Category: writing

In View of Y Mynydd Du

A couple of weeks a go a piece of serendipity occurred. I was in South Wales for the first time in 15 months. I guess for some people that wouldn’t be unusual, but we have family in the valley and in years when we were not all locked to our homes we would visit every couple of months. So this was the first time we had managed to get to see family since New Year 2019.

This wasn’t the sernedipity.

I have a good friend from university, Malcolm. He has a Caterham Lotus 7 which if you don’t know what that is, it is a car, A cute little two seater sports style car. It doesn’t have any fancy things like windows, or a roof, or space. In fact you are sitting two people in a space not much bigger than a bath tub. On a frame that weighs about 400 kilos with a 1.8 litre engine. That sounds like a small engine, the brake horse power is only in the low one hundreds, but the power to weight ratio, that’s the fun part. You are also sat about fifteen centimetres from the ground, with the rear axle behind you.

Malcolm has always promised me a little jaunt, a jolly, a buzz, in the Lotus 7. I have always wanted to because it is like a roller coaster without rails. i.e. bloody good fun, and more than a little terrifying on the first trip.

So the serendipity. I was in wales, with my family and I tweeted such. Malcolm contacted me and said that he was fifteen miles away doing his first road trip since the lockdown ended. He then asked if he could whisk me away from family. I have 3 kids, I was with relatives. So we determined a 5a.m. start and a quick jaunt up to the Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du) could be done. The jolly was on.

What entailed was a thrilling morning. It was cold. It was windy. It was exhilarating. And it was even funny when the road chippings bounced off your forehead. Thankfully I was pre-warned so I was wrapped up warm. Malcolm, bless, had the foresight to bring spare goggles and ear muffs for me, which was a god send sparing most of my face from debris and my ears from being pummelled into my skull (did I mention that it was loud and that the exhaust was 110 centimetres from my head?)

I took some, very shaky, footage with a mobile phone. I took enough to edit into a small film (I added some car sounds taken on a different trip with a microphone that wasn’t in the slipstream. I also added some tunes to help with the experience. It’s short, I recommend you watch it to see the scenery and the smile on my face masking the partial terror I also felt.

I have been promised another jaunt in the not too distant future. I cannot bloody wait. Thanks once again to Malcolm, you casn check out his website and YouTube channel: Malcolm Anderson, Seven Drives, https://se7endrives.wixsite.com/seven… – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLyMVPqGXnNasgXYVeZYhkQ. Additional music on my video is by https://soundcloud.com/beardmont.

Black Mountain Buzz (press play to start)

Written in 365 Parts: 195: Another Form Of Slavery

Drick had taken the lead after their short interaction. Turning quickly away from Marsh and scouting around the hanger bay. Once they had made sure they were the only organic creatures moving they had turned their attention to the many doors that led in and out of the vast space. They chose a doorway that looked as if it led forwards.

There was no good reason to place a bridge of any vessel at the front of a ship. There was a lot of historical precedence, but no good reason. Space vessels had used sensors to view the outside for millenia. The reliance on a visual view had died in the early parts of the twenty-first century. Even then it was an artefact of history, an anathema. Ships did not need a real time external view except via a screen. 

It was hundreds of years since the view of the outside was replicated in real time over the consciousness of the pilot. The pilot, if they needed to be, could be the vessel. They didn’t use their actual eyes, so why have an actual window.

But the tradition still existed. For some it was a style choice. For others it might be the desire to pilot a vessel using only their wits and real world senses. For many it was comforting to use their biological systems when experiencing some sensations. On a ship this old it was part of the tradition. The bridge was at the front on an upper deck, the engine room at the stern, lower decks. 

Drick and Marsh moved through the airlock and into a main corridor. Drick’s incursion into the ship’s systems had given them a brief layout of the vessel. They needed to get to the very front of the ship and to deck four. Because of the large hanger and even larger cryo chambers there were only five decks at the bow of the ship. Towards the stern, where the vessel was expected to act as a home for the colonists during the decades of terraforming there were nearly sixty decks.

Marsh wanted to ask Drick about the comment but he had also known that he didn’t have to. They had said that they were often guided, often sent to perform a task. If it were any other person, any other time, he would have called it paranoia. But he knew Drick. Knew them well. This wasn’t paranoia. If Drick was sharing a concern or a theory then it was valid and probably correct.

So Drick, in their own words, was a puppet on a string. They were still being guided in some way. They were being shown a path here. Maybe all of this was controlled and pre-determined. Even for Marsh. Not, perhaps, every step, not every action. Drick had made it clear that the forces that did this were subtle and allowed for there to be variation. There was no precise master plan where every event was set. There were governing lines, barriers that forced the action and flow of motion into a certain path. 

How an operative and those they interacted with responded to this, what they did, that was not predetermined. It was all merely placed into a matrix of acceptable outcomes.

A part of Marsh was furious at the organisation that guided Drick. Not on their behalf, on his. The notion that the only reason Drick was there to help him, to save him and uncover this entire event was because it suited some mysterious groups own ends was maddening. But on the flip side of that was the knowledge that he owed his life to that interference. How many others had there been like him before they interfered? For what reason did he even exist? How many more like him would there be in the future?

This all had to stop. He understood that. It didn’t make it any easier that he felt that, like Drick, he was also a puppet on a string. It had to stop. The creation of people like him, the whole situation. They had to know what it all meant, and it had to stop. Life was worth more. It didn’t matter if you could cheaply make it. It didn’t matter if you could clone a copy and drop into a new body. To treat existence as a commodity was just another form of slavery.

Written in 365 Parts: 194: Puppet On A String

Marsh marvelled at the size of the room that they had entered into via the supply pipe airlock. It was a hanger bay for the generation ship, probably the only bay on the entire ship judging by its size. 

They had entered near to the rear of the hangar bay. The airlock hatch they had used opened in the ceiling with a small set of recessed steps that would function in any gravitational direction, including zero-g. Both of them had set their magnetic boots to active when they were climbing down into the airlock so the stairs proved to be no issue.

Drick had pressurised the airlock chamber before they opened the door. Then they had cracked it slowly and opened it a fraction. They had pushed a thin optic fibre through the crack and used a probe to look around. 

There was cover nearby where a central column had been constructed to house the fuel supply lines. It was a long pylon that stretched to the floor. It didn’t look to be a part of the original superstructure so had to be part of the same additions as the supply pipe. 

They had moved out onto the ceiling, clinging upside down using the gravity nullifiers and the magnetic boots. They then moved into the shadow cast by this pylon.

Below them there was the supply vessel they had followed to the rock. On closer examination they could see that it was an unmanned vehicle. There was no cockpit. It was a frame with engines and a small computer to handle navigation and piloting. The rest of the frame was filled with cargo boxes that were neatly fitted together to make the smooth hull. The boxes themselves interlocked to form the outer shell of the vehicle wasting no space.

As they watched they noticed a small team of service robots disassembling the whole vessel and opening the various cargo containers. Boxes and canisters were being loaded onto other small service droids that shot away as soon as they were laden.

The ceiling they stood on stretched away into an almost hazy distance. Marsh estimated it was maybe two kilometres in length. It was over half a kilometre wide and maybe two hundred metres high. But it was not an empty echoing room. Almost every square centimetre of wall space was filled with racks of vessels. 

Wheeled trucks, hover planes, jet planes and space vehicles were tightly packed into modular bays and cradles that hung from the ceiling. There were rows of wheeled platform vehicles, all terrain cargo carriers and agricultural vehicles. There were submersible vehicles, and a few highly efficient looking military vehicles, mixed in among the shuttles and cargo vehicles. Even a modest guess would estimate there to be thousands of vehicles in the bay. There were also hundreds of thousands of boxes, from the labels it was impossible to determine their contents, but a guess would be that they were parts and spares for the vehicles.

Marsh felt a slight tug at his wrist and looked at Drick to see them pointing towards a shadowed area to the side of them. It was a narrow walkway next to the cradle for a large shuttle vessel. They both moved quickly, but as soundlessly as possible, toward the walkway. Marsh found that rolling his foot in the magnetic boots, as practiced on the ship over the past few months, made them attach and detach with barely a sound. There was noise suppression built into the suit, but the robotic workers may have highly sensitive receptors, so every precaution had to be taken.

They made it into the shadows and Drick moved the whole length of the cradle until they had reached the wall of the hanger. Only then did Drick touch the helmet of their suit to Marsh’s suit allowing communication without transmission via direct electrical contact.

“I wasn’t expecting the ship to be unmanned.” Drick’s words flashed into the monitor screens behind Marsh’s eyes.

As always Marsh closed his eyes slightly to help him focus. “I know, I would have thought some executive from one of the companies would have made the journey.”

“They may have,” said Drick.

“You want to take a moment to explain yourself again. Heck Drick, it has been months now, I still am just about as ignorant at this as the day you met me. I don’t get the subtle inferences. In fact I don’t think I get much at all, but I may just be me.”

“That’s not ignorance,” Marsh saw the wry smile through his half-lidded gaze, “that’s your natural stupidity. You are a big dumb bloke. And you chose that on purpose.”

“It’s the way I am.” He smiled as he thought the words.

“It suits you,” Drick answered. “I meant that it is likely, since there was no atmospheric pod, that it was an artificial intellect.” A strange look crossed Drick’s face.

“Problem?” Marsh raised an eyebrow.

“Not really,” said Drick, “just another piece of a puzzle and an annoyance. I feel a little more manipulated at that information. As if I already knew it. In fact I know I already knew it. Some of my guesses are just too on the nose.”

“Feeling manipulated?” Marsh had opened his eyes fully to stare at Drick’s face.

“As I said before, sometimes I am the organ grinder and other times I am the puppet on a string.” Drick had an unusual look on their face. “The monkey being fed the breadcrumbs.”

“Way to mix your metaphors.” Marsh prompted hoping they would elaborate.

“Don’t try and act smart, you’ll ruin the illusion of being a trustworthy idiot.” Drick’s stared right into his face, as they too opened their eyes and looked at his.

“Thank your lucky stars I am here so that you can turn your casual irritation into violence at a fellow filthy air breather.” he said.

“Thank your lucky stars that you are an air breather otherwise I would have reprogrammed your interaction systems with a shotgun weeks ago.” Drick smiled.

Written in 365 Parts: 193: Inside

It had proven surprisingly easy to board the Generation Ship. The climb up to the side of the airlock, on the inside wall of the asteroid, was tedious as they moved very slowly. They did not wish to slip and hurt themselves, or reveal their presence with any loud noises this close to the structure. From the side of the airlock they were able to get a better view of the structure of supports as they attached to the Generation Ship itself. They saw that there were large magnetic graples that held the vessel and these were powered from the cradle, this gave more weight to the idea that there was independent power inside the vast dock.

Once they were above the airlock, and now close to the top of the Generation Ship, they could see that the airlock was a solid steel structure. The collapsing sections that provided a buffer between the outer rock doors and the ship were massive steel concertinas. They had room to flex, but it resembled overlapping armour plating more than an airlock tunnel. From this position they could also see the large compressors that were needed to open the hanger doors. 

Separate to the compressors and running parallel to the twin airlocks was a feed pipe that no doubt held cables and other feeds. It was attached to the rock wall and outer airlock and also attached to the Generation ship on the other side of its hangar airlock. Clearly it was where power and other essential supplies could be provided to the ship. It would make sense that the Generation Ship would have tanks for water and fuel near to its hangar and these had to be supplied somehow.

Drick and Marsh had examined the pipe. It was large, over six metres in diameter. It was constructed from a composite of steel and carbon. Of more interest to Drick was that it had an external access hatch that was an airlock in itself. The pipe was pressurised, this was probably a maintenance hatch. Drick had carefully examined the lock on the door and was delighted that it was a very simple model. The lower security had to be due to the hatch being inside the asteroid.

After a few minutes Drick had managed to connect to and then infiltrate the locking mechanism. A moment later they had uploaded a virus into the security system. This was similar to the package they had used on the tower assault. It was more like a series of viruses, together they had a low level intellect. Marsh briefly wondered if using this class of software wasn’t overkill for what was clearly a low-level maintenance security system, but he had neither the skill, or the luxury, to quiz Drick over their actions.

Within seconds they had gained access to the lower levels of the security sub-net that was running the maintenance systems. It would be connected to the systems above the Generation Ship and Marsh had little doubt that the software would start stealthily working on those systems as well. 

This access was enough to enable Drick to piggyback the security cameras and sensors in the massive tube and determine its purpose. As they suspected it was a supply tube. Filled with long electrical cables, water supply pipes, gas pipes, and a single fuel hose in a heavy protective casing. Their suspicions were right. This tube was used to supply ships that docked, or were berthed, inside the large Generation Ship. 

The fuel pipe was for liquid hydrogen, used in small manoeuvre jets, there would likely be an oxygen supply but it made sense that this wasn’t located in the same tube. The pipe was old, but not as ancient as the mighty vessel it was attached to. They had some small metallurgy sensors that estimated the maintenance tube at around half the age of the hull of the generation ship based on standard patterns of decay.

Propulsion gases were still relatively common for thrusters on a variety of craft. The fuel was likely needed to replenish the vehicles that docked with the Generation Ship. It was unlikely needed for any vessels the Generation Ship had berthed inside. For some reason they had decided to use this pipe which was fitted to exterior tanks than use the Ship’s supplies, or convert internal systems to hook up to modern designs. Perhaps there was some issue with modifying the massive vessel. From what Marsh had read the vessels were custom built, so maybe the fixtures and fittings were too arcane to bother with retrofitting and the use of supplementary supply was easier.

Drick studied as many details as possible and noted to Marsh that the fuel and energy supply ran to a reserve at the rear of the asteroid that could be refreshed externally. They had not seen a hatchway or refueling platform on their scan of the outside of the rock, but it was likely hidden in a similar fashion to the docking bay doors. The best guess was that the vessel they had followed could be replenished hundreds of times from the reserve. It was a good guess that it was not the only visitor to this vessel.

After disabling the alarms, placing cameras and sensors into loops with enough variance that the entry and exit points of any looped reading could not be easily detected, Drick and Marsh entered through the hatchway. The passageway they found themselves in was cramped, but they could move freely. They quickly moved to the other end of the tube where there was a double airlock on the inside of the pipe that led directly into the generation ship. Drick spent another short time making sure there were no extra security systems or alarms. Then Drick attached themselves to the control panels on this side of the maintenance and supply pipe and uploaded another package of viruses. Marsh couldn’t read Drick’s facial expressions, but he was slightly intrigued at the size of the upload. He figured Drick was making sure that they controlled this pipe and its two airlocks, maybe making sure they had a safe exit route.

Once finished Drick quickly disconnected and stowed the thin fibre cables in a skin-pouch under their arm. Then Drick opened the airlock and they went inside the vessel.

Written in 365 Parts: 192: The Unlit Interior

They stood on the floor of the vast cavern in almost total darkness. Above them, in what they were calling up, over twenty metres away, was the massive cradle that housed the ship. Around the cradle was the scaffolding that held that cradle in place and supported the outer shell of the fake asteroid. 

The struts that ran from the cradle to the asteroid shell were immense. Each Iron pylon was at least five metres in diameter. There were interconnecting braces and girders, each over two metres across, that ran at forty-five degree angles to the pylons giving them support and making the whole structure a web of iron. 

The cradle was a series of massive rings that was much more impressive than the scanners had hinted. The sensors in the suit, still set to passive, showed sixty enormous rings that were connected by four giant tubes each at ninety degrees to each other. 

The tubes were giving off strong electromagnetic signals so it was possible they held power sources and conduits. Since each tube was ten metres across and hundreds of metres long it was possible that whole power plants could be stored inside. 

The whole cradle structure was ten kilometres in length, which matched the exter and yet it only just fitted the vessel within it. Each ring of the cradle was emitting a strong magnetic field that held the ship in suspension. There were also huge tethers that ran from each ring to the vessel. These looked like docking cables used by vessels in dock at space stations and orbiting platforms. Despite the size, the cradle looked like a flimsy housing for the massive vessel inside.

The vessel was almost black in the unlit interior of the asteroid. But a few small lights showed. At one edge the cradle touched the outer wall of the asteroid. This was close to four kilometres from where they stood. There was a bulge in the vessel at the same point. It was the docking bay of the Generation Ship. The ship’s docking bay didn’t fully reach the outer shell due to the nature of the rings and suspension structure. There was an interconnecting section. A massive airlock was constructed into the asteroid with an extended tube that ran to the hanger doors of the vessel.

The Generation Ship would have been equipped with a plethora of support vessels at the time of its construction. Orbital ships, shuttles, cargo transports, maintenance skiffs. All the vehicles needed to carry the colonists down to the surface and support the construction of a colony. 

Many of the vessels would single use vehicles that would instantly convert to housing and support structures when they landed. These were more like rafts or barges. Having no strong propulsion, guided to a location to be utilised. 

There would be probes and small system vessels for surveying the nearby space they were to colonise. There would be at least one assault craft for local defence. The vast majority of reusable craft would be shuttles. Intended to be multi-functional they would be modular. They would serve as: cargo vessels; personnel carriers; mining support vehicles; exploration vehicles; science support vessels. A ship of this size could hold a lot of equipment, but space was still a priority so everything would have more than one use.

Drick had communicated a plan to Marsh. They would make their way along the side of the ship to where it touched the outside surface via the connecting dock. From there they would be able to cross easier and find a way to the surface of the Generation Ship without sliding down a docking tether.

They both carried large rucksacks filled with equipment and supplies. Amongst them they had ropes, pulleys and even jet packs. But the least best method would be to remain undetected so powered equipment would have to be used sparingly.

Drick and Marsh were wearing hazard survival suits. The design was a bulky space suit similar to the very early suits of space travel. That is where the similarities ended. These suits were developed for survival in extreme weather and combat situations. They were radiation resistant; chemical resistant; fitted with layers of polymers that made them temperature resistant. The suits also had woven layers of armour that resisted heat weapons; impact reduction from ballistics or impact; and they had a prismatic coating that reflected laser devices making the wearer hard to target or shoot with light based weaponry.

The suits would also recycle one hundred percent of all waste and excretions from the body. Nothing was missed. The fusion battery power source was good for a thousand years of usage. Drick had wryly commented that they had tested the suits capabilities by having a marine unit wear them constantly for a whole ten year duty tour. None of the marines suffered any long term physical effect, though a few became mentally attached to the suit and found it difficult to leave them afterwards.

Thankfully the suit was also fitted with an internal soft frame. This allowed the attachment of equipment and was powered to help support greater loads and more extreme environments. The servos and hydraulics in the frame meant that the suit felt as if it were massless even in a strong gravity. In reality the suit weighed a little over one hundred and twenty kilograms. But all of this was compensated by the frame which would still function to negate sixty percent of the mass of the suit without a power source for the servo assistance by the use of passive hydraulic reservoirs and return capture braking systems on joints and movement. The suits had an inbuilt propulsion system and gravity reduction. Both of these worked much better in low gravity or in freefall, they would provide some functional usage in higher gravity situations but would restrict the users speed.

There were other enhancements to the suit that could be fitted as a range of optional items. The basic suit was more a framework, that the user then modified for a given situation. Marsh had taken a short while to familiarise himself with the possibilities before kitting out his suit in a manner similar to Drick. 

It took four hours walking carefully along the inside of the fake shell to reach the point where the sidewall of the ship met the external structure at the airlock. They moved slowly, and carefully, to avoid falling or making noise. The suits detected no active sensor sweeping inside the shell, but there might be passive sensors. The shell had a thin atmosphere, not enough to support life without aid, but enough to allow sounds to travel.

Written in 365 Parts: 191: Worm-Hole-Breach

The drilling had lasted considerably longer than ten hours. The compacted rock was loosely crushed together on the surface but after a few metres it became much denser. Drick had taken a sample and discovered that it was mixed with a protective resin, obviously to increase the rigidity of the outer shell. It made the structure firmer, and more resilient to pressure. With the added benefit that a denser material would confuse sensor readings and make it appear more like a solid object. It also meant there was more resistance to their efforts to carefully drill a hole.

They had taken turns in monitoring the progress of the drill and cleaning machines. But it was a mind-numbing task as there were no real actions, besides observation, for any organic operator. The machines would do their task well with no interruption so all the lifeform could do was watch the monitor readings and wait. They couldn’t risk exposure to sensors so electrical activity was kept to a minimum, which meant no extra electronic entertainment or distraction.

They could not risk too much observation of movement so they had to sit in an uncomfortable position without moving. They each took turns to sit in a tent with the drill or the survival pod, using stimulation packs for nourishment and to keep them awake. The only time the dullness was alleviated was when a stray piece of flotsam impacted on the surface within sensor range. It was infrequent and was not accompanied by any fiery streaks of an atmosphere being disturbed, just the occasional puff of dust that signalled a strike. 

There was the possibility that the internal structure was pressurised, so they built an airlock system when the drill reached eight metres. This allowed them to hide the continued drilling procedures under not just the tent screen but the pressure lock. Even though their activities would be less visible from the outside they ran a greater risk from within. They took great care to go very slowly as they reached the end of the drilling. They would check air pressure before breaching the cavern inside just to ensure that they matched anything they might find. 

When they were a metre from breaking through. For the final two metres Drick had used a tiny robot to dig its way ahead of the main equipment, on its passage through the rock. It operated like a worm, filling the tunnel it made behind it with the substance it bored at the front. It was attached to a micro-thin transmission cable to securely send back data.

Drick’s concern over the cavern being pressurised proved to be wise. There was a breathable atmosphere inside and it was registering as a temperature of twenty-three degrees celsius. It was warm and it was breathable. There was no artificial gravity, but the localised gravity of the fake asteroid itself was enough to allow them to stand and move around, albeit very slowly. They would be using gravity assistance harnesses to help adjust to something more comfortable for normal movement.

Drick used a very low power on the cutting plasma with an invisible flame. It allowed them to make a hole without too much disturbance. They had erected a hologram simulator and programmed it with a view taken by the worm probe of the interior of the cave. As long as no one was too close it would look just like any other part of the structure. It would mask the plasma cutting even as it broke through the surface.

From the angle they came in they would be on the side wall of the cavern. It was about sixty metres from the cavern floor, if they took the top of the ship to be the ceiling. The floor was in the darkness below them at a steep angle of descent. It was not an unmanageable slope in the very low gravity, but it was an obstacle.

The internal superstructure of scaffolding that had been revealed by the passive gravity sensors was not visible to the small probe. The cavern was dark and the probe had limited range with its camera systems. Drick had enhanced the view as much as possible and thought there might be a column nearby. It was a dimmer blackness against the background so it was hard to be absolutely certain. They had decided that on breaching the cavern the first objective would be to descend to the cavern floor and then make as best assessment as possible of the environment.

Written in 365 Parts: 190: Asteroid Shell

Marsh stood on the surface of the asteroid and patiently waited as Drick slowly assembled a large tripod. The surface of the asteroid was made up from a thick layer of rock dust. No doubt remains from numerous impacts on its surface and the attraction of dust particles from surrounding space. Well the asteroid shell he corrected himself. As this was a shell and the likelihood was that the surface was as fake as the rest of the object.

The ship’s sensors had drawn a simple, but detailed picture of the rock, the internal composition from magnetic imaging, they revealed it was a shell that was attached to an internal structure. That structure was more dense than the asteroid, and in parts more dense than organic rock. It was in all probability a massive construction.

The shell of the asteroid was a composite of different materials. This much was shown by resonance sensors. The outside facing components were primarily silicon-based rock. Crushed and compacted, it appeared by multiple impacts, but in truth it was likely to have been done by machinery. The rock shell was a thirty metre thick shell of silicate, with some traces of iron ores. It looked perfectly natural until you studied it closely. 

The scans had revealed that the outer shell had thinner sections, most noticeably where the docking bay had opened. The silicon and iron ore covering of the doors was less than a centimetre in thickness and merely coated the surface.

Underneath the outer shell was a complex series of girders that held the surface in place and attached to the much larger internal structure. They had surmised that it was some form of scaffolding. Hold the shell in place, helping to support it against minor impacts and preventing it from breaking apart with the forces of rotation. This internal web gave rigidity to the whole structure. 

Inside the scaffolding, wrapped in a complex series of interlocking rings was a massive vessel. The instruments predicted that the vessel was principally ferrous metals and crystal. There were no accurate readings without risking detection. But it was likely to be a ship of glass and steel. 

Drick had remarked that the rings were very similar to the layout of a starbase dry dock. It had to be a cradle for the ship to rest within, while it hid on the edge of the system. Whoever had decided to hide the ship here had obviously planned for it to be for a considerabl;e length of time. This level of construction, and secrecy, was well planned. Maybe it was as old as the colony itself, maybe even older. Had this rock been constructed here, or brought here?

The tripod assembly that Drick put together held a small cutting torch. They couldn’t risk being discovered by blasting a way through the shell. Nor could they directly breach the docking bay doors without drawing immediate attention to themselves. There were too many unknowns as to what level of security might be housed beneath the rock camouflage or in the entrance to the ship. There was no way of checking what resistance they would meet once discovered. Drick wanted to attempt a more stealthy incursion. For now it would be wiser to use stealthy and learn more.

Drick had chosen a section of shell that was a good distance from the docking bay. It wasn’t the furthest point, but it was close. It was also sixty degrees round the curvature of the rock keeping it out of a visual line of sight. It wasn’t the thickest, or thinnest, part of the external shell, but it was a suitable distance from anything that appeared important on the interior from what they could determine from the readings gained from the scanner. The rock here was fourteen metres thick. The tripod held a plasma cutter that they had set to a broad beam, rotating in a circular motion, which would cut a hole slowly through the surface. 

Marsh assembled a small matter displacement field. This would charge the particles of the loosened rock that were being broken by the plasma beam and collect them. After letting them settle they could be deposited back onto the surface of the asteroid. They could also be used to make a plug for the hole they were cutting to hide its existence. This would allow them to enter and prevent easy exposure from casual observers.

Their small ship would take off on automatic pilot once they went inside and stay at a safe distance following the asteroid until they called it.

Drick finished erecting the tripod and moved slowly over to Marsh, their speed determined by the zero pressure and low gravity. Drick checked the work Marsh had done with the matter collector and the small robot assemblers who would make the rock plug. Drick helped him to finalise the construction and type in the settings for the machines.

After an hour of silent work Drick messaged Marsh using the local text directly to his internal screens. “Once we power these machines they will take over ten hours to complete.” Drick took a large roll from the backpack they wore. “Take this. It is an emergency pressured environment dome. It will auto inflate and attach to the surface by its own auto-firing pylons. It has a stealth blanket with it to cover it. You can get some rest. I will swap places with you in two hours. I will assemble a tent over the work area to mask it as much as I can. I will send the ship to a safe distance very soon.”

Marsh nodded his assent and moved away to a safe distance of thirty metres from the drilling site. He cleared a space, then inflated the survival pod and threw over the camouflage screen.

Shit You Just Made Up

Foreword

My mother passed away on the 2nd May 2021. She had been ill for a long time. Her diabetes and failing organs was taking its toll on her, but the loss of our sister, her eldest daughter, so suddenly seemed to be the final blow to her strength and resistance. What follows below is the Eulogy I wrote for her and delivered at her funeral on the 19th May 2021.

I should start by saying that this Eulogy should have an age rating, PG 13 may contain violence or bad language with scenes upsetting to younger viewers. And we are going to have to stop meeting here like this, there’s no bar.

So, mum would be annoyed right now, because she didn’t have the option to die first, or get to choose who went before her. Because she would be staring at me and saying, your last eulogy was beautiful, but you used up all the best words. This one is going to sound like a sequel, and they’re normally bloody awful.

I once spoke to my mother about her funeral. It was after the death of her friend, Mary. Her comment, I hate funerals everyone is always so bloody miserable. There’s so much sadness I don’t want to go like that. We joked about it, we finally decided that what we would do was leave her body randomly in a skip with two fingers raised up to the world. But clearly that’s illegal, I checked, you can’t dump a corpse in a skip and you cannot mail it to a political party.

The other thing she wanted aside from less sadness, was the poem by W. H. Auden from Four Weddings and a Funeral, Stop the Clocks. She loved a good tearjerker moment. Yes, she was a contradictory old bird, she wanted us to be happy but listen to this sad poem.

My Mum liked a laugh. In fact she was happiest when you’d make her laugh so much she could wee herself a little. She was less happy as she got older and more ill but there was still a twinkle in her eye.

I remember how she would play jokes, tricks and even exaggerate stories to amuse us. She sang to us at bedtime, often really badly, just to emotionally scar us. In truth, she gave everything for her family

A few weeks ago I had to write a Eulogy for my sister that was based around love. Because love and the balance of it defined her. But this one is more about the attitude. I hope I can remind you of my mother, of her beauty. And if not, this is going to screw you up. Because, like my mother’s jokes, and occasional choice words, her fondness for an insult and profanity, this has bad taste for a memorial address.

Let me tell you of a few of her exploits, those that won’t lead to legal cases. To raise a smile, in spite of the fact that she is dead. Because she’d want me to remind you of the fact that she is dead. Very dead. But happy to haunt you. She’d enjoy the look on your face if that happened. She’d laugh and say I told you I was ill. She’s swear for good measure and take a verbal swipe at someone. Somewhere she is prodding me and saying slip in a good line to shock them all. You know, they are not really going to expect you to say bollocks.
Some of this is as mum would have said it, is shit you just made up.

  • She had nicknames when she was a kid, they were Sheila the Peeler, Spud Bate, and the Happy Slapper
  • She once held down a boy, knelt on him, and carved her initials into his stomach with a switchblade.
  • She was the leader of a local street gang, like the Bash Street Kids but far more deformed.
  • Speaking of the bash Street Kids she once told me that when Simon was born he looked like Pug. She stapled his ears to his head until he was five.
  • She told me I looked like Brad Pitt, I’m lying she said I looked like Ru Paul’s ball sack.
  • Her youngest sister (Edie) was sent out each night to tell her to come inside and stop sucking on the boys heads, mum’s mouth was big enough to put the whole face of a boy inside it. The girls would draw straws to see who had to tell her, but they made sure Edie always lost.
  • She murdered one of my childhood friends in a ritualistic burning incident. My whole family gathered round to watch. I was distraught, crying my eyes out at the kitchen window as they exploded in the back yard.
  • In order to make her beehive hair stand up she would mix sugar and water and then apply a ton of sweet smelling hairspray. Curiously, it attracted bees. They would follow her around thinking that their queen had lost her wings and grown stilettos. She used to make honey from her head and often fermented mead from her right ear.
  • She was asymptomatic with most childhood illnesses, but she did enjoy passing infections on to everyone else while not getting sick herself. In fact she never told people that she gave them licky end, even though you only get it if you’re a sheep.
  • She stole my Auntie Dot’s best dress so she could impress her first husband’s parents. She brazenly didn’t care that she had done it as it was a good reason. She thought he was loaded.
  • She loved Elvis so much she cried for days when he died. She pretty much ignored one of her own children’s birthdays. Mine, he died on the 16th August 1977, 2 days before my 9th birthday. Obviously I am not bitter, I remember it with joy, real, real, joy.
  • She told me to never leave Liam alone with fruit, he has a dangerous look when he sees an orange, licks his lips in a weird way, and never let him stroke a banana.
  • Once she was pranked by a family member calling at midnight, they quickly ordered a pizza for delivery and hung up. She returned the favour by calling back at four in the morning to say it was ready for collection.
  • She threw a slipper at Grandpa Bill when he was shouting at her, she always regretted throwing it, but she was happy she didn’t miss. She once told me that the real problem was that she hadn’t used steel toe cap boots as then he would have taken her a lot more seriously.
  • She once painted the house purple, she didn’t just paint the walls, but the hinges on the doors – she liked painting hinges, in fact hinges, light switches, crockery, furniture, nothing escaped the brush. If it didn’t move it was fair game to be painted, it’s why we were never still as kids.
  • She invented the knee. Before she was born people had incredible trouble lifting heavy weights. Back injuries were rife. And running was impossible without spring boots.
  • She told me that we shouldn’t let Lesley drink Stella in Southport again, we can’t afford to be banned in another seaside town as a family especially not since her Budweiser binge in Newport, they still haven’t found all those steel workers, or the marrow
  • Mum, and her sisters, had a laugh when they went to view my Nan in an open casket because of the make-up the funeral parlour used. Nan’s daughters were wetting themselves at how she looked.
  • While on a family holiday in Scotland mum decided to rudely moon a family member through a window after an argument. We had arrived late the day before. Everyone was stressed. The next morning she was still annoyed about it. She thought they were alone in the garden, Also, she thought the high wall was at the edge of the garden, only glimpsed in the late evening the night before when we arrived. It was actually on the other side of the road. So she opened the curtains, bent over with a laugh, and a very naughty word. She flashed several cars and a tour bus along with most of the family.
  • A neighbour once refused to give her a ball back, she asked politely but they said it was theirs as it was on their property. So mum took, what can only be thought of as a mighty steamer onto a paper and mailed her own faeces through the letterbox and said they could bloody well keep that as well.
  • When one of her children was banned from a certain supermarket in the whole of the country her only words to the police were, ‘can I belt them stupid here or do I have to wait until I drag them home so you don’t see me’.
  • In her later years she kept a scorecard of people she outlived. Every time I saw her she would remind me of another one that had died. Sometimes with a look in her eye that suggested she had made sure of it. Her favourite phrase was always, you’ll never guess who’s dead.

That was my mother. It was never straight or ordinary, she was colourful and loved life and people. She married twice. She was a Bate, a Keating and a Schofield. In her heart she was always a Bate. She honestly shared so much with my nan, but she never stopped being Bill’s oldest daughter.

She married very badly. The first one had to have been good at kissing, she sucked his face enough. I truly think she married him just to annoy her parents. She was a rebel without a clue. The second one was the worst rebound decision ever. She had a good choice in words, and a terrible choice in husbands.

My mum was our cheerleader. Our audience. Our friend. Our support. We could do no wrong.

She was not a perfect person. She could be a shouty bugger. She had four children who were, for the most part, boisterous and often complete sods as we ran riot occasionally. At times in her life she raised four children on her own, those times felt like the majority.

My mother loved all her family, and her children. She loved all her grandchildren and had such a special place in her heart for her great grandchildren. They were her life. Her joy. For her, we were the best thing she did.
My last words were to her, when I saw her in the hospital was to tell her I love you, she said she ‘I love you’ and, ‘look after yourself cocker’.

And she wanted me to tell you one thing, “Life’s not so serious, fucking arses to it, remember to smile.”

Afterword

When Writing a Eulogy, as with writing anything, there are lines that you write and then take out. Some of this is because they just don’t fit; it might be that the text is too long; they may not match the tone of the eulogy; or you just took a story too far, were too revealing or crude. I have included them here as I think they serve as further illustration, they are out of context to where they appeared in the original but you should get a sense of where they may have been.

  • She was known for calling people inappropriate names. If she was annoyed you’d be lucky if you were just called shitbag, or dickhead, if she was really roused she would descend to what she called a ‘fucking few choice words’.
  • When she worked at Barr Bottle factory she re-invigorated the entire industry by suggesting a deposit on bottles. She was never credited but her line manager received shares.
  • She used to say ‘but that Kathy’, she knew we’d be confused as she had three daughters called Kathy and each one she loved enough to make you wonder which one she was talking about.
  • In later years she never drank that much. But I recall as a child she would have a glass of what she called Brandycham – it was Brandy and Babycham. A lethal combination. Her saying was. One would make you want to kiss someone, two would make you kiss anyone, but if you had three then you’d end up kissing everyone.

In fact when he was a child there was an incident with a fruit bowl, I don’t actually know what occurred but the FBI were involved and they don’t have jurisdiction in the UK.

They all laughed about how she was displayed, as they put it, ‘as a whore’.

Often she’d say, remember Jackie who used to live down near the school, she’s dead now. With a look that told you why she thought that Jackie had to be dead.

Okay we shouldn’t go there as it is the past, but we have to as it is her life. She really married arseholes. I mean absolute pieces of shit. It took some beating to match that bastard my father was, but my stepfather really rose to the challenge and was a total shite. But I am just quoting mum here. She called him fang, I called him wanker.

She’d want you all to know she knew that. She’d want you to remember. What she’d want you to remember the most is that she finally managed to divorce them. She never stopped regretting. She never felt she had paid enough for their failure.

Honestly though, I like to think it was a subtle plan for her male progeny, don’t be as much of a piece of shit as these two I married. It was a clever lesson. I hope as her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren we can learn itIf you have to marry badle, marry arseholes so that your kids eventually learn not to be like them. It’s not the best plan, but it is at least a plan.

Because, you know, they have a mother who would sacrifice everything for them. Which is what she did.
I think it was clever, my mum was often subtly clever. I am thinking of an example of this. The Name of the Rose. The first time I saw this movie I saw it with my mum. About halfway, maybe two thirds through, my mum said, I know how they are being killed. I said I know why and who (those two are pretty much intrinsically linked, once you know one you know the other). So we told each other our deductions. And I won’t spoil it, but we were both right. My mum saw the steps leading to a decision even if she didn’t change the outcome knowing it.
Sometimes my mother worked things out, she might not have the whole picture, she had the whole of a corner and it made her dig. I know I share that, I know my brother and sister do. It is why we are also bloody annoying. We keep digging to see what else is down there. But it is not the best gift she gave us.

She held grudges, I think it is a trait from her side of the family and not one I am that upset about. But her disagreements were not from spite but because of how much they hurt, how far could people fall. She rarely gave up on people, no matter the cost. She was always there. She was always on your side, even if she occasionally murdered your childhood friends.

My Mother was ill for a very long time. If the truth is told we started to lose her some time ago. She was a shadow of her former self in the final days of her life, but one thing held true. She cared about you. She cared what you did. What you felt. What you knew. She was always your cheerleader, you were always her champion. Her love was blind, because it was unconditional.

Her later years she became less like my mother, our sister, aunt, grandmother, great grandmother. Age and ill health overtook her and stole some of her mirth.

Her failing in partners was a failure of all blind belief. She believed in people. She believed them even if she could see the lies. She believed they wanted to be better. She believed they could be more. She had faith in people.

She would have said ‘our Mark is just itching for me to die so he can get away with saying “cunt” at a funeral’

The Balance of Love


Foreword

My sister died just before April 2021, it was sudden, it was heartbreaking. Due to the unknown cause of death there was an autopsy and a coroner’s report (without inquest). Today, April 28th, we had her interred at the crematorium in St Helens near to where she lived.

Below is the Eulogy I wrote and read for her and the poem I wrote that was read at the ceremony.


Kathryn at a Walking Day in the 1960s

Kathryn Keating: A Eulogy: The Balance of Love

I have to say before I start. When I wrote this, I wondered for a moment what Kathryn would want to say. She’d probably say: don’t make a fuss, don’t cry too much, or remember the happy times. No bad jokes or swearing. You know, don’t cock up the eulogy. 

When I think of my sister, I think of the fact that she spent most of her life living in, or near to, Warrington. She had holidays with family. She went abroad to France and Italy. She loved books. She loved science fiction. She loved fantasy and superheroes. She loved Doctor Who, but that’s because she was sensible. 

She loved music, seemingly when it contained androgenous boys, she was a huge fan of Adam and the Ants and A-ha along with Simon leBon from Duran Duran in the 80s and later IL Divo, I have a small story about that in a minute. She introduced me to New Wave and New Romance, but I don’t feel she approved of my choices when I introduced her to Punk, Goth, Metal and Thrash. 

She was too young to die. But, sometimes the brightest lights burn out suddenly. 

My sister was always happy for others, she had great joy for what the people around her did, or were doing. However, for all of my life that I can remember she carried a great personal sadness. A shame, a sorrow, a loss. A thing that she could not escape. Some people take the pain that is done to them and give it to others. My sister turned it to love. She would not give her sorrow, her anger at what happened, to others. She would always try to shoulder their sorrow instead, feel their pain, take their loss. She knew what it was like to feel the most dreadful anguish and could not bear to have others feel the same.

It defined her in many ways. 

My sister rarely got angry when I was younger. Oh she could be picky, ratty, or niggly about silly things. She could get frustrated. But not really angry. Not tear down the walls and howl at the moon angry. Which is rare for a Keating, apparently. It pissed me off because we are an egregious bunch. The only time I was ever able to get her really angry was over the lead singer of A-Ha. She had a major crush on him. When I read that he was engaged to a girl called Rose and there was a picture in the paper of him with a tattoo of a rose. I used that as a way of winding my sister up. I went to town. For no good reason other than I am an ass hat. She tried not to rise to the bait. But I was pretty persistent. I don’t know where I get that stubbornness from as I think of a family of Bates nearby. That was the day I ran out of a room and she threw a table at me. I got away but we had a broken door and a damaged table.

It was the only time I can recall her being genuinely mad, screaming at me level of madness. Because she was kind. It took a sweet natured soul like me to make her really mad.

How do we judge a life? How do we discuss how it was filled? How was it worth living? I was thinking about this because Prince Philip passed away recently and so there has been so much media attention, so much public outpourings, discourse and even some anger. So it made me think of how we often judge a person based on their achievements. Sometimes we might mention the love, or joy they brought to others, but mostly we judge people on what they did, not just who they were. So I thought of my sister.

Kathryn was the eldest child of Sheila. Blessed with a mother’s love, she also took on that role, to give love to others. When I was a young child she seemed as old to me as any adult. I was still three when she became ten. She would take me to the park, she would read to me, teach me numbers and tell me what the world meant. 

My earliest memories are of standing on the back rail of her tricycle as she raced through the streets, me holding on for dear life and screaming with pleasure. She filled my world, I can remember the feeling of her hair brushing my face as we raced along the pavement or when I was pushed on a swing on the park which we called the Cowfield.

She was that for all of us. She did not have children of her own, but she was like a mother, or more a grandmother, probably the best ever auntie to all of us. To my brother, Simon and his wife Cathey she helped raise Steven, Jenny and Liam. Then she helped, as much as she could, to raise Jenny’s children Joshua and Caitlin. She was there for me and Leigh for all of our children, Benjamin, Elliott, Asher. And to Steven and Sam’s son, Lewis who was a light in her world, he was her little man, they all were. Finally she adored our littlest Keating, Mila, daughter to Liam and Alex. She felt rewarded that finally she had another niece along with Kaitlyn. Another little girl in the family. She wanted to mother us all. To hold us, protect us, smother us with love and gifts, her every thought was for others.

We can judge a life on the balance of love. How much they gave versus how much they received. In that my sister’s life was flowing. It filled everyone around her. She loved us all deeply. More than some of us deserved. So much that we can only hold our breaths and miss it. She filled her life with her family. With her devotion to us. To our mother and to our sister. 

I think that might be the better value of a life. How much you give versus how much you receive. We can all do better, but the best you can hope for is a balance of the same in and out. Statistically it is impossible for everyone to give more than they receive, the average will shift. Some have to be worse, some have to be better or everyone has to be average. I know I did maths in a eulogy, and Kathryn right now would be raising her eyebrows, rolling her eyes, and declaring me to be a nerd. 

My sister gave much more love into the world than I think it could afford to balance. 

For my sister, Lesley, my heart aches. She and Kathryn seemed fixed together. Bonded as sisters with a deeper shared understanding, theirs was a friendship few will ever know. They should have been old ladies together, grey haired and wobbly, with a deep smell of Vicks vapour rub, tutting at fashion and laughing at the haircuts of the young, yelling at people to pull their pants up or try wearing a skirt and not a belt. 

We have been robbed of that double act, so we are all going to have to expect Lesley to play both parts and tell us what Kathryn would have said. I asked Lesley if there was something she wanted to say. Her answer: 

“Tell them the old git shouldn’t have left me alone without her, it’s not fair.”

So we say goodbye to Kathryn, my sister. But I think I have lost someone who was also like a mother, or a grandmother, a lover of people, a lover of family,  a confidant, a fellow geek. I lost not just a sister, I lost a part of myself, I lost a friend.

I feel I carry some inescapable sadness, losing so much love from her. I guess that’s a cost in the balance of love.


I call for you

I called for you,
You were not there.

I looked for you,
But there wasn’t even your shadow.

I listened for your voice,
But I could not hear it.

I waited for your touch,
And felt nothing.

No matter where I looked, I could not find you.
Not in any photographs,
Not in the many stories,
Not in words, not in letters,
Not in songs or any film we shared,
You were gone.

In the darkness, I thought I saw you,
At night,
When you’d just left.
But, it was just an echo,
Thoughts grasping desperately
Sorrow crafting phantoms.

A Hope,
Now Forlorn.

I needed you,
To be here.
I wanted you,
To hold me close.
Reminding me,
That it’s okay,
That it is all right,
That we’ll survive,
That you’ll be there

But. 

You’re not here.

And then I remembered,
A thing you said,
That was so long ago,
I barely remembered.

It brought back,
The laugh we shared,
That trip we took,
The song we heard,
The words we said,
The films we saw,
The books we read,
Those games we played,
Those things we shared,
The way you looked,
The way you cared.

And you were there.

(Mark Keating, April 2021)

Written in 365 Parts: 189: How Are We Going To Get In?

The huge lump of rock wasn’t an asteroid, it was a ship. Marsh marvelled at the sheer absurdity of that fact. Perhaps at some stage in the past there had been a rock this size in the system. There could have been surveys that recorded any object this large, but how detailed, or accurate, they would be was not something he knew. Maybe Drick knew, would they have checked that, were they as surprised. 

Perhaps some original asteroid had been destroyed to make up the camouflage. But it was no longer a rock, or an asteroid, it was a ship. It was a massive vessel that had been encrusted with particles of rock to make it look like a natural object. There was little chance that this was accidental. Someone had deliberately cloaked a ship by encasing it in the material of the Kuiper belt of this system. 

As the stealthed ship’s lights lit up the surface the higher detail showed the lines and structures of a ship’s docking ring. It was enormous, as large as one would expect from a vessel this size. It was clear that the stealth ship wasn’t going to attach to the surface, the ring was opening. The ship would easily fit inside. As they watched, hidden by the sensor blackout and camouflage of their own vessel, the ship they were following changed its direction slightly so that it would enter the docking area sideways. The ring would accommodate a ship three times its length with ease.

They would not be able to sneak their own vessel onto the hidden ship that way, there would be sensors and cameras and possibly even organics. They couldn’t just park up next to the stealth ship with a cheery wave and ask the directions to the nearest habitation.

Marsh noticed that their course had altered. It was slight, but their ship had rotated as well. They were now, similar to the stealth vessel, approaching the vessel sideways, mimicking its final approach. Marsh felt his eyebrows lift and his stomach churn, was Drick just going to land them right next to the other vessel?

There was a gentle nudge of acceleration and they started to move away from the other ship and the docking ring. Marsh hadn’t realised that he had been holding his breath until he allowed it to release in a long slow exhale. 

Looking out of the forward view screens it felt like they were moving upwards simply because of the orientation of the floor and ceiling inside their own vessel. What they were actually doing was going into a slow orbit around the hidden vessel inside its rock camouflage.

“Let’s take a look around this thing.” The message from Drick flashed across his screens. Text only and on the touch based communication channel. Drick had pressed her suit onto his slightly. This was a signal channel for suit to suit communication. It was fitted into the hard suits and prevented anyone noticing a communication, or scanning activity on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Drick was taking no chances with even internal communications. There was a strict rule while in stealth pursuit. Signals blackout except for essential communication, that to be delivered by text using the short data link. 

Marsh sat patiently as Drick instructed the vessel to make the orbit of the rock. Drick pointed out features on the visual scanners. All the instruments were still set to passive mode. Reception only. They didn’t want to give any indication of their presence.

The rock surface was clearly fake. The closer they flew the more detail the ship was able to scan and then composite into a diagram. It was amazingly detailed as, even passively, at this range the ship could determine the small regular features that hid under the surface. The sensors also detected that the rock surface was not actually rock below a depth of several metres. Other materials were present. It wasn’t uniform across the whole surface. Underneath the rocky coating there were structural supports and what was clearly a complex framework.

Drick was taking careful readings using a magnetic field analysis. This was another passive system. It could be coupled with a mass spectrometer, but that would require a sample which would be a more active approach. The analysis was enough to identify the different materials as they acted within the localised magnetic fields. There was also a detector for gravitonic distribution, but it was slowly gathering data as it needed thousands of points of reference to build a clearer picture.

“Looks like the ship is about forty metres down for the most part. Below the superstructure supporting the camouflage” Drick patched into Marsh’s internal screens.

“How are we going to get in?” asked Marsh.

“Let’s get a few more readings and see if we can find an entrance, or make one.” said Drick. They turned back to the instrument panels and slowly watched as the computer built a better picture.