffy. They had been standing here at the snout of the glacier too long: time to move!
       The right-hand side of the glacier was negotiable but proved difficult.
       Twice they came upon gullies about three marks deep, which they descended then climbed the opposite side, using swords to cut foot-holds.
       Wind howled intermittently; the sound whistled about their ears. Eyebrows and other facial hair were matted white by now, numbing lips and foreheads.
       Heads bowed, they trudged higher till Ulran halted on the lip of an ice and rock overhang, under which the glacier had cut its ancient path. From here he swung his sword, pointing higher along the glacier’s length, where it widened further up.
       “Ice-fall,” the innman said, sneezing. “Beyond that, I believe the glacier spreads out a bit.”
       Fhord thought the innman’s voice sounded nasal, half-choked. Ulran seemed to blink more than usual too. A hot clammy fear clutched the base of her spine and sweat collected there, damp and uncomfortable.
       At the foot of the ice-fall was a labyrinth of deep clefts and ice-pinnacles, with crevasses intersecting. Above this, the glacier steepened, like an ice-wall. A few pinnacles jutted out from this wall, casting long shadows.
       Without any warning, one of these pinnacles broke away from the shoulder of the glacier and plunged down the ice-fall. Fhord was speechless. At least the size of a Lornwater mansion, the pinnacle crashed down, tearing with it huge ice-columns from the fall itself. The thunderous sound was awesome.
       Stopped in their tracks as the plumes of snow and ice-particles billowed above the ice-fall’s base, they exchanged glances.
       “I don’t like it,” murmured Alomar. “That could have set up a chain-reac–”
       At that instant a shattering, tumultuous roar reached them, unmistakably coming from above, to their right.
       Fhord saw billows of powdery snow in the air above the next slope.
       “Avalanche!” yelled Ulran, walking towards it.
       Fhord stumbled after him. “No – don’t –!”
       “We must swim through it, come on!” Ulran called over his shoulder.
       Then huge powdery airborne blasts roared down into the innman, cutting him off from sight.
       Snow rode over Ulran’s head. He tried swimming against the deluge, using breast-stroke, dog-paddle, anything to stay on top. Pounding filled his ears. He couldn’t breathe. His eyes ached with constant buffeting and he couldn’t see.
       Alomar, who had been ten paces behind Ulran when the avalanche hit, was as swiftly engulfed, his world abruptly dark and cold. He reached out blindly and hit a rock, grazing his hands to no avail. He tumbled backwards, head over heels and felt the line snap. And behind him, Fhord was swamped also. The time under the black cold weight stretched to a lifetime as she tumbled upon her nightmarish descent.
       Rakcra had been beside Fhord when the sight of the avalanche stunned him into immobility; he was hurled pell-mell down the track they had painstakingly made. The snow not only obliterated their tracks, but also him.
       A sudden, eerie silence settled as the last remnants of the avalanche tumbled down over the hog’s-back, down to the mauve depths.
       Ulran was buried up to his waist. As he craned his neck round to look down the mountainside, he proceeded to use his hands to dig his way free.
       Fifty marks below, Alomar was shaking snow off himself and his shield. Miraculously, his helmet was just visible a couple of paces away: the crestless dome glinted in the after-morning sunlight.
       The rest of the mountain was devoid of life.


Wings of the Overlord – hardback

Knox Robinson publishing here

Amazon COM here

Amazon UK here

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Writing - H.E. Bates short story competition

You have two months to enter this short story competition!

Open to all writers.

Length – 2,000 words.

Deadline – 30 November, 2015

Any subject.

First - £500
Second - £100
Third - £50

Entry fee: £6 (£10 for two entries; any more than two, £5 each)

Entries should not have been previously published.

Judged by members of the Northampton Writers Group.

For details how to enter (by post or email) see the website:

Good luck!

Writing - Flash 500 Novel Opening Chapter and Synopsis Competition

This is the third year of this Novel Opening Chapter & Synopsis Competition.

Have you started, or completed, a novel with strong, credible characters and a page turning plot?

Have you honed the first chapter?

Can you put together a compelling one page synopsis of the balance of the story?

If so, then enter the Novel Opening Chapter competition and have your work judged by the senior editors at Crooked Cat Publishing!

They welcome published, self-published and unpublished novelists.

The only stipulation is that the entry must be unpublished.

They’re looking for an opening chapter up to 3,000 words, plus a one page synopsis outlining the balance of the story.

If your opening chapter is longer than 3,000 words, don’t submit a longer manuscript. Simply close the entry within the 3,000 word limit and make a note at the end (which will not be included in the word count) stating the chapter continues beyond this point. Or of course you can find a suitable dramatic point to close the sample, even if it is less than 3,000 words!

This is an annual competition: Deadline is 31st October.

Entry fee: £10

Optional Critique of Chapter and Synopsis: £25


First: £500

Runner up: £200

Full details in the website:


Good luck!



Saturday, 26 September 2015

'With Malice Aforethought' - 2 of 2

Wikipedia commons


(part 2 of 2)


Nik Morton

Morgan came to, opened his eyes, and realised he could see stars, stars in the firmament... The deja vu feeling overwhelmed him. He jerked his head in its awkward helmet.

Thank God, she was all right! Floating beside him, Naomi offered a brave smile. They were both lucky to be alive; their suits had escaped intact. He glanced over his shoulder as the rescue shuttle encroached. The space station's outer lab spoke was askew.

Once inboard, the station patrolman stepped forward as they clambered out of their suits.

‘You're both under arrest.’

Naomi paled. She didn't understand, looked at Morgan in bewilderment. Even Morgan was a little confused. One advantage with the Temporal Module was that you didn't lose your own sense of time; the brain impressions were indelible. The old concept of time-travel would not have worked: once you travelled into the past, your future and the brain-patterns of that future would cease to exist; you would exist in the now... So, thanks to the mnemonic head-phones in the Booth, he was fully cognisant of his criminal act; he was aware that he had illegally time-travelled. What Morgan could not understand, however, was how the authorities knew that he had done it.

For, in this present, there could be no record of Naomi's death, of his use of the Module. He had no intention of going back in the Booth. He’d planned to live in this particular continuum. His other-self - whom he had so recently seen - would now be suffering the trauma of losing a wife.

So, how did they know?

‘...charged with crimes against the Universal Code.’ An awed look came over the assembled shuttle crew.

Morgan shrugged his broad shoulders, intent on bluffing his way out.

‘I don't know what this is all about, patrolman. That's a very serious charge - I only hope you know what you're doing.’


The Twenty Eight Intergalactic Jurists from every accessible galaxy studied him with variegated intentness.

Morgan had initially been daunted by the sheer presence the Jurists exerted on him.            The Universal Code was a just one, he knew; they would desist from any form of extra-terrestrial interrogation such as telepathy or the tapping of prescient imagery. He would be tried as if in a court of law on his native planet, Earth.

Floating voice-boxes filled the auditorium; each one a microphone link and translator for the hundreds of worlds listening and watching. The entire auditorium itself was an image-purveyor, a circular camera. Apart from the Jurists arrayed in a heart-shape on shimmering cerise-coloured plinths, the place was seething with representatives from the planets: ambassadors, Justice Societies, Earth-reporters and the Somnolent Sentries colloquially known as The Recorders who constantly scanned the Time-vortex.

Morgan found the courage to smile reassuringly at the woebegone Naomi, though inwardly knowing he was doomed.

There appeared to be something wrong with the concept of time as he was given to understand it. Even though he’d triggered the camera's spy-eye on entering the Booth - as he had only now learned from the Prosecution - he still could not comprehend how the film existed in this particular continuum. Perhaps there was another, negative law for films. Did that explain the apparitions and ‘shadows’ on some photographs? Instead of being ghosts, were they in fact images from the future? He didn’t know. The only irrefutable fact was that they had him dead to rights, on videotape, breaking the Universal Code.

His sentence would be very harsh indeed. He had put everyone's future at risk.

            The Prosecution was coming to his summing-up: ‘The Earthman in the Dock has already signed an affidavit confessing to his most heinous crime.

‘The decision required of this Court is not regarding his culpability; that has been defined in accord with our Code. No, your verdict is on his sentence.’

The mountainous tetrahedron-shaped Prosecutor faced the Jurists. ‘Here is a man who warped back in time to look upon his wife, knowing of her incipient death, and with malice aforethought spared her life! I believe that for this kind of selfish action there is only one solution to adopt. The risk of our present or future being altered - hitherto unbeknown to our Esteemed Recorders - is too great.

‘Therefore, I must call for a verdict not of mercy or retribution, but essentially of practical expedience.

‘I implore you, Revered Wise Ones, revert the Accused into the past, to kill his wife and thus set the finely balanced temporal scales right again.’

Stunned, Morgan's chin dropped, mouth wide in abject horror. The alarmed eyes of Naomi sought his own, momentarily pleading; then they softened, as if saying she understood that he was helpless, that she would go back to be murdered by him, that at least he had tried...

His eyes smarted as a banana-shaped warder laid an invisible feeler on his shoulder, about to escort him into the subterranean cells whilst the verdict was considered.

He had no doubt that the Prosecutor's suggestion would be adopted; Defence had rested on the Court's mercy. There didn't seem to be any alternative. Schemes for outwitting the sentence flitted through his giddy brain but were as instantly dismissed. The Jurists would make sure he carried out the murder, of that he could be certain. He tried convincing himself: it wouldn't be killing Naomi, she was already dead. He remained unconvinced.

If he hadn't gone back, if he hadn't fought with Gregory, there might never have been an explosion, he berated himself, reluctantly stepping down.

He halted, thunderstruck.

‘Wait, please!’ he called, mind reeling. He had to get it right. The whole idea was mind-boggling, but it was a chance. He must get it right.

‘Oh, Wise Ones, please hear me!’

The warder tried restraining him, struck him dumb with lancing thoughts.

‘Desist, warder!’ a Jurist commanded.

‘It is his prerogative - let him be heard!’ roared twenty-eight ‘voices’ in unison, all simultaneously translated, clamorous.

‘If you consult the videotape recovered from the damaged lab, you'll learn that the explosion was caused by me and Assistant Gregory fighting. He was molesting my wife Naomi. I stopped him...’

The Jurists switched their attention to the Orb suspended high from the cavernous roof of the auditorium. Within the globe the video-film reeled off in split-seconds. The ephemeral scene sent a grim chill through Morgan, detachedly seeing himself struggling with Gregory.

‘Now that I've established that, Wise Ones, let me state my case.’

‘Go ahead.’

‘If I hadn't gone back in time, there would not have been an explosion.’ He eyed them all. As one, the Jurists concurred. ‘But if there hadn't been an explosion - thereby killing Naomi - I wouldn't have gone back.’

Frowns circumnavigated the miscellaneous features of the Jurists.

He had stated two truths, each contradictory to the other. ‘We come to the vicious circle, the Time Paradox,’ he said.

The Jurists agreed simultaneously.

‘My case is - you cannot condemn my wife to death, for she shouldn't have died in the explosion I caused because I shouldn't have gone back in time as there wasn't an explosion until I caused one!’

Viewers around the universe were stupefied; people and creatures rose, ‘gaped’. It was difficult to follow and yet it made complete sense. They could not quite grasp it, yet understood.

Completely in accord, the Jurists announced: ‘You have proven Sufficient Doubt, Morgan Bland. We must therefore acquit you...’


‘Morgan, I still don't see how you were acquitted.’

‘We became part of a paradox,’ he smiled. ‘The point is - have I changed things? By my selfish love for you, have I altered the future? And what of my other self, in that other time-continuum where you died?’

Naomi shuddered. ‘Don't talk like that, Morgan, please.’

‘We'll just have to wait and see. But if and when the change occurs, will we know?’


They had a child. He became the most murderous space pirate in the history of the known galaxy.


Previously published in Dream, 1986.
Copyright Nik Morton 2015

 Note: This story evolved from a 250-word competition for The Writer.

If you enjoyed this short story, you’re invited to read others to be found on this blog; search for ‘Saturday Story’.

My anthology of crime stories Spanish Eye featuring Leon Cazador, half-English half-Spanish private eye, written ‘in his own words’ can be found in paperback and e-book.

Saturday Story - 'With Malice Aforethought' - 1 of 2

Wikipedia commons

(part 1 of 2)

Nik Morton

The Temporal Module suspended in space on the rim of the Andromeda Spiral two million light years away from Earth required continuous maintenance and Morgan Bland was one of the ninety-nine mechanics detailed for this purpose.

He was proud of his Personnel papers and of the fact that he had been selected for the job. It was one of the most sought-after posts in the Space Federation. Naturally, a lot of applicants thought it would involve free trips in the Module...

They couldn't have been more mistaken.

There was a Universal Code for such an eventuality as a time machine. The concept that time could be conquered had been accepted for centuries, but overcoming the inherent problems, both physical and moral, had only made time travel possible towards the end of the twentieth century - four hundred years ago.

By interfering with the past, by simply existing in the past, the future was in some way altered, fundamentally changed.

So the Universal Code covered it.

The Temporal Module was used strictly for observation. In its present form it was only capable of transporting a traveller into the past and returning him. Time-travel into the future was forbidden, excepting for the Recorders.

Nobody knew the kind of punishment the Twenty-Eight Intergalactic Jurists would mete out to any transgressor of the Code, for no-one had yet dared to time-travel without express permission and under constant surveillance.

Apart from the technicians concerned with the Module's rudimentary workings - simply a few buttons and levers - and authorised travellers, only the mechanics were allowed anywhere near the machine.

Not a soul beyond the Inner Sanctum of Jurists knew the whereabouts of the blueprints for the Module and the space station in which it operated. Somewhere, rumoured to be on the very edge of the outermost galaxy, the plans were sequestered.

But that was none of his business, Morgan reflected. He had to check the manifold in Section 14G 3Y of the Module. Even with gallium arsenide chip technology it was a gigantic brute of a machine, each riveted panel requiring location code-numbers.

Morgan eyed his watch as he descended the steep ladder into the Module itself. Almost Breaktime; he wondered how Naomi, his wife, was getting on in the experimental lab which abutted onto the Module House.

The Temporal Module was held within a half-mile wide hollow metal case, a mile tall, sealed top and bottom. Adjoining this outer shell were several cylindrical spokes, each an access tunnel. These tunnels led to living quarters, canteens, amusement areas, recreation centres and various separate laboratories, mostly associated with the information gleaned from time-travelling into the past.

One lab was studying the rock formations of the Jurassic age; another the gases of the Earth’s creation; and another was concerned with the beginnings of Uranus. In yet another lab Naomi, as chief chemist, worked on the chemicals that generated the Module itself. These substances were highly dangerous in their raw state, prior to being fused with stabilising agents equally necessary for the Module to function properly.

When the Module operated, only the Booth, nine feet by four, within the Module’s core, actually time-travelled. Meteorites, atomic rays, nothing could affect the Booth; it was impervious to every known element and force. Only through the joint application of many varied forces was it built at all. The Booth was self-propelled and could travel round any chosen planet unseen and undetected by sensors due to a special shielding process.

Observations, mainly using sensors and remote collecting robots, were made from this Booth. Nobody had ventured outside the Booth’s confines; outside was the unknown, the great mystery.

There was no way of discovering how the time-travelling process might affect the body or molecular structure if you actually stepped outside the Booth’s protection. You might cease to exist – or the body’s inbuilt clocks might simply dysfunction.

Damage-control alarm sirens froze Morgan's blood. Other tech­nicians on catwalks around the Module Booth looked up at the bulkhead chart. A red blip of light - indicating an atmosphere leak - flashed in Section K3.

Naomi's lab!

The tannoy, her voice calm, unmistakable: ‘Chemical reaction - isolate - decontamination team close up - Prime One!’

The life-support systems had a leak; the air would be sucked out.

Morgan climbed the ladder and barged his way towards the linking corridor, K. Stopping at a decontam cabinet, he broke the seals and withdrew two suits. Panting now in one of the suits, he raced down the catwalk, jolting as he went, lumbered with the spare suit for Naomi in case she couldn't get to hers.

Then the explosion hit him.

No sound. Just an impenetrable, invisible force. Blasted back down the tunnel, he was concussed and bowled over and over, bashing bulk­heads and deck as he rode the shock waves.

He came to, opened his eyes and realised he could see stars, stars in the deep firmament... He peered round. The space station was a distant speck, slightly buckled it seemed at one of the outer radials... Still gripping the spare suit, he was travelling through space, carried by the explosion.

The rescue shuttle was alongside him as he remembered why he was carrying a spare suit. ‘My - my wife, Naomi - ?’ he demanded on his helmet radio.

His rescuer hauled him inboard, slammed shut the hatch. ‘Sorry, she's dead - didn't have a chance.’

Morgan sank to his knees, eyes wet and red-rimmed; he was trembling and shivering - until the onboard doctor administered a sedative.

In the space station's sick-bay he went through a bad period, suffering repetitious nightmares, undergoing the violent explosion night after night.

As he nervously fidgeted in his waking hours, a scheme formulated in his mind. But in order to put it into effect he must first pass his medical check-up.

From that moment he concentrated on getting his riddled nerves back into shape. Finally, the Doc passed him fit enough to return to work.

Whilst going about his maintenance tasks, he began making a mental note of timing, causation; in his bunk, he jotted down these notes, in a private code. In the quiet periods he slipped down to the Inquiry Library and consulted the reports on the accident.

Surreptitiously, he observed various technicians operating the Module Booth on routine journeys. It was easier than piloting a spacer! He decided. He would do it. He would project himself back in time - about half an hour prior to the explosion. He would save Naomi: Morgan knew the risk. He was violating the Code's Fundamental Commandment: Thou shalt not meddle with time, merely observe and learn. With the utmost caution, he prepared himself. There was plenty of time! During most free periods he busied himself getting fit, dieting and losing weight. He wanted to be in peak condition for the trip; it was reportedly quite an ordeal until you got used to it.

The moment arrived. He’d planned to enter the Booth during a Breaktime. Only Technician Rawlings was left in the core-room's entranceway to the Booth.

Morgan greeted him and explained that the Head Technician wanted a word with him. ‘Go on, I'll stop here while you're away.’

Rawlings didn't question him; they were both security- and stability-cleared as high as possible. Anyway, he knew Morgan very well: he could be trusted.

Alone now, Morgan entered the Booth, adjusted the various levers and gauge dials on the console. He set the place he wanted to arrive in - the core-room - and estimated the time, thirty minutes before the explosion hit corridor K. He had cut it as fine as he thought possible so he wouldn't unbalance the time-scales more than he could help.

He switched the Module on from the core console and then leapt inside the Booth, shut the entrance, sealed it, clipped the head-phones in place and flipped the switches. He strapped himself in with seconds to spare.

The sensation was bizarre, as though he were sitting in a centrifuge. The transparency of the Booth grew opaque; console lights changed colour rapidly; some colours he couldn't identify: the natural laws of light were turned upside down in the time vacuum.

At least he could think, he could register what was happening, though the blood swam in his head, made him nauseous. His stomach squirmed uncomfortably.

The process reversed, slowed and then stopped. He could not detect at which precise moment the Module Booth halted; one instant it was moving, the next, stationary. Now, it just didn't seem possible that he had travelled through time. It was more like being in a space-fair­ground's whirligig.

He opened the entranceway, stepped out gingerly, a little unsteady. He eyed the bulkhead clock in the core-room. A minute later than he had planned. That left him twenty-nine minutes - if in fact he had time-travelled!

Climbing the ladder, Morgan left the Module House and sped down the tunnel corridors; he would have to hurry! On his way, he was brought up to an abrupt halt, looking at himself collecting tools together and placing them in a bag. His other self was quite unaware that he was being watched, oblivious of the drama soon to erupt. A feeling of pity filled Morgan's gullet: he was going to lose his beloved wife... It was an eerie feeling, overpowering himself. It took ten precious minutes to drag his alter-ego back into the Module. He set it in motion, to travel fifteen minutes hence... That should give his other self time to get out of the Booth, hear the alarms, rush to his wife and relive the past he himself had been through. He ran on.

Breathless, he burst into Laboratory K3.

Naomi was struggling with the corpulent assistant, Gregory. The man's lips curled in a travesty of passion.

‘Hey!’ Morgan leapt.

As Gregory released Naomi, Morgan clamped onto his neck and they pitched against the workbench, spilling dozens of chemicals that sent up a nauseating mixture of fumes on shattering. Naomi stumbled into some experimental apparatus, sobbing.

In staggering succession, Gregory elbow-jabbed Morgan's stomach, karate-chopped his face, barely missed the bridge of nose. Winded now, aching, Morgan scuffled back, catching his breath. Gregory charged him again but slipped on the fallen chemicals. His foot glanced off Morgan's thigh, sent him sprawling too. They both upset yet another rack, containing highly unstable phials which instantly burned a hole in the pressure hull!

The ominous hissing alerted Morgan and Naomi at once. She shouted the alarm over the tannoy.

Gregory must have realised too, judging by the aghast look on his face. But he had nothing to grab onto and was suddenly sucked head-first shrieking piercingly, into the rent. Swiftly losing consciousness, his large bulk temporarily blocked the hole; the hissing sound diminished. Air-pressure dials continued to drop.

Morgan snatched his wife's space suit, threw it to her and then stepped into Gregory's - he wouldn't be needing it.

In their cumbersome suits, gasping for oxygen after their strenuous fighting, they both drunkenly bundled through the emergency exit hatch at the precise moment that the lab's mixture of spilt chemicals erupted. The wind was knocked from him; blindly he grabbed Naomi's hand, held tight and blacked out.

To be concluded tomorrow…